Tag Archives: Jack Eichel

October 21 – Day 18 – Time to right the ship

In the words of Sir Elton John, “Saturday night’s alright for fighting.” If there’s a lyric that better describes hockey, I have yet to hear it.

To take it a step further, Saturday afternoon must not be too bad either, as Nashville visits the New York Rangers (SN) at 12:30 p.m. and Philadelphia hosts Edmonton half an hour later. After the matinees are complete, five contests (Buffalo at Boston, Toronto at Ottawa [CBC/CITY/TVAS], Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay, San Jose at the New York Islanders and Los Angeles at Columbus) find their start at the usual time of 7 p.m., followed by Florida at Washington (NBCSN) 30 minutes after. Carolina makes its yearly visit to Dallas at 8 p.m., with Chicago at Arizona waiting an hour before dropping the puck. The stroke of 10 p.m. brings with it the start of Minnesota at Calgary (CBC), half an hour before tonight’s nightcap: St. Louis at Vegas. All times Eastern.

It’s nights like these that are hard to pick just one game to focus on, as there’s a good reason to watch at least half of them. Here’s a few that stick out to me…

  • Buffalo at Boston: Rivalry night in Beantown is always a worthwhile experience.
  • Toronto at Ottawa: Speaking of rivalries, the Battle of Ontario is another good one.
  • Chicago at Arizona: Don’t tell anybody, but D Connor Murphy played his first four NHL seasons with the Coyotes.
  • St. Louis at Vegas: W Chris Thorburn was one of Vegas’ expansion draft selections, but he ended up signing with the Blues instead.

Since we haven’t had the opportunity to feature the Bruins or the Sabres yet this season, what better way to make up for our transgression than by focusing on their rivalry tonight?

 

Let’s just put things simply: both these clubs have much higher aspirations for their seasons than the first two-and-a-half weeks have indicated.

The 1-5-2 Sabres have especially had a tough run of things, as they’re currently riding a two game losing skid after falling in overtime to Vegas on Tuesday and losing outright to Vancouver last night.

Since the Bruins don’t play for a city that starts with a ‘V’, maybe Buffalo has a chance this evening.

Averaging .8 points-per-game after his first two seasons in the NHL, C Jack Eichel was expected to lead the Sabres to one of the best offensive efforts in the league. Instead, Buffalo’s attack has averaged a (t)fourth-worst 2.5 goals-per-game effort, forcing the Sabres to be discussed in the same breath as the likes of Arizona.

Unless we’re talking about logo and sweater designs at a franchise’s debut, it’s rarely good to be compared to the Coyotes.

Though I threw Eichel under the bus, the Sabres’ struggles are certainly no fault of their first line. In fact, if not for the production of Eichel, LW Evander Kane and RW Jason Pominville, Buffalo might as well not have an offense at all. All three are averaging at least 1.13 points-per-game this season and they combine for 12 of the Sabres’ 20 goals. While it is nice to know that one line is capable of producing 60 percent of a team’s offense, I’ll bet the house that Head Coach Phil Housley would love for F Ryan O’Reilly‘s line to find their form sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, little has gone well on the Sabres’ defensive end either. Due at least in part to Buffalo’s 49.9 face-off winning percentage (11th-worst in the league), neither G Chad Johnson nor G Robin Lehner can claim a GAA under three. Lehner has certainly been the superior of the two netminders so far with his .9 save percentage and 3.14 GAA, and he’s likely to be tonight’s starter since Johnson was responsible for last night’s 4-2 loss to the Canucks.

If anything has gone well so far for the Sabres, it’s certainly been their penalty kill. Successfully rejecting 83.3 percent of opposing power plays, Buffalo ties for eighth-best in the NHL. Defensemen Josh Gorges and Jake McCabe have played exceptionally when shorthanded, as both have five shot blocks to their credit in that situation. But there’s an asterisk next to Gorges’ name: he’s hit that total in only four games played as compared to McCabe’s eight.

Alright, that’s enough laying into one team. Time to take on the 3-3-0 Bruins.

There’s little to complain about on the Bruins’ offensive end. Averaging 3.33 goals-per-game, Boston is tied for the ninth-best offense in the NHL. It’s been the LW Brad Marchand show so far this season, as his 4-5-9 totals are easily among the top-25 performances in the league so far.

Then again, that was before C Patrice Bergeron returned to action from his lower body injury. In only one game played against Vancouver on Thursday, the 32-year-old managed one goal and three assists for a four-point night, tying him for sixth-most points on the team with players that have five more games played.

Regarding Bergeron, I have two guesses: (1) he’s one of those guys that’s good at his job, and (2) last season’s not-so-great 53 points could be eclipsed rather easily.

Whether it’s Bergeron or Marchand leading the charge, the Bruins’ power play is one of the most intimidating in the league. Boston has found success on eight-of-27 extra-man opportunities for a fourth-best 29.6 percent success rate, including C David Krejci‘s team-leading four power play points.

Of course, for an offense to be clicking along as well as the Bruins’ has been and the club only have a .500 record, there might be a problem on the other end of the ice.

That problem’s name is G Tuukka Rask. Though he’s certainly been one of, if not the league’s best netminder since his debut in the 2007-’08 season (his .922 career save percentage is tied for best in the NHL since then among goalies with at least 50 starts, and his 2.25 career GAA is second-best in that group), he’s struggled mightily in his four starts to open this campaign, managing an ugly .882 save percentage and 3.3 GAA.

Could it simply be that he’s getting sprayed with pucks every time he takes to the crease? Unfortunately, not really. He’s seen an average of only 25.5 shots-per-game so far this season, which is right in line with the (t)fourth-best 29.2 shots allowed by the Bruins’ defense per game.

It’s a fact Bruins fans may not want to admit, but Rask has only seen his save percentage drop since his .93 performance in the 2013-’14 season, with the lone exception of last year when he matched his .915 effort from the 2015-’16 campaign.

This drop in play began at the same time Rask started seeing 50-60 starts per season, which hearkens back to a statement I’ve made countless times about the Bruins’ goaltender: you can only work a mule so much. He’s been overworked for the past four seasons to the point that his play is suffering. Hopefully with G Anton Khudobin in the picture, Head Coach Bruce Cassidy will be able to relieve some of the pressure off his starter so he can rediscover his true form before his best playing days are behind him. If not, the Bruins are in a deeper hole than even the most dire of pessimists could have predicted.

Of course, all that writing may have been for naught with Rask currently listed as day-to-day with a concussion after a collision with rookie F Anders Bjork Wednesday. Expect Khudobin and his .927 save percentage to start this evening.

The Sabres are just waiting for a breakout game, but they have yet to earn it. I truly do believe in their offense, but I have concerns about the defense going up against an elite scoring club in Boston. Though the TD Garden hasn’t exactly been friendly to its residents for the past few years, I expect the Bruins to win this game by dominating the scoreboard.


For the second-straight night, the DtFR Game of the Day required more than 60 minutes to determine a winner. This time, it was First Star of the Game W Alex Ovechkin scoring the overtime winner for the Washington Capitals to beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-3.

Featuring four total goals, the third period was absolutely wild. It was set up by a two-goal second period, as both F Darren Helm and W Andre Burakovsky (D Dmitry Orlov and W Tom Wilson) found goals to set the score at one-all. Helm’s wrist shot at the 4:31 mark of the frame was particularly noteworthy, as it was his first shorthanded goal since April 9, 2015.

Eighty-five seconds after the second intermission ended, the flurry of third period goals began when F Jay Beagle (RW Alex Chiasson) scored a shorthanded wrister to give the Capitals the lead. It was a lead that lasted only 3:59 though, as Second Star F Tomas Tatar (F Dylan Larkin and D Mike Green) leveled the contest with a tip-in. Scoring subsided until Tatar (F Henrik Zetterberg and D Niklas Kronwall) buried his second of the game, a power play snap shot, with 7:15 remaining in regulation to take a 3-2 lead for the Red Wings.

