The Florida Panthers

Some of you my recall that I called the success of the Florida Panthers before the season began and, now that they’ve locked up the Atlantic Division championship and achieved franchise record in games won and points accrued, it’s worth revisiting how the Cats got to where they are.

florida_panthers_wallpaper_by_nascarfan160-d6ofwpo

Full Disclosure

I am the Panthers beat writer for The Hockey Writers and have been writing for them for some time. My interest in taking on the assignment was triggered by my status as a “free agent fan” (despite what you may read elsewhere) and by my admiration for smart General Managers like Dean Lombardi, Jim Nill and, of course, Dale Tallon.

As a prairie kid, I recall how excited I was when the Vancouver Canucks were awarded an NHL franchise since the closest team geographically was in some far off town named Tarawna.

The Canucks’ pick in the expansion draft was none other than defenseman Dale Tallon and I’ve been following him closely ever since…through his career as a player, as a broadcaster and GM with both the Chicago Blackhawks and the Panthers.

Tallon got a cup ring for building the Hawks, despite some bumfoolery from the Bowman clan, and now seems poised to take another team to the top.

How Did He Do It?

How Tallon built the Hawks has been chronicled in great detail so let’s focus on his work in south Florida.

It may be hard to believe but Tallon has only been the Panthers head honcho for five seasons. After a year of assessment and a surprise trip to the playoffs, Tallon decided to sell the farm and build a team through the draft and smart veteran additions.

The road to the top started with Tallon’s first draft when he had accumulated three 1st round picks and would load up for the future.

Most “experts” will tell you that getting two players from any draft is a success but let’s take a look at Tallon’s haul from 2010.

  • Erik Gudbranson (3rd overall)
  • Nick Bjugstad (19th)
  • Quinton Howden (25th)
  • Alex Petrovic (36th)

All those players are currently on the Panthers’ roster but Tallon wasn’t done yet.

  • Joonas Donskoi (4th round – now playing for San Jose)
  • Zack Hyman (5th round – now playing for Toronto)

That’s six NHL players in one draft and you may think Tallon got lucky, so, let’s see how he did in his second draft.

  • Jonathan Huberdeau (3rd overall)
  • Rocco Grimaldi (2nd round)
  • Vincent Trocheck (3rd round !)
  • Logan Shaw (3rd round)
  • Iiro Pakarinen (7th round – now playing for Edmonton)

So, that is another four current Panthers and a total of ELEVEN NHL players in just two drafts.

But, as they say on late night television, there’s more.

Tallon’s decision to hit the draft has also returned Sasha Barkov in 2013 and Aaron Ekblad in 2014.

The 2014 draft also produced highly regarded Jayce Hawryluk (who just signed his ELC with the Panthers) in the second round and 2015 delivered blue-chip prospect Lawson Crouse.

By my count, the Panthers have eight of their own draft picks currently on the roster with more to come shortly and Tallon has also been active in signing coveted overage jurors like Dryden Hunt.

Draft Schmaft

It’s pretty obvious that Tallon has that “draft thing” mastered but he hasn’t sat on his hands when it comes to surrounding them with talented veterans to ease their way into the league, unlike another team that rhymes with Boilers.

Brian Campbell, Roberto Luongo, Willie Mitchell, Jaromir Jagr and Shawn Thornton have all provided a steadying hand for the young Panthers this season and all but Mitchell are expected back next season.

But Tallon has also managed the cap so well that he was able to airlift in three veterans, Jiri Hudler, Jakub Kindl and Teddy Purcell, as added depth for a playoff run.

Speaking of the Salary Cap

Tallon has been able to accomplish building an elite team in a very short period of time while remaining waaaay under the salary cap.

In the offseason, the Panthers will have more than $25 million in free cap space to play with and, while I expect they’ll bring back Jagr, Campbell (at a reduced rate) and have to sign Trocheck and Gudbranson to second contracts, they will again have all the room in the world to add to their already impressive arsenal.

With so many teams facing a cap crunch, Tallon should be one of the most active players in the free agent market and the Cats could be even scarier next season.

The Bottom Line

Tallon is not without his mis-steps, no GM is, but he can easily correct his biggest mistake with a buyout of Dave Bolland and let’s remember that Tallon is also carrying Marc Savard’s contract on LTIR to provide even more flexibility.

The man knows what he’s doing.

