The Toronto Maple Leafs finally did the thing! Congrats to the 2019 Hockey Hall of Fame Class and taking a look at who might join them in 2020.
Wednesday afternoon, the Toronto Maple Leafs fired their now former head coach, Mike Babcock, and promoted Sheldon Keefe as the new head coach of the Leafs from his previous head coaching duties with the Toronto Marlies (AHL).
It’s a move that everyone likely saw coming, but this soon? That’s impressive.
Babcock was adamant in his coaching abilities and in his belief in himself as “the greatest coach who ever lived” (paraphrasing, obviously), but could not salvage his hubris when it mattered most– right now.
Toronto is currently 9-10-4 (22 points) on the season, 5th place in the Atlantic Division and outside of a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Luckily for the Leafs, the Pittsburgh Penguins (11-7-3, 25 points), Philadelphia Flyers (10-7-4, 24 points) and Buffalo Sabres (10-8-3, 23 points) aren’t that far ahead of them in the standings for now.
It’s the perfect time to be bold and make a move if you’re looking to provide a short-term spark that will hopefully re-ignite some cooling embers and launch the Maple Leafs back into playoff contention at the very least– if not Stanley Cup contention, as many have expected for a few years now before Toronto’s General Manager, Kyle Dubas, was forced to spend about $40.489 million on William Nylander, Auston Matthews, John Tavares and Mitch Marner while somehow forgetting the importance of a defense and a backup goaltender in the process.
For a team that used to employ a coach that notoriously bet on himself and his process for better or worse, well, they’re betting heavily on the salary cap ceiling to make a significant jump by the time a new national TV rights distribution package in the United States is negotiated in 2022.
But that’s a separate discussion entirely.
For now, we’re left in the wake of a post-Babcock Leafs Era and what it means for the Boston Bruins– Toronto’s biggest rival most recently.
The 56-year-old former head coach in Toronto was in his 5th year of an eight-year, $50.000 million contract with the Maple Leafs.
Toronto went 29-42-11 in the 2015-16 season, which led them to drafting Matthews with the 1st overall pick in the 2016 Draft.
The following year, Babcock and the Maple Leafs improved to 40-27-15, qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2013, before losing in six games to the Washington Capitals in the 2017 First Round.
Then history repeated itself as the Leafs went 49-26-7 in the 2017-18 regular season before losing in seven games to Boston in the 2018 First Round.
From there it was a broken record for Toronto– a 46-28-9 effort in 2018-19 led to another First Round matchup with Boston and another Game 7 loss on the road to the Bruins in the 2019 First Round.
This season, through 23 games, the Leafs have six wins in regulation. They have nine total.
Babcock hasn’t won a playoff series since he was still with the Detroit Red Wings in 2013. He hasn’t led a team back to the Stanley Cup Final since losing in 2009 with Detroit in the Red Wings-Penguins rematch from 2008.
He may be “Canada’s Coach”, but he isn’t “Canada’s favorite team’s head coach” anymore.
Enter Keefe, a 39-year-old, from Brampton, Ontario– a short drive from Toronto– emerging as “The Chosen One”.
Hired by Toronto to lead the Marlies on June 8, 2015, Keefe had a respectable first season with Toronto’s AHL affiliate in 2015-16, notching a 54-16-5-1 record (wins-losses-overtime losses-shootout losses, for those of you who aren’t AHL savvy).
Keefe pushed his team all the way to the Eastern Conference Final in the 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs (his rookie season as an AHL coach, mind you) before the Marlies succumbed to the Hershey Bears in five games.
In 2016-17, Keefe coached his team to a 42-29-4-1 record and a North Division Final appearance in the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs that resulted in a Game 7 loss to the Syracuse Crunch.
That loss didn’t set the Marlies back, but instead motivated Keefe and his team as they marched to a 54-18-2-2 record in 2017-18 and a 2018 Calder Cup Final appearance.
They defeated the Texas Stars in seven games and captured Toronto’s first championship in ice hockey since the NHL’s Maple Leafs raised the Stanley Cup in 1967.
Though it was only the AHL, it proved that something was in the works.
