100 games a season: Gare Joyce's puck blog

Just like being in the scouts' & press' lounge, without the bad coffee and day-old Timbits

Location: Toronto

I've written for ESPN The Magazine and espn.com the last five years. My work has made the "notable" list of the Best American Sports Writing seven times and won four Canadian National Magazine Awards. My most recent book is Future Greats and Heartbreaks: A Year Undercover in the Secret World of NHL Scouts. I've written three other sports books: When the Lights Went Out: How One Brawl Ended Hockey's Cold War and Changed the Game; Sidney Crosby: Taking the Game by Storm; and The Only Ticket Off the Island: Baseball in the Dominican Republic.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Martin St Louis Redux? Ryan Duncan / Hobey Baker

Undrafted mite wins the Hobey Baker.


It's a heckuva pedigree. One story listed him at 5'6" and another at 5'8". Betting the former is closer. That's what they list on the team website. UND got off to a rocky start but got rolling later on in the season. In the old NHL I doubt he'd get a look--he didn't, in fact. An '85 birthday, he was eligible for the 2003 draft, when he would have been about 130 pounds soaking wet. Nowadays? Would seem like a worthwhile gamble. Look at that pic -- he's hardly bigger than the player on the trophy.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Polling the OHL Coaches (with 100 Games footnotes)

2006-07 Ontario Hockey League Coaches Poll – Western Conference Results

Most Underrated Player
1. Trevor Kell, Sarnia Sting (22)
2. Mike McLean, Guelph Storm (18)
3. Scott Aarssen, London Knights (16)

Most Improved Player
1. Tom Sestito, Plymouth Whalers (30)
I wrote about Sesito in an earlier blog. A 2006 third-rounder by the Columbus Blue Jackets of a 10-goal, 10-assist season, he was a force when I saw him this year.
2. Josh Godfrey, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (27)
3. Steve Mason, London Knights (10)
Another Columbus third-rounder.

Smartest Player
1. Sam Gagner, London Knights (28)
No surprise.
2. Steven Stamkos, Sarnia Sting (18)
3. Evan Brophey, Plymouth Whalers (16)

Hardest Worker
1. Matt Halischuk, Kitchener Rangers (23)
2. Jared Boll, Plymouth Whalers (19)
3. Rafael Rotter, Guelph Storm (12)

Best Playmaker
1. Sam Gagner, London Knights (29)
2. Bobby Ryan, Owen Sound Attack (26)
Couldn't play for the US under-20 ... please!
3. Evan Brophey, Plymouth Whalers (15)

Most Dangerous in the Goal Area
1. Patrick Kane, London Knights (41)
Amazing instincts -- would like to see the league vote with him and Tavares.
2. Bobby Ryan, Owen Sound Attack (30)
3. Steve Downie, Kitchener Rangers (13)

Best Skater
1. Mark Katic, Sarnia Sting (23)
Noted in other posts his skating. A marvel. Truly like Brian Campbell.
2. Robbie Drummond, London Knights (20)
3. Trevor Lewis, Owen Sound Attack (16)
This kid is a jet. How did the NHL miss him (undrafted in 05, first rounder last year) in the USHL?

Best Shot
1. Sergei Kostitsyn, London Knights (23)
I have all kinds of time for Kostitsyn, Montreal got a prize late. Best shot, tho', was the one he dropped on Downie in Kitchener a few weeks back.
1. Dan Collins, Plymouth Whalers (23)
3. Josh Godfrey, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (20)

Hardest Shot
1. Josh Godfrey, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (45)
2. Nigel Williams, Saginaw Spirit (18)
3. Ryan Wilson, Sarnia Sting (7)

Best Stickhandler
1. Patrick Kane, London Knights (40)
2. Bobby Ryan, Owen Sound Attack (29)
3. Steven Stamkos, Sarnia Sting (14)
All three of these guys are magical. Ryan just owns the puck on the cycle. Stamkos is maybe a little better in open-ice, head-on.

