Numbers Game: Top-5 Pending UFA Goalies

By: Nick Lanciani

12:01 PM ET on July 1st (precisely) marks the start of the NHL’s free agency period, so of course, you’ve found yourself scavenging the Internet for the freshest hot takes and the best indications of where players will end up. Likewise, you probably just want to know who’s available out there (and I’m not talking about Tinder).

Well fear not, because I’m here to set things straight with a short series of posts about the Top-5 free agents in every category you can think of (UFA forwards, UFA defensemen, UFA goalies, RFA forwards, RFA defensemen and RFA goalies) in this latest edition of Numbers Game posts. Also, I have bad news, if you came here expecting to find a starting goaltender, you won’t find one.

Down the Frozen River- Smaller Circular Logo1. G Chad Johnson (22-16-0-4, 2.36 GAA, .920 SV% with the Buffalo Sabres)- $1.300 million cap hit, 29 years old

Chad Johnson is the closest thing to a starting goaltender, compared to the majority of the rest of the pending UFA goalies. Goalies are weird. They have no timetable for development, they’re unpredictable and most everyone seems to make whatever conjecture imaginable about whether or not a goalie is good or not, worthy of starting or a lifetime backup (or #AHLLifer, but that might just be a running joke here).

Johnson is a solid backup (dare my circa 2010 self say it). In 45 games played for Buffalo this season, he racked up 22 wins, a 2.36 GAA and a .920 SV%. While that might not look elite compared to other goaltenders around the NHL, Johnson has been an entirely different goaltender since his 2.10 GAA and .925 SV% in 27 games with the Boston Bruins in 2013-2014. Granted, his goal against average crept past the 3.00 mark in 2014-2015 with his 19 game stint with the New York Islanders, with the right team, Johnson can solidify your crease.

If you even have a better blue line than most teams around the NHL, perhaps Johnson could be the next Martin Jones to emerge as a goalie that never really had a chance to fully take control of a number one starting job, without any competition, and run with it.

Look, at $1.300 million this season, Johnson is not much of a risk to take in the coming years if you sign him to a multiyear contract. The hope is that he continues his upswing as long as you balance his time and/or have a good enough team in front of him. Johnson is one of those underrated, feel good stories and who wouldn’t want to see him succeed?

2. G Jhonas Enroth (7-5-0-1, 2.17 GAA, .922 SV% with the Los Angeles Kings)- $1.250 million cap hit, 27 years old

Jhonas Enroth is not a starting goalie. Now that that’s out of the way, here’s why. He had his best career save percentage with the Los Angeles Kings this season at a .922 in 16 appearances and he even had his best goal against average (2.17) in 10 games played or more of his career.

Compared to the time Enroth split time with the Buffalo Sabres and the Dallas Stars in 2014-2015 when he had a 18-26-0-2 record in 50 games played with a .904 SV% and 3.07 GAA, he’s a changed goaltender when he has 1) a defense in front of him and 2) a backup role that limits him to around 20 games a season. The 2014-2015 season was his worst campaign since his first career NHL start in the 2009-2010 season, when he debuted his NHL career with a .892 SV% and a 4.12 GAA.

The moral here is that Enroth is better than most people give him credit for, however, many still question his stature in a 6′ by 4′ net. And with smaller pads coming to the league, his play is bound to be affected by that. But alas, the old days of 3.00 GAA and .800 SV%’s being tremendous might finally return if you like offense. We’ve come to know low 2.00 and high 1.00 GAA’s as standard, when in actuality, pretty much any goalie under a 3.00 is better than you would think.

Again, it all boils down to the role of the goalie and how much usage they get. Another season like this season for Enroth would be respectable if he continues to be a top-notch backup that plays in anywhere from 20 to 25 games a year.

3. G James Reimer (17-14-0-7, 2.31 GAA, .922 SV% with the Toronto Maple Leafs/San Jose Sharks)- $2.300 million cap hit, 27 years old

Don’t laugh, but James Reimer might finally be starting to turn the corner and become a good goaltender. In 40 games played with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the San Jose Sharks this year, he had a 17-14-0-7 record, 2.31 GAA and a .922 SV%. His GAA and SV% this year were both career bests in the most number of games he’s played in a single season.

Granted, his record could still use some room for improvement in the “wins” column, Reimer is ready to make a run at being a number one goalie on the right team. If Calgary tightens their defense and feels like making newly acquired goaltender, Brian Elliott, compete for his number one spot, similar to how he battled Jake Allen in St. Louis, then Reimer is their man.

Then again, they probably should stick with what they’ve got. But my point remains, James Reimer can be good after all. I’ve said it before, goalies are weird. In six NHL seasons, Reimer has had a goal against average of 3.10 or more three times, all with the lackluster Maple Leafs. Of note, his 2.31 GAA performance beat his 2.46 GAA in 2012-2013 when he played in 33 of the 48 game lockout shortened season.

Take it or leave it, Reimer is a solid choice for your net if you have the right guys in front of him. He might not be a starter (yet), but his skills can still be honed in before it’s too late. At only 27 years old, he likely has at least 10 more years of playing in front of him.

4. G Anton Khudobin (3-3-0-0, 2.69 GAA, .909 SV% with the Anaheim Ducks)- $2.250 million cap hit, 29 years old

Chalk Anton Khudobin up as another solid backup goaltender— if you have the right defense for him. He might not be stealing wins in the “wins” column, but Khudobin has shown flashes of quality stats in both goals against average and save percentage.

Last season, Khudobin made only nine appearances before the Anaheim Ducks settled on Frederik Andersen and John Gibson as their goaltending tandem. Of course, Andersen was traded to Toronto earlier this month and Gibson is now considered their number one guy, so why would they risk the chance of losing out on a decent backup when you consider their other option (they have none).

Khudobin’s 2013-2014 season campaign with the Carolina Hurricanes resulted in 36 games played with a .926 SV% and a 2.30 GAA. Since then he has not seen the same action or numbers, but there’s a good chance that with the right mix of players, Khudobin could bail a team out in a game or two and play as a backup in 20 to 25 games.

By now I’m sure you’ve recognized my trend. Backup goalies should only play 20 to 25 games, depending on who they are. If they prove more value to you, based on their performance, up their appearances to 30. But if you’re considering splitting time between your goalies, get two starters. Don’t waste your time mismanaging a position you can’t fully manage in net.

5. G Jonas Gustavsson (11-9-0-1, 2.72 GAA, .908 SV% with the Boston Bruins)- $700,000 cap hit, 31 years old

Before you start breaking out the jokes about Jonas Gustavsson, consider this; Gustavsson only has one losing season as a backup goaltender in seven seasons in the NHL since 2009-2010 with Toronto and stops with the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins. His career save percentage has hovered right around .900 and he’s only had a season that ended with a GAA of more than 3.00 once (a 3.28 in 2009-2010).

When there’s not much else to choose from, sometimes it’s best to take a stab at someone who can hold you over for a year or two as a quality backup. He should play nowhere near 40 games, nor should he only play seven, as he’s done twice in his career, both with the Red Wings (once in the shortened 2012-2013 season and again in 2014-2015). Actually, you know what? His numbers don’t really show how much you should use him one way or another.

I’ll admit, I was scratching for a fifth goaltender to include in my top-5 pending UFA goalies (no offense to Gustavsson). The fact of the matter is that the talent pool in the crease is extremely thin this offseason, so it’s best to just get what you’re money can buy to hold you over without overpaying and/or develop your guys in the system.

Honorable Mentions

G Ben Scrivens (5-8-0-0, 3.07 GAA, .906 SV% with the Montreal Canadiens)- $2.300 million cap hit, 29 years old

Ben Scrivens has never had a GAA less than 2.55— and that was when he split the 2013-2014 season with Los Angeles and the Edmonton Oilers. So that pretty much explains everything, given that he’s also played for Toronto and most recently Montreal in his career that spans all the way back to the 2011-2012 season.

He’s certainly not a starter and he’s definitely not worth $2.300 million as a back up, but if there’s no one else left, he’s going to be paid whatever amount of money to stand in the net for some team (like what Montreal did before they had Mike Condon take the brunt of the work and handle it as well he could with what little the Canadiens had going for them while Carey Price was hurt).

G Karri Ramo (17-18-0-1, 2.63 GAA, .909 SV% with the Calgary Flames)- $3.800 million cap hit, 29 years old

It appears the Calgary Flames are ready to throw in the towel on trying to develop the once considered top prospect of the Tampa Bay Lightning. In six NHL seasons, broken up by a stint in the KHL, Ramo has never had a season with a GAA better than 2.60 or a SV% better than .912.

It’s not the save percentage that bothers me, but rather, it’s that goals against average that’s a little concerning for any team that chooses to sign a goalie that made 37 appearances this season and surmounted a 2.63 GAA and a .909 SV%. Perhaps there’s one more shot left for Ramo, but at whatever price is under a million dollars and for a backup role. Again, if you had to, he’s someone to take in free agency over whatever might be left for a year.