Dubas’ masterplan was coming to fruition as the analytics guru rose to power– taking over as GM of the Maple Leafs with Lou Lamoriello’s departure in the 2018 offseason.
Keefe had followed Dubas from the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL) to the Maple Leafs organization in 2015, but Babcock stood in the way of his destiny, it seemed.
Babcock was Lamoriello’s choice and fit with Brendan Shanahan’s “Shanaplan”.
Keefe fit with Dubas in the contemporary game, “Shanaplan” be damned.
In 2018-19, Keefe led the Marlies to a 39-24-9-4 record and an Eastern Conference Final appearance for the 2nd year in a row in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Though the Marlies lost to the Charlotte Checkers in six games, one thing was for certain– Keefe had it going in the minor league.
It’s not every day that a coach is able to make it all the way to the Eastern Conference Final in his rookie season, let alone in three of his first four full seasons as an AHL bench boss.
Up until his promotion to the NHL, Keefe amassed a 10-2-2-1 record with the Marlies this season.
They were 1st in the North Division at the time of his departure for the big league.
In 320 career AHL games with the Marlies, Keefe collected a 199-89-22-9 record and a .622 winning percentage in the process– plus one Calder Cup championship in 2018.
So, what does this mean for the Bruins?
A lot when you factor in advantages and disadvantages for each team in the promotion of Keefe from the Marlies to the Leafs.
First, for Toronto, the advantages of having Keefe for a potential playoff matchup with Boston.
The core of Toronto’s current roster (Matthews, Marner, Tavares, Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, Zach Hyman, Morgan Rielly and even Frederik Andersen) has lost in the First Round in at least one of the last three postseasons (Tavares is the only member who hasn’t had to endure three-straight soul crushing First Round departures under Babcock’s reign).
Yes, this may seem bad, but it actually speaks volumes for their playoff experience.
This team is hungry– right from its core– and its fanbase, its front office and its backyard media wants to win sooner rather than later.
Plus, Nylander’s 2nd season in the AHL (although it was only a partial season) overlapped with Keefe’s time behind the bench of the Marlies, so there’s some familiarity between one of the four highest paid players on the Leafs and their head coach.
Additionally, Kapanen, Hyman and others have experience with Keefe and the Marlies’ system.
There’s enough familiarity there for something– potentially something dangerous.
Now for the advantages for Boston.
History is on their side. Boston’s core (Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask) has shown its capable of making another Cup run (even with an aging captain and 1-2 centers).
Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, remains a constant and in control.
Boston missed the playoffs in 2015 and 2016, but Claude Julien was still their head coach then, so the combination of Cassidy, plus Chara, Bergeron and Krejci’s leadership made for an easier transition into getting the team back into a “top of their game” playoff performer (and eventual Cup contender in 2019).
This isn’t a luxury the Leafs have, where the team’s looking to get back into postseason contention, period, let alone win a series.
Toronto missed the playoffs in their first year with Babcock, but made it for the last three years and lost each year in the First Round.
This leads to Toronto’s disadvantages for another potential postseason meeting with the Bruins.
History is not on Toronto’s side and neither are the statistics.
Yes, Dubas’ 2nd favorite thing in the world– analytics– could get in the way of his 1st favorite thing in the world– bringing the Cup back to the Maple Leafs organization.
As things stand, the Leafs have a greater chance of missing the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs than making them currently.
Toronto– the city, the fans, the players, the front office and the media– wants to win right now. There’s no room for excuses (even if they’re legitimate, like taking one’s time to formulate a defense via prospects or trades and supplementing Andersen in the crease with a legitimate backup goaltender).
But, whereas Cassidy inherited broken pieces in Boston that were addressed and revamped as the team went from outside the playoffs two years in a row to making three consecutive postseason appearances under Cassidy in his head coaching tenure with the B’s– addressing the need for depth down the lineup in the process without the likes of a highly touted free agent acquisition– Keefe and the Leafs have the majority of this season to work on that necessary synergy with a better offense (on paper).
Cassidy was named interim head coach of the Bruins in Feb. 2017. Boston was ousted by the Ottawa Senators in six games in the 2017 First Round and lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games in the 2018 Second Round prior to their 2019 Stanley Cup Final appearance.
