It’s not a secret that the 2003 NHL entry draft is one of the strongest drafts in history. It is arguably the strongest. The first skater taken is just a fistful of games from his 1000th NHL game, the guy taken 205th is on track to play his 800th NHL game before the season expires. I’ve made the argument you could put together a team from this draft that would beat a team from any other draft class.

Goaltending is the only position you can say this class might have as a weakness. The goalies taken in 2003 to have played serious time in the NHL are; Brian Elliot, Jaroslav Halak, Corey Crawford, Jimmy Howard, and Marc-Andre Fluery. All of these guys have played at minimum in the high three hundreds for games, and all have a sv% for their career in the teens. While I think Halak is capable of tremendous play, Crawford and Fluery are the guys I’d pick.

Defense is where it starts to get tough. Running quickly through the names draft, I came up with twelve defensemen who have played some really good hockey in their careers. My top four should surprise no one: Shea Weber and Ryan Suter as the number one pair. Next over the boards would be Dustin Byfugelin and Dion Phanuef. The physicality, offensive, and defensive ability of this foursome makes it almost irrelevant who the other guys are.

Matt Carle, Tobias Enstrom, and Marc Methot could all be expected to play the 12-14 minutes left over from the top top pairings admirably, but didn’t make the cut. Mark Stuart who’s very good in his own zone if lacking offensively, is clearly, if sadly starting to break down after roughly a bajillion hits and blocked shots. Looking at the third pairing, or arguably the 1C pair, you have to ask what the players have the other guys don’t. One is a gimmie, and that’s championships which means Brent Seabrook. The other is a powerplay specialist, which brings us to Brent Burns. Seventh defenseman is a little tougher, but I can comfortably go with Kevin Klein and sleep well.

I honestly won’t even try and number the top three lines, there’s just no point. You have Jeff Carter, Patrice Bergeron, Eric Staal, Joe Pavelski who it can be argued could all be your number one center, and all of them are worth talking about. Ryan Kesler, David Backes, and Nate Thompson are three more guys you have to look at for penalty killing, three zone play. and unadulterated ability to get under people’s skin. There’s also some guy named Ryan Getzlaf, and that’s just guys who have played a largely top nine position in their careers. Brian Boyle is worth considering for a pure checking line or penalty kill line.

The first gimmie on right wing is Corey Perry, even if he is consistently erratic in his scoring. Dustin Brown would have to be ironed out in practice as to which side he’d play, but thanks to the versatility of the centers, one or more of them will slide to a wing to fill a void.

The left side gives us Zach Parise and Matt Moulson

L to R the lines could look something like this:

Moulson – Carter – Pavelski

Parise – Bergeron – Perry

Brown – Getzlaf – Kesler

Boyle – Staal – Eriksson

Extra: Backes

In a best of seven series, I can’t see any draft class matching this one.

It’s not a secret that I despise diving. I’ve written the odd piece on the subject, once or twice (ok so its actually an enormous bugaboo that I prattle on about pretty often ) and I’m pretty happy with the NHL finally taking steps to control the dippy soccer like behavior of some players and franchises.

Here’s the rule chance directly from NHL.com

DivingThe fact that coaches will now be fined is now more than ok with me.

So which players are most likely to deserve a fine this season?

  • Jeff Skinner, on the rare occasions the former figure skating star is on the ice he’s clearly auditioning for a post-hockey career in soap operas.
  • Alexandre Burrows, with Tortorella still at the helm Burrows might be kept in check, Willie Desjardins is an unknown, unlike the duly esteemed Alexandre Burrow.
  • Dustin Brown, he does many, many things right and is most regards a model player, on the other hand it certainly appears to the impartial observer that his skates come complete with a great deal of helium.
  • Sidney Crosby, while he tends to be more subtle about it than some players on this list, there’s no doubt “The Next One” has embellished more than his share of slashes, trips, and the rest.
  • Brad Marchand, while he’s pound for pound one of the stronger players in the game, you can tell when the other team gets in his head because he starts falling down a lot.
  • Martin Brodeur, legend he may be but if he were as weak as he appears every time an opposing player makes contact or near contact with him he’d never be able to scramble like he does.
  • Mike Ribiero, (this space left intentionally blank.)
  • Henrik & Daniel Sedin, the Swedish Swan-divers are almost as good at falling down and finding each other on the ice.
  • Carl Hagelin, has the speed to avoid pretty much any player in the NHL, but can’t seem to avoid sticks and other impediments that aren’t even there.
  • P.K. Subban, a guy with all the talent in the world who has been known to take the express elevator to the ice on a pretty regular basis.