G Anders Lindback (5-7-0-1, 3.11 GAA, .894 SV% Arizona Coyotes- $875,000 cap hit, 27 years old

In 2011-2012, Anders Lindback proved he could be a decent backup with a 16 game performance that resulted in a career best 2.42 GAA and a .912 SV% that season, despite a 5-8-0 record.

When he was with the Nashville Predators, he had blue liners in front of him to prevent chances and Pekka Rinne to play more than the majority of the games of the season. Lindback’s bounced all around the league and might have settled in with the Arizona Coyotes if it weren’t for Louis Domingue as an up and comer for the Coyotes. For a low-risk, high reward opportunity, why not take a 27 year old backup goaltender for a year or two and see if he can improve with a better team in front of him?

Numbers Game: Top-5 Pending UFA Defensemen

By: Nick Lanciani

12:01 PM ET on July 1st (precisely) marks the start of the NHL’s free agency period, so of course, you’ve found yourself scavenging the Internet for the freshest hot takes and the best indications of where players will end up. Likewise, you probably just want to know who’s available out there (and I’m not talking about Tinder).

Well fear not, because I’m here to set things straight with a short series of posts about the Top-5 free agents in every category you can think of (UFA forwards, UFA defensemen, UFA goalies, RFA forwards, RFA defensemen and RFA goalies) in this latest edition of Numbers Game posts. So let’s continue our journey with the lackluster UFA defensemen market this summer.

Down the Frozen River- Smaller Circular Logo

1. D Jason Demers (7-16-23 totals with the Dallas Stars)- $3.400 million cap hit, 27 years old

Look, none of these defensemen are spectacular, but they’re all about to be paid ridiculous sums of money because of that good ol’ supply and demand factor. A lot of teams need to fix their blue line, not a lot of defensemen can do that for them. Your best bet is to trade for a defensemen if you can’t at least patch some wounds (and hope they turn out better than expected) with these guys.

To start, let’s take a look at Jason Demers who is the best of this group, in terms of age, experience and a chance to supply you a little more depth and stability. His season was cut short due to injury, but he managed to put up a respectable 23 points on the season in 62 games played, which almost matched his 25 point season in 2014-2015 in 81 games played with Dallas and the San Jose Sharks.

His career year was in 2013-2014 when he notched 5-29-34 totals in 75 games played for the Sharks, but judging from how he was tracking this season, despite the injury, he might have been able to pace, if not better, his career best totals.

A healthy Demers at only 27 years old is a risk worth taking if you are in desperate need of a guy or you cannot find a trading partner. His value will be driven up immensely compared to some of the other older UFA defensemen. Likewise, he’s better at the defensive aspect of the game than Kris Russell, so he’s sure to be a hot commodity if teams are smart.

2. D Brian Campbell (6-25-31 totals with the Florida Panthers)- $7.143 million cap hit, 36 years old

Brian Campbell was an almost 40 point scorer in 2013-2014 and he’s certainly nothing like his former self in 2007-2008 when he had 8-54-62 totals in 83 games for the Buffalo Sabres and the San Jose Sharks.

Although age doesn’t appear to be an issue for his competitiveness.

With proper balance on a lineup with some already mature defensemen, like the Chicago Blackhawks, where he has a distinct interest in returning, Campbell could have his minutes easily distributed and become a clutch asset for an organization in the waning years of his career. Because of that, a short term contract only seems logical.

In 82 games this season, Campbell had 6-25-31 totals with the Florida Panthers. That’s only five points shy of Aaron Ekblad’s sophomore season 36 points in 78 games, but one defenseman is sure to shine and the other will soon decline. Though it can’t hurt to take on Campbell while he’s still capable of producing.

3. D Luke Schenn (4-12-16 totals with the Philadelphia Flyers/Los Angeles Kings)- $3.600 million, 26 years old

Chalk Luke Schenn up as one of the best “why not, maybe he still has something to prove” potential UFA defensemen. Schenn’s been in the league since the 2008-2009 season and has played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Philadelphia Flyers and the Los Angeles Kings.

Although he was kind of an afterthought in the late season acquisition by the Kings in the Vincent Lecavalier trade, we’re talking mostly depth guys that can solidify your top-6 defensive scope on the blue line this offseason.

Schenn usually ends up with somewhere around 20 points a year, ranging from a career low 3-8-11 totals in 47 games played during the 2012-2013 lockout shortened season to a career high 22 points in 2010-2011 (82 games played) and 2011-2012 (79 games played). His numbers this season could have been around 20 points or more, had he not played in only 72 games. Maybe there’s still hope if you find him the right pair.

Whatever you do, just don’t over pay or let him over stay. Give Schenn another chance to prove his worth and maybe things will work out. If not, he’ll be trade bait once again around the trade deadline, when teams are searching for just about any depth defenseman.

4. D Patrick Wiercioch (0-5-5 totals with the Ottawa Senators)- $2.000 million cap hit, 25 years old

Highly underrated and touted as a “should have been traded at the deadline while you still could’ve gotten an asset in return,” Patrick Wiercioch is a defenseman that might be able to help you now, but still has plenty of room to grow, develop and be groomed properly.

If you’re the Ottawa Senators you have got to be kicking yourselves for not trying. If you’ve seen the asset management around the league lately when it comes to trades, who knows, maybe the Senators would have been able to walk away with two or three decent draft picks and maybe even a roster player had they moved Wiercioch in March. I mean, I’m sure Don Sweeney would’ve taken that deal, based on how the Boston Bruins acquired John-Michael-Liles.

But enough about other guys, more on Wiercioch’s playing ability.

If there’s one positive for sure to signing Wiercioch in free agency it’s that he’s 25 years old. Defensemen normally start to reach their prime around 27 years of age and until then are very malleable in the right circumstances. The question is how much are teams willing to pay and how much is he going to drive the price up for his services because the ball is in his court— or should I say the puck is in his zone?

His services were dismal this season though, notching five assists in 52 games played. Granted, Ottawa juggled him in and out of the lineup more times than he could have been able to get any rhythm going. In 53 games in 2013-2014, Wiercioch had 4-19-23 totals as a young 23-year-old hungry for more.

5. D Kris Russell (4-15-19 totals with the Calgary Flames/Dallas Stars)- $2.600 million cap hit, 28 years old

In this year’s “bound to be overpaid, but since there’s no one else available, he’ll easily get overpaid and sign a long contract, reminiscent of Brooks Orpik’s deal with the Washington Capitals” category, we have Kris Russell.

In 62 games played he had 4-15-19 totals among his time with the Calgary Flames and the Dallas Stars this season. The trade deadline pickup by Stars GM Jim Nill didn’t pan out as well as he had been performing in Calgary, though, when Russell went from a top-4 to a top-6 defenseman (if that in Dallas).

Yes, his scoring was up in 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 from 29 points to 34 points, however, the secondary assist is still a thing that exists and the Flames as a whole have dramatically improved their offense with Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and company.

Buyer beware, Russell might be a top-5 pending UFA defenseman, but he’s really one of the worse options and has traveled around the league a bit from his rookie year with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2007-2008. He’s since made visits with the St. Louis Blues, Flames and Stars as the 28 year old has yet to play a full 82 game season and faces a shaky performance.

Honorable Mentions

D Eric Gryba (1-5-6 totals with the Edmonton Oilers)- $1.250 million cap hit, 27 years old

In 53 games played with the dismal Edmonton Oilers, Eric Gryba put up 1-5-6 totals, which is not good, but not bad either. If anything, it shows you that Gryba is an average guy, who, when not injured or out of the lineup as a healthy scratch, can be a dependable top-6 defenseman when you need a quick fix.

He’s no end all solution to any problem, by any means. He’s just a guy that in the right environment, could really take his career best 0-12-12 totals in 2014-2015 and at least match it, if not improve it and/or double it. A lot of teams see no more second chances in Gryba, but clearly Peter Chiarelli wanted him for something in Edmonton when he acquired him. Maybe now Gryba can find a better roster at his discretion.

D John-Michael Liles (6-15-21 totals with the Carolina Hurricanes/Boston Bruins)- $3.875 million cap hit, 35 years old

When you’re in a jam like Sweeney was, you go out and get a veteran defenseman to give you a better chance than a bunch of pylons. Okay, jokes aside about the Bruins defense, John-Michael Liles actually had a lot to contribute, before missing the last game of the regular season due to injury.

Liles floats around 20 points a season as one of those sturdy top-6, bottom pair, defensemen, that can play top-4 minutes when you need someone to step up. In 2010-2011 with the Colorado Avalanche, Liles had 6-40-46 totals in 76 games played. Likewise, his career best 14-35-49 totals in 82 games came back on a very different looking Avalanche roster of the 2005-2006 season. Liles was also a lot fresher then and highly underrated. But nowadays, he’s that quality veteran defensive voice on your roster that absolutely still has a place in this league for a few more years.

D Zach Trotman (2-5-7 totals with the Boston Bruins)- $625,000 cap hit, 25 years old

If you’re willing to take a risk on any pending-UFA defensemen and you don’t get one of the highly coveted players already mentioned, why not take a risk on young Zach Trotman? It’s perplexing when one analyzes Boston’s depth chart and their use of Trotman as to why they are not giving him at least one more year, but maybe he’s the next Matt Hunwick.