Keefe has Tavares, Matthews and Marner (when healthy) to unleash on any given night and could very well pull a turnaround in one season a la the St. Louis Blues last season (who beat the Bruins in the Final in Game 7 at TD Garden) or the Penguins in 2009 (when Dan Bylsma replaced Michel Therrien midseason and won the Cup) and 2016 (when Mike Sullivan replaced Bylsma midseason and won the Cup).
In that sense, recent history is actually on Toronto’s side.
Boston had some growing pains to go with their dramatic improvement, but the Leafs are built to counteract that pain if Keefe can find a better way to manage it than Babcock did.
As it is, Cassidy is 130-55-27 in 212 games with Boston from 2017-present (good enough for a .613 winning percentage), but 207-128-21-24 in 380 games with the Providence Bruins (AHL) from 2011-16 (.545 winning%).
Babcock was 173-133-45 in 351 games with the Maple Leafs from 2015-19 (.493 winning%).
Keefe gets the final say and has his .622 winning% in 320 games with the Marlies going for him as he steps into the biggest role behind any bench in the National Hockey League.
Playoffs or not, the rest of this season is about to be a wild ride for the Maple Leafs and their fans.
Bruins fans be worried or not.
A bunch of minor trades were made in the last week, the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game rosters were released, as well as the 2019-20 outdoor game schedule. Nick and Connor also discuss the legacy that was the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic and the 2019 IIHF World Junior Quarterfinal upsets.
*Editor’s Note: Of course, after recording this week’s episode, the Philadelphia Flyers claimed G Mike McKenna off waivers from the Vancouver Canucks.
The Board of Governors meeting gets underway next week involving the Seattle expansion vote, Bill Peters took a puck to the jaw and Rick Middleton and Vic Hadfield are having their numbers retired this week.
The Chicago Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes made another trade with each other, Karl Alzner is being Wade Redden’ed, Ron Hextall got ousted as the Philadelphia Flyers GM, the Buffalo Sabres win streak reached double digits and the Winnipeg Jets brought back their Heritage Jerseys.
Nick and Connor also encourage all of Long Island to go to the New York Islanders game at NYCB Live (it’s the Nassau Coliseum) this week and quickly plan a hopeful trip to see Sporting KC play in Atlanta.
It came with little surprise.
Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney had recently remarked that he was comfortable with having eight defenders and looking forward to the new season, but with McQuaid sitting on the books at $2.750 million for the remainder of his contract– more than likely up on the 9th floor of TD Garden as a healthy scratch from night-to-night– a move was coming.
Kampfer has one-year remaining on his contract at $650,000, leaving Boston with about $5.000 million in cap space for the 2018-19 season. That’s certainly plenty of room to make more moves as the trade deadline approaches in the new year and plenty of room to make a serious run at a top pending-UFA in July 2019– let alone cap room to re-sign Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Danton Heinen and more.
So basically, that was the whole point of a McQuaid trade. Be kind to an NHLer who will log minutes on the ice with a different team instead of the 9th floor, clear some cap room in the process, bump some younger guys up on the depth chart and get something in return (rather than let McQuaid go for nothing next July). Kampfer, in the meantime, will likely be sent to Boston’s AHL affiliate in Providence– only to be called up in the event of injuries or in case of emergency.
Meanwhile, New York GM Jeff Gorton was able to shore up some veteran presence and valuable locker room intangibles with the addition of McQuaid.
McQuaid, 31, until now, spent his entire nine-year NHL career with Boston since being traded by the Columbus Blue Jackets on May 17, 2007 in exchange for a fifth round pick. That 5th round pick was subsequently traded to the Dallas Stars by the time draft day came around and was used to select Jamie Benn 129th overall.
Originally drafted by Columbus in the second round (55th overall) of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, McQuaid has 13-53–66 totals in 462 career NHL games. He broke into the NHL in the 2009-10 season with the Bruins after spending parts of three seasons with the Providence Bruins from 2007-10, appearing in 178 AHL games and amassing eight goals and 26 assists (34 points).