 

 

 

 

 

Farewell to Northlands

The final game in Northlands Coliseum didn’t mean much in the big picture but it nonetheless brought a tear to my eye as so many family memories are wrapped up in the old barn.

Minnesota Wild vs Edmonton Oilers
EDMONTON, CANADA – MARCH 5: A general view of retired Edmonton Oilers players banners taken before the game against the Minnesota Wild on March 5, 2010 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)

I was lucky (and old enough) to have lived through and witnessed all the glory years of the storied Oilers franchise starting with their entry into pro hockey beginning with their entry into the defunct World Hockey Association and, then, their move into the National Hockey League and into Northlands Coliseum.

The Pioneers

Not nearly enough attention has been given to the people who made NHL hockey in Edmonton possible…people like Bill Hunter and Dr. Charles Allard…and I guess that’s okay but we should all salute their vision and determination. Villains like Peter Pocklington and Glen Sather are not being given their due as an era in professional hockey comes to an end as the superstars they collected grab all the glory but, without them, there would be no legacy.

Memories

As a season ticket holder from the beginning, until the 2006/07 season, I am flooded with literally hundreds of memories written at the old barn but none is more vivid than May 19, 1984. It was my 34th birthday and old friend and prominent Edmonton lawyer Bob McBean and I were lucky enough to be seated 10 rows up from the ice surface to witness history. Many other memories would follow…Greztky’s 50 in 39…the Great One breaking Gordie Howe’s record with Howe seated in the row behind me and the run to five cups.

But most importantly, I have the memories of taking my sons, Robin and Taylor, to Oiler games and instilling a passion for the team that hasn’t faded despite the teams’ more than two decades of wandering in the wilderness.

The Rest

My sons’ fandom is unwavering but I lost the plot when Kevin Lowe, in a venal and small minded fashion, decided to turn the screws on an all-time face of the Oilers, Ryan Smyth. Lowe decided to play hardball with his best player after signing a number of palooka to ridiculous contracts and his track record since then has proven how pathetic his stewardship of the team was for more than a decade.

Too much has been written about Lowe’s failures to recount here but his continuing involvement in hockey operations is not something that anyone who cares about the team should cherish.

If the Oilers are serious about forging a new era in a new arena with all the bright young talent they have, they must send Lowe and his toadys packing. Until then, the odiferous era of incompetence and mismanagement will not be wiped clean

 

 

Vancouver Canucks – The Road Ahead

The Vancouver Canucks are playing out the string and even two victories over San Jose and Anaheim cant mask the disappointment of this season.

Vancouver beat writer Ed Willes has an excellent piece up on what ails the Canucks and the bottom line is right here:

The Canucks have to get bigger before they can compete with teams like the Kings, Ducks, Sharks and Blues — and they have to get faster and more skilled before they can compete with the Blackhawks and Stars. For a team that’s now tied for second-last in the NHL, that’s a lot to ask.

But that’s also the reality facing the Canucks.

“You have to find players who can compete with the physical teams and be quick enough to play with the skill teams,” said Hansen. “It’s tough for new guys to come in and be difference-makers. They don’t grow on trees. Look at Edmonton. It doesn’t matter where you pick (in the draft).

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The Sedin Era is Over

While the Sedin twins are still playing at a relatively high level, they can no longer compete effectively in a bigger, faster, younger NHL. Team President Trevor Linden and GM Jim Benning attempted to “re-tool on the fly but it is now obvious, even to them, that it was a failed strategy and it will be necessary to endure some pain to get the team back into contention in the Western Conference. But what, and how long, will that take?

Goaltending

This is one area where the Canucks have very little to worry about in the future. While Ryan Miller plays out the final year of his contract next season, the Canucks can continue the NHL development of Jacob Markstrom who has been pretty good this season (.913) under very difficult circumstances.

Meanwhile, draft choice Thatcher Demko has been spectacular in NCAA hockey, posting a .936 save percentage for Boston College and Hockey’s Future is lauding the performance of the Hobey Baker award nominee who is headed the Frozen Four in Tampa next weekend.

Thirteen drafted goaltenders played in the NCAA in the 2015-16 season. Hockey’s Future takes a closer look at the top five netminders with NHL ties, all of whom were among the nominees for this year’s Mike Richter Award. This ranking is based on season performance, overall developmental progress, and NHL potential.

