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.

There are a number of teams with really good centers.

There are a number of teams who need good right wings.

Nearly every team is trying to keep their young lions in the minors or junior until  the expansion draft is a done deal.

Having watched Eric Staal’s career start circling the drain about three years ago, one has to wonder what the cause is:

  • apathy
  • cumulative injuries
  • playing (in Carolina) with a mostly AHL lineup
  • playing (in New York) under a coach who can’t or won’t make adjustments at any point after training camp

It is hard to say, but assuming he’s healthy and motivated, the best thing he could do would be to take a short money deal for one year to prove himself and maybe get another crack at the playoffs. On paper, barring the last couple seasons (and without the crippling price tag) he’s still a very attractive commodity. He’s big, he’s still got speed, he’s willing to hit, his shot is still something no goalie looks forward to having come at their head, and he’s free of a the types of injuries that make front offices panic.

Pushing his agent for a one year deal in a city with two or even three different style centers for him to play wing with would be the best situation. Assuming the Penguins had space Malkin, Crosby, and Staal on one team would be enough to make most defenses break before the midway point. So where are some spots that might be ideal for Staal?

  1. San Jose: The Sharks were in the finals for the first time in franchise history, adding a big body to play with on either of the top two lines would be an enormous boon.
  2. Arizona: The Coyotes missed the playoffs last year but have some incredibly talented youngsters on the roster. Domi, Duclair, and Staal could be dominant line. For a more veteran unit welding him to Vermette and Hanzal could be a very reliable two way line with more than a little offensive punch.
  3. Boston: With Bergeron, Krejci, and Spooner as the three top options at center, if Staal can’t regain his form here, he just needs to hang the skates up. The three play different styles and tempos and one would almost have to fit with one of them.
  4. Washington: Here Staal might just be a strong contender for a center slot in addition to his chances to play right wing opposite Ovechkin. Both Staal and Ovi are headed towards the end of their peak years, and the two together is something I don’t think many would want to defend.
  5. Nashville: Like Washington this might be a place for him to spend time at center and make big contributions. Laviolette would have to love the idea of Johansen and Staal dishing to Forsberg and Neal on two separate lines, or for that matter the four together as a high powered man advantage.

Wherever he sets his sights, he shouldn’t be aiming any higher than four million unless he’s just looking for an excuse to head to the KHL.

Welcome ladies, gentlemen, and hockey fans across the world! By special request, a new drinking game for the trade deadline.

To properly prepare for this you should have three beverages to work with, a stomach pump reserved, and enough paid time off for Monday and Tuesday at least. I recommend a light, dark, and medium colored liquid.

Every third time you drink, you should switch drinks. Puck Sage, the NHL, various news outlets, and your alcohol beverage vendors take no responsibility for your actions.

Take Three Drinks:

  • Every-time someone is rumored to go back to where they played college or junior.
  • Someone is traded to a former team
  • A general manager is heard to say this is a good trade for both sides.
  • Someone mentions the salary cap.
  • A coach or GM says they look forward to having someone join the team.
  • There are more players you don’t recognize in a trade than ones you do.
  • Potential playoff matchups are mentioned.
  • Off season coaching and or management moves are hinted at for a team involved in a trade.
  • How much time is left until the deadline is mentioned.

 

Take Two Drinks:

  • Whenever the phrase “add depth” is used.
  • Someone talks about how a player found out they were traded.
  • The number of trades made at this years deadline is mentioned.
  • Line/paring combinations are mentioned before a newly acquired player leaves their former home city.
  • The draft position of a player involved in a trade is mentioned
  • Someone mentions a coach having to make roster decisions.
  • A player previously traded at the deadline gets traded.
  • The highlight reel for a player being interviewed shows a player in a uniform other than the team they were just traded from.
  • Someone is called more than just a rental.
  • Someone compares the current volume of trades to last years number.

