Thursday, 3 July 2014

2014 NHL Entry Draft Aftermath - Best 3 Picks per Round

As always, it was an interesting, entertaining and at times frustrating NHL Entry Draft this year.  Here's a quick rundown of the best 3 picks per round, in my humble opinion:

3 - Conner Bleackley - COL - 23 - There were three solid picks in a row with St. Louis grabbing Fabbri at 21 and the Penguins snapping up Kasperi Kapanen at 22 but the Bleackley pick for Colorado was a perfect pick for this organization.  Bleackley has the makeup to fit in well with their young core and can play a variety of roles that will insulate their high end offensive players.  He has great leadership potential and his maturity is very high already.  Look for him to be an O'Reilly type player without as much headache for management.  He gives them a lot of options moving forward.

2 - Josh Ho-Sang/Michael Dal Colle - NYI 28/5 - The Islanders got a great pickup with Dal Colle at number 5.  He is a consistent and reliable player who is the type of players coaches trust.  That pick gave them the ability to swing for the fences with Ho-Sang at pick 28.  The ultra-speedy and insanely talented offensive producer had a lot of questions around his character and that scared teams away.  The two picks together are a stroke of genius and a calculated risk that could prove to pay massive dividends down the line.

1 - Aaron Ekblad/Sam Reinhart - FLA/BUF - 1/2 - This feels almost like a cop out for me, but the fact that these two teams did not overthink these selections and took the two best players is huge for both organizations.  With Ekblad the Panthers get a versatile all-situations defender who is not only a weapon but the type of commodity all teams covet and have a very difficult time finding.  In Reinhart, the Sabres get a stable leader who will consistently make their team and the players around him better. 


Round 2

3 - Josh Jacobs - NJ - 41 - With Jon Merrill fitting in nicely to the Devils lineup, Jacobs fits a similar mould and gives them two incredibly exciting and versatile young defenders for years to come. In a few years, we may not to be able to tell them apart. 

2 - Hunter Smith - CAL - 54 - An absolute monster who is just starting to understand his value, Smith will be a great fit to insulate some of Calgary's younger smaller and skilled forwards. He is tough, intimidating and has underrated hands around the net.

1 - Roland McKeown - LA - 50 - Snagging one of the top 5 defenders with the 50th pick could end up being the pick of the draft. LA pulled in some tremendous value with many picks in this draft but having McKeown fall to them here is almost obscene. 


Round 3

3 - Dominic Turgeon - DET - 63 - Son of Pierre, Dominic is a versatile player with great two-way potential. In terms of players with late bloomer potential Turgeon could be a great value pick at this point of this draft.

2 - Jack Glover - WIN - 69 - Big versatile defender could thrive around a player like Jacob Trouba. He was considered a top round candidate before the season start and although he struggled through the year, he finished strong and if he can continue to trend up, he'll

1 - Brayden Point - TB - 79 - Point is an incredibly intelligent playmaker who if not for his lack of size would have been on every team's first round wish list. At pick 79 Tampa Bay may have found themselves an incredible potential secondary offensive weapon.


Round 4

3 - Ville Husso - STL - 94 - Anytime you are taking the first Finnish goalie of the draft, odds are it's a solid pick!

2 - De Leo - WIN - 99 - With Nic Petan already in the organizational fold, adding De Leo his Portland Winterhawk teammate allows the two to continue to work together and bring some comfort into camps and their quest to make it to the next level.

1 - Brent Moran - DAL - 115 - His long term potential is extremely high and the pick solidifies a very strong lineage of puck stoppers in their organization. They look set for the next 10-15 years in the crease with Lehtonen, Campbell, Desrosiers and now Moran.


Round 5

3 - Daniel Audette - MTL - 147 - The kid has great ties in his home province and has tremendous skill. He's worth the risk at this point in the draft and could pan out very well for the Habs.

2 - Jaedon Descheneau - STL - 124 - Small but speedy, that seemed to be the theme of this round.  He has the head and reaction time to succeed in fast pace environments.  Some tie his success to Reinhart but he held the fort on his own while Reinhart represented Canada.  He's a very underrated scoring forward.

1 - Anders Bjork - BOS - 146 - This kid has never received the credit he has deserved.  He has great wheels and quick hands.  He makes things happen on the ice and plays with great pace.  He has excellent potential as he bulks up to be a capable secondary scoring threat at the next level.


Round 6

3 - Adam Ollas Mattsson - CAL - 175 - A big bruising defender who has room to improve his technical skills, he's a bit slow footed right now but his feet aren't heavy, just not quick yet. Great use of a late pick on a long term prospect with very good upside.

2 - Chase Lang - MIN - 167 - Lang is a hidden gem in this draft. He was buried on a deep Calgary Hitmen team but showed significant improvement and poise as the season went on. He is a smooth player who has potential to put up big numbers as his WHL career continues. 

1 - Jaden Lindo - PIT - 173 - This ranks among the best picks of the entire draft. Lindo gives the Penguins something they have been missing since letting Max Talbot walk away. He will play a role, add energy, consistency and positive leadership and could do so within 2 years.


Round 7

3 - Spencer Watson - LA - 209 - The Kings had some very savvy picks in this draft and took some calculated gambles. Watson is just that, a calculated gamble who has great speed and skill but is on the smaller side which scared the rest of the league off.

