Thursday, June 30, 2016

A (Sort of) New Maverick in Town

When Richard Matvichuk left the bench of the Missouri Mavericks to accept the head coaching job of the Prince George Cougars a few weeks ago, one had to wonder what direction the Mavericks were going to go on the heels of a record-breaking regular season. Today, we got our answer, and it turns out that the Mavericks didn't go very far to find him.

John-Scott Dickson was elevated to the head coaching job after serving as an assistant coach last season. He will also gain the title of Director of Hockey Operations. Having served as an assistant coach for the previous two seasons, with his first season in that role also coming as a player, Dickson had ample opportunity to learn from Matvichuk, and given that his playing days weren't that long ago, it sounds like a logical fit, as he will be familiar with a fair number of current Mavs players from either coaching, playing, or both.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

...And We're Off!

For those that were waiting for the NHL Free Agency period to begin Friday, in earnest, the frenzy began today, as three big pieces came falling off the off-season house.

The first order of business: Steven Stamkos. The big fish in the free agency pool was officially taken out today by the Tampa Bay Lightning, as the Lightning signed him to an 8-year, $68 million dollar deal. That is an $8.5 million cap hit on average for the Lightning, and ends any speculation that the Lightning were going to lose their captain and leading goal scorer to another team. A two-time 50 goal scorer, he missed most of the playoffs this season, but the signing is an indication that the Lightning and Stamkos are both in it for the long run. Ultimately, the Lightning and Stamkos kept their respective words when it came to what the future would hold for the other, even if it took up to the 11th hour to do so.

Second order of business: the Montreal Canadiens and Nashville Predators decided that it would be a good idea to swap their respective top defensemen. That's right, Shea Weber and PK Subban are changing places in a move reminiscient of Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy doing the same thing in the 1983 movie "Trading Places." What does it mean for both teams? For Nashville, they get younger and though they do take on a little more of a cap hit with Subban, they also have five fewer years than with Weber. Translation: by the time Subban's contract is up, which will be in six years, he will be 33 while Weber will be 41 by the time his contract ends in 10 years. That is important for a Nashville team that generally never likes to operate to the salary cap ceiling. Meanwhile, the Canadiens get a leader who still has a menacing shot. The trade should benefit both players, as they're heading to the systems that will benefit each one more.

Third order of business: the Edmonton Oilers were known to be in the market for an NHL-ready defender. You can cross that off the list, as they acquired Adam Larsson from the New Jersey Devils. The cost? Taylor Hall. Like the Predators-Canadiens trade, this was a straight up trade that should, in theory, benefit both teams. The Devils need any and all defense that they can get, and getting Hall, who scored 26 times last season, will help in that regard. As for the Oilers, they unclog the logjam of forwards a little while trading for a defender that is just now beginning to figure it out in Larsson, as evidenced by his increasing ice time the last two seasons while also playing on the top pair last season. For both, who are also former first round picks (Hall in 2010, Larsson in 2011), it's a chance improve their new squads.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Meet the 2016 Hockey Hall of Fame Class

This year's Hockey Hall of Fame class didn't have an obvious player entering their first year of eligibility, which meant that many of the players who have waited their turn to enter as one of the best to ever play had as good of a shot as anyone. Yesterday, three players and a head coach got the call to join the Hall of Fame in November.

Eric Lindros headlines the foursome, and while it has been wildly debated as to whether or not he deserves the nod, what is certain is that he dominated the game for a time in the mid to late 90's. Winning the Hart Trophy in the lockout shortened 1995 season, he also barely lost out on the Art Ross Trophy by tie-breaker and led the Flyers to a Stanley Cup Final in 1997. Injuries, namely concussions, curtailed what could have been a great career, but he still managed over a point a game.

Sergei Makarov spent the majority of his hockey career with the Red Army team in the old USSR, where he put up dynamic numbers alongside linemates Vladimir Krutov and fellow Hall of Famer Igor Larionov. He joined the NHL in the 1989-90 season, where he won the Calder Trophy at the age of 32, which forced the NHL to change the eligibility rules to cap at 26 years old for rookies. He amassed 384 points in 424 NHL games, and was on the winning teams for eight World Championships, two Olympics, and two World Juniors.

Rogie Vachon spent time with Montreal, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Boston, winning the Stanley Cup with Montreal twice. However, it was in Los Angeles that he earned his greatest recognition, setting many of the team's goalie records along the way. Only Jonathan Quick and Kelly Hrudey have put up great seasons in a Kings uniform alongside Vachon.

Pat Quinn will be posthumously honored. A player for nine seasons, he gained great recognition as coach of the Flyers, Kings, Canucks, Maple Leafs, and Oilers, making the Finals with the Flyers and Canucks one time each. He also held a managing position with Team Canada, and was Chair of the Hockey Hall of Fame at the time of his death in November 2014.

The induction ceremony will take place in November.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

2016 NHL Draft First Round Recap

With the 2016 NHL Draft in the books, and the ever-constant hand-wringing over with, I will begin recapping all of the happenings of the Draft, beginning with the first round. The actual pick, plus what I thought would be the pick will be put here.

1. Toronto Maple Leafs: Auston Matthews, C, Zurich (Switzerland)

As expected, the Leafs picked up their number one center that they've lacked since Mats Sundin last put on their sweater. He held up well against older competition in Europe, and also played well in the World Juniors, and he will bring both offensive and defensive skills to a team in need of both.

My pick: Matthews

2. Winnipeg Jets: Patrik Laine, RW, Tappara (Finland)

No surprise that Laine goes to the Jets, as he provides them a goal scorer that will inevitably draw comparisons to former Jet Teemu Selanne. A big body, if he learns how to use it, this pick could be even better.

My pick: Laine

3. Columbus Blue Jackets: Pierre-Luc Dubois, LW, Cape Breton (QMJHL)

The first curve ball of the draft, the Blue Jackets pass on Jesse Puljujarvi, who was widely viewed as the more complete player of the two, and go for versatility in Dubois, who can also play center, a sore spot for the Blue Jackets. A head-scratcher, for sure, but that was hardly the only issue that left the Blue Jackets fans screaming in anger. However, 42 goals last season is a cause for optimism here.

My pick: Jesse Puljujarvi

4. Edmonton Oilers: Jesse Puljujarvi, RW, Karpat (Finland)

The Blue Jackets' loss is Edmonton's gain, as Puljujarvi falls to an Edmonton team that will welcome him as a possible linemate of Connor McDavid. Like Dubois, Puljujarvi is a power forward with few issues. The Oilers needed a defender, but they would hit a potential jackpot later in the draft.

My pick: Olli Juolevi

5. Vancouver Canucks: Olli Juolevi, D, London (OHL)

The Canucks needed offense, and probably should have gone with Matthew Tkachuk. However, they also needed a top-defender that can move the puck out of the zone, as Ben Hutton isn't quite top-defender material. Juolevi provides the Canucks with that answer, and what was a weakness all season now looks a little better.

My pick: Pierre-Luc Dubois

6. Calgary Flames: Matthew Tkachuk, LW, London (OHL)

Knights players go back-to-back, as Tkachuk heads to a Calgary team that sees him as the potential muscle to go along with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. He has work to do on his skating, but everything else points to him replicating the success of his father Keith.

My pick: Tkachuk

7. Arizona Coyotes: Clayton Keller, C, USNTDP

A surprise pick, the Coyotes went with an offensive dynamo that is a little on the small side. Keller's numbers are comparable to Patrick Kane's when he was drafted, and he will be given time to develop in college or in Windsor.

My pick: Mikhail Sergachev

8. Buffalo Sabres: Alexander Nylander, LW, Mississauga (OHL)

Speed, quickness, and playmaking ability are what the younger Nylander brings to a Sabres team that already has Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. Another solid pick by a Sabres team that looks ready to make a playoff push next season.

My pick: Tyson Jost

9. Montreal Canadiens: Mikhail Sergachev, D, Windsor (OHL)

The best offensive defender in the draft, Sergachev provided points on a Windsor squad that overachieved last season. His defense is coming around, but he also has some bite to his game. An eventual replacement for Andrei Markov.