Disregarded as a potential top-4 defenseman, Hunwick and Trotman have a lot in common. They weren’t utilized properly. Hunwick’s now found his stride, albeit older and as a top-6/depth defenseman with the Maple Leafs, while Trotman has the chance to double his career totals, if only someone would let him play more than the 38 games he played this season. Perhaps the last pick of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft could be more valued than the top six picks of that draft year? Only time will tell, but one thing remains for sure, all six of those guys got traded.

#StamkosWatch Comes to an End

By: Nick Lanciani

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Much to the dismay of free agency fanatics, highly coveted, now former pending UFA, C Steven Stamkos resigned with the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday. The deal comes as an 8 year, $68 million contract ($8.500 million AAV cap hit) and runs through the 2023-2024 season.

Stamkos is 26 years old and would have become the league’s biggest commodity this summer, sure to attract $10 million a year offers, had he become a free agent on Friday.

The 1st overall product of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Stamkos has played in 569 career NHL games as a member of the Lightning. He has 312 goals and 250 assists for 562 career points and is nearly a point a game player over his entire career. He has served as Tampa’s captain since March 6, 2014.

The superstar in Tampa scored 36 goals this season in 77 games before being forced out of the lineup with a blood clot. Stamkos is a two-time winner of the Maurice “The Rocket” Richard Trophy, having scored a career high 60 goals in 2011-2012 and tying Pittsburgh Penguins center, Sidney Crosby, for the most in the league with 51 goals in 2009-2010.

Several teams had taken a publicly known interest in trying to lure Stamkos to their organization if he had reached free agency on July 1st, including the Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres, Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins.

 

Taylor or Tyler or Neither

By: Nick Lanciani

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To kick off Wednesday afternoon’s unbelievable trades, Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli made history. The wrong kind of history. Chiarelli already notoriously traded Tyler Seguin (the 2nd overall pick of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft) from the Boston Bruins to the Dallas Stars in a seven player deal in the 2013 offseason, but now he’s traded the 1st overall pick in 2010— Taylor Hall.

Yes, left winger, Taylor Hall got traded on Wednesday from the Oilers to early candidate for the 2017 General Manager of the Year Award, Ray Shero’s New Jersey Devils— the other presumptive finalist is David Poile in Nashville, for landing P.K. Subban on the same afternoon— in exchange for defenseman, Adam Larsson.

Chiarelli is the first general manager in any of the four major professional sports in North America to trade the first two picks in a draft (Hall and Seguin, 2010). Of note, he also acquired former 6th overall pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning that same year, Brett Connolly in his waning days as general manager of the Boston Bruins, in March 2014.

To recap, the first six players from the 2010 NHL Entry Draft have all been traded.

  1. Taylor Hall (drafted by EDM, traded to NJ)
  2. Tyler Seguin (drafted by BOS, traded to DAL)
  3. Erik Gudbranson (drafted by FLA, traded to VAN)
  4. Ryan Johansen (drafted by CBJ, traded to NSH)
  5. Nino Niederreiter (drafted by NYI, traded to MIN)
  6. Brett Connolly (drafted by TB, traded to BOS)

New Jersey finds themselves with a steal of a trade, having surrendered their 4th overall pick from the 2011 NHL Entry Draft in Adam Larsson to the struggling, but in bad need of a top-4 defenseman, Edmonton Oilers.

New Jersey Devils LogoOf course, there’s the fact that Larsson had been sent to the Albany Devils (AHL) a couple of seasons ago for a conditioning stint, but that should be no distraction as to the lack of exponential growth that was expected from the 4th overall pick in 2011 that’s now expected to likely play top-2 minutes in Edmonton with a depleted blue line, unless the Oilers have more tricks up their sleeves.

Hall is a 24-year-old left winger who’s $6.000 million AAV contract runs out at the end of the 2019-2020 season. In his six years with the Oilers he had 132-196-328 totals in 381 career NHL games. Hall led Edmonton in scoring in three of the last four seasons. He had 26 goals, 39 assists and 65 points in 82 games this season.

Larsson is a 23-year-old defenseman who has played in 274 regular season games with the Devils. His $4.167 million AAV contract expires after the 2020-2021 season and he has recorded 69 points in his career (9 goals, 60 assists). Larsson’s made five appearances in the postseason and scored one goal in that span.

It took Peter Chiarelli nine days to find a job after the Bruins fired him on April 15, 2015. It took him one star player involving trade to make Oilers fans feel just as Bruins fans did on July 4th, 2013 (when Boston traded Seguin under Chiarelli’s reigns).

Patrick Roy Part Deux

By: Nick Lanciani

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The Montreal Canadiens made a blockbuster trade on Wednesday that might now result in the Colorado Avalanche winning the Cup with Patrick Roy, oh excuse me, I read that wrong. The Canadiens made a trade on Wednesday that might result in the Nashville Predators winning the Cup in 2017 with P.K. Subban.

About fifteen minutes after Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli traded the 1st overall pick of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, LW Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for D Adam Larsson in one of the most lopsided one-for-one trades in the NHL, the Montreal Canadiens decided to one up their Canadian comrades.

After Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin remained adamant about not having an interest in trading P.K. Subban, he traded P.K. Subban.

What else is there that needs to be said?

UnknownSubban is signed with a $9.000 million cap hit through the 2021-2022 season, while Shea Weber heads from Nashville to Montreal with a $7.857 million contract that runs out after the 2025-2026 season when he’ll be 40 years old.

Again, that’s Subban— in the early days of his prime— heading to Nashville for Weber— who might be the next Andrei Markov— in return. Granted, both of these guys have 100 MPH slap shots.

This entire ordeal has the smell of Patrick Roy’s goaltending equipment still fresh from the mid-90s all over it, since apparently Subban had his quarrels with Montreal’s head coach, Michel Therrien, reminiscent of the days of Roy and Mario Tremblay.

Wikipedia didn’t take too kindly to the trade.

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Subban is a 27-year-old defenseman that is a product of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft (43rd overall). He had 278 career points (63 goals, 215 assists) with Montreal in 434 career regular season games since making his NHL debut in 2009. In 55 career playoff games, Subban had 11-27-38 totals and won the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman in 2013 with the Habs.

Weber is a 30-year-old defenseman that was selected 49th overall by the Predators in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft and served as Nashville’s captain from 2010 to 2016. In 763 career games, he had 166-277-443 totals. Weber has been a finalist for the Norris Trophy on three occasions in his career.

Finally…

…I rest my case.

Numbers Game: Top-5 Pending UFA Forwards

By: Nick Lanciani

12:01 PM ET on July 1st (precisely) marks the start of the NHL’s free agency period, so of course, you’ve found yourself scavenging the Internet for the freshest hot takes and the best indications of where players (ahem, Steven Stamkos) will end up. Likewise, you probably just want to know who’s available out there (and I’m not talking about Tinder).

Well fear not, because I’m here to set things straight with a short series of posts about the Top-5 free agents in every category you can think of (UFA forwards, UFA defensemen, UFA goalies, RFA forwards, RFA defensemen and RFA goalies) in this latest edition of Numbers Game posts.

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1. C Steven Stamkos (36-28-64 totals with the Tampa Bay Lightning)– $7.500 million cap hit, 25 years old

Steven Stamkos is a franchise player. Period. He could stay in Tampa after all and crush every free agent fanatic’s dream of a player that hasn’t been seen since the 2004-2005 season lockout, or he could leave. While there are some teams that I could rule out— Las Vegas being one of them, since they don’t begin play until the 2017-2018 season— it’s anybody’s guess as to where Stamkos might end up.

His 312 goals in 569 career NHL games speak for himself. He’s a two-time 50 goal scorer, having amassed 60 in the 2011-2012 season, and he’s more than capable of increasing your team’s scoring ability all around with the right chemistry. Prior to having his season cut short due to a blood clot, Stamkos had 36-28-64 totals in 77 games.

Stamkos is destined to make anywhere from the same salary as this season up to $10 million AAV. Everybody wants him, if they’ve got the cap room or can make cap space. We might even see the NHL’s first sign-and-trade if a team makes the Lightning an offer they can refuse with Stamkos’s camp in agreement.

Steven Stamkos resigned with Tampa on June 29th- 8 years, $8.500 million AAV.

2. RW/LW Loui Eriksson (30-33-63 totals with the Boston Bruins)- $4.250 million cap hit, 30 years old

The big piece of the Tyler Seguin deal that the Boston Bruins acquired might very well be on the move at his own discretion, since Boston couldn’t get a deal done to Eriksson’s satisfaction, leaving the Bruins with Joe Morrow as the sole survivor of the failed Seguin maneuver.

But like Stamkos, there’s nothing that says the Bruins are out of the picture on this one, unless they are absolutely against giving Eriksson a much deserved raise for his 63 point season.

His 30-33-63 totals tied his 2008-2009 season performance with the Dallas Stars when he had 36 goals and 27 assists. The following three seasons, Eriksson went on to score 71 points or more. If history is any indicator, Eriksson has found his stride in the Eastern Conference and with the right chemistry, will return to his familiar form while hopefully avoiding the injuries that plagued his time in Boston.