Best on Face-Offs
1. Justin Azevedo, Kitchener Rangers (20)
2. Evan Brophey, Plymouth Whalers (18)
3. Marcus Carroll, Owen Sound Attack (12)Ryan O’Marra, Saginaw Spirit (12)

Best Body Checker
1. James Neal, Plymouth Whalers (35)
Again, I like Plymouth to go to the Mem Cup and this guy was just a force when I saw him this year.
2. Todd Perry, London Knights (18)
3. Ryan Wilson, Sarnia Sting (11)

Best Defensive Forward
1. Robbie Drummond, London Knights (21)
2. Cody Bass, Saginaw Spirit (19)
3. Scott Tregunna, Owen Sound Attack (14)

Best Penalty Killer
1. Tom Sestito, Plymouth Whalers (25)
See most improved.
2. Mike McLean, Guelph Storm (23)
3. Matt Halischuk, Kitchener Rangers (19)

Best Offensive Defenceman
1. Drew Doughty, Guelph Storm (33)
Would be a top 10 pick (at least) if eligible this year. Everybody has to wait. As a scout said to me the other day: "The late 89s are better than the 89s in the O."
2. Patrick McNeill, Saginaw Spirit (23)
3. Ryan Wilson, Sarnia Sting (16)

Best Defensive Defenceman
1. Ryan Parent, Guelph Storm (45)
The fruit of the Forsberg trade for Philly, this bodes well for Flyers. He would have been in a logjam in Nashville.
2. Scott Aarssen, London Knights (15)
3. Tyler Cuthbert, Sault. Ste. Marie (12)

2006-07 Ontario Hockey League Coaches Poll – Eastern Conference Results

Most Underrated Player
1. Jordan Owens, Mississauga IceDogs (37)
2. Nick Plastino, Barrie Colts (13)
3. Geoff Killing, Belleville Bulls (12)

Most Improved Player
1. Stefan Legein, Mississauga IceDogs (36)
Very fiesty but undersized. Going to be an interesting call.
2. Matt Caria, Toronto St. Michaels Majors (19)
3. Shawn Matthias, Belleville Bulls (11)Brett MacLean, Oshawa Generals (11)
MacLean never cheated on effort when I saw him.

Smartest Player
1. John Tavares, Oshawa Generals (24)
2. Tyler Donati, Belleville Bulls (18)
3. Cory Emmerton, Kingston Frontenacs (14)

Hardest Worker
1. Bryan Little, Barrie Colts (40)
2. Marc Staal, Sudbury Wolves (16)
3. Matt Beleskey, Belleville Bulls (15)

Best Playmaker
1. Tyler Donati, Belleville Bulls (23)
2. Bryan Little, Barrie Colts (20)
3. John Tavares, Oshawa Generals (16)

Most Dangerous in the Goal Area
1. John Tavares, Oshawa Generals (39)
You might as well skate to centre. "Best pure finisher I've ever seen," was one coach's reaction off the u-18 summer camp.
2. Tyler Donati, Belleville Bulls (25)
3. Bryan Little, Barrie Colts (12)

Best Skater
1. Stefan Legein, Mississauga IceDogs (34)
Saw him a half dozen times and only in two tilts in playoff loss to Sudbury did he fail to impress -- that said, the Sudbury D, Staal et al, is stuff he'd see at the next level. Big enough? Sorta wish he'd been a u-18 invite.
2. Chris Stewart, Kingston Frontenacs (18)
3. Yves Bastien, Peterborough Petes (17)

Best Shot
1. Bryan Little, Barrie Colts (39)
2. Chris Lawrence, Mississauga IceDogs (20)
3. Jamie McGinn, Ottawa 67’s (11)
I thought he was going to be a pure force off his performance at Mem Cup in London as a 16-year-old. Maybe he still will.

Hardest Shot
1. P.K. Subban, Belleville Bulls (27)
2. Jonathan D’Aversa, Sudbury Wolves (22)
3. Bryan Little, Barrie Colts (20)

Best Stickhandler
1. John Tavares, Oshawa Generals (26)
Side to side, you have to hold on for dear life.
2. Vladimir Nikiforov, Barrie Colts (25)
3. Tyler Donati, Belleville Bulls (18)

Best on Face-Offs
1. Bryan Little, Barrie Colts (36)
2. Bobby Hughes, Kingston Frontenacs (16)
This guy's stock cratered at the draft. Carolina got him way late.
3. Matt Caria, Toronto St. Michaels Majors (11)

Best Body Checker
1. Chris Stewart, Kingston Frontenacs (23)
2. Marc Staal, Sudbury Wolves (21)
3. Cal Clutterbuck, Oshawa Generals (19)
A name you can't make up. This sort of explains the post I had before, when he was gooned off the opening faceoff at St Mikes. Payback.