My pick: Alexander Nylander

10. Colorado Avalanche: Tyson Jost, C, Penticton (BCHL)

This was a pick that I was critical of when I first heard it, largely because most of Colorado's problems had to do with letting too many shots get to the goalie. Of course, it doesn't help if the forwards can't hold on to the puck or have little interest in playing defense, either. Jost models his game after Jonathan Toews, and while he is likely going to be a year or two away at North Dakota, he may also end up just as good in the long run.

My pick: Jakob Chychrun

11. Ottawa Senators: Logan Brown, C, Windsor (OHL)

The Senators swapped picks with New Jersey, meaning the Senators got the opportunity to pick here. Brown provides size down the middle, and at this point, he is just learning how to utilize his size better. The finished product promises to be a top-line center with Joe Thornton qualities.

My pick: Clayton Keller (New Jersey), Logan Brown (Ottawa)

12. New Jersey: Michael McLeod, C, Mississauga (OHL)

The Devils moved down a spot while picking up an extra draft pick. The result was them taking possibly the fastest skater in the draft in McLeod, who put up good numbers next to Alexander Nylander in juniors.

My pick: Logan Brown (Ottawa), Clayton Keller (New Jersey)

13. Carolina Hurricanes: Jake Bean, D, Calgary (WHL)

The Hurricanes went with another defender in their quest to build an actual NHL-caliber blue line. Bean is more of an offensive player at this point in his development, and needs to add weight, but the Hurricanes are envisioning him as another puck mover to go along with Noah Hanifin.

My pick: Michael McLeod

14. Boston Bruins: Charlie McAvoy, D, Boston University

Another offensive defender, McAvoy is a right-handed defender, which appears to be in short supply these days. Solidly built at 6', 200 lbs., if he learns to utilize it to his advantage, he can be a puck mover that would be hard to move off the puck.

My pick: McAvoy

15. Minnesota Wild: Luke Kunin, C, Wisconsin

The Wild picked up Kunin, who put up good numbers despite playing on a terrible Wisconsin team. Kunin produced in all situations and has considerable upside as a top two line player.

My pick: Kiefer Bellows

16. Arizona Coyotes: Jakob Chychrun, D, Sarnia (OHL)

The Coyotes swapped picks with Detroit in a move that also saw the Coyotes take on the recently NHL-retired Pavel Datsyuk's contract. Chychrun was widely though to be the one that took a tumble down the draft board, and Arizona was the one to stop the fall and take the defender that they needed. Solid player all-around, he's comfortable being in the spotlight, which translate into a top four spot.

My pick: Jake Bean

17. Nashville Predators: Dante Fabbro, D, Penticton (BCHL)

It's never too early to think about life after Shea Weber, and the Preds take Fabbro, who has considerable skills that will be put to the test in college. Expected to join Charlie McAvoy at Boston University, he will get a chance to add to an already impressive offensive arsenal.

My pick: Fabbro

18. Winnipeg Jets: Logan Stanley, D, Windsor (OHL)

The Jets swapped picks with the Flyers to pick up a shutdown defender in Stanley. History suggests that picking a tall defender in the first round hasn't always panned out (see: Valabik, Boris in 2004 by the Jets' former incarnation the Atlanta Thrashers and Cowen, Jared in 2009 by Ottawa). However, the Jets do need to think about an eventual replacement for Mark Stuart, and with time, Stanley figures to be the guy.

My pick: Max Jones

19. New York Islanders: Kiefer Bellows, LW, USNTDP

Bellows is the son of former NHL prolific scorer Brian, and it's obvious that the scoring touch passed down to Kiefer. While he has work to do in every other aspect of his game, the Islanders should be thrilled that a 50-goal scorer, as the younger Bellows did with the U.S. Development team did, slid down to them.

My pick: Riley Tufte

20. Detroit Red Wings: Dennis Cholowski, D, Chilliwack (BCHL)

A raw talent on the blue line, his offense is way ahead of his defense at this point. He will have time to develop in college, and the expectation is that Detroit will finally have a number one defender that they've been missing since Nicklas Lidstrom retired.

My pick: Logan Stanley

21. Carolina Hurricanes: Julien Gauthier, RW, Val D'Or (QMJHL)

With the recent run of defensemen in the first round, the Hurricanes decide to address their front line and pick another prolific goal scorer in Gauthier. Like most goal scorers of his body type, he is learning to use it to his advantage, and when he figures it out, the Canes should be getting the power forward they've lacked since Andrew Ladd left town.

My pick: Gauthier

22. Philadelphia Flyers: German Rubstov, C, Russia

A two-way player from Russia is generally regarded as an anomaly, but that is what Rubstov brings to the Flyers. He does need to gain some weight, he figures to be a player that can be considered Selke material.

My pick: Libor Hajek

23. Florida Panthers: Henrik Borgstrom, C, HIFK Jr. (Finland Jr.)

A Finnish player committed to Denver University, Borgstrom will have time to put on some weight, but his playmaking skills were a big draw, as was his upside.

My pick: Alex DeBrincat

24. Anaheim Ducks: Max Jones, LW, London (OHL)

The Ducks needed to get back to the things that won them a Stanley Cup in 2007, and that meant getting a mean customer. This is where Max Jones steps in, and along with Nick Ritchie, he figures to make the Ducks harder to play against in the future, particularly if he finds the right balance of toughness and discipline.

My pick: Markus Niemelainen

25. Dallas Stars: Riley Tufte, LW, Fargo (USHL)

The future power forward actually played high school hockey for much of last season, but finished the season in Fargo, where he draws comparisons to Nick Bjugstad. A little more weight, something that can be accomplished in his time at Minnesota-Duluth, and he can be the power forward the Stars need to go along with Jamie Benn.

My pick: German Rubstov

26. St. Louis Blues: Tage Thompson, C, Connecticut

The first player taken in the first round from Connecticut University, Thompson has all of the makings of a power forward that can someday replace David Backes.

My pick: Dennis Cholowski

27. Tampa Bay Lightning: Brett Howden, C, Moose Jaw (WHL)

A big center that can play a two-way game, he figures to get more prominent ice time next season with current Moose Jaw and future Lightning teammate Brayden Point moving on. That should help him refine his game.

My pick: Howden

28. Washington Capitals: Lucas Johansen, D, Kelowna (WHL)

A better offensive defender at this point in his development, he does need to gain more strength and seemingly thrives with more ice time, something that he will see more of next season.

My pick: Pascal Laberge

29. Boston Bruins: Trent Frederic, C, USNTDP

A reach by the Bruins, they project him to be a third-liner. What he does offer is future power forward material, but the Bruins could have had Nathan Bastian at this point in the draft. If there is a worst pick of the first round, this would be it for me.

My pick: Nathan Bastian

30. Anaheim Ducks: Sam Steel, C, Regina (WHL)

The Ducks got size and power with their first pick, and now, they have speed and skill to go along with it. Steel didn't put up the numbers expected of him this season, but his skill set is too good to ignore here.

My pick: Lucas Johansen

Thursday, June 23, 2016

History of Hockey in Las Vegas

With Las Vegas set to join the NHL in the 2017-18 season, it would be a good idea to see what history there is in the city with bright lights. Thanks to the Las Vegas Review Journal, that history is posted. For those who want the cliff notes version, I'll provide that now:

  • The earliest hockey team in Las Vegas began play in 1968, when the Gamblers played for three years in the California-Nevada Hockey league. They folded in 1971.
  • Immediately after, the Outlaws formed and lasted two seasons as a semi-pro team.
  • The Las Vegas Thunder joined the International Hockey League in 1993, and would last until 1999. Their biggest name players to play in the NHL? Pavol Demitra, Alexei Yashin, Curtis Joseph, and Radek Bonk, though many of them played while the 1994 lockout was in effect.
  • The Las Vegas Wranglers would join the ECHL in 2003 and would play there until 2014, when like the Thunder, they couldn't find a new arena when their lease expired. Notable Wranglers to play in the NHL? Deryk Engelland and Adam Pardy.
With the T-Mobile Arena in place and within walking distance of the Las Vegas Strip, the new hockey team set to join the NHL will not have any issues with finding a place to play for a while. Even so, the relative lack of hockey history in Las Vegas can be viewed as both a benefit and a detriment. It's a benefit because it means it can build a history of success. However, the lack of history also means hockey in Las Vegas is a wild card because no one truly knows what will happen. Sure, there have been NHL exhibition games played there, but it's hardly indicative of future NHL success. Furthermore, seeing their closest competitors in Arizona have perpetual trouble drawing in fans, as well as Los Angeles and Anaheim being nearby means that Las Vegas will have to draw and stay drawing out of the gate while trying to steal fans from the southern California area, not to mention convince fans in southern Nevada that they can be a big draw in an area where there is much to do. Of course, Utah is pretty much up for grabs, so that could be something for Las Vegas to look at as far as attracting new fans. There's many ways that Las Vegas can go for making its brand of hockey marketable both immediately and ten years from now. It will be the ten years from now that will be more telling, as the Atlanta Thrashers found out.