Despite his age compared to some of the other top UFAs, there are no downsides to Loui Eriksson— unless you’re a team with plenty of 30 or older players already under contract and you’re trying to get younger.

3. LW Milan Lucic (20-35-55 totals with the Los Angeles Kings)- $6.000 million cap hit, 27 years old

The Edmonton Oilers might be the best situation and most attractive destination for Milan Lucic to return to Canada, play with Connor McDavid and reunite with former Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli at the reigns of the Oilers, but if you can get a chance to offer him a deal, you might as well and see if he listens.

Lucic scored 30 goals in the 2010-2011 regular season en route to winning the Stanley Cup with Chiarelli in Boston and had 11 more points this season (55) with the Kings than he did in 2014-2015 with the Bruins (44).

While he’s sure to receive numerous offers of outrageous sums of money, one thing is for sure. The team that lands him will know exactly what they’re getting from him. A gifted power forward with timely goals when you need them, Lucic has been known to have a temper. But any team can utilize his temper in the right fashion if they have the right roster components to balance the load and control each game.

Someone like Leon Draisaitl suddenly becomes more of an opportunity for Lucic to mentor in Edmonton. Then again, a return to Boston would be welcomed by many TD Garden faithful too.

4. RW Kyle Okposo (22-42-64 totals with the New York Islanders)- $2.800 million cap hit, 27 years old

Players like Kyle Okposo are in high demand in this league and it is crazy to see the New York Islanders letting him go in such a fashion (then again, who isn’t in the Stamkos sweepstakes, if that’s their motivation). Okposo has scored 51 points or more in the last three seasons and is only entering the prime of his career. Where he plateaus is yet to be seen, but he’s got a chance to shine if, say he lands on a roster with Stamkos (or the like).

Teams should be all in on trying to land Okposo if they are in dire need of the elusive right winger as they are in trying to sign Stamkos, but with more realistic expectations.

With the exception of the shortened 2012-2013 season, he’s only failed to record 39 points or more once in 2010-2011 when he was limited to 38 games played due to injuries. The nearly 70 point scorer is highly underrated, but is about to be put into the spotlight due to the free agency affect— what with a large contract certainly heading his way.

There’s no telling what his 51 point season in 2014-2015 would have been if he got to play more than 60 games, in comparison to his 69 points in 71 games in 2013-2014 and 22-42-64 totals in 79 games this season.

5. C Eric Staal (13-26-39 totals with the Carolina Hurricanes/New York Rangers)- $8.250 million cap hit, 31 years old

This summer could be the summer of reunions if Lucic goes back to Boston and 2006 Stanley Cup champion, Eric Staal, heads back to Carolina (it’s like he never left!), but as a general manager, didn’t you mean to get rid of the guy in the first place? Nothing against Staal here, but it’s just a thought about what it means to move on, move forward and find better success with— well, let’s face it— a better team, since the Hurricanes aren’t making waves just yet (though Teuvo Teravainen helps).

Carolina was great to the former 100 point scorer in 2005-2006 and 70+ point scorer up through the 2011-2012 season. But in 83 games between the Hurricanes and New York Rangers, the veteran center couldn’t find his scoring touch with 13-26-39 totals (down from 23-31-54 totals in 77 games in 2014-2015 and 61 points the year before that).

One thing is for sure, though, Staal’s status as a top-6 forward changed with his acquisition in New York, which impacted his play.

For a significant discount, Staal could return to form in the right organization, preferably one that’s a playoff contender, if not a Stanley Cup contender, similar to how Brad Richards spent a year with the Chicago Blackhawks (and won the Cup) in 2015. Staal rounds out my top-5 UFA forward list because there’s still a lot left in him, similar in nature to Joe Thornton, but he needs balance on the roster around him and the right fit.

Of note, Colby wanted me to mention that Staal would add a veteran presence and that he “understands how to be a franchise player.” I think he just wants me to say that Staal should sign with Toronto or Edmonton, but I can’t tell.

Honorable Mentions/ Well if the price is right (and the shoe fits)…

LW Thomas Vanek (18-23-41 totals with the Minnesota Wild)- $6.500 million cap hit, 31 years old

Thomas Vanek has never had a season below 41 points in scoring. In fact, the only other time Vanek scored 41 points was during his 20-21-41 total campaign in the 2012-2013 lockout shortened season with the Buffalo Sabres over 38 games played. Last season, of course, Vanek disappointed the Minnesota Wild with only an 18-23-41 effort in 74 games.

But at the right price of significantly less than $6.5 million, the prolific scorer could see a resurgence in confidence and playing ability. Vanek’s not getting any younger, but he’s still Thomas Vanek even at 31 years old. He might not be the next Jaromir Jagr, but he definitely carries a low risk-high reward potential just the same. Besides, maybe the right change of scenery is just what he needs.

RW Radim Vrbata ( 13-14-27 totals with the Vancouver Canucks)- $5.000 million cap hit, 34 years old

If you’re not sold on signing one of the top guys in free agency for ridiculous dollar amounts, why not try to grab an excellent depth scoring forward for just the right amount of money before he becomes one of the only remaining forwards on the UFA list and has his price inflated because of that whole supply and demand thing?

Okay, that was a long winded way of saying that Radim Vrbata is nowhere near the best player in the league by far, but for less than $5 million and with the right fit, Vrbata could be a quality asset pickup for any team looking to add a veteran presence in the locker room. At 34, Vrbata probably just wants to win and likely isn’t inclined to go after making the opportunity himself in a market where he’d be the main attraction. Coming off a 63 point season in 79 games played in 2014-2015, he fell off the charts for the Vancouver Canucks this year with 27 points in 63 games.

C David Backes (21-24-45 totals with the St. Louis Blues)- $4.500 million cap hit, 31 years old

David Backes plays David Backes style hockey. He hits hard, he plays hard and he’s a good center that finds his time switching between playmaker and scorer en route to usually accumulating at least 40 points a season.

For a team in a pinch to find a quality center to strengthen themselves down the middle for the foreseeable future, Backes would be a great option if you can’t land Stamkos. In 10 seasons with St. Louis, he only had three seasons where he scored 31 points or less. In fact, only his rookie and sophomore years were under 31 points until the 2012-2013 48-game season where he recorded 6-22-28 totals through all 48 games.

Coming off a 21-24-45 season in 79 games this year, his offensive production has dipped over the last three seasons from 57 and 58 point seasons in the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 seasons. But the soon to be former captain of the Blues still plays with all the fire inside him and could bounce back on a team that’s not strapped by the salary cap.

2016 NHL Entry Draft: First Round Live Blog

By: Nick Lanciani

Let us all gather around our TVs, Internet and mobile devices as we watch teams pick teenagers to lead them to the future (and make us feel bad about ourselves for not being one of them).

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2016 NHL Entry Draft

1. Toronto Maple Leafs–> C Auston Matthews, Zurich (SUI)

2. Winnipeg Jets–> RW Patrik Laine, Tappara (FIN)

3. Columbus Blue Jackets–> LW Pierre-Luc Dubois, Cape Breton (QMJHL)

4. Edmonton Oilers–> RW Jesse Puljujarvi, Karpat (FIN)

5. Vancouver Canucks–> D Olli Juolevi, London (OHL)

6. Calgary Flames–> LW Matthew Tkachuk, London (OHL)

7. Arizona Coyotes–> C Clayton Keller, USA U-18 (USHL)

8. Buffalo Sabres–> RW Alexander Nylander, Mississauga (OHL)

9. Montréal Canadiens–> D Mikhail Sergachev, Windsor (OHL)

10. Colorado Avalanche–> C Tyson Jost, Penticton (BCHL)

11. Ottawa Senators–> C Logan Brown, Windsor (OHL)

12. New Jersey Devils–> C Michael McLeod, Mississauga (OHL)

13. Carolina Hurricanes–> D Jake Bean, Calgary (WHL)

14. Boston Bruins–> D Charlie McAvoy, Boston University (Hockey-East)

15. Minnesota Wild–> C Luke Kunin, Wisconsin (BIG10)

16. Arizona Coyotes (from DET)–> D Jakob Chychrun, Sarnia (OHL)

17. Nashville Predators–> D Dante Fabbro, Penticton (BCHL)

18. Winnipeg Jets (from PHI)–> D Logan Stanley, Windsor (OHL)

19. New York Islanders–> LW Kieffer Bellows, USA U-18 (USHL)

20. Detroit Red Wings (from ARI via NYR)–> D Dennis Cholowski, Chilliwack (BCHL)

21. Carolina Hurricanes (from LAK)–> RW Julien Gauthier, Val-d’Or (QMJHL)

22. Philadelphia Flyers (from WPG via CHI)–> C German Rubtsov, Team Russia U18 (RUS)

23. Florida Panthers–> C Henrik Borgstrom, HIFK U 20 (SM-Liiga, FIN)

24. Anaheim Ducks–> LW Max Jones, London (OHL)

25. Dallas Stars–> LW Riley Tufte, Blaine (HS-MN)

26. St. Louis Blues (from WSH)–> C Tage Thompson, Connecticut (Hockey-East)

27. Tampa Bay Lightning–> C Brett Howden, Moose Jaw (WHL)

28. Washington Capitals (from STL)–> D Lucas Johansen, Kelowna (WHL)

29. Boston Bruins (from SJS)–> C Trent Frederic, USA U-18 (USHL)

30. Anaheim Ducks (from TOR via PIT)–> C Sam Steel, Regina (WHL)

Pre Draft Trades (trades made on draft day, before the draft began)