Best Defensive Forward
1. Matthew Bragg, Barrie Colts (28)
2. Jordan Owens, Mississauga IceDogs (18)
3. Andrew Gibbons, Belleville Bulls (11)

Best Penalty Killer
1. Marc Staal, Sudbury Wolves (28)
2. Andrew Gibbons, Belleville Bulls (22)
3. Hunter Tremblay, Barrie Colts (15)

Best Offensive Defenceman
1. Michael Del Zotto, Oshawa Generals (34)
2. Jonathan D’Aversa, Sudbury Wolves (21)
3. Alex Pietrangelo, Mississauga IceDogs (14)

Best Defensive Defenceman
1. Nick Plastino, Barrie Colts (28)
2. Adam McQuaid, Sudbury Wolves (18)
3. John de Gray, Brampton Battalion (17)

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Who's back from the summer u-18s and what are the storylines:


BACK Cann, Trevor-Peterborough (OHL)-2007
consensus top NA goaltender but lacked support and didn't play meaningful games with the Petes being so weak this year

OUT Leclerc, Justin-Lethbridge (WHL)-2007


BACK - Doughty, Drew-Guelph (OHL)-2008
might be in the running for top 10 if not a late birthday

BACK - Grant, Alex-Saint John (QMJHL)-2007

BUSY - Hickey, Thomas-Seattle (WHL)-2007

BACK - Katic, Mark-Sarnia (OHL)-2007
he has Brian Campbell's feet ... didn't get to play in the summer u-18s very much at all ...

BACK - Negrin, John-Kootenay (WHL)-2007

BUSY - Ross, Nick-Regina (WHL)-2007
noted that he didn't show anything in Regina games I saw ... heard scouts say pretty much the same ... that said, they actually liked him the summer u-18s

BACK - Sauve, Yann-Saint John (QMJHL)-2008

BACK - Schenn, Luke-Kelowna (WHL)-2008


BACK - Bastien, Yves-Peterborough (OHL)-2007
started year with Kitchener

BACK - Boychuk, Zach-Lethbridge (WHL)-2008

BUSY - Cameron, Bryan-Belleville (OHL)-2007

BUSY - Ennis, Tyler-Medicine Hat (WHL)-2008

BACK - Esposito, Angelo-Quebec (QMJHL)-2007
lots to prove ... says he's all right after late-season concussion

BACK Fortier, Olivier-Rimouski (QMJHL)-2007
as stated before, I enjoy watching Fortier play

BACK - Gillies, Colton-Saskatoon (WHL)-2007

NOT BACK - King, Dwight-Lethbridge (WHL)-2007

NOT BACK - MacMillan, Logan-Halifax (QMJHL)-2007
lots to like here ... saw him in Halifax a few weeks back ... I don't know if he has the upside to be a first-rounder but he'll be a second-rounder at the very least ... talked to him, seems like a sharp kid ... surprised he did not get invited (maybe injured?)

BUSY - Sonne, Brett-Calgary (WHL)-2007
this guy was not big in the plans for the summer-18s and probably played the best hockey of his life over the course of the week

BACK - Sutter, Brandon-Red Deer (WHL)-2007
last player confirmed back ... Red Deer goes to seventh game in opening round before falling

BACK - Turris, Kyle-Burnaby (BCHL)-2007
the one many scouts will be watching most closely ... not that he has to prove himself per se ... simply that he's a bit of a mystery player because he's outside major junior ... bound for Wisconsin but many in the game wonder if he just wasted a year of development ... said NCAA was his decision, not a family decision ... guess he was jammed if he wanted to go that route ... too old for US preps, couldn't go to USHL because of an agreement between the leagues ... "offensive dynamo" is how one coach described him ... says Turris "I need a few years to put meat on my bones before moving up to the NHL" ... which might be true but not a reason alone to go NCAA rather than Dub