All Eyes on Las Vegas

Yesterday, the city of Las Vegas was the location for the NHL Awards ceremony. However, it was also the location that the NHL announced in a unanimous vote for the 31st team to play in the NHL starting in the 2017-18 season. Because this post will be all about Vegas, the expansion and Awards will be covered in one shot.

First, the expansion, and what it all means. Because of the unanimous vote, Las Vegas will have a team, and Bill Foley will be principal owner once that team gets rolling. As for arena, the T-Mobile Arena was opened two months ago with a team in mind, be it NHL or NBA, so arena is not an issue. The NHL paved the way for this expansion with a fair amount of preparation, right down to how they were going to plan the expansion draft, which will be explained at a later date. For now, the NHL doesn't plan on making immediate expansion to 32 teams, but will have Quebec City in mind. The hang-ups there? A weak Canadian Dollar, which was last seen at 78 cents to the American dollar, and geographic imbalance, as Quebec would have to kick an existing Eastern Conference team to the West, something that Las Vegas doesn't have to worry about, since they will play in the Pacific Division. The NHL did their homework before handing an expansion franchise to Las Vegas, but we'll see how it works long-term, as their nearest future rival Arizona has had a history of trouble bringing in fans.

The other business in Las Vegas? The annual Awards ceremony, which saw Patrick Kane take home the Hart, Ted Lindsay, and Art Ross trophies as the MVP as voted by the media, MVP as voted by the players, and most points, respectively. Blackhawks teammate Artemi Panarin took home the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year while Washington won big with Braden Holtby winning the Vezina as the goaltender of the year and Barry Trotz winning the Jack Adams as coach of the year. Los Angeles took home some hardware, too, as Anze Kopitar took home the Selke as the defensive forward of the year and the Lady Byng as the most gentlemanly player while Drew Doughty finally got his due recognition as defenseman of the year, winning his first Norris Trophy. The Bill Masterton Trophy for perseverance went to Jaromir Jagr, the General Manager of the Year was awarded to Jim Rutherford, the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award went to Shea Weber, the King Clancy Trophy went to Henrik Sedin, and the NHL Foundation Player Award went to Mark Giordano.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Leafs' Goalie Merry-Go-Round

Since the 2005-06 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs have gone through goalies almost as often as one would change their underwear. From the last season of Ed Belfour to Jonathan Bernier, the Leafs seemingly can never find the right goalie, even when the answer is right in their face. Yesterday, you can add Frederik Andersen to the list of goalies the Leafs have or will have tried, as the Leafs acquired his rights from Anaheim for a couple of draft picks and later signed him to a five year deal.

How did it come to this? Since the lockout, the Leafs have gone with Belfour, Mikael Tellqvist, and Jean -Sebastian Aubin in 2005-06, traded for Andrew Raycroft after that season for 2005 first round pick Tuukka Rask, traded for Vesa Toskala the following off-season, signed Jonas Gustafson the off-season after that, traded for Jean -Sebastien Giguere during the 2009-10 season, went with the unheralded James Reimer at some point the following season, played career AHL goalie Ben Scrivens, and traded for Bernier.

In that time between finding a successor to Belfour and Andersen, the Leafs had the answer in front of them twice, one long term in Rask, and Reimer, traded for relatively unproven players in Toskala and Bernier, signed an oft-injured player in Gustavsson, and have had countless other short term goalies dot their roster.

In trading for Andersen, the Leafs traded from their surplus of picks, which marks a difference that they often mortgaged their future for short term immediate success. This time around, they still have plenty of picks and a very good group of prospects that will soon be joined by Auston Matthews come Friday. Plus, with Andersen, he comes with a fairly impressive record despite splitting time with John Gibson and has proven to be a good playoff performer. The Leafs put a bet that it will hold true for five years. As for Bernier, it will either push him to be better or be an admission of another mistake by the previous management.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Mining for Undrafted Gold

The 2016 NHL Draft is this weekend, and there will be a number of players who will hear their name called. However, not all players eligible for the draft will be called, and as is the case every year, there will be a few of those undrafted players that slip through the cracks and get picked up by an NHL team that does their homework. So, to that end, let's run through some of the most notable players to have never been drafted and their impact on the NHL.

Ed Belfour: His picture was the first thing that came up, so it's only natural to talk about him first. Undrafted coming out of North Dakota, he signed with Chicago after the 1986-87 season, and all he did was win the Calder Trophy in 1991, win the Vezina Trophy the first two out of the three years of his career, win a Stanley Cup in 1999, and end up third on the all-time wins list. Oh, and his mask is one of the most recognizable pieces of headgear in hockey history.

Martin St. Louis: Undrafted coming out of Vermont University, he signed with Calgary in 1998, but made little impact there. For a buck and a song, the Tampa Bay Lightning came calling in 2000, where he proceeded to rewrite the record books there, winning an Art Ross Trophy, Hart Trophy, and the Stanley Cup in what was considered a banner year for him in 2004. He would later go on to win three Lady Byng Trophies and a gold medal in 2014 with Team Canada. Not bad for a guy considered too small to play.

Tyler Johnson: Like St. Louis, he had size concerns that scared off teams. However, Johnson did have credentials coming into the NHL, as he helped Spokane of the WHL win the Ed Chynoweth and Memorial Cup trophies in 2008. After signing with the Lightning in 2011, he made the All-Rookie team in 2014 and was an integral part of the Lightning team that made the Stanley Cup Finals in 2015. He figures to be another success story for the Lightning's ability to find talent under 6-foot.

Adam Oates: Undrafted coming out of RPI, Oates found a great deal of success with multiple teams after originally signing with Detroit in 1985. His greatest successes were feeding Brett Hull in St. Louis and Cam Neeely in Boston, with the former stop seeing Hull net an 86-goal season with Oates as his set-up man. Despite never winning a trophy, Oates was a premier set-up man who was annually in the discussion for the Lady Byng Trophy as the most gentlemanly player.

Dino Ciccarelli: One of the more underappreciated players on this list, he was signed by the Minnesota North Stars in 1979, but played another year in London for the Knights. He netted two 50-goal seasons with the North Stars, and would go on to net the most goals of any undrafted player. He made the Hall of Fame in 2010.

Borje Salming: There was once a time where European players were not looked upon in the NHL Draft, and Salming was a prime example of a team's scouts doing due dilligence. The Toronto Maple Leafs signed in 1973, He would go on to become one of the best Maple Leaf players in the Howard Ballard-era, providing one of the few bright spots on some of the more dismal Leafs teams of the 70's and 80's. He made the Hall of Fame in 1996 and would pave the way for the likes of future Maple Leaf legend Mats Sundin and Peter Forsberg to make their marks in the NHL.

There are many more players who have made an impact such as Mark Giordano, Josh Gorges, Dan Boyle, and Joe Mullen. However, quite possibly the greatest player in the NHL was never drafted. Wayne Gretzky was actually signed to a professional contract by Indianapolis of the WHA, but was sold to Edmonton when they were in the WHA. When the Oilers made the jump to the NHL, he was on the protected list, and thus allowed to begin his NHL career with them.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Season of Retreads

The NHL off-season has seen four teams enter with a vacancy at the head coaching spot, and as of this morning, all four were filled, with each of the new coaches having had previous head coaching experience at one point. Two of the new coaches are taking over teams that didn't have deep playoff runs while two of the other coaches are hoping to lead a quick turnaround. For obvious purposes, neither Columbus nor Pittsburgh are included, as they found permanent coaches in-season, and the teams are listed from newest chronological hire to the oldest hire.