The 6-foot-4, 212-pound defender has appeared in 68 postseason games with three goals and eight assists (11 points) in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. A 2011 Stanley Cup champion, McQuaid has had at least 100 hits in five of his nine NHL seasons and at least 100 blocked shots in four of his nine seasons.
In 2017-18, he had one goal and three assists (four points) in 38 games for Boston. McQuaid was teammates with current Rangers blueliner, Marc Staal, for all four seasons of his Junior hockey career (2003-07) with the Sudbury Wolves in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).
Kampfer, 29, has appeared in 166 career NHL games for the Bruins, Minnesota Wild, Florida Panthers and New York Rangers. He has 10-16–26 totals and 82 penalty minutes in his career (2010-present).
An Anaheim Ducks fourth round pick (93rd overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, Kampfer was traded to Boston on March 2, 2010 in exchange for a conditional fourth round pick (which was flipped to the Carolina Hurricanes and used to select Justin Shugg).
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound defenseman made his NHL debut with the Bruins on December 9, 2010 against the New York Islanders and appeared in 38 games with Boston in 2010-11 en route to their 2011 Stanley Cup victory. Kampfer had a career-high five goals and five assists (10 points) that season and had two assists in 10 games in 2011-12 before being traded to the Wild at the trade deadline in exchange for Greg Zanon.
He went on to spend two seasons in the American Hockey League (AHL) before playing in 73 games with the Florida Panthers from 2014-16, then was traded (along with a conditional pick) to the Rangers on November 8, 2016 for Dylan McIlrath.
In two seasons with New York (2016-18), Kampfer had one goal and two assists in 32 games. He has skated in 249 career AHL games with 27-81–108 totals and played four seasons of college hockey at the University of Michigan from 2006-10.
Early Monday morning in Montreal, the Canadiens shipped off their captain, Max Pacioretty, to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki and a 2nd round pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft originally belonging to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Just how early on Monday in Montreal was it? It was still Sunday night in Las Vegas.
That’s right, the Habs traded their captain and face of the franchise not named Carey Price while East Coast Canadiens fans were sleeping.
At first glance, it seems like the Golden Knights pulled off a landslide of a deal, but there’s no clear-cut trade winner or loser from this one.
Yes, Montreal was stuck between a rock and a hard place in trading Pacioretty, but they managed to get a valuable prospect and a high round draft pick out of it at the end of the day (on top of Tatar who will likely become a roster placeholder until one of the players in the system takes his job during the rebuild).
While Tatar’s 20-14–34 totals in 82 games with the Golden Knights and Detroit Red Wings last season aren’t as attractive as Pacioretty’s five career 60-plus point seasons since entering the NHL in 2008-09, the onus on re-signing Pacioretty for more than just a rental is now on Vegas General Manager George McPhee (which is now accomplished as moments after posting this analysis, the Golden Knights announced a four-year extension for Pacioretty).
Consider a little bit of the weight of the world off the shoulders of Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin, given that he’s now no longer responsible for potentially losing Pacioretty for nothing in free agency next July.
Yes, Tatar isn’t perfect, but the race to rebuild in Montreal is on. The race to win now in Vegas continues.
This trade has no winners or losers, but rather a symbiotic relationship between two organizations heading in opposite directions. The Golden Knights land a gifted scorer in his prime, while the Canadiens get one of the best prospects in Suzuki for the future– and the future is near.
Pacioretty, 29, has 226 goals and 222 assists (448 points) in 626 career NHL games with Montreal. He was named the 29th captain in franchise history in 2015 and became the seventh Canadiens captain to be traded in the expansion era (since 1967). Pacioretty is also the first Habs captain to be traded since Vincent Damphousse was dealt to the San Jose Sharks on March 23, 1999.
In an injury derailed 2017-18 campaign, Pacioretty had 17-20–37 totals in 64 games. He was originally drafted by Montreal in the first round (22nd overall) of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He has 10 goals and nine assists (19 points) in 38 career Stanley Cup Playoff games.
Tatar, 27, has 228 career points (119 goals, 109 assists) in 427 career NHL games split between Detroit and Vegas. He has 4-5–9 totals in 25 career postseason appearances, including a goal and an assist in eight games with the Golden Knights in their 2018 Stanley Cup Final run.
