It’s time for the last minute changes and mad scramble that is a General Manager and his/her scouting team’s draft selections as one player after another slowly gets taken off the board.
Friday night at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas is home to the 1st round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft (Saturday plays host to rounds 2-7).
All the mock drafts in the world have been released– until now. Here’s one more before you sit in front of your TV and maybe get, what, like one of your own mock draft picks right?
It’s time, once again, for completely arbitrary nonsense predicting and projecting the rest of the professional careers and lives from a group of teens.
1. Buffalo Sabres –> D Rasmus Dahlin, Frolunda (Sweden)
Both Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin have spoken without presuming the Sabres will select the Swedish defender 1st overall, but there is no other choice in this Draft– as deep as it is. Dahlin is a game-changer for a franchise that so desperately needs his new-age defense and Nicklas Lidstrom qualities.
The 6-foot-2, 181-pound two-way defender is the perfect fit in blue and gold. He’ll shutdown opponents and transition the puck up the ice, greatly increasing the speed of Buffalo’s top lines in the midst of a fast paced, rough and tough Atlantic Division.
2. Carolina Hurricanes–> RW Andrei Svechnikov, Barrie (OHL)
Just like there’s no substitution for the 1st overall pick, the same goes for the 2nd overall pick. Andrei Svechnikov will be a member of the Hurricanes Friday night and fans attending Carolina’s draft party will have more than one reason to celebrate in addition to the unveiling of their new third jerseys.
Svechnikov’s a pure goal scorer and just might help the Canes leap back into the postseason picture in 2019 for the first time since 2009. He had 40-32–72 totals in 44 games with the Barrie Colts this season in his first season of Junior hockey. It’s been a decade in the making, but new General Manager Don Waddell and new owner Tom Dundon are ready to make a big impression.
3. Montreal Canadiens–> C Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Assat (Finland)
It’s a fresh slate for Claude Julien‘s lineup, with the projected top-6 forward centering in on the second line. Kotkaniemi had 10 goals and 19 assists (29 points) in 57 games this season with Assat and he’ll grow into stardom in Montreal.
4. Ottawa Senators–> RW Filip Zadina, Halifax (QMJHL)
A dynamic scorer and underrated forward, Filip Zadina is a light at the end of one tunnel leading to the next as the Senators look to close the chapter on one book and open the next in the midst of their dumpster fire of an organization.
Zadina had 44 goals in 57 games for the Halifax Mooseheads this season and should translate well into a lineup looking for a goal scorer in the wake of dumping Mike Hoffman
outside the division (oops, he’s back). The 6-foot, 195-pound winger has a sharp shot that should ease Ottawa’s minus-70 goal differential in 2017-18.
5. Arizona Coyotes–> LW Brady Tkachuk, Boston University (H-East)
Brady Tkachuk packs intensity and grit in his game along with some offense. The Boston University Terrier had 31 points in 40 games this season and is the younger brother of Calgary Flames forward, Matthew Tkachuk. Both are sons of Keith Tkachuk and played pond hockey in the same neighborhood as– sorry, don’t know how Pierre McGuire got in here for a moment.
Anyway, the younger Tkachuk is 6-foot-3, 196-pounds and will fit in alongside Galchenyk, Clayton Keller and the youth movement in Arizona that could result in a 2019 postseason appearance by the Coyotes.6. Detroit Red Wings–> D Noah Dobson, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)
Noah Dobson was the best defender and a huge part in the reason why the Acadie-Bathurst Titan are your 2018 Mastercard Memorial Cup champions– and that’s already on top of his breakout season with the Titan that saw 17 goals and 52 assists (69 points) this season.
The 6-foot-3, 180-pound, right-shot two-way blueliner fits the bill as a new-age solution to an aging problem in Detroit.
7. Vancouver Canucks–> D Evan Bouchard, London (OHL)
One of the best things about drafting in the NHL is simply taking the next best available player on some scouting list, whether it’s from Central Scouting itself or your own department. In this case, Evan Bouchard is the next best available defenders on a list– my list.
The Canucks can use his 6-foot-2, 193-pound frame and right-shot to boost their transition game as Vancouver deals with the loss of Daniel and Henrik Sedin due to retirement and puts an emphasis on getting the puck up the ice to Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser. Bouchard had 25-62–87 totals in 67 games for the London Knights this season.
8. Chicago Blackhawks–> RW Oliver Wahlstrom, USA U-18 (USNTDP)
All-in-all everything’s working out pretty well for the Chicago Blackhawks in their rebuild. Yes, it’s a rebuild. Landing the once viral, 9-year-old, sensation as part of TD Bank’s Mini-1-on-1s years ago, Oliver Wahlstrom is ready to graduate to the big leagues and fill in for Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp along the wing in Chicago.
