Brian Costello

Brian Costello joined The Hockey News in 1990 when the likes of Bruce Boudreau, Randy Carlyle and Joel Quenneville were players, not coaches. Costello covered major junior hockey for five seasons before getting called up to THN. He likes to focus his attention on pre- and post-NHL careers, following closely the progress of the draft, up-and-coming prospects and fancying himself a Hall of Fame expert.

Tanking Lite: Time for the NHL’s lower middle class to get crafty

Brian Costello
Calgary Flames v Colorado Avalanche

The fact there are a surprisingly low number of teams looking for a berth in the post-season – realistically, only 18 teams are battling for 16 spots – means there’s a good chance we’ll see some Tanking Lite™ to joining Tanking™ the final two weeks of the regular season.

Florida (4.4 percent according to sportsclubstats.com), Dallas (1.0 percent) and San Jose (0.9 percent) are mathematically still alive to make the playoffs, but those numbers will dwindle to zero in short order. That means we pretty much know right now 12 of the 14 teams that will miss the playoffs.

We already know Buffalo, Arizona and Edmonton are in snail race for 30th place and the best odds (20 percent) to win the draft lottery and the right to select generational talent Connor McDavid. And we already know the 30th place will have a 100 percent chance or winding up with McDavid or Jack Eichel, the other future franchise player.

We also know the 2015 draft is a deep one. Besides these two projected superstars, there are a half dozen others who would be in the conversation for first or second overall any other average draft year. Noah Hanifin, Dylan Strome, Mitch Marner, Ivan Provorov. Throw in Zach Werenski and Matt Barzal. So getting a pick in the top six or eight will be pretty special.

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Who makes THN’s All-Time Rookie Team?

Brian Costello
Wayne Gretzky (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

The Calder Trophy is surely the most prized and special of NHL awards. If you plan on winning the trophy, you have to be spectacular at a young age and pretty lights-out right off the hop. And no matter how dominant you were in capturing the Calder, young man, you’ll never be able to win it again.

There have been a lot of exceptional freshman seasons over the years. Three first-year NHLers were so good, they won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP. Wayne Gretzky, Nels Stewart and Herb Gardiner are the centerpieces of our all-time all-rookie team, because, quite frankly, you can’t do any better as a rookie than also being named best player in the league. Read more

Remembering Matthew Wuest: humble and passionate

Brian Costello
Matthew Wuest (image via Metro Halifax)

The first time I crossed paths with Matthew Wuest came in the summer of 2001 when the hockey world was in a quiet zone. It was mid-August and most hockey executives, players, even the staff at THN were enjoying vacations and outdoor patios.

Just a few weeks earlier, we had closed the pages on our annual Yearbook. By the middle of the month, it was on newsstands and in mailboxes. In short order, an email came to me from wuest@redwingscentral.com. It was just about the most respectful, well-written complaint letter I’ve ever received. Matthew Wuest concisely explained who he was – a passionate fan of hockey who ran a site which monitored the progress of Detroit prospects – then diplomatically transitioned into a polite, but well-grounded complaint. He wasn’t so sure 19-year-old Swedish center prospect Par Backer should be ranked ahead of 23-year-old Russian pivot Pavel Datsyuk. They were sixth and eighth on the Red Wings’ top 10. And while he’s mentioning it, Datsyuk should probably be ahead of Jesse Wallin and Stefan Liv as well.

The email then delved into the attributes of said players and was written with such clarity and authority that I wrote Matthew back and explained the process of THN having to rely on the opinions of scouts to establish rankings for prospects we haven’t seen. We had a series of back-and-forths in the ensuing weeks and I came to learn Matthew was a 22-year-old university graduate with a computer science and journalism degree. He was passionate about both and keen to get started in the industry.

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How would the 2014 NHL draft unfold if we did it again today?

Brian Costello
Aaron-Ekblad-draft

Let’s re-do the first round of the 2014 NHL draft using the information a panel of scouts provided in our annual Future Watch issue. Keep in mind, these are the blended opinions of 13 scouts, directors of player personnel or GMs and in many cases won’t jive with the thought processes of individual teams.

We asked these scouts to assess a list of 300 NHL prospects (the top 10s from each of the 30 teams) and to establish their own top 50 list, based on a five to 10-year projection window. Most of the NHL-affiliated players on this list of 300 were from drafts prior to 2014 or free agents. But about 70 of them were selected in the 2014 draft.

With this information culled from our scouting panel, we can re-order the 2014 draft if it were to be held again today. Two players from the 2014 draft made the immediate jump to the NHL. Florida’s Aaron Ekblad and Boston’s David Pastrnak fast-tracked this Future Watch rating exercise. For the sake of argument, we’ll rank them one and two even though we know that 2014 draftees returned to junior, college or Europe could surpass them in coming seasons.

Here’s how the remainder of the first round would play out, based on the scouting committee’s evaluation of their progression so far in 2014-15. Of course, this exercise doesn’t take into consideration individual team preferences. Though we’ll never know for sure publicly, maybe  Carolina would still take Haydn Fleury seventh overall even though the scouting community at large wouldn’t select him until midway through the first round.

