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.

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).


Monday, February 26, 2007

Steve Downie: Canadian Hero (TM), 100 Games Zero

Count me among those who have no time for Steve Downie. Downie was the guy you couldn't take your eyes off at the world under-20s in Vancouver, the one who goaded crucial third-period penalties out of a US team at this year's global jr event in Sweden. Downie was the guy who basically willed the Windsor Spitfires out of a 0-3 hole vs the Soo and Jeff Carter.


The little-ball-of-hate thing evidently carries over off the ice as well--his contretemps with team-mate Akim Aliu preceded his selection to his first world jr team.


Downie was dealt to Peterborough but was more of a passenger than a driver on a team that went to the Memorial Cup last spring. He was essentially invisible in the tournament. He didn't impress me much in OHL play this fall, back before the world juniors. He was all act--histrionics, mouth, slamming sticks--and no impact. Poor Vince Mallette, his first head coaching job after years with Brian Kilrea in Ottawa and he had a truly uncoachable player as his first-line talent, a guy on his own program. Happiest day of the season for Vince would have been the day Downie was traded to Kitchener.

For the Rangers it might now be a case of buyer's remorse. Downie was hardly impressive when I saw him the other day vs London. Not that he'll have much of a chance to show his goods in the near future. From the Guelph Mercury's write-up of the Storm's ass-kick of the Rangers:

The Highway 7 rivalry just got its nasty back.
After a couple of years of pretty mellow competition between the Guelph Storm and Kitchener Rangers, things returned to their former glory Saturday night in a rough-and-tumble contest at the Guelph Sports and Entertainment Centre.
Three fights, a boisterous crowd more involved in a home game than it has been all year and a meltdown by the Rangers' Steve Downie were all part of the lively contest between two possible first-round playoff opponents.
Oh yeah, the Storm won 5-0.
"Starting to feel like it," said the Storm's Ryan Parent when asked if the game reminded him of the old days. "Be good if we meet them in the playoffs."
The highlight -- or lowlight -- of the night came at 15:39 of the second period after Guelph had gone up 4-0.
On the ensuing faceoff at centre ice, Downie jumped Storm forward Mike McLean and landed several punches as McLean covered up on the ice. On his way to the dressing room Downie proceeded to drop-kick his helmet into the boards and toss a container holding a bunch of water bottles onto the ice.
For his efforts Downie received the Meltdown Five Pack -- two minutes for instigating, five minutes for fighting, 10-minute misconduct, game misconduct and gross misconduct. A suspension from the league is also likely.

Say good-bye to Downie for five games or so. The Flyers took Downie in the first round and, God bless them, they need help. But I have no time for him. All the Canadian Hero stuff aside, Downie does not skate well enough to make an impact at the next level. The fact that he picks his spots--effort is for other guys--suggests that unless he finds religion (cash incentive) he won't work hard enough to re-invent his game (and himself) as necessary.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Back up the Pick-Up Truck: Gaming out Flyers' Pick

The other day I made the case for Patrick Kane being the favorite to be No. 1 on NHL scouts' lists. Here's one reason that he won't be the first called in June.

The Flyers.

The Flyers' scouting philosophy can be neatly summarized by an anecdote. A few years ago a Philly scout was greeted by a friend upon his return from a European excursion, probably one of those Four Nations tournaments or somesuch, no North American squads invited. The friend asked the Philly scout how it went ... if he saw anybody he liked. The Philly scout replied: "There were no Flyers over there." The friend asked him what the Philly scout looked for in a player. The scout said: "A Flyer has to be able to stand flat-footed and sh-t in the back of a pick-up truck."

The Flyers have traditionally been the most size-obsessed franchise in recent years. Look at the moves that left others scratching their heads--the post-lock-out pick-ups of Derian Hatcher and Mike Rathje. Traditionally Flyers teams have been among the biggest--if not the biggest--in the NHL. It wasn't just the Lindroses and Primeaus who were the fit--look at Zubrus who they took out of Tier II in Ontario (a 220-pounder 18-year-old who stepped right onto the first line of a team that went to the Stanley Cup finals).

Here are the Flyers' drafts.


Firsts in 01, 02, 03 ... all six-foot-three.

Okay, two points that you might make that I'll pre-empt.

Hey, the Flyers drafted a few shrimps too, look at Justin Williams, Steve Downie, Mike Richards and Claude Giroux. Yup, all true. Look, in the latter three, the Flyers have three forward prospects at 5-10 ... can't see Kane being a fit with them. Now Kane is a superior prospect to those guys at the same stage in most people's eyes but he isn't as gritty as any of them. The Pick-Up Truck Values are not an absolute--there's just a threshold for exceptions

Hey, that was Bob Clarke doing the drafting. Though the Flyers changed the name plate on the GM's office when BC went through his burn-out episode, the culture of the club hasn't changed with the installation of Paul Holmgren, a guy whose career was built on Flyers Values. The acquisition of Braydon Coburn from Atlanta (in the head-scratcher that was the Zhitnik dump) is Pick-Up Truckworthy. And though Holmgren brought in a crew for coaching, the scouting staff of old stays in place.

The Flyers seem to be reaching a critical mass of young talent. Yeah, Richards and Carter have gone backwards but there's still a lot like. A lot of scouts were lining up for Giroux last June (he'd been in Top 10s on a couple of lists) and this was a kid who was completely passed over in the OHL draft. Coburn and Parent--two Canadian junior team D-men. Yeah, there's some dead wood still, but they'll be interesting to watch over the next couple of years as these guys are phased into the line-up. (Don Luce, late of Buffalo, will work with them in transition from junior to the pros.)

The fine print ... On the phone the other day with John Ferguson Sr ... He was heading in for his fifth round of chemo ... tough run last few years, major heart surgery five years ago and now C ... the idea that hockey's tough guys are among its smartest and most decent all started with JF Sr ... I was surprised to see that his NHL career was only 500 games ... if you looked it up I think you'd be surprised by the offence he generated over the course of his career ... 29 goals in 71 games back in '69 ... weight listed at 178 but that can't be right ... his hands weigh about 20 pounds a piece ... I remember back in the day a magazine story that had George Chuvalo rating the NHL's best fighters and Fergie was at the top of it ... a great illustration if you could ever find it ... has been a longtime San Jose guy, was talking to him about scouting Cheechoo for a story I was working on ... what would a ring mean to him at this point ... I know it's hard to find a place for him in the Hall of Fame but they should have a wing for guys who would go to war with you (before a lot of the guys in the main room) ... where's the justice, Bernie Federko and Joe Mullen in, and not John Ferguson ...

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Much Aliu About Something: Sudbury Draft Enigma

So what do you do with Akim Aliu?
Pass him by, do you?
A scouting report by Dr Seuss,
Wouldn't be of much use.
Few in his year match him for skating,
Yet so many avow Akim-hating.


Okay, I'll stop.

Caught Sudbury's shoot-out win over Mississauga yesterday.

My favorite IceDog Stefan Legein was scratched with a suspension from a misconduct, so the draft eligible of interest was Akim Aliu, who is on CSB's second page of North American skaters but would be in the top 5 of his class in pure talent and potential. Aliu scored his twentieth goal Saturday and he grabbed your eye whenever he was on the ice. He was the first miss in a shootout marathon. His boarding penalty in the second set off a small melee and spurred a rally from an IceDog team that was down 4-1 and without a pulse. You can watch him skate all day--not for nothing did he win the skating competition at the Prospects game. He's physical--as big as he is, he carries a lot of speed into every check he finishes. Size, skill, flair, hockey instincts (like crashing the goal on the goal he scored) ... and questions. Yeah, questions from the dust-up with then team-mate Steve Downie, the supposed Canadian Hero, in Windsor.


Questions why it's 20 goals and not 40 (which seems within his reach). Questions like his intensity when his man scores Mississauga's first goal and he's left waving at him. There's lots to like about him as a prospect. (You know, 6-3 and 210 has a way of getting scouts to overlook stains on the reputation.) What do you do with him? I suspect somebody will gamble on him in the first round. He's a matter for further examination. And I can't imagine for the life of me Team Canada having a look at him next summer--even though as a citizen I can't imagine that Steve Downie is any better (and probably not as good).