I’m sure there’s one or two I missed, who would you add?

The Los Angeles Kings were cheated of much of their time in the limelight by the dragging, soul sucking lockout. They made their return to the ice with a strong regular season. Finishing seventh overall in the NHL, in a very top heavy western conference. To the surprise of no one Anze Kopitar again led the team in scoring. Jeff Carter racking up 26 goals in 48 games was eye opening and clearly signals good things to come. Dustin Brown played his usual game popping in 18 goals and dishing out 156 hits. Slava Voynov garnered further attention leading the blueline in scoring, and Drew Doughty erased the last of the viable criticisms of his defensive game.

The post season saw them and the Saint Louis Blues batter each other to bloody and bruised ruin for six games. When the first round ended it was time for a dance with the San Jose Sharks. This back and forth series sent the rivalry to a new level, and went seven games. In the western conference finals they faced the retooled Chicago Blackhawks, and were dethroned in double overtime. Very little has changed for the Kings. Jonathan Bernier was traded away while Dustin Penner and Rob Scuderi were lost to free agency.

The first five games for the Los Angeles Kings don’t contain any juggernauts, there aren’t even any trap games. They’ll open up in Minnesota against the Wild, then fly north to face the Jets. The next two games are at home against the Rangers and Senators, and they finish the opening five with a trip to Raleigh to square off with the Carolina Hurricanes. No back to back games anywhere in the opening set, and only one team with a fair chance of winning their division this year.

Number of days 1-5:

Number of cities:

Best opponent: Minnesota Wild

Weakest Opponent: Carolina Hurricanes

Home games: 2

Projected points: 7

The Kings don’t have a particularly difficult October schedule. If they can integrate the new additions quickly, they have a better than even chance of leading the division when the month is over. Tyler Toffoli had his baptism by fire late last season and in the playoffs, but with Simon Gagne gone, and Dustin Penner elsewhere as well, he Matt Frattin, and anyone else who can earn a roster spot in camp will have an open door to making themselves a fixture of the game time roster.

Getting out of the first round of the playoffs in any sport require some skill, some grit and not just being better at being average than a few other teams. The difference between the winners and losers in the second round are a lot easier to identify than the what separates ninth and tenth place teams from seventh and eight.

The Los Angeles Kings finished the regular season half a dozen points out of the division title, and without home ice advantage. In doing so the defending Stanley Cup champions had a three position improvement year over year. Most notable among the other improvements was finishing the season as a top ten NHL offense, in their Cup winning season despite a late surge coinciding nicely with the rumors of Dustin Brown’s trade availability and the acquisition of former Philadelphia Flyer and then Columbus Blue Jacket Jeff Carter they had finished 29th.

In the first round of the playoffs the Kings played a bruising round against the Saint Louis Blues and got through a pretty even series in six games. Then they met the Blackhawks. Their home dominance disappeared, and there was just one major factor in all four losses; speed.

The lack of speed overall on the Kings is usually compensated for by great coaching and players who stick to a system every bit as structured as Claude Julien’s recipe for Bruins success. While the Kings were mostly in the right place all series long, they were getting there steps behind the Blackhawks who have speed to burn.

Overall, the Kings may be the slowest skating team to make the playoffs. Of all the top six forwards and top pairing defensemen only Doughty and Carter are above average in speed. The bottom six forwards and lower pairing defensemen don’t offer much more speed. The simple fact is you can’t play the puck if you can’t get to it, and you can’t defend against someone who beats you to the net.