  • None

Trades Made During the Draft

  • The Montreal Canadiens traded F Lars Eller to the Washington Capitals in exchange for a 2017 2nd round pick and a 2018 2nd round pick.
  • The Chicago Blackhawks sent F Andrew Shaw to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for the 39th and 45th overall picks in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
  • The Calgary Flames acquired G Brian Elliott from the St. Louis Blues and sent the 35th overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft and a conditional pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft in return to St. Louis.
  • The contract of F Pavel Datsyuk was traded along with the 16th overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft from the Detroit Red Wings to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for F Joe Vitale, the 20th overall pick and the 53rd overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
  • The Philadelphia Flyers sent their 18th overall and 79th overall picks in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for the 22nd and 36th overall picks.
  • The Washington Capitals traded their 26th overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft to the St. Louis Blues for the 28th and 87th overall picks in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.

2016 Mock Draft: The Complete First Round

By: Nick Lanciani

 

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Here’s a look at how I think the first round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft will pan out. Of course, I expect just about every single one of these predictions to be wrong. Likewise, experts and draft rankings may say a player is going to go 11th overall, but there’s always a good chance that player could slip up or down on Draft day, so I’ve tried to take account for that as I see fit.

Let’s be honest, there are a lot of good players, but how often do we see them get drafted in the right order— especially when hindsight is 20/20 (I’m looking at you, 2010 NHL Entry Draft).

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1) Toronto Maple Leafs–> C Auston Matthews, Zurich (SUI)

If you read my mock draft from last month, you might realize that it seems not much has changed with my top-14 picks. This one should be self-explanatory. Hope is back in Toronto in the form of Auston Matthews. A 6’1”, 210-pound center, Matthews is a two-way player similar in nature to Anze Kopitar in Los Angeles or Patrice Bergeron in Boston. In 36 games with Zurich this season, he had 24-22-46 totals.

Matthews was named the Rising Star Award winner and finished 2nd in voting for the MVP of the National League A in Switzerland. Matthews is the franchise center that the Maple Leafs have been waiting for since the days of Mats Sundin. He led the United States to the bronze with 7-4-11 totals at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship.

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2) Winnipeg Jets–> RW Patrik Laine, Tappara (FIN)

Patrik Laine is the number one choice for number two. You read that right, folks. Laine is one of the next best things for the city of Winnipeg and Jets fans alike. The 6’4”, 206-poung right-winger is a treat to watch and could easily fill the hole left behind by Andrew Ladd’s departure around the trade deadline. We’re talking about the kind of player that could have a bigger year than Blake Wheeler’s already big year. Laine’s size and skill combined with his maturity provides some strength on an increasingly younger and talented Jets roster.

Laine had 10 goals in 18 playoff games with Tappara en route to being named postseason MVP and winning the championship in Liiga (Finland’s top professional league). He had 17-16-33 totals in 46 games during the regular season and led all Liiga rookies in scoring. As well, Laine tied Auston Matthews in goals at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship while helping Finland win gold.

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3) Columbus Blue Jackets–> RW Jesse Puljujarvi, Karpat (FIN)

It’d take a pretty sizeable trade to get Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen to give up the 3rd overall pick— and for good reason. Puljujarvi is the next best skater in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft behind Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine. His talent and hockey sense drive his offensive game as one of the better prospects on the wing.

Puljujarvi would easily contribute to the youth movement in Columbus as the organization looks to get back to competitive form with a dominant AHL squad in Lake Erie leading the influx of prospects.

The 6’3”, 203-pound forward had 13-15-28 totals in 50 games played for Karpat in Liiga as a 17-year-old. In addition, Puljujarvi was one point shy of Jaromir Jagr’s record for U-18 players at the World Junior Championship level, having scored 17 points in seven games en route to winning gold with Finland this year at the 2016 IIHF World Juniors.

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4) Edmonton Oilers–> LW Matthew Tkachuk, London (OHL)

Originally, I had Jakob Chychrun pegged at 4th overall as the Draft’s best defenseman, but after seeing a second half of the season fade out from Chychrun, even I am skeptical of what he can become. With that, I still have faith in him (see mu 8th overall pick), but while the Oilers could use a young defenseman (that they won’t let slip away— *cough, cough* Jeff Petry), they’ll be forced to take Matthew Tkachuk instead. Not that that’s a bad thing. He’s a talented forward with lots of grit at 6’1”, 195-pounds.

Tkachuk tied Auston Matthews in scoring for the United States at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship with 11 points and hand 30-77-107 totals in 57 games with the London Knights this season. And, oh yeah, he scored the game winning goal in this year’s Memorial Cup Final for the Knights against Rouyn-Noranda. Tkachuk can also revamp a power play unit, given that 42 of his points this season with London came on the power play.

Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli can’t complain about this pick jumpstarting a quick revitalization in Edmonton with Connor McDavid receiving a skilled, young, winger on his line.

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5) Vancouver Canucks–> LW Pierre-Luc Dubois, Cape Breton (QMJHL)

I’m not sure if anyone else has noticed it yet, but there’s a dumpster fire in the Canucks management office. All kidding aside, Vancouver has had bad asset management over the last few years. Trading Jared McCann was, well, not a smooth move on Canucks GM Jim Benning’s move. Granted, Erik Gudbranson is a better defenseman than half of Vancouver’s blue line, but that’s not saying much.

Okay, now that trade analysis is out of the way, here’s the hot take on Pierre-Luc Dubois: he’s good. Dubois is a smart and versatile forward that brings a level of flexibility to the Canucks lineup. He’s more than capable of playing alongside Bo Horvat. Dubois stands tall at 6’2”, 201-pounds, but don’t let his size fool you, he’s got great hands and can play on edge. He led the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles with 57 assists and 99 points in 62 games this season and was a plus-40 rating. Dubois also finished the season in the top-six in the QMJHL in goals and points.

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6) Calgary Flames–> C Logan Brown, Windsor (OHL)

Calgary has a youth movement that at times, seems to work very well, and at other times shows exactly the kind of thing you would expect from young players— inexperience. They’ve done a good job of building through the draft, though at times surprising with who they’ve selected. Their primary focus this offseason should be on a solid defenseman, but they’re not going to find the one they’re looking for at 6th overall in the draft (yes, I know Olli Juolevi exists, let me finish).

The Flames are going to have to be one of those teams that just goes with the best available player on the board, given their position, and since Logan Brown is just that. He’s also bigger than most of their defensemen, so there should be no problem with adding size to their offense without addressing their long-term defensemen needs just yet. At 6’6”, 222-pounds, Brown is a skilled center with speed and the ability to handle the puck better than any other. Think of Joe Thornton as a comparable, since Brown is apt to be a playmaker first, goal scorer second.

He had 21 goals and 74 points in 59 games with the Windsor Spitfires this season. He also had 29 points on the power play and won 53% of his faceoffs, so there’s that.

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7) Arizona Coyotes–> D Olli Juolevi, London (OHL)        

Olli Juolevi is one of the best defensemen in this year’s draft. Of course, hindsight is always better than foresight, but for all you Team Chychrun vs. Team Juolevi people, final rankings and second half of their season performance really separates the two from one another. Both are NHL ready, but one is clearly more ready than the other and has a bit more hockey sense to him.

The fact of the matter is that Juolevi fits the Coyotes style and brings an edge to their blue line that Arizona desperately needs, given the uncertainty of who they’ll bring back and for how long with plenty of pending free agents in the desert. While the Keith Yandle deal from the spring of 2015 paid in dividends for the Coyotes with the addition of Anthony Duclair, they still lost a defenseman that they put a lot of time and effort into forging. And Brandon Gormley wasn’t much of a success either, so much so that they sent him to Colorado. There’s plenty of cause to add another defenseman to forge and create some competition for a roster spot next season.

Juolevi comes ready-made at 6’2”, 182-pounds and provides some solidarity should the Coyotes part with Oliver Ekman-Larsson in any fashion in the coming years. Juolevi had nine goals and 42 points for the London Knights this season with a plus-38 rating. He also won gold with Finland at the 2016 World Juniors and transitioned from Finland to the OHL with ease.

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8) Buffalo Sabres–> D Jakob Chychrun, Sarnia (OHL)

Sometimes players fizzle out a little before the draft to only prove everyone wrong when the experts say they’re unsure of how that player will turn out. At least, that’s what I hope is the case for Chychrun. Look, he’s one of the best defensemen in the draft, given the fact that he is definitely a first rounder and years later we could be looking back on this draft saying that Chychrun was the best defenseman from this draft.