The fine print .... Marc Staal had yer usual future All-Star type of game ... two years ago when I first saw him prior to the 05 draft I though he looked pretty gawky, unsteady, unsure on his skates but I sat with scouts who said that I had my head up my ass ... well, it has all come together now and they were quite correct ... Marc Staal's high end is Rob Blake, nothing less, a couple of rinklong rushes, a savvy handle back on the point ... can't really say what youngest Staal's game is, really don't know, but far less dynamic at the same stage than his older brothers ... saw highlight on Buffalo news of John Tavares (the lacrosse uncle, not the hockey nephew) score a nice goal for the Bandits ... goofy thing that JT-hockey isn't at the Canada Winter Games for Ontario team (evidently because he was on Team Ontario at last year u-17s and a repeat show would upset other players' parents, even though it would assuredly make Ontario more competitive/prohibitive favorite) ... IceDogs were advertising an upcoming appearance of Jason Spezza (with Bobbleheads and all) ... interesting because Spezza's relationship with the team was certainly strained at various points in time (with previous management) and was eventually traded to Windsor (and then Belleville) ...

On the Wounded Prospects: Uncertain, Hurtin'

Checked out the Ottawa-Missisauga game last night. Not a game you'll see every day.


  • Stefan Legein (a little draft-eligible player, in the 30s among North American skaters according to Central Scouting, and a guy who is growing on me) scores a 5-on-3 short-handed goal.
  • Mississauga's second goal is a conventional 5-on-4 shorthander.
  • Ottawa scores the backbreaking goal on a 6-on-3, a delayed penalty on a 5-on-3.
  • Logan Couture scored on IceDog G Loverock who evoked Tommy Salo vs Belarus -- a long shot that hit his shoulder, bounced 20 feet in the air and got lost in the lights before trickling into the net.

Re Couture, discussed here before. Talked to Killer and Bert before the game. Couture has skated three times in two weeks. Both knees have been banged up. Missed games, but couldn't miss last night with Ottawa life or death to make the playoffs. At the start of the game Kilrea had no idea what he could get out of Couture so he spotted him, limited ice time. (Look at Legein's goal plus-minus and notice that Couture wasn't on the ice.) As the game went on Couture played better and ended up with more ice time.

Maybe Couture is a (somewhat) comparable case to Alyn McCauley. Here are their hockeydb profiles.





I think Couture might have more offensive upside, certainly demonstrated in their respective draft years (though post-draft McCauley blows up to be a CHL player of the year, near goal a game). McCauley was a top OHL draft pick who was dragged down by a knee, certainly one of five best midgets in the province. Couture's status at the same juncture approximates that and LC's ailments/injuries are now too numerous to mention. New Jersey did well to gamble on an injured prospect who hadn't quite met standards expected of him. Could Couture break out and have a season like McC's 96-97 campaign? Or better? All too possible. (McCauley's world juniors in Geneva was one of the best performances in Canada's tournament history--and he did it with bronchitis.)

New Jersey did well with a gamble there but what of their most famous (or infamous) gamble on an injured player at the draft. We speak of Adrian Foster.



Yup, a first-round pick who had played 12 games and scored one goal in the two seasons leading up to the draft. Missed practically the entire draft season with an abdominal tear--a weird one that defied diagnosis. I went to Jersey scout David Conte for backstory. It seemed much more of a gamble then than it does now (with his explanation).

  • Foster had been, like McCauley, one of the three or four best kids out west coming up through bantam and midget ages.
  • It was a very soft draft year--which is to say, the Devils weren't in love with any other names on their list when the 28th pick came up. Which is sorta up for debate. If you look at the draft in the rearview mirror Cammalleri was on the radar and so was Derek Roy. But Jersey thought they didn't have the high end that Foster might.
  • Jersey saw him as a far more affordable risk in the first round rather than the second or even third. Doesn't sound right, but it makes sense. If Foster doesn't come back after a first-round selection and Jersey doesn't sign him the Devils would haver received a compensation pick.

No happy ending here. Last seen in this wire story from October '06:

The Devils sent centers Adrian Foster and David Clarkson, right wing Barry Tallackson and defensemen Andy Greene, Olli Malmivaara and Johnny Oduya to Lowell of the AHL on Tuesday. Veteran right wing Grant Marshall, a member of their Stanley Cup championship team in 2003, cleared waivers on Tuesday and was assigned to Lowell.

Foster has struggled to stay healthy. One injury after another, not tied to the ab tear and including knees and concussion. Last time I checked he hadn't played an AHL game since December. Foster has lost whole seasons of development time and it looks like his attempt to play catch-up will fall short of the NHL. Somebody with a heart should let him get a game in the league before he packs it in.

Update on a previous post: Rumbles in the scouts' room last night about the LA scouting firings back after world juniors. Evidently at least a couple of the guys thrown over had two-year contracts signed back in the summer. Conventional wisdom: Dean Lombardi's nuts were in a vice and an accountant was tightening. That is, bean counters reign and hockey guys are at their mercy. One of the guys, Grant Sonnier, was picked up by Boston a week after the LA pink slip.

The fine print ... George Armstrong was out at the game last night, holding court in the scouts' room, talking about how in his first 10 seasons in pros he worked in the mines in Sudbury during the summer. Extremely spry, might supplement his pension and Leafs' wage by picking up some shifts this summer. The Leafs picked the right guy to come out last at the anniversary ceremony. I'm not sold on the Keon thing. A grudge is one thing but Keon has made it his lifestyle. Dumb, dumb, dumb ... Frank Bonnello was around, saying that he's pulling back on his CSB duties, concerned more with Mem Cupsite-selection committee ... Talked with Rob Zamuner, who is part-time coach with IceDogs, more on that to come ... I did mention that I like the Legein kid, right? ... goaltending tandem for Dogs is Loverock and Lobsinger, what freakin' great names, but I'm betting Lucas Lobsinger is kin of Tom Lobsinger, the second-best high school miler this country ever produced (behind Kevin Sullivan, who was arguably one of the three best Canada and the US turned out) ... Liked the McGinn kid last night, San Jose draft, I thought he'd be a first-rounder based on what he did as a kid at the Mem Cup in 05 but he's as game as they come, went barrelling/sprawling into the boards to try to kill an icing in the third, great effort ... jeezus, i'm starting to read like Larry King ENOUGH

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ryan Parent: The High Price of Forsberg Rental

Count me as one who thought Philly maximized returns on the Peter Forsberg dump, uh, deal. Ryan Parent has been my favorite defenceman at the last two world U-20s. Quietly efficient, stay-at-home, just a young player who fills in your D on a winning team. I don't know about his high end--can he be a Top 2 guy if he's not a significant powerplay pt man? If you take that out of the mix, he's all you could ask for. His best moment was in the semi against the US this year. He was the d-man on the far side of the ice (from the Canadian bench) during a powerplay in OT--he was out there the whole freakin' shift, no chance to come off. Beyond clutch. That coulda been the tournament right there.

I talked with a Nashville scout the day after the tourney -- we had dinner in the Stockholm airport. I told him how much I liked Ryan ... and he made it sound like he saw no reason to rush him to the NHL. And you look at it (Hamhuis, Shea Weber, Ryan Suter), the Preds have no shortage of young D-boys. Dealt from strength. Picks are decent value (but Nashville's 1st, 25-30 let's say, is about the same as a lot of teams' second). But Parent is the prize in their not the picks and not Scottie Upshall who does his best work in the team photo and the hotel lobby.

Not surprised at the rumbles about Bob Clarke wanting Bobby Ryan from the Ducks. Written about it before, Clarke has known Ryan since he was a peewee and still helps out Ryan's father who had an ugly scrape with the law.

ADDED LATER The fine print ... Scout took me to task for lofty appraisal of Ryan Parent. "A rep on world juniors and nothing else," the scout told me. "He doesn't bring much to the table." I don't buy it. Of course, this is from a guy who didn't get a shot at him in the draft. Everyone has a vested interest and an agenda. My belief: There's only one time you can say with any certainty that somebody in the game is telling the truth--that would be when an agent says a nice thing about a player who isn't and will never be his client. I think that I've overheard that once in a couple of decades.

ADDED MUCH LATER ... I saw this in Damo's blog

Q: I am a huge Forsberg fan. Why didn't the Leafs try to get him, and do you think the trade was a good one for the Flyers? Warren Bardsley, Calgary
A: I think JFJ did kick the tires, but look at what Nashville surrendered. Scottie Upshall, Ryan Parent, a first round pick and a third.
For the Leafs to match that, they’d have to give up Matt Stajan, Andy Wozniewski and the picks, all for a player who may retire this summer. It was a deal Nashville could make because they had stockpiled young players and can live with the deal even if they get knocked out in the first round. The Leafs just don’t have the depth to make that kind of swap for a rental.

Well, maybe. Maybe Stajan is lookinbg better than Scottie Upshall but I think there's significant separation between Parent and Wozniewski. The latter might turn out to be a player but--outside of the GTA--Parent's stock is considerably higher.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Patrick Kane: Likely No. 1 Central Scouting Be Damned

In the mid-term draft rankings NHL Central Scouting has forward Patrick Kane (London Knights) fourth among North American skaters. Hard to figure. The rumbles in the scouts' room in Kitchener last night where the Knights played the Rangers: Kane's the best draft-eligible player out there.