Calgary Flames: News broke this morning that they Flames named Glen Gulutzan as the new bench boss, and while his first head coaching stop in Dallas (2011-13) was anything but a success, it should be noted that he had success in the ECHL and the AHL. He was last seen in Vancouver as an assistant head coach, and is eager to prove that he learned from his first NHL coaching job.

Anaheim Ducks: Filled this week, the new head coach is pretty much the same as an old head coach, as Randy Carlyle returns for his second go-around. In his first time around, he led the Ducks to a Conference Final his first year and the Stanley Cup championship the next. However, he was unable to replicate that success the rest of his time there and was fired during the 2011-12 season. He wasn't out of work long, though, as the Toronto Maple Leafs came calling that same season. Though his time in Toronto wasn't particularly successful, he has been the only head coach to lead the Leafs to a playoff since the Lockout. This will be one to watch, as largely the same core that led the Ducks to a championship in 2007 is still there, and there was a falling out between them and Carlyle when he got canned, so how well they put their differences behind them remains to be seen.

Ottawa Senators: His first go-around in the NHL was interesting to say the least, as evidenced by a game as Lightning head coach.

While he led the Lightning to a Conference Final in 2011, the rest of his run wasn't very successful, as he would be canned midway through the 2012-13 season. He would coach in Switzerland for a season and a half, winning a title and getting canned midway through the following season. To say this will be an experiment that bears watching is an understatement.

Minnesota Wild: Bruce Boudreau has never had to wait long to find a new job in the NHL, as he found work in Anaheim shortly after being canned by Washington during the 2011-12 season. That Caps' run began with a mid-season join-in in the 2007-08 season, where he quickly gained success, at least in the regular season. However, failure (and it's ongoing for the Caps) to get past the Conference semi-finals and struggles out of the gate in 2011 led to his dismissal. A few days later, the Ducks came calling, where he continued to have success in the regular season. However, failures to win a game 7, particularly when the Ducks were up 3-1 in consecutive years were his undoing in Anaheim. The Wild will simply hope the Wild can actually find regular season success on a more consistent basis, as the Wild have always needed to make a furious run just to get there since the twin signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in 2012.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

NHL Mock Draft: Picks 21-30

With something coming up yesterday, the last third of the first round mock draft was pushed back to today. With the actual Draft eight days away, let's get to the last third.

21. Carolina Hurricanes (from Los Angeles)-Julien Gauthier, RW, Val D'Or (QMJHL)

The Hurricanes need a big body that won't get pushed around. Too often, that's been an issue, and now that they filled the needs on the blue line, as well as a skilled scorer earlier in the draft, they can focus here. Gauthier scores, and he has the body to be a power forward.

22. Winnipeg Jets (from Chicago)-Libor Hajek, D, Saskatoon (WHL)

A shutdown defender that won't put his team in a bind offensively, Hajek played well for a terrible Saskatoon team. The Jets may look for an eventual replacement for Mark Stuart, and Hajek is a perfect fit here.

23. Florida Panthers-Alex DeBrincat, RW, Erie (OHL)

Questions about his size will undoubtedly be abound. However, he did post 51 goals in consecutive seasons, and though much of them came as linemates of superior players such as Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome, he is willing to play wherever he is placed.

24. Anaheim Ducks-Markus Niemelainen, D, Saginaw (OHL)

The Ducks are still without a top-tier defender, instead relying on numbers to get their point across. The potential move of Cam Fowler to possibly open a spot for Shea Theodore means the Ducks may want to get another top defender prospect. Niemelainen has the size that few others currently on the Ducks have, and they can take their time, as usual.

25. Dallas Stars-German Rubstov, C, Russia

The Stars have often gone for high risk, high reward players in the first round under General Manager Jim Nill's watch. Rubstov's question marks are obviously the Russian factor and not nearly as many eyes were on him. What he does bring is solid two-way play and the ability to play on any line.

26. Washington Capitals-Dennis Cholowski, D, Chilliwack (BCHL)

The blue line prospects may be in need of newer talent soon, and picking the St. Cloud State commit would give them time to develop him while everyone else is still in the NHL. He has the ability to be the offensive firestarter from the blue line that the Caps need.

27. Tampa Bay Lightning-Brett Howden, C, Moose Jaw (WHL)

The potential loss of Steven Stamkos means that the Lightning will need to fill a hole in center at some point, if not sooner. While Howden is still a few years away, he does have a high ceiling and will have a bigger role on a Warriors team that will be missing Dryden Hunt and Brayden Point, the latter also being a Lightning prospect.

28. St. Louis Blues-Pascal Laberge, C, Victoriaville (QMJHL)

Like the Lightning, the Blues also need to brace for a possible loss, though it's not necessarily the same losing David Backes. Laberge does need to gain a little more weight and strength, but in time, he could be like Backes in some regard, but with more offense.

29. Boston Bruins (from San Jose)-Nathan Bastian, RW, Mississauga (OHL)

Losing Milan Lucic made Boston a little easier to push around this season. While he isn't going to light up scoresheets, he will open space for players like David Krejci and David Pastrnak while making life easier on Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.

30. Toronto Maple Leafs (from Pittsburgh)-Lucas Johansen, D, Kelowna (WHL)

The Maple Leafs could use a few more bodies in front of the goalie, and one way to do that is to pick up someone of Johansen's caliber. Expected to be more of a two-way defender, he can provide both offense and defense with the same level of proficiency. He won't be rushed to the NHL too soon like the last Rocket to be taken by the Leafs in the first round, Luke Schenn in 2008.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Avalanche Draft Issues

The image you see above is that of 2014 first round pick Conner Bleackley. He was taken by the Colorado Avalanche 23rd overall that year, but never signed with them, as issues with him and the Avs coaching staff surfaced over Bleackley's physical condition. He would eventually be traded to Arizona in the Mikkel Boedker deal, but never signed there, either, thus rendering him eligible to re-enter this year's NHL Draft. This is a lead-in to the overall issues that have plagued the Avalanche at the drafting table since the time they relocated from Quebec in 1995. So, to that end, let's look at the first round picks the Avs have made since they joined and the later round picks that have succeeded, for the Avs and otherwise.

1995-2004: The Golden Years

1995 saw the Avalanche at the drafting table for the first time since they moved to Colorado earlier that Spring. Their first ever pick was goaltender Marc Denis, who was viewed as an eventual challenger and/or replacement to Jocelyn Thibault, who was okay, but never great. The problem was that a few months later, Thibault would be included in a trade that saw the Avs pick up Patrick Roy, and the rest was history. As for Denis, he suited up for 28 games in Colorado, but spent the majority of his career in Columbus, where he posted just one season under the 3.00 GAA mark. The next most number of games played that draft year belongs to Brent Johnson, who never played for the Avs, but did man the crease for St. Louis, Phoenix, Vancouver, Pittsburgh, and Washington.

1996 was the draft after they won the Stanley Cup that year, and like 1995, the ramifications of the Draft were never truly evident. However, the Avs could have had players such as Mark Parrish and Sami Pahlsson, as both had the most number of games played that draft year, but none for Colorado. Parrish would experience most of his success in Florida and Long Island while Pahlsson would carve out a nice spot on Anaheim's squad for much of his career. Brian Willsie and Dan Hinote were next in line, and both did play for Colorado when they won the Cup in 2001. As for who they took first, it was Peter Ratchuk, who played all of 32 NHL games for Florida after failing to sign with the Avs two years after he was drafted.

1997 was not a good year to be taken first or second by the Avs, as neither Kevin Grimes nor Graham Belak played a game in the NHL. However, that year's draft did yield key players such as Ville Nieminen and David Aebsicher, who was the one to finally succeed Roy in net once he retired after the 2002-03 season.

