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, January 27, 2007

Catch a Falling Star: Logan Couture, Luckless Prospect

I saw that Patrick O’Sullivan scored for the Los Angeles Kings the other night. That got me thinking about the prospect whose stock crashes. Every NHL draft has one. The stories of these kids are often the most compelling stuff on draft day.

I wrote about Patrick O’Sullivan prior to the 2003 draft in ESPN The Magazine, a talented kid who was perceived to be a risk. Teams were scared off him, in part, because of a father who physically and emotionally abused him. A CHL Rookie of the Year, he might have had first-round talent but some scouts told me prior to the draft that their clubs wouldn’t take him with their sixth-round picks. Some teams didn’t have him on their lists at all. Minnesota ended up taking him in the middle of the second-round and that pick looks pretty good right now. Yeah, he’s in LA but he turned into an asset that the Wild converted into Pavol Demitra. The O’Sullivan pick looks pretty good when you see some of those tapped in the selections ahead of him. (Weird coincidence: I actually worked with his father at the Coca-Cola plant in Toronto when we were teenagers, didn’t realize it until the son showed me family photos.)


(If you go over to my story archive blog http://garejoyce.blogspot.com/ you can read the O'Sullivan story. It was the first time he talked about "the issues" and I think he's not going there anymore.)

Another guy whose stock was ticking down was Wojtek Wolski. He got into some tussle at a party on the eve of the draft and suddenly he was regarded as Mr Bad Attitude. That seemed a strange one to me. I’d talked to him a bunch of times. Wolski was no blockhead. He was pretty quick on the uptake, way smarter than your run-of-the-mill junior, a little more worldy. Hockey Canada soured on him and wrote him out of the world-junior plans. (Hard for me to figure after he played gamely for the summer 18s in 2003 even though he had a bum wheel that had him on crutches away from the rink.) I think Colorado did pretty well nabbing him late in the first round.


It’s an interesting draft phenomenon. I don’t think it’s unique to the NHL, not with stories like Aaron Rodgers plunge in the NFL draft a couple of years back. (Watching him fall from No. 2 or 3 or whatever to No. 24 was like watching LZ 129 Hindenburg.) So who’s falling and why? A quick look at the pre-season prospect previews and the mid-term NHL Central Scouting would tell you that no one has fallen harder than Logan Couture, a centre with the Ottawa 67’s. Not that he brought any of this on himself. This poor kid can’t catch a break.

How much has he fallen? Depends where you had him slotted originally. One scout told me last summer that he liked Couture for the top slot, No. 1 overall. That leaves a lot of room to drop. According to the NHL mid-terms, Logan is the 11th ranked North American skater. Project that out and you’d have a mid to late first-rounder. As the English Beat once asked: Wh’appen?

I’ve caught a couple of his games, one in Mississauga in late November, the other the OHL all-stars vs the Russian touring team last month. I asked him about the slide.

Couture was first knocked out of the summer 18s by injury. Freakish. He was a lock to be on the team, a shot to be the captain or at least a first-liner. Then on the last shift of the last game prior to the team selection, he suffered a cut around his knee from a skate blade. “I was playing the best hockey I think I ever played,” he told me. “Set up a goal and scored a goal on the two shifts before. Last shift, there was maybe five seconds left when I got cut. They sewed me up right on the bench. I was thinking that they might still take me but really there was no way they could. I was limping around for a few days.”

Couture showed me the cut. Not for the faint of heart—it had to go deep. Jeez, it still looked fresh four months later.

Missing the 18s was an opportunity lost but it wouldn’t have hurt Couture if he hadn’t contracted mono and missed a good chunk of the first half of Ottawa’s sked. I’m sure that he came back too soon and his performance suffered for it. I sat behind the Ottawa bench in Mississauga and Couture looked more than gassed—he looked nauseous on the ice. It was pretty plain that he couldn’t do the things he was used to doing. A situation like that doesn’t help a prospect—fact is, if the kid is really game he’ll likely expose himself to injury. A step behind where he’s used to being—that’s when a kid gets clocked.

The Ice Dogs smoked Ottawa that day ...