It stands to reason that CSB has him low. CSB has James Van Riemsdyk (the US u-18 program) ranked No.2 but he didn't get on the ice at the world juniors, while Kane played on the first line and didn't look out of place. Fact is, he and Kyle Okposo (U Minn and NYI 2006 draft) were easily the most impressive forwards on the US side. CSB has Kane's London team-mate Sam Gagner No. 3 and though Gagner was the draft eligible forward Canada brought to world jrs he didn't play. (He didn't play in Kitchener last night. He was up in press box with a concussion.) Kane's numbers with London are better than Gagner's and the scouts are not enthusiastic about the ex-NHLer's son.

And then there's the anointed No. 1, Angelo Esposito of the Quebec Remparts. Scouts are pretty lukewarm on Esposito and completely respect Kane's game. Esposito had a perfect showcase at world jrs* but didn't own it the way he should have. One scout I talked to told me that Espo wasn't half the player that Kyle Turris was at summer-18s. (Turris, who plays for Burnaby in Tier II, is CSB's fifth-ranked North American skater but again that might be low. He get marks off for playing Tier II, his commitment to Wisconsin might bug some who'd prefer him to play CHL.)

Kane's a curious case. Comes from that hockey hotbed down the QEW, Buffalo. Looks undersized on the eyeball-to-eyeball, could he be even smaller than his 5-9 and a half and 160? When I talked to him at the world jrs he seemed pretty low-key, soft-spoken off the ice. On the ice, well, he fit right in with the all-attitude American team.

He had a good game last night against Kitchener--couple of dazzling moves, a shoot-out goal. Scouts love his stick. His skating is good, but not great. That said, he never seems to get pushed off the puck, plays keepaway really artfully, and when you think you've got him tied up he can wheel and deal really neatly.

I saw that Pierre Maguire was laying it on about Kane the other day--hey, what the guy won't do to fill airtime. Did he just get the news that Kane led the US to the u-18 gold last spring and led the team in scoring? Or was there a press release noting that Kane broke the US development program's season-scoring record previously held by Phil Kessel? Kane's real. And if he plays in the NHL next season he'll be the youngest-looking kid in the league since Daniel Briere broke in.

* typo, should be "U-18s"

The fine print ... What a hit London's Sergei Kostitsyn put on Steve Downie last night. Absolutely clean. Downie, aka the Canadian Hero, had his head down and was going full blast when Kostitsyn came off the bench and caught him flush. Trainer was on the ice for three minutes. Montreal scored getting Kostitsyn in the 7th round in 05. A complete forward, he did a great job on a 5-on-3 PK that kept the game tied in third. That he was the guy tabbed for the job says you need to know about him. Belarus kid. I say he'll be a better NHLer than Downie--I'd put money on it but you'd have to give me odds.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Three-Game Sunday: The Scouting Hat Trick

So much for the day of rest. The O neatly schedules three games in the Toronto 'burbs that are almost manageable--first in Brampton at 2, then in Mississauga at 4 and Oshawa in the evening. Thus NHL scouts can get two-and-a-half periods with the Battalion (today vs Soo), the game in Mississauga (on this occasion vs Colbert's Saginaw squad) and after an hour on the 401 Oshawa in evening (this time out vs Belleville).

Game 1: The Soo dropped the Bunker-busting bomb on Brampton. Watched Leaf 2006 first-rounder Jiri Tlusty with interest. He was the Soo's second best Czech, scoreless while David Kuchejda picked up the hat trick. Tlusty sorta plays at one speed, no great urgency. Some neat hand skills but seems used to playing with more room and time. Next year it's either the Leafs or back in Soo--Marlies not in the equation. A good thing. Even though he got three goals in six games with the Marlies early on, I'd bank on his ticket back in Soo.

Game 2: See-saw affair to a shoot-out, Mississauga winning. Always get a kick out of seeing Ryan O'Marra play. I wonder if Lucas Lobsinger (IceDog G) is related to Tom Lobsinger who was Canada's second best high school miler ever (behind only Kevin Sullivan).

Game 3: Oshawa is rolling even with Tavares being just a footnote on the scoresheet. Hey, maybe Brett MacLean read the post the other day about the inflationary effect of playing with a junior star.

In Games 2 and 3 a hint of what we're looking at in '08 ... a draft that will compare with the 85s. Two rock-solid defencemen, Mississauga's Pietrangelo and Oshawa's Del Zotto. Gonna be a helluva draft year in the O next year with these two, Stamkos and, ahem, the shadow of Tavares. Funny thing, two guys, one a coach, another a scout, put Stamkos neck and neck with JT, the scout actually giving Stamkos and edge. All four of these kids will be in the hunt for the spring 18s if their teams are out early. Count on underage on that Canadian squad.

2006 CHL Import Draft: Taking Attendance

In a previous post we looked at an old CHL Euro draft; here's the latest.

Again, what I said about the inefficiency of the Euro draft stands--it's not the weakest teams getting the best available talent, but rather what deal can be cooked (and who has the gelt to land the prizes). There is a rich-get-richer aspect to something that is supposed to be a force to competitive balance. What is interesting, though, is how many more players are drafted and reporting, better than 90 percent at the top end. Which suggests that jr teams are doing their homework--and realize that getting a lesser player is better than rolling the dice on a high-end guy who brushes you off. Interestingly, though you see more guys report, you see a lot head home quickly and you see a lot of marginal guys--can't imagine that they're much of an improvement on what would be available with the domestic guys. In other words, an apparently higher batting percentage in getting them over here but perhaps even less bang for the buck.

1. Halifax Mooseheads (from Rimouski), Jakub Voracek, RW, Kladno Jrs. (Czech Republic)
clearly the best player available going to a team with deep pockets, early season top-ranked North American skater, No. 15 in the latest, better than a point a game player for Halifax

2. Chilliwack Bruins, Oscar Moller, RW, Djurgarden (Sweden);
reported, almost a point a game player, 35th ranked NA skater by Central

3. Toronto-St. Michael's Majors (from Sarnia), F, Kaspars Daugavins (Latvia);
reported, not a surprise since Melnyk-owned Senators drafted him in third round, Majors have noted spike in beer sales with Latvian influence

4. Saint John Sea Dogs, David Stich, D, Plzen (Czech Republic);
reported, 73rd NA skater by Central

5. Spokane Chiefs, Ondrej Roman, C, Vitkovice (Czech Republic).
reported, playmaker not scorer

6. Owen Sound Attack (from Ottawa), Tomas Kana, C, Vitkovice (Czech Republic);
did not report, St Louis second-rounder, 31st overall, late '87, so no more bites at the apple, have to believe that there was a breakdown in communication (or maybe a broken promise), hard to eat the sixth pick though maybe getting Trevor Lewis makes it easier to swallow

7. Victoriaville Tigres, Jan Kolarik, LW, Vitkovice (Czech Republic);
reported, late 88

8. Red Deer Rebels, Kirill Starkov, LW, Frolunda (Russia);
reported, point a game player, jumping from Sweden to CHL, sixth-rounder of Columbus in '05

9. Peterborough Petes (from Mississauga), Branislav Rehus, RW, Ostrava (Slovakia);
reported, saw him once, pretty good junior player, maybe a 30-goal guy in the league next year, early season sorta in the 20s as draft-eligible OHL skater, first PK guy, coach said he was easy to coach (which was probably a good thing when Downie and Ryder were there), 129th NA skater by Central

10. Victoriaville Tigres (from P.E.I.), Morten Madsen, LW, Frolunda (Sweden).
Minnesota's fourth-rounder in 05, reported, 26 goals-53 assists at this writing, Danish kid, Denmark being an area of increasing interest

11. Prince Albert Raiders, Lukas Zeliska, C, Trinec (Slovakia);
reported, Rangers' 7th-rounder last year, three goals at this writing, suppose he was all they could set up in advance, aiming pretty low

12. Erie Otters, Stanislav Polodna, C, Ceske Budejovica (Czech Republic);
reported, draft eligible this year, eight goals as of this writing

13. Gatineau Olympiques (from Val-d'Or via Quebec), David Kveton, C, Vsetin (Czech Republic); reported, another Rangers pick, fourth-rounder, better than point a game but has played in only 16 games as of this writing

14. Swift Current Broncos, David Stieler, C, Kladno Jrs. (Czech Republic);
reported, saw him, serviceable junior player but nothing special

15. Kitchener Rangers (from Sault Ste. Marie), Yannick Weber, D, Bern (Switzerland).
reported, NHL undrafted 88, offensive upside, 30 pts in 37 games at this writing, 58th-ranked North American skater by Central, made most of coming over

