Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News. He's been part of the THN team since 2011, but he's been married to hockey since he got beat up for collecting NHL sticker books in the mid-1980s. If you like strong opinions on the game itself, fantasy hockey tips and a hefty dose of pop culture in your readings, he's your man. And yes, the eyebrows are real.
Fernando Pisani. Chris Kontos. Ville Leino.
Those names elicited joy from their teams’ fan bases for a few magical months. Now? More like shudders of horror. That trio, along with countless other players, came out of nowhere to dominate in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Now they belong on the Mount Rushmore of guys who created sky-high expectations with spring heroics only to flop over the rest of their careers.
In hindsight, though, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to see Pisani, Kontos or Leino fail to translate playoff success into a successful regular season career. I feel for anyone who reached for them in fantasy drafts the following autumns, because we should’ve seen their struggles coming. The warning signs were there.
Not every surprise playoff stud comes back to Earth the next season, though. The key is to know what to look for – the green lights and red lights. When it’s your turn to pick a few months from now, and the 2015 version of Bryan Bickell is in your queue, consider these questions.
The Calgary Flames started Game 4 of their Pacific Division semifinal appropriately fired up against the Anaheim Ducks. Johnny Gaudreau and Micheal Ferland beat Frederik Andersen twice within the first six minutes to put Calgary up 2-1. The Flames’ were fast and flyin’, Andersen looked shaky and it appeared the series would head back to Orange County tied 2-2.
Gaudreau had a glorious chance to put Calgary up 3-1 in the second period. Maybe he would’ve chased Andersen with a goal, too. Instead, Andersen came up with a spectacular desperation save. Check it out:
Dominant goalie Braden Holtby and the Washington Capitals were a couple minutes away from smothering the New York Rangers to death at Madison Square Garden Friday night. As time ticked down with the Caps up 1-0 in the third period, the Rangers had beaten Holtby once in a stretch of almost nine periods. They controlled the play and outshot their opponent but simply couldn’t solve the masked man.
Then, with 81 seconds left in a Rangers season with sky-high expectations, Chris Kreider to the rescue:
The Washington Capitals and New York Rangers fought tooth-and-nail to produce a goal each and send Game 5 to overtime Friday night. The Anaheim Ducks and the Calgary Flames? They needed, oh, four-and-a-half minutes to find twine once apiece.
Jakob Silfverberg opened the scoring for Anaheim 3:58 in. Just 39 seconds later, though, Calgary answered in a big way via its top line. The Ducks have a size advantage over the Flames, no doubt, but the Flames have the edge in…shiftiness. Watch as Johnny Gaudreau dangles every Duck in sight:
The Rangers came out in Game 5 showing exactly the desperation they needed to, facing elimination against the Washington Capitals.
The problem, though, is that no matter how many chances they generated, Braden Holtby literally stood in the way. The Caps goalie continues to play the best hockey of his career and is the No. 1 reason for the Broadway Blueshirts’ offensive struggles. After the first frame of Game 5, the Rangers had one goal in their past seven periods against Holtby.
But what can they do when he’s making saves like this one on Martin St-Louis? Marty gives new meaning to “point blank range,” and Holby shows lightning-fast reflexes to whip his left leg across:
It’s never too early to dream about the 2016 draft. Not even before the 2015 draft arrives.
We know this year belongs to Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. The 2016 draft class belongs to Auston Matthews, a phenom who missed 2015 eligibility by two days and rewrote the U.S. National Team Development Program record book this year.
Matthews’ NTDP wingers are highly regarded prospects as well. The right winger, Jack Roslovic, projects to go in the first few rounds this June, ranked 37th in our freshly published Draft Preview. The left winger’s name should ring a bell: Matthew Tkachuk. He is indeed the son of longtime NHL power forward Keith Tkachuk. Matthew might not be as mean as his dad, but Matthew has a similar hulking frame and scoring touch. My colleague Ryan Kennedy, our resident prospect guru, is constantly in touch with scouts and rates Tkachuk as a potential top-10 pick in 2016.
It’s big news, then, that Tkachuk officially committed to the OHL’s London Knights Friday. Not only can he shift the OHL’s power balance, but the decision was a bit of a shock considering how many ties Tkachuk had to the U.S. college system.
My oh my, these Washington Capitals rookies.
Evgeny Kuznetsov delivered a penultimate blow to the New York Islanders in round 1 with a dazzling two-goal, one-assist performance in Game 5. Then he finished the job with the Game 7 winner. It was Andre Burakovsky’s turn to put a team on the brink in round 2. He stole the show in Game 4 against the New York Rangers, showing soft hands and patience to score two beautiful goals against the netminder he idolized growing up in Sweden, Henrik Lundqvist.
The slick Caps forwards have been two of the best rookies to watch in the 2015 post-season, with Johnny Gaudreau, Filip Forsberg, Petr Mrazek and many others also deserving props. What are the best freshman playoff efforts of the past 10 seasons, excluding this yet-to-be-completed one? Here are 10 players to consider, each of whom was Calder eligible when he first wowed us.
American Thanksgiving must feel like a distant memory for Martin St-Louis.
During a Friday matinee Nov. 28, with his New York Rangers battling the Philadelphia Flyers, St-Louis recorded career point No. 1,000. It was a remarkable accomplishment for someone who had to overcome biases against his small stature time and again just to reach the NHL. He racked up 905 of those 1,000 points after turning 27. And with a Stanley Cup, a Hart Trophy, two Art Rosses, three Lady Byngs and a gold medal to his name, that last big milestone all but confirmed his ticket to the Hall of Fame.
St-Louis hasn’t been the same player since then, however, even though his Rangers skyrocketed up the standings in the New Year. His one-goal, one-assist effort Nov. 28 gave him nine goals and 19 points through 22 games, close to his typical point-per-game production, adjusted fairly for his advanced age and the fact he no longer had Steven Stamkos for a center. After Nov. 28? St-Louis had as many goals in December, January and February combined as he did in November. St-Louis recorded 12 goals and 33 points over his final 52 games of 2014-15. And that’s despite playing with Derek Stepan or Kevin Hayes as his center most of the time. That’s an alarming drop in production, and we can’t blame it on the knee injury that cost St-Louis eight games, as that happened in March.