This years NHL entry draft was described as lacking the ultra high-end talent that we saw in the two previous drafts which produced Eichel, Matthews, and McDavid. A more in depth look at the scouting reports will show you you’re looking a a higher percentage of middle six forwards, 3-5 defensemen, and strong number 2 and journeyman goalies than in more exciting years.

In some ways this is the perfect year for an expansion team to come into the league. In drafts where you have two or three elite players at the top like the Ovechkin/Malkin draft, you may not have as much depth, or as much consistency further down the rankings. The first round this year saw the mild surprise of Nico Hischier going first, despite nearly universal projections for him to go one slot behind Nolan Patrick of that Patrick family.

I suspected that given all the turmoil in New Jersey over the last two or three years health would be a priority. I was not surprised. Gabe Vilardi was expected to go in the top five and slid nearly out of the first round. Owen Tippett is headed to Florida where I predict a sunburn or two, and not just on the back of the neck of opposing goaltenders.

Don’t anyone sleep on the trade of Brayden Schenn from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Jori Lehtera and Morgan Frost. Lehtera was exposed by the Blues and one has to wonder if there were hard feelings before or after he learned he was not that highly valued by the Blues. This trade has the potential to workout for both sides, but it doesn’t feel like an even trade. The Blues also traded Reaves for Sundqvist, and it so both they and the Penguins will have a very different feel next year. Assuming Reaves ends up playing.

While the trades during the first round were interesting, the Rangers and Coyotes have just about transformed their rosters.

 

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.

This afternoon I had a discussion with a hockey fan who believes the Boston Bruins are tanking. Not just for this year, but for next year as well. I’m not saying I believe this idea, but with all the evidence it is certainly possible.

The Evidence:

  1. No one in the NHL, CHL, USHL, SPHL, AHL or anywhere else in first world hockey thinks that Bruce Cassidy is a better coach than Claude Julien.
  2. The resigning of John-Michael Liles and allowing him to play so much.
  3. The signing of David Backes who five years ago would have been the perfect pickup, but who now is only questionable without being outright wrong.
  4. Absolutely no upgrades at defense which many thought was their biggest need coming into the season.
  5. No additional scoring forwards
  6. Riley Nash was “added” to a team trying to get into the playoffs, when he couldn’t even stay in the NHL in an organization that wanted to be seen on the same page of the standings as the playoff teams.
  7. Allowing Jack Adams winning, Stanley Cup winning, World Cup winning Claude Julien, who knows any of the home grown players, and most of the rest of the roster better than anyone else in the league from having coached them for so long, go to the other half of the greatest rivalry in North American sports.
  8. Sliding a rookie defensemen onto the ice with Zdeno Chara to play against the best players on the other team.
  9. Failure to bury Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes in the minors or otherwise remove them from the roster to allow more talented forwards to fill the roster.
  10. Signing Anton Khudobin, who when healthy is a solid netminder to a two year deal, and who also hasn’t been healthy more than two months since the end of his first tenure in Boston.
  11. The entire fourth line. Seriously, Tim Schaller? Did marketing pick him because ratings were down in NH? Dominic Moore is, possibly, an accidental exception given that he’s having an above average goal scoring season. Or maybe he’s just in Boston because he’s a Harvard guy? Colton Hargrove, Noel Acciari, Austin Czarnik, and others could have done the job as well, and with more cap space left over to address very real needs in the theoretical top nine
  12. The fact that nobody is talking about this years draft, but that name for next year are coming up.

So here’s how this theoretical Rick-Rolling works: The Bruins were bafflingly in a playoff spot 50 plus games into the season, and that needs to change. Not just so the team has better draft position this year, but so there are lower expectations for next year when among other things the no movement clause on Rask’s contract becomes an NTC. Remember, this is Rask’s fourth straight year of sv% decline, and according to Hockey-Reference.com is a below average goalie already according to GSAA.