Detroit almost managed to earn the victory, but Larkin’s delay of game penalty for sending the puck over the glass set up a power play opportunity for the Capitals. Held off the scorecard in his last game played, F T.J. Oshie (Burakovsky and C Evgeny Kuznetsov) was sure to take advantage, scoring his wrister with 61 seconds remaining in regulation to level the game at three-all.

The Red Wings apparently didn’t learn their lesson when Oshie forced overtime. 68 seconds into three-on-three play, D Trevor Daley earned himself a seat in the penalty box for tripping Ovechkin. Ovi didn’t seem to like that very much, as he ended the game only 48 later with a game-winning slap shot from his usual spot in the face-off circle to Third Star G Petr Mrazek‘s right, assisted by C Nicklas Backstrom and D John Carlson.

G Braden Holtby earned the victory after saving 34-of-37 shots faced (.919 save percentage), forcing Mrazek to take the overtime loss, saving 37-of-41 (.902).

Not only was this the second-straight overtime game, but it was also a second-straight victory for road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Visitors now trail the 10-5-3 home teams by only five points.

NCAA Weekly Match-Up, 10/13/17

Don’t worry, be happy! It’s a hockey-filled weekend!

This week, we will be taking a look at another non-conference matchup, as the boys from Mankato head to Boston to take on the Terriers. Last week, we were stuck on Minnesota, but we left out one nationally respected team, the Minnesota State Mavericks. Boston University is a historic program in their own right, having produced some quality talent over the years (yes, Jack Eichel counts). These two squads are both top-tier teams of their respective conferences, so it will be interesting to see how the Mavericks out of the WCHA can stack up against one of the powerhouses of Hockey East. A two-game series will be played, so what can fans look for in this Friday/ Saturday heavyweight fight.

Minnesota State Mavericks v. Boston University Terriers

Game Details:

Friday (10/13) and Saturday (10/14)

7:30PM and 7:00PM

Agganis Arena (Boston, MA)

Game Preview:

Minnesota State opened up their season with a 4-0 loss to St. Cloud State. As their opposition was highly ranked in the national standings (currently sitting at number six in the NCAA), this is a “quality loss.” I use that term loosely because the Mavericks should be able to skate against any opponent. The Mavericks were hit with high expectations, being tabbed as the pre-season favorites of the WCHA. Another quality opponent in Boston University will surely reveal whether or not Minnesota State can live up to the hype.

Was their shutout loss to open the season just a fluke? This team looks poised to wreak havoc (at least in the WCHA) again this season. They really didn’t have any team-altering losses over the offseason. The graduation of four seniors does take a toll on their internal leadership, but only one of those skaters scored above 20 points in their final season. Collectively, the group only contributed 19 goals. One could argue Cole Huggins was a big loss, but he only started in 19 games. Although his 0.902 save percentage and 2.29 goals against average are respectable, these numbers seem replaceable, but maybe not as easily as one would think.

Jason Pawloski earned the start in the first game of the season. He gave up three goals in 56:57 of ice time, with the team’s fourth goal against being thrown into an empty net. Keep an eye on the coach’s decision to see who draws the start Friday night. Pawloski may get another shot, but we also could see new goaltender Connor LaCouvee in the crease. LaCouvee is a transfer student, formerly playing at Boston University. You can see how this may be in intriguing situation. He only played in five games last season at BU, but it surely isn’t a stretch of the imagination to see him playing either Friday or Saturday night.

Boston University has opened the season with two wins against ranked opponents. Their first win came against Union (ranked #16 at the time of play). Their second tilt was an exciting 3-2 overtime victory against Quinnipiac (currently ranked #17). If we are comparing resumes, the Terriers are definitely off to the better start. Both teams have faced quality competition; BU handled their opponents, while the Mavericks were shutout. It’s still a little early to make any bets based on one or two weeks of play, so let’s look at who has been leading the home team to victory.

After two games in the books, everyone is taking notice of Patrick Harper. Now this is nothing new for the Connecticut native, who was just one marker shy of a point-per-game pace last season. He was a force on the ice, ending with a +6 rating during his freshman campaign. With further development to grow stronger and faster, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him turn in an even better season this year. This Nashville Predators draft pick is doing all that he can to get noticed and convert his talents to professional hockey, but he will surely help the Terriers win many games in the process. Although it will not be sustainable, his 0.800 shooting percentage is impressive through two games.

Jake Oettinger, goaltender for BU, will be another player to watch, as he has started both of their games between the pipes. Oettinger had a very rewarding offseason, being drafted by the Dallas Stars in the first round (26th overall). This is a big confidence boost for the young goaltender, who appeared in 35 games last season for the Terriers. So far on the season, Oettinger has only allowed 3 goals, facing 31 and 22 shots respectively. At this point, Oettinger is “the guy” for Boston U. and will be a guaranteed start in 30+ games again this season.

Lastly, another critical aspect of the game will be the special teams units. BU is converting their power-play chances at a very respectable 30%. Their penalty killing has been quite successful as well, only allowing one goal of seven opportunities. If things get a little dicey, which is always possible between two quality teams, there may be quite a few shorthanded situations at both ends of the ice. If this ends up being the case, Minnesota State will be able to put their team to the test. They failed to convert on their one power-play so far this season, while also only allowing one shot during their first penalty kill.

Players to Watch:

Boston UniversitySophomore Goalie, Jake Oettinger; Sophomore Forward Patrick Harper; Sophomore Defense, Chad Krys (Drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks)

Minnesota State – Junior Defense, Daniel Brickley;  Freshman Forward, Jake Jaremko; Sophomore Forward, Marc Michaelis

Sabres’ Early Struggles Lead to Questions

Bad habits die hard, as the Buffalo Sabres have had another bad start to the season. And because of those slow starts, the team gets in a hole at the beginning of the season so deep that they can never battle back and salvage the campaign.

The Sabres are 0-2-1 through the first three games, and the past two games against the New York Islanders and the New Jersey Devils have seen them give up a total of 12 goals. One of the biggest problems is that Buffalo is giving up a great deal of odd-man rushes. In the New Jersey game, odd-man rushes cost the Sabres four goals against.

But it is not just odd-man rushes. A lot of the goals against are because of the sloppy play in the Sabres’ own end and turnovers in key areas. Phil Housley, the Sabres’ new head coach, says the team needs to work harder and the results will come.

As if the defense is the only group struggling, Buffalo’s offense has also had its short comings. The Sabres have only had one line producing goals this season. Evander Kane has four goals, Jason Pominville has two goals and Jack Eichel has one goal. Big name players like Ryan O’Reilly, Sam Reinhart and Kyle Okposo have been snack bitten thus far. O’Reilly has been basically invisible through three games and Sam Reinhart has looked lost playing his original center position.

Last year, the Sabres finished with the best power play in the league. Well, that was last year folks, as this year the Sabres are currently 16th with a lousy 15 percent success-rate early in the season. That’s not the worst part though, as the Sabres have given up four shorthanded goals already this season. That is the same amount the club gave up all of last season.

The team doesn’t have many excuses for the bad play. They don’t have many injuries, with just Zach Bogosian being the only serious loss to the team. So why is this team struggling so badly already? Sabres fans are looking for answers and if the squad continues to play the way it is, the loyal fan base will look for change.

Most of the Sabres’ struggles are because this team is weak-minded. They don’t handle adversity well at all. For example, when the Sabres were down 2-0 against the Devils, Kane found a goal to cut the lead to one. But, that positive momentum didn’t last a two full minutes as the Devils responded with goal of their own, and then found a fourth minutes later. Housley put it best when he stated the team doesn’t have push back when the game needs it or they face adversity. With a young team, learning to win is a hard thing to teach, but they need to show more fight if they want to be in more games.

