Matt Larkin

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.

St. Louis is the toughest place for an NHL prospect. Right, Dmitrij Jaskin?

Matt Larkin
Even high praise from coach Ken Hitchcock wasn't enough for Dmitrij Jaskin to crack a stacked St. Louis lineup. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Dmitrij Jaskin wants to play in St. Louis. Blues GM Doug Armstrong and coach Ken Hitchcock think he’s good enough to play in St. Louis. Alas, he’ll open 2014-15 with the team’s American League affiliate in Chicago. The Blues were just too deep, with too many players on one-way deals, so down went Jaskin, the team’s No. 1 prospect in Future Watch 2014.

In one sense, St. Louis is prospect heaven. The Blues are a well-coached Stanley Cup contender with plenty of great two-way players to learn from. In another sense, it’s prospect hell, or at least purgatory. It’s oh-so difficult just to make the team, as Jaskin learned, and even if you do, there’s still the matter of winning Hitchcock’s trust. Just ask Vladimir Tarasenko.

Talk to any scout, GM, media member or hockey pool guru about the most promising young goal scorers in the game today and, invariably, Tarasenko’s name pops up. There’s no denying what the kid can do with the puck on the stick. He has an Alexander Mogilny-like ceiling. He made that clear with five points in his first two NHL games two seasons ago.

That same year, Future Watch 2013 ranked Tarasenko the top prospect in the game. In an interview for that magazine, however, Hitchcock foresaw a bump in the road. ‘Hitch’ predicted an adjustment from lateral puck movement to linear. Sure enough, Tarasenko slumped badly in the second half of that season. Hitchcock, who preaches defensive responsibility and system play like few other coaches, entrusted his rookie sniper with just 13 minutes of ice time per game in 2012-13.

Between learning Hitchcock’s scheme and simply cracking one of the NHL’s densest, most talented depth charts, life is difficult for any Blues rookie. That’s why Jaskin has an uphill climb.

“It’s always hard to be a rookie, but especially here, when you get 12 of the best players in the NHL,” he said two weeks before being cut. “It’s way harder to get here faster and get more time. But that means you have to work for it harder than somewhere else.”

Read more

Jiri Sekac is before, Tomas Plekanec is after

Matt Larkin
Tomas Plekanec led Montreal with two goals Wednesday night.  (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

There was a typical cluster of reporters in Montreal’s dressing room after Game 1 of the 2014-15 NHL season. Their prey wasn’t who you’d expect — P.K. Subban sat across the room, enjoying a rare minute of solitude. It was Tomas Plekanec, who played hero for the Habs against the Leafs at the Air Canada Center.

Plekanec’s night epitomized the expression “They all count.” His first goal came when he undressed Leaf goalie Jonathan Bernier on a perfectly delayed backhand deke. His second? A final-minute bank shot off rookie Stuart Percy, clinching a 4-3 road win for Montreal.

And as the media swarm engulfed Plekanec, he took it in stride, even joking that it had “been years” since he’d been asked to play an offensive role. It’s not that Plekanec, 31, wasn’t capable, but his penalty killing and faceoff prowess made him too indispensable. The addition of outstanding checker Manny Malhotra this off-season, however, gave Plekanec a chance to play on a scoring line between Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher. The early results were obviously promising.

At the adjacent stall stood rookie and pre-season sensation Jiri Sekac, 22, with nary a reporter around him, still relatively anonymous. It’s natural to compare the Czech prospect with his countryman Plekanec. Their games aren’t identical — Sekac is a winger, for one — but they share good vision, touch around the net and puck-possession ability. So maybe, the Game 1 hero Plekanec represents the “after” and Sekac is the “before.”

Read more

2014-15 THN office fantasy draft results

Matt Larkin
It was a mild shock when John Tavares went second overall in the THN draft. (Getty Images)

What’s best way to prepare for your fantasy draft? Checking out player rankings is a smart idea. But there’s something especially useful about studying other drafts. When poolies are on the clock, they make slightly different decisions. Gut feelings and biases steer them in unexpected directions. It happened often during THN’s 2014-15 office draft, which spanned 15 rounds in a snake format and included 150 NHL players.

It’s a points-only league, meaning no goalies and a lopsided forward-to-defenseman ratio. Here’s a look at the “experts,” in draft order:

1. Ryan Kennedy, associate senior writer
2. Ronnie Shuker, associate editor
3. Jason Kay, editor in chief
4. Dominik ‘The Hammer’ Luszczyszyn, intern
5. Ken Campbell, senior writer
6. Matt Larkin, associate editor, a.k.a. me, a.k.a. the defending champion
7. Adam Proteau, columnist
8. Brian Costello, senior editor
9. Shea Berencsi, graphic designer
10. Edward Fraser, managing editor

I’m not gonna lie — I made up Dom the intern’s nickname. Like, right now, on the spot. He doesn’t even know it’s his nickname…yet.

Here’s a look at how the draft played out, round by round, pick by pick.

Read more

Capitals’ Eric Fehr writes anti-bullying book for kids

Matt Larkin
Eric Fehr hopes his book can get through not just to bullying victims, but to bullies. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

From the files of “Awwwww…” comes Washington Capitals right winger/center Eric Fehr, who has revealed himself as a budding author. His new children’s book. The Bulliest Dozer, drops Oct. 9.