2 - Kelly Summers - OTT - 189 - He has good size can skate and has produced offense at a torrid rate. He's a project who will likely go the college route and reappear on the scene 4-5 years from now as a legitimate prospect with PP distribution potential.

1 - Jacob Middleton - LA - 210 - Potentially the best pick of the entire draft and it just happened to be the very last one, the Kings hit it out of the park in rounds 2 and 7 and got two of the best versatile defenders out of the OHL significantly later than they should have. Middleton skates well and can play in a variety of roles. He is underrated tough as well. He will play in the NHL at some point.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Congratulations to Bob Nicholson

I met Bob Nicholson in the summer of 2007.  Even before knowing him I understood his presence and power.  I have always been fascinated with leaders and with hockey and no one has combined the two like Bob.

I was a student at the Vierumaki Sports Institute in Finland, studying ice hockey coaching.  I had returned to Finland that summer to take part in the IIHF Development Camp.  I had just had the best year of my entire life and I finally felt like I had some direction in my life.  It was no coincidence that that summer I would meet one of the most influential people I will ever know.  I became fast friends with a lot of my classmates at Vierumaki and I felt like I fit in with the Finns more than I did in my own hometown.  The closest of these friends, who will remain one of my best friends until the day I die, was Petteri Hietanen.  Yes, this is a story about Bob and how proud I am to work in an office about 20 steps from his for another couple of months, but it would never have been possible without Petteri Hietanen. 

Petteri was a couple years younger than I was but equally as ambitious and he had a way with people (especially those of the opposite sex) that most people believe only exists in fictious characters.  Petteri is one of the most passionate hockey people you could ever expect to meet.  It turns out that Petteri's father happened to be Heikki Hietanen, and at that time Heikki was the executive director of the Finnish Ice Hockey Association. 

The Hietanen's treated me like a son and made Finland a home for me.  I would visit them in their home town of Hameenlinna (or H-town as Pete called it) often.  Petteri and I would pile into a small car with some of his friends, our classmate Josh Andrews (Canoe Cove, PEI) and our Spanish exchange student sidekick Miguel and go to concerts, hockey games, night clubs and other events all over Finland.  Often we would find ourselves waking up in the Hietanen home (later on Bob would share similar stories with me about the Hietanen family).

Upon my return to Finland in the summer of 2007, after 2 months back in Canada for summer break, Heikki and Petteri greeted me at Vierumaki.  Heikki, as important and powerful of a man as he was, always made me feel like he had nothing but time for me and he fed my ambition at every turn.  Earlier that spring, Heikki recruited me to manage the Scout Lounge as Finland hosted the IIHF U18 World Championships in Tampere (another moment that changed the course of my future).  Heikki had another life changing and future altering plan in mind for me on this day in sunny Vierumaki.  FIHA and Hockey Canada were going to be having meetings in the days leading up to the IIHF Development camp and Heikki needed someone to greet the Hockey Canada staff at the airport in Helsinki and to shuttle them the hour and a half back to the Finnish sports paradise in the middle of the forest. 

I have so much respect for all of the Hietanen family that they could ask me to pick up a grizzly bear and shuttle it somewhere in a smart car and I wouldn't hesitate.  So, I was given the keys to a 12 passenger van and sent on my way.

Driving in Europe is an interesting experience...Most vehicles I had ever driven were automatics....this van was not.  I had some minor experience driving stick and felt fairly confident doing so but this van had what seemed to be several more gears than I had ever experienced.  I managed to make it to the E75 South and eventually to the bus parking lot at Helsinki Vantaa Airport.  I waited at the international arrivals gate and was eventually met by a small army of men I would soon come to know much better.  There were 7 staff and a couple of family members, if memory serves me correctly.  This was my first meeting with Johnny Misley, Paul Delparte, Scott Smith and Bob Nicholson.

We piled into the van and headed for Vierumaki.  I think the first time my driving came into question was the third or fourth time I tried to reverse out of our parking spot....I stalled the van several times before getting onto the highway.  At this point the van was pretty quiet...

We eventually got moving and once we were on the highway and I managed to squeak out that it would be about an hour and a half before we got to Vierumaki everyone started to relax a bit.  Scott Smith sat up front with me and chatted with me for most of the way with the rest of the boys interjecting from time to time.  They were surprised to have a Canadian greet them and (sort of) know where he was going.  They asked me a ton of questions and were very curious about what I had learned and what my experience had been like up to this point.

We arrived at Vierumaki on time and I proceeded to stall the van several more times while dropping everyone off...eventually just leaving the van in the middle of the parking lot...

Bob was the last to leave the van.  Before he left he thanked me for the ride and noticing perhaps how embarrassed (and somewhat nauseous even I now was) he said "You know what Ross?  This is going to be a story I can tell some day when I'm presenting an award to you"  He patted me on the back and got out to hug Heikki.

There are moments in ones life where emotions can turn on a dime.  In the 5 seconds it took for him to say that I went from the most embarrassed and disheartened with myself I had maybe ever been to feeling like I could do anything in the world.  Bob Nicholson is a man who can make anything seem like a reality.