He’s used to high expectations and has a wrist shot like no other, having amassed 47 goals in 60 games this season with the U.S. National U-18 Team, as well as seven goals in seven games at the IIHF World Under-18 Championship. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound, right wing will likely go ahead and play a season with the Boston College Eagles before going pro in a Blackhawks uniform.
9. New York Rangers–> C Rasmus Kupari, Karpat (Finland)
Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton welcomes new head coach, David Quinn, to the Big Apple with a star in the making in Rasmus Kupari. He’s the best Finnish forward in the draft and could land a spot on the roster as New York retools on-the-fly and must re-sign or trade pending-RFAs Ryan Spooner, Vladislav Namestnikov and Kevin Hayes this summer.
The 6-foot-1, 183-pound center has a lot of skills to work with and brings a bright future down the middle with Rangers 2017 first round selection, Lias Andersson, already in the fold.
10. Edmonton Oilers–> D Quintin Hughes, Michigan (BIG10)
The Edmonton Oilers have $21 million combined locked up in cap space to star forwards, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, starting in 2018-19. General Manager Peter Chiarelli has already experienced what salary cap hell is like firsthand from his time with the Boston Bruins and is bound to move some pieces in addition to Thursday’s buyout of Eric Gryba.
Whether the Oilers use the 10th overall pick or trade it, Quintin Hughes is the perfect fit on the blueline for a team that has said they’d like to add a young defener. Hughes is drawing comparisons in his game to Torey Krug, someone Chiarelli should be familiar with, since he brought Krug to Boston in his tenure as Bruins GM.
11. New York Islanders–> D Adam Boqvist, Brynas (SWE-JR)
After relieving Garth Snow and Dough Weight of their duties and replacing them with new General Manager Lou Lamoriello and new head coach, Barry Trotz, respectively, the Islanders are ready to cash in on back-to-back picks in the first round.
First up, 5-foot-11, 168-pound, Swedish born defender, Adam Boqvist, who’ll need another year in the SHL to come into his own before launching his two-way blueliner career in Brooklyn.
12. New York Islanders (via Calgary Flames)–> C Barrett Hayton, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
With their second consecutive pick in the first round (as long as they don’t trade one of them or both), New York would be wise to select the center from the Sault Ste. Greyhounds, Barrett Hayton.
Hayton had 21-39–60 totals in 63 games this season and might need a year or two more in Juniors before becoming a centerpiece in Trotz’s lineup on Long Island (or Brooklyn or wherever the Islanders are planning on playing home games– they’re splitting them next season).
13. Dallas Stars–> D Ty Smith, Spokane (WHL)
General Manager Jim Nill can do new head coach in The Big-D, Jim Montgomery, a bit of a favor by tweaking the defense this offseason and there’s no better way to tweak the blueline than by planning for the future of the blueline.
Ty Smith brings depth to the transition game in Dallas, as John Klingberg and Marc Methot are already relied upon to do with the Stars, but he also brings a higher level of effectiveness on the power play. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound defender likely won’t see any time with the NHL club this season, but should make some leaps in the depth chart heading into 2019-20.
14. Philadelphia Flyers (via St. Louis Blues)–> LW Joel Farabee, USA U-18 (USNTDP)
Joel Farabee is one of those rare NHL-ready first round prospects that gets taken in the mid-to-late part of the opening round of the draft. He has a tremendous hockey IQ as a 5-foot-11, 164-pound left winger with a lot of speed, but he’ll be using all of that to attend classes at Boston University this fall.
It’s possible, though, that he’ll go pro after one year with the Terriers.
15. Florida Panthers–> RW Vitali Kravtsov, Chelyabinsk (Russia)
6-foot-3, 184-pound Russian right wing, Vitali Kravtsov carries the puck well and creates chances in the slot with a good shot and silky smooth passes. General Manager Dale Tallon can take a year or two to let Kravtsov develop as the Panthers sort themselves out with about $8.000 million to spend on free agents this summer– including their own pending-RFAs in Jared McCann and Frank Vatrano.
Kravtsov had 6-5–11 totals in 16 games in the Kontinental Hockey League this season playing against men and former NHLers like Pavel Datsyuk.
16. Colorado Avalanche–> C Joseph Veleno, Drummondville (QMJHL)
Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic has his work cut out for him in drafting 6-foot-1, 193-pound center Joseph Veleno. He had 22 goals and 57 assists (79 points) in 64 games as a playmaker with Drummondville this season and should work his way into the revamped Colorado lineup in the next year or two.