1998 was a year that the Avs couldn't possibly screw up, as they had four first round picks that year. Well, they succeeded mostly, as Alex Tanguay was a major player in the 2001 Cup run, as were Martin Skoula and Scott Parker. However, the fourth, Robyn Regehr, never got to play for the Avs, as he was included in the trade that brought in Theo Fleury for a few games in 1999. Regehr would go on to play a number of years for Calgary, making the Finals with them in 2004. As for the rest of the draft, the only one of note would be Steve Moore, who made headlines as the victim of an attack on the ice by Todd Bertuzzi in 2004.

1999 was an interesting draft, as their best player was a seventh round pick by the name of Radim Vrbata, who played a couple of seasons in Colorado before moving around to Carolina, Tampa Bay, Phoenix, and Vancouver. Other players with fairly significant NHL resumes were Jeff Finger, Branko Radivojevic, and Riku Hahl. Mikhail Kuleshov was taken in the first round that year, and he only suited up for three games in the NHL.

2000 was a mostly forgettable year for the Avs, as Vaclav Nedorost missed the century mark in games played in the NHL by one. The two highest numbers in games played: John-Michael Liles (800) and Kurt Sauer (357).

2001 was another post-Stanley Cup draft for the Avs, and this one would be slightly more memorable. The Avs didn't have a first round pick that year, as that was sent to Los Angeles in the Rob Blake deal, not a bad trade-off. Their first pick was in the second round, and Peter Budaj, who actually held the starting job for the Avs for a couple of seasons in the late 2000's. He was mostly a backup for the Avs and in Montreal. Other players of note include Marek Svatos and Cody McCormick, who were the only other players to even crack the double digit mark in games played.

2002 would be remember as the Draft that got away, as the two players with the highest number of games played achieved moderate success elsewhere, as Tom Gilbert and Johnny Boychuk established themselves as regular NHLers on other teams, Gilbert with Edmonton, Minnesota, and Montreal, and Boychuk in Boston and Long Island. Meanwhile, their first major cracks in the armor began to show, as years of either trading away promising prospects or whiffing on their picks began to take their toll, and never was that more than evident than when the Avs took Jonas Johansson, who only played one game in the NHL.

2003 was where the Avs could have stemmed the tide of bad drafting, but instead, thanks to the Rob Blake trade that also saw that year's first round pick going to Los Angeles, they missed out on possibly getting Corey Perry. They had to wait until the second round (at 63rd overall, like in 2001) to pick up David Liffiton, who played all of seven NHL games. As a matter of fact, the only players drafted that year to play in the NHL at all besides Liffiton: David Jones and Brad Richardson, role players that have carved out decent careers in their respective roles.

2004 was where things really hit the fan, as only their first round pick Wojtek Wolski played more than 200 games. However, he didn't quite live up to the billing, as in 451 games, he only netted 99 goals. The only other contributors were Brandon Yip and Victor Oreskovich, neither of whom did anything resembling NHL regulars work.

Post-lockout Years

2005 was the first major year where the Avs would be forced to draft and groom prospects, so what did they do? Trade their first round pick to Washington to pick up extra draft picks in the second round. It turns out that none of the picks did very much, as the Capitals took Joe Finley, who didn't do much while the Avs' two second round picks from that deal did absolutely nothing in the NHL (read: neither played a game). As for their first pick, it was Ryan Stoa, who played all of 40 games in the NHL. They did, however, hit a bullseye when with the following pick, they took Paul Stastny, who played with the Avs until 2014 and contributed a significant amount even during the leanest years. Of course, there were the two second round picks after that. You can't win them all.

2006 was a terrible year for the Avs, as the only player to even play a game in the NHL would be their first round pick Chris Stewart, who was wildly inconsistent while with the Avs. He could score 30 goals one season and in the next, barely crack the double digit mark. He has had stops in St. Louis, Buffalo, Minnesota, and Anaheim, where his inconsistencies have followed him.

2007 was a better time...barely. First round pick Kevin Shattenkirk would be classified as a bullseye, although his best years happened after he was traded to St. Louis along with Stewart in a deal that saw Erik Johnson and Jay McClement come to Colorado. Shattenkirk is entering the final year of his current deal, and he's been a consistent offensive contributor from the blue line. While T.J. Galliardi and Brad Malone weren't major contributors, they did manage to play over 150 games each.

The terrible drafting continued in 2008, as none of the draft picks played over 100 games to date, and that doesn't figure to change next season. Cameron Gaunce was their first pick, as their first round pick went first to Columbus as a means to pick Adam Foote up in February 2008, and then to Philadelphia in the RJ Umberger trade. He only played 20 games and never cracked the blue line for Colorado in regular duty.

2009 was the first good draft in a while, as they hit on Matt Duchene with the third overall pick, Ryan O'Reilly in the second round, and Tyson Barrie in the third round. They did miss on Stefan Elliott, who couldn't crack regular duty on the blue line alongside Barrie. O'Reilly made his first all-star game with Buffalo this season while Duchene also made the all-star game this year.

2010 was mostly terrible, as first round pick Joey Hishon got injured the following year in the Memorial Cup tournament and never cracked the NHL squad on a regular basis, although he did get into a few playoff games in 2014 for the Avs. Hishon recently signed to play in the KHL for next season. The player with the most games played? Michael Bournival, with 89 games, and none of them for Colorado. There is promise with Calvin Pickard, who appears to be the starter-in-waiting should the Avs deal Semyon Varlamov.

2011 was another terrible year of drafting (notice a trend?), as only Gabriel Landeskog has done anything of note. The second overall pick won the Calder Trophy his first year and was named captain the following year, but since then, he's had his share of ups and downs. The other first round pick was Duncan Siemens, who played just one game in the NHL and couldn't get out of the AHL for what is likely his last time in the Colorado system, as they could non-tender him as a RFA.

2012 was another disatrous year, as the Avs traded their first round pick for Varlamov when they could have stood pat and taken Filip Forsberg. They had to wait until the second round to pick, and that pick, Mitchell Heard, never suited up for Colorado. The player with the most games of this draft class? Joseph Blandisi, who didn't sign with the Avs and was snagged by New Jersey in 2015 as a free-agent. He played 41 games this season for the Devils and figures to have a role next season with them.

2013 saw the Avs hit rock bottom, as they were second to last in the league, but won the lottery to pick first overall. They took Nathan MacKinnon, who has played well when healthy, but that's been a bit of an issue, as he's missed time in the last two seasons. Chris Bigras figures to have a spot next season with a good training camp.

2014 and 2015 are still to be determined, but it's safe to say that picking Conner Bleackley ended up being a wasted pick, as they never signed him and now he's draft eligible again this year. Mikko Rantanen, the 2015 top pick, figures to be more of a sure thing, as he played very well in the Avs' AHL affiliate in San Antonio and a spot on the NHL roster waits for him next season.


In their history at the Draft, the Avs have had their fair share of successes. However, thanks to their perpetual win-now mode of the late 90's and early 2000's, their drafting and developing of prospects suffered greatly, and the results began to show after the 2004 lockout. Dreadful drafts after the lockout and an ill-advised trade (they could have had Varlamov without trading that first round pick in 2012) saw the Avs at the bottom for much of the time, with only a smattering of playoff success. It's time for the Avs to improve their drafting or else the bad times will continue.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

NHL Mock Draft: Picks 11-20

Today, picks 11-20 will be given the mock treatment, as I attempt to get something right. If you're keeping score, since I started doing mock drafts, I've gotten six right (getting it right means either getting player with team or draft slot correct) in 2013, none in 2014, and three in 2015. I can safely say at least one pick will be correct. That out of the way, here are picks 11-20.

11. New Jersey Devils-Clayton Keller, C, USA NTDP

The Devils still need scoring badly, and with only Kyle Palmieri and Mike Cammalleri likely returning, the urgent need for scorers won't be ending anytime soon. Getting Keller, who nearly eclipsed the NTDP scoring record set by Auston Matthews, would be a step in the right direction and be a nice compliment to last year's first round pick Pavel Zacha.

12. Ottawa Senators-Logan Brown, C, Windsor (OHL)

Michael McLeod would also be considered here, as would a defender, but Brown's measurables and bloodlines are too good to pass up here. He's more of a playmaker than scorer at this point, but it's hard to ignore the size, as well as the high potential of setting up players like Bobby Ryan and Mike Hoffman.