The next issue has a lot to do with the goaltending, but Robin Lehner is not entirely to blame for this struggle. The fan base is used to having star and franchise goals, as the Sabres were lucky to have two elite goalies play for their organization in Dominik Hasek and Ryan Miller. Lehner is not one of those goalies: he is a tweener until the next franchise goalie comes along.

Lehner has been left out to dry for the two games he’s played this season. This is a goalie who posted a .920 save percentage last year and bailed the team out of a lot of games. His main weakness is the shootout, as he has yet to find a win in the shootout in his three seasons as a Sabre. He struggles to even make one save, but – again -it’s not just his fault as his team also forgets to score in shootout.

It’s easy to blame the coach and his system. Housley wants to play a five-man attack and wants the team to play with speed. This is part of the issue as the team doesn’t have a lot of speed with the exceptions of Eichel and Kane. Learning the new five-man attack is taking some time and, without the correct cycle, is leading to those odd-man rushes going the other way.

It looks bad right now, but I would like to remind people that last year the Nashville Predators struggled to start the season. They started their first 10 games 3-5-2 under Housley’s defensive system. That being said, things need to change for the Sabres because Jason Botterill has a plan and I’m sure could find a way to make moves to better this team.

The league is getting younger and the youth movement is on. It’s only a matter of time before the youngsters of Alex Nylander, Brendan Ghule and Linus Ullmark get a spot in the NHL. Players like Matt Moulson and Josh Gorges are going to move on and the youth will get a chance to wake this team up.

The Sabres are heading west as they have San Jose tonight at 10:30 p.m. EDT. They have had luck against this team over past few years, and they need to get on the right path on this trip with other games against LA, Anaheim and Vegas. If they could take 2 or 3 out of 4 games, the fans will calm down and they could start getting out of the big hole.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #74- Participation Trophies After One Game (Part II)

Jaromir Jagr signed with the Calgary Flames this week, the regular season started (though the Pittsburgh Penguins might not have been told yet that the games matter now) and former players tend to be GMs in the NHL, the Original Trio confirms. Also, we gave participation trophies without even watching the rest of the season for the second year in a row.

Listen to this week’s podcast on our Libsyn page (and/or on your favorite podcast listening app that snags our RSS Feed).

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

Numbers Game: 2017-18 Standings Projections

Yes, it’s October.

Yes, it’s too early to make a final standings projection, but I’m going to do it anyway using a pseudo-algorithm called Heart and Grit Gut Feeling 2.0 (combined with the standard Microsoft Excel forecasting formula).

Gut Feeling 2.0 is better than just using the eye test because it combines actual numbers plugged into Microsoft Excel with the complete partial bias of whatever I feel like is the right record, number of points and/or anything shown below for all 31 teams in the NHL.

But seriously, to keep this loosely based in mathematics, I’ve included a range of points that three separate models are indicating (scroll to the bottom), as well as what Gut Feeling 2.0 is telling us.

2017-2018 Projected Final Standings

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. y-Boston Bruins, 101 points
  2. x-Montreal Canadiens, 99 points
  3. x-Tampa Bay Lightning, 98 points
  4. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 95 points
  5. Ottawa Senators, 93 points
  6. Buffalo Sabres, 90 points
  7. Florida Panthers, 82 points
  8. Detroit Red Wings, 80 points

Predicting the final outcome across the Eastern Conference this year is a lot like playing the lottery– whether you pick your numbers or just do quick picks, your odds of winning are still far, far less than getting struck by lightning twice.

In the Atlantic Division, the Boston Bruins barely beat out the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning for the regular season division title with 101 points over Montreal’s 99 points and Tampa’s 98 points based on the Gut Feeling 2.0 model. Of course, seeding in the Stanley Cup Playoffs more often than not means nothing. Just like winning the President’s Trophy doesn’t mean much unless you win the Cup.

Given the parity of the Atlantic Division teams, it wouldn’t be surprising to see any of the top-four teams in this model switch places or grab the division crown. Based on expected final standings point-ranges alone, Tampa looks to rebound with ease, while Montreal maintains status quo.

It’s a bit of a surprise, but the Ottawa Senators sit just on the outside looking in, though logic says otherwise. For one team to improve in the division (say, Tampa for example, or the Buffalo Sabres with a healthy, full-season of Jack Eichel), another team must lose. Five points in the final standings is the only difference between 2017-2018 and 2016-2017 for the Sens and ultimately it costs them a postseason appearance.

But if any major injuries occur to teams ahead of the Senators or Sabres, then expect either Ottawa or Buffalo to be ready to take their place.

When it comes to 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff success, you might want to consider cashing in on the Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs to at least make it to the Second Round.

Metropolitan Division

  1. z-Pittsburgh Penguins, 107 points
  2. x-Washington Capitals, 106 points
  3. x-New York Rangers, 103 points
  4. x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 102 points
  5. New York Islanders, 92 points
  6. Carolina Hurricanes, 92 points
  7. Philadelphia Flyers, 91 points
  8. New Jersey Devils, 84 points

The 2017-2018 final standings in the Metropolitan Division look similar to the 2016-2017 final standings in the Metropolitan Division. This is no accident. The top teams, Pittsburgh, Washington and the New York Rangers, remain dominant in their regular season play. Even the Columbus Blue Jackets, despite a six-point setback from their franchise best 50-win, 108-point season last year, remain a competitive team that should cross the 100-point plateau for two-seasons in a row under John Tortorella’s guise.

Whereas the Washington Capitals do not clinch the President’s Trophy in the 2017-2018 season and instead falter by 12 points compared to last season, the Carolina Hurricanes show improvement in their money-puck roster mentality, but ultimately the giants of the Metropolitan Divsion (the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, to be specific) prove too much for them to handle this season, though a 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs run seems imminent.

Somehow the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers remain stagnant this season, but the New Jersey Devils make the largest leap in points (from 70 points in ’16-’17 to 84 points in ’17-’18) as the rest of the division evens out.

Look for Pittsburgh to advance to the Second Round and yet another entertaining Rangers-Capitals matchup in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. y-Chicago Blackhawks, 102 points
  2. x-St. Louis Blues, 101 points
  3. x-Nashville Predators, 97 points
  4. x-Dallas Stars, 96 points
  5. x-Minnesota Wild, 95 points
  6. Winnipeg Jets, 87 points
  7. Colorado Avalanche, 82 points

Look, the Dallas Stars have tremendous talent on their expected first line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov, but even with Ben Bishop as their starting goaltender the Stars aren’t the best team in the Central Division.

Instead, the annual “how do they keep doing this all the time? oh, right, they have Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford still” Chicago Blackhawks will just come out on top of the St. Louis Blues who look to improve from last season with a reinforced offense (hello, Brayden Schenn) and more experience on the blue line.

The Nashville Predators, in all their glory with four incredibly deep forward lines, the best defense (on paper) and an elite starting goalie in Pekka Rinne, surprisingly fall short of winning the division coming off of their 2017 Stanley Cup Final run. Nashville will be in better playoff position heading into the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, given they won’t be the last team to clinch in the Western Conference, and they should be destined for another Western Conference Finals run, at least.

The Minnesota Wild are the winners of the consolation “hey the other division didn’t have four-quality playoff teams” prize and will clinch the second Western Conference wild card spot with 95 points in 2017-18– one season removed from a 49-25-8 record and 106 point, 2nd place finish in the Central Division.

Finally, the Colorado Avalanche couldn’t possibly have a season worse than they did last season, though they’re still poised to finish behind the Winnipeg Jets for last place in the division.

