Monday, June 18, 2018

NHL mock Draft: picks 16-23

I'm trying to catch up here before the Draft Friday, so here's my picks from 16 to 23.

16. Colorado Avalanche-Joel Farabee, LW, US NTDP

The Avs addressed their blue line depth in last year's Draft, and now, their main objective is to get more scorers in the pipeline. A year at Boston University should give Farabee a chance to pack on a little weight, but his ability is there, and if he gets paired with either Nathan MacKinnon or Mikko Rantanen down the line, it would unlock his full potential.

17. New Jersey Devils-K'Andre Miller, D, US NTDP

The Devils are still fairly thin on the blue line even with the addition of Sami Vatanen and the emergence of Will Butcher. Miller still has room to grow, especially since he's still learning the position, but the rewards are immense and he will get a little time to learn in Wisconsin.

18. Columbus Blue Jackets-Rasmus Kupari, C, Karpat (Finland)

The ceiling is high for Kupari, but consistency is an issue that needs to be sorted out. Still, the Blue Jackets need scoring, and Kupari would, at his best, provide that.

19. Philadelphia Flyers-Serron Noel, RW, Oshawa (OHL)

The Flyers don't have much in the way of needs in the pipeline, but do have some holes to fill at the NHL level. Noel provides a power forward skill set that could very well match that of current Flyer Wayne Simmonds.

20. Los Angeles Kings-Jared McIsaac, D, Halifax (QMJHL)

The depth on the blue line may become an issue soon, especially if Drew Doughty leaves soon. McIsaac won't replace his offensive numbers, but everything else about his game suggests that he can be a solid player who's proficient in his own end.

21. San Jose Sharks-Jett Woo, D, Moose Jaw (WHL)

San Jose needs to get younger on the blue line, and there isn't much in the pipeline. Woo is more of a physical type and won't provide much offense, but his game is similar to Marc-Edouard Vlasic, something that the Sharks will happily take.

22. Ottawa Senators (from Pittsburgh)-Barrett Hayton, C, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)

Ottawa is thin down the middle, and if Matt Duchene leaves after the season, the Sens are in major trouble. Hayton will get a chance to show more of what he can do offensively, but he's already a player who shows great detail defensively.

23. Anaheim Ducks-Dominik Bokk, RW, Vaxjo Jr. (Sweden)

The Ducks need skill players, and bad. Bokk may just be scratching the surface of what he can do, and he may also need to pack on a few pounds, but the potential is there, and he got to play on the same team as Elias Pettersson, who is slated to debut in the NHL next season a year after being drafted.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

NHL mock Draft: Picks 9-15

Continuing on to the NHL mock Draft, and picks 9-15, I'll try to get in the selections with the World Cup going on.

9. New York Rangers-Brady Tkachuk, C/RW, Boston University (Hockey East)
The Rangers have three picks in the first round, and they can afford to wait until later to pick a defenseman. They can also trade up if they need to. Should they think Tkachuk could come off the board earlier and they want him, a trade up is possible. Then again, a defenseman heavy draft could very lead to Tkachuk falling if the Rangers decide to stay put. Tkachuk is almost like his dad and older brother. In other words, a power forward that can make life miserable for the opposing players.

10. Edmonton Oilers-Rasmus Sandin, D, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)

The Oilers are in a precarious spot with the salary cap, and there is word that they may be moving the pick along with a hefty contract. Should they stay, Sandin provides the most offensive upside of the defenders remaining. He also happens to be fairly proficient in his own end, something that was evident when paired with fellow Draft-eligible defenseman Adam Boqvist.

11. New York Islanders-Joe Veleno, C, Drummondville (QMJHL)

A playmaker who has immense talent, Veleno showed most of what he can do after a mid-season trade to Drummondville. Already a champion with Saint John in 2017, his talent level can be even higher, and with John Tavares likely a goner, he can step in as a top center once he makes the NHL.

12. New York Islanders (from Calgary)-Ty Smith, D, Spokane (WHL)

The Islanders were terrible in their own end last year, and Smith is the best defensive defenseman available in the Draft after Dahlin. He may not provide much offense, but the Islanders aren't exactly hurting in that category.