1. Thatcher Demko, Junior, Boston College (Hockey East)
Drafted: Second round (36th overall) in 2014 by the Vancouver Canucks

Thatcher Demko topped this year’s ranking due in part to his remarkable consistency and resilience throughout the season. In addition, he continually fine-tuned all aspects of his game, making him one of the nation’s most reliable and elite goaltenders.

The San Diego, CA native sports a 27-7-4 record that includes an NCAA-best 10 shutouts appearing in all 38 games to date. Demko also is second in the nation with a .936 save percentage. His 27 wins ranks second among all NCAA netminders. Furthermore, his miniscule 1.85 goals-against average is tied for sixth nationally. Most recently, Demko was named a finalist for both the Mike Richter and Hobey Baker Awards. In addition, he was named the Hockey East Co-Player of the Year and earned a spot on the conference’s All-First Team.

Of course, there is always a worry that NCAA players will refuse to sign with the team that drafted them but, so far, there has been no indication what Demo is thinking and it’s rumoured he may sign his first pro contract as soon as the Frozen Four ends.

The Defense

It’s difficult to get a good read on how good (or bad) The Canucks’ D really is. Their top pairing of Alex Edler and Chris Tanev have both missed long stretches of the season with injury and that has forced the Canucks to play fringe NHL players far too high in the lineup.

Edler has missed 23 games and counting while Tanev has missed 13 so, if they can remain healthy next season, that will go along way to restoring some stability at the position.

The good news here is that two big Europeans have performed very well down the stretch despite the team’s woes and should be significant pieces next season.

6’7″ Russian Nikita Tryamkin now has 7 NHL games under his belt and has been adapting to the North American game very well.

6’5″ Lithuanian Andrey Pedan has also looked decent in his 9 NHL games this season and is likely a reliable bottom pairing shut down D next season.

The Canucks also pulled off an under the radar trade with the Edmonton Oilers earlier this season when they picked up Finnish league stand out Phillip Larsen.

Larsen, 26, has spent the 2015.16 season with Jokerit Helsinki of the KHL where he has accumulated 38 points (12-26-38) and 39 penalty minutes in 54 games. The 6’1”, 183-pound defenceman has also appeared in 125 career NHL games with the Dallas Stars and Edmonton, recording 31 points (8-23-31) and 42 penalty minutes.

Larsen is a right shot PP quarterback who should easily supplant Yannick Weber and/or the dreadful Matt Bartkowski who the Canucks have been forced to play in 74 games this season despite having some of the worst underlying numbers in the league.

One bright spot this season has been the emergence of Ben Hutton who unexpectedly won a job out of training camp and been very steady all season.

That raises the question of the fate of pending UFA Dam Hamhuis. Hamhuis has been very good since returning from a smashed face earlier this season but I’m not sure the Canucks will re-sign him unless he is willing to take a reduction on his $5M cap hit for a sort term.

Hamhuis has indicated he wants to stay with the Canucks so,perhaps that is possible. If so, the Canucks D next season would look much better than this season’s rag-tag bunch.

Edler – Tanev

Hamhuis – Hutton

Tryamkin- Larsen

Sbisa – Pedan

What that group still lacks is a true #1D (Edler is passable when healthy) and Sbisa is paid way too much for that role but perhaps he’ll be moved in the offseason.

If Hamhuis isn’t re-signed, the Canucks will have his $5m cap hit to grab a free agent and there will be more than a few available this off-season.

GM Jim Benning has stated, if he isn’t drafting in the top 3, he’ll take a defensman and, if that happens, it’s likely Jacob Chychrun could debut as a Canuck next season.

Based on this scouting report, he may be just what the doctor ordered:

 The son of former NHL player, Jeff, plays with a calm demeanor, good feet, lateral agility and physicality. An elite defensive prospect with a tremendous package of talent. Already physically developed, he is a terrific skater with a separation gear, and a hard cutting stride and a skating base that lets him protect the puck. Possesses a strong wrist shot and is able to stickhandle with precision and accuracy through traffic. He is polished two-way player with good feet, strong skills but needs to continue to hone the defensive side of his game. Already plays with an edge. With physicality in place he needs to continue maturing in his positional play. It will determine if he evolves to an impact pro or simply a good one. His puck smarts and passing ability see him as a future NHL PP guy too.

Another guy to keep an eye on is Jordan Subban who has scored 34 points in 52 AHL games with the Utica Comets this season. The diminutive rearguard  has always been considered a long shot but he’s been producing well against men in the AHL and may be able to translate that scoring touch in the NHL.