Pacific Division

  1. p-Edmonton Oilers, 112 points
  2. x-Anaheim Ducks, 109 points
  3. x-San Jose Sharks, 99 points
  4. Los Angeles Kings, 92 points
  5. Calgary Flames, 85 points
  6. Vancouver Canucks, 83 points
  7. Arizona Coyotes, 78 points
  8. Vegas Golden Knights, 72 points

Gut Feeling 2.0 never lies and the numbers don’t lie either. The Edmonton Oilers will be the top team in the Pacific Division when all is said and done this season. Better yet, the Oilers will be this season’s President’s Trophy winners– something that hasn’t happened since the days of some guy wearing a jersey with the number “99” on the back of it skated around the ice.

Other than Edmonton overtaking the Anaheim Ducks for first overall, there are virtually no changes in the Pacific Division standings. San Jose will knock at the door of a 100-point season for the third season in a row, only to fall a point short (for the second season in a row).

While Los Angeles Kings fans may be disappointed this season, if anything, missing the playoffs for one more season should give them enough time to develop and recover from their offseason roster moves while GM Rob Blake figures out the reins and plans the path back to Stanley Cup glory.

Things are coming together for the Arizona Coyotes. They won’t be a bad team; they’re just a victim of circumstance. Unfortunately, that circumstance dictates that it’s going to take one more season for the chemistry to work out as general manager, John Chayka, addresses the growing depth on offense (both in prospect development and with the addition of Derek Stepan this offseason), while building a stable core of defensemen and capable young goalies in Antti Raanta and Louis Domingue.

Meanwhile the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames go through their own growing pains for another season.

Luckily for the Vegas Golden Knights, there’s no pressure to play better than last season, mostly because this is their inaugural season, so it can’t be worse than before!

Look for Edmonton to make noise in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, going as deep as the Western Conference Finals– at least. Likewise, the Sharks seem ready for a better fight in the postseason than last season.

Plausible ranges in points based on three separate models (math done in Microsoft Excel alone– no Gut Feeling 2.0 added) for the 2017-2018 season:

Atlantic Division

Boston Bruins (94-101), Buffalo Sabres (67-84), Detroit Red Wings (86-101), Florida Panthers (84-92), Montreal Canadiens (93-99), Ottawa Senators (91-92), Tampa Bay Lightning (89-98), Toronto Maple Leafs (80-90)

Metropolitan Division

Carolina Hurricanes (81-87), Columbus Blue Jackets (84-92), New Jersey Devils (77-92), New York Islanders (84-97), New York Rangers (98-103), Philadelphia Flyers (90-92), Pittsburgh Penguins (105-108), Washington Capitals (102-119)

Central Division

Chicago Blackhawks (100-107), Colorado Avalanche (65-84), Dallas Stars (92-94), Minnesota Wild (93-97), Nashville Predators (94-97), St. Louis Blues (97-106), Winnipeg Jets (83-87)

Pacific Division

Anaheim Ducks (101-109), Arizona Coyotes (74-83), Calgary Flames (85-90), Edmonton Oilers (74-87), Los Angeles Kings (90-96), San Jose Sharks (99-104), Vancouver Canucks (72-95), Vegas Golden Knights (69-75)

Colby’s Corner Top five Players Poised to Breakout

A new season starts today, so it’s time for me to jump in and tell you five players to keep an eye out for as they could have breakout seasons. I didn’t limit myself to just rookies; I was also looking for players who could fill some big shoes or become a standout on their team.

First up,

  1. Oliver Bjorkstrand

This one may surprise a few, but after a strong preseason performance, Bjorkstrand could really step up this season and have a big role with the Columbus Blue Jackets. As a highly rated prospect, I believe Jacket fans have been waiting for him to show up in a big way.

Bjorkstrand only has 38 games played over the past two seasons, recording 10 goals and 11 assists in that time. I remember watching him play in World Juniors a few years ago and he had the ability to take over a game and control his team’s offensive flow. If he can provide that for the Jackets, this would give them another weapon with a nice scoring touch. Bjorkstrand could be a name that you hear more of this season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 10-15 goals with another 10-20 assists.

Next up,

  1. Matthew Tkachuk

I have been a huge fan of Tkachuk for a long time – if you have listened to podcasts you know this. Tkachuk had a solid rookie season, recording 13 goals and 35 assists. If that’s what you get from a 6th Overall pick in his first year, you are not going to complain if you are the Calgary Flames. Tkachuk’s physical game and willingness to get into dirty areas allowed him to find some extra points this past season.

Last season in four playoff games, Tkachuk was held pointless and I think that left a bitter taste in his mouth. If he used that as a motivator in his offseason, than he should come back as an even better player. Not to mention the Flames signed the ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr to a one-year deal. Jagr can show Tkachuk how to use his big body to his advantage and give him other tips to have a great season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 20-25 goals with another 30-40 assists.

Next up,

  1. Alexander DeBrincat

Rookie Alert: Alex DeBrincat makes my list as a player that could be the next Artemi Panarin in the Chicago Blackhawks organization. DeBrincat has been one of the best junior players over the past few seasons trying to crack the Hawks roster, and has finally done that this season. Yes, he is a rookie – and a small one at that – but he has proven he knows were the net is. DeBrincat has scored over 100 points in three-straight OHL seasons, including his final year with the Erie Otters when he finished with 65 goals and 62 assists for a 127 points.

The argument that it won’t convert over is nonsense as junior players like Mitch Marner and Matthew Tkachuk are finding goals in this league. Another reason he is so high on my list is the opportunity he could have to play with some of the best players in the league in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. If he can learn from either of them, this kid could become a star in no time.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 20-25 goals with another 35-45 assists.

Next up,

  1. Jake Guentzel

Now you can say Jake Guentzel is already a star from his Stanley Cup-winning performance last season. I agree, but I think he can play even better than he was in the playoffs. Guentzel had 13 goals and 8 assists in 25 playoff games last spring. It was a performance so strong that he deserved the Conn Smythe Trophy – only have it ripped from him by Sidney Crosby. We haven’t seen Guentzel in playoff form for a whole season, but this is that season.

Thinking about Guentzel, Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin all performing in top form has me believing this team could be looking at a three-peat without question, as they are probably the favorite in the East again. Guentzel’s scoring touch and being on the same page and line as Crosby could see his numbers sky rocket and he could be an even bigger star in Pittsburgh.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 30-35 goals with another 40-50 assists.

Finally,

  1. Jack Eichel

Jack Eichel will look to keep pace with fellow 2015 first-rounder Connor McDavid‘s scoring this year after missing the start of last season with a high ankle sprain. In addition to ruining Jack’s chance to shine for all 82 games, his injury was also a major contributor to the Buffalo Sabres’ slow start that potentially cost them their first postseason appearance since 2011. And the fact that Eichel had to watch his buddies Auston Matthews and McDavid in the playoffs last season was surely his motivator this offseason. Just watching a few preseason games, Jack looks faster and smoother this than he did last year.

Eichel was very open about how he missed out on  a $1 million bonus for his points-per-game percentage last season. Jack had 57 points in 61 games played, but he hovered around one point-per-game for most of the season before finishing the season in a slump to fall short of his goal. After signing an 8-year, $10 million AAV Tuesday and with the potential to assume captaincy of this Sabres team and lead them to the playoffs, I bet Eichel will earn every cent of his bonus this season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 30-35 goals with another 40-50 assists.