16. Baie-Comeau Drakkar, Radek Vlasanek, RW, Vitkovice (Czech Republic);
didn't report, whereabouts unknown at this point

17. Calgary Hitmen (from Lethbridge), Robin Figren, LW, Frolunda (Sweden);
reported, Isles third rounder last year, not making an impact so far

18. Windsor Spitfires, Marek Biro, D, Trnava (Slovakia);
reported, NHL undrafted 88

19. Chicoutimi Sagueneens (from St. John's), Kirill Tulupov, D, Alemetjevsk (Russia);
Jersey's third-rounder 2006, reported

20. Tri-City Americans, Juraj Valach, D, Zvolen Jrs. (Slovakia).
reported, 89 birthday

21. Ottawa 67's (from Windsor), Lukas Flueler, G, Kloten (Switzerland);
reported, back-up but numbers pretty good, 17th NA netminder by Central

22. Quebec Remparts (from Halifax via Rimouski), Ruslan Bashkirov, RW, Moscow Spartak (Russia);
reported, point a game player, 89 birthday, 48th ranked NA skater

23. Brandon Wheat Kings, Juraj Simek, RW, Kloten (Switzerland);
reported, Slovak Vancouver's sixth-rounder last year, point a game player

24. Oshawa Generals (from Owen Sound), RW, Ziga Pance, Olimpija (Slovenia);
reported, one goal in fifteen games at this writing, birthdate: Jan 1, 89

25. Shawinigan Cataractes, Patrik Prokop, D, Vitkovice (Czech Republic).
reported, won player of the week honours in Oct

26. Portland Winter Hawks, Viktor Sjodin, LW, Vasteras Jrs. (Sweden);
reported, late draft choice of Nashville, not every day you see a Guyanese-Swedish guy

27. Plymouth Whalers (from Belleville), Michal Neuvirth, G, HC Sparta Prague (Czech Republic);
reported, playing nearly lights-out for Whalers, creates interesting situation for Caps' long-term cage plans, what with him being the 2006 second-rounder and, same draft, Caps landing with 15th pick overall G Semen Varlamov, the kid who starred for Russia at world juniors this year, I like Plymouth to make some noise in playoffs

28. Quebec Remparts (from Drummondville via Gatineau), Roman Bashkirov, W, Moscow Spartak (Russia);
reported, playing well, point-a-game 89 birthday

29. Kamloops Blazers, Juuso Puustinen, RW, Kalpa Jrs. (Finland);
reported, Calgary fifth-rounder, 28 goals in 51 games at this writing

30. Toronto-St. Michael's Majors, Kriss Grundmanis, D, Riga (Latvia).
reported, as previously noted about Latvians and beer sales

31. St. John's Fog Devils (from Lewiston), Mario Kempe, RW, Modo Jrs. (Sweden);
reported, 18 goals in almost 50 games, 65th NA skater

32. Seattle Thunderbirds, Radek Meidl, C, Extraliga (Czech Republic);
late 88, reported, not making much of a dent

33. Saginaw Spirit (from Sudbury), Jan Mursak, RW, Budejovice (Czech Republic);
reported, Detroit draft, saw him today pick up a couple in Mississauga, great hands (Ginsu knife style deflection on a goal, thought he had sent the puck into the net in two pieces)

34. Moncton Wildcats (from Cape Breton), Roopertti Martikainen, LW, IFK Helsinki (Finland);
reported, now with Acadie-Bathurst, 89 birthday

35. Prince George Cougars, Patrik Vrana, D, Sparta Praha (Czech Republic).
reported, moved over to Moose Jaw, no points, maybe toast

36. Saginaw Spirit, Tomas Zaborsky, LW, Trencin (Slovakia);
Rangers fifth-rounder last year, reported, decent player

37. P.E.I. Rocket (from Gatineau), Martin Latal, RW, Kladno (Czech Republic);
Phoenix fifth-rounder, reported, 36 points in 52 games

38. Everett Silvertips, Lukas Vartovnik, C, Zlin Jrs. (Czech Republic);
reported, on fringe, bit player, draft eligible

39. Plymouth Whalers, Jozef Sladok, D, Zvolen (Slovakia);
reported, non-entity

40. P.E.I. Rocket (from Rouyn-Noranda), Peter Cmorej, LW, Sante Fe (Slovakia).
reported, hanging on

41. Regina Pats, Niko Snellman, LW, Ilves Jrs. (Finland);
reported, Nashville fourth-rounder, fringe

42. Kingston Frontenacs, Robert Nyholm, RW, IFK Helsinkia Jrs. (Finland);
reported, Columbus fifth-rounder last year, 30 pts in 50 games

43. Acadie-Bathurst Titan, Dmitri Fedosenko, C, Moscow Dynamo (Russia);
don't see him

44. Saskatoon Blades, Rastislav Konecny, LW, Trnava Jrs. (Slovakia);
reported, 22 pts in 33 games, not NHL drafted

45. Guelph Storm, Arturs Ozolins, LW, Saga (Latvia).
reported, nine games, no pts, ticket home

46. Chicoutimi Sagueneens, Juraj Mikus, C, Skaliga Jrs. (Slovakia);
Montreal fourth rounder 05, reported, better than pt a game, Canadiens delivering talent for backyard

47. Kootenay Ice, Arnaud Jacquemet, RW, Biel (Switzerland);
reported, 13 goals in 49 games

48. Peterborough Petes (from Barrie), Arturs Kulda, D, Ceska (Latvia);
Thrasher seventh rounder last year, reported

49. Val-d'Or Foreurs (from Quebec), passed;

50. Moose Jaw Warriors, Richard Rapac, LW, Zlin (Czech Republic).
reported, MJ to PG, undrafted 87, six goals in 50 games, non-player

51. Sudbury Wolves (from Brampton), Patrik Lusnak, C, HK Skalica (Slovakia);
late 88, reported

52. Moncton Wildcats, Igor Voroshilov, LW, Moscow Dynamo (Russia);
reported, Aug 89 b-date, one goal in 11 games, ticket home

53, Kelowna Rockets, Robert Capcara, LW, Czech Jrs. (Czech Republic);
don't see him

54, Kitchener Rangers, passed;

55. Tri-City Americans (from Vancouver), Daniel Bartek, C, Olomouc Under-20 (Czech Republic);
Tri's imports booked, Bartek reported, in Brandon

56. Mississauga IceDogs (from Peterborough), Aleksander Ilyin, D, Tver (Russia);
don't see him

57. Prince Albert Raiders (from Calgary), Milan Jurik, LW, Banska Bysterica Jrs. (Slovakia);
reported, will not hit double digits for goals

58. London Knights, Adam Hasani, LW, Freibourg Jrs. (Switzerland);
reported, Knights to Otters as London goes to D man for Euro, 89 b-day

59. Medicine Hat Tigers, Jakub Rumpel, F, HC Karlovy Vary (Czech Republic).
reported, 87 b-day, undrafted, little guy, on fringe of good team


60. Chilliwack Bruins, Aki Kangasmaki, C, Lukkorauma (Finland);
reported, big, mean-looking guy, go to team website 'cause this guy makes Ollie Jokinen look like Brad Pitt, 2007 NHL draft

61. Kelowna Rockets (from Spokane), Kaspars Saulietis, F, HK Riga (Latvia);
don't see him

62. Saskatoon Blades (from Red Deer), Bohdan Visnak, D, HC Slava Prague (Czech Republic);
reported, playing, 5-9

63. Portland Winter Hawks (from Prince Albert), Stefan Langwieder, D, Mannheim (Germany);
reported, great example of how it's done from website which notes his coach in Germany was a team-mate of Hawks assistant coach

64. Seattle Thunderbirds (from Swift Current), Jan Eberle, C, Kladno (Czech Republic);
reported, 14 goals as of this writing, 89, ranked 116th NA skater by Central

65. Kamloops Blazers (from Lethbridge), Ivan Rohac, LW, Ceske Budejovica Jrs. (Czech Republic).
reported, tiny

66. St. John's Fog Devils, Joonas Salmi, D, Liptovsky (Slovakia);
reported, not loved, mail being forwarded

67. Windsor Spitfires, passed;

68. Brandon Wheat Kings, Igor Musatov, LW, Spartak 2 (Russia);
Brandon's imports spoken for, hasn't left home

69. Belleville Bulls, Michal Gazur, D, Zvolen Jrs. (Slovakia);
don't see him

70. Sudbury Wolves, Jakub Korinek, D, HC Plzen (Czech Republic).
reported, Sudbury to London

71. Medicine Hat Tigers, Alexi Provkin, D, Himick Voskresensk (Russia).
reported, ticket home

Saturday, February 10, 2007

CHL Euro Draft: Hockey's Biggest Crapshoot

Jonathan Jackson, a dogged reporter with the award-winning Owen Sound paper, properly upbraided me about the CHL rights of Sergei Samsonov back when. (See comment on the previous post.) Did the quick search and indeed, Samsonov was claimed by Owen Sound (the Platers back then). My understanding, though, is that Samsonov wouldn't report to OS--that his agent put out feelers elsewhere to see if something could be worked out.