 

Take One Drink:

  • Anytime a player is reunited with a former teammate or coach.
  • A player uses the word exciting.
  • A general manager mentions how long they’d discussed a deal before it happens.
  • The number of draft picks exceeds the number of players.
  • Someone says a team is stockpiling
  • A graphic is used to explain anything.
  • A media person calls a trade big.
  • Someone says “hockey IQ” or “hockey sense”.
  • Any NHL award is mentioned.
  • A placeholder picture for a player calling into a deadline show has the player already in the uniform of  their new team.
  • Yandle, Eriksson, Boedker, Drouin, Staal, Russell, Bickell, Yakapov or other players expected to move are mentioned.
  • Salary retention is speculated about or explained.

Experts will remember to print this out and get it laminated so that any unfortunate fluids won’t mar your ability to rally and continue.

October is over, and with the close of the seasons inaugural month we can finally start to get a handle on which teams are for real and which are just pretenders.

Anaheim Ducks: When will they turn one or more of their wealth of goaltenders in future assets or skater to improve them for the playoffs?

Boston Bruins: Which is the real team here, the one that beat both the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks or the one that lost to a severely under-performing New Jersey Devils squad?

Buffalo Sabres: Has the front office identified their first overall pick yet, will it be the right shooting defenseman Aaron Ekblad or savvy center Sam Reinhart?

Calgary Flames: Can’t this team even get tanking right, don’ they know a team that’s tanking isn’t supposed to be tied for 20th after a month?

Carolina Hurricanes: How in the world is it possible to have a team with Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Alex Semin, Jeff Skinner, Jiri Tlustly, and Ron Hainsey still have the NHL’s 22nd best powerplay?

Chicago Blackhawks: If Joel Quenville’s squad didn’t have the worst penalty kill in the NHL they might be a tear similar to last year’s rampage through the NHL so how can they be so, so bad at the PK and still in the top half of the league for goals against?

Colorado Avalanche: Will the Semyon Varlemov situation affect the chemistry in the room and topple a team that has been a force of nature through the first 30 days?

Columbus Blue Jackets: When will the team figure out they need to either score more or stop more and do so if the want to see the playoffs?

Dallas Stars: Can one of the few rosters in the NHL without a player on injured reserve taking advantage of this window of health to climb the standings?

Detroit Red Wings: Can this team stay in the range of its current 19th in goals for and remain a playoff level team?

Edmonton Oilers: How in all the worlds did this team offend the Hockey Gods so much that they can be on the cusp of 60 goals against while most teams are in the 30’s and no other team has even allowed 50?

Florida Panthers: When Dale Tallon wakes up in the morning is his first question “How in the world can those teams be worse than mine?” or “How is this roster doing so well”?

Los Angeles Kings: Is the entire roster wondering if they didn’t accidentally trade the real Jonathan Quick in the off season for the slob who currently has a .896sv%?

Minnesota Wild: Are any of the Wild’s rivals even mildly concerned that the team holds a playoff spot and haven’t gotten any viable contributions from Dany Heatley, Charlie Coyle, nor had Josh Harding or Niklas Backstrom healthy for two straight weeks?

Montreal Canadiens: Is anyone gonna acknowledge the incredible start Carey Price is off to, 12 starts in 15 games and a .932 sv%?

Nashville Predators: When will the answer to the question “What’s holding the Predators back?” not be “lack of scoring”?

New Jersey Devils: So this is what $63,473,577 buys when a general manager looses touch with the NHL, right?

New York Islanders: The lowest cap hit in the NHL and a playoff spot might be what it takes to inspire a hockey edition of Moneyball, huh?

New York Rangers: Ryan Callahan and Rick Nash are on injured reserve and the team has won three in a row for half their wins on the season is a bit eye opening isn’t it?

Ottawa Senators: Daniel Alfredsson’s old team is actually outscoring his new team, it’d be nice for what is now Jason Spezza’s squad if they could stop pucks as well this year wouldn’t it?

Philadelphia Flyers: For the first time in years goaltending isn’t the biggest problem for the Flyers, is that why the whole roster looks so befuddled on the ice?