13. Carolina Hurricanes-Michael McLeod, C, Mississauga (OHL)

The Hurricanes are woefully short on offense, and given their needs up the middle, McLeod would fill both spots. Like Brown, he has high potential, but a fair amount is already showing, and he has the speed to make highlight reel plays when needed.

14. Boston Bruins-Charlie McAvoy, D, Boston University

Boston has many picks to play with, and while the needs are considerable everywhere except on the left side and in goal, the Bruins continue to replenish their defensive depth and do so in their own backyard. McAvoy is more of an offensive defender at this point in the development, but his size suggests that he can be a fair defender in his own end who would be hard to move off the puck.

15. Minnesota Wild-Kieffer Bellows, LW, USA NTDP

The Wild need a high-end scorer in their pipeline, and they look to a familiar bloodline, as they take ex-North Star Brian Bellows' kid Kieffer. Where he continues to develop remains a bit of a question, as he is committed to Boston College, but could go the major junior route and Portland of the WHL. As for what he can do, he scores...a lot. That's his one dimension, but on a team with many playmakers and few goal scorers, it makes sense.

16. Detroit Red Wings-Jake Bean, D, Calgary (WHL)

The Red Wings need defenders, preferably one that can be a top pairing player. However, there are far more solid second pairing players at this point in the draft, and given the Red Wings' problem of filling that void Nicklas Lidstrom left when he retired in 2012, it seems that anyone will do. Bean is the best offensive defender remaining, and while his work in his own end is a work in progress, the Red Wings will be happy to take a near point a game season like what Bean had this season in Calgary.

17. Nashville Predators-Dante Fabbro, D, Penticton (BCHL)

The Preds may wish to start thinking about the future on the blue line, as Shea Weber can't play forever, and the pipeline defensively is starting to run a little thin. Fabbro is the safest pick available on the blue line, and the Preds can afford to let him develop at Boston University.

18. Philadelphia Flyers-Max Jones, LW, London (OHL)

The Flyers need scoring, and while Jones didn't put up eye-popping numbers in London, there's no mistaking that he is a definitive power forward. Discipline may need to be reinforced a little, as he sat out much of the OHL playoffs due to a 12-game suspension, but he is unafraid to hit people and score goals however he has to do it, things that could make him a fan favorite in a city known for toughness.

19. New York Islanders-Riley Tufte, LW, Fargo (USHL)

The Isles can afford to wait on this year's group to develop, and a perfect example would be Tufte, a Minnesota-Duluth commit who can use the time to fill out a little. The upside is a power forward in the vein of Nick Bjugstad that can score and has some bite.

20. Arizona Coyotes (from the New York Rangers)-Logan Stanley, D, Windsor (OHL)

Whereas I had the Coyotes taking a more offensive defender in Mikhail Sergachev with their first pick, this time around, they go with a shutdown defender in Logan Stanley, also playing in Windsor. A big guy at 6-6, 216 lbs., he would be given time to develop, as he needs improvement on skating, but getting a player that can work in Dave Tippett's system would be a plus, something that Stanley can do.

Monday, June 13, 2016

NHL Mock Draft Picks 1-10

With the Stanley Cup awarded last night, and with the NHL Draft around the corner, it's time to start thinking about the future of your team. It also means I get to take another crack at figuring out who will go where. For this time around, I will divide it into three sections as opposed to five, so there will be much more to cover in each section. Today, it's picks 1-10.

1. Toronto Maple Leafs-Auston Matthews, C, Zurich (Switzerland)

Much was made of what Auston Matthews was going to do prior to last season, as he had three teams in three leagues vying for his services. While Everett of the WHL is going to forever play the "What if?" game like they did with Seth Jones a few years, back, Zurich was the beneficiary of Matthews' decision, and it worked out well for both the team and for Matthews. The Maple Leafs need a number one center badly, and they will have it with Matthews, who comes NHL-ready after playing with men in Switzerland. Offensive dynamo, he is not, but neither is Jonathan Toews, who would be a better comparison for Matthews, and that's not a bad thing.

2. Winnipeg Jets-Patrik Laine, RW, Tappara (Finland)

In a race to see who would be taken second, Laine and fellow Finn Jesse Puljujarvi are as close as it gets. If you're wanting an offensive dynamo, Laine is it, and the Jets would welcome his scoring touch wherever they decide to put him, whether it is on a line with Mark Scheifele, Bryan Little, or someone else.

3. Columbus Blue Jackets-Jesse Puljujarvi, RW, Karpat (Finland)

The more well-rounded player of the two Finns, Puljujarvi would provide an immediate player that can step in wherever the Blue Jackets need him. Though not as dynamic offensively, he does everything well despite just being draft-eligible.

4. Edmonton Oilers-Olli-Juolevi, D, London (OHL)

I bounced back and forth between Juolevi and Jakob Chychrun as the options defensively for the Oilers. In the end, Juolevi won out, as I see him as the more ready player to step in should the Oilers decide to rush the pick to the NHL next season. The Oilers still need defenders, and of the ones available in the draft, Juolevi is viewed as one that can step in right away regardless of where he goes.

5. Vancouver Canucks-Pierre-Luc Dubois, LW, Cape Breton (QMJHL)

The Canucks filled a need for an NHL-ready defender when they traded for Erik Gudbranson a few weeks back. However, it came at the cost of Jared McCann, a forward capable of offense. Dubois not only would fill the need for offense, but also a power forward that can put people in their place (not to mention, a cheaper alternative to Milan Lucic). Should Dubois be taken by Edmonton (they could always use more physicality up front), look for Matthew Tkachuk to be taken here.

6. Calgary Flames-Matthew Tkachuk, LW, London (OHL)

The Flames need goaltending badly, but it would be a folly to draft one this high, as there isn't a Carey Price-type of player available. So, their next big need would be scoring on the wing, and Tkachuk provides that and more. A slightly less edgy version of his dad on the ice, it would be a mistake to think the younger Tkachuk is soft, as the 107 penalty minutes this season does speak for itself. And yes, he can score, too.

7. Arizona Coyotes-Mikhail Sergachev, D, Windsor (OHL)

Of the defenders available, Sergachev rates as the best offensive defender in the draft. He does have to refine his play in his own end a little, but it's easy to see why scouts are loving this guy, as he has everything you could want, from size to skill, to a high ceiling. The Coyotes need a top defender in the pipeline, and getting a possible clone of Oliver Ekman-Larsson would be a good idea here.

8. Buffalo Sabres-Tyson Jost-C, Penticton (BCHL)

With all of the young talent already on the roster, Jost represents a chance for the Sabres to take it a little slower, allowing him to further develop in North Dakota. Despite playing against lesser competition in the BCHL, the Sabres can take a flier on a player that could pay off handsomely, as he's the highest potential of all the forwards not in the top three.

9. Montreal Canadiens-Alexander Nylander, RW, Mississauga (OHL)

Losing Carey Price for much of the season exposed a long-standing problem for the Canadiens, as in they couldn't score to save their own lives. Though Nylander is marked as more of a playmaker, it is possible that he could unlock the full offensive potential of the likes of Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk. Anything will help in Montreal, and Nylander could see time in the AHL next season, at least, thanks to the same loophole that saw Dallas rush Julius Honka to the AHL after drafting him.

10. Colorado Avalanche-Jakob Chychrun, D, Sarnia (OHL)

The Avs would have loved to have seen Mikhail Sergachev drop to them, but they will happily settle for Chychrun, who figures to be a solid NHLer, at worst, and a franchise defender, at best. The Avs need it badly, as they were one of the worst blue lines in the NHL, forcing their goaltending to face far too many shots. Chychrun would be one step towards fixing that problem.

Championship Weekend

It was a weekend for championship hockey to remember. Beginning Thursday, the ECHL crowned a champion, and it is the Allen Americans, who defeated the Wheeling Nailers in six games to claim their second straight Kelly Cup. For the Americans, their road to back-to-back wasn't easy, as they had to get past the regular season champion Missouri Mavericks in the Conference semi-finals. Sautrday in the AHL, the Lake Erie Monsters needed overtime to put away the Hershey Bears in the fourth game to claim the Calder Cup. Led by Playoff MVP Oliver Bjorkstrand, the Monsters claimed a championship for the city of Cleveland.