13. Dallas Stars-Isac Lundestrom, C, Lulea (Sweden)

The Stars may wish to address their center depth soon, as Martin Hanzal is better suited for third line duty and Jason Spezza is seeing a pretty steep decline in skill. Lundestrom may not be flashy, but he does a lot of things well and his skill set reminds some of current Nashville center Calle Jarnkrok, who can play a complete 200-foot game.

14. Philadelphia Flyers (from St. Louis)-Jesperi Kotkaniemi, C, Assat (Finland)

The Flyers may need to force feed a few of their current prospects into the NHL roster soon, which of course means that it's a good idea to stock up on prospects with a high ceiling. Kotkaniemi may be seen as a late bloomer, but he has great potential offensively and is continuing to work on being better in the areas he needs to improve upon (i.e. skating).

15. Florida Panthers-Bode Wilde, D, US NTDP

Hockey sense is a question mark for Wilde, but everything else checks out. Florida needs defensemen badly, and Wilde has potential if he can improve his hockey sense.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

2018 NHL mock Draft: Picks 1-8

With the NHL Draft just a little over a week now, the mock drafts are coming together...except for mine. That changes today, as I begin my sixth year doing this, with the actual results hopefully resembling mine a little. Like every year, the mock draft will be broken down into parts. Today, picks 1-8.

1. Buffalo Sabres-Rasmus Dahlin, D, Frolunda (Sweden)

Never has a defenseman received as much hype as Dahlin, who is viewed as a generational talent. His year included a roster spot on the Swedish Olympic team. He has the size and ability to step in right away, something that Buffalo will happily take, as their defense is rather thin after Rasmus Ristolainen.

2. Carolina Hurricanes-Andrei Svechnikov, RW, Barrie (OHL)

Carolina picked a bad time to have the second overall pick, as their needs are where this year's Draft is weak. However, given that everyone except Sebastian Aho is considered tradeable, a pure goal scorer is exactly what the Hurricanes need. Svechnikov is the best player in this regard.

3. Montreal Canadiens-Filip Zadina, LW, Halifax (QMJHL)

Like Carolina, the Canadiens' needs are not highly ranked in this Draft. However, if there is a team that is a prime target to trade down to get more picks, it's Montreal. Should they stay at three, Zadina would be just as good of an option as a scorer, especially if Max Pacioretty gets moved. Zadina is also a little better defensively, which should help the Canadiens, who need to play 2-1 games consistently.

4. Ottawa Senators-Quinn Hughes, D, Michigan (Big 10)

With recent increased rumors of Erik Karlsson maybe on the move, the Senators need a defender that can come close to his talent level down the line. Hughes is the safer pick between him and Adam Boqvist, as Hughes appears to be closer to NHL ready if he leaves Michigan right away.

5. Arizona Coyotes-Noah Dobson, D, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)

Though they picked Pierre Olivier-Joseph last year and Jakob Chychrun the year before, the Coyotes still need to stockpile the blue line, particularly if they let Niklas Hjalmarsson walk and/or buy out either Alex Goligoski or Jason Demers in the next year or so. Dobson may need another year or so before he's ready, but he's got high potential and is already a winner, as he was on the Acadie-Bathurst team that won both the QMJHL title and the Memorial Cup this year.

6. Detroit Red Wings-Adam Boqvist, D, Byrnas Jr. (Sweden)

Detroit hasn't had a great offensive option from the blue line since Nicklas Lidstrom retired. Mike Green is likely gone in free agency, and there's no guarantee Dennis Cholowski will develop. Boqvist has the best offensive potential from the blue line out of all the defensemen in the Draft not named Rasmus Dahlin.

7. Vancouver Canucks-Evan Bouchard, D, London (OHL)

Although depth on the blue line is good, the Canucks lack a true number one defender. Olli Juolevi recently underwent surgery, so the Canucks may want to consider a fall-back option. Bouchard is more well-rounded than many of the defenders in the Draft, and he has the size most don't.

8. Chicago Blackhawks-Oliver Wahlstrom, RW, US NTDP

Though they need defensemen more, the Blackhawks do have the luxury of waiting until the end of the first round thanks to having Nashville's first round pick and the Draft being pretty good on defensemen. Wahlstrom would give the Blackhawks another scorer that could potentially go along with Alex DeBrincat in the future.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Caps' Circle of Life

The image you see above is one that Washington Capitals fans finally get to see after 45 years or so of failure and misery. So, how did it finally get to this point? Let's look back at their history.