Ottawa 67's 1 vs. Mississauga IceDogs 6
The Mississauga IceDogs defeated the Ottawa 67's 6 - 1 in an OHL hockey game played on Sunday, November 19, 2006.
SHOTS Ottawa 67's - 20 Mississauga IceDogs - 47
1. MISS Lawrence, (12) (Schiestel, Santini), 2:42
1. MISS Owens, (16) (Pietrangelo, Legein), 5:24
1. MISS Beljo, (11) (Lawrence, Swift), 15:06
1. MISS Lawrence, (13) (Beljo, Swift), 15:52
1. MISS Swift, (11) (Schiestel), 18:48
2. OTT Lindsay, (3) (Biduke, Lahey), 1:40 (PP)
3. MISS Swift, (12) (Beljo, Santini), 16:06

and would have with or without a healthy Couture. Brian Kilrea (the 67’s coach for those of you who haven’t toured the Hall of Fame) told me that he didn’t think Couture should have been playing. Nice sentiment, but then again, as coach, Killer filled out the line-up, right? And he was still sending Couture out in the death throes of the blow-out--when he came off the ice from his last shift in the last minute Couture looked like he was going to black out.

That was a 4 p.m. game at the Hershey Centre--the place was lousy with NHL scouts, at least 30, who doubled up, Brampton vs Petes at 2 pm, Ott vs Miss on the back half. From the deep corner seats they saw how Couture played--I doubt that they could tell how beat up he was.

Couture told me he was about 85 or 90 percent at the O vs Russia all-star game. Probably the over-optimism of youth. I can’t give you any useful dope on him—it’s hard to tell what type of player he is based on a couple of views, both of them with big asterisks beside them. Word is, though, he’s on the rebound. Season's numbers to date 15-30-45 in 34 games. I’m going to try to catch him in the next little stretch.

The fine print: The ten North American skaters ahead of Couture:

-- LONDON -- 5' 10.75" 191 C
KANE, PATRICK -- LONDON -- 5' 9.5" 160 RW
TURRIS, KYLE -- BCHL -- BURNABY -- 6' 0.5" 170 C
ELLERBY, KEATON -- KAMLOOPS -- 6' 4.25" 186 D
-- VANCOUVER -- 6' 0.25" 160 D
ALZNER, KARL -- CALGARY -- 6' 2" 206 D
SUTTER, BRANDON -- RED DEER -- 6' 2.75" 170 C,RW

pithy observations: six-four-and-a-quarter and 186, pretty scrawny for ellerby ... should way something closer to Linda Ellerbie ... it's funny talking to scouts about Angelo Esposito ... it seems like everyone who has seen him wasn't blown away in Rempart games that they caught but heard he was good in the next game after they left ... saw the cross kid at summer 18s ... easily the best US defenceman at the tournament tho' he started the season below the radar somewhat, way behind another US d-man Nick Petrecki from USHL Omaha ... Petrecki is another guy who has seen the ass drop out of his stock based on NHL Central's mid-terms (preseason top 10 guy, now No. 31 among North American skaters) ... Brandon Sutter musta had lead socks on when they weighed him ... doesn't look 160 to me ... Kane is out there as a first liner with the US u-20s and Van Riemsdyk watches the whole freakin' tournament, dumb, dumb, dumb ...

On further review: Took a look at the 2003 draft and those who passed over O'Sullivan


Some pretty good 2nd-rounders (Bergeron, Carle, Fritsche) but a lot who are a way behind O'Sullivan and several who don't look like they'll ever catch up. Just to pluck a few:

Ryan Stone http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/stats/pdisplay.php3?pid=00072677

Mike Egener seems as like to hit the ECHL as the NHL http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/stats/pdisplay.php3?pid=00055357

Cory Urquhart is hitting his third ECHL season http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/stats/pdisplay.php3?pid=00055112

Stefan Meyer isn't exactly lighting it up with Rochester http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/stats/pdisplay.php3?pid=00055397

Crombeen off the radar http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/stats/pdisplay.php3?pid=00059628\

Tunik = zero http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/stats/pdisplay.php3?pid=00072677