Past Nathan MacKinnon, Sakic has to work on finding the next best forward down the middle in the lineup of the top-6 caliber. Veleno fits that role in time.
17. New Jersey Devils–> LW Grigori Denisenko, Yaroslavl 2 (Russia)
Devils General Manager Ray Shero lands a sneaky good winger with the 17th overall pick in this year’s draft, but there’s a catch. Grigori Denisenko’s going to need two-to-three years to work his way up in the MHL/KHL rankings to elevate his game to NHL status.
The 5-foot-11, 172-pound forward had nine goals and 22 points in 31 games for Yaroslavl this season.
18. Columbus Blue Jackets–> RW Serron Noel, Oshawa (OHL)
Serron Noel is a 6-foot-5, 205-pound behemoth of a right wing with comparisons to Blake Wheeler. Despite all the rage over Artemi Panarin‘s long-term plans with the Blue Jackets organization 1) his contract expires in 2019– that’s still a year away and 2) Noel is just the guy to compete for a top-6 spot in that time span.
He had 28-25–53 totals in 62 games for the Oshawa Generals this season and should develop into a prolific forward with another year in the OHL.
19. Philadelphia Flyers–> C/LW Isac Lundestrom, Lulea (Sweden)
With their second pick in the first round, the Flyers lock up 6-foot, 183-pount forward, Isac Lundestrom. In a year or two– after more seasoning in the SHL– he’ll start to make a name for himself wearing Philadelphia orange.
Lundestrom had 15 points in 41 games in Sweden’s top professional league this season.
20. Los Angeles Kings–> RW Dominik Bokk, Vaxjo (SWE J20)
Los Angeles General Manager Rob Blake has a plan in place to stick to the plan. Unfortunately, the core of his roster is aging and, despite an almost $5 million increase in the salary cap ceiling, the Kings are in a bit of a bind knowing they’ll have to re-sign 2019 pending-UFA Drew Doughty in the time between now and next year.
German-born, 6-foot-1, 176-pound right wind, Dominik Bokk had 14 goals and 27 assists (41 points) in 35 games for Vaxjo in his rookie season in Sweden’s Junior league. He went on to have 5-6–11 totals in eight playoff games along the way to winning the league championship and has all the finesse that makes him comparable to that of current Los Angeles captain Anze Kopitar.
21. San Jose Sharks–> C/LW Ryan McLeod, Mississauga (OHL)
Ryan McLeod notched 26 goals and 44 assists (70 points) with the Steelheads in 68 games this season, slightly more than doubling his offensive production in 2016-17– his sophomore year in Junior. He might be one of the more NHL ready prospects, in terms of playing experience, but the Sharks don’t have to rush him unless he makes a lasting impression at training camp.
The 6-foot-2, 206-pound forward has just the right frame for San Jose’s liking.
22. Ottawa Senators (via Pittsburgh Penguins)–> D Bode Wilde, USA U-18 (USNTDP)
Ottawa’s second pick in the first round should help restock the lackluster defensive depth if General Manager Pierre Dorion doesn’t make any moves to shake things up.
Bode Wilde’s 6-foot-2, 197-pound frame stands tall on the blueline as a potential shutdown top-4 role given time– and the Senators could use that to balance Thomas Chabot once the Erik Karlsson saga figures itself out (the extending/re-signing or trading him part, not anything else related to the dumpster fire going on in the Sens front office).23. Anaheim Ducks–> RW Martin Kaut, Pardubice (Czech Republic)
The possibilities are endless this offseason for the Ducks. No really, there isn’t a true gut feeling on which way Anaheim will go– up or down in the standings, older or younger, more skilled and less focused on taking penalties or, well, you get the point.
Meanwhile, Czech forward, Martin Kaut is a solid selection with 2-5–7 totals in seven games for Czech Republic at the 2018 World Junior Championship. The 6-foot-1, 176-pound right wing had a much better second half of the season in the top professional Czech league after his confidence boosting WJC performance.
24. Minnesota Wild–> D Rasmus Sandin, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Rasmus Sandin’s offensive style fits right in the new-age Minnesota Wild now that new General Manager, Paul Fenton, is in charge. Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba and some combination of Ryan Suter or Jared Spurgeon and Sandin just might be the Wild’s top-4 defensive core in the near future.
The 5-foot-11, 186-pound defender had 45 points in 51 games for the Greyhounds this season.25. Toronto Maple Leafs–> C Ty Dellandrea, Flint (OHL)
At 6-feet, 184-pounds, Ty Dellandrea’s frame is perfect to make some great first impressions at training camp this fall. General Manager Kyle Dubas continues to showcase his skill in his promotion as one of the best evaluators of talent in an analytically driven mind.