NOT BACK - Torquato, Zack-Saginaw (OHL)-2007


G Braden Holtby ( Marshall , SK / Saskatoon , WHL)
D Eric Doyle (Calgary, AB/Swift Current, WHL)

F Keven Veilleux (St-Georges, QC/Victoriaville, QMJHL)
F Jamie Arniel (Kingston, ON/Guelph, OHL),
F Steven Stamkos (Unionville, ON/Sarnia, OHL)
F Dion Knelsen (Three Hills, AB/Alaska-Fairbanks, NCAA)
F Logan Couture (London, ON/Ottawa, OHL)

Interested to see how this shakes out. Stamkos as an underage is just a wonder to watch.

Pietrangelo Unlikely for U-18s ... it seems

Know that I posted that Mississauga's Pietrangelo would be a desired add to the Canadian u-18s ... Hockey Canada hasn't sent the email with the roster just yet but word is the IceDogs talked to him about not dressing in playoff games--seems his knee was a lot more painful than he let on and coach Mike Kelly was concerned about doing any further damage. Sounds like it will be wiser if not easy to decline an invite.

CSS's Final Rankings: Likely Two Americans in Top Three

If only NHL draftniks could fill out brackets like NCAA fans. Anyway, there should be a fairly dramatic shift in the final rankings submitted by the NHL Central Scouting Service in a little bit. Here's what the top of the mid-term rankings looked like:


Okay, off the top, there is no way in the world that Esposito will be at No. 1. I can't speak for CSS's scouts--I haven't sounded them out--but those working for NHL clubs have been down on him with only occasional exceptions all season long. The consensus among them--and I've sounded them out all season--is that the final rankings will likely look like:

1. Kane
2. Van Riemsdyk
3. Voracek
with 4 and 5 and 6 going to Esposito, Gagner and Turris in any possible order.

Now, this isn't a pure reflection of talent--it's more like guessing the nominees for the Oscars. A lot of scouts for NHL teams wouldn't put Esposito in the top ten simply based on his play this season, but Central doesn't want to look like they were so off base in the mid-term, which they would if No. 1 fell to No. 6 or No. 8 or No. 10. It's a bit of political intrigue, a matter of impressions. Some movement down is okay, but a dramatic shift--which in Esposito's case might be deserved--calls undue attention to CSS's mid-term. If I had to guess (and I don't) I'd put him at four. A lot of scouts would put Voracek at No. 1 or No. 2 but same scenario--how would it look if No. 16 in the mid-term jumped to No. 1? Like CSS didn't get it right the first time. No. 3 is completely deserved for Voracek. (I caught Game 2 in Halifax the other day and spoke to him after practice, which I'll blog about down the line. The Q players I spoke to--outside of Halifax--say there's no contest between the dynamic Voracek and Esposito.)

Other notes:

I doubt that it will be reflected in CSS but I suspect on draft day that of the three Rimouski players, the Slovak Skokan at No. 12, Tanguay (Alex's brother) at No. 29 and Olivier Fortier at No. 45, Fortier might get the most love at the draft. I suspect that Fortier might be closer to 30 than 40 in the final CSS--he should be.

By my count I've seen 16 of the top 20 at some point or another and spoke to about half. Kane and Gagner already carry themselves like 10-year NHL veterans, while Voracek is just an ebullient kid and Esposito has the weight of the world on his shoulder.

Overvalued in CSS: Gillies (regarded by scouts as limited) Ross (couldn't find him the two views I had of him)
Undervalued: Voracek (as noted before but should be again) maybe Sutter (scouts say that he's the smartest player in the draft, even if he's the scrawniest, a doppelganger for his father, tho')
Wild cards: Akim Aliu-Sudbury-winger (won the fastest-honors at the Prospects game, suspended [but re-instated] by Sudbury late in the season, immense gifts, more to come on him in future) Turris (NCAA bound, playing against thin competition in BCHL, u-18s should be a better indicator of where his game is but some scouts would have him in the mix with the top 3)

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Canada's Spring Under-18s: Younger, Better

Been away on book assignment for a stretch, but also coming back with the inside dope on the world under-18s and the 2007 entry draft. So here goes:

As strange as it sounds, the Canadian team that goes to Finland this month for the world under18s might in fact be better than the squad that won the gold medal at the summer u-18 World Cup in Breclav, Czech Republic, and Piestany, Slovakia. That's what scouts are saying after the first round of the CHL playoffs have wrapped. On its face not earth-shaking news but understand that this is sort of a fluke, a strange alignment of the planets, because on every other occasion the spring unit is not quite up to the quality of the August team. It only makes sense. In August Hockey Canada has its pick of eligible players; in April, many of these players, often the best of the bunch, can't make it because their CHL teams have advanaced to the second round of the playoffs.