Centre

As Henrik Sedin’s career winds down, this is the most pressing need in the organization. While the Canucks do have some quantity at this position, they don’t have an heir apparent in the system.

Bo Horvat projects as a very good 2 way second line centre (Ryan Kesler lite) while Brandon Sutter (when healthy) would best be slotted at #3 C.

The Canucks also have Jared McCann, Markus Granlund and Brendan Gaunce at C so their depth isn’t an issue if they can eventually find a #1C.

With their freefall in the standings, it now seems more likely they’ll have a shot at picking  1st overall if the lottery balls fall in their favour and they choose Auston Matthews.

That would be a huge step in the right direction but, at the moment there is currently only am 11.5% chance of that happening and I don’t think there is a Plan B.

On the Wing

A real dog’s breakfast here but there are some interesting pieces.

Both Daniel Sedin and Jannik Hansen continue to play very well but, once again, they are more ideally top line options no longer.

Alex Burrows is a buyout candidate this offseason and Radim Vrbata will be gone in free agency.

So what is left?

The brightest hope is UND C/LW Brock Boeser who tore up the NCAA in his freshman season, scoring 26 goals and 54 points in 40 games played.

Here are a couple of scouting reports from Elite Prospects.

A dynamic offensive winger and natural goal scorer. Has great instincts and is able to quickly get into position for premium scoring chances; possesses an accurate release on his shot which he can get off in the blink of an eye. He always knows where his linemates are, and is a great passer; that being said, his individual puck possession play is incredible and sets him apart as an offensive player. He will need to work on defensive zone coverage and a slew of small details such as board battles, but Brock Boeser has a ton of elite-level scoring potential due to the way he can read, make, and finish plays. (Curtis Joe, EP 2014)

Some scouts are seeing quite a bit of Patrick Sharp in Mr. Boeser. He skates well and has a complete set of goal-scorer’s tools. Doesn’t give up his own end, and transitions to offense in such a quick and concrete way that he can catch the opposition off-guard.

[EliteProspects 2015]

Bowser should be counted on to fill a top line LW position and is the Canucks top prospect.

Jake Virtanen has played reasonably well and so has Sven Baertschi but those two players, realistically, top out as second line wingers.

Emerson Etem and Linden Vey have been poor and I doubt either is a Canuck next season which opens some gaping holes at wing.

With all of McCann, Granlund and Gaunce available to switch to wing (as they already have) they can populate the position going forward albeit in the bottom 9.

The Bottom Line

The Canucks may be closer to competing than first appears. The assortment of young talent they possess should easily be capable of filling productive roles as second line and third line players and Boeser projects as a high end #1 LW.

Their D will likely get an infusion of a high-end prospect at the draft…a player who has #1D potential.

What they will then need to do is far from easy but it is identifiable as a long-term goal. They need to find two 1st line forwards to replace the Sedins.

That may require another two seasons of drafting high in order to have a chance to do so.

Difficult, but not impossible.

 

 

Hall in Freefall

Taylor Hall2

If you’ve been following along, you will know that I predicted a couple of months ago that Taylor Hall would drop out of the top 20 in scoring in the NHL.

Well…that has come to pass as linemate Leon Draisaitl’s shooting percentage has dropped from 33.3% to 14% with an anchor.

Who could have seen that coming:)

The facts of the matter are even worse than they appear.

Adjusting for games played and games missed due to injury, Hall is currently 41st in the league in P/GP and will likely soon drop out of the top 50.

Since Hall (other than gaming Corsi) has no other redeeming value, other than scoring, one has to wonder why Oiler fans, like Lowetide and his disciples cling to the notion that Hall is a difference maker when the evidence is very clear that he is not.

Here is just a sample:

QUINLAN says:
March 15, 2016 at 8:00 pm
How anyone, anyone, can look at this team and decide Taylor freaking Hall is the problem is incomprehensible.
Stealing from Woodguy’s excellent tweets a couple days ago:
“Oilers goal share with Taylor on the ice = 51.76%
Without Taylor on the ice = 38.62%
That’s leading by example”
The Kiltymcbagpipes argument reposted above admits Hall’s offensive numbers are very good and then proceeds to say he’s really not that good offensively. Yes he scores a bunch, and when he’s on the ice more good things happen than bad. Yes, he’s done this with crap all when it comes to a blueline behind him. Yes.
But he’s the problem.