Buffalo Sabres 2017-2018 Season Preview

Buffalo Sabres

33-37-12, 78 points, 8th in Atlantic (‘16-‘17)

Key Additions: Viktor Antipin, Nathan BeaulieuSeth GriffithChad JohnsonJacob JosefsonJason PominvilleBenoit PouliotMarco Scandella, Phil Housley (Coach), Jason Botterill (GM)

Key Subtractions: Tyler Ennis (Traded to Minnesota), Marcus Foligno (Traded to Minnesota), Dmitry Kulikov (Signed with Winnipeg), Dan Bylsma (Fired), Tim Murray (Fired)

Unsigned: Cody Franson

Offseason Analysis: The Buffalo Sabres had a busy offseason to say the least, as both General Manager Tim Murray and Head Coach Dan Byslma were fired following the club’s sixth-straight season missing the playoffs. The search for a new GM led Owner Terry Pegula to former player Jason Botterill, who continued the trend of hiring former players by offering former Sabres great Phil Housley his first NHL head coaching job. Housley was an assistant coach with the Nashville Predators for the past four seasons, helping to lead the club to its first Stanley Cup Finals appearance. This was a smart move to hire a former blue liner to lead the team, as he should bring Buffalo a smooth-skating team that allows the defensemen, Rasmus Ristolainen in particular, to carry the puck up ice similar to Nashville’s style.

The Sabres have struggled defensively for years now, so it was no surprise that Botterill’s first goal was to fix that issue. He started by signing KHL free agent defenseman Viktor Antipin, but didn’t stop there: he also acquired Nathan Beaulieu from Montreal for a 3rd round pick. Botterill still saw the need for a top pair defenseman, so he traded Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno and a 3rd round pick to the Minnesota Wild for Marco Scandella, fan-favorite Jason Pominville and a 4th round pick.

Although Botterill addressed the Sabres’ defensive issues early in summer, he didn’t neglect his other positions. Among his most important additions are Benoit Pouliot, Chad Johnson and Jacob Josefson.

All in all, the Sabres’ offseason look pretty solid. They didn’t go out and overspend on any major free agents.

That being said, they still have a big hole among their top 6 forwards. Specifically, the need for a left wing is paramount, and it has top prospects Justin Bailey, Nicholas Baptiste and Alexander Nylander all itching for the chance to play with the big boys. I personally believe Nylander stands the best chance. He is a natural left wing and has added some needed muscle this offseason. A solid camp from him could see him playing on the left with Jack Eichel or Ryan O’Reilly.

Offseason Grade: B+

Overall, the Sabres had a tremendous offseason and I think the fans will see a better product on the ice this season. With a healthy Eichel and strong defense, I think the Sabres should be a playoff team.

New Jersey Devils 2017-’18 Season Preview

New Jersey Devils

28-40-14, 70 points, last in the Eastern Conference

Additions: F Brian Boyle, C Nico Hischier, F Marcus Johansson, W Drew Stafford

Subtractions: W Beau Bennett (signed with STL), F Mike Cammalleri (signed with LAK), W Patrik Elias (retired), F Jacob Josefson (signed with BUF), D Jonathon Merrill (drafted by VGK), W Devante Smith-Pelly (signed with WSH)

Offseason Analysis: Ignoring the lockout-shortened seasons of 1994-’95 and 2012-‘13, last year’s 70-point effort was the Devils’ worst campaign since 1988-’89. That ensuing draft, New Jersey selected future four-time All-Star RW Bill Guerin, who eventually contributed 11 points in the Devils’ 1995 run to the Stanley Cup – including an assist on C Neal Broten’s Cup-clinching goal.

Especially in light of recent draft standouts at the center position (think Jack EichelAuston Matthews, Connor McDavid, etc.), General Manager Ray Shero is hoping last year’s struggles that allowed him to draft Hischier with the first overall pick will yield similar results in the near future as he works to rebuild the club back to the level of success it’s experienced for most of the past three decades.

The speedy Swiss 18-year-old brings 38-48-86 totals from his time with QMJHL side Halifax last year, but he alone won’t be enough to significantly improve the third-worst offense in the league. That’s where former first-rounder Johansson and his career-high 24-34-58 totals from a season ago with the Capitals comes into play. Since both C Jesper Boqvist and W Fabian Zetterlund – the Devils’ second and third selections in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft – are expected to spend at least one more season in their native Sweden, it’ll be up to them to spearhead any attacking improvements for Head Coach John Hynes’ club alongside Taylor Hall (20-33-53) and Kyle Palmieri (26-27-53), last season’s co-leaders in points for the team.

Since the addition of 2017 Hobey Baker Award winner D Will Butcher on August 27, the situation along Jersey’s blue line could be evolving even though the Devils did little more than draft D Reilly Walsh with their second third-round pick, but it remains to be seen if Butcher will join Captain Andy Greene and co. on the senior team or if he’ll be assigned to Binghamton on AHL assignment.

Of note in this situation are the contracts, or lack thereof, of two Devils defensemen of the same mold: 26-year-old John Moore (12-10-22) and 23-year-old Damon Severson (3-28-31). Moore will be an unrestricted free agent following this season, while Severson is currently a restricted free agent. Should the Devils be unable to agree to terms with Severson – which would seem unlikely, given their almost $18 million in cap space – Butcher would be a lock to make Jersey’s 23-man roster, if not earn regular playing time. And in the predictable case Severson remains with the Devils, Butcher would almost certainly be an improvement over D Dalton Prout, who is eligible to be demoted to the AHL without hitting the waiver wire.

The same two goaltenders return from last year, and Cory Schneider – co-winner of the 2011 William M. Jennings Trophy – will be expected to return to his previous form. For his entire NHL career, Schneider has managed a .922 save percentage and 2.28 GAA, but those numbers fell to .908 and 2.82 last season. In large part, that may have been due to his defense allowing 31.4 shots to reach his crease per game (tied for ninth-worst in the NHL), but he cannot expect that to change given the Devils’ inactivity in changing personnel along the blue line. If New Jersey plans to end its rebuild now (*hint* it shouldn’t), it will have to fall on Schneider to shore up the defensive end.

Unfortunately, I don’t expect Devils fans to witness immediate progress noticeable in a final score. Instead, they should be looking for improved fundamentals from all skaters, a rebound season for Schneider and another solid entry draft to shore up the defensive corps. Rasmus Dahlin or Jared McIsaac, anyone?

Offseason Grade: B

Make no doubt about it: the Devils are in full rebuild mode and would be unwise to believe they are retooled enough to emerge from the bottom of the Eastern Conference this season. But, they have made many of the right steps in improving their forward corps with talented youths and could begin making their resurgence in a few years if they stick with #TheProcess.

2017 Mock Draft: The First Round

2017_NHL_Entry_Draft_logo
NHL Entry Draft logos via NHL

The time has come for my annual prediction of how the first round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft will go. This year’s draft class is overall weaker than years past, but comes with a difficult choice for the New Jersey Devils, as they hold the 1st overall pick. The talk surrounding Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier is reminiscent of the Taylor Hall vs. Tyler Seguin days leading up to the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles.

With that in mind, let’s see how many picks I get wrong (it’s an annual tradition!)– this year’s draft is being held in Chicago.

New Jersey Devils Logo1) New Jersey Devils –> C Nolan Patrick, Brandon (WHL)

A gifted center, Nolan Patrick’s status as the long-time coming predicted 1st overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft should not be affected by his injury shortened season with the Brandon Wheat Kings. Patrick is a 6’2″, 199-pound gifted two-way player that can not only contribute in goals and assists, but brings some size down the middle for the Devils.

Philadelphia Flyers Logo2) Philadelphia Flyers –> C Nico Hischier, Halifax (QMJHL)

If New Jersey doesn’t take Nolan Patrick 1st overall, then the Flyers shouldn’t really have any complaints, because either Nico Hischier or Patrick is quite the impressive steal for the 2.4% longshots at the 2nd overall pick in this year’s draft. Hischier stands tall at 6’2″, 179 pounds, and had 38-48-86 totals with the Halifax Mooseheads in 57 games this season en route to being named the CHL’s Rookie of the Year.