The Capitals entered the NHL in 1974 along with the Kansas City Scouts. They were literally the worst team ever, setting records for futility in their first year and only winning one road game all year. In fact, their first eight years were usually bad, with talk of them actually being moved out of the DC area. In 1982, David Poile would become General Manager and orchestrate a trade that would solidify their blue line, as Rod Langway came over from Montreal that same year. Add to the likes of Bengt Gustafsson and Mike Gartner, and the Captials would finally break through into the playoffs that year. The problem was that the New York Islanders were in the midst of their dynasty, and they were thus knocked out in the first or second rounds. They would make the Conference finals in 1990, where they were swept by Boston. In 1991, the Capitals would begin what became a recurring theme in the playoffs, as they encountered their kryptonite in the Pittsburgh Penguins, losing to them nearly every time they made the playoffs in a stretch from 1991 until 2001 (That theme would carry over a few years after that, but that will be covered later.). In 1994, the Capitals did manage to get one over on the Penguins, but were promptly pushed aside by the eventual champions of that year in the New York Rangers. 1998 was a banner year for the Capitals, as they would make the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in their history on the back of Olaf Kolzig and Peter Bondra. However, their maiden trip was anything but joyous, as the Detroit Red Wings swept them aside on their way to winning back to back Stanley Cups. After more Penguin pain, in the 2001 offseason, the Capitals would poach the Penguins roster for Jaromir Jagr. Unfortunately, success did not follow him to Washington, nor did it reverse the team's fortunes, as they would only make the playoffs once in his time there, losing to Tampa Bay in 2003. They hit rock bottom in 2004, trading nearly everyone with value, including Jagr.

In the 2004 NHL Draft, the Capitals picked a generational talent in Alexander Ovechkin, who would have his rookie year in 2005 thanks to the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season. The team still stunk, but Ovechkin began pumping life into the team. It wasn't until the middle of the 2007-08 season, when Bruce Boudreau was installed as head coach and Nicklas Backstrom had a coming out year that the Capitals made the playoffs once again. Once again, they couldn't get past the second round, as among their owners, the Pittsburgh Penguins resurfaced after a tear down and rebuild of their own to take the Capitals down in 2009. 2010 was a good year, at least in the regular season, as the Capitals won their first Presidents' Trophy. However, they fell to Jaroslav Halak and the Montreal Canadiens in the first round. For the next few years, the Capitals still couldn't get past the second round, as the New York Rangers took ownership of the Capitals from 2012 to 2015. In that time, the team went through four head coaches, and there were constant rumors of Ovechkin getting moved. Things didn't get better, as Pittsburgh returned to take ownership of the Capitals in 2016 and 2017 en route to their Stanley Cup championship in those years.

The 2017-18 season was one with considerably less expectations, as the Capitals were on the verge of salary cap hell, as they were forced to let key players such as Karl Alzner, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Marcus Johansson all leave. While they won their division, it also came with an asterisk, as Braden Holtby had a terrible year to the point where Phillipp Grubauer was starting the playoffs as the starting goaltender. Things got off to a rocky start, as they lost their first two games of the first round. However,  Holtby was reinserted as the starter, and the Capitals won the next four games and the series. The second round brought a familiar nemesis in Pittsburgh. However, the script was rewritten, as the Capitals finally found a way to beat Pittsburgh and make the Conference Finals and face another potential owner in the Tampa Bay Lightning. It looked like they were going to bow out when they were down 3-2 in the series. However, Holtby summoned his previous Vezina Torphy winner form and shut out the Lightning in the last two games to help guide the team to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in team history. After a wild game one against the Vegas Godlen Knights, it looked like the magic would finally run out. However, Holtby would make the save that Capitals fans will be talking about for a long time as the turning point in the series, as they would steal game 2. From there, Ovechkin put the team on his back and the rest of the team provided the necessary support in giving Washington not only their first wins in the Finals, but now, the Stanley Cup to go along with it.