Sunday, the Pittsburgh Penguins finished off the San Jose Sharks in six games to claim their fourth Stanley Cup in team history and their first since 2009. Sidney Crosby was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP, and like his 2010 Olympic run, his biggest contributions came when it counted the most. Despite a rather pedestrian 19 points in the playoffs by his standards, he was a big contributor in the Finals, letting players such as Connor Sheary and Bryan Rust have the scoring chances.

Hockey season may be over for now, but it went out in a flourish and now, the wait for the next season begins.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Restocking Needs Part 3

Los Angeles Kings

Number of picks: 4
First pick: 51st overall

Like the Rangers, the Kings have traded away picks in their quest for the Stanley Cup every year. However, the Kings have had some success, as they've claimed two Stanley Cups since 2012. With many of their best players in the prime of their careers, the Kings can afford to push their top prospects slowly. That doesn't mean the Kings should skip the draft, as there are still holes to fill, namely secondary scoring, one that can replace possible salary cap casualty Milan Lucic, and eventually a long-term replacement for Jonathan Quick when he starts moving past his prime.

Chicago Blackhawks

Number of picks: 7
First pick: 83rd overall

This draft will be a major test of just how well the Blackhawks hit on the late round picks, as they don't pick for the first time until round three. However, they have six other picks after that, so there's a chance they can replenish their system that will be in need of players in the next year or so. Given their annual salary cap issues, players will have to emerge sooner than wanted, so extra bodies are needed just about everywhere.

Florida Panthers

Number of picks: 5
Picks in the first round: 23rd overall

The Panthers are set as far as prospects are concerned, even with their best young players already on the NHL squad. However, identifying a replacement for Roberto Luongo is paramount, and while Samuel Montembault, a 2015 pick, may be the answer, drafting another goalie would be wise. Also, finding a shutdown defender to replace Erik Gudbranson would be a good idea, though it did net a potential secondary scoring option in Jared McCann.

Anaheim Ducks

Number of picks: 5 or 6
Picks in the first round: 24th overall

Despite a number of prospects that will eventually find their way to Anaheim, the Ducks suffered another early exit, and the uncertainty of what the next head coach will bring muddies the picture somewhat. What is clear is that secondary scoring to go along with what they have is needed, especially since Corey Perry pulled a disappearing act in the playoffs. Jakob Silfverberg is one answer, but the Ducks would love more answers, and if one of them is Perry re-emerging, that would be great. Also, finding a true number one defender would be great for a Ducks team that relies on all six to pull their weight.

Dallas Stars

Number of picks: 5 or 6
Picks in the first round: 25th overall

With a few key players possibly being on the way out, the Stars would need to plug in players from the pipeline. That means they would need to replenish with those that can play on the blue line, especially. A still suspect blue line needs answers, as does a forward unit that needs good two-way play on the bottom lines. Neither Kari Lehtonen nor Antti Niemi proved to be the true answer in goal, and there isn't anything resembling a future starting goalie in the system, so finding a goalie to develop is paramount.

Washington Capitals

Number of picks: 6
Picks in the first round: 26th overall

With no immediate needs, the Capitals can afford to take the best available player with their first pick. With nothing else to do until round four, the Caps will have time to figure out what parts needs restocking, which signs point to the blue line and possibly scoring. Anything the Caps pick this year will likely need two or three years to develop, which shouldn't be too hard, since the NHL roster is set for that time.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Number of picks: 9
Picks in the first round: 27th overall

Everything centers around what Steven Stamkos will do. The UFA-to-be lost a little leverage when the Lightning made the Conference Finals despite him not being there for much of it, and given the Lightning's salary cap issues potentially looming, it may result in Stamkos walking. As for draft options, another defender would be nice, as would someone that can step in and contribute right away offensively. Filling the leadership void will be harder if Stamkos walks.

St. Louis Blues

Number of picks: 7
Picks in the first round: 28th overall

The Blues have potentially some major holes to fill on their immediate roster with David Backes and Troy Brouwer likely leaving. A true number one defender would also be nice, particularly since Kevin Shattenkirk has been a perpetual name being floated around in trade rumors. The Blues don't hurt for offense, but getting a center would help, since that's where Backes would be leaving a void.

San Jose Sharks

Number of picks: 5
First pick: 111th overall

The first round pick that was traded for Martin Jones last off-season appears to be well-spent, as the Sharks made the Stanley Cup Finals this year. However, their pipeline continues to bear watching, as there aren't a great amount of high-end prospects. That doesn't mean the Sharks are necessarily mortgaging their future, as they now have an ability to see their prospects in their own backyard, and their best players, save for Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, are still in their prime years.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Number of picks: 5
First pick: 55th overall

Their first round pick sacrifice for Phil Kessel, as well as giving up a few prospects, is bearing fruit as the Penguins made the Stanley Cup Finals. Despite not having much in the way of top end prospects, the Penguins get the most out of the players that are forced to step in when needed. However, at some point, it may be time to find top end prospects to go along with Daniel Sprong, particularly since Beau Bennett hasn't panned out while others such as Joe Morrow and Simon Despres were traded in deals that didn't pan out.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Restocking Needs, Part 2

Part two of what each team needs to do to ensure future success continues with a look at teams 11-20 on the original draft list.

New Jersey Devils

Number of picks: 9
Picks in the first round: 11th overall

Offense has been a major problem for the Devils, as they were at or near the bottom the last two seasons. Getting help for Kyle Palmieri, under the assumption that he will be resigned, since he's an RFA, would be priority one. Given that the Devils have plenty of chances to further restock a pipeline in desperate need, it is possible that they can package a couple of picks to get another first round pick. Of course, they also need all the help they can get in front of Cory Schneider.

Ottawa Senators

Number of picks: 6
Picks in the first round: 12th overall

Help down the middle and on the blue line should be addressed. The former would be ideal in that there's no stud there that can take top line minutes while the latter would be great in stopping goals, particularly since Jared Cowen didn't pan out and now, they have to replace Chris Phillips' dependability as a shutdown guy. Perhaps Dion Phaneuf can replace some of that, but another prospect like Dante Fabbro would help.

Carolina Hurricanes

Number of picks: 10
Picks in the first round: 13th and 21st overall

In recent drafts, the Hurricanes were able to makeover their blue line, going from terrible to promising in just two years. Now, it's the forwards' turn, as they need offense. The good news is that they have plenty of opportunities to do so in the draft, and possibly move up in the first round if they choose. If there is a team that can change the dynamic of this year's draft, Carolina is that team.

Boston Bruins

Number of picks: 7
Picks in the first round: 14th and 29th/30th overall

In the quest to shed some salary, the Bruins suddenly got old real quick, particularly on the blue line. Given the dearth of blue line prospects that can step in right away, getting another body there would be a good idea. Also, filling that perpetual hole on the right side of the forward line would be good.

Minnesota Wild

Number of picks: 4
Picks in the first round: 15th overall

Trading picks for short term rentals that don't pan out have left the Wild with only four chances at replenishing a farm system badly in need of it. It doesn't help that those picks are in the first, fourth, and seventh rounds, meaning the Wild won't get many chances to get the best available. Shedding salary would be a nice start, though the Wild would have to make a hard deal for decent picks. As for needs, just about anything to improve depth would be great.

Detroit Red Wings

Number of picks: 6
Picks in the first round: 16th overall

The most gaping hole the Wings need to fill is likely going to be one left by Pavel Datsyuk's impending retirement. That means a center with high potential. However, the Wings would be wise to try and improve a blue line that has been in flux since Nicklas Lidstrom retired in 2012. When the best defender since then has been Kyle Quincey, that speaks to the problems of finding even a capable third defender.

Nashville Predators

Number of picks: 7
Picks in the first round: 17th overall

The Jimmy Vesey saga will leave the Predators without a high-quality scorer in the system. However, given that Kevin Fiala is still around and there is a chance that Collin Wilson may have finally turned a corner in the playoffs, the Preds may very well choose to address a potential long-term problem on the blue line first. Getting one that is also physical would be twice as nice, since they lack overall grit.