In the years since, I would run into Bob all over the place.  As my presence and experience in the sport grew, I found myself at the same events, in the same room and sometimes at the same table as Bob more and more.  I was fortunate enough to coach his son, Grant and spend some time with the Nicholson boys and the Hietanen boys jumping in lakes after marathon sauna sessions.  He always made time for me when I came to Calgary and gave me great advice.  On one occasion I had just gone through a fairly intense end of what I considered a serious relationship and I ran into Bob in the middle of a crowded concourse during a World Junior game.  I obviously wasn't myself, and I feel like he tuned into that immediately.  He pulled me aside and gave me what I know now as a classic "Bob pep talk".  As hard as my outlook on life was at that time, he managed to somehow inspire me.  Funny enough, it wasn't the last time he would find me in such a situation.

Three years ago, I had applied for a few jobs with Hockey Canada and had come up just short every time.  Again, Bob brought me in for a meeting and pumped my tires and told me my time would come.  A few short days later, Paul Carson sent me an email saying he and Bob had talked and were wondering if I would be willing to go to Bosnia or Poland for an international development project.  Paul and Bob fall into a similar category of decision making as the Hietanen family does when it comes to personal requests.  So, off to Sarajevo I went.

Bosnia changed me.  It gave me something I could have never obtained in Canada or on my own.  I was there for close to 6 months and it was incredible.  Before I left for Bosnia, Bob again pulled me aside at a hotel bar in Penticton, BC.  He once again showered me with advice and told me that Bosnia is an opportunity that doesn't exist that often in sport.  It was the chance to build something, to help some people who were open to ideas and to put my own spin on the sport for that country.  He warned me that it was a difficult situation and it could be frustrating but if I went in determined and open-minded I would be able to accomplish something that very few people will ever get to experience.

Bob is a captivating man.  He has a tremendous ability to hit your soul with his words and he can swap from a fun, seemingly carefree, easy to be around guy at a party to an inspiring and motivating leader in the blink of an eye.  He's the guy everybody wants to be around and he handles that with incredible poise and optimism.

At the end of my Bosnian adventure, Haris Muhic, the Bob of hockey in Bosnia, invited me to the World Championships in Bratislava, Slovakia as a guest of Bosnian Ice Hockey.  I was given accreditation to attend IIHF Congress, something that for most people isn't that exciting, but for me it was as exciting as game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.  During one of the breaks, Haris asked me what I wanted to do next, and I told him I wanted to work for Hockey Canada.  Haris pulled Bob over and told Bob he wanted to know what it would take to convince him to assign me to Bosnia for longer.  I wasn't fully prepared for that question, but I was even more unprepared for Bob's response.  "Sorry Haris, we have plans for Ross back in Canada".  The conversation continued for some time but I heard nothing after Bob said that...Haris gave me a wink.

That September I started working for Hockey Canada.

Since then, I've had hundreds more interactions and have had the privilege of seeing the day to day attention to detail and personality that makes Bob such a valuable and cherished leader.  I've watched him handle difficult situations, bring staff together and provide guidance to countless sport leaders from countless other countries.  I've stood on the sidelines as he spoke to the media and watched him tease and joke with some of the most powerful people in sport.  The video for his 60th birthday was an amazing collection of people with outstanding stories and inside jokes.

The impact Bob has had on so many people is incredible.

When Bob made his announcement to the staff and then to the world, there were misty eyes among our staff.  Looking around the office I could see the almost hundred other people with stories and experiences like mine.   We were as glued to his press conference in Toronto as we were to the Olympic final.   It was bittersweet.  I'm extremely happy for Bob and his family and I know it won't be the last time he influences some direction for my future.  I just really like having a desk a few steps away from Bob Nicholson's...

Sunday, 30 June 2013

My Draft Team

In 2007 I was a newcomer to the scouting scene and the NHL draft was very much a mystery to me.  Every year, regardless of how much I believe I have learned or what new experiences I believed were shaping to me to better understand the sport, projecting players and developing elite players, the NHL Draft always puts me back in my place.  It can be the most exciting, shocking and frustrating weekend of the year.  In 2007, the Draft took place in Columbus, Ohio but I watched it from my summer apartment in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  I had been living in Finland at the time and had just recently decided I wanted to give scouting a go.  I decided that year I would take the final pick of every round to see what sort of team I could build.  I have done so every year since then and have built a very interesting roster.

As we lead into my 7th NHL Entry Draft as a scout, here is a rundown of how my drafts have gone over the years.

2007 – Columbus, Ohio

I remember sitting down to watch the first round of this draft on tv, with lists upon lists and almost all of my notes from the previous year.  My favorite players that year were Jakub Voracek, Kevin Shattenkirk, Niclas Lucenius, Mikael Backlund and Jonathan Blum.  I had admittedly not seen a very broad range of hockey, scouting mostly the Finnish junior leagues that season but I had been back to Canada where I did see games in Halifax and Vancouver that year and I was also a volunteer at the 2007 U18 World Championships in Tampere, Finland, a tournament where my role was to manage the scout lounge.

1st round – pick 31 – PK Subban (actual pick 43rd overall) – I made this pick without really having seen him play, but two years earlier Pittsburgh had picked Kris Letang in the 2nd round, and I could not get enough of him that year.  I had spoken to a scout in Finland about my man-crush on Letang and he turned me on to PK Subban.  I remember debating this pick between Subban and Oscar Moller (who I had seen and loved at the U18 World Championships that year) but ultimately took Subban completely based on the comparison to Letang.