Also, for this theory to work you probably have to believe what 29 (going on 30) other NHL teams have thought of Bruce Cassidy for more than a decade; That he’s not a good NHL coach, assuming he’s one at all. He has never won at any level, when he was given the bums rush from Washington he belly flopped into the OHL. In his last 10 seasons as a head coach in the AHL, OHL, and NHL he as won just three rounds of playoff hockey. For comparison Ted Nolan who is not employed as an NHL coach right now won championships in both the OHL and QMJHL, and won a Jack Adams award for best NHL coach. That’s a stark comparison, and one would think if you’re trying to win, you take (or keep) a guy who has won, and who given the trends in the NHL, has done so with young players versus not at all.

So given that the Bruins are lacking top draft picks this season. What happens if they trade out of this years draft? What happens if they trade this years pieces for picks in the seemingly stronger 2018 draft class? They get high picks, and underdog status in the following season. Boston, all of New England loves an underdog. And in sports nothing, not even winning is sexier than hope. We know Sweeney loves draft picks. We saw him take three first round picks in a row in the low teens instead of trading even one of them to improve the team now. That’s unprecedented in the modern era. Think of trading one or more of those picks and bringing in Trouba or Dumba, but no, not the Sweeney way.

If you truly believe the Boston Bruins front office covets young men like Rasmus Dahlin or David Levin, or Joe Veleno and they might make people forget a couple bad seasons if they laced up and lit up in Black and Gold, I think it’s safe to say this idea might not be pure vapor. When you remember that there are articles and posts from people in the know pegging players at the top of the 2018 draft going back to more than 18 months before the draft, and look at other drafts where that happened like say in the 2009 draft one begins to wonder why the fan I spoke to had Rick Astley on the brain.

Ladies and Gentlemen, future stomach pump users, and porcelin god worshipers welcome back to PuckSage.com!

Take 1 Drink:

Everytime a player is mentioned as playing with or against Hanafin, Eichel, McDavid.

Hear someone talk about a draft prospect “playing against men”

A junior coach or general manager is mentioned.

A prospect is selected and they stop to hug, high five or shake hands with more than four people.

When someone talks about a player choosing to go to college or play in the USHL over the CHL.

Whenever the home nation of a Non-Canadian player is mentioned.

You realize that despite a change in leadership a team is screwing up their draft.

Take 2 Drinks:

When you see the sibling of a prospect on tv.

The size of a player is mentioned.

A trade is made involving players you’ve never heard of.

A former NHL player turned GM/President is on tv.

When a traded NHL player is interviewed or shown on tv.

When someone is mentioned as being able to fly.

How long a draftee is away from being an NHL player is discussed.

Take 3 Drinks:

When you hear someone mention bloodlines and/or pedigrees.

When a prospect earnestly answers a question about their childhood as if it were half a century in the past.

Someone brings up the relationship between brothers who are both/all players.

You wish your local announce team were doing the draft.

How many times the Edmonton Oilers have drafted number one in the last decade is mentioned.

 

Chug:

When a player is taken ahead of Noah Hanafin.

Whenever two or more players at the same position are drafted in a row: (RW, LW, C, D, G).

Whenever the phrase “hard to play against” is used.

A former #1 draft pick is shown.

Each time the word “generational” is used.

 

 

Enjoy, try to remember what happened and check back soon.

The “hot” story of the day is the injury to 2014 1st round draft pick and budding hall of fame winger David Pastrnak. He and Bartkowski made contact during a drill, Pastrnak then made contact with the ice. He came in a scuffed third place in the affair. The hit wasn’t audible at ice level. Even if it were, its better to find out now than a couple weeks into the season when he’d have burnt his nine game tryout. These are exactly the same type of injuries that have already eaten a couple dozen games of the equally underdeveloped Ryan Nugent-Hopkins career.

Matt Bartkowski is an above average skater. He makes smart outlet passes. He occasionally is caught out of position.  In short, depending on the system he is somewhere between a seventh and fourth defenseman in the NHL. Some rough edges, some strengths and good fundamentals. What no one thinks of him as is a punishing hitter. When his career is all said and done he’s not going to be compared to Scott Stevens. It’d be pretty hard to compare him in terms of hitting to Alexi Emelin, Mark Stuart, or Dion Phaneuf.

Given what was said by Claude Julien via BostonBruins.com, its unlikely this is a serious injury. Any attempt to paint the hit or the injury in any other light should be taken with the sort of skepticism you’d reserve for hearing the NHL and KHL were going to merge and expand.