The point is this, he’s a 6’2”, 214-pound, two-way defenseman and is sure to fight for a roster spot on the Sabres come this October. While Chychrun ultimately fell in some draft rankings, he is still a cut above many other defensemen in the draft, given his size and familiarity with the North American style of the game. His physicality and awareness brings a solid foundation to Buffalo’s blue line. Chychrun had 11 goals and 49 points in 62 games along with a plus-23 plus/minus rating this season with the Sarnia Sting.

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9) Montreal Canadiens–> RW Alexander Nylander, Mississauga (OHL)

Nylander had four goals, five assists and nine points for the Swedes at the 2016 World Junior Championship and blossomed as a skilled forward this year with the Mississauga Steelheads. He’s built for NHL stardom and could do so on one of the biggest stages in the sport in Montreal. Nylander is the 6’0”, 180-pound younger brother of Toronto Maple Leafs forward, William Nylander, and is bound to jumpstart a Canadiens offense that was streaky at best (aside from being injured) this season. He had 28 goals and 75 points in 57 games in his first OHL season with Mississauga.

He’s a dynamic skater that is more than effective on the power play, notching nine power play goals for the Steelheads. Nylander can separate himself from any other skater on the ice with ease. If the Sabres overlook Jakob Chychrun, there’s a good chance he could go 8th overall, but since they probably won’t look past Chychrun, Nylander is best fit to go to another rival of the Maple Leafs— the Habs. I’ll say it again, he’s going to be picked by a rival of Toronto, but the question is which one?

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10) Colorado Avalanche–> D Mikhail Sergachev, Windsor (OHL) 

In light of all the rumors/actual evidence that the Avalanche are/are not shopping Tyson Barrie, this one seems self-explanatory. Colorado moves a defenseman to then take a defenseman (that they’ll have to start the process all over again with) at the draft. This seems to be a very Colorado move, but stay with me for a moment on this one. Mikhail Sergachev packs a punch— we’re talking Rob Blake style impact, but with an offensively minded side of the game.

Sergachev is a big 6’2”, 208-pound defenseman and was named the best defenseman in the OHL in his first season in North America this season. His two-way presence along the blue line brings enough of an offensive element to his game to satisfy anyone that likes watching someone hit someone along the boards with their size, then start a quick transition the other way (and execute it well). With Sergachev, we’re talking almost like an Erik Karlsson, but with more strength when it comes to playing defense.

He plays with confidence and speed and had 17 goals and 57 points in 67 games with the Windsor Spitfires in his rookie season. Add to that his 31 points on the power play and maybe the Avalanche are ready to take on a young, NHL-ready defenseman that might be able to help them figure out what the heck they are doing. Sergachev is the total package that the Av’s have failed to produce on their own, but desperately want, and brings balance to their youth movement all around.

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11) New Jersey Devils–> C Tyson Jost, Penticton (BCHL)

If you’re the Devils and you’re committed to Cory Schneider as one of the league’s best-underrated goaltenders, then you should be working harder than ever to prevent the current turnaround from lasting forever. You owe it to Schneider and his goalie equipment. Okay, rant aside, New Jersey could use younger talent and it might not be a bad idea if it does take them a few years to groom it properly. After all, letting another Zach Parise get away wouldn’t be good.

The fact of the matter is this— New Jersey isn’t going anywhere unless they figure out that they need to build around Adam Larsson, Adam Henrique, Schneider and the like. Yet the Devils seem pretty insistent on going where they want with what they have, which means it wouldn’t be a bad idea to add to their lack of strength down the middle. Ray Shero is a smart general manager knows how to add talent.

Tyson Jost is perhaps one of the best-underrated players available in the draft as a 6’0”, 194-pound center heading to the University of North Dakota next season. Jost could become a cornerstone forward for New Jersey as long as they’re willing to add to their foundation. He had 42 goals and 104 points in 48 games for Penticton this season, with 14 goals on the power play and seven game-winners.

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12) Ottawa Senators–> D Jake Bean, Calgary (WHL)

The likes of another Erik Karlsson in Ottawa wouldn’t be a bad thing considering their addition of the annual butt-end of a pylon joke, Dion Phaneuf this season. Jake Bean is a solid defenseman with a considerable offensive element of his game that with some work, could flourish in the NHL. Plus his name fits the Senators obsession with defenseman with short, four-letter last names, like Cody Ceci.

Bean is a 6’0”, 173-pound offensive defenseman with excellent wheels and smart puck possession. He can make excellent passes and carry his own weight. With proper training, Bean could strengthen up enough to become a force to be reckoning with on the blue line. His stick, body and talent is sure to be a great compliment alongside any of Ottawa’s defenders in the years to come. One more thing to note, Bean led the Western Hockey League defensemen with 24 goals in 68 games in his second full season in the league with the Calgary Hitmen.

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13) Carolina Hurricanes–> C Clayton Keller, USA U-18 (USHL)

First the Hurricanes made waves by landing Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks this offseason, next they’re going to make waves by selecting Clayton Keller with the 13th overall pick. Here’s why: despite what everyone tells you about size in hockey, you don’t always need size— you just need skill (and a lot of hard work). Keller is a skillful 5’9”, 168-pound center reminiscent of the likes of Martin St. Louis or Jonathan Drouin. Overlooked, doubted, under recognized, Keller is a smart, tactical, forward.

He led the USA’s U-18 program with 70 assists and 107 points in 62 games this season. As well, Keller recorded four goals and 10 points in seven games at the 2016 IIHF World U-18 Championship en route to a bronze medal. The Hurricanes need to retool down the middle in the post-Eric Staal era and Keller is likely to be their man. He’s committed to Boston University in 2016-2017 and was also selected in the second round (40th overall) of the 2014 OHL Draft by the Windsor Spitfires, proving that he’s got plenty of options for some development before making the NHL jump.

Carolina shouldn’t rush things with him, if they’re committed to the long term approach of success (though the same can’t necessarily be stated for the relocation rumors surrounding the team).

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14) Boston Bruins–> D Charlie McAvoy, Boston University (Hockey-East)

Boston needs a defenseman, so Boston drafts a defenseman they can keep their eyes on throughout his development, as McAvoy is across town at Boston University. Bruins general manager, Don Sweeney, has a lot of tough decisions to make this offseason just as he did last offseason and must look to add depth on the blue line both in the immediate future and down the pipeline.

McAvoy brings an excellent 6’0”, 208-pound frame with excellent defensive awareness. While he’s not NHL ready, a year or two of development looks to pay off in dividends with his 39 blocked shots in 37 games played this season as a freshman at BU. Likewise, McAvoy had three goals and 25 points and was a plus-10 rating in his first year as a Terrier. He had a plus-5 rating with the bronze medal-winning United States at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Under the guidance of some veterans and Boston’s coaching staff, McAvoy could turn into a household name at TD Garden.

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15) Minnesota Wild–> LW Max Jones, London (OHL)

Minnesota has some tough decisions to make this offseason with regards to their plethora of pending free agents, potentially buying out or trading Thomas Vanek and the inquiries they face in the ongoing phone calls about Darcy Kuemper. With four picks in the 2016 Draft, the Wild could be looking to stockpile a few more (and they’ve got assets to move). With Bruce Boudreau at the reigns the Wild should become a contender with the right pieces. The only trouble is finding those pieces between now and then.

An addition that’s needed for Minnesota to surpass their previous playoff failures is found in 6’2”, 203-pound forward, Max Jones. He would bring size and physicality to their lineup along with a skilled stick that scored 28 goals and 52 points in 63 games as a London Knight this season. Barring his brutality (he had amassed 106 penalty minutes and a 12-game suspension in the OHL playoffs), Jones could be a wild enough power forward for the Wild.

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16) Detroit Red Wings–> D Dante Fabbro, Penticton (BCHL)

The phrase “defense wins championships” has long been synonymous with the Detroit Red Wings. While their offense has improved in age and dynamics, as Henrik Zetterberg, Gustav Nyquist and Riley Sheahan surely cannot do everything; the Red Wings have been a little lackluster on the point in prospects. Actually, it hasn’t been a little— it’s been virtually non-existent with every young defenseman in their system having either faded out or been traded.

The point is, Detroit needs a younger defense sooner rather than later to avoid a situation similar to the *ahem* Boston Bruins or New York Rangers.

Fabbro brings in a solid 6’0”, 189-pound stature that had 14-53-67 totals in 45 games for Penticton this season. The Boston University bound defenseman will need some time to develop, but the Red Wings can take a year or two to work their way with him and align everyone on the same “defense wins championships” page. Of note, Fabbro was named the top defenseman in the British Columbia Hockey League for his efforts this season.

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17) Nashville Predators–> D Logan Stanley, Windsor (OHL)

Replacing Seth Jones isn’t easy— was something I expected to say in twenty years if you asked me three years ago at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, but now everything’s changed since Jones didn’t pan out the way Nashville envisioned how they’d utilize him. Still feeling the effects of Ryan Suter jumping ship (and Shea Weber almost jettisoning the Predators), Nashville goes with Logan Stanley to regain some control of developing their defensemen the way they want to.