2nd round – pick 61 – Jamie Benn (actual pick 129th overall) – I was fortunate enough to see Benn play with Kelowna that year…the only WHL game I saw all year.  Benn blew me away.  He didn’t look pretty but was always in the right place to make something happen and played with great fire.   I had really wanted to take Niclas Lucenius with this pick but didn’t think Benn would hang around (I was wrong).

3rd round – pick 92 – Niclas Lucenius (actual pick 115th overall) – He was the top offensive prospect in Finland that year and I got to see a ton of him.  I remember crossing off the teams watching him come up to the end of the 3rd round and felt like a genius when he fell to my spot.

4th round – pick 122 – Jake Muzzin (actual pick 141st overall) – I took Muzzin on a whim and based on reports I had read out of Sault Ste. Marie.  I really wanted to take Niklas Torp with this pick but because of my earlier choice of Subban, I went after a steady two-way guy.  I didn’t know much about the guys I was reading about but Muzzin seemed to be the best player in the mould I wanted at that time in the draft.  I remember laughing with my roommate because we loved his name too….yes I did take him because of his name….

5th round – pick 152 – Niklas Torp (actual pick 163rd overall) – I had thought about taking Torp as high as the 2nd round but kept convincing myself otherwise.   He was one of my favorite players during the U18 World Championships that year but I let other people’s fears about his size get to me.  I was starting to really struggle for picks at this point and he was still there, so I wrote his name down.

6th round – pick 182 – Carson MacMillan (actual pick 200th overall) – I read about 50 profiles of players I knew nothing about and had never seen.  My knowledge of this particular draft pool had pretty much reached its peak.  There were several Europeans that I didn’t mind after having seen them play at U18s that year.  MacMillan’s physicality and leadership were highlighted in one report I read and that appealed to me, so I took another blind shot.  A couple years later, when I moved to Calgary, MacMillan was the captain for the Calgary Hitmen and it was evident right away that he really actually was my type of player.

7th round – pick 212 – Lukas Stoop (actual pick Undrafted) – Stoop was able to showcase himself well at U18s that year and I thought he would have gotten drafted mid-draft.  I was self-conscious about how many offensive D I had already taken.  He was still there at the end of the draft which surprised me, so I added him to my list.

Looking back at this year, I started that draft out very strong and wish I had actually been the semi-prevalent blogger that I tell myself I am in the mirror every day…I may have skipped some steps and become a GM by now…


2008 – Ottawa, Ontario

This was the first draft I actually attended in person.  I had been lucky enough to be invited to the NHLCA coaches conference and was brought around by then ISS head scout Mike Oke and GM Matt Ebbs to see what it was all about.  My favorite players going into this draft were: Erik Karlsson, Colin Wilson, Jacob Markstrom, Cody Hodgson and Nikita Filatov.

1st round – pick 31 – Jakob Markstrom (actual pick 31)

2nd round – pick 61 – Adam Henrique (actual pick 82)

3rd round – pick 91 – Braden Holtby (actual pick 93)

4th round – pick 121 – Andrei Loktionov (actual pick 123)

5th round – pick 151 – Teemu Hartikainen (actual pick 163) -

6th round – pick 181 – Nick Pryor (actual pick 208) -

7th round – pick 211 – Ilmari Pitkanen (actual pick Undrafted) – I once watched Pitkanen score 6 goals in a U17 national team tryout against the best players in Finland.  He


2009 – Montreal, Quebec

My favorites for this draft were Brayden Schenn, Toni Rajala, Kyle Clifford, Tomas Tatar and Cody Eakin.

1st round – pick 31 – Ryan O’Reilly (actual pick 33) -

2nd round – pick 61 – Brayden McNabb (actual pick 66) -

3rd round – pick 91 – Toni Rajala (actual pick 101) -

4th round – pick 121 – Markus Kruger (actual pick 149) -

5th round – pick 151 – Jerry D’Amigo (actual pick 158) -

6th round – pick 181 – Tommi Kivisto (actual pick 208) -

7th round – pick 211 –Radko Gudas (actual pick Undrafted until 2010) – I remember seeing Gudas during U18s and 5 Nations that year and thinking, this kid is tough as nails.  He blocked shots, could shoot well and didn’t back down from any situation.  I still don’t believe I’ve seen as fearless a player out there.  He didn’t get selected in this draft and that surprised me.  I had considered taking him the round before but had a fondness for Kivisto I couldn’t shake.  I was very happy when he finally got the recognition and shot he deserved the following year in Los Angeles.  His development the years after this draft were even more impressive.  You need players like this to win and he will be a solid piece for his team every time.


2010 – Los Angeles, California

In LA, I had decided to mix things up a bit and see how I would do with the 10th pick in every round instead of the 31st.  In retrospect, as fun as this was, I wish I had of just stuck to the plan or at the very least done both.  This year gets an asterix .

