Yesterday I got an email from a guy who blogs on NCAA hockey, focusing on the Golden Gophers of Minnesota. (Hence, the blog's title, 10,000 Takes.) He took a small issue with a piece I have in ESPN The Magazine, a report from the world juniors. I suggested that Kyle Okposo, a Minnesota frosh, is NHL-ready and likely to sign with the Islanders rather than return for a second year of school. He said that he has it on good authority that Okposo will be back with the Gophers next season. Never say never: Negotiations might bog down and maybe Okposo will bide his time. But right now he's a dominant player at the NCAA level--at the same stage Phil Kessel was a third-liner for the Gophers. Things are better on the Island. KO'll make the jump.
Thing is, I wonder if Jack Johnson will. Talked to Mr Johnson, the father, at the world juniors. Rumours were JJ was ready to bail out of Michigan in mid-season--but that was all gas, nothing to it. Hard to imagine that JJ would stay another year in Ann Arbor, but the fact is, he was ready to play in the NHL this season and probably even last year (when he had a chance to jump on with a Carolina team that wins the Stanley Cup). JJ's trade to LA was a hard one to figure--but maybe less so if the Hurricanes figured that it was going to be a fight to get him on board for the 2007-08 season. School means a lot to Johnson pere, a collegiate hockey and football player in his day. (Videos of him dancing at games pop up on YouTube.)
Jack isn't the bad actor that the Canadian puck media might have you believe--a wild card, yes, a bad kid, no. That JJ might stick around in school next season ... well, he'd leave a lot of money on the table, but he has already done that once. And would they want his father to dance at Kings' games?
Other observations off the world juniors:
Two very different stories from the University of North Dakota. Jonathan Toews, Chicago's first-rounder in 2006, third overall, was Canada's and the tournament's best player, a small surprise given that he had been playing subpar and that his season was nothing special prior to the under-20s. If Chicago is in the hunt for a playoff spot, he might be useful to have around. On the flipside, UND defenceman Brian Lee, the Senators' first-rounder (9th overall) in 2005, did little to impress with the US team and, by a lot of scouts' reckoning, played scared against Canada in the semi-final. Hard to see how he cracks Ottawa's line-up anytime soon.
The US team was as good as any at the under-20s, but in a column for espn.com I made the case that it wasn't as good as it could have and should have been.
I had a note from one former US u-20 player who said the criticisms were right on. He wrote that he hopes "changes will be made and the selections will be made fairer." USA Hockey got it right when Mike Eaves and some other first-rate folks were involved. But short of some major personnel and attitude changes, I just see more of the same.