Be it through trades, the draft, promotion from their AHL affiliate the Manchester Monarch’s or signing key free agents, if the Kings want their crown back while there core is still together and highly effective, they need to add speed. As we’re seeing in the Stanley Cup Finals, even the Chicago Blackhawks are vulnerable to fast moving forward lines. Unless they can field at least one line where all three forwards are above average speed, they are going to have trouble getting any further into the playoffs than they did this year, even with the excellent play of the roster.

Click for parts one and two

Just about four years ago the US and Canada put on two of the best hockey games of the last quarter century. But, like all teams that team USA is not the one we’ll see in a few years. If I’m playing general manager, there are some players I do bring back, and others I just say no to, at least as of now.

The No’s:

  • Ryan Malone would not be on the short list today. His production has trailed off, he’s not been especially healthy the last few seasons, and he’ll be thirty four before this year is over. Great guy, if he hangs up the skates before the Olympics, he might get tapped for an assistant coaches spot.
  • Chris Drury, nice guy, already retired.
  • Tim Thomas, while its nice to think he’d be back to world beating shape after a year off, it is unlikely.
  • Ryan Whitney, hasn’t played even when healthy for a woeful Oilers club this season.
  • Jamie Langenbrunner, has experienced a notable decline in the past few years, will turn 38 this summer, and has had injury issues,
  • Brian Rafalski, retired.

The Maybe’s:

  • Erik Johnson, is admittedly playing on a poor team, but not especially productive offensively which isn’t how offensive defenseman earn their pay.
  • Phil Kessel enormously hot and cold, not a great two way player and has struggled to score goals this season which is what he’s paid to do.
  • Ryan Kesler, good faceoff man, good passer, physical, good skater, can’t stay healthy to save his soul.
  • Ryan Callahan, well above average for two way play, but prone to long slumps offensively, and injuries as well.
  • Joe Pavelski, seems to have declining returns in the playoffs. That could be the team, that could be his doing, but I lean towards team.
  • Paul Stastny, did not impress me during the last Olympic’s, has had declining production since them, but did have solid World Championship numbers in 2011-12.

The Shortlist:

  • Ryan Miller, while his heroics a the last Olympics seem ot be the last time he played at an elite level, you have to take into consideration the quality of the team in front of him. A quality that has gotten the longest tenured coach in the NHL booted this season.
  • Jonathan Quick, anyone who needs to know why should simply look at last seasons record, both his individual stats, Cup win and the number of games he only gave up one goal in.
  • Tim Gleason, anyone who can be a plus player with all the years he’s spent on the defensively woeful Carolina Hurricanes.
  • Jack Johnson has a boatload of international experience, will probably have been named Captain of the Blue Jackets by then, offensively talented.
  • Brooks Orpik solid two way defenseman with a double handful of physicality, some international experience and would be among the teams elder statesmen.
  • Ryan Suter a top ten defenseman in the NHL, no-brainer.
  • David Backes, certainly one of the best American forwards in the league.
  • Dustin Brown, great mix of skill and physicality.
  • Patrick Kane almost certainly the best pure goal score from the USA, and has a maturing game away from the puck. Knows how to win.
  • Zach Parise versatile, talented and lots and lots of international experience.
  • Bobby Ryan perennial thirty goal scores do not grow on trees, willing to play physical, willing to shoot.

That would be my starting point based on the 2010 Olympic roster. The next post will focus on filling the roster out. I’ve counted out as many as twelve players I expect to put together a pool of about twenty players including at least two or three goalies.

This is a feature that will run about every two weeks with improbable stats and situations in the National Hockey League.