Okay, logic would tell you that if somehow the concentration of u-18 best (i.e. the bulk of the year's draft-class elite) finished out of the playoffs--which is like lining up 20 lottery numbers--then the Canadian team could be as good but how could it possibly be better?

Two reasons:

1. Underage: Hockey Canada decided early on that the team would go with the best players available/eligible and thus a few underagers were on the radar early. Four were clearly in the mix: John Tavares and Michael Del Zotto in Oshawa, Steven Stamkos in Sarnia and Alex Pietrangelo in Mississauga. Tavares--you know, the one who was busting up 99's records for 16-year-olds scoring, yadda, yadda--was the one under-ager who was invited to the under-18 evaluation/tryout in the summer but was injured before the selection. (He surely would have been on the team and would have been its go-to player.) Well, Oshawa's through to the second round, so Tavares and Del Zotto, a highly skilled defenceman, are out of the mix. But Sarnia and Mississauga both got knocked out quick (swept and five games respectively), so Stamkos (think young Steve Yzerman, a player that is confirmed and right now Hockey Canada is waiting on word from Pietrangelo. The complicating issue there is a hairline fracture above his knee. He didn't miss a game or even a shift in Mississauga's five playoff games--it seems to be the type of injury that can't much worsen. (I think Brad Richards played in the summer 18s with precisely the same thing.) He's probably a good shot. But Stamkos, first pick in last year's OHL draft, is the player that really intrigues me and scouts--saw him a couple of times live including vs Russian touring team, more times on the tube. The son of a guy I went to EastYork Collegiate with back when I used to wear my hair in a Roger Daltrey perm. More than one scout has told me that they'd take him ahead of Tavares right now if they were in the same draft class. Then again, I think they sometimes say these things to amuse themselves. Caught them going head to head in Oshawa early on in the season--what a tilt. Sarnia smoked the Gens, to Tavares's immense displeasure. The Gens weren't going well back then. One aspect of Stamkos's game that's way ahead of Tavares: skating. Stamkos is faster in a straight line and he's aesthetically more pleasing to watch. Tavares, though, well if he skated any better, they'd have to ban him. Bladewise he's better on side-to-side elusive stuff than with breakaway speed. And if he has the puck within ten feet of the goal, everyone might as well skate to centre. (As it stands right now, Stamkos is in the '08 draft, Tavares, a late birthday by the thinnest of margins, is draft eligible for '09. Could things change? John Tavares as Curt Flood? Stay tuned. I know a lot of people will resist the idea of mucking up the draft but going to the calendar year as the draft criterion was on the table and in discussion back in the NHL's lockout nuclear winter.) All this said, Stamkos will be a significant upgrade up front.

2. Injury. Logan Couture of the Ottawa 67s was killing the field at the summer u-18 camp but suffered a nasty, nasty skate cut around his knee with seconds (literally) to go in the final scrimmage before the selection. By accounts of some witnesses he might have been the best forward there. Couture could be on--Ottawa was knocked out on the weekend. As has been mentioned on the blog weeks back, though, Couture's season has been screwed up by mono early and knee injuries late. He played with pain in the second half--he might want to play just to shore up his draft stock but if his injuries linger he might not want to risk further injury. Scouts say he was on fire in the playoffs v Belleville.

The addition of Stamkos, Couture and Pietrangelo would more than fill the holes left by those at the summer-18s who'll be in the second round of the CHL playoffs.