Flint finished second-to-last (19th out of 20 teams) in the OHL this season, but Dellandrea was a bright spot and Dubas has a knack for finding those and making something out of it.
26. New York Rangers (via Boston Bruins)–> D Jared McIsaac, Halifax (QMJHL)
Jared McIsaac is a burly, 6-foot-1, 195-pound, defender that amassed 47 points in 65 games with Halifax this season. His size and skill alone should be enough to compensate for the beating and battering in the battle for the Metropolitan Division lead over the next few seasons.
McIsaac isn’t ready now, but he should flourish under Quinn and the Rangers– if Gorton doesn’t trade the pick.
27. Chicago Blackhawks (via Nashville Predators)–> D Ryan Merkley, Guelph (OHL)
An offensive defenseman, Ryan Merkley had 13 goals in 63 games for Guelph this season. At 5-foot-11, 170-pounds, he’ll need some time to develop his physical presence to an NHL grade, but he’s shown some feisty two-way play in his time in Junior.
28. New York Rangers (via Tampa Bay Lightning)–> RW Akil Thomas, Niagara (OHL)
As long as the Rangers hold on to all three of their first round picks, Akil Thomas is a steal at 28th overall. Thomas had 81-points with the Niagara IceDogs this season. He’ll need another year or two to develop into the forward New York will want him to be in the NHL, though.
29. St. Louis Blues (via Winnipeg Jets)–> C Jay O’Brien, Thayer Academy (USHS)
Jay O’Brien has the chance to turn a fantastic year in high school into a professional career, having amassed 43-37–80 totals in 30 games for Thayer Academy in Massachusetts.
Doug Armstrong and the Blues would be smart to find a versatile scorer to match Vladimir Tarasenko‘s style of play, even if it takes another year or two for O’Brien to develop, since St. Louis has some spots on the roster to overhaul this summer and next.
30. Detroit Red Wings (via Vegas Golden Knights)–> C Jack McBain, Toronto (OJHL)
Jack McBain’s a gifted playmaker that should pan out in a couple of years really well alongside the likes of Anthony Mantha and the rest of the Red Wings. He had 5-19–24 totals in 39 games for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens this season and will be attending Boston College this fall.
31. Washington Capitals–> D Mattias Samuelsson, USA U-18 (USNTDP)
Winning the Stanley Cup means the Capitals will pick last in the first round, but General Manager Brian MacLellan is fine with it– it means you had a successful season, after all. While Washington’s front office finds their next head coach, MacLellan snags 6-foot-4, 218-pound defenseman, Mattias Samuelsson, from the U.S. U-18 National Development Program and lets him grow into a top-4 role with the Caps.
Samuelsson had 11-20–31 totals in 58 games this season. Not only can he shutdown opponents, but his two-way game’s pretty good too.
Other Players To Watch For in the Top 62
In no particular order:
C Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Halifax (QMJHL)
LW Albin Eriksson, Skelleftå (SWE J20)
D Adam Ginning, Linköping (SHL)
C/LW Fillip Hallander, Timra (Sweden)
C David Gustafsson, HV71 (SHL)
D Alexander Alexeyev, Red Deer (WHL)
C Liam Foudy, London (OHL)
D K’Andre Miller, USA U-18 (USNTDP)
D Jett Woo, Moose Jaw (WHL)
C Jacob Olofsson, Timra (Sweden)
Olivier Rodrigue, Drummondville (QMJHL)
Olof Lindbolm, Djurgarden (SWE J20)
Jakub Skarek, Jihlava (Czech Republic)
Lukáš Dostal, Brno (Czech Jr.)
Justus Annunen, Karpat (Fin-Jr.)
Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the St. Louis Blues and their outlook for the summer.
One game. One game made all the difference for the St. Louis Blues in making or missing the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs and you’ll never guess what happened.
Yes, after compiling a 44-31-6 record, the Blues were ahead of the Colorado Avalanche by one point in the wild card race to secure the last spot in the postseason.
Despite a season-long lackluster performance in goal from Jake Allen (a career worst 2.75 goals against average and second worst .906 save percentage in 59 games played), St. Louis needed a win in any fashion in the final game of the regular season against the Avs to go up against the Nashville Predators in the First Round.
Instead, the club finished 44-32-6 on the season with 94 points– one point out of the wild card spot– and 5th in the Central Division.
Mike Yeo missed the playoffs in his first year as head coach of the Blues without any assistance from Ken Hitchcock and General Manager Doug Armstrong was left scratching his head.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
Fans were left scratching their heads after Armstrong traded hometown hero Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets in a surprise move at the trade deadline in exchange for a 2018 first round pick (29th overall) and prospect Erik Foley.