Teams:

  • that the Anahiem Ducks, the Montreal Canadiens and Carolina Hurricanes would all lead their divisions as we crept up on the halfway mark.
  • that the Vancouver Canucks would lead the Northwest division and the Washington Capitals would be in the basement of the east with identical goals for per game at 2.74.
  • the defensive minded Phoenix Coyotes would have have a goals per game advantage on the star studded San Jose Sharks of .59 goals per game.
  • the Tampa Bay Lightning would lead the league in goals per game and be in 11th place in the east.
  • of the top five powerplays by percentage, only two would belong to division leaders; Pittsburgh and Anahiem, while two more belong to teams outside the playoffs; Washington and the New York Islanders with the Saint Louis Blues leading the race for second in in the central division.
  • the New Jersey Devils who finished last season wit the best penalty kill at 89.6% would be 25th on March 2nd with a 77.4% kill more than 2% lower than even the Columbus Blue Jackets of last season.
  • on March 2nd three teams would be .500 or better when trailing after 2 periods; Chicago, Anahiem, Boston.

Players:

  • four players would have drawn at least three penalties per 60 minutes played; Patrick Kaleta of the Sabres, Dustin Brown of the Los Angeles Kings, Mark Fistric of the Edmonton Oilers and Torrey Mitchell of the Minnesota Wild. (minimum of 10 games played)
  • Jay Bouwmeester would finish 10.1% more shifts in the offensive zone than he started there while Shea Weber would finish 2.4% less shifts in the offensive zone than he started.
  • Kevin Klien of the Nashville Predators would have played the most games without getting a single penalty at 21 while playing more than 20 minutes a night.
  • of all players with at least 200 faceoffs, Paul Gaustad would lead the NHL in winning percentage at 63.8%.
  • of the top ten points producers, only six would be on teams currently out of the playoffs: #1 Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning #3 Thomas Vanek of the Buffalo Sabres, #4 John Tavares of the New York Islanders #7 Martin St Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning #9 Jakub Voracek of the Philadelphia Flyers #10 Matt Moulson of the New York Islanders
  • Sam Gagner of the Edmonton Oilers would have more powerplay points than; Nicklas Backstrom of the Capitals, Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings, Daniel Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks and Teemu Selanne of the Anahiem Ducks.
  • two time Stanley Cup champion Rob Scuderi of the Los Angeles Kings would lead the league in shorthanded time on ice per game at 4:24, an 11 second per game heavier load than last season leader Francois Beauchemin

This feature will run approximately every two weeks each season comparing a well known player to leagues newest crop of rising stars.

Dustin Brown the captain of last years Stanley Cup Champion finds himself on a team that’s mired in 12th place in the Western Conference. The Stanley Cup hangover is in affect. Well off his career points per game pace, “Fall Down Brown” has failed to slip points onto the score sheet in five of his last six games, and only has one multipoint game on the season. 3-3-6 in 14 games and -7.

Goaltenders:

  • Jake Allen of the St Louis Blues jumped into the fire when Halak went down and Elliot went off the rails. His sv% isn’t spectacular at .895, but the fact that he has 3 wins and 1 loss in four starts is. Allen is a QMHJL alumni who has two seasons in the AHL with 915% and 917% across 38 and 47 games.

Forwards:

  • 2012 3rd pick overall Alex Galchenyuk is leading all rookie forwards in +/- at +9, 10 points in his 16 games to date and third in points only gets more impressive when you realize he’s doing it all on just 12:03 of ice time a night.
  • Jonathan Huberdeau is tied for the rookie lead in goals scored with six, his 19.4% is kinda scary.  At 15:40 a night of ice time, there’s still room to get him more involved. While the Florida powerplay is rolling along at 17%, but “Hooby dooby doo” has just two powerplay assists in his 44:07 of PPTOI this season, you just have to wonder what he’ll be doing if he starts clicking on the man advantage.
  • Cory Conacher is the apex predator among rookie forwards right now, 5-9-14 +1, 1ppg, 2 GWG’s and all on a slim 15:15 per night. No one has as many points, and keeping just under a point per game rate this far into the season means the draft leftovers are likely to be the highest priced item on the menu when in a year or two.
  • With six goals and half dozen assists, Valdimir Taresenko has been steadily filling both columns, leaving for him tied for the goalscoring lead and 2nd in scoring overall.
  • Nail Yakupov whose twitter feed and post goal celebrations are reaching legendary status leads all rookies in powerplay goals, he’s fifth overall in scoring, and with so much talent higher up the depth chart any injuries there could see a huge explosion in his ice time and production.