1st round – pick 10 – Vladimir Tarasenko (actual pick 16) -

2nd round – pick 40 – Johan Larsson (actual pick 56) -

3rd round – pick 70 – Stephen Silas (actual pick 95)-

4th round – pick 100 – Teemu Pulkkinen (actual pick 111) -

5th round – pick 130 – Brendan Gallagher (actual pick 147)-

6th round – pick 160 – Mark Stone (actual pick 178) -

7th round – pick 190 – Brendan Ranford (actual pick 209) -


2011 – Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota

1st round – pick 31 – Boon Jenner (actual pick ) -

2nd round – pick 61 – Anthony Camara (actual pick ) -

3rd round – pick 91 – Reid Boucher (actual pick ) -

4th round – pick 121 – David Broll (actual pick ) -

5th round – pick 151 – Dillon Donnelly (actual pick ) -

6th round – pick 181 – Zach Laraza (actual pick ) -

7th round – pick 211 – Jeremy Boyce-Rotevall (actual pick ) –


2012 – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

1st round – pick 31 – Oscar Dansk (actual pick ) -

2nd round – pick 61 – Adam Pelech (actual pick ) -

3rd round – pick 91 – Andreas Athanasiou (actual pick ) -

4th round – pick 121 – Valeriy Vasiliev (actual pick ) -

5th round – pick 151 – Gianluca Curcuruto (actual pick ) -

6th round – pick 181 – Peter Quenneville (actual pick ) -

7th round – pick 211 – Anton Slepyshev (actual pick ) -
2013 - Newark, New Jersey
I will update this blog after the draft today!

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

3 Year Draft Outlook for Non-Playoff Teams

     We have seen great examples of teams building (and lucking out) in the draft in recent years.  Not making the playoffs is never the goal of any team.  Hockey is an incredibly competitive sport bursting with pride-filled athletes who hate losing, period.

     For the teams that didn’t make the playoffs this year, there is always the optimism that the draft can bring.   I thought I would be interesting to outline the potential optimism for each of the 14 teams that didn’t make the playoff this year.  Here is the potential hauls for those teams should their position remain the same over the next 3 years (yes, I know it won’t, but play along):


2013 – Seth Jones (other options: Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin)
2014 – Aaron Ekblad (other options: Sam Reinhart, Willy Nylander)
2015 – Connor McDavid (other options: there aren’t any if McDavid is a possibility)

A core built with these three exceptional players would immediately make Colorado a powerhouse.  A one-two punch of Jones and Ekblad on the point would be near impossible to match.  Up front Colorado is doing just fine with O’Reilly, Duchene and Landeskog already wearing their uniforms.  McDavid will be a player who steps right in and has the potential to take over.  At this rate Colorado could be more potent than ever in just 3 years.


2013 – Nathan MacKinnon (other options: Jonathan Drouin, Valeriy Nichushkin)
2014 – Sam Reinhart (Willy Nylander, Anton Karlsson)
2015 – Matthew Barzal (Jack Eichel, Zack Werenski)

Florida is already brimming with talented young prospects.  They are set in goal long term with Jacob Markstrom, they have good building blocks on defense and they have a versatile group of competitive young offensive prospects as well.  Another big time defender could be a priority for the Panthers but if they maintain this course they could end up with one of the most gamebreaking groups of forwards in the league, a group comparable to that of Edmonton, Chicago and Pittsburgh.

Tampa Bay

2013 – Jonathan Drouin (other options: Valeriy Nichushkin, Darnell Nurse)
2014 – Willy Nylander (other options: Anton Karlsson, Leon Draisaitl)
2015 – Zach Werenski (other options: Oliver Kylington, Jack Eichel)

The rich could get much richer here.  With St. Louis getting up there age wise, he could really find the perfect protégé to pass the Stamkos set-up torch to with Drouin.  Nylander would give them another very exciting offensive playmaker to build a secondary unit around, and the massive and versatile Werenski could really give them a strong one-two punch with potential twin-tower partner Victor Hedman.  Don’t forget they have Koekkoek, (edit) Kucherov, Panik and potential franchise goaltender Andrei Vasilevski on the horizon as well.


2013 – Darnell Nurse (other options: Sasha Barkov, Sean Monahan)
2014 – Anton Karlsson (other options: Leon Draisaitl, Jake Virtanen)
2015 – Jack Eichel (other options: Oliver Kylington, Aleksi Saarela)

Nashville has a very interesting future ahead of them.  Nurse could become the extra valuable, versatile defender under Shea Weber’s wing and could really boost the opportunities for Josi, Blum and Ellis offensively.  He would go a long way in returning Nashville to the pedestal of most desirable defense corps in the league.  Filip Forsberg will be an excellent addition to Nashville long term and should begin to carry the bulk of the offense with Colin Wilson.  Add an ultra-competitive player like Karlsson who can add both offense and grit and an exceptional young offensive goal scorer and Nashville all of a sudden is a very scary team in almost every regard.


2013 – Valeriy Nichushkin (other options: Sasha Barkov, Sean Monahan)
2014 – Roland McKeown (other options: Jack Glover, Leon Draisaitl)
2015 – Aleksi Saarela (other options: Oliver Kylington, Noah Hanifin)

Picking at this spot for 3 straight years could prove to yield a pretty spectacular bounty.  There is some strong talent available and it’s where the risky or forgotten about talents in the top 4 would fall.  A team could build a very strong core at this spot.  Carolina, who already has a strong core would be able to improve their depth significantly.  Nichushkin, McKeown and even Saarela all have the potential to be cornerstone players at their positions, adding all three would be scary for other teams to consider and could push a team to the top of their conference rather quickly.  Don’t expect Carolina to be picking at 5 in 2014 and 2015 but if they did somehow….the results could tip the balance of power in the league very fast.