The CHL Euro draft is so broken I wonder why they bother. Although it's supposed to be a way to balancing leagues and fairly dispersing talent, it doesn't work. It's not remotely enough to draft the best available talent. Everything rides on signability and so it's the agents who hold the hammer--actually more like a nail gun. (The NHL teams that have drafted the players also have influence on the prospects' decisions, but really it's an agent-driven deal.) It's all backroom stuff--agents play one team against another, squeeze teams for cash. There's lots of lies, lots of broken promises.

I took a look at the CHL Euro draft in Samsonov's year. Pretty fascinating to look at what was, what is, and what was supposed to be.

1. Baie-Comeau, Edo Terglav, rw, Slovenia
did play for Baie-Comeau and Montreal Rocket, decent junior, maxed out at about 30 goals in the Q, drafted by Buffulo, last played in North America for Albuquerque Scorpions, in the French league at last report

2. Edmonton, Patrik Stefan, c, Czech Republic
never reported, played in the I for Long Beach, I never got the buzz about him, pure crap as No. 1 although in retrospect not much of a draft

3. Toronto, Jan Sulc, Czech Republic, Tampa Bay, 5th 1997
did report and played for a good stretch in the O, Mr Jackson might have seen the best of him in Sulc's stay in OS, fifth-rounder with Tampa Bay but strictly a East Coast and I guy

4. Moncton, Alexei Tezikov, d, Russia, Buffalo, 5th 1996
did report, Buffalo was very high on him but though Brian Campbell and him were same player, Sabres kept the right one

5. Portland, Marian Hossa, rw, Slovakia, Ottawa, 1st 1997
reported, obviously worked out, the Senators had a connection with Portland, that's where they wanted him to go, for sure the message to other teams was that he wasn't coming

6. Sarnia, Ivan Novoseltsev, rw, Russia, Florida, 4th 1997
Years back I saw an Ottawa game in Sarnia and the 67's won by--I guesstimate--8-1. But Novoseltsev's goal for the Sting was the best goal I saw at any level that season, I always thought he'd turn out to be a better play, a 57-goal junior but then so was Miguel Delisle

7. Rouyn-Noranda, Martin Barcek, c, Slovakia
Listed as "Barcek" but I'm presuming that this is Martin Bartek, reported, played for three Q teams that season, late draft of Nashville, now in German league

8. Spokane, Petr Sykora, c, Czech Republic, Detroit, 3rd 1997
the other Petr Sykora, never reported, 12 NHL games in two seasons, six years apart

9. North Bay, Jan Fadrny, c, Czech Republic
ended up in the Dub somehow, one AHL season, back in the old country

10. Sherbrooke, Maxim Patapov, rw, Russia.
"Potapov" reported, 15 games with Johnstown, 1 with the Vipers

11. Tri-City, Josef Melichar, Czech Republic, Pittsburgh, 3rd 1997
reported, played

12. Plymouth, Yuri Babenko, c, Russia, Colorado, 2nd 1996
reported, played one year, three NHL games

13. Hull, Jiri Fischer, d, Czech Republic
reported, I saw him play a fair bit with 'ull, a great kid and a tremendous junior, I thought that he'd step in and star in the NHL, was still a significant and blooming player when he had his heart crisis, a real tragedy

14. Prince George, Petr Kubos, d, Czech Republic, Montreal, 8th 1997
reported, played a couple of seasons in PG, only two seasons in North America

15. North Bay, Michal Krupa, lw, Slovakia
reported, played 12 games with NB and then four with Barrie and that was all she wrote, apparently undrafted by NHL

16. Rimouski, Adam Borzecki, d, Poland
now that's off the map, reported, NHL undrafted, bouncing around Germany

17. Red Deer, Franasek Mrazek, c, Czech Republic, Toronto, 5th 1997
reported, 30-goal guy in the Dub but didn't piss a drop in two seasons on the Rock, still playing in Czech

18. Sarnia, Marek Posmyk, d, Czech Republic, Toronto, 2nd 1996
remember how he was going to be a Leaf savior, played the one season in Sarnia, a handful of games in Tampa

19. Quebec, Petr Klouda, c, Slovakia
reported, evidently for three games

20. Seattle, Petr Vala, c, Czech Republic
squirtish guy, reported, played one season without distinction

21. Kingston, Marco Sturm, c, Germany, San Jose, 1st 1996
played in San Jose right away, never reported, obviously Kingston and SJ weren't on the same page

22. Drummondville, Zoltan Patovsky, c, Slovakia
reported, played three seasons, sort of a 20-goal junior with no NHL prospects, last North American stop, Kentucky Thoroughblades

23. Kelowna, Jan Dusanek, d, Czech Republic
reported, played one season, part of next, off the radar

24. Sault Ste. Marie, Peter Bohunicky, rw, Slovakia
played part of one season, one goal for the Soo, hope he kept the puck from his only North American goal, the teams on his career page look like some Scrabble hands I've had

25. Chicoutimi, Robin Bacul, lw, Czech Republic, Ottawa, 7th 1997
what would possess a kid to leave Prague for Chicoutimi, Bacul did for one season but decided against another

26. Saskatoon, Petja Pietilianen, c/lw, Finland
reported, two seasons with Blades, third last player selected in the 1998 draft (Detroit), went back to Europe after jr

27. Plymouth, Steve Lyle, g, Wales
I thought this was a joke--a kid from Wales playing for the Whalers--but he reported and played four games for Whalers, 6.00 GAA, a fixture in British league, I'd love to know how they found this guy

28. Halifax, Ladislav Nagy, c, Slovakia, St. Louis, 7th 1997
reported, scored 71 goals in 63 games and was off to the pros after that, the question is how he dropped behind a Welsh goaltender and countryman Bohunicky, Nagy was no secret at that stage but obviously Halifax bought him and had his agent tell teams he wasn't coming

29. Moose Jaw, Sergei Stakhovich, lw, Belarus
didn't report, played two seasons in North America, wonder if he kept his sweaters from the Port Huron Border Cats and the Mohawk Valley Prowlers

30. Windsor, Sergei Zimakov, d, Russia, Washington 3rd 1996
didn't report, never left Russia

31. Val-d'Or, Alexandre Byskovskih, c, Russia
if you can find him let me know, didn't report

32. Tri-City, Roman Sykora, rw, Slovakia
reported, played eight games

33. Barrie, Martin Skoula, d, Czech Republic
reported, first-rounder by Colorado next season, helluva junior, again a case of a much better player who had a pre-cooked deal in Barrie and told others he wouldn'y show

34. Shawinigan, Jura Slovak, d, Slovakia
reported, two seasons, maxed out at East Coast league, undrafted by NHL

35. Seattle, Stanislav Gron, c, Slovakia, New Jersey, 2nd 1997
reported, played two seasons in Dub, one lonely NHL game

36. Guelph, Bohuslav Subr, lw, Czech Republic
reported, played three seasons with mixed results, maxed out in East Coast league

37. Victoriaville, Boris Majesky, d, Czech Republic
reported, played one season without distinction, great name, no game

38. Regina, Alexandre Fomitchev, g, Russia, Edmonton, 9th 1997
reported and played three years in Dub, Calgary's guy in Mem Cup run, looks like he did okay in a brief stint with Hamilton Bulldogs but didn't get a sniff

39. Sault Ste. Marie, Martin Galik, lw, Slovakia
reported, played a couple of seasons, no NHL prospects, back to the old country

40. Sydney, Anton Mikhailov, d, Russia
reported, one season, six games, off the radar

41. Red Deer, Robert Schnabel, d, Czech Republic, N.Y. Islanders, 3rd 1997
reported, played one season and one game the next, a monstrously sized guy, maxed out at AHL

42. Hull, Miroslav Zalesak, rw, Slovakia
reported, played two seasons in Drummondville, tore it up with 50 in one, drafted by San Jose, made the show for a dozen games

43. Prince Albert, Milan Kraft, rw, Czech Republic
took a year to report but he tore it up when he came over, first rounder of Pitt and was supposed to be a big deal, scored 19 with Pens less than three years back, could someone breathe life into him?