Defense:

  • Third and scoring, first in +/- at +9 is the Penguins Simon Despres. 13:50 of TOI says the energies of the former Saint Johns Sea Dogs blueliner is being carefully deployed. No shorthanded ice time also shows he’s probably not as well rounded as some other young rearguards.
  • The Boston Bruins Dougie Hamilton is the youngest of the top four scoring defenseman, and in is second place with one goal and and five assists. On a TOI per point basis he’s more efficient than the defender in first place, but less so than Despres.
  • Paul Postma of the Winnipeg Jets has blocked more shots than the other gents in the top four scorers, and is playing pretty disciplined hockey with just one penalty in his first 14 games.
  • Justin Schultz leads rookie blueliners in scoring, but of the top three is least productive on a points per minute rate. That said, his forward corp might be the most talented 1-9 in the whole NHL, as he gets used to playing with them, it is unlikely any of the other rookies will keep pace with him.

It’s that time of the season again when we need to take our first hard look at the NHL’s latest crop of wunderkids, studs, and future duds. Forwards, defensemen and goalies will be covered once more and compared to a well known NHL personality. This season the honor goes to the American Captain of last years Stanley Cup champions, Dustin Brown of the Los Angeles Kings. The perennial 20 goal man is different breed of player than past selections Eric Staal and Ilya Kovalchuk. Brown is known more for a physical style of play and two way play than either of the rookie watch alumni.

Dustin Brown:

  • Will play his 600th NHL game Monday night against conference rivals and playoff  sparring partners the Vancouver Canucks.
  • Has started off the season 0-1-1 and a -4 as the Kings remind everyone they partied like royalty all summer, and fall long and work through their Stanley Cup hangover 1-2-1.
  • The Kings sit in 12th place.
  • Brown has a team worst -4, trailing grinder Kyle Clifford by 10, and sophomore by 1 game Jordan Nolan by 8.
  • Has 9 hits, 1 blocked shot and just 7 shots on goal through four games.

Goalies:

  • No rookie goalies have played a game yet this season.

Defensemen:

  • Matt Irwin of the Sharks has been putting in work to the tune of 19:07 average TOI, and has picked up 2 points, including an even strength goal, half a minute of short handed time on ice, and an assist. On this his first tour of duty in the NHL, the 6’2 210 blueliner has handed out 6 hits and blocked 9 shots while doing his Hockey East and AHL experience proud. He’s second in rookie defensemen TOI and 3rd in scoring.
  • Dougie Hamilton of the Boston Bruins is showing no signs of the collective malaise that sank Team Canada’s World Junior Championship hopes. The offensive minded blueliner has already earned some penalty kill time under the very conservative Claude Julien. The 11 shots he’s dished out go nicely with the 8 hits and three blocked shots. The 19 year old has averaged just over 18 minutes a night and is currently second in blueliner scoring.
  • Brendan Dillon of the Dallas Stars may not have scored any points yet, but the 16 hits through five games, make it quite certain the squads from Chicago, Detroit, Phoenix, Saint Louis and Minnesota know who he is. Two blocked shots add to the collection of bruises, and it shouldn’t be all that surprising that he leads his team in hits.
  • Justin Schultz of the Oilers was the most talked about college player in the NHL as he wound down his Wisconsin career and spurning the Anaheim Ducks who drafted him. He’s now skating behind the Oilers plethora of young talents at forward and has rolled to the top of the rookie blueliner scoring. The 22 year old is sitting atop the TOI pile with an average of 24:02.
  • Brendan Smith of the Detroit Red Wings is jumping back into the NHL this season. How well his recovery from last years derailing via a concussion. The soon to be 24 year old is not the only rookie on the blueline, and is middle of the pack in ice time on a blueline that has already skated nine defensemen and is one of just three to skate all four games.