At 6’7”, 225-pounds, Stanley packs a punch standing tall and bone crunching-ly strong. Additionally, he skates well and can pair up with just about any defenseman willing to carry the more offensive sides of the game as Stanley fits more of a stay-at-home, shutdown blue liner role. He had 5-12-17 totals and 103 penalty minutes in 64 games with the Spitfires this season and handles speedy forwards with ease, often breaking down oncoming rushes.

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18) Philadelphia Flyers–> C Michael McLeod, Mississauga (OHL)

The Flyers are in prime position for aligning themselves as playoff contenders for the next few seasons (at least) if they continue to manage their assets and commit themselves to a solid goaltender (looking at you Michal Neuvirth). Philadelphia has a lot of centers, so what’s one more? Likewise, GM Ron Hextall has mentioned that he wants to add size. He should do so, with versatility.

Michael McLeod led Mississauga in shorthanded goals (four) and 21-40-61 totals this season. Combined with his work ethic, McLeod’s 6’2”, 188-pound frame and speed shows durability as a playmaking forward that could develop well on the wing in Philly. While Shayne Gostisbehere holds down the blue line for the Flyers, drafting a smart, gifted offense will help balance the franchise’s talent pool in the coming years.

Overall the Flyers are a few steps away from taking the New York Islanders model into a deeper playoff routine…

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19) New York Islanders–> C Luke Kunin, Wisconsin (BIG 10)

…and speaking of the Islanders…

First, what were the they thinking with that Casey Cizikas extension? Second, they’re going to need someone to step up big time to replace Kyle Okposo, especially with the threat of John Tavares opting to hit the free agent market in 2017— though do you think New York won’t learn anything from the Tampa Bay Lightning’s current situation with Steven Stamkos to put more than enough emphasis on valuing their best franchise player? Enough ranting about the organization overall, more about Luke Kunin.

Kunin is a 5’11”, 193-pound solid center that was named to the Big Ten Conference All-Freshmen team after leading the Wisconsin Badgers with 19 goals (five of them on the power play) and 127 shots on goal in 34 games this season. Again, “solid” is the keyword here. Dependable on special teams and durable in the lineup are other expected qualities from Kunin, especially with some time to develop, he could become one of the better two-way players in the league, emulating the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Toews or Anze Kopitar. But again, the other keyword here is development (which he’ll certainly get in his coming years at Wisconsin).

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20) Arizona Coyotes (from New York Rangers)–> LW Riley Tufte, Blaine (HS-MN)

Having already addressed Arizona’s needs, this one is simply one of those “take one of the highly ranked guys, oh and talk about his size being important to the lineup” selections.

Look, with a roster that already has Max Domi and other skilled, young players, looking to create a dynamic mix of skill and toughness in the desert, Riley Tufte is a clear choice for the Coyotes at 20th overall if he’s still available by then. He’s a 6’5”, 211-pound left wing that wins battles along the boards. Tufte also has a heavy shot and had 47 goals and 78 points (with six power play goals) in 25 games en route to winning the 2016 Minnesota Mr. Hockey Award. He also had 10 goals in 27 games with Fargo in the USHL and is committed to the University of Minnesota Duluth next season to add some more strength and development to his game.

In time, he’ll leave opponents howling for mercy in Arizona (I just wanted to make a pun, please appreciate it).

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21) Carolina Hurricanes (from Los Angeles Kings)–> D Dennis Cholowski, Chilliwack (BCHL)

Some things were said about the Hurricanes and some things remain. Meanwhile, they’ve got some good defensemen coming up the ranks and lots of potential trade bait on the blue line, both in the now and in the future. Sometimes a change of scenery is best for both teams in regards to the lack of development for players like Ryan Murphy. Likewise, the uncertainty of Justin Faulk’s future in Carolina looms overhead.

It only makes sense to make a selection that you intend to groom properly and insert into the lineup down the road. Dennis Cholowski is a 6’0”, 170-pound sturdy defenseman with excellent hockey sense and decent skating ability. He had 12 goals and 40 points in 50 games with Chilliwack this season and knows how to open up enough space for a breakout. With some strength and development at St. Cloud State University, Cholowski could become a solid, underrated, blue liner for Carolina.

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22) Winnipeg Jets (from Chicago Blackhawks)–> LW Kieffer Bellows, USA U-18 (USHL)

Barring a Patrik Laine breakdown, the Winnipeg Jets make out with two solid first round picks in my mock draft.

Kieffer Bellows is just what the Jets need for a pure goal scorer that’ll help the likes of Mark Scheifele and whoever else Winnipeg has down the middle. Bellows scored 50 goals this season with the USA U-18 national development team and is sure to make a sound next season at Boston University. His 12 power play goals and nine game-winning goals and 81 points came in 62 games this season. At 6’0”, 196-pounds he’ll be more than ready to be a durable winger coming down the pipeline in the next few seasons. Oh and he likes to shoot from anywhere, as evidenced by his 50 goals with the NTDP U-18 team.

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23) Florida Panthers–> RW Alexander DeBrincat, Erie (OHL)

The Florida Panthers are trending upwards and they appear to be only getting better, what with the Keith Yandle trade and signing as the latest piece to the puzzle and the ageless wonder— excuse me, legend— Jaromir Jagr in great shape.

Alexander DeBrincat brings a lot of skill to the Panthers roster, despite his 5’7”, 163-pound frame (but again, size doesn’t matter when hard work and talent is enough to prove people wrong). DeBrincat may have had his run-ins with trouble on the international Junior stage, but he’s not one to pass up on and cast off as uncoachable or whatever. He anticipates what comes to him with ease and has an impressive release on an accurate shot that played alongside Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome the last two seasons.

Along the way, DeBrincat amassed 102 goals in 128 games with the Erie Otters as perhaps one of the most underrated forwards alongside the likes of McDavid and Strome.

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24) Anaheim Ducks–> C Rasmus Asplund, Farjestad (SWE)

After surprising everyone with the way they flapped around the bottom of the standings at the start of this season, the Anaheim Ducks worked their way as far as a disappointing Game 7 loss in Round 1 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs to the Nashville Predators. Then they fired Bruce Boudreau and hired Randy Carlyle as head coach. Apparently they think that every ten years they can win a Cup or something with the same head coach and just the same amount of confusion in the offseason. Where they’re headed nobody knows.

But drafting Rasmus Asplund certainly won’t be a mistake for the Ducks. Asplund’s a 5’10”, 176-pound center that will need some time to develop in order to strengthen up and fully transition to the North American style of the game, but he’s got superb leadership and great competitiveness in his game. The potential for this 4-8-12 total point scorer in 46 games with Farjestad this season to improve as he comes more into his development as a two-way forward is yet to be calculated as to just how far off the charts he could reach. Asplund is one of those well-liked guys you can work with and tailor to your needs.

Think of a lesser known, better kept secret, David Pastrnak type of player on the ice with the potential of being the next Teemu Selanne style leader off the ice. Anaheim fans will surely like that.

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25) Dallas Stars–> RW Vitaly Abramov, Gatineau (QMJHL)

The Dallas Stars aren’t looking to do much this offseason besides find better goaltending, if possible, and work on ensuring that Tyler Seguin is fully healed and ready to carry the team on his back alongside Jamie Benn again (slightly warm hot take).

Dare I say it, but drafting Vitaly Abramov could pay off in— stars— for the Stars. The 5’9”, 175-pound winger led the Gatineau Olympiques with 38 goals (with 11 of them on the power play) and 93 points this season en route to being named the QMJHL Rookie of the Year. Abramov is highly competitive and has a quick shot. There’s no need to worry about his transition to the North American game, because he’s already further developed than most for his skill level.

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26) Washington Capitals–> C German Rubtsov, Team Russia U18 (RUS)

Capping off a President’s Trophy winning season (and their best season in franchise history) with an early second round of the playoffs exit to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins was not something on the Washington Capitals’ list this season. But their plethora of talent isn’t sure to diminish anytime soon.

German Rubtsov is the kind of two-way player that could really excel under Barry Trotz’s guidance and/or alongside Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov— actually pretty much anyone on the Capitals roster. As a 6’2”, 178-pound forward with 26 points in 28 games for Team Russia’s U18 team, Rubtsov displayed flashes of brilliance in his hockey sense and defensive awareness, bringing forth a tremendous two-way element to his game. He’s sure to win some battles in high traffic situations for Washington in the years to come with a little fine seasoning in their system, wherever that may be.

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27) Tampa Bay Lightning–> D Lucas Johansen, Kelowna (WHL)

Tampa Bay has a lot on its plate this offseason, between the swirling rumors around trading Ben Bishop, their defeat in the Eastern Conference Finals, oh and the fact that Steven Stamkos could very well be heading to unrestricted free agency and the Lightning will be left without a #1 franchise player if he decides to leave. But hey, sure, let’s look ahead for the organization, why not? What else could possibly go wrong— insert plea for Victor Hedman to tough it out and anyone else worried about what skilled Lightning player will be taken by Las Vegas at next year’s expansion draft.