Hall is apparently able to outscore his dreadful Oiler team mates but when it comes time to actually go up against elite players he folds like a cheap Taiwanese lawn chair.

Remember he is 41st in P/GP this season.

Also worth noting is that his own head coach, Todd McLellan, has been cutting back his ice time in recent games likely due his lack of production.

In his last game against Nashville, Hall played only 15:50.

McDavid 23:22

Eberle 21:48

Nugent-Hopkins 19:18

Maroon 17:44

Draisailt 16:25

Hall 15:50

Considering Hall led the team with 2:41 minutes of PP time, it’s obvious his coach is slashing his time at even strength.

I told you several years ago that Taylor Hall was a Phil Kessel clone and that is becoming more apparent daily.

Those thinking he should be included on the World Cup roster should acquaint themselves with Brad Marchand.

 

 

 

 

 

The NHL Elite

  • The_Killers_logo_wallpaper

For many years, I have considered an elite offensive players as one who could post more than a point per game played. But, as score g has declined since the last lockout, there are fewer and fewer players who are able to hit that mark causing me to reassess what we should expect from an elite player in the NHL.

As recently as the 2013/14 season there were 13 players who finished above the 1.00 mark.

In 2014/15, that number has dropped to 8 and this season is much the same although there are another 4 players within the range.

TOP P/PG Players 2015/16

  • Patrick Kane – 1.29
  • Jamie Benn – 1.10
  • Connor McDavid – 1.03 (small sample size)
  • Tyler Seguin – 1.03
  • Evgeni Malkin – 1.02
  • Sidney Crosby – 1.02
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov – 1.01
  • Erik Karlsson – 1.00

  • Johnny Gaudreau  – .99
  • Joe Thornton – .97
  • Joe Pavelski – .97
  • Niklas Backstrom – .97

At, .94, Alex Ovechkin doesn’t make the grade but with 41 goals on the season I think we can give him a pass and declare him an elite player.

Moving the Goalposts

Obviously, 1.00 P/GP in the current NHL is too high a bar since you will note, of the 12 players listed above. 3 play for the Washington Capitals, 2 for the Dallas Stars, 2 for the Pittsburgh Penguins and 2 for the San Jose Sharks leaving only 3 players on other teams in the league.

It appears that, if we move the goalposts to .80 PPG in the modern NHL, we may have the issue surrounded.

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And?

There are really no glaring omissions from this ranking but there are a few noteworthy items.

A very slow start to the season has impacted Jakub Voracek in very dramatic fashion. Last season, Voracek scored .99 P/GP but it should also be noted that he has been climbing higher in the scoring rate for the past couple of months.

Two seasons ago, Taylor Hall posted 1.07 P/PG but since then is .72 and .80. Has the league figured him out and knows he will just rush up the left side and fire a generally harmless low percentage shot on goal?

Seeing Johnny Gaudreau at .99 P/GP  after a .80 in his stellar rookie season is a revelation. Despite playing on a team that is near the bottom of the standings, Gaudreau has emerged as the premiere LW in the WC outside of the dominant force that is Jamie Benn.

Patrice Bergeron is quietly having an exceptional season. After posting .68 P/GP last season and winning the Selke Trophy, he’s kept up his defensive dominance and his scoring has jumped to .90 and he looks like a sure bet to score 30 goals and 70 points this season.

And finally, I can’t say enough about what Jaromir Jagr is accomplishing in Florida and his golden years.

His .82 P/GP on a low scoring Panthers team is remarkable at his age and it appears he has the ability to play a few more seasons at a very high level.

All hockey fans should hope so.

So What?

 

I can hear the whining all the way out here on Vancouver Island.

There is a constant refrain from Oiler fans that the officials are letting the Oilers opponents get away with murder and that the Oilers should have more powerplay opportunities than they get.

That all culminated in last night’s assault by Darnell Nurse on Roman Polak which, viewed objectively,  should not have involved a penalty to Polak when Matt Hendricks lost his balance and crashed into the boards. That was followed, of course, by Nurse seeking retribution for which, by the rule book he should have received 2 minutes for instigating, 5 minutes for fighting, a game misconduct for instigating in the last 5 minutes and an automatic one game suspension.

That things did not play out that way hasn’t dented the blood lust by most Oiler fans who now are seeing this as a watershed moment after which the Oilers will no longer be pushed around and will hard to play against.

Of course that is nonsense and I would imagine San Jose will set the Oilers straight in the next meeting later this month.