2013 – Sean Monahan (other options: Sasha Barkov, Bo Horvat)
2014 – Leon Draisaitl (other options: Jack Glover, Jake Virtanen)
2015 – Noah Hanifin (other options: Oliver Kylington, Dylan Strome)

Calgary is one of the most likely teams to end up having their position and projection on this list come true.  They have finally committed to a rebuild and Flames fans can rejoice in the fact that these drafts could give them a plethora of exciting young talent.  The idea that Monahan (who reminds me of Eric Staal) and Draisaitl (who reminds me of a slightly less productive Evgeni Malkin) could end up on the same team is almost reason to go out and buy a Flames jersey right now.  Add to that the possibly of adding a franchise defender in 2015 with Hanifin, Kylington or Pilon or grabbing another electrifying forward like Strome and the flicker the Flames have right now gets very bright very fast.  Also of note is their 2 other 1st round picks in this year’s draft.  By 2015/2016 the Flames could possess one of the most exciting organizations in the entire sport.


2013 – Nikita Zadorov (other options: Sasha Barkov, Rasmus Ristolainen)
2014 – Jack Glover (other options: Jake Virtanen, Brycen Martin)
2015 – Oliver Kylington (other options: Ryan Pilon, Dylan Strome)

Edmonton has done well for themselves building a strong core of exciting young forwards, but their fan base will quickly tell you they need to improve their d-corps if they are going to meet their potential.  Schultz was a solid signing and Klefbom is on the horizon but the Oilers can really meet their needs by using their next picks to build that solid stable on the backend.  Good news for Edmonton, there’s a ton of defenders coming up that fit their needs near perfectly.


2013 – Sasha Barkov (other options: Bo Horvat, Elias Lindholm)
2014 – Jake Virtanen (other options: Brycen Martin, Michael Dal Colle)
2015 – Ryan Pilon (other options: Dylan Strome, Jansen Harkins)

The Sabres will not be out of the playoffs for much longer, they have a very competitive young pool of talented prospects and are in line to get even deeper after this year’s draft.  They have grinders, goal scorers, playmakers, hitters and solid two-way defenders already in their system and if they stick to their path, they could become one of the deepest teams in the league in a matter of a couple seasons.

New Jersey

2013 – Elias Lindholm (other options: Bo Horvat, Curtis Lazar)
2014 – Jakub Vrana (other options: Brycen Martin, Sonny Milano)
2015 – Dylan Strome (other options: Jordan Greenway, Jansen Harkins)

 This almost seems unfair to do using New Jersey considering they will have to forfeit their 1st round pick in 2014 due to the Ilya Kovalchuk cap-circumvention ruling.  New Jersey has done well building a nice new stable of young defenders but has also run into some trouble with some of their prospects off the ice as well.  They are an organization that most of us should have learned not to count out, but the odds are stacked against them and the vision of “what could have been” is already a bit haunting for the Devils.


2013 – Bo Horvat (other options: Rasmus Ristolainen, Curtis Lazar)
2014 – Brycen Martin (other options: Jacob Middleton, Michael Dal Colle)
2015 – Jansen Harkins (other options: Jordan Greenway, Gustav Franzen)

Amazing that a team picking in the 10 spot will have such a strong shot to grab these type of players as they could all turn a team around quickly.  The Stars have an interesting prospect pool and could build themselves a very gritty and competitive team while still competing for playoff spots year after year.  Horvat and Harkins could both end up being the steal of their drafts and Martin could prove to be one of the best puck distributing defenders of his draft class.  Not bad big D….not bad at all.



2013 – Rasmus Ristolainen (other options: Ryan Pulock, Steven Santini)
2014 – Jacob Middleton (other options: Michael Dal Colle, Nic Ritchie)
2015 – Jordan Greenway (other options: Ryan Gropp, Erik Cernak)

One of the least likely teams to be on this list going forward, the Flyers have the opportunity to finally nab a franchise defender.  Something they have coveted.  Ristolainen/Pulock/Santini /Zadorov would be excellent targets for Philly depending on what they want from that defender.  Pulock has the offensive ability, Santini the shutdown defensive ability, Zadorov the physicality and Ristolainen the nice mix of all.  This draft position will likely have some significant size and toughness available at it all 3 years, which works well Philly fans, wouldn’t you say?


2013 – Curtis Lazar (other options: Steven Santini, Hunter Shinkaruk)
2014 – Nic Ritchie (other options: Michael Dal Colle, Kaspari Kapanen)
2015 – Gustav Franzen (other options: Matthew Spencer, Evgeny Svechnikov)

A haul like Lazar, Ritchie and Franzen for a bubble playoff team really speaks to the strength of the early portions of the next 3 drafts.  That is a top tier first line in the not too distant future, one that reminds of the top line from the LA Kings.  Just missing the playoffs for a couple of years doesn’t seem so bad with this kind of talent still hanging around at this spot in the draft.