Phoenix Coyotes: Did anyone expect the Coyotes to be fourth in goals for a month and three days into the the season?

Pittsburgh Penguins: What’s more surprising about the 2013-14 Penguins, the fact that Fleury is playing above his normal zone, or that defenseman Matt Niskanen has a better points per game number than Kris Letang?

San Jose Sharks: Exactly how many of this teams players will be on their nations Olympic roster in Sochi Russia?

Saint Louis Blues: If 18 points in 12 games isn’t surprising enough to get you to take David Backes and crew seriously, does the fact that the team is second in scoring do it for you?

Tampa Bay Lightning: Is it too late to place a healthy bet on this team to make the playoffs and bring in a very nice return?

Toronto Maple Leafs: Now that it is no longer October and Phil Kessel who is off to a 9-9-18 start will inevitably cool off, can the Leafs maintain their lofty perch in the standings?

Vancouver Canucks: With a stat line of 4-6-10 through 16 games Mike Santorelli has to be one of the best NHL players per cap dollar in the league this year right?

Washington CapitalsDo you think if Adam Oates adds fellow former Capital Donald Brashear to his coaching staff he can beat some consistency into this roster?

Winnipeg Jets: Is there any more damning statement that could be made about this team than that they might actually be overachieving since they’re best team statistic is an 11th ranked penalty kill?

The new Metropolitan division combines all five of the teams from the old Atlantic Division, two teams from the thoroughly shattered Southeast division, and one former central division team. After last season this will hands down be the hardest division to predict.

Carolina:We know that with a healthy backup the team is already better than it was last year. We know that adding Mike Komisarek (assuming he can stick to the NHL) will add a touch of belligerence. We know that the defense as a whole is suspect. We know it will be a lot of fun to watch a full season of Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Jiri Tlusty, Jeff Skinner, and Alex Semin as the teams nucleus.

Columbus: We know that they decided to take their move into the eastern conference seriously. With the addition of Nathan Horton and Marion Gaborik in the last several months, the team added to a solid defensive foundation. We know teams that underestimate them are in for a rough night. We know that even with the two year contract he signed that there is no certainty Bobrovsky will finish the deal in Columbus. We know if Ryan Murray makes the squad he’ll be in the perfect position to garner Calder consideration.

New Jersey:We know The Devils had the sort of negative off season attention that can sink the sales of a team. We know that the additions of Clowe, Jagr, and Ryder will give the team a different look than it had last season. We know that since Kovalchuk and Clarkson couldn’t drag the team into the playoffs this might not be a bad thing. We know someone has their head up their backside because Adam Henrique is still unsigned.

New York Islanders: We know this team made the playoffs last year, kept all its major components and added the physicality of one Cal Clutterbuck. We know that with defensive prospects like Griffin Reinhart, Calvin De Hann, and Scott Mayfield waiting in the wings the guys currently on the roster should keep one eye on the puck and the other looking over their shoulder. We know the team really needs to figure out a long term solution in net.

New York Rangers: We know the Rangers will have new coach this year. We know the new coach has an entirely different persona than the last coach. We Brad Richards needs to have a banner year while there is still time. We know sooner or later someone will figure out you don’t go deep in the playoffs playing your starting goalie 65+ games a season.

Philadelphia: We know that with the injection of Lecavalier and possibly Laughton into the lineup fans might be excused an excess of hope. We know the defense is still without an impact player. We know Ray Emery will battle his heart out between the pipes. We know no one knows what to expect out of Steve Mason. We know the Flyers will likely miss the playoffs.

Pittsburgh: We know the team didn’t do anything to correct its playoff attitude issues; same coach, same captain, same mix of ‘leaders’. We know that having the goalie see a sports psychologist is a step, but we also know complete rebuilds of a persons psyche can take years if they occur at all.