The Evidence

But let’s examine the notion that the Oilers would be a more successful team if the on ice officials just called the penalties that they should against their opponents.

While I agree that NHL officiating can be very inconsistent and sometimes spiteful (see Stephane Auger’s vendetta against Alex Burrows), after watching almost every minute of Oiler games this year, I don’t see any more inconsistency than you can see nightly in other games.

While I think it’s true that veteran teams get a little “benefit of the doubt” non calls from the refs, I’m not sure that the volume or result of calling Oiler games strictly by the book would make much difference in any event.

As luck would have it, Sporting Charts tracks penalties throughout the league and provides us with some context.

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As you can see, the Oilers DO rank near the bottom of the number of power plays/game but with 196 PP opportunities, they are only 18 behind the median of 214 received by the Dallas Stars.

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Let’s assume for a moment that the Oilers got a league average of power play opportunities and then let’s take a look at what that would actually mean.

The Oilers power play percentage is currently 16.8%, so, if they got an additional 18 calls, they would have scored exactly 3 additional goals this season.

No telling where or when those goals would have been scored, whether in a tight game or a blowout but I can’t see those 3 goals resulting in any more than 1 additional win.

And that folks would mean absolutely nothing in the big picture.

If Oiler fans want their power play to make a difference then they should focus their attention on how bad Todd McLellan’s powerplay is and stop whining about officiating.

 

 

Is That Right?

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Frequent poster “Suck It” raised a couple of issues yesterday when he defended the performance of the last place Edmonton Oilers in relation to the other teams in Western Canada.

And to make matters worse for fans on the Left Coast, the Canucks don’t appear to have the young talent that the Flames and Oilers both have. In fact, the Canucks best young player appears to be Bo Horvat who has a paltry 27 Points despite playing all 63 games. Horvat also has a league worst -31 plus/minus rating. At 27 Points Horvat is behind 5 young Oiler forwards (Hall, Draisitl, Eberle, McDavid, and Nuge), and 4 young Flame forwards (Gaudrea, Monahan, Backlund, and Bennett).

Of course, the Oilers, after drafting high for almost forever, still remain the worst team in the west having the fewest points, the fewest road victories and the worst goal differential.

Those 5 high picks he mentions have led the Oilers exactly nowhere and Mr. Suck obviously hasn’t been paying attention to the youth movement currently underway in Vancouver.

Last night the Canucks went into San Jose and beat the veteran laden Sharks 4-2 with no fewer than NINE players under the age of 25 in the lineup.

Linden Vey -24

Sven Baertschi – 23

Emerson Etem – 23

Markus Granlund – 22

Ben Hutton – 22

Brendan Gaunce – 21

Bo Horvat – 20

Jake Virtanen – 19

Jared McCann – 19.

Also worth noting that top pairing D Chris Tanev is still only 26 while having almost 300 NHL games to his credit while Jacob Markstrom (.917 SV% in 21 GP)  is also just 26 and is only now coming in to his own in the NHL which is not unusual for goaltenders.

That’s a very strong young core although it certainly can’t compete at the high end with McDavid.

But the Canucks prospect pipeline is far from empty.

boeser3

This is Brock Boeser. Boeser was the 23rd overall pick in last season’s draft and is ripping up the NCAA with 25 goals and 43 points in 34 games played with UND.

There is a scouting report from just after the draft:

Boeser has been compared by scouts to Patrick Sharp with his natural scoring ability and his accurate and quick shot release. He is a two-way power forward who is effective at finding open space on the ice and has the ability to create scoring chances off the rush by finding open teammates with his great vision and ability to read the play.
The 6-foot, 195-pound, right winger has an excellent first step and is able to quickly start and stop on the dime creating separation among defenders. At the same time, scouts are looking for Boeser to improve his defensive zone coverage as well as his board play.
He played for the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL in the 2014-15 season where he tied for the league lead in goals with 35 and finished third in points with 68 in 57 games. He is a complete player who has the potential to become an elite-level scorer in the NHL. (source)
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This is Nikita Tryamkin.
The Canucks are currently negotiating to get him signed and bring him over to the NHL for the remainder of the season.

Here’s how Hockey’s Future describes Tryamkin’s talent:

Tryamkin is a huge defender with a cannon of a shot. His size and puck skills are his two biggest assets. Drafted in his third year of eligibility after competing for Russia in the 2014 World Junior Championship, he is a late bloomer and must continue to work on his skating and positional play.