Unknown-23) Dallas Stars –> C Gabriel Vilardi, Windsor (OHL)                

Gabriel Vilardi was part of this year’s Memorial Cup champion, the Windsor Spitfires, and amassed 29-32-61 totals in 49 games played this season. He’s a two-way center that remains composed in all situations while utilizing unparalleled hands and finesse in this year’s draft. Vilardi would be quite the addition to Dallas’s prospect pool at 6’3″, 203 pounds and only 17-years-old (until August 16th, that is).

Unknown-14) Colorado Avalanche –> D Miro Heiskanen, HIFK (Finland)

One can assume that the Avalanche are bound to be trading a bunch of forwards for forwards this offseason (at least), but more important than having an offense is having a defense and an offense (which Colorado has had one in recent years and I’ll give you a hint– it hasn’t been a defense). Miro Heiskanen is a 6’1″, 172-pound two-way defenseman that had five goals and five assists (10 points) in 37 games with HIFK this season and is just part one of many moves towards turning things around at Pepsi Center.

imgres-25) Vancouver Canucks –> C Casey Mittelstadt, Eden Prairie (HS-MN)

The Vancouver Canucks can begin to start thinking about their long term approach to the end of the Sedin era by assuring themselves of a strong presence down the middle. Casey Mittelstadt brings that strong presence at center by virtue of his 6’1″, 201-pound frame and tremendous skill. There’s a reason why he was named this year’s Mr. Hockey in the state of Minnesota. Mittelstadt had 21-43-64 totals in 25 games with Eden Prairie and 13-17-30 totals in 24 games with the Green Bay Gamblers (USHL) this season.

vegas_golden_knights_logo6) Vegas Golden Knights –> C Cody Glass, Portland (WHL)

For their first draft selection in franchise history, the Vegas Golden Knights are bound to select perhaps the most tactically smart playmaker of the draft in Cody Glass. The 6’2″, 178-pound, right-handed center had 32 goals and 62 assists (94 points– T-7th in the WHL) and is sure to fit right in with the Golden Knights roster and longterm plans. Vegas would be wise to let him play coming out of the draft, since Glass is perhaps the most NHL ready player besides Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier.

Unknown-37) Arizona Coyotes –> D Cale Makar, Brooks (AJHL)

The Arizona Coyotes have been stockpiling forwards (if you can believe it) in recent drafts, so this year seems to be the right time to snag a puck moving defenseman that’s committed to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst next season. Cale Makar had 24 goals and 51 assists (75 points) in 54 games with the Brooks Bandits in the Alberta Junior Hockey League this season– a 20-point improvement in as many games compared to last season.

Unknown-28) Buffalo Sabres –> C Michael Rasmussen, Tri-City (WHL)

At 6’6″, 215 pounds, Michael Rasmussen is exactly what the Sabres need to compliment the already sized up centers of Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly. Sheer intimidation could be one thing Buffalo banks on in the near future, thanks to their Goliath centers, but don’t let that be the only thing. Rasmussen has silky hands and had 32-23-55 totals with the Tri-City Americans this season in the Western Hockey League.

Unknown9) Detroit Red Wings –> RW Owen Tippett, Mississauga (OHL)

Owen Tippett has been drawing comparisons to Phil Kessel (no, not necessarily because he’s a hot dogs and hamburgers guy– though we haven’t asked him– but rather, because Mike Morreale of NHL.com says so). The 6’0″, 200-pound, right winger had 44 goals and 31 assists (75 points) in 60 games with the Mississauga Steelheads and is a natural sniper.

Florida_Panthers_logo_201610) Florida Panthers –> C Martin Necas, Brno (Czech Republic)

Martin Necas is a versatile center that can create space for the puck and generate offense with his playmaking mindset. The right-handed shot had seven goals and eight assists (15 points) in 41 games with Brno this season. Florida shouldn’t be too concerned with his 6’0″, 167-pound frame, considering they’ve got a good mix of forwards to balance things out while Necas works on adding some muscle to his game.

Unknown-311) Los Angeles Kings –> C Elias Pettersson, Timra (SWE-2)

After missing out on this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Los Angeles Kings fired their now former head coach (Darryl Sutter) and general manager (Dean Lombardi) and immediately replaced them with John Stevens behind the bench and Rob Blake as GM, so trying to predict who they’ll draft is difficult based on recent history. However, Elias Pettersson (19-22-41 totals in 43 games with Timra) might just happen to fall into their hands at 11th overall. He’ll need a year of seasoning before appearing in the Kings lineup.

download.png12) Carolina Hurricanes –> D Timothy Liljegren, Rogle (Sweden)

After a bout with mononucleosis in November, Timothy Liljegren wasn’t fully able to rebound this season with Rogle BK, however his skating remains unparalleled as one of the better defensemen of the draft. Liljegren can join the rush and pinch in from the point when needed in the offensive zone and scouts have yet to see the full potential impact of his style of play. Given the uncertainty surrounding Carolina’s money-puck strategy and how it will affect their blue line, drafting Liljegren might provide some security.

Unknown-413) Winnipeg Jets –> C/LW Klim Kostin, Dynamo Moscow (Russia)

Klim Kostin missed a lot of time thanks to a shoulder injury, but that shouldn’t stop the Winnipeg Jets from taking a chance on what might be the best Russian forward in the draft. Puck possession is Kostin’s middle name and his 6’3″, 196-pound frame certainly must have something to do with that. The Jets could use him down the middle or restructure their wingers around the Kostin model, albeit acknowledging Blake Wheeler‘s size and existence already in Winnipeg.

Unknown-314) Tampa Bay Lightning –> D Juuso Valimaki, Tri-City (WHL)       

Steve Yzerman may continue to be a master of the salary cap (in terms of carefully maneuvering around large contracts, drafting and developing talent on a consistent basis and the like), but he’s got some critical thinking to do this offseason, what with pending RFAs galore and the Vegas expansion draft. Juuso Valimaki might be just enough to help relieve some of that pressure, having been one of the best defensemen of the WHL this season and amassing 19-42-61 totals in 60 games played.
download.png15) New York Islanders –> C Nick Suzuki, Owen Sound (OHL)

Offensively skilled, Nick Suzuki isn’t the biggest player (5’11”, 183 pounds), but he is one of the best power play specialists in this year’s draft– notching 14 power play goals for the Owen Sound Attack this season. Suzuki had 96 points alone (45 goals, 51 assists) in 65 games and would be an upgrade for the Islanders in more ways than one.

Unknown-416) Calgary Flames –> LW/RW Kristian Vesalainen, Frolunda (Sweden)

Kristian Vesalainen is a 6’3″, 207-pound power forward that might be able to muster his way to a new arena for the Calgary Flames. Jokes aside, Vesalainen would be a solid draft pick by Calgary for his physical prowess and goal scoring ability. In the Battle of Alberta, the Flames could select their very own Milan Lucic, but with more of a two-way element to his game.

Unknown17) Toronto Maple Leafs –> D Nicolas Hague, Mississauga (OHL)

How could the Toronto Maple Leafs get any better than they already are with a lineup full of kids? Answer: they could draft Nicolas Hague. Toronto’s got a plethora of players waiting to insert themselves into their mix of forwards that it wouldn’t hurt them to give a little more attention to their blue line for a bit. Hague is a monstrous 6’6″, 215-pound, shutdown defenseman that can also contribute on the power play. He had 18-28-46 totals in 65 games with the Mississauga Steelheads this season.