44. Brandon, Petr Havelka, lw, Czech Republic, Pittsburgh, 6th 1997
didn't report but so what, the guy played seven seasons in Czech league without scoring twenty goals--total
45. Owen Sound, Sergei Samsonov, lw, Russia, Boston, 1st 1997
obviously didn't have anything worked out but a gamble worth taking you suppose

46. Calgary, Andrei Korhov, c/rw, Latvia
off the radar

47. Oshawa, Boris Ivanov, lw, Russia
reported, played eight games one season, five with Windsor the next, off the radar

48. Regina, Pavel Beranek, rw, Czech Republic
reported, played one game, no points

49. Ottawa, Petr Mika, c, Czech Republic, NY Islanders, 4th 1997
reported, played one season without much of an impact, probably seemed to max at East Coast league but improbably made it for a week with maybe the only team that woulda had him, the Isles

Second Round
a heckuva drop-off here

50. Baie-Comeau, Tommy Hafnier, c, Slovenia
did not report, off the radar

51. Toronto, Ari Katavisto, rw, Finland
reported, played one season without distinction, off the radar

52. Victoriaville, Pavel Sasik, rw, Slovakia
reported, played one season split between a couple of teams, vanished without a trace

53. Kingston, Tomas Dolak, lw, Germany
played one season, a few games for Kingston before being fobbed off on North Bay, NHL undrafted

54. Chicoutimi, Rene Stussi, c, Switzerland, Anaheim, 8th 1997
did not report, never left Switzerland and can you blame him

55. Rimouski, Maxim Balmochnykh, lw, Russia, Anaheim, 2nd 1997
waited a year, reported (for a while) to les Remparts but then bolted back to the motherland, you woulda thought he maxes out at AHL (he never scored double digits there) but made into the Ducks line-up for six games, picking up an assist, do you keep the puck for your first point? he should have

56. Prince George, Alex Andreyev, d, Latvia, Phoenix, 8th 1997
reported, played one season in PG, another in Moose Jaw, maxes out at East Coast league

57. Belleville, Branislav Mezei, d, Czech Republic
a guy I remember, reported, very nice junior player, turns into a first-rounder 10th overall, has landed in bad situations (NYI, Florida), thought he'd be better at this point

58. Laval, Alex Ryazantsev, d, Russia
don't see him, Laval had their imports already booked

59. Prince Albert, Jaromir Smatrala, c, Slovakia
reported albeit to The Hat, career junior line 8 games, zeroes on goals, assists and PIMs

60. Ottawa, Markus Pottinger, d, Germany
reported, played one season

61. Halifax, Yuri Bicek, lw, Slovakia, New Jersey, 5th 1997
did not report apparently, went directly to Albany, fringe guy with Devils over four seasons (barely 60 games), in Sweden now

62. Val d'Or, Vladimir Konopka, ld
reported, played 17 games, no NHL draft, off the radar, I wouldn't be surprised if he was a distant relative to Zenon Konopka (who has to be the unlikeliest guy to make the NHL, another story that I'll address at another juncture)

63. Sydney, Arten Rybin, lw, Russia
reported, played three years, then played with the New Mexico Scorpions, what would his view of North America be based on time in Cape Breton and Albuquerque

64. Oshawa, Ilja Demidov, d, Russia, Calgary, 6th 1997.
reported, put in his time, East Coast guy

It's just not an effective system of dispersing talent. Take the best available player without something in place and you risk with nothing. The second pick in the draft is a no-show, meanwhile Halifax with all the dough get Nagy in the late going--how did that even the playing field? I'm sure that some of these teams that drafted players who didn't report thought they did have deals with players. And because of the restrictions on how many Euros you can draft and have on your roster, there's no margin for error--which puts teams in a bind. My suggestion: Have a draft that goes five rounds, first-come first-served when you go to negotiate with the agents and players--take the deal or I'll offer it to the next guy.

the fine print ... i'll do a work-up on last year's chl draft--who reported, who didn't, who's worth a look ... halifax took voracek first overall ... leading them in scoring, better than a point a game guy, he was a bit off a disappointment at summer-18s but he'll play

Friday, February 09, 2007

Sergei Samsonov Waiving Bye with Habs: Retrospective

I wouldn't bet on Sergei Samsonov being done, waived or not. But I'm only saying that because I lost a bet the other night that SS won the Calder. (I thought Drury won his year. What do I know? Right. Precisely nothing.)

Anyway, I first saw him when he came over as an underage to world juniors. He seemed like a prodigy (but his skating got exposed at the next level). Interestingly, the first time I wrote up SS ties back to the imbroglio in Montreal. The late Igor Dmitriev, the classiest Russian coach, got the most out of SS by benching him. Who's to say it won't happen again? Don't ask me to bet on it.

THE officials at the world junior hockey tournament asked Russian coach Igor Dmitriev to provide a team lineup before his team's qualifying contest against Finland on Monday afternoon. On the official stationery, spaces were left for the surnames of players. Dmitriev filled in numbers instead of names.
Those nostalgic for the Cold War and concerned about the Communist Party's showing in the last Russian election will say that Dmitriev's handling of the roster is a reflex developed in decades under totalitarian rule. Others less reactionary will point out that the officials' request was made impractical by the Cyrillic alphabet.
Still, the use of numbers rather than names is consistent with the character of Dmitriev. At practice yesterday, on the eve of the semi-final between Russia and Canada, he provided technical answers to questions that begged a different sort of reply. When Dmitriev was asked about the Russians' 8-5 loss to Canada at last year's tournament, he didn't respond emotionally. No expression of regret or anger. Instead, Dmitriev asked for a reporter's notebook and pen and then drew a diagram. "Game is tied 3-3," he said. "We say, 'Don't go to this point. Don't go.' He goes. Then a two- on-one. Canada goal. You can't forget such things."
Digits and diagrams were Dmitriev's domain as a young man. He earned a degree in engineering and had thoughts of studying architecture. "I studied building highways," he said through an interpreter. "I sat in class and thought, 'Why am I doing this?' " Before he could think of a good answer, Dmitriev moved on to the department of physical education, where he found his calling, first as an elite hockey player, then as a coach.
Though dedicated to a life in the rink, Dmitriev admits that he is still "a technician," that his character was shaped as much in physics classes as much as the rink. He describes himself as "analytical" and he uses his words only after consideration and measurement. "Common sense and decision making comes from education," he said. "My education developed the way I look at problems. And I learned that there's no one set way to solve a problem. There always has to be a new way to solve a problem."
The immediate problem for Dmitriev and his charges is a Canadian team undefeated through the first round. Dmitriev summed up in one word the strategy he expects from the Russians' opponent in the semis: "Canadian." To expand on this he took hold of a phantom stick and vigorously made a motion that resembled a cross-check. His pantomime was to the point. As ever, the Canadian team possesses a ferocity unmatched at this tourney.
The coach wasn't about to diminish the importance of the contest. "We didn't travel thousands of miles to play the United States," he said after his team beat Finland 6-2 to advance to the semi-finals. He added that if his young charges had lost to the Finns, the plane home "would not have landed in Moscow but in Siberia."
This dated joke aside, the game is significant for Dmitriev because of the Russian program's recent dearth of success at the world junior level. The Soviet Union's team in the late 1970s set the standard with four straight golds, but Russian teams have won but once in the nineties. "A mess," said Dmitriev, who coaches Wings of the Russian league. "There was a loss of structure in age-group leagues because of the (political) changes. That's why I've stayed in Russia."
To overhaul the national program from the grassroots up would require a visionary on the scale of Le Corbusier. Though Dmitriev might have that vision, like any architect he recognizes that grand designs require capital before the concrete is poured. The Russian program is strapped for cash. "It's bankrupt and development of players is made difficult," he said.
Nonetheless, players are a coach's building blocks and Mother Russia might have the foundation for a restored program in Sergei Samsonov, a 17- year-old who has been touted as the top choice in the 1997 National Hockey League entry draft. All of 5 feet 8, Samsonov rode the bench in the opening games. Only against Finland, only with the Russians down 2-0 and facing elimination, did Dmitriev play Samsonov on the team's first line with Dimitri Klevakin and Vadim Epantschintshev. The phenom responded with a goal, an assist and a dozen breathtaking moves.
Samsonov said that he had been sick before the tourney and was only now rounding into form. Many assumed that Dmitriev was undertaking a little social engineering, forcing Samsonov to buy into the team's program. The coach didn't do much to dispel the assumption. "Engineering and coaching are the same," he said. "To build a good highway or to build a good team is never easy."
Sometimes you have to carve through mountains, sometimes you have to cut a spritely teen down to size.

Fine print ... Ottawa 67's owned SS's junior rights. Woulda been nice to see him with Killer. Woulda made for some good stories, anyway ... Patrick Elias and Mattias Ohlund were the Calder finalists that year. Mike Johnson was in the running til late in the season ... That year Samsonov scored a hat trick in the game that clinched a playoff berth for B's ... it also clinched him a million-buck bonus .