The rumors surrounding Evander Kane have been higher hip waders for two plus years. There’s his supposed off ice issues. There’s the rift that is said to exist between he and management and or coaches. There’s the fact that fans in 29 cities not named Winnipeg that are home to NHL franchises would love to have him. There is also the fact that the Jets are more likely to be tanking in February than looking to add depth for a playoff run.

The latest round of hot air and hearty keystrokes has Kane, the 30 goal scoring 22 year old who is 3rd in his draft class in goals and points headed to Montreal. On the exhaustive list of players the Jets would supposedly get in return for him are Max Pacioretty. Such a trade would free up an additional three quarters of a million in cap space the Jets don’t particularly need. What else it would do for the Jets is unknown.

The question is what is Evander Kane worth? If you use the Phil Kessel benchmark of two first and a second round pick, you may be at least in the right ball park. Kane has not scored as many goals in one season as Kessel has, but he’s also never had as much offense around him. On the plus side for Kane is much more physicality, no history of cancer and an ability to shrug off media attention.

If your the Winnipeg Jets, the return for your best young talent needs to be high. The teams needs are pretty noticeably: a center capable of excelling in the one or two slot, a long term solution in goal, and a 22+ minute a night defensive defenseman who can help protect whoever is in net from some of the NHL’s top talent. Getting experienced number one centers is not easy, just look at the number of guys the Calgary Flames have tried to put into that position. Right now the Anaheim Ducks have an embarrassment of riches in net, and one of their younger goalies would be good mix for a Winnipeg team still building. Dan Girardi who is a UFA this off-season fits the mold of a shutdown defender, as does the Boston Bruins Dennis Seidenberg.

Another way for the Winnipeg Jets organization to approach this might be to aim for adding quality second line and second pairing depth via the draft. If they could swing a deal for Kane and five or even four relatively high second round picks they might just be better off long term. In Atlanta as the Thrashers or now Winnipeg as the Jets the franchise has never been known for its depth. Is this the time to go for it? As it looks very much like they will have at least one top ten draft pick of their own in the near future, it might just be.

The Western Conference has run over the east so far this year. The odd thing is how concentrated the losses are, so many of the east’s teams are in complete disarray while most of the weakest of the western teams are either over performing or have finally started to turn the corner on rebuilds that their is an imbalance.

Anaheim Ducks: We know that despite injuries to Sheldon Souray, Matt Beleskey, Viktor Fasth, Jakob Silfverberg, Saku Koivu, and Sami Vatanen, no team has wracked up more points or an equal amount of wins in the six week old season.

Colorado Avalanche: We know the Avs may be led by Matt Duchene, but they are getting contributions deep into the forward pool. In 14 games (or less for some) seven forwards have at least 9 points. Matt Duchene’s 10 goals are complimented nicely by five each from Paul Stastny, Gabriel Landeskog, PA Parenteau, and Ryan O’Reilly. We know the goalies are beating the competition with silly ease in wins, neither Giguere nor Semyon Varlemov have allowed more than 2 goals in a win.

San Jose Sharks: We know that two regulation losses in sixteen games is pretty damn spiffy. We know that a certain player might be tempted to celebrate this with his rooster out. We know the Sharks defense is going to be overlooked when people point out why the team is succeeding this season. We know not to get our hopes to high about this team and the playoffs.

Chicago Blackhawks: We know that even with Toews and Kane at just under a point per game this team has another gear.  We know it is nice not to be talking about the team’s powerplay. We know they team would rather not talk about their rather dismal penalty kill.

Phoenix Coyotes: We know the media stopped paying attention to this team when the arena deal went through. We know they have as many regulation or over time wins as the San Jose Sharks. We know that their powerplay is just .4 behind their Pacific division rival Sharks. We know that this team won’t get any real attention until the second round of the playoffs, and then only reluctantly from certain media outlets.

Vancouver Canucks: With 18 games played and 11 ROW’s the team is currently in the first wild card spot in the west. We know they have either played well after their adjustment to a new coach or that they are getting good puck luck with four of their last ten games going more than sixty minutes and victories in three of those.