Stastny’s dad, Peter– the famous Québec Nordique– was left stunned.
Armstrong replaced the first round pick that he swapped with the Philadelphia Flyers at the 2017 Draft as part of the Jori Lehtera, a 2017 first round pick and a conditional 2018 first round pick for Brayden Schenn transaction, but at the cost of one of the better faceoff-winning centers in the league.
With the 29th overall selection in this year’s draft, Armstrong will be left picking the best available or surprising everyone– yet again– and going off the board.
Hopefully for the better, considering the organization is teetering on the edge of a retooling/rebuild.
Pending free agents
What else is there to expect from a front office that’s had to move Kevin Shattenkirk and T.J. Oshie, while letting David Backes walk in free agency in years past, thanks to a tight salary cap situation?
Armstrong can make some sweeping changes by figuring out the future of St. Louis’s crease protection plan (more on that later), but he can also restructure the team’s offensive outlook by ridding themselves of some underperforming second through fourth liners.
Thankfully, the Blues have about $12.900 million to spend with the cap expected to rise this summer.
That’s not a lot to work with, but it can bring in a difference maker, while still providing enough room to work a deal that might send Vladimir Sobotka and his $3.500 million cap hit through the 2019-20 season (or an equivalent) packing via a trade.
Upshall has loved St. Louis and its fans have responded in kind, but the time is now for the Blues to make a clean break in this relationship. He’s averaged 17 points over the last three seasons. That’s not great with an aging roster.
Brodziak, on the other hand, has bounced back from shortened seasons due to injury and doubled his point total from 15 points (69 games played) in 2016-17 to 33 points (81 GP) this season.
At first look, keeping a 34-year-old that was trending in the wrong direction when he came to St. Louis in 2015-16 isn’t great, but Brodziak is proving people wrong as part of a comeback tour with the Blues (albeit lasting three seasons). If you don’t re-sign Upshall, you can at least afford to bring back Brodziak.
But we’ll see what kind of logic Armstrong is working with this offseason.
Fabbri, 22, had 11-18–29 totals in 51 GP, down from his 18-19–37 totals in 72 games in 2016-17. That’s still respectable as a bottom-six forward, however.
Jaskin, 25, had six more points this season in 25 more games played than in 2016-17. That means he had 17 points in 76 GP this season and 11 points in 51 GP last season. The Blues can move on if they’d like.
Sundqvist, 24, was acquired last June along with a first round pick as part of the Ryan Reaves trade and had one goal and four assists (five points) in 42 games for St. Louis this season. That’s not great, but he finally played the most games he’s ever seen in one season, since breaking into the NHL in 2015-16 with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Soshnikov, 24, had one goal and one assist (two points) in 12 games with the Blues after being acquired in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He also had no points in three games with Toronto this season and has 8-8–16 totals in 82 career NHL games since 2015-16.
Unless Yeo can perform a miracle as a head coach, there’s no point in seeing if anything’s left in the potential tank.
Schmaltz had one assist in 13 games this season. He clearly isn’t part of St. Louis’s current plan, leaving one of two options– stick around as a depth blueliner or not return.
Edmundson set a career-high in goals (7) and points (17) in 69 games played this season. Nice. He’s a top-six defender and should see another year or two in a sweater with a giant blue music note on it.
If anyone’s willing to take on all or some of Jay Bouwmeester‘s $5.400 million cap hit with one year remaining– provided the 34-year-old defenseman waives his no-trade-clause– then St. Louis should pursue that avenue.
Okay, now for the future of St. Louis’s goaltending.
Jordan Binnington, 24, is a pending-RFA and should get a chance at the NHL level.
Then again, Carter Hutton, 32, is a pending-UFA and outplayed the 27-year-old starter, Jake Allen at times this season.
If St. Louis is fine staying the course as a middle of the road team that’ll come up short for a year or two, then there’s no need to worry and Hutton should be re-signed and see more time in net to offset Allen’s workload.
But if any of that clashes with what Armstrong and the rest of his front office envisions for the club, well… that’s the million dollar question.
A rebuild is not out of the question, but certainly frowned upon, given how star-forward, Vladimir Tarasenko is in his prime now.
Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:
Nick and Connor recap the 2018 trade deadline, 2018 Winter Games and 2018 overall even though it’s only March. Marco Sturm is worthy of an NHL coaching job, but will anyone take the risk? Hint: They should. Also, more thoughts on the Erik Karlsson saga.