In conclusion, the Stanley Cup win not only erases the failures of Washington's past, but also puts Ovechkin in the conversation as one of the league's all-time greats. In fact, his career trajectory mirrors that of another player that had to wait about 14 years to win his first Stanley Cup in Steve Yzerman, a great player that couldn't win the big one and was once rumored to be on the trading block for Alexei Yashin. All of that is now over for Ovechkin, as he finally has his place in the sun, and the Capitals no longer have to be subjected to endless jokes about never being able to win the big one.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

End of the Snow Error

Yesterday, the New York Islanders finally turned the page on the Garth Snow era, as he was shown the door along with head coach Doug Weight. The end really occurred a few days ago, as Lou Lamoriello came to the Islanders after he was stripped of the General Manager's title in Toronto. So, what did Snow accomplish on the Island/Brooklyn?

  • On one of his first days as General Manager in 2006, a role he accepted after retiring and after the Islanders unceremoniously dumped Neil Smith after 41 days on the job, he handed out one of the single worst contracts in league history, as he was the General Manager of record when Rick DiPietro signed his 15-year deal. You know the story, and he was eventually bought out in 2013.
  • Draft history: besides John Tavares in 2009 and Brock Nelson in 2010, the Islanders have had trouble developing their top prospects. Nino Neiderreiter was almost ruined before he got traded to Minnesota, where he is now a 30-goal threat every year. Ryan Strome (2011) never developed, and now, he may be for bustdom, as he hasn't developed as hoped in Edmonton. Griffin Reinhart (2012) hasn't even made the NHL as a regular and he's on his third team in Vegas. Michael Dal Colle (2014) is looking more and more like a bust while Josh Ho-Sang (also 2014) is still looking to crack the NHL roster permanently. Mat Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier, both 2015, appear to be future fixtures for years to come, but mostly, the Islanders have had major inability to either develop players or allow them to sink or swim at the NHL level, instead relying on over-the-hill veterans that clog up roster space (see: Ladd, Andrew).
  • Dating back to the DiPietro debacle, the Islanders have never been able to identify a number one goaltender. Jaroslav Halak, Thomas Greiss, Evgeni Nabokov, and DiPietro haven't been the answer, and their ability to draft and develop goalies has been awful.
  • Incompetence at head coach. Instead of trying to get coaches that know what they're doing or at least a good name coach, Snow went with the likes of Ted Nolan, Scott Gordon, Jack Capuano, and Doug Weight. Those coaches were either incompetent, cancerous, or both.
  • The trades: The aforementioned Neiderreiter trade netted them Cal Clutterbuck, and while he's a good fourth line player, they are also stuck with him for four more years. Matt Moulson and a first round pick for Thomas Vanek? Not working. It also forced them to make numerous trades to get back in the first round in 2015..twice. While the picks have worked out to date, it also robbed the Islanders of the number of players they could have added with the extra pick or two.
All Snow has to show for his time with the Islanders: one playoff series win, and even that would be deemed questionable. It will remain to be seen what Lamoriello can do and who he hires as head coach, but one thing is for certain: the bar it set pretty low for the Islanders, and Lamoriello is only being tasked to be somewhat competent.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Stanley Cup Finals Preview

It has come down to this: two teams left and one Stanley Cup at stake. The series begins Monday, and now is the time to take a look at the two teams that will be competing for the ultimate prize.

Washington Capitals: The Capitals have had a lot of adversity and playoff demons to overcome to make their second Stanley Cup Finals in their illustrious history. Maybe this time, they will actually win a game in the Finals. Every success and failure begins with Alex Ovechkin, who has finally gotten the support he needs to make it to this point. Evgeny Kuznetsov has been one of the better players on the team, and Braden Holtby has turned back the clock to when he was competing for Vezina Trophies. Defensively, they have held up surprisingly well, with John Carlson leading the way and Brooks Orpik playing surprisingly decent. They've had to overcome a 2-0 series deficit to Columbus in the opening round, beat their long time nemesis in Pittsburgh, and stave off a potential new overlord in Tampa Bay, battling back from a 3-2 series deficit in the process. If Washington is going to win, the supporting cast needs to continue to show up so Ovechkin doesn't have to try to do it all on his own.