Saint Louis Blues: We know the off season moves, and maturity (and health) are playing a big part in this teams success. We know that this should be the season Alex Pietrangelo becomes a household name. We know Vladimir Sobotka is on pace for a career season. We know Alex Steen will remember every moment of this season.

Minnesota Wild: We know that if this team were allowed just a little more offensive freedom they might just move into one of the divisional playoff spots and avoid the wild card chase. We know that Nino Niederreiter must be enjoying his escape from New York given that he’s played all 17 of the Wild’s games this year. We know being 16th in goals for and 3rd in goals against is very traditional Wild hockey and makes for a lot over very tight games.

Los Angeles Kings: We know this is one of just three teams without an overtime loss. We know that Jonathan Quick and Tim Thomas present a pretty good case for a curse of the Conn-Smythe, at least for American goaltenders. We know that hovering low in the playoff picture has been just about perfected by this team. We know Anze Kopitar’s point per game pace is pretty surprising for this team and will be ignored, again.

Nashville Predators: We know 14 points in their last 10 games should tell us a lot about how bad the Preds first few games were. We know the team is a very uncharacteristic 19th in goals against. We know that having done nothing to improve their forward pool in the off season that no one is surprised they are 21st in goals for. We know that the forward group’s lack of offensive zest will likely cost Shea Weber another Norris and could cost Seth Jones the Calder.

Dallas Stars: We know that despite adding Rich Peverley and Tyler Seguin in the off season the team is still being outscored by their opponents. We know that Valeri Nichushkin is the only draft pick from the last four drafts on the roster. We know a Lindy Ruff coached team is never going to be more than mediocre offensively so the rest of the team has to be high end and that this roster doesn’t qualify.

Calgary Flames: We know that a 6-8-2 is about where most people expected this team to be. We know Sean Monahan and Jiri Hudler are doing what heavy lifting is getting done in Calgary. We know those same two players are probably preventing the team from locking up the first overall pick that has to be the aim of the front office. We know that as bad as other teams are playing the return of Mark Giordano means management will have to come up with a better plan for tanking.

Winnipeg Jets: We know that this teams lack of a number on center and arguably of a number two center are making the shortcomings on the back end even more apparent. We know the time to burn this roster to the ground and spare no one over the age of 25 is coming real soon.

Edmonton Oilers: We know there’s just no excuse for this team to be this bad. We know they’ve had all sorts of high draft picks. We know Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Sam Gagner are legitimate NHL talents. We know goaltending is a big, big issue. We know that the defense as a whole can’t get out of its own way much less get the goaltender a clear view or move the puck out of their own end. We know that unless they overpay one or three of the pending UFA defensive defensemen in July, hopes should not be high for improvement any time soon. We know that less than twenty games into the season injuries have played a big part with only seven skaters playing all 17 games.

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

NHL rookies are making the biggest adjustment to their play, and their awareness of the game since they got their first stick and puck. Making the jump sometimes takes more than one try. While the Calder is almost exclusively an award that goes to forwards, this years crop of talent is intriguing, and blessed with American, Czech, Canadian and other candidates that should make every voter take until the very last moment to set their ballot.  This year a once remarkable rookie who has turned in a hall of fame career was chosen to be the measuring stick. Teemu Selanne stated before the season began that this would be his NHL farewell tour.

Through 11 games Teemu Selanne has a line of 3-4-7 and is a -1, and is averaging 14:34 a night. One of his goals is a powerplay marker. He’s currently on the injured reserve.

 

Forwards:

  • Sean Monahan is making a name for himself in a Calgary Flames uniform. Them 19 year old is one of the bright lights in a season that has the Flames low in the standings but still without a regulation loss at home. His 11gp 6-4-10 line is impressive not just for the pace, but the consistency. Some of the other top scorers for forward had a couple huge games and several very quiet nights. Monahan has just steadily produced.
  • Alexsander Barkov who was taken four spots before Monahan in the draft sits behind him in the points race, but the Florida Panthers player is one of the youngest players in the NHL. His 12gp 3-4-7 points total includes two powerplay goals, and one game winner gives him the team lead or a share of it in both categories.
  • Alex Chaisson is a right wing for the Dallas Stars who has served notice that his patient waiting for NHL ice time is over. He trails only All Star Jamie Benn and trade center piece Tyler Seguin for goals in the lonestar state, and is tied with Seguin for goals with totals of 5-4-9 through 12 games. At over 17 minutes of ice time a night he’s playing a big part for Lindy Ruff and company and doing it in all situations, he averages 1:23 a night shorthanded.
  • Tomas Hertl has had the best single night of any of this years freshman class. His four goal night ignited controversy among the segment who think no one should show signs of enjoying their job. The San Jose Shark leads all rookies in scoring with 8-3-11 +8 in 12 games for the NHL’s points leading team.