It’s a busy day in the NHL, so let’s jump right into tonight’s schedule. Montréal at Philadelphia (RDS) gets the action started at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by two more contests (the New York Rangers at Buffalo [NBCSN/TVAS] and Ottawa at Tampa Bay [RDS2]). 8 p.m. marks the start of Edmonton at Nashville, with Winnipeg at Dallas waiting 30 minutes before dropping the puck. Two games (Chicago at Arizona and Toronto at St. Louis) drop the puck at 9 p.m., followed an hour later by tonight’s nightcap: San Jose at Vancouver.
Tonight’s game in St. Louis is the first for Mike Yeo in charge of the Blues. Let’s see if he can get the severely under-performing club back in shape.
After taking the 2010-’11 season off, Ken Hitchcock took command of the Notes on November 6, 2011. Since then, St. Louis has done nothing but succeed, finishing no worse than second place in the division over the past five years and qualifying for the Western Semifinals twice.
Unfortunately for Hitch, the Blues aren’t on the right track towards making that a six-season streak. Even with one of the best scorers in the game, they haven’t found anywhere near the success they did a season ago. Nothing makes that point clearer than looking back at February 2 a year ago when they were featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series.
And that’s not even bringing up the goaltending situation. In fact, that’s almost certainly what cost Hitchcock his job yesterday, as Jim Corsi was also relieved of his duties.
While it’s not the way Doug Armstrong envisioned it happening, Hitchcock was never going to coach the Blues beyond this season. That’s what is making this transition so easy. Yeo was hired last summer as a coach-in-waiting, effectively securing him from the other
29 30 other teams (don’t forget, somebody has to lead Vegas!) that might have been interested in his talents.
Even the goaltending coaching change was easy. Corsi is being replaced by Martin Brodeur and Ty Conklin, two former NHL netminders that were already employed by the club, with 787 wins, 1481 games and three Stanley Cups between them. Conklin was already working with the netminders as a goalie development coach, and is now joined by Assistant GM Brodeur, one of the greatest netminders of all-time.
It’s Yeo’s second stint as a head coach. He was last seen leading the Wild, and he certainly found his share of success. After his first season when Minnesota finished fourth in the five-team Northwest Division, he qualified the Wild for the Stanley Cup playoffs three-straight times. Unfortunately for him, his club managed to run into Chicago each of those postseasons.
In case you haven’t heard, Chicago is pretty darn good. The Blackhawks refused to allow the Wild to advance any further in those three campaigns – winning the Stanley Cup twice in that span – which makes assessing Yeo’s playoff coaching abilities harder than it seems on the surface.
Yeo takes command of a 24-21-5 Blues team that currently sits in fourth place in the Central Division and ninth in the Western Conference. As stated earlier, the blame rests almost entirely on the Blues‘ goaltending, which has allowed 156 goals and ties for fourth-most in the NHL.
17-13-3 Jake Allen has been the man between the pipes more often than not for St. Louis. His record doesn’t show that he’s been struggling, but his .895 save percentage and 2.87 GAA, which rank 43rd and 35th-worst, respectively, against the other 45 netminders with at least 18 appearances, tells the entire story.
Those who like stats a lot know that a horrendous save percentage with a slightly better GAA can usually be attributed to the defense. That remains the case in St. Louis, where the blueline allows only 27.6 shots-per-game to reach Allen’s net – tying for the fifth-best effort in the league. Alex Pietrangelo deserves a lot of the credit, as his 96 shot blocks are not only tops on the team, but also 19th-best in the entire league.
Interestingly, it’s been Allen that elevates his game on the penalty kill, as his .887 save percentage is 15th-best in the league. That’s led the Blues to a 82.8% kill rate, which ties for 10th-best in the NHL. Defensively, Pietrangelo remains the leader with his 23 shorthanded shot blocks.
Another aspect of the game where the Blues are right on schedule is their power play. Successful on 22.1% of attempts, it ranks eighth-best in the NHL, thanks in large part to both Kevin Shattenkirk and Vladimir Tarasenko, who both have a team-leading 18 power play points. Surprisingly, it’s actually been Shattenkirk that has buried the most goals with the man-advantage, as his seven are one more than Tarasenko’s.
With eighth-place Calgary dormant for the night, St. Louis can get their comeback started and potentially finished all in one game. A victory tonight would pull them into a tie with the Flames at 55 points-apiece, but the Blues will have only 51 games played, two fewer than Calgary.
The Maple Leafs make their lone visit to St. Louis of the year with a 23-16-9 record, good enough for fourth place in the Atlantic Division and ninth in the Eastern Conference. Although they’re a solid team, the reason the Leafs haven’t cemented themselves into a playoff position is their defense, the weaker of the two facets of their game. Toronto has allowed 133 goals, which ties for 20th-most in the league.