He was selected by the Red Wings in the second round (60th overall) of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
Suzuki, 19, was originally drafted by the Golden Knights in the first round (13th overall) of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and appeared in 64 games with the Owen Sound Attack (OHL) in 2017-18. He had 42-58–100 totals last season and recorded 12 points (three goals, nine assists) in 11 playoff games for Owen Sound and appeared in one AHL playoff game with the Chicago Wolves.
Round 1 of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft was Friday night at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. As always, there were plenty of surprises and a lack of trades. Here’s how it all went down.
2018 NHL Entry Draft Round 1
- Buffalo Sabres–> D Rasmus Dahlin, Frolunda HC (Sweden)
- Carolina Hurricanes–> RW Andrei Svechnikov, Barrie Colts (OHL)
- Montreal Canadiens–> C Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Assat (Finland)
- Ottawa Senators–> LW Brady Tkachuk, Boston University (H-East)
- Arizona Coyotes–> C Barrett Hayton, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
- Detroit Red Wings–> RW Filip Zadina, Halixfax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
- Vancouver Canucks–> D Quinn Hughes, University of Michigan
- Chicago Blackhawks–> D Adam Boqvist, Brynas Jr. (Sweden)
- New York Rangers–> RW Vitali Kravstov, Traktor Chelyabinsk (Russia)
- Edmonton Oilers–> D Evan Bouchard, London Knights (OHL)
- New York Islanders–> RW Oliver Wahlstrom, USA U-18 (USNTDP)
- New York Islanders (from Calgary)–> D Noah Dobson, Acadie-Bathurst Titan (QMJHL)
- Dallas Stars–> C Ty Dellandrea, Flint Firebirds (OHL)
- Philadelphia Flyers (from St. Louis)–> LW Joel Farabee, USA U-18 (USNTDP)
- Florida Panthers–> LW Grigori Denisenko, Yaroslavl 2 (Russia- JR.)
- Colorado Avalanche–> RW Martin Kaut, HC Dynamo Pardubice (Czech Republic)
- New Jersey Devils–> D Ty Smith, Spokane Chiefs (WHL)
- Columbus Blue Jackets–> C Liam Foudy, London Knights (OHL)
- Philadelphia Flyers–> C Jay O’Brien, Thayer Academy (USHS)
- Los Angeles Kings–> C Rasmus Kupari, Karpat (Finland)
- San Jose Sharks–> D Ryan Merkley, Guelph Storm (OHL)
- New York Rangers (from Pittsburgh via Ottawa)–> D K’Andre Miller, USA U-18 (USNTDP)
- Anaheim Ducks–> C Isac Lundestrom, Lulea HF (Sweden)
- Minnesota Wild–> D Filip Johansson, Leksand-JR. (Sweden)
- St. Louis Blues (from Toronto)–> RW Dominik Bokk, Vaxjo Lakers (Sweden)
- Ottawa Senators (from Boston via N.Y. Rangers)–> D Jacob Bernard-Docker, Okotoks Oilers (AJHL)
- Chicago Blackhawks (from Nashville)–> D Nicolas Beaudin, Drummondville Votigeurs (QMJHL)
- New York Rangers (from Tampa Bay)–> D Nils Lundkvist, Lulea HF (Sweden)
- Toronto Maple Leafs (from Winnipeg via St. Louis)–> D Rasmus Sandin, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
- Detroit Red Wings (from Vegas)–> C Joseph Veleno, Drummondville Votigeurs (QMJHL)
- Washington Capitals–> D Alexander Alexeyev, Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
Trades made on Day 1 of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft:
- The Washington Capitals traded D Brooks Orpik and G Philipp Grubauer to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for a 2018 2nd round pick (47th overall).
- The Ottawa Senators traded a 2018 1st round pick (22nd overall originally from Pittsburgh) to the New York Rangers in exchange for a 2018 1st round pick (26th overall originally from Boston) and a 2018 2nd round pick (48th overall originally from New Jersey).