Unknown-718) Boston Bruins –> C Ryan Poehling, St. Cloud State (NCHC)

It seems unusual to say, but the Boston Bruins have a little something on the horizon to start thinking about– what will the team look like after Patrice Bergeron (and David Krejci)? Boston GM Don Sweeney has a recent history of opting for college players and could select center Ryan Poehling with the future in mind. The 6’2″, 183-pound, playmaker has great vision and puck protection and had 7-6-13 totals in 35 games with St. Cloud State this season. Additionally, Poehling’s got intelligence (both on and off the ice) as he graduated a year early from high school and just tuned 18 on January 3rd.

Unknown19) San Jose Sharks –> D Callan Foote, Kelowna (WHL)

The San Jose Sharks have some big names to re-sign this offseason, including Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Naturally, while one might think the Sharks should use this draft to find their eventual replacements, San Jose is already in a good spot regarding forwards. Their blue line, however, could use someone like the 6’4″, 212-pound, likeness of Callan Foote. He had six goals and 51 assists (57 points) in 71 games this season and is sure to follow in the foot(e)steps of his father, Adam Foote.

imgres-120) St. Louis Blues –> LW Eeli Tolvanen, Sioux City (USHL)

A 30-goal-scorer in 52 games played with Sioux City this season, Eeli Tolvanen brings just about every offensive element the St. Louis Blues are looking for in a forward. He can shoot from just about anywhere on the ice– at any time too. Quick with his feet, Tolvanen can snipe an impressive shot. Don’t let his 5’10”, 170-pound setup fool you, this winger is ready to become even better at Boston College in the fall. After a couple of seasons of losing vital veteran forwards, the Blues get a chance for redemption by bringing in a goalscorer that could soon be skating on a line with Vladimir Tarasenko.

download.png21) New York Rangers –> LW Jason Robertson, Kingston (OHL)

In 68 games with the Kingston Frontenacs this season, Jason Robertson (6’2″, 192 pounds) had 42 goals and 39 assists for 81 points. He knows what to do with the puck and with the unwavering uncertainty of Rick Nash‘s longevity, along with the legitimacy of Jimmy Vesey and others as impact players when you need them the most (like in the playoffs, for example), Robertson is a risk worth taking. He’s only a risk because his skating game could use some improvement.

Unknown-522) Edmonton Oilers –> C Lias Andersson, HV71 (Sweden)

Lias Andersson is a mobile two-way forward that matches grit with nifty hands that generate scoring chances, as evidenced by his 9-10-19 totals in 42 games played with HV71 in the Swedish Hockey League this season. At 5’11”, 198 pounds, Andersson is the right fit for the Edmonton Oilers lineup, where he can increase his offensive skill by learning from Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, while taking a page or two from Milan Lucic in the physical game. Additionally, his father, Niklas Andersson, is currently a scout for the Los Angeles Kings and played in 164 career NHL games.

 

Unknown-323) Arizona Coyotes (from Minnesota Wild) –> C Shane Bowers, Waterloo (USHL)

The Coyotes have two 1st round picks in this year’s draft and they’d be smart to take a forward with their second pick. Luckily, Shane Bowers is just the player for Arizona. The Boston University-bound center scored 22 goals and had 29 assists (51 points) in 60 games for Waterloo this season. The 6’1″, 183-pound forward models his game after Jonathan Toews, which wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Coyotes to have in their prospect pool with a clear need for a stable, solid, two-way center.

Columbus Blue Jackets Logo24) Columbus Blue Jackets –> RW Kailer Yamamoto, Spokane (WHL)

At 5’8″ and 153 pounds, Kailer Yamamoto is not a player to overlook. Why? Because he scored 42 goals and had 57 assists for 99 points (6th in the WHL in scoring) in 65 games with Spokane this season. Yamamoto is relentless on the puck and has hands beyond his years, as well as speed and skill that make him quite the threat on the ice.

Unknown-125) Montreal Canadiens –> LW Maxime Comtois, Victoriaville (QMJHL)

After acquiring Jonathan Drouin from the Tampa Bay Lightning this offseason, the Montreal Canadiens have made great strides at improving their group of forwards. But with the uncertainty of everything panning out as planned, why not add to the plan? Maxime Comtois is versatile and ready to take the next step in his professional career with the right guidance (*ahem* Claude Julien‘s system). Best inserted on the wing, Comtois had 22-29-51 totals in 64 games with Victoriaville this season. The 6’2″, 200-pound forward could play center if the Canadiens see it fit.

 

imgres26) Chicago Blackhawks –> D Urho Vaakanainen, JYP (Finland)

Chicago is bound to have a tough offseason in a non-Cup year for the first time in a while, it seems, what with the Expansion Draft, as well as the salary cap working against their favor. While the Blackhawks may have to deal a top-4 defenseman or part of their core group of forwards (without getting too crazy, mind you, we’re not talking a trade involving Patrick Kane), Chicago can rest assured that Urho Vaakanainen is their defenseman of the future. The 6’1″, 185-pound blue liner is good at 1) getting the puck out of the zone and 2) playing his game– and a physical one at that.

 

imgres-127) St. Louis Blues (from Washington Capitals) –> D Conor Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)

An offensive-minded defenseman with a right-shot, Conor Timmins fits the bill for the St. Louis Blues. At 6’1″ and 185 pounds, Timmins can rush the ice as a two-way defenseman who contributed 61 points (seven goals, 54 assists) for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in 67 games this season. Think Colton Parayko, but not, because this guy’s name is Conor Timmins and he doesn’t already play for the Blues.

Unknown-628) Ottawa Senators –> C Josh Norris, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

A product of the United States National Team Development Program, Josh Norris had 23-28-51 totals in 52 games played this season. The 6’1″, 192-pound center could contribute to the Senators organization in a manner similar to how Colin White has been implemented into the roster. Who knows, he might be worth it, Ottawa.

Unknown-229) Dallas Stars (from Anaheim Ducks) –> RW Kole Lind, Kelowna (WHL)

Tremendous hockey sense and intelligence are part of Kole Lind’s game. A natural playmaker, Lind was also known to produce goals of his own for the Kelowna Rockets this season, amassing 30-57-87 totals in 70 games played. The 6’1″, 178-pound right winger could be a solid fit alongside the likes of Jamie Benn and Seguin in Dallas.

Unknown30) Nashville Predators –> C Robert Thomas, London (OHL)

Hey look it’s Rob Thomas from Matchbox Twenty! Again, I’m only kidding. This Robert Thomas of the London Knights had 16-50-66 totals in 66 games this season as a two-way forward. A noted playmaker, Thomas reads and reacts to the play before him beyond his years and will need some time to really come into his own at the NHL level. Yet, the Nashville Predators can afford to take their time carefully crafting the almost 6′, 188-pound, center in their system that’s produced the likes of Colton Sissons, Pontus Aberg and many more in recent years.

 

pittsburgh_penguins_logo31) Pittsburgh Penguins –> D Henri Jokiharju, Portland (WHL)

It took Henri Jokiharju a few months to really transition to the North American style of the game, but for this offensively focused defenseman, that wasn’t a big deal. He can get the puck out of his own zone with ease– not just with crisp passes, but also due to his incredible stride and speed in the transition department. Jokiharju (6’0″, 180 pounds) had nine goals and 39 assists (48 points) in 71 games for the Portland Winterhawks this season.

Other top potential 1st round prospects that should easily be 2nd round picks if they’re not taken in Round 1 of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft:

G Jake Oettinger, Boston University (Hockey East)

LW Isaac Ratcliffe, Guelph (OHL)

D Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Charlottetown (QMJHL)

D Erik Brannstrom, HV71 (Sweden)

LW Filip Chytil, Zlin (Czech Republic)

C Aleksei Heponiemi, Swift Current (WHL)

G Michael DiPietro, Windsor (OHL)

LW Matthew Strome, Hamilton (OHL)

C Antoine Morand, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)

LW Tyler Steenbergen, Swift Current (WHL)

So there you have it. This is how I see the 1st round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft shaking out. Be sure to tune in next Friday night (that’s one week from now) to watch your favorite team pick a teenager and hope for the best. I’ll be at work that night, so no spoilers, please. Let me believe I got more than two picks right for once.