21-10-8 Frederik Andersen has started all but eight games for the Leafs, and for good reason. His .919 save percentage and 2.61 GAA are (t)13th and 22nd-best in the NHL, respectively, among the 42 goalies with 20 or more appearances to their credit.
If he had a better defense playing in front of him, Andersen would probably be a lot better. Toronto‘s bluelines allow 32.1 shots against-per-game, the sixth-highest (read: worst) rate in the league. Nikita Zaitsev has tried his hardest to build a solid defensive corps with his team-leading 81 shot blocks to his credit, but only him, Roman Polak and the injured Morgan Rielly have more than 60 blocks on their season-resumes. If I’m Lou Lamoriello, I’m looking around for a solid top-four defenseman this month before the trade deadline for the playoff push.
Interestingly, Toronto‘s defensive deficiencies are nonexistent when they’re facing a power play. Led by Polak’s 24 shorthanded blocks, the Leafs have successfully nullified 84.9% of opposing man-advantages, the third-best rate in the NHL.
The Maple Leafs‘ own power play has also been daunting. It’s a two-headed beast, consisting of William Nylander and James van Riemsdyk who both lead the team with 15 power play points. Toronto is home to the second-best man-advantage in the league, successful on 23.6% of attempts. Although Nylander and van Riemsdyk have been impressive, the man scoring most of those extra-man goals has been Nazem Kadri, who has 10 power play goals to his credit.
Although they sit outside the playoff bubble right now, a single point in the standings paired with a Philadelphia regulation loss would earn the Leafs the second wildcard, if only for a night. Two points for Toronto and a Philly overtime or shootout loss would also do the trick.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include St. Louis‘ Tarasenko (49 points [tied for eighth-most in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Andersen (three shutouts [tied for seventh-most in the league] among 21 wins [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]) and Auston Matthews (23 goals [tied for sixth-most in the league]).
The main issue with the Blues is their last line of defense; their goaltending. I don’t know a lot about being a goalie, but I get the vibe it’s a highly technical position that isn’t going to be resolved in 48 hours. Vegas has marked St. Louis a -120 favorite, but I don’t like those odds. If you’re a gambler, I recommend betting on the Leafs tonight.
- Kjell Dahlin (1963-) – Drafted in the fourth round of the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing played only three seasons with Montréal, the club that picked him. It was an incredible rookie season, as he notched 71 points en route to the 1986 Stanley Cup. Due to injuries, he was never able to replicate that success and was out of the league after the 1987-’88 season.
- Arturs Irbe (1967-) – This goalie might have only been drafted in the 10th round of the 1989 NHL Entry Draft by the North Stars, but he was able to turn that selection into a 13-year career. The two-time All Star spent most of his career in Carolina.
- Todd Bertuzzi (1975-) – The Islanders picked this right wing 23rd-overall in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, but he spent most of his career in Vancouver. By the time he retired, the two-time All Star notched 770 points to go with his 1478 penalty minutes.
- Jordin Tootoo (1983-) – A fourth-round pick by Nashville in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing has appeared in almost every season since 2003. He’s currently a member of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Just like I predicted, Calgary was able to best the Wild 5-1 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
The two tallies in the first period both belonged to the Flames, meaning they were in possession of their winner for quite a while. Alex Chiasson (Sam Bennett and Kris Versteeg) takes credit for Calgary‘s first goal, a deflection 4:26 after the initial puck drop. 3:43 later, First Star of the Game Sean Monahan (Johnny Gaudreau and Troy Brouwer) provided the winner with a power play wrister.
Calgary‘s win is the third-straight for the home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. It improves the hosts’ records to 57-35-16, nine points better than the roadies.
Connor Keith returns to the Down the Frozen River scene with this season preview of the St. Louis Blues. This was written before final roster cuts were made, but the season came along quickly and I kind of failed as an editor when it came to posting things in a timely manner. But that shouldn’t make any of Connor’s analysis any less valuable! Enjoy.
St. Louis Blues (52-23-7, second in division, third in conference)
After yet another early exit from the playoffs (fourth time exiting the playoffs in the first or second round since 2008-‘09), the Blues look to do more than reclaim the division title taken from them by Colorado last season. Although GM Doug Armstrong resigned Head Coach Ken Hitchcock, Associate Coach Brad Shaw, & Assistant Coach Ray Bennett, he pulled the plug on Assistant Coach Gary Shaw & Goaltending Coach Corey Hirsch. In their place, he hired Kirk Muller (ex-head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes, amassing a record of 80-80-27) as Assistant Coach & Jim Corsi as Goaltending Coach.