- The Toronto Maple Leafs traded their 2018 1st round pick (25th overall) to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for a 2018 1st round pick (29th overall originally from Winnipeg) and 2018 3rd round pick (76th overall).
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 Columbus Blue Jackets and their outlook for the summer.
The Jackets finished the 2017-18 season with a record of 45-30-7, capping a strong (albeit inconsistent) campaign with 97 points, earning them fourth place in the Metropolitan Division and a playoff birth as the first wild card in the East.
After taking two dramatic overtime victories in Washington to start the playoffs, the soldiers in Union Blue fell on their bayonets by dropping four-straight games (including three within the friendly confines of Nationwide Arena) to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals and were once again eliminated from contention in the opening round of the playoffs.
I mean, would they really be the Blue Jackets if they didn’t get your hopes up before firing them out of that cannon?
Though the core of a solid-if-not-spectacular team is likely to remain through the summer, the front office is now feeling the pressure of raising a team that they drug out of the trenches by the bootstraps to the next level. The fanbase will no longer accept ‘just making the playoffs’, and though there’s still plenty of promising youth onboard, some key players like captain Nick Foligno are sliding into the back half of their careers. This is a team that needs to win, and needs to do it soon.
How can they do that? I’m glad you asked. (If you didn’t actually ask, I’m still going to tell you.)
2018 NHL Entry Draft
The Jackets are decently well-stocked to try and score some talent in this year’s draft, with a pick in each of the first three rounds, along with another in both the sixth and seventh. It will be those early-round picks that are likely to mean the most to GM Jarmo Kekalainen and his staff, as this year’s extremely deep draft class means that you’re likely to nab some serious quality (or perhaps have a bigger bargaining chip should you decide to trade picks for another asset) deeper in than usual.
It’s not overly likely that the CBJ will look to acquire further picks, though they could perhaps look to trade up from their 18th spot in line. With Jack Johnson a pending UFA who looks very likely to be on the move (his recent time in Columbus has been tumultuous, and a change of scenery could be the spark he needs to reignite his career) come July 1, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that we could see a deal made to send his negotiating rights and that 18th pick to a team further up the draft order.
As for likely selections with whatever first round pick they happen to have (we’ll pretend that if they trade up, it will be a small swing, maybe in the 12-15 position at most), a few names stand out to me as filling potential needs.
Serron Noel, a 6-foot-5, 205-pound right winger out of the OHL (Oshawa Generals) could be a fit on a team with few natural right wingers. A solid, if not outstanding scorer in juniors, Noel is still filling out his large frame and is likely to continue improving his burgeoning offensive game, drawing comparisons to power forwards like Wayne Simmonds. An eventual perhaps third-and-fourth line RW tandem of Noel and Josh Anderson would be a lot of meat to throw at opposing defenses.
Bode Wilde, a 6-foot-2, 196-pound right shooting defenseman from the United States National Team Development Program, is a very good possibility. Regarded as one of the better all-round defenders in a draft that is not lacking them, Wilde could eventually complete a defense corps that boasts himself along with David Savard and Seth Jones down the right side. Not a bad lineup there. In particular, his booming slap shot would be a welcome addition on a power play unit that hasn’t had a true cannon since James Wisniewski‘s departure. Also, he has a sick hockey name.
My personal pick for the most likely selection comes in the form of Swedish Elite League center Isac Lundestrom. At 6-feet and 185 pounds, he’s not far off from good NHL size, and with the additional polish his defensive game could use, he’d likely have plenty of time to hit the weight room before reaching the Jackets lineup. But his elite offensive capabilities and, in particular, blinding speed address two of the club’s biggest shortcomings. He also provides versatility, having proven himself capable of playing the left wing well. Regarded by some scouts as having potentially the highest ceiling of any center in the draft, he could be a mid-round steal for Columbus.
Pending Free Agents
The UFA list for Columbus isn’t huge, but it does contain a few potentially interesting names. NHL regulars Johnson (who’s possible fate has already been discussed, so we’ll skip over him in this section), Thomas Vanek, Matt Calvert, Ian Cole, and Mark Letestu are the most notable names (no offense to Jeff Zatkoff, Taylor Chorney, Andre Benoit, Cameron Gaunce, and Alex Broadhurst).