What’s the book about? It’s exactly what it sounds like. It tells the tale of a bulldozer who happens to be a bully. Bo Dozer is embarrassed because he can’t skate, and he’s nervous about an upcoming holiday performance on ice at school, so he takes out his frustration by bullying other students. That doesn’t work out so well for Bo. The book teaches kids the perils of bullying and why it’s better to rely on friends. Atta boy, Mr. Fehr. Here’s the cover:

 

Read more

THN’s top 200 fantasy players for 2014-15

Matt Larkin
Johnny Gaudreau's impressive pre-season has him shooting up the fantasy draft rankings, including THN's. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

Last chance to cram. The 2014-15 NHL season starts Wednesday, and a bunch of fantasy leagues still have drafting to do. I’m here to provide some 11th-hour help.

Most of what you need to know is in our crackerjack THN Ultimate Fantasy Guide, which is on newsstands now. You’ll even find a sorted list of the top 300 projected scorers.

One thing that list doesn’t cover, however, is any league not based entirely on points. What about the head-to-head formats in which you accumulate goaltending stats and penalty minutes on top of your offensive numbers? How do you know when to draft a goalie or defenseman over a forward?

I present to you a new ranking set. This list is based on a standard Yahoo head-to-head format with the following categories: goals, assists, plus-minus, penalty minutes, power play points, shots on goal, wins, goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts.

Personally, I like scrapping penalty minutes for hits and adding saves to the goalie category, but I’ll stick with the standard configuration to ensure these rankings have a wider reach. Let’s get it on!

OCT. 6 UPDATE: The pre-season winds down, and we’ve learned a few things, from injuries to projected line combinations to buzzy rookies. With those factors in mind, here are my final rankings for 2014-15 drafts.

Read more

Remember the NHL 2K video game? It’s back – and so is cover boy Ryan Kesler

Matt Larkin
After a four-year hiatus, the NHL 2K video game series returns, and it brings back Ryan Kesler as the face of the product. (Getty Images)

The video game stars have aligned this fall. The EA Sports juggernaut has enjoyed a monopoly on the NHL license for several seasons, but it picked a questionable time to release a flawed game. NHL 15 possesses amazing feel and physics, but gamers have marched their virtual torches to EA’s door, angry about a serious lack of game modes.

Quite a time, then, for the NHL 2K series to return after a four-year hiatus. The game drops any day now on iOS and Android, meaning it’s playable on virtually all phones and tablets.

Also making a comeback: 2K cover athlete Ryan Kesler. By my account, he’s the first video game athlete to grace a cover again after a four-year hiatus. He laughs when I point that out, and he seems genuinely honored to be named the face of 2K again.

“It was pretty cool, obviously,” Kesler said. “I developed a relationship over the years with 2K, working with them even before I was on the cover of 2K11. That was a dream come true. When they came to me again and gave me this opportunity, it’s something you don’t turn down.”

And NHL 2K aims to deliver something a little different than the competition, targeting the more casual gamer, maybe the type who finds hardcore simulation games like EA Sports’ NHL and Madden series, SCE’s MLB: The Show and even NBA 2K too daunting. It offers a three-season My Career Mode and has live roster updates, but its bread and butter will be a fast-paced, 3-on-3 mini rink game. It projects to have more of an arcadey feel to it.

Here’s a shot of the regular gameplay:

 

Courtesy 2K Sports

Courtesy 2K Sports

 

Kesler, 30, is grew up in the video game generation, so he knows what he wants in a game. He laments how hard sports games are to control on tablets, but he says NHL 2K breaks that mold. He’s pumped about the mini rink games. Most of all, though, he loves the shootout mode.

“Definitely something that’s going to be a competition on the planes,” Kesler said. “We’re going to be playing each other in shootouts, and it’s going to get pretty heated on the planes during road trips.”

Read more

Drew Doughty disses analytics, accidentally disses himself

Matt Larkin
Drew Doughty calls advanced stats 'crap', but those very stats point out his dominance as a player. (Getty Images)

Of all people to speak out against advanced stats… Drew Doughty?

That’s like Arnold Schwarzenegger speaking out against explosions. Or Psy saying he hates one-hit wonders. Or Jack Edwards lamenting the homerism in today’s broadcasters.

Drew, no. Please. You are the unofficial poster child for advanced statistics. You drive possession like few other players in the game. Your Corsi and Fenwick ratings are through the roof, and they’ve helped you guide your team to two Stanley Cups in three years.

OK, so maybe Jake Muzzin is the actual analytics poster child among players, but it’s pretty clear metrics like Corsi measure team performance better than they do individual performance. That’s why pretty much the entire Kings roster ranks among the league leaders in possession stats, and it’s a big reason why Muzzin is the league’s reigning Corsi champion. He was a solid find for GM Dean Lombardi, but Muzzin keeps great company as Doughty’s partner.

So if we accept Doughty is the league’s true stats darling, it’s disconcerting to learn he can’t stand the concept. Doughty to L.A. Kings Insider, when asked about Muzzin’s Corsi rating:

Read more

Top 10 Hart Trophy candidates for 2014-15

Matt Larkin
Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are again leading candidates to win the Hart. (Getty Images)

The Hart Trophy debate is my favorite of the Great Hockey Debates, largely because nobody knows what the award truly means.

By definition, the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association votes for “the player judged to be most valuable to his team.” It’s debatable whether that happens. Last year, it’s safe to say the Penguins would’ve gone nowhere without Sidney Crosby. But was any player more valuable to his team the year before than John Tavares, who almost singlehandedly took the Islanders to the playoffs? He finished third in the vote, with the Hart going to the defensively deficient but offensively potent Alex Ovechkin.

More often that not, the Hart skews toward prolific point totals, so keep in mind that my top 10 Hart candidates for 2014-15 factor in that common bias. Sorry, Patrice Bergeron and Anze Kopitar.

Read more