Goalies:

  • Frederick Andersen of the Anaheim Ducks has edged his way into an already crowded crease. His three appearances have all been wins. He’s one of a handful of Denmark natives in the NHL, and his .944 sv% is enough to make people sit up and take notice.

Defensemen:

  • Torey Krug leads all rookies and all NHL defensemen in powerplay goals. His 4-2-6 line is complimented by a +3 that his him shouldering aside his larger teammates for ice time. Averaging just under 18 minutes a night the Boston Bruin leads all rookie defensemen in scoring.
  • Seth Jones who was inexplicably passed over three times at the NHL draft is doing a remarkable job for the Nashville Predators. At 24:42 a night in TOI he’s playing more minutes than well known workhorses Zdeno Chara, Jay Bouwmeester, Dion Phaneuf, P.K. Subban and Mike Green. His 2:55 of shorthanded TIO a night tell us he’s certainly not being playing sheltered minutes. His 2-3-5 have him second in scoring from the blueline among the rookies.
  • Jacob Trouba’s averaging over 4:08 a night in short handed time on ice. That staggering number has the Winnipeg Jets defenseman 3rd in that category behind only Chris Phillips of the Ottawa Senators and Willie Mitchell of the Los Angeles Kings, both of whom broke in to the NHL last century. He owns a 1-12 line with 11 hits and 12 blocked shots in 8 games played. The 9th pick in the 2012 draft is currently on the shelf after being injured sliding into the boards.

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

 

Teams:

  • The Philadelphia Flyers would be the first team to fire their head coach promoting Peter Laviolette to customer and banishing him from the land of misfit toys.
  • The Colorado Avalanche would not only have the first head coach (Patrick Roy) fined in the regular season, but lead the Central division with almost three weeks gone and less game than three of their rivals.
  • Despite the addition of not one, but two former 30 (or more) goal scorers the Boston Bruins would be 18th in scoring.
  • Almost three weeks into the season four teams would have a goals against average under 2.0 per game; the San Jose Sharks, The Colorado Avalanche, The Boston Bruins, and Montreal Canadiens and yet only two would lead their divisions.
  • The Ken Hitchcock led Saint Louis Blues would have outscored everyone in their division and be third in the league in scoring ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
  • While nestled at the bottom of the standings with the Philadelphia Flyers the Buffalo Sabres would have a top 5 penalty kill?
  • The most penalized team in the NHL would be the Saint Louis Blues, and they’d be the only team over 20 PIMs per game, and lead the Montreal Canadiens who were second by over four minutes.
  • To date, the Montreal Canadiens would have the most major penalties at 9, followed by Toronto, Buffalo, and Tampa Bay.

Players:

  • Alexander Steen would lead not just the St Louis Blues in scoring, with 11 points in 7 games, but be in second place in the NHL race.
  • Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes would have identical stat lines of 8gp 2 goals 6assists, while their team were each second in their division’s.
  • Of the seven rookies from the 2013 entry draft, two would be on point per game paces Sean Monahan of the Calgary Flames and Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche
  • Seth Jones of the Nashville Predators would lead all rookies in time on ice per game with 23:46 a night through seven games and 2:37 a night short handed.
  • Radko Gudas would lead the NHL’s rookies in hits and blocked shots as a member of the Tamp Bay Lightning.
  • Brent Burns, Tomas Hertl, and four other San Jose Sharks would be on a point per game pace or higher.
  • that a goalie with a .935 s% through 6 games, Ryan Miller and only have one win.
  • that Martin Biron, Braydon Hotlby, and Martin Brodeur would all have worse sv%’s than Ondrej Pavelec
  • Tyler Seguin would win just 25 of 78 faceoffs in six games, and no one would be talking about it.