Long-term Tryamkin projects as a traditional stay-at-home defenseman with the size and reach to take away passing lanes and prevent scoring opportunities.

Vancouver could conceivably have two imposing Russian defenders on the team next year, if both Tryamkin and 6’5″ Andrey Pedan make the team.

So that’s a high end forward prospect to go with the group already with the team as well as two very big and very good D prospects.

But what about goaltending?

Well, it seems Jim Benning has that position surrounded as well.

dewkett_2.0

This Is Thatcher Demko.

Demko is lights out the best goaltender in college hockey posting a 23W 5L 4T record with Boston College and racking up a .937 save percentage.

Here’s a synopsis of his freshman season:

At 6’3, Demko uses his bigger frame to really make shooting angles and attempts much more difficult for his opponents. He reads the game incredibly well, and his positioning is ahead of most other goalies his age. Combine his height, instinct, and steady lateral movement, and you get a rare blend of skills that keep Demko from flopping around in the crease. He rarely makes the dramatic save because he’s always square to the shooter, and in position to make a play on the puck.

“My size is a tool, but I don’t like to rely on it. I can use it, but I can still react to pucks and play athletic,” said Demko. “It’s something I’m still working on, but is probably one of the biggest pieces to my game.”

Had he played a fuller schedule, and Demko likely would have been in the conversation for many more awards come the end of his rookie season. In 24 appearances, he posted a 16-5-3 record for Boston College, with a 2.24 GAA and a .919 sv%. More impressive, Demko’s numbers when playing against league opponents were even higher, as he sported a 9-1-1 record with a 1.35 GAA and a .948 sv%. Both of his shutouts also came against Hockey East foes. (Source)

With the emergence of Markstrom and the performance of Demko, the Canucks have the potential for a very strong goaltending duo for many years.

Obviously, the Canucks are now in the middle of a rebuild and still need to find an impact 1st line forward and another top pairing D (although Ben Hutton might do) to replace the aging Alex Edler but they will likely get a top 5 draft pick this year and with the expiration of the contracts of Radim Vrbata and Dan Hamhuis, as well as the possibility of moving on from Alex Burrows, they will have significant cap space to address those issues.

GM Jim Benning has his warts as a contract negotiator but he has a long and strong record as an identifier and developer of great talent in the NHL so he should be able to right the ship pretty quickly with all the young talent that is already in place.

There is no reason to think that the Oilers will be leaving the Canucks behind anytime soon.

 

 

 

 

The Bumbling of Alberta

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There are only 6 weeks left in the NHL regular season, the  2 Alberta teams are fighting for bragging rights as the best and worst teams in the province.

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While Winnipeg, Arizona and Vancouver may have something to say about who finishes where, the odds on favourites to win the Toilet Bowl both reside in Alberta.

So, what’s likely to happen here?

Obviously, Calgary, with 3 games in hand, has the advantage but there are a couple of other factors to look at.

The Oilers final 15 games are all against the Western Conference. They have a 17-14-1 record against the East but are a paltry 8-21-6 against the West.

The Flames have 3 games left against the EC including winnable games against Montreal and Toronto and also have the “advantage” of owning a 13-20-2 record against the WC so, if things stay true to form, the Flames SHOULD be able to pull away from the Oilers down the stretch.

However, if momentum counts for anything, the Flames (1-8-1) appear to be stumbling badly with Kari Ramo out of the lineup while the Oilers (3-6-1) have been able to pick up a few more points in the last 1o games.
One other thing that may come into play here is the additions the Oilers have made to beef up the team for the stretch as they try to become a heavier team to compete in the West.

Zack Kassian and Patrick Maroon give the team a different edge but it remains to be seen how much impact they can have when the Oilers play the big boys in the Pacific Division.

The Oilers have 7 games remaining against teams currently in a playoff position while the Flames have 10 which, if they turn into losses, wipes out their advantage in games in hand.

The Oilers final 3 games of the season are against the Flames and 2 against the Canucks.

I would imagine those 3 games will be critical to how all this plays out.

 

The Dogs Days

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WAITING FOR APRIL

Typically, March is a month of furious competitive hockey as almost every team in the league thinks it still has a chance to make the post season. This season…not so much.

In the Western Conference, 3 teams, Nashville, Minnesota and Colorado, are duking it out for the final 2 wildcard spots while in the Eastern Conference, it would appear only Philadelphia has a decent chance of cracking the top 8.

