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.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Skating in the Shadow of Junior Phenoms: Brett MacLean

A busy travel week limited missives here. A little catching up is in order.

Caught Oshawa's win over Kingston yesterday.


John Tavares's empty-netter was his 100th goal in the OHL and he had more than a few of his signature moments. It can't be any coincidence that his game has taken off since he was dropped from the Canadian under-20s roster. (Makings of a great future trivia question: Who were the 13 forwards kept ahead of him? Toews: Everyone will remember him. Downie's Sideshow Bob is pretty unforgettable. Players like Cogliano and Little looked like NHL front-liners in the making. O'Marra and Neal had roles that called attention to them. And Sam Gagner will be remembered as the draft eligible player kept ahead of Tavares and Angelo Esposito. But will Marc-Andre Cliche stick in memory? Or Kendal McArdle? Darren Helm and Brad Marchand? Bertran and Pyatt? If you go by the history of the team and tournament you have to figure at least a couple of these players won't stick at the next level.)

A draft-eligible kid named Brett MacLean


is playing on Tavares's wing. Got me thinking about players who had a significant bounce from playing beside a junior phenom. The classic case for me is Gretzky's junior wingers. Any guesses? One of them was a first-rounder with Philly. The other was nicknamed after a composer. I'll get back to that.

Playing beside a phenom guarantees one thing: You will get seen. MacLean is a pretty big kid, a useful junior player, maybe even someone who can be more than a passenger on a winning team at this level. As a pro, harder to say. Central Scouting has him 40th among North American skaters, which suggests that he'll get drafted, maybe as high as the second round. And Tavares will create chances for him, no doubt. A lot of guys go through their hockey lives without having a chance to play beside a creative and dynamic player like Tavares or Crosby. MacLean gets it in his draft year--that's like winning the 50-50 draw. My guess is that playing beside Tavares might have a slightly inflationary effect on MacLean's stock. Here I'll offer 99 as evidence.

Gretzky's wingers in the Soo:

Dan Lucas


and Paul Mancini


(also known as Henry)

The scouts seemed to realize the limits on Mancini's skills but thought there had to be more to Lucas's package. I talked with Lucas about twenty years ago, after he'd dropped out of the game and settled in Maine, working the real estate dodge. That one goal he scored with Philly came at the expense of his junior team-mate in the Soo, Greg Millen. It wasn't injury that cut short his career so much as will--he gave me the impression that he didn't want it that bad. And let's face it ... if you played with Gretzky as your centre, everybody else would be sort of a come down, particularly in the AHL. Lucas's eyes had seen the glory as a teenager.

The Lucas-Mancini tandem is up there with Blair (B.J.) McDonald


and Brett Callighen


Gretzky's original linemates with the Oilers. There wasn't much hockey life (of NHL quality) left for any of them after 99. It's inevitable, I guess, to see the work as a collective rather than having two others bask in the light of the star. But then again, they used to talk about les trois Denis

http://http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/stats/leagues/seasons/teams/0013871979.html ...

when really there was only un worth dwelling on.

A classic case of the phenom inflationary effect is Dany Roussin, who played the wing for Sidney Crosby down in Rimouski. Remember how much fun it was to watch Marc-Antoine Pouliot, Roussin and 87 whiz around. Well, I don't doubt that Pouliot is legit--he was actually drafted in the first round by Edmonton in 2003, before Crosby arrived. Roussin was also drafted that year ... the seventh round by Florida. But he re-entered the draft in 2005--very few players move up when they re-enter but Roussin's floated up to the second round. His performance since suggests Florida had it right.


At this point he isn't even a AHL player. Maybe the Pens were a little too cute--after landing the big prize in the draft, they figured they might as well get a player who complemented him so well as Roussin. But the fact is almost anybody would have scored 50 beside 87 in Rimouski--and the way it looks now, the guy who passes for almost anybody did. He might not score another 50 goals the rest of his career.

The fine print ... had a terrible travel week ... sports scribes descend on Miami and bitch about rain at the Super Bowl ... try minus 25 nd gale-force winds in Regina ... I'm still thawing out ... took the occasion to take in a game in Saskatoon, Blades v Red Deer Rebels ... I could go on about the Blades sweaters (gruesome) but a thought or two about Brandon Sutter ... ranked 9 among North American skaters by Central ... I dunno about his skating ... he's hardly classic in that sense and he's pretty scrawny ... but he still gets the job done, more effective than aesthetically pleasing ... one scout ranked him the smartest player (on the ice as opposed to book smarts) in this year's draft, which probably doesn't surprise