April 3 – Day 166 – One more! For Queen Elizabeth!

Seven more days of the regular season remain, making this the last Monday of the NHL year. I know it’s difficult, but enjoy it as best as you can.

To help you do that, there’s three games on the schedule tonight. A pair of those (Toronto at Buffalo [NHLN/SN/TVAS] and Ottawa at Detroit [RDS2]) drop the puck at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by Montréal at Florida (RDS) – tonight’s early nightcap. All times eastern.

Since none of these games are matchups of playoff teams, what better contest to watch than the Battle for the Queen Elizabeth Way?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Though divided by a national border, the fact that these towns are separated by only 89 miles/145 kilometers has yielded quite the rivalry. That hatred has only increased this season as both the Maple Leafs and Sabres are returning to form and promise to be strong clubs next season and for years to come.

The future has come early in Toronto, as the Maple Leafs have a 38-24-15 record that is good enough for third place in the Atlantic Division. Winners of their past three games, the Leafs have been especially good since March 16, as they’ve gone 7-1-1 since then, which ties for the fourth-best run in the league in that time.

Just like it’s been all season, the reason for Toronto‘s success over this run has been its incredible offense. The Leafs have scored 32 goals since mid-March, a total that ties for second-most in the league in that time.

The man behind this attack? Exactly who it’s been all year: rookie phenom Auston Matthews. Not only has the kid scored seven goals for 11 points in the last nine games, but he’s also tied at 38 with Nikita Kucherov for third-most tallies all season.

It goes without saying, but this Leaf is absolutely special. He is the number one reason Toronto is currently in playoff position going to be in the playoffs, and potentially could be reasons two and three as well.

Reason four just might be Toronto‘s power play. Converting 30.4% of  their opportunities of late, the Maple Leafs‘ man-advantage has been fourth-best in the NHL since March 16. While Matthews has been effective during this specific stretch (he’s scored three power play goals for four points in his last nine games), fellow rookie William Nylander has been the true stud on the man-advantage. He’s notched 25 points with the extra man all season, nine of which have been tallies off his stick, to lead all first-year players.

To complete our perfunctory list, reason number five has to be Toronto‘s penalty kill. Thanks in large part to 32-15-14 Frederik Andersen and his .897 power play save percentage (fourth best in the league among the 37 netminders with at least 32 appearances), the Maple Leafs have rejected 83% of opposing man-advantages to rank eighth-best in the NHL.

Don’t tell anybody, but that lone regulation loss Toronto has suffered recently came at the hands of the 32-34-12 Sabres, the second-worst team in the Atlantic. Unfortunately, that win is one of only four the Sabres have earned in their past seven games.

You’ve got to score to win, and that’s been Buffalo‘s main struggle of late. Although Jack Eichel has averaged a point-per-game over this stretch (including three goals) to lead the team, he and Ryan O’Reilly (six points) have been the only two forwards really contributing to the attack lately.

Of course, that’s looking at the offense as a whole. When you start breaking things down, you find Buffalo‘s problem truly lies in even-strength play, as its power play has been the best in the league since mid-March.

Yes, even better than Washington‘s vaunted attack.

The Sabres have converted 46.7% of their man-advantage opportunities in the last two weeks, and it is on this assault where more of the team has participated. 15 different players have contributed at least a point on even-strength play since March 17, compared to 10 on the power play in that time.

Five more players were involved? Great! Bottom line, it means the Sabres are scoring!

True, but unfortunately it’s not that easy. Buffalo has spent a combined 22:16 on the man-advantage over 15 opportunities in its past seven games. Both those totals are the lowest in the league over that stretch. That means much of the team has effectively wasted the remaining (approximately) 400 minutes they’ve played, as they’ve only scored nine goals during five-on-five play, or a goal every 44 minutes.

One goal per 44 minutes of even-strength play does not win hockey games. If that’s not apparent by Buffalo‘s recent record, I don’t know what is.

Fortunately, the Sabres have remained competitive due to performing the opposite special team as well as they execute the power play. 22-24-8 Robin Lehner deserves much of the credit for that success, as his .926 power play save percentage ranks sixth-best in the NHL among the 39 goalies with at least four appearances since March 17.

Though the Sabres will miss the postseason for the sixth-straight season, this is an important game for Buffalo. Due to their two-game winning streak against Toronto, the Sabres have tied the season series against the Maple Leafs at 2-2-0, making this contest a true rubber match.

They last squared off on March 25 at the KeyBank Center – the same site of tonight’s game – where the Sabres won 5-2 on Eichel’s two-goal, three-point night.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Buffalo‘s Lehner (.921 save percentage [tied for ninth-best in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Andersen (32 wins [tied for eighth-most in the league], including four shutouts [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]), Jake Gardiner (+26 [10th-best in the league]) and Matthews (38 points [tied for third-most in the NHL]).

Uh oh, that’s not good for the home team. Vegas has marked this game with a +140 line, meaning the odds-makers favor the Leafs. Unfortunately for the Sabres, so do I. While both clubs are almost evenly matched on special teams, the Toronto‘s offense is far superior at even-strength, which is where they should earn the victory.

Hockey Birthday

  • Ray Getliffe (1914-2008) – Though originally a Bruin, this forward spent most of his 10-year career in Montréal. A two-time Stanley Cup champion, he hoisted the trophy once with both clubs.
  • Bernie Parent (1945-) – Another player to start his career in Boston, this Hall-of-Fame goaltender played most of his 13 NHL seasons with the Flyers. He was a five-time All Star and won two Conn Smythes, Vezinas and – most importantly – Stanley Cups.
  • Brent Gilchrist (1967-) – Drafted by Montréal 79th-overall in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft, this left wing  played 15 seasons in the league – most of which with the Stars organization. He hoisted his lone Stanley Cup in 1998 with the Red Wings.
  • Shawn Bates (1975-) – The Boston-theme continues with this center, as the Bruins selected him in the fourth round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. He actually spent most of his 10-year career with the Islanders, with whom he notched 170 of his 198 career points.
  • Stephen Weiss (1983-) – The fourth-overall selection in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by Florida, this center spent all but two of his 13 seasons with the Panthers. He notched 423 points before hanging up his skates, including 156 goals.

The Predators had the chance to not only clinch their postseason berth with a victory, but also surpass the Blues for third place in the Central Division. Instead, St. Louis beat Nashville 4-1 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

St. Louis didn’t wait long to get on the board, courtesy of a Vladimir Tarasenko (Jaden Schwartz and First Star of the Game David Perron) wrist shot 5:22 after the initial puck drop. Ryan Johansen (Filip Forsberg and P.K. Subban) and the Preds responded exactly six minutes later to tie the game at one-all with a power play wrister, the score that held into the first intermission.

Alex Steen (Perron) provided the game-winner early in the second period. He buried a wrister only 55 seconds after resuming play from the first intermission, followed only 5:52 later by a Perron (Alex Pietrangelo) wrister. Those tallies set the score at 3-1, which held into the second intermission.

The lone score of the third belonged to Third Star Joel Edmundson, an unassisted wrister 8:11 into the frame.

Second Star Jake Allen saved 35-of-36 shots faced (97.2%) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Juuse Saros, who saved 21-of-25 (84%).

Nashville did qualify for the playoffs yesterday by virtue of Arizona beating ninth-place Los Angeles.

For four straight days now, home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have earned two points in the standings. Within the series, that has given hosts a 85-58-25 record, five points better than the roadies.