That essentially leaves 12 teams as “Dead Men Skating” which pretty much overturns the parity notion that Gary Bettman has been pushing, at least for this season.

Now that Anaheim has returned from the dead and is streaking (9-0-1) toward a WC championship, there really are no surprise cinderella winners or losers this season, unless, of course, you ignored by exhortations at the beginning of the season and din’t keep a close eye on the Florida Panthers.

As a long time follower and admirer of Dale Tallon and his work in Chicago and now Florida, I’m not the least bit surprised at his teams’ success.

He built the team the right way from the goalie out when he acquired Roberto Luongo and has hewed to the mantra that a stout defense anchored by veteran Bryan Campbell, young phenoms Aaron Ekblad, Dimitri Kulikov, Erik Gudbranson and Alex Petrovic is a key to success.

He also followed the blueprint of depth down the middle when he drafted Alex Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Quinton Howden and the rapidly blooming Vincent Trocek as well as 0more pedestrian players like Derek McKenzie and Dave Bolland who is perhaps one glaring mistake in the Tallon era in Florida.

I recall a rather chippy encounter with the folks over at Lowetide’s blog when I happened to point out how astute Tallon was in stocking his C depth and was met with howls of derision from the Lowetidian acolytes.

Last laughs and all that…..

The Panthers remain in 1st place in the Atlantic division and despite having only a slim lead are a shoe in for the playoffs.

I doubt they can get past the dominant Capitals to a berth in the Stanley Cup finals but, man, Tallon acquiring Jiri Hudler and Teddy Purcell at the deadline only adds to the Panthers forward depth and, as we know, almost anything can happen in the playoffs.

If you’re a Canadian hockey fan and relish pulling for a team in the playoffs, the Panthers might be a good bet.

And, one final thought, the “Blackhawks South” that Tallon is building in South Florida has almost $30 million in free cap space in the offseason and a loaded prospect pool.

Tallon will be able to feast on cap strapped teams dumping good players like no other GM in the league and I would imagine he will complete the job of building a powerhouse before the snow flies.

Timing and smarts are everything.

 

 

 

 

Eye on the Oilers

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With the Oilers settling in to 30place in the NHL, there’s more than a little chatter about the competence of both GM Peter Chiarelli and head coach Todd McLellan.

You may recall, upon the occasion of their respective signings, that I cautioned Oiler fans to take a closer look at their respective records.

Of course, no one did, proudly proclaiming that both Peter and Todd both had track record that would immediately result in a bolt up the standings.

Peter was going to reproduce the success he had in building a Stanley Cup winner but I cautioned that much of his success in Boston was the dumb luck he had when Ottawa made a the wrong decision and let Boston have one of the most dominant defensemen of the decade in Zdeno Chara.

Yes, Peter made some good moves on his own but let’s remember it WAS on his watch that Tyler Seguin was traded and that he so botched the Bruins cap situation that he was fired.

His early dealings in Edmonton indicate he may still have some trouble in that regard since he paid too much in both dollars and term for Andrei Sekera who even Chiarelli himself says is a second pairing D.

That he has also vastly overpaid in the trade to acquire AHL defenseman Griffin Reinhart is another huge red flag.

It’s too early to tell if he has another Seguin arrow in his quiver but I would be very concerned about that.

I also attempted to warn Oiler fans that they should not expect miracles from Todd McLellan since his record with a stacked San Jose Sharks roster was relatively mediocre.

He inherited an elite team from the fired Ron Wilson and never got the Sharks to take a step forward.

It’s no surprise to me that the Sharks are on pace for a 96 point season without Todd which is more than the 89 points in his last season in San Jose with essentially the same roster.

After peaking at 117 points in his 1st season, the Sharks under Todd would see their points totals slowly dwindle to that 89 point finish that got him fired that season.

It appears he may have been the problem in San Jose.

I also recall that many Oiler fans were predicting that the Oiler PP under McLellan would match the success of the group in San Jose especially with all the high end talent he would have at his disposal in Edmonton.

Not so fast.

As of this writing, the Oiler PP ranks 20th in the league at 18.1%

The Sharks PP ranks 4th at 22.2% and only a smidgeon behind the league leading Capitals.

So much for that fantasy.

And, as the Oilers enter the final quarter of another dreary season, a couple of questions linger.

What exactly is the Oilers record with and without Connor McDavid in the lineup?

Who is going to be the new Seguin in Peter’s world?