Forwards:

  • Cory Conacher is leading the NHL rookie scoring race as a center for Tampa Bay. The highly compact forward has about the best mentor for someone his size in the NHL playing with Martin St Louis. 2 goals 5 assists and a +4 through four games makes the former Canisius College player another undrafted player in the running to leave league GM’s scratching their heads for decades to come.
  • Tye McGinn’s two points through 3 games for the struggling Philadelphia Flyers has got to be more than some expected from the 119th pick in the 2010 draft. The Fergus, Ontario native who spent last year in the AHL potted just 18 points in 63 game. The rookie is tied in team points with Sean Couterier, Ruslan Fedetenko, and Luke Schenn, and doing it in just over 11 minutes a night.
  • Nail “I do a great Theo Impersonation” Yakupov has brought a great deal of larger than life personality to the Edmonton Oilers. He’s also managed to pack in two goals, one a powerplay tally. This years 1st overall selection has spent 3:19 a night on the man advantage for one half of the Battle Of Alberta.
  • Jonathan Huberdeau of the Florida Panthers much like his former Sea Dogs teammate Hamilton is off to a strong start. With 3 points in five games the former #3 pick is playing almost 16 minutes a night for the surprisingly struggling Sunrise squad.
  • Mikael Granlund of the Minnesota Wild is part of the avalanche of changes in this roster in the last year or two, and he’s popped in two points while earning more and more ice time. He started off at under 15 minutes and in his fourth game topped out at 18:30. The fancy Finn leads all rookies with an eye opening 56.4% faceoff win percentage.
  • Vladimir Taresenko is holding down a top spot with the Saint Louis Blues and is tied with Conacher for points, but has played one more game. The 21 year old Russian has been a big part of the Blues 4-1 start being even or +1 in all five games so far.

Worth watching:

  • Forwards: Mark Scheifele, Stefan Matteau, Sven Baertschi, Jakob Silfverberg.
  • Defensemen: Paul Potsma, Brian Lashoff, Mark Borowiecki, Korbinian Holzer, Patrick Weircioch

This feature will be run roughly every two weeks.

Despite the short duration, the Coyotes and Kings put on one of the best shows of this post season. This is what division mates are supposed to look like. The pace was great. The action, physical, crisp , relentless and for the most part clean.

While it will offend some folks in tinsel town, Mike Smith was the better goalie in this series. Smith had to face almost twice as many shots and still ended up with truly impressive numbers. Quick was spectacular making the flashy and the routine saves night in and night out. This one series, he was merely the second best goalie on the ice.

The biggest impact on the outcome of the series was the fact that the Kings simply have everything going right for them. The two teams split the regular season series. The Coyotes finished above the Kings by only a couple points. Both teams skated well, both teams defended smartly and attacked the net.

When it came down to crunch time in game five the Kings best players stepped up. Drew Doughty played, and expressed his (well justified) opinions to the officials, and along the way got a goal and an assist in more than 30 minutes of ice time. Mike Richards had five shots, won twelve faceoffs, and got a goal. Anze Kopitar put in over thirty minutes of ice time, blocked a shot, got five on net and one in. Jeff Carter teed up two for teamates to put past Smith.  Jonathan Quick’s closest competition for the Conn-Smyth, Dustin Brown continued his What Can’t Brown Do For You? tour with ten attempted shots, one block and five hits.

That’s a hellacious amount of talent to try and contain. The Coyotes had to be beaten in overtime. You can’t help but wonder how deep the pockets of the new owners will be, and if they will try to keep this core together for another year or two and use their first few months at the reigns to go big game hunting and bring in a top forward or two to deepen the scoring.

The Kings are now faced with the unenviable task of facing the Stanley Cup finals as the avowed favorites, without the advantage of home ice. They will also be flying all the way across the country to start the series against a still unknown opponent. Of the teams staff, Dustin Penner and Rob Scuderi have hoisted the Cup. Penner as an Oiler, and Scuderi as part of the Penguins most recent win. While there has been no sign of folding under pressure in Coach Sutter’s squad to date, this is the big dance and with just three players over the age of thirty (Mitchell, Scuderi, Williams) on the entire roster there is a heightened chance for unhelpful emotional swings.