Further: The summer team's captain, Angelo Esposito, the CSS mid-term No. 1, could/should be back--his Quebec team was knocked out. But Esposito missed some time with a concussion late in the regular season (I'm just going by what I was able to read in the Journal de Quebec ... my French is tres rusty ... if only Quebec had a Spanish-language daily I'd know the veridad). He played in the playoffs so he might be good to go. Frankly, he should be motivated to play--scouts are so down on him. There's no shot that he'll be CSS's No. 1 in final rankings. Lot of scouts think he's out of the top 5 at this year's draft.

Personal preference: I like the Fortier kid in Rimouski. He's confirmed for Finland. He wore the A in the summer and I saw him in Rimouski last weekend of the season. The Oceanic gassed their coach, Doris Lebonte, who took the team to the Memorial Cup final (with some help from 87). Whoever inherits this club has a lot to work with. Youngest team in Q last year--clearly loading up. They want to take a run at the Mem Cup (as host) down the line, so the GM told me. Even looking at arena reno to do it. Well, Fortier will play a role whatever this team does competively the next couple of seasons. Came over in trade from Drummondville. Great skater, great hockey sense, already a two-way player. "The perfect kid to work with," said Doris Lebonte, who has some experience with perfect. Could Fortier be Patrice Bergeron? He's not in the top five and I can't see him in the top 10. He will play in the NHL and if he goes 20 in the draft, he'll have a bigger impact than five players who go ahead of him, guaranteed.

Draft / u-18 oddity ... I still wonder how Sam Gagner got cut from the summer 18s but made the u-20s in December. If he didn't get invited to the summer and played in the world juniors that would be easier to explain--simple oversight, guy's game gets better from one season to the next. But no, they saw him, he was going well by his account in the summer and they gave him a handshake for his troubles. Does someone improve that much from August to November? He makes u-20s and the captain of the sumer 18s is a quick cut, Tavares too. Oh well, Gagner's occupied with London.

Fine print ... talked with Mark Guy of Newport Sports at the Sudbury-Miisissauga game the other day ... Newport has Stamkos, Pietrangelo and Del Zotto, who could comprise the top three in the 2008 draft ... I suggested that the NHL might as well hold the draft in Newport's offices

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Blowout Special: Sending a message ("I'm stupid" or, possibly, "Kick me!")

At St Mike's last night


Oshawa blew the doors of the Majors, who can thank Michael Haley for sending a message. Here it is:

1 - TOR Haley, 0:37 - Instigator , 2 min (PP)
1 - TOR
Haley, 0:37 - Fighting , 5 min (3 PP)
1 - TOR
Haley, 0:37 - 10-Minute Misconduct , 0 min

It only looks like it took Haley half a minute to act out. Fact is, Haley didn't wait for the opening faceoff. He tried to pick a fight with Gens winger Cal Clutterbuck (what a name!) as soon as the anthem finished. Clutterbuck shooed him away but could do nothing at the first stoppage in play when Haley jumped him from behind, tackled him and started to punch him in the back of the helmet. So there you go, Gens buzz the net and by the time Haley gets out of the box the rout is on: By the time he got out of the box it was 6-2 Oshawa. It would be good if an experienced player on the St Mike's roster could have a word with him -- except that Haley is the Majors' captain.

The game was thoroughly not worth watching by then -- the Majors just had nothing and Oshawa is rolling, as good a bet as any to come outta the Eastern Conference. Tavares was good, not quite great. MacLean, discussed here before, likewise. I can see what the Del Zotto kid will bring though in next year's draft. Very sound (fresh off Ontario's win at the Canada Winter Games). Good size. Probably will show a lot more offensively as he goes.

The fine print ... Ihink I mentioned at some pt that Del Zotto's family are the big developing clan--no, dad works at IBM (don't know if family is related). Majors have Mike Pelech (son of national basketball guy Bo Pelech, late of York U, brother of Matt, who was a first-rounder of Calgary and will sign shortly). The "ch" in Pelech is pronounced "k" ... so Mike Pelech = Mike Pelyk (phonetically).