Washington: We know the Capitals have a limited window to win with the current core of Ovechkin,  Backstrom, Laich, Greene, Alzner, and Carlson, We know some of them might not be in D.C. if/when the Cup is hoisted by the local boys. We know Adam Oates is still on a short leash because in any sane universe George McFee is on an even shorter one. We know that the Capitals (probably don’t operate in a sane universe.

All of the surprises for the Canadian roster fall under the heading of either oh wow he’s still being considered or hmm, so they finally stopped snubbing him.

In goal, there is no Martin Brodeur. The iconic New Jersey Devil’s goaltender isn’t a part of this team, and it probably comes as a limited surprise given his age. With the questions surprising the Canadian goaltending pipeline it wouldn’t have been a surprise to see him on the list at all. Mike Smith is there and that’s a genuine surprise, not based on talent, but just for the fact that he now 31 years old and never played a game of international hockey. Courtesy of the pipeline questions, Roberto Luongo, and Carey Price were invited, and given that the position is probably Crawford or Holtby’s to lose, inviting a younger goaltender like Jake Paterson, Malcolm Subban or one of the others who have competed at the World Junior Level for Canada.

At wing the included surprises include Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand. Both are high quality players who opponents disenjoy playing against, but Lucic even with his improvements in skating isn’t the fastest man in the NHL, even at left wing, Marchand occasionally looses his cool and takes dumb penalties. With their head coach on the staff, and Marchand’s usual center Bergeron a returning gold medalist I give both a higher chance of making the team than they otherwise might count.  While listed as a center in the NHL, Logan Couture has to be a bit of a surprise, as at center he’s not even in the top eight or nine, and the wing depth is strong, and contains players who have played with various centers likely to be on the final roster. Taylor Hall’s inclusion is a no surprise to anyone, but Rick Nash’s steadily declining productivity makes him worthy of at least a slightly raised eyebrow.

Jordan Staal is quite a valuable talent, but on the orientation roster he’s superfluous. Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron, Joe Thornton, and Mike Richards are all more than equipped to play a shutdown roll, as can Eric Staal. One assumes the people putting together the roster value his ability to play both center and wing, which still doesn’t make him unique. John Tavares is a bit of a surprise for two reasons. Number one is the depth at center on the team, you can argue up and down where he’d sit in that list, but with a double digit list of players who take faceoffs, he’s not going to be in the top four or five on a lot of people’s depth charts. Second is foot speed, John Tavares has enormous passing ability that places him in the top 10 to 15 passers in the NHL, but his ability to get to pucks doesn’t keep company that is nearly as heady.

On defense, there’s a whole bunch of talent and while it is hard to argue that any of the names should be in the discussion, there are a good half dozen names many would place ahead of Dan Hamhuis. Mike Green however talented he may be is horribly injury prone. For a short tournament like the Olympics where everyone is running out flat, it just doesn’t make sense to include a guy who has only once in his 8 season NHL career. Alex Pietrangelo has to be a little bit of a surprise, especially with 8 previous Olympians on the roster just on the blueline, but he’s got a lot of talent and some playoff polish.

The outright snubs will come soon.

The Canadian Orientation Camp Roster.

Some of the biggest cities are really tight to the cap, the Bruins, Flyers, and Lightning could all use a touch more cap space to deal with. Both the Bruins and Flyers are likely to lose pieces to free agency. The Canadiens are in danger of losing Ryder and Armstrong. Boston is supposedly getting attention on Seguin, and the Lecavalier to Montreal rumors won’t die until he’s retired or the Canadiens move, unless of course he does sign there.

What We Know

(By New Divisions)

Division C

Boston: After a run to the finals with lots of injuries, and some key contracts that are due, the Bruins could be in for a bigger offseason makeover than expected. With Horton headed to free agency, questions about Seguin and a previous lack of depth at that position, the right wing position is an area of need.

Buffalo: Miller rumors persist, as do rumors of trading nearly everyone. With the eighth and sixteenth picks overall, the Sabres should be able to get at least one more building block that enters the lineup and contributes within two seasons. It is an open question if that time frame is enough to keep Regier in the general managers office.