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Throwback Thursday re-visits the 1995 Future Watch top 50 list

Brian Costello
Future Watch 1995 photo

The Hockey News has been publishing a special issue dedicated to NHL prospects since the late 1980s. What began as an “In The System” theme issue gave way to Future Watch in 1992. Our first top 50 list of prospects – compiled by canvassing a panel of scouts – appeared in Future Watch 1994 with Paul Kariya as the No. 1 prospect. The following season – 20 years ago – Ed Jovanovski was the chosen one. The headline read:

NHL’s premier prospect no ordinary Jovanovski

In this edition of Throwback Thursday, here’s how that winter, 1995 cover story by Ken Campbell read:

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Did Calgary’s Mark Giordano do enough in 61 games to win the Norris?

Brian Costello
Mark Giordano

If Mark Giordano is to win the Norris Trophy this season, he’ll need to channel his best Bobby Orr to make it happen.

Giordano played 61 games this season before sustaining the torn bicep muscle that will keep him out of Calgary’s lineup until next autumn. In those games, he was the frontrunner for the award given to the NHL’s best defenseman. Problem is, those 61 games represent just 74 percent of an NHL season. The only other time that award went to a blueliner who played a smaller chunk of the season was 1967-68, when the great Orr played just 46 of 74 games (62 percent).

But we all know Orr was in a class by himself. That was the first of eight consecutive Norris Trophies for him.

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Year in Review: Goalies steal the show in top 10 NHL debuts of 2014

Brian Costello
San Jose Sharks v Carolina Hurricanes

It only stands to reason that among players making their NHL debuts, goalies have the most opportunity to shine – or flop. While first-game skaters can play sheltered minutes during spot duty in many cases, the goalie is always the last line of defense.

So it’s not surprising that five goalies made our list of the top 10 NHL debuts during the calendar year 2014. In reverse order, here are the best first NHL game performances.

10. Michael Hutchison, Winnipeg. The 25-year-old Barrie native was almost perfect in his April 7 debut against Minnesota. He gave up a second-period goal to Charlie Coyle and that was it, stopping 16 other shots. He didn’t get any offensive help from his teammates though and lost 1-0.

9. Stuart Percy, Toronto. The Maple Leafs first-round pick from 2011 made his NHL debut on home ice against the Montreal Canadiens in front of Oakville, Ont., family and friends Oct. 8. He assisted on Tyler Bozak’s first-period goal and played an impressive 20:21 in a 4-3 loss.

8. Niklas Svedberg, Boston. The year was just a couple of days old when the 24-year-old Swede was called up to play the Nashville Predators. He stopped 33 of 35 shots, including six each from Craig Smith and Mike Fisher, and the Bruins won 3-2 in overtime.

7. Tobias Rieder, Arizona. The German-born winger, acquired earlier in the year from Edmonton, faced Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals in Washington Nov. 2. Rieder and Ovie each scored a goal, but it was Rieder’s marker that was the winner in a 6-5 Coyotes win. Rieder had three shots and was a plus-2 in 11:30 of ice time.

6. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay. Our most recent addition to the list is the Lightning’s goalie of the future. The 20-year-old Russian who was the 19th overall draft pick in 2012 stopped 23 of 24 shots in a 3-1 win over Philadelphia Dec. 16. Filling in for injured Ben Bishop, Vasilevskiy was the game’s third star.

5. Andy Andreoff, Los Angeles. The burly forward from the Oshawa Generals didn’t waste time proving he can tangle in the big league. Twelve seconds into his first shift against the Edmonton Oilers Oct. 14, Andreoff dropped the gloves with Matt Hendricks and skated to the penalty box with a huge smile. Hockeyfights.com called it a draw.

4. Adam Clendening, Chicago. The Niagara Falls, N.Y., native was on his second shift of the game when he used plum power play opportunity to pump home a point shot past Jonas Hiller to open the scoring in a 4-3 victory over Calgary Nov. 20. Clendening was a plus-2 in 10:41 of duty.

3. John Gibson, Anaheim. The Pittsburgh native is the latest in a long line of Ducks goalies who shine in their NHL debut. Playing in Vancouver April 7, Gibson stopped all 18 shots he faced to record the shutout in a 3-0 win over the Canucks. He was named the game’s first star.

2. Kellan Lain, Vancouver. The 6-foot-6 left winger gets a high rating on this list because his NHL debut has hit the highlight reel more than any other rookie in 2014. It was the Jan. 18 line brawl versus the Flames in which Canucks coach John Tortorella had a meltdown. Only two ticks of the clock went by when all 10 skaters on the ice paired up. Lain fought Kevin Westgarth and received a fighting major and 10-minute misconduct. That’s 15 PIMs and two seconds of ice time in your NHL debut.

1. Troy Grosenick, San Jose. The Sharks were in Carolina Nov. 16 and put the undrafted 22-year-old between the pipes while Antti Niemi got the night off. He stole the show. The Hurricanes outshot San Jose 45-19 and Grosenick celebrated by throwing his water bottle towards the bench. He stopped seven shots by Nathan Gerbe and five apiece from Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner and Andrej Sekera, while being named the game’s first star for the 45-save shutout. San Jose scored an empty-net goal to win 2-0.

 

Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blogFor more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazineFollow Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN

Are the Calgary Flames doing it with mirrors? It’s more like heart and Hartley

Brian Costello
Calgary Flames v Florida Panthers

For a team that was supposed to be one of the frontrunners in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes when the season began, the Calgary Flames have hit it out of the park so far in 2014-15.

A lot of credit has to go to the defense tandem of Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie, the Nos. 1 and 2 blueline scorers in the NHL this season. But it goes way beyond that.

It starts with the coaching staff, led by third-year Flames coach Bob Hartley. Once described as a bench boss who relied heavily on veterans while being tough on rookies, Hartley has evolved since his time with the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche.

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