Anointed and Disappointed: Espo No. 1 But Unloved

I’m trying to remember when a player projected as the first overall pick in a NHL entry draft generates so little enthusiasm as Angelo Esposito. Over the years many, maybe even most, had knockers. Some didn’t like Vinny Lecavalier’s skating. Others worried about Ilya Kovalchuk’s attitude. But if some poked holes in the prospects or got stuck on one weakness in the phenom’s game, others raved. Taking the pulse of the scouts that I know, that doesn’t seem to be the case with Angelo Esposito. The scouts respect him, but they don’t get too worked up about him. Curious thing. I had the same conversation with several scouts who had made the trip to the Quebec league to check him out with the Remparts. Yup, they saw him, te said, and he was good but not great. And most of them said that they heard he was really good the week after they came home.

It’s business as usual. The longer a prospect hangs out there as the projected No. 1 the more folks pick him apart. It’s like buyer’s remorse before the purchase. Esposito has been projected as the top pick since he went to Shattuck. And fact is, scouts have been racking up views on him for three seasons, first seeing him when they were scouting the Minnesota high school for players eligible in earlier drafts. Thus Espo’s been in the pipeline three years. He was spotted years back. Now he’s being picked apart.

The closest thing to an objective viewpoint might be a scout he sees him cold this year. A Euro scout I know saw him for the first time at the summer 18s. He was emphatic. “He’ll be a player,” he said. “They have him [ranked] where he should be.”

That seemed fair. But another scout I know said that he was disappointed that Tavares and Couture couldn’t make the trip to the summer 18s because of injury—that he expected Couture to outplay him. Second-guessing festering as schadenfreude.

I did this story on Esposito from the summer 18s. I wrote it for the sports insert that used to run Maclean’s. (In the tradition of Canadian sports magazines, that insert ceased publication.)

Breclav, Czech Republic

Angelo Esposito’s task was a daunting one. He was wearing the C and the Maple Leaf. He was supposed to lead Canada to victory at the 2006 under-18 World Cup. And he was supposed to impress in twenty shifts or less.

Officially, the attendance for the championship game on Aug 12 was 839. If NHL scouts had counted towards the gate, that number would have neared four figures.

The 839 came to watch Canada and the U.S. skate for the first prize of the hockey season in mid-summer and Canada was the favored choice of most Czech fans. The NHL scouts in attendance were getting a first look at players who’ll be eligible for the 2007 entry draft and Angelo Esposito was the most closely watched player in the tournament.

Esposito is the top-ranked junior eligible for the NHL draft next June. A native of Montreal , son of the owner of a grocery chain, Esposito is a skilled forward who was a figure skater up until age 10. “It started with my mother taking my sister to the rink and I just went along,” he says. “When I was ten I decided to stick to hockey.”

Esposito has been compared to Sidney Crosby for the past two or three seasons and for good reason. Their young careers have followed parallel courses.

Like Crosby, Esposito left home at 14 to enroll at Shattuck-St Mary’s, a Minnesota high school with an elite hockey program. Like Crosby, Esposito entertained the notion of attending a U.S. college on scholarship before casting his lot with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. And like Crosby , Esposito posted huge numbers in his first season at “the Q”—inevitably his scoring pace was compared with those of Canadian hockey’s most promising talent two years earlier.

That said, Esposito’s career tracks a course unlike Crosby’s or almost any other junior superstar in recent memory.

At the start of every hockey season a teenager emerges as the projected top pick in the NHL draft nine months away. From year to year, the thumbnail biographies of these players are remarkably consistent. They come from all over the hockey world—from the Canadian junior leagues, the U.S. college ranks or Europe—yet they’ve all grown up in the spotlight, all been the stars on the teams they’ve played for, all known nothing but unremitting success. It was like that with Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin in their years, with Eric Lindros and Mario Lemieux before them.

Yet Esposito has had a significant setback: He was cut from the Canadian squad that won the world junior title in Vancouver in January. Even at the under-18 tournament nine months later he sounded unsettled by it. “That was the most disappointing moment for me,” Esposito says. “Looking back, I think may not have been strong enough [to compete with the under-20s]. That’s what they might have been thinking when they made the decision.”

And unlike those No. 1s in recent seasons, Esposito has had to share and even cede the spotlight to star players on his own teams. At Shattuck-St Mary’s he played beside Jonathon Toews, a forward who was the World Cup under-18s most valuable player last year and the Chicago Blackhawks’ draft pick, third overall, in June. With the Memorial Cup champion Quebec Remparts last season, Esposito was eclipsed by Alexander Radulov, a Russian expected to step into the Nashville Predators line-up this fall.

Even at this tournament Esposito wasn’t expected to be the focus of attention. That figured to be Oshawa Generals forward John Tavares, who was named the Canadian junior hockey leagues’ rookie of the year last season as a mere 15-year-old. But Tavares, who isn’t eligible for the draft until 2009, suffered a leg injury during the Canadian team’s tryouts and didn’t make the trip to the Czech Republic .

Also absent was a player who is challenging Esposito for the top spot in next year’s draft. At least a few scouts in Breclav liked Ottawa 67’s forward Logan Couture as much as Esposito if not more. But with five seconds to go in the final exhibition game at the tryout camp, Couture also suffered a leg injury, a fluke cut from a skate blade.

Thus did the sea part for Esposito.

“This is an opportunity for Angelo to step up,” the Canadian coach Cory Clausen said before the game. “That what were looking for. He was an easy pick to wear the C for us. We don’t have a really loud group but Angelo is a mature young man, well-spoken, respected by his team-mates. They listen when he speaks and they see that he works hard on the ice.”

As hard as Esposito worked in the tournament’s opening round, it was hard to impress the scouts in attendance. The Canadians were in the far weaker of the two four-team pools. Their wins over Switzerland and Sweden weren’t compelling. Only in their third game, a decisive victory over Slovakia , did they seem to be finding their game. And though Esposito led the team in scoring going into the final, he, like the team, hadn’t blown anyone away.

It was far easier to others, unburdened by expectations, to make an impression. Foremost among this number was forward Brett Sonne, who plays for the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League. “Brett didn’t have a good camp and he started out as a fourth liner,” Clausen said.

But against Sweden, with the game tied one-all late in the second period, with Canada killing a five-minute major penalty, and with a single loss eliminating a team from contention for the gold medal, Sonne scored what was likely the most important goal of the tournament. Forechecking aggressively, he forced a turnover in the neutral zone, over-powered a defenceman and crashed the Swedish net.

If it had been Esposito making the play, it would have helped validate his billing. The scouts, though, were left wanting. Esposito did lead the team in scoring in the opening round but he was a couple of big saves and deflected shots away from a breakthrough performance. The margin between glowing reviews and perceived failure was that slim.

The final wasn’t Esposito’s last shot at winning over the scouts. He has a whole season and likely a turn at the world juniors to do that. But it was his last chance beside and against the players who’ll be in the draft pool next June.

Midway through the first period, Canada opened the scoring on a play engineered by Esposito. With a two-man advantage, Esposito handled the puck with authority, setting up a couple of scoring chances right off the hop. Then the puck came over to Esposito on the right side, at the faceoff dot. He moved the puck smartly to Sonne on the edge of the crease who beat American goaltender Jeremy Smith.

It was the only goal Canada would need with Trevor Cann and a bunch of mobile defencemen holding the U.S. at bay. Sonne added another goal in the second period. Tyler Ennis scored a third (set up by Brandon Sutter, son of Brent, who coach Canada’s juniors to two world titles).

Said one scout exiting the arena: “[Esposito] was around the action a lot but didn’t make things happen the way you’d want to see.”

In the closing ceremonies, Angelo Esposito was called out as captain to accept the tournament trophy. After 19 shifts it was easier to raise the silverware over his head than satisfy scouts and compete with players who either couldn’t make it or went in years before him.

Fine print … One thing that impressed me about Esposito was how he handled himself off the ice. He seemed to take the role of team captain seriously (what I heard from those in the room, what I saw away from the rink). Maybe a little overly, but then again, maybe that’s the side you’d want to err on. At team meals, he tried to drive conversation. When I interviewed him he was completely engaged and engaging—too accomodating for his own good. Rather than cut me off, he left himself only three minutes to pack before the team bus was leaving. Something of a carry-over to the ice. If he was guilty of something on and off the ice it was trying to hard. He pressed to impress … When I asked Esposito about stepping into the spotlight role (after playing with Toews at Shattuck and Radulov in Quebec) he didn’t blink. He basically admitted that it was an open question about his game. Not at all defensive about it when a lot of players—maybe most of them—would bristle. Goes to two things. 1. If you’re looking for the good, you’d say that his reaction shows he sees things with clear eyes. 2. If you’re knocking, you’d say it suggests some self-doubt, pure poison in the draft game.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Power Outage: No Heirs to Wendel, Cam Apparent

A notion floated by SI's Muir, the fast-disappearing power forward.