Detroit: Moving back into the eastern conference might be an advantage in start times and travel for the Red Wings, but they are no better than the third best team in their new division. They are fortunate enough to have a solid goalie, and two stars at forward, not much else is worth noting about the team with the longest active playoff streak.

Florida: The Panthers have just about declared the starting job for Markstrom by putting Scott Clemmenson on the market. Taking home a 2nd round draft pick or solid NHL player for that trade would be great. With the 2nd pick they ought to be able to solidify one position on their team. Tallon has shown he isn’t afraid to spend on free agent so don’t be surprised by surprises in Sunrise.

Montreal: Having returned to the playoffs last year after an embarrassing hiatus they need to take a long hard look at who they expect to be the core of the team going forward. There are some clashes between players that are visible on TV, they may or may not be short-lived events. But, building around a hollow center isn’t the best of ideas. It may feel wrong to do it, but making a move to ship out a good soldier or two for more cap space, less conflict and younger picks or prospects might be the best thing to do. The Norris trophy winner also has just one year left on his contract.

Ottawa: The first two questions the Senators leadership should be asking about any player they want to sign or draft are: can they stay healthy, and are we sure about that? From there fitting them into the roster or the farm system is the next step. With a bit more health the Senators might just have knocked off the Penguins. Adding a veteran playoff competitor like Briere, or Horton might push this team to the next level.

Tampa Bay: With the expiration of the Southeast division, the Lightning find themselves more in need than ever of improving a threadbare defense. In the last three seasons they’ve finished 28th, 30th, and 21st. They’ll be drafting in the lottery forever at that rate. Swapping for defense with a team deep at the position like St Louis or adding veteran Andrew Ference would be a step in the right direction.

Toronto: They made one of the more interesting moves of the offseason by picking up Bernier. Some say there was no need and Reimer was good enough, neither Nonis nor I agree. They have a clutch of offensively gifted defenseman, a lot of roster space, and decisions to be made on Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri and most the defense they iced last year. They are in a position of great flexibility but also a lot of vulnerability. The next two weeks will likely tell us how long it will be before the Maple Leafs next playoff appearance.

Division D

Carolina: With the Staal brother, Semin, Skinner, and Tlusty offense won’t be an issue for this team so long as Faulk and his henchmen can get the puck out of their own zone and away from the triage unit that served as goalies last season. Improving the defense could come at the cost of Ruutu or several draft picks. For the first time in recent memory the Hurricanes don’t have a huge amount of cap space either. With the new divisions configuration, they need to act and act smart.

Columbus: The Blue Jackets came within 2 points of getting into the playoffs last year. The most important thing they can do is to sign their goaltender Bobrovsky, after that getting some scoring and puck distributing touch up front will make them a much better team. With three first round picks 14, 19, and 27 as well as their own 44th pick, via trade or draft this should be a productive weekend for ‘Lumbus. If Lecavalier could be landed at a reasonable cap hit together with Dubinsky the team team could have a very strong 1-2 punch at center.

New Jersey: The Devils are rumored to have two suitors interested in buying the “financially stable” team. Its unknown what impact that will have on team activity over the next week to ten days, but the team has enough holes almost anything is a good move. A slick passing center to maximize Kovalchuk’s shot, an aggressive defender or two to keep Broduer from having to work to hard, a future goaltender so the team doesn’t experience its own Flyers like run of disasters in net going for stop gap after stop gap. It might just be a good idea to resign Henrique and Clarkson before to long too.

New York Islanders: The  Islanders really should reup with Hamonic, and if at all possible swing a deal for another blueliner with playoff experience. It also might not hurt to have an NHL worthy goaltender under contract. It is likely the empty forward roster spots will be filled with the return of some combination of Boyes, Bailey, Aucoin and prospects.  Hickey was a solid find too, his contract is up as well.