Vegas Golden Knights: The neophytes of the NHL have made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in their first year of existence, the first to do so since St. Louis in 1968. Marc-Andre Fleury still has some life left, and if he gets hurt, they have confidence in Malcolm Subban. The defense is still largely a no-name group who was led by Colin Miller. While they are mostly second and third pairing players, a potential breakout star is Shea Theodore, who has all the makings of a top pairing player with offensive skill. Up front, they have a genuine top line in Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault, and William Karlsson, and depth up front is just as good, with David Perron the best option for scoring outside the top line. They seemingly have answered every question asked of them, and they intend to answer the bell once more.

Prediction: This one is a tough one to call. Both teams have responded well to their respective coaching, and any and all questions of how each would respond to adversity, both have answered well. Ovechkin would love to win a Stanley Cup in his 14th year while the Gerard Gallant, Marchessault, and Smith would like to give the Florida Panthers one final middle finger. There's also the Blues pain factor, as at least two players from either team will be winning a Stanley Cup, further driving the stake into the Blues fans' collective hearts. I've been waiting for the Capitals' lack of depth to finally do them in and/or Vegas' luck to finally run out. My jinxing powers in hockey run hot and cold, so it's unpredictable as to which way it's going to go. I'm going with Golden Knights in 7.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Revisiting the Golden Knights

Show of hands, who thought the Vegas Golden Knights would even make the playoffs prior to the season? You can put them down, you liar. 500 to 1 was the opening line for the odds they would make the Stanley Cup Finals before the season began, and here we are, they made the Finals in their first year, something that of the teams still in the NHL, only the Toronto Arenas (now Maple Leafs) and the St. Louis Blues achieved. So, who exactly are the Golden Knights? Well, to answer that, let's look at how the roster was constructed and the people responsible for putting the team together.

In goal, there is Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban. Fleury was the big name of the team's expansion draft, and prior to the season, some thought he would face the same fate that Peter Sidorkiewicz would face when he was taken by Ottawa in their expansion draft in 1992. When healthy, Fleury proved that he still had something left and then some. Subban was destined to be a bust for the Boston Bruins, having never cracked the roster on a full-time basis. His pick up off waivers by the Golden Knights proved to be a smart move and one that would see them swap him for Calvin Pickard as a backup. Pickard is now in Toronto's system.

On defense, it's still a largely unknown group that is headed by Washington cast-off Nate Schmidt. Colin Miller, a pick from Boston, led all blueliners on the team in scoring while Shea Theodore, who was traded to Vegas so Anaheim could get Clayton Stoner's contract off their books, looks like a future star. Former Calgary defender Deryk Engelland proved to be the face of the team's leadership, as his ties to Las Vegas, from playing there previously in the ECHL to having a home there, all made it easy to call him the unofficial captain of the team. He also chipped in a respectable 23 points.

Up front, the offense is led by William Karlsson, a former Blue Jacket who was pegged to be a great penalty killer who occasionally chipped in offense. 43 goals later, and he blew expectations out of the water. Jonathan Marchessault was taken from Florida with the provision that Vegas also take Reilly Smith's contract as well. Turns out that Marchessault's 30-goal season in Florida wasn't a mirage, as he trailed Karlsson for the team scoring lead by three points (78 to 75) and Smith was fourth on the team in scoring with 60 points. Florida's crow eating isn't just confined to those two players, as you'll find out later. Other players that made their former teams look bad include David Perron, who was third in scoring on the team despite missing a few games to injury, and he made the Blues wish they had his production on the second line. Erik Haula was taken from Minnesota and Alex Tuch was thrown in on a trade because Minnesota wanted to protect their blue line. About that, Haula missed the 30-goal mark by one and finished fifth on the team in scoring, and Tuch looks like a solid player that the team can build upon, and both provide scoring that the Wild could have used.

 Bill Foley owns the team, and he figured out right away that to build a solid team, he needed good hockey people. For all the grief George McPhee got for the Filip Forsberg trade while in Washington, his time as General Manager wasn't bad. Foley gave him another shot. Kelly McCrimmon was plucked from the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL to provide more insight. Remember when I said that the crow eating for the Florida Panthers wasn't over? That Gerard Gallant guy that they told to piss off last season at the beginning of a long road trip and left him at the airport did a pretty good job for the Vegas Golden Knights this year.

Yes, the Vegas Golden Knights making the Stanley Cup Finals is nothing short of amazing, so much so that people are calling it rigged. Look back on your predictions before the season and then tell me if you really expected any of this to happen.