Enough kidding around, Tampa could use a defenseman that is young and may need a year or two before coming into the league because, well, what else might they need. They’ve got plenty of young forwards, young defensemen (I’m looking at you Slater Koekkoek, okay actually I just wanted to type that name) and a young goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy; so really, the choice is yours Steve Yzerman and crew. Take Lucas Johansen and you’ve got your hands on a 6’1”, 176-pound younger brother of the Nashville Predators’ Ryan Johansen.

This Johansen can skate well and play at both ends of the rink and is in an organization that has produced Duncan Keith, Shea Weber and Tyson Barrie. That’s some pretty good company to be in and enough reason for Tampa to look to the future of a shut down pair in Lucas Johansen and Hedman.

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28) St. Louis Blues–> C Pascal Laberge, Victoriaville (QMJHL)

David Backes is heading to free agency, Paul Stastny isn’t getting any younger, but at least Vladimir Sobotka may be making his return to the St. Louis Blues lineup next season. As an aside, I’m a huge fan of Sobotka, just throwing it out there. Tight against the salary cap, the Blues may be singing the blues in Ken Hitchcock’s final season as head coach if they can’t find a way to restock their prospect pool and finagle a way to keep high-end talent on their roster. It’s the tragedy of the salary cap era to see a team that’s so good, make it only so far, then have to dismantle nearly everything when they get behind the eight ball a bit against the cap.

With that, Pascal Laberge is a promising center that led the Victoriaville Tigres with 68 points in 56 games this season. He was named MVP of the 2016 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in January, by the way, and is a 6’1”, 172-pound, right-shot that goes to the dirty areas to pick up points and notch goals. His compete level and ability to play the puck along the wall, while winning battles all over the ice, prove he can develop into an all-in-one impact player for St. Louis, like Backes, but perhaps a tad better. It’s time to start thinking long term and begin building down the middle for the Blues.

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29) Boston Bruins (from San Jose Sharks)–> C Tage Thompson, Connecticut (Hockey-East)

Remember everything I said before about the Bruins? Yeah, well, they need a lot of help. Regardless of whatever they’re able to attract this offseason, they’re still quite a ways off from righting the ship unless they can pull off a miracle it seems. But hey, the good news is that they have two first round picks at their dispersal and some talent forming in their pipelines/already with the NHL club in the likes of Frank Vatrano, Colin Miller (who’s a pending RFA) and others.

Tage Thompson works perfectly for them to keep an eye on through his development at UConn. He led the NCAA with 13 power play goals this season and had 14 goals and 32 points in 36 games with the Huskies. The 6’5”, 195-pound forward finished his freshman year with lots of promise and has enough time to continue to develop into a solid, accurate shooting, quick with the hands center that would bring an immense boost to Boston’s power play if all goes according to plan. Thompson will also have to add some strength to match his height and the level of his game, but he’s got some time while Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci hold down the fort on the Bruins top lines.

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30) Anaheim Ducks (from PIT via TOR)–> RW Julien Gauthier, Val-d’Or (QMJHL)

I talked about the Ducks before, so I’ll cut to the chase, especially since you’ve been such a good reader making it all the way to the end of this mock draft. Thanks for that.

Julien Gauthier is a monstrous 6’3”, 225-pound power forward. Obviously I meant that in a good way. While some see him as a second or third rounder, Anaheim sees his potential and grabs him before anyone else can even begin to dream about having him in their lineup in the years to come. His 41-11-57 totals in 54 games for Val-d’Or are impressive enough to be a tactical selection by the Ducks, in light of being the only 2016 NHL Draft-eligible player to play for Canada at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship. Gauthier had two assists in five games played at the 2016 IIHF WJC.

And that does it. That’s all folks. Well, at least for the first round, but I don’t think you want to see me project all seven rounds do you? Thanks for reading. May your favorite team have the best of luck at Friday and Saturday’s NHL Entry Draft. We’ll have a live blog of the first round going and keep you updated on all the trades made, as usual.

2016 NHL Awards Live Blog

By: Nick Lanciani

Tonight is the 2016 NHL Awards ceremony from Las Vegas, so I figured I’d recap every award tonight as they are presented.

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Calder Memorial Trophy winner- Artemi Panarin, Chicago Blackhawks

Other finalists- Shayne Gostisbehere (PHI) and Connor McDavid (EDM)

Ted Lindsay Award winner- Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

Other finalists- Jamie Benn (DAL)  and Braden Holtby (WSH)

General Manager of the Year- Jim Rutherford, Pittsburgh Penguins

Other finalists- Brian MacLellan (WSH) and Jim Nill (DAL)

Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy winner- Jaromir Jagr, Florida Panthers

Other finalists- Mats Zuccarello (NYR) and Pascal Dupuis (PIT)

Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award winner- Shea Weber, Nashville Predators

Other finalists- Alex Ovechkin (WSH) and John Tavares (NYI)

King Clancy Memorial Trophy winner- Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks

Other finalists- none announced

NHL Foundation Player Award- Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames

Other finalists- Matt Martin (NYI) and P.K. Subban (MTL)

EA Sports NHL 17 Cover Athlete- Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues

Other finalist- Joe Pavelski (SJ)

James Norris Memorial Trophy- Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings

Other finalists- Brent Burns (SJ) and Erik Karlsson (OTT)

Frank J. Selke Trophy- Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

Other finalists- Patrice Bergeron (BOS) and Ryan Kesler (ANA)

Maurice “The Rocket” Richard Trophy- Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

(presented to the goal scorer who scored the most goals in the season, so this one was already technically awarded before Wednesday night)

William M. Jennings Trophy- Frederik Andersen and John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks

(presented to the goaltender(s) who allowed the fewest total goals against in the season, awarded prior to Wednesday night)

Jack Adams Award- Barry Trotz, Washington Capitals

Other finalists- Lindy Ruff (DAL) and Gerard Gallant (FLA)

Then NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman took some time out in the night to remember Ed Snider and Gordie Howe. We had this to say…

Art Ross Trophy- Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

(presented to the player that led the league in scoring at the end of the regular season, awarded prior to Wednesday night)

Lady Byng Memorial Trophy- Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

Other finalists- Aleksander Barkov (FLA) and Loui Eriksson (BOS)

Vezina Trophy- Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals

Other finalists- Ben Bishop (TB) and Jonathan Quick (LA)

Hart Memorial Trophy- Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

Other finalists-  Jamie Benn (DAL) and Sidney Crosby (PIT)

 

 

 

Completely Biased DTFR Awards for Our Egos

By: Nick Lanciani

It’s the NHL Award season, so since I’m a nice boss/founder/whatever you want to call me, I figured I’d hand out some awards to our Down the Frozen River crew. These once in a lifetime beauties will probably never be given out again, so enjoy them while they last.

Newcomer Award– presented by me to our rookie of the year for producing quality content- Frank Fanelli

Frank joined us this spring and hit the ground running with some quality Philadelphia Flyers hot takes (and serious takes). His dedication made our lives easy when it came time to organize our schedule of playoff recaps and other quick write-ups that we did in preparation for a whole lot more next season. Frankly, I think he did a good job. Thanks Frank!

Social Media Guru Award– presented by me to our best social media content producer (and stuff)- Jordan Dettrow

Jordan was another addition to the crew this season— prior to Frank’s arrival— as we expanded our reach and broadened our target audience from just your average NHL fan to all kinds of hockey fans. Though Jordan has been quite busy this offseason, his presence as one of us has been felt all throughout our ramped up coverage of this year’s playoffs. I could have made him a co-recipient of the Newcomer Award, but I felt as though it’s necessary to make him stand out on his own, since without him we wouldn’t have over 750 followers on Twitter (we’d have, like, 700 fewer than that). I’m looking forward to seeing what kinds of new and exciting things will come from him next season. Thanks Jordan!

Hot Air Award– presented by me to our crew member with the most bold predictions and hot takes this season on the Down the Frozen River Podcast- Colby Kephart

Colby is… well, Colby. Always willing to talk and offer his thoughts, his bold predictions on our show keep us on edge and in tune with what’s going on around the league. Another DTFR member with a busy offseason, we certainly wish him the best as he does some real world things in the meantime. He’ll need to rest his voice for another season of podcasts coming this September. Thanks Colby!

Content-King Award– presented by me to our crew member with the most content/best quality content on a consistent basis this season- Connor Keith

All season long Connor wrote daily Game of the Day matchups (well, with the exception of that time between November and the end of the semester, because college). His dedication to his craft is unlike any other in the nature of his hard work and many late nights spent writing about plenty of teams he’d probably rather never hear about ever again. We all expect more of the same from him this season (and more, muwahaha), but the choice is always his, as he heads into the real world of sports. Thanks Connor!

Good-For-Nothing Award– presented as a participation award to one of our members when I can’t think of anything else to give- Nick Lanciani (oh, hey look, that’s me)

I get to take home this awesome award because I created this whole thing in the first place (I meant these awards, not just this site, but you know— I made the site too, so there’s always that). I would’ve also given Kevan Miller partial ownership of this award, but alas, he’s not on our Down the Frozen River team. Maybe next year, Kevan (please don’t hate me).