One of the major turnovers from last year for the Blues is between the pipes. Last season’s leading goalie in games played & wins was Jaroslav Halak, who was traded to Buffalo with Chris Stewart, William Carrier, & two draft picks for Steve Ott & goalie Ryan Miller. Miller was acquired on the last season of his contract & has since signed with Vancouver, leaving the Blues with only Brian Elliot within their system with playing time last season. The Blues have called up Jake Allen from Chicago to be a second goalie for the Blues. Based on last season’s stats, I believe that this preseason could be a major factor in the decision for who is defending the crease against the Rangers on October 9.
Brian Elliot has the experience, playing 31 games last season (double Jake Allen’s career NHL appearances). He amassed a record of 18-6-2 last season. Of those 18 wins, four were shutouts (over 22% of wins were as a result of a shutout). He blocked 92.2% of all shots last season, allowing an average of 1.96 goals per game, .07 better than Allen’s 2013-’14 campaign.
On the other hand, Jake Allen played in 52 regular season games last season for the Chicago Wolves for a 33-16-3 record. Of those 33 wins, seven were shutouts (over 21% of wins were shutouts). He blocked 92.8% of all the shots he faced last season, .6% better than Elliot, allowing 2.03 goals per game. A main thing Allen has over Elliot is recent playoff experience. Although it was not for the Stanley Cup, Allen played nine games for Chicago, amassing a 3-6 record & allowing 3.29 goals against per game. His save percentage also dipped in the Wolves’ quest for the Calder to 87.9%, dropping almost 5%.
The Blues come into the season having lost some big names, most notably Vladimir Sobotka (signed with Avangard), Brenden Morrow (signed with Tampa Bay), & Derek Roy (signed with Nashville).
They lost two of the top 10 players with most regular season games with the Blues last season in Derek Roy & Roman Polak (traded to Toronto) both playing over 70 regular season games last year. Additionally, they lost five of the top 20 players with the most playoff games with the Blues last season in Vladimir Sobotka & Roman Polak (both played in all six playoff games), Adam Cracknell (five, signed with Los Angeles), Derek Roy (four), & Brenden Morrow (two). The Blues are adding players that can play most of a regular season, though, in Chris Butler (Calgary) & Carl Gunnarsson (traded from Toronto), who both played 80+ games last season.
The Notes are not bringing back three of their top 14 shot takers this year as Derek Roy (114), Vladimir Sobotka (102), & Roman Polak (83) are not returning. These three players accounted for over 12% of the Blues’ shots last regular season. Looking at only postseason numbers, five of last playoff’s shot-takers are not returning, as Vladimir Sobotka (13), Derek Roy (nine), Adam Cracknell (six), Roman Polak (five), & Brenden Morrow (one) are not returning. These shooters accounted for almost 16% of the shots taken in the postseason.
Over 5% of last season’s goals will not show up to training camp this season as Brenden Morrow (13) is with the Bolts. The Blues have added Paul Stastny (25, signed from Colorado) & Joakim Lindstrom (23, signed from Skellefteå) to almost quadruple his goal production.
Two of the leading 11 assisters will not be with the Blues this season as Derek Roy (28), & Vladimir Sobotka (24) are not returning. The Blues have profited by signing Joakim Lindstrom (40), Paul Stastny (35), & Jori Lehtera (32, signed from Sibir Novosibirsk). These new additions double the totals of Roy & Sobotka, hopefully providing even more opportunities for Alexander Steen (33 goals), David Backes (27 goals), Paul Stastny (25 goals), & Jaden Schwartz (25 goals).
Vladimir Sobotka (14), one of the top nine +/- guys in the 2013-’14 regular season, will not return for this one. Included in that, the Blues also lost three of the top seven +/- players during the playoffs. Without Vladimir Sobotka (two), Brenden Morrow (zero), & Adam Cracknell (zero), the Blues would have scored a lowly -27. To try to improve upon these numbers, St. Louis has signed Carl Gunnarsson (12), & Paul Stastny (nine). The two additions provide decent improvements that will hopefully continue their success in St. Louis.
The Blues lost one of the top six penalty minute earners in Brenden Morrow (76). Sadly, the Blues picked up Joakim Lindstrom, who had minutes (72) almost equal to Morrow’s, so no major improvements have been made in that regard. New hires Paul Stastny & Jori Lehtera only served 22 minutes in the sin bin last season each, which averaged out to a little less than 19 seconds per game for Stastny & 27.5 seconds per game for Lehtera.
Present roster consists of 32 forwards, 16 defensemen, & four goalies (52 men).