One quibble: Am I the last guy who objects to the use of a basketball term in hockey? Never liked the "power forward" term in hoops (3s, 4s and 5s are fine, thanks), never mind hockey.

Some of the points here are dubious. I doubt that Muir ahs seen much of Okposo--he's not remotely a fit. Steve Ott is more terrier than Doberman. Still, there might be something there about the dearth of the wingers in the Clark-Neely mould. (There's certainly a hole to fill with the decline of Bertuzzi.) A quick look at the recent draft lists yields not to many candidates.

Some guys look the part. (Anthony and Chris Stewart fit the profile physically, but Wendel and Cam they're not.) I gotta believe that more is in play here--a values shift. Clark and Neely emerged from another era, a different hockey culture. In the NHL today your highest paid players rarely fight and the fact is teams and coaches don't fancy seeing it (taking the most skill off the ice and risking injury). There's probably some carry-over to junior. The best there are more likely to fight (like breaking your maiden) and in the Dub it's like getting a merit badge in Boy Scouts. Still everyone in junior knows his role. In the pros, stars are stars and others do the heavy lifting; in junior, it's not an absolute but something is in play. (A test: Can you name a European power forward? You'd think there'd be one.)

Canadian teams at the world juniors desperately need these types of players--the guys who physically punish on the forecheck--but some years they go dry. James Neal filled that role with the Canadian juniors this year. Does Ryan O'Marra project out to the (ugh) "power forward" role in the NHL? There's a lot more beef up there.

Cold War: Freeze-out of the RMC-West Point Game

Interesting story in the Globe today by friend Mirtle about the possible end to one of hockey's richest traditions: Royal Military College vs West Point.


I've had a chance to see a couple of these and they were spectacles unlike any other in hockey. I'll pass along a story I did a few years back for Maclean's ... at the time I never suspected that the series might grind to halt. In retrospect, though, I could sense some of the tensions that led to this year's cancellation. And the Maurice kid in this story--a cousin or nephew (can't recall) of Paul Maurice.

Replaying a Border War
GARE JOYCE finds little camaraderie at the 73rd West Point-RMC hockey game

ON FRIDAY AFTERNOON West Point sent its regrets: the cadets on the tae kwon do squad and the debating team would not be making the trip to Kingston, Ont., for their annual mid-winter exchange with the Royal Military College. You could have read too much into this. You could have put it down to the ever-frostier relations between the U.S. and Canada. As it turned out, the last-minute cancellation did have something to do with a chill -- an ice storm that made roads in upstate New York too treacherous for the six-hour bus ride from the U.S. military academy. Fortunately, the centrepiece of the weekend would go on as scheduled -- the 73rd instalment of the West Point-RMC hockey game. The Black Knights had made the trip Thursday and thus avoided the first cancellation of the event since RMC shut down during the Second World War. Army-RMC goes almost as far back as the Habs vs. the Maple Leafs, and lays claim to being the oldest continually contested sports event between the U.S. and Canada.

Even if it's not the oldest, it would rank among the most historic. And curious. In the beginning, RMC's commandant, Maj.-Gen. Sir Archibald Macdonnell, and West Point's superintendent, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, envisioned an exhibition alternating between the campuses at West Point, N.Y., and Kingston, one that promoted camaraderie and sportsmanship. The teams met for the first time, outdoors on natural ice, at West Point on Feb. 3, 1923, with RMC winning 3-0. The Canadians won the next 14 contests, but not a lot of weight was given to winning or losing. West Point-RMC remained a largely social and gentlemanly affair for a quarter-century -- as a point of honour, the teams played games without penalties being called until a raucous contest in 1954.

The rivalry ramped up thereafter. "For our team, the RMC game became the equivalent of the football program's game against Navy," said West Point's current hockey coach, Rob Riley. Going into the 2004 game, the series stood at 36 wins for West Point, 28 wins for RMC and six ties. Retired Maj. Bill Oliver, a recruiter for RMC's varsity sports programs and the hockey program's resident historian, offers a familiar metaphor for the rivalry between the military academies' hockey programs. "It's war," Oliver says. "Huge hits. Sometimes fights. The teams respect each other, but for those 60 minutes they really don't like each other."

On the surface, RMC seems overmatched. Its student body is about 1,000; the USMA's is five times that. RMC's overall athletic budget, including intramurals, is $750,000, which wouldn't even start to feed Army's football team. Oliver and the RMC Paladins' coach Kelly Nobes try to keep tabs on Tier II or Junior B players who might have the grades to get into RMC. Still, it's a tough sell, particularly with the minimum five years of required service after graduation. West Point's recruiters can point to a recent graduate, Dan Hinote, who was allowed to defer his required five-year hitch so he can play with the Colorado Avalanche. "If you went through the West Point roster, you'd see that all but one of the players are recruited," Oliver says. "West Point is a lot more like other top U.S. college programs than like us in that way."

This year the odds looked even longer for RMC. Going into the West Point game, the Paladins had won only two of their 20 games against Ontario university teams. "We're a defensive team that struggles to score," Nobes said. "The one thing is, I can count on our players being up for this game." That's true of any game these days pitting Canadian teams against Americans, from the Olympics right down to peewee tournaments.

Paladins' captain Matt Maurice, a fourth-year electrical engineering major from Burlington, Ont., suggested that something more was in play for RMC. "There is a difference between West Point cadets and us," said the 22-year-old Maurice. "I have friends who are just back from Afghanistan, but what's happening in politics isn't on our minds. We know we could be serving beside these guys in four or five years, but our roles are different. We're the peacekeepers."

On Saturday afternoon the RMC student body came to the rink in full dress and filed into their seats in orderly fashion. The seats behind the RMC bench were reserved for VIPs, square-jawed, spit-and-polish sorts from both sides of the border, stars and bars all around. The atmosphere was rowdier than you'd find at the oh-so-traditional Army-Navy football game. You'd never hear the midshipmen from Annapolis chanting: "West Point sucks." The college's band featured not just the usual brass and drums but also a guitarist who played selections by AC/DC, Pink Floyd and Nirvana.

The game itself was less a march in formation than a mosh pit, lots of contact and play that occasionally lapsed into anarchy. After a period the teams had a goal apiece and, although the visitors were on average a couple of inches taller and 15 lb. heavier, there was little to choose between the teams in the skill department.
In the second period West Point ran out to a 3-1 lead, but it could have been worse. Paladins' goaltender Blair Robertson, a first-year science and engineering major from Outlook, Sask., made a few spectacular saves in staving off an Army onslaught. "Robertson gave us a chance to win this game," coach Nobes said.

Three minutes into the third period, RMC pulled within a goal of Army when right winger Matt Reid, a masters student in mechanical engineering, tipped a point shot past West Point goaltender Brad Roberts. Though the Paladins dominated play the rest of the way, they couldn't beat Roberts for a tying goal. In the last few shifts, a couple of fights broke out and trash-talking ensued. Maurice might one day serve as a peacekeeper, but on Saturday afternoon the role fell to Greg Kimmerly, a referee on loan from the National Hockey League. It was all Kimmerly could do to control the game. Even after the final buzzer, he was breaking up skirmishes that threatened to dissolve into a battle royale. After the players had a chance to cool down and soak up some polite applause, the teams lined up for the ceremonial handshake. Though the game is billed as a friendly exhibition, the smiles were forced and teeth gritted.

Riley knows West Point and its cadets as well as any civilian can. He has coached the Army team for the last 17 seasons. Before that, his father, Jack, coached the team for more than two decades. Riley says his players, unlike Maurice, are giving a lot of thought to politics. "There is a different atmosphere around the team when there's a major conflict going on," Riley said. "I see a difference with our fourth-year players. They all have friends who have shipped out."

Army captain Mike McLean, a fourth-year defenceman, agrees. "Any player in his final year at West Point thinks about these being the last real games that he'll ever play," says McLean who, like Maurice, is planning on earning his pilot's wings. "We're getting e-mails from our old teammates who are in Iraq and Afghanistan. We know we might be called, and it makes us appreciate something like this game even more."

After the game, West Point again sent its regrets: the team wasn't sticking around for any social festivities. While the cadets boarded the bus in their dress grays, normal relations resumed as officials discussed when to reschedule the events cancelled by the ice storm. But after the afternoon's action in Kingston, where like-minded young men became mortal enemies for 60 minutes, an exhibition to promote camaraderie looked more like a once-a-year war game.