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Cheechoo: Background on the ESPN The Mag story

Went up to Moose Factory before Christmas to do a story on Cheechoo. While it would seem like an interesting place to visit for a hunting or fishing trip in season (if you can give up having a beer for the duration), let me talk you out of the notion of heading up there in late December. No place to eat ... the hotel dining room was closed because I was the only guest they had booked for the month, the one greasy spoon in town was shut down for stretches. Saw an ad on local cable for a sale at a Radio Shack in Moosonee so I took a snowmobile ride across the (mostly-frozen) Moose River to Moosonee figuring I'd go to the mall where the store was -- and found that it was an outlet in the back of the town's gas station. Dire isn't the word for my time. That said, the people were very welcoming, got the daughter a pair of moose-skin gloves (that still reek).

Cheechoo is a fascinating case. I remember him very well from junior. Back in '99 I saw him going head to head with the 67's. He had a lot going for him as a prospect--except his skating, which was maybe not even average. Did anyone then ever think he'd lead the NHL in scoring? You could have found a lot of guys who thought he wouldn't be an NHLer. A credit to his work ethic and John Ferguson Sr for seeing something that others missed. Interesting draft year.


Poor old Mathieu Chouinard, with the two career minutes he played for the Kings. Jeff Heerema we barely knew you. Michael Heinrich, later. Ten players from the O go ahead of him. Two dubious-character guys, Rico Fata and Mark Bell, went way ahead of him. David Legwand skated a lot better than most NHLers as an 18-year-old -- but,it turned out that everything else was a problem. Hard to imagine now that a few liked Legwand over Lecavalier (believe it, they did).

Granted, Cheechoo really took off after his draft year. But if you talked to Cheechoo, then or now, you'd bet he'd figure it out. San Jose drew laughs when Cheechoo was picked -- but then again Tampa Bay and Don Murdoch drew laughs when they took Lecavalier's team-mate in Rimouski in the third round.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Trading Deadline Holiday: Quick Takes and My .02

There's a heckuva separation between the public's perceived value of draft picks and that of NHL GMs. First rounders were being passed over the counter like Canadian Tire money. As we said before, if you're looking at real first-rounders, you're looking at Top 10 picks, not No. 29, and maybe not even No. 15. After the top ten and certainly after the top 20, you're getting a lottery ticket.

The most fascinating trade is on the minds of many today though not for the reasons I'm thinking about it: Smyth to Isles for O'Marra, Nilsson and 2007 first.

O'Marra's a safe bet to play in the league, might even evoke a Smyth as a young player tho' bigger. There is absolutely no worry about him playing, size, skating and attitude--he could play on your fourth line without a stick. I don't know about what he'd project to at the high end (second-line on a winning team, maybe). What really stands out in scouts' minds -- there has never been a kid who has talked more at the combine interviews. They tried to ask him questions but it was like trying to get a word in edgewise with Robin Williams on his third Starbucks venti.


Nilsson's bloodlines suggest talent but he's underperformed for where he was drafted. I remember seeing him at world juniors whenever it was in Europe--Kent used to take his kid along on most trips, even when he would have been nine or ten. Word back then was that he was a chip off the old block--which sounds promising because Kent was certainly one of the five most gifted players of his time but is in fact less promising because Kent utilized a fraction of his talent.


O'Marra and Nilsson both picked at No. 15 in their years and the pick Edmonton gets might just fall on that very slot. Which is right where the talent starts to drop off.

Wouldn't surprise me if Logan Couture were there at No. 15 (especially if a goaltender or two moves up).

100 Games Holiday Edition: Trading Deadline Advice

Okay, I'll keep it brief. Here's a few things you should keep in mind on deadline day.

  • This year's draft lacks star talent up top (no Crosby, Malkin, Ovechkin). Fact is, the top pick in this year's draft (Kane, Esposito, Van Riemsdyk, whoever) would likely be no higher than fourth or fifth in last year's draft.
  • This year's draft is not deep, according to scouts in the field. What you get at the end of the first round is another year's second-round talent.
  • The difference is marginal between a second-round pick and a third-rounder. The chances of a player having an impact is about 15 percent.
  • There's a far greater difference between a top 20 pick and one between Nos. 21 and 40.
  • Next year's first-rounder is far more valuable than this year's. A far better draft on the high end (Stamkos, Del Zotto, Pietrangelo, etc) and scouts say it's like the 2003 for depth (didn't realize just how many have already made the show and arguably the best one goes in the second round).