Vanek’s stint in Columbus started off very well, gelling quickly with linemates Alexander Wennberg and Boone Jenner to put up great numbers in early games following his acquisition at the deadline. But the magic wore off and he was all-but-invisible during the playoffs, often looking far too slow to keep up with the game. Acquired for an absolute steal (Jussi Jokinen, a waiver wire pickup, and Tyler Motte, a throw-in on the Artemi Panarin trade that had bounced around between the AHL and the Jackets’ fourth line all year), it doesn’t hurt the organization at all to simply let him walk.
Calvert was protected from the expansion draft in place of 2017-18 40-goal scorer William Karlsson. That isn’t necessarily relevant information, but I enjoy pain. Anyway, Calvert enjoyed a so-so year, producing nine goals and a career-high (tied) 24 points in 69 (nice) games played. A solid contributor on the penalty kill, and a constant spark plug on the fourth line, his never-quit playing style has endeared him to Columbus fans, but he may have to take a hometown discount if he wants to stay.
Cole played extremely well down the stretch for Columbus after his acquisition from Pitt…Otta…it was weird, but you get the point. He basically made Jack Johnson expendable, and he has said many times that he absolutely loves the city and his new teammates. It’s of course always a matter of numbers, but don’t be surprised to see Cole back in Union Blue next year.
Letestu loves Columbus, lives in Columbus (his family never left when he went to Edmonton), and has said he would like to finish his career there. Still a more-than-serviceable fourth line center that can help your special teams units, it’s likely he’ll take a hometown discount and remain with the organization.
Jenner is a fan favorite, and one of the hardest-working 30-goal scorers you’ll ever find. But after a breakout 30-goal, 49-point 2015-16 campaign, he’s tallied just 31 goals and 65 points in 157 games since. If not for a late-season hot streak when paired with Wennberg and Vanek this season, his numbers would have been significantly lower. At times the game just seems too fast for his skating abilities, and even at just 24 years of age you wonder if he can improve it enough to stay useful. I’d expect him to get a bridge extension on a pay level similar to his current $2.9M, but Boone has a lot to prove going forward.
Bjorkstrand is coming off of his entry level contract, and I’d expect a bridge-style deal similar to what I listed for Jenner. Posting 11 goals and 29 assists for 40 points this season, ‘Olli’ showed flashes of his potential, but still needs to get a little more confident in himself, and particularly in his laser beam wrist shot.
Murray is a very intriguing topic. Though ever-dependable, the former WHL standout and second-overall pick has never really hit the stride he was projected to, particularly in the offensive department. Derailed time and time again by injuries (often to his legs, which are probably the silky-smooth skating defender’s greatest weapons), Murray has played all 82 games just once in 5 NHL seasons, and has missed no less than 19 games in any other campaign.
At 24-years-old, he’s definitely still young enough to sell as ‘Still coming into his own’ and his potential ceiling should be alluring to many teams. With other good young left handed defenders waiting in the wings (Markus Nutivaara, Gabriel Carlsson, Dean Kukan, Vladislav Gavrikov), the time could be right to try and swing a sign-and-trade type of deal to send Murray out in exchange for some offensive power. The Senators come to mind as a potential trade partner, as a spoil of offensive firepower up front is countered by a defense corps that is suspect at best, especially with the likely departure of Erik Karlsson. Mike Hoffman‘s name was already tied to Columbus around the trade deadline last year, but former Ohio State standout Ryan Dzingel could be a potential fit, as well.
I don’t expect a particularly busy or flashy offseason in Columbus, but Kekalainen and company can’t just rest on their laurels, either. They have a very good group that really needs just a few things to get them over the hump. Add another solid offensive threat or two to compliment the dynamic Panarin/Pierre-Luc Dubois line, sprinkle in a reliable veteran depth blueliner, and hinge your bets on a new goaltending coach for Sergei Bobrovsky (longtime man Ian Clark is departing the team this summer) helping him get past his playoff struggles, and you might be on to something.
Oh, and you may want to figure out what to do with that abysmal Brandon Dubinsky contract…