2013 – Ryan Pulock (other options: Steven Santini, Josh Morrissey)
2014 – Michael Dal Colle (other options: Kaspari Kapanen, Jared McCann)
2015 – Pavel Zacha (other options: Erik Cernak, Evgeny Svechnikov)

The excitement in Winnipeg of having the team back is starting to turn into expectation and the Jets faithful can taste the post-season.  The Jets core and prospect group is an interesting mix.  They have strong leadership and decent depth with some good talent on the horizon including Mark Scheifele, Paul Postma and Jacob Trouba.  Ryan Pulock is a great target for the Jets this go around, as he’s a (semi) local kid and fits their long term needs perfectly.  If the Jets continue to take the baby steps they could really have a shot at building a good, deep and versatile core that will continue to push the Jets and their faithful fans to their ultimate goals.


2013 – Andre Burakowsky (other options: Hunter Shinkaruk, Max Domi)
2014 – Kaspari Kapenen (other options: Jared McCann, Marcel Godbout)
2015 – Rasmus Andersson (other options: Erik Cernak, Ryan Gropp)

 A surprise team at the end of the non-playoff team draft list this year, Columbus has that feel about them that they should need to take a step back before being able to take another one forward…but with that being said, they are quickly becoming the most surprising organization in the league and under the leadership of Jarmo Kekkalainen and John Davidson this team could be headed for bigger things than we can predict.  Especially if Sergei Bobrovsky continues to develop the way he has. Either way, the amount of talented players that could really add to any organization that will still be available at this draft position over the next few years is impressive.  Teams will be able to build depth at whatever capacity they deem most important without having to sacrifice their shot at the playoffs and selling the farm at the trade deadline.  It could be a nice consolation for a heartbroken team.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

So, You Didn't Get Drafted

While it's an amazing time of year, and in the lives of 211 of hockey's best young players, it is also a day of crushing disappointment for countless others. The NHL entry draft represents an opportunity for teams to improve their depth, change their fortunes and map out their future. Yet the same cannot be said for the young players involved or just on the outside. Sure, it certainly helps to get drafted but other than a great honor and some free team swag, the benefit and advantage that those players seem to have vanishes pretty quickly.

The fact of the matter is this, the sport of hockey is one of if not the most dynamic and demanding sport that human beings play. Yes, I'm somewhat biased here but what other sport requires you to learn every single necessary skill? Hockey possesses no natural skills, every skill is learned or acquired through countless hours of practice, repetition, instruction and hard work. I say this because hard work is the key.

Telling a player they are good is the worst possible thing you could do for their development. Hard work is referred to in the way that it is because it is not for everybody, it is rarely enjoyable and only a select few can push the boundaries of its very definition.

A good player does possess skills that are inherent to them through their upbringing. Very few of those skills vary that much from one hard working player to another. That is where we find special players. The elite. These players don't only train, they work. They don't only study, they absorb. They are always thirsty for more and aren't willing to take no for an answer.

The NHL draft always has players like this, players who have achieved a dream. They are satisfied. Satisfaction is development's natural enemy and very few of draft picks are actually at a level that warrants satisfaction.

I do not mean to take away from accomplishment or celebration, as I look at getting drafted as one of life's ultimate accomplishments and something that I failed to ever achieve.

The other side of satisfaction is acceptance. Acceptance in development is the same as giving up. There is a number of players drafted this weekend who have already become satisfied and a number of players who did not get drafted who are teetering towards acceptance. Yet the draft, as a benchmark, is meaningless. The players are all still in the same boat and share similar levels of opportunity.

The best players never stop working hard, they are never satisfied and they never accept defeat. Everything is a test, a challenge, a mission.

Drafted or not, the players involved in this weekend's process are going to have endless opportunities to prove their worth. And while the draft doesn't mean that much in the grand scheme of things, they are professionally eligible players as of now. That has meaning. If you want to be a pro, act like a pro, eat like a pro, work like a pro.

Motivation is one of the most curious elements of human life. It comes and it goes. Sometimes it is easy to acquire, sometimes it completely abandons us. Inspiration breeds consistent motivation. If you haven't achieved your goals or dreams, don't look for motivation to try again, seek inspiration to chase something you'll never catch. Perfection.

Drafted players: enjoy your accomplishments. Undrafted players: today is just a day off work for your competition. 

Frown at those who tell you you are good. Follow the people who ask you for more and notice your work ethic.

We will see you in the NHL one day, drafted or not. Your time is only just beginning.  Don't let anything stop you.  And when I say work hard, I mean watch how hard everyone else is working, and work harder. The feeling you have today, on either side of the equation, is the reason why it is all worth it.

Drafting for a 31st Team

During the draft I thought it would be fun to see how I would do if I were the GM for a fictional 31st team. And of course, those of you who know me and my giant ego, I just assume this team would have beat LA for the cup giving me the last pick in each round.

I wanted to live tweet this but was so busy trying to keep up with the pace and different media that I just jotted down names and promised myself I would write the blog on the plane. Instead I've at least started it while watching the Detroit Tigers and Pittsburgh Pirates have at it at the gorgeous PNC park and am now posting it as I arrive back home.

Round 1
Pick 31 - Oscar Dansk (Actrual draft position - 31 - Columbus) - I chose Dansk because I felt he was the best goalie in the draft and at this pick it is tough to pass over someone you consider to be the best player at their position. Even as a "cup winning" team, it's nice to have the best goaltender from a year in my system moving forward.

Round 2
Pick 62 - Adam Pelech (Actual draft poistion - 65 - NY Islanders) - I considered taking him or Dalton Thrower at the end of the first round but couldn't pass on Dansk.  When Thrower went and Pelech was still around, it was an easy pick. He's big, plays a versatile style, can be mean and is the kind of player a team could mould into whatever they need long term.