New York Rangers: A new coach is coming, and no one knows what he’ll bring to the roster. It is hoped he can perform some necromancy on the powerplay and get it to shamble along. Brad Richards is being given one more chance after playing less minutes and posting less points against the Bruins than their enforcer Shawn Thornton. Former coach John Torterella said the team wasn’t “stiff” enough. With most key position filled, the Rangers can afford to be picky with free agents, but might want to get a head start on locking up core players. Only one defenseman is signed beyond next season,  neither goalie is, and there are just three forwards who are.

Philadelphia: The bloodletting began with the Bryzgalov and Briere being bought out. It is unlikely to end any time soon as this team is a disaster cap wise and not much better on the ice. To make matters worse Coburn is one of the names most active on the rumor mill and their defense is not pretty even with him.

Pittsburgh: Kris Letang has the gratitude of Penguins scribes for giving them something to write about. He’s rejected long term huge money deals. I’ll be shocked if he’s a Penguin on opening night and even more shocked if he’s still there after the trade deadline. The Penguins still need to come to terms with the issues with Fleury, and there is something wrong with the mental makeup of this team when the playoffs arrive. They’ve lost composure and the ability to play at both ends of the ice in the same game over the last three post seasons. Maybe they should reacquire Gill and Scuderi?

Washington:  Oates had done solid work rehabilitating this team, but he can only work with what he’s given. A big roster shakeup is overdue for this team. Regardless of what they say to the media, there is too big a gap between their regular season scoring and their post season scoring for this team to believe in itself. Without that swagger you just can’t win in May or June.

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.

There were some sneaky changes in this division that make it quite interesting to watch. Hall of Famer Adam Oates is the newest coach in Washington, and the unification of Jordan and Eric Staal in Carolina among them.

Carolina: On the plus side they added Jordan Staal and have had time for a lot of guys to climb off the trainers table. On the down side, their defense is no better and almost certainly worse as a unit that it was last season. If we know anything about the southeast division it is that we know nothing about the southeast division. The Enigma on Ice that is Alex Semin is also signed to the Canes. In no particular order playing at 90%+ any of Jordan and Eric Staal, Alex Semin and Jeff Skinner are a handful, if all of them can get going and sustain it for at least a month, the team has a damned good chance despite all its deficiencies of returning to the playoffs.

Florida: Panther Power or Sun Sickness? Which propelled the team into the playoffs last year? Their own power or simply teams falling prey to the sun and fun of Sunrise? Their elimination would seem to indicate the latter, but the fact they sustained such a high place in the division pecking order under a rookie coach, with waves and waves of injuries might point towards the former. I think this team is better than many gave it credit for, and maybe nearly as good as a division win all by itself makes them appear.

Tampa Bay: Two seasons ago they were in the eastern conference finals, last year they didn’t make the playoffs. The difference? Goaltending. The biggest problem: poor defense.While Matt Carle and Keith Aulie are certainly new integers to the equation, one wonders if they will add up to a better blueline, or at least better enough to make up for the ravages of time on several of the teams aging forwards.

Washington: Will the real Washington Capitals please stand up. This team has had coaching upheavals, roster tweaks, injuries, and then finally goalie stability (just not the guy anyone expected) and now the long layoff. If Oates hasn’t devised a system to maximize the talent of his roster and can’t generate buyin quickly Seth Jones could be greeting a new rookie coach next season. If he can, the sky is the limit.

Winnipeg:A suspect backend was one of the problems last season with the team allowing 8 more goals than they scored and still being 12th overall in goals for. Grant Clitsome is a serviceable defenseman we probably haven’t seen the best from yet, but their goaltending needs to be consistent, and certain skaters need to stop doing stunning impersonations of turnstiles before this team can go anywhere, an upgrade in the form of a two way or defensive defenseman for the #3 spot or higher would work wonders as well.

Top Dog: Pack Run, this division will look very similar to what the Pacific did in the regular season last year, every one of them with healthy stars can do damage, with contributions from lines three and four or stolen games in net, it is going to be a case of who breaks, blinks or draws an idiotic reactionary suspension from the league first.