Philadelphia Flyers

Number of picks: 10
Picks in the first round: 18th overall

With the blue line and blue paint prospect pool filled, the Flyers can put the majority of their focus on the forwards. Scoring forwards are in short supply, and the Flyers could always use another scorer. On the back end, it's simply a matter of roster space that keeps the blue line group as deep as it is, though that figures to change by a player or two next season.

New York Islanders

Number of picks: 5
Picks in the first round: 19th overall

The Isles don't lack for toughness or for primary scoring. However, secondary scoring became a problem, and picking up another player or two that can push for a spot would be helpful. Another blue line prospect wouldn't hurt, either, as one of their top prospects there figures to be a regular next season. The Isles only pick once in the first three rounds, but don't bet against them making a trade to get another first round pick, as they've done so the last two drafts.

New York Rangers

Number of picks: 5
First pick: 81st overall

The Rangers continue to trade top picks, having been without one since 2012, when they took Brady Skjei. Their annual push for the Stanley Cup has also robbed them of considerable prospects that could have helped them now such as Anthony Duclair. Getting their prospect pool back to snuff would be great, but given their annual trades, top players that would normally be available will be hard to come by while the prospects that are there would have to look over their shoulder for any possibility of being moved to a different address.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Restocking Needs

With the NHL Draft less than three weeks away, it's time for teams to figure out how to replenish their systems with the best possible players. This week, I will take the time to look at what each team needs to do and how they can best address those needs with the picks they do have. The needs section will be divided into three, which means ten teams get a look each day this week, and the list will go according to order in which they are supposed to draft.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Number of picks: 12
Picks in first round: 1st and 29th/30th overall (from PIT)

The Maple Leafs are almost certain to draft Auston Matthews with the first overall pick. That will fill a major need down the middle, as Nazem Kadri is the only center that will be on the roster next season that scares anyone on the opposing team. With the pick they got from the Phil Kessel trade, they can address the back end, be it on the blue line or in the blue paint. While the blue line options are plenty, it only seems that the Leafs would have to go with Carter Hart if they decide on a goalie. Either way, the Leafs can take their time in developing the other first round pick.

Winnipeg Jets

Number of picks: 7
Picks in first round: 2nd and 22nd overall

The Jets will take one of the highly regarded Finns, whether it is Patrik Laine or Jesse Puljujarvi. Whoever they get will add size and offensive flair. With the 22nd overall pick, picking up a center or a defender would be a sound strategy for the Jets, as they don't have the depth down the middle that they would like nor do they have a sure thing on the blue line. Given the Jets' prospect pool, they don't necessarily have to rush either pick.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Number of picks: 5
Picks in first round: 3rd overall

The Blue Jackets are most likely taking whoever the Jets don't pick between Laine or Puljujarvi. Adding size and scoring up front is paramount for a team that now needs it badly. However, they do need to be accurate with the rest of their picks, as they only pick four other times in the draft, and none in the middle rounds. Forwards that can handle the puck are a need, with a goaltender being a possible need late in the draft, given Sergei Bobrovsky's annual injury issues.

Edmonton Oilers

Number of picks: 9
Picks in first round: 4th overall

The Oilers have a lot of picks to make, and possibly more if they decide to move any of their prized forwards not named Connor McDavid. As for the first round pick, picking a defenseman would be a wise move, as they are still lacking. Olli Juolevi is regarded as the safest and best pick of the bunch, but don't be surprised if the Oilers decide on size, whether it is Jakob Chychrun on defense or Pierre Luc-Dubois up front. An important thing for the Oilers to do is develop whoever they pick,as that's been a problem the last few years.

Vancouver Canucks

Number of picks: 6
Picks in first round: 5th overall

The Canucks just lost their second and fourth round picks, but gained a fifth rounder in the recent Erik Gudbranson deal. Having picked up a blue liner that can step in right away, the Canucks can focus on size and offensive ability up front. Dubois or Matthew Tkachuk would go a long way in answering that question. However, given their only other higher round pick is in the third round, they would need to hit on that, as the last four picks are sure to be developmental projects. Scoring could be addressed again, but so could goaltending depth.

Calgary Flames

Number of picks: 8 or 9
Picks in the first round: 6th overall

Getting a winger that can score is a must for Calgary, as is a goalie that can stop the puck. Since the latter is a major reach this early in the draft, the Flames could pick either Tkachuk or Dubois if either or both fall to them. It would not be surprising if they simply take the best player available at the sixth overall spot. As for goalie, Zach Sawchenko in the middle rounds makes sense.

Arizona Coyotes

Number of picks: 7
Picks in the first round: 7th and 20th overall

The Keith Yandle deal is the gift that keeps on giving for the Coyotes, as they have another first round pick from the Rangers. The Coyotes will most likely look to defenseman with the first of their two first round picks, which means Mikhail Sergachev, Olli Juolevi, and Jakob Chychrun will be looked at by the Coyotes. With the other first round pick, it is possible that they could either continue to build up the blue line or pick up scoring. Looking to goal late in the draft would be wise.

Buffalo Sabres

Number of picks: 10 or 11
Picks in the first round: 8th overall

The Sabres' climb to respectability enters another year, and it is possible they could take the best player available with the first rounder they have. It is also an ideal spot to take a player with a high ceiling but not as proven competition wise such as Tyson Jost. Continuing to address depth everywhere, particularly in goal, will be the Sabres' goal this off-season.

Montreal Canadiens

Number of picks: 7
Picks in the first round: 9th overall

Offense suddenly became a problem when Carey Price went out because he covered so many of the holes that plagued Montreal the previous two seasons. Scoring, any scoring would be welcome, particularly if they can step in within a year or two. Getting their big bodied players to stick with the NHL club wouldn't hurt, either, but they could always draft another one just in case.

Colorado Avalanche

Number of picks: 6
Picks in the first round: 10th overall

Defensemen, defensemen, defensemen. The Avalanche need it badly, as they continue to get torched there, and no amount of offensive talent up front is going to mask that fact. They cannot afford to whiff like they did with Duncan Siemens in 2011, but they also cannot continue to ignore the need. If they decide to go up front again, getting a winger with size would be a place to go.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Moving Up to the Dub

The Missouri Mavericks are now posting a Help Wanted sign, as they saw Richard Matvichuk move on from the head coaching job to go coach the Prince George Cougars of the WHL. The move comes after just two seasons, with the last one being record-breaking regular season that ultimately fizzled in the Conference semi-finals to Allen, the team Matvichuk led prior to coming to Missouri.

Matvichuk was behind the bench for the Mavericks' regular season to remember this past season. He leaves for a Prince George team that is looking for their first playoff series win since the 2006-07 season. The Cougars also posted their highest season point total this season (77) since the 2001-02 season. Expectations are higher now, and simply making the playoffs won't be acceptable now that there is talent coming and staying for a longer time.

As for the Mavericks, they're now having to find a new head coach, which given their recent success, should attract some proven names.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Another One Rides the Bus

The Vancouver Giants have been a veritable car wreck since the 2009-10 season, when they last won a playoff series. Their head coaching spot has been even more of a problem since the end of the 2013-14 season, when Don Hay, who had been coach for much of the team's existence up to that point, left to go to another team he had success with in the Kamloops Blazers. Since that time, they've seen three head coaches last a collective two years, with Troy G. Ward only lasting 25 games of the 2014-15 season, Claude Noel finishing out that season, and Lorne Molleken barely missing out on lasting the entire 2015-16 season, as he was canned with two games to go.

With a new General Manager in Glen Hanlon, the Giants are turning the page again on a new era, as they plan on naming Jason McKee as head coach tomorrow, according to the Vancouver Sun. McKee was last seen leading the Spruce Grove Saints of the AJHL since the 2010-11 season as head coach and General Manager, where he led the team to three championships and Finals appearances the other two seasons. As for what he could provide, a few of the current Giants players, including Tyler Benson, as well as three players on the Giants' protected list, have played under McKee. McKee also coached with current Edmonton Oil Kings' head coach Steve Hamilton.

Whether the Giants will finally break through under McKee's watch remains to be seen. What is certain is that the Giants cannot continue to settle for mediocrity, particularly since they've wasted Benson's prime years in major junior so far and haven't done much to reverse that trend.