Round 3
Pick 92 - Andreas Athanasiou (Actual draft position - 110 - Detroit) - I feel good drafting someone that the Red Wings ended up taking, makes me feel like I somewhat know my stuff. But then again, his inconsistency throughout the year did give me pause. However, his skill level and ability to play that game at high speeds is something that with some minor development and addition of strength/power makes him a great addition right here. A little risk, but good chance of reward.

Round 4
Pick 122 - Valeri Vasiliev  (Actual draft position - 201 - Philadelphia) - Hard hitting physical defender with good technical ability, his bruising style will have opponents scared for their lives in a few years. He is hard to play against and has a warrior's mentality. I was hoping to hold off longer but with thoughts about taking him the 3rd, he's a must have for me, so I'm nabbing him now.

Round 5
Pick 152 - Gianluca Curcuruto (Actual draft position - 182 - Columbus) - I loved this guy the first few times I saw him. He has a good head for the game and shows good technical skill with some promising offensive potential. I'm surprised he's still around and while I'm happy with my drafted D to this point, I'm intrigued with what I can turn this guy into. I have a good feeling he's going to get a lot better and he's worth a 5th in my mind right now.

Round 6
Pick 182 - Peter Quenneville (Actual draft position - undrafted) - More than shocked that a kid who won his league MVP, committed to a good University program and who is as mature as this kid is still available at this point.  Quenneville has loads of development left and with his shot and and outside scoring presence he is worth the wait.  I'd look to improve his skating and defensive game but overall he's a project that has a lot of potential to turn out to be a massive steal here.

Round 7
Pick 212 - Anton Slepyshev (Actual draft position - undrafted) - I always think the cup champ should just give this pick away to the host team. It's a nice champion-like gesture. However, might get me fake fired from my fake team so I had to make a fake pick. Apart from Quenneville I was most shocked that Slepyshev and Max Iafrate were not selected.  Having done well with defenders so far in the draft and Ebert going right before, Slepyshev makes sense.  He was hot and cold all year but projects as a good depth forward that is worth the risk of a 7th round selection.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Canadian Ivan Hlinka Selection Camp Roster

Hockey Canada has released their list of their top candidates for this summer's U18 Ivan Hlinka team.  The full list can be viewed here:

Last week Hockey Canada started the process by holding their Goaltending Development Camp.  This is an event that I attend yearly and usually have mixed feelings about the decisions that come out of it but this year, I have to say the 4 goaltender's who have emerged from camp were the correct decisions.  The 1995 age group has perhaps one of the best goaltending crops in recent years for Canada.  Any combination of the 4 will be one tough duo to compete with but I would peg Jarry and Fucale as the favorites at this point with Martin and then Comrie very tight behind them.  All 4 goaltenders have tremendous potential but are also capable of stealing games already at elite levels.  Goaltending will certainly be a major strength for Canada.

Last year's squad boasted one of the deepest and most talented Canadian defense squadrons perhaps ever. This year's crop will not be far off as Canada continues to develop high end, dynamic defenders with spectacular skill levels.  The list will most likely be lead by U18 World Champ vets Josh Morrissey and Darnell Nurse as well as the only 1996 born player on the roster, Aaron Ekblad.  From there you have 9 players competing for 4 spots and the competition should be superb.  I would give my edge to Heatherington, Bowey and Murphy at this point but can't count any of the other defenders out.  Of particular interest are Kayle Doetzel of the Red Deer Rebels who is a very intelligent and versatile defender, Samuel Morin who has great size, something this group might need some more of, and Jordan Subban, the younger brother of Montreal Canadien's defender P.K..

Up front it could be the deepest entry Canada has had in this event in years.  The group will no doubt be lead by Nathan MacKinnon, who is a potential 1st overall candidate for 2013.  Other players with near lock status would be Curtis Lazar, Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Ryan Kujawinski and Sam Reinhart, Nick Ritchie, who are not eligible for the NHL draft until 2014 because of their late 1995 birth dates.  Reinhart, along with defender Ekblad are early favorites to be in the 1st overall debate for 2014.  This would leave 6 spots for the remaining 17 forwards invited.  There is a very good chance that MacKinnon's Halifax teammate, Jonathan Drouin will find himself in one of those spots.  Other interesting players for me at this point would be Nick Baptiste, Bo Horvat, Morgan Klimchuk, Matt Needham, Nic Petan and Jason Dickson.  This list is likely going to change significantly as camp starts up on August 3rd in Toronto, mostly due to the fact that the team will likely need to find some players willing to change their role slightly from that of which they play in their club teams. 

Hockey Canada has done a tremendous job identifying the talent in the deep 1995 age group and has assembled an excellent group of young players that should be considered a favorite in what could prove to be one of the most exciting and competitive international U18 age groups in recent memory.  And while there are always some omissions (in my mind Lethbridge Hurricane forward Jay Merkley is the one that sticks out most), the fact is, it is one of the deepest years for Canadian talent, making for some very difficult decisions for the Hockey Canada staff.  This list of invitees would indicate they are up for the challenge and looking primed for another championship quality team heading to Breclav, Czech Republic and Piestany, Slovakia in mid August.  No matter who makes this team, it is going to be a very exciting group to watch.