Ryan Kennedy is the associate senior writer and draft/prospect expert at The Hockey News. He has been with the publication since 2005 and in that span, Don Cherry, Lil Jon and The Rock have all called his house. He lives in Toronto with his wife and kids where he listens to loud music and collects NCAA pennants.
Hockey Night in Canada host Ron MacLean apologized for his careening remarks about Quebec-raised referee Francis Charron in the wake of Montreal’s Game 3 victory over Tampa, one in which the officiating certainly was on the dicey side. In bringing up Charron’s ethnicity, MacLean stepped into a hornet’s nest involving one of Canada’s distinct cultures – not to mention the only NHL team left in French-Canadian territory.
Was Charron’s goalie interference call, the one that nullified a Tampa Bay goal in a 1-1 contest, a poor one? Sure looked like it:
But this was not a matter of malice on the ref’s part. If anything, it was one of indecision – and that speaks to Charron’s inexperience, not his home province.
Playoffs in the junior leagues are in full stride, while developments at the world under-18s have been intriguing to say the least. Team USA lost its first game to the Swiss before rebounding, while the Czechs are flying high and Canada is doing just enough to stay up top. Here’s a look at some of the top NHL prospects playing around the world right now.
Andre Burakovsky, LW – Erie Otters (OHL)
With 10 goals and 13 points through 12 playoff games, it goes without saying that Burakovsky is doing well for Erie, but you really have to see him live to appreciate the magic of the winger. Burakovsky loves to control the puck and uses his slick hands to weave through traffic, where a lethal wrister can then be employed to finish off the play. Considering he played against men last year in Sweden, it’s probably no wonder he is flourishing against players his own age now.
“Of course it was a little harder back home,” he said. “It’s older guys that know what they’re doing so you have to be really smart. Here it’s more physical; you have to keep your head up all the time and go a bit faster. And the hockey over here fits me better; I like the smaller ice.”
If you want to get even more angry at Matt Cooke this morning, just Google the phrase “Matt Cooke changed” and behold the numerous links to stories written by my colleagues in the hockey media.
Scores of words have been spilled about the Minnesota Wild left winger, attempting to put a nice face on a player whose biggest contributions at the NHL level have revolved around the ending of seasons and even careers of his opponents. Sure, it’s easy to fall in love with a sweet off-ice story, about how Cooke re-dedicated himself to his family after his wife had a serious health scare (which, let’s be clear, I wouldn’t wish on anybody), about how he’s a charitable man who gives so much of himself to those in need…but that doesn’t change who he is on the ice: a danger to anyone in the wrong-colored jersey.
Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon is not afraid of the playoffs. He notched three assists in his post-season debut, then followed it up with this gem from Game 2:
Midway through the season, Ryan Johansen was sitting in the dressing room after a morning skate when I asked for an interview. I had interviewed Johansen as a prospect and he was always polite, but today he was confident and jovial. He slapped the bench and invited me to sit down beside him for the brief chat. That was new.
But as he proved in the Game 2 double-overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, Johansen has hit his stride and is playing like a star in the making. Johansen had a goal and an assist in Columbus’ first playoff win in franchise history, a 4-3 triumph iced by Matt Calvert on a scramble in front of the Pittsburgh net.
Back in 2001, the Colorado Avalanche had a chance to win the franchise’s second Stanley Cup in six years. Cornerstones such as Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Patrick Roy and Adam Foote already had their names on the chalice, but the addition of future Hall of Famer Ray Bourque the year before had given the crew extra incentive. Bourque, the longtime Boston Bruins stalwart, saw his dreams crash down in 2000 when Dallas eliminated Colorado in the Western Conference final. But he still wanted that elusive Cup, so he came back to Denver for one more season and his teammates instituted “Mission 16W,” a.k.a. Get Bourque his Cup. As a greying veteran he finally hoisted the trophy after a harrowing seven-game series against New Jersey and the iconic moment was his forever.
Fast-forward to present day and gaze upon the situation of Jarome Iginla. Like Bourque, he toiled for years with a franchise that came close, but could not grasp Stanley’s prize. Then the window closed, and despite the noblest of intentions to go down with the ship, Iginla was finally dealt away from his beloved Calgary Flames so the erstwhile captain could earn his championship ring. And like Bourque’s, Iginla’s first attempt went sideways. He joined Pittsburgh via trade, only to see the Penguins maced by Boston in the conference final. This summer, he decided to join the ones who beat him, and now the Bruins have a little added incentive to win their second Cup in four years.
“With ‘Iggy,’ he’s had a phenomenal career, he’s one of the best to ever play the game, and it would be a huge accomplishment if we could win,” says left winger Brad Marchand. “It would be a great honor to be part of that, but we’ve got a long way to go.”
(Editor’s note: The Blues were our pre-season pick to win the Stanley Cup and when it came time to put together our Playoff Preview edition late in the season, we saw no reason to change. Of course, then they went out and lost six in a row to close the regular season. Are we nervous our Cup pick could go out in the first round? That’s an understatement. But we still believe. And a big part of that belief comes from what Ryan Kennedy explored in his cover story for the Playoff Preview issue: the Blues have learned from their tough lessons. Here is that story.)
Since his star turn for team USA at the Sochi Olympics, T.J. Oshie hasn’t had much time to soak in life as a real American hero. Along with all the fame he got stateside for his shootout heroics against Russia, he welcomed his first child, Lyla Grace, into the world. “It’s been a little bit of an emotional roller coaster,” he says. “But all for the best, I guess besides leaving the Olympics with nothing to show for it. Having my baby girl was the best moment of my life, hands down.”
In the professional arena, there is one thing that could come close, of course: finally bringing a Stanley Cup to St. Louis, the only still-functioning franchise from the 1967 expansion cohort yet to win the title.
The St. Louis Blues played for the Cup in their first three years of existence thanks to an unbalanced NHL that had the expansion teams in one division and the Original Six in another. Despite the presence of future Hall of Famers such as Glenn Hall, Doug Harvey and Jacques Plante, the Blues were bludgeoned all three times, winning zero games in sweeps to Montreal (twice) and Boston. As the years went on, no manner of star power could get the team back to the final, and that includes vaunted names such as Brett Hull, Al MacInnis and even Wayne Gretzky.
(Editor’s Note: In our Playoff Preview edition of the THN magazine, we asked the question, “Who Would You Take” if you were a GM and were building a team from scratch to win in the playoffs? Most said Sidney Crosby, but three THN writers had another opinion. Below you’ll read why Ryan Kennedy would build his team around Drew Doughty. Also check out Rory Boylen’s column on Steve Stamkos and Adam Proteau’s on Jonathan Toews)
In a very short period of time, Drew Doughty has become one of the best and most well-rounded defensemen in the world. Never mind the fact he was Canada’s best player at the Sochi Olympics, never mind the fact he has a Stanley Cup championship ring and another gold medal from 2010 to go along with that triumph, just look at the visceral evidence.
For example, ask Washington Capitals star Nicklas Backstrom how he felt when his 6-foot-1, 213-pound frame was hoisted into the air by a Doughty hit in a recent tilt, then unceremoniously dropped from a fair height. Simply put, the Los Angeles Kings’ blueliner can hurt the opposition in every manner possible and that’s why I would want him as the headline player on my team if I were shooting for a title.
At just 24, Doughty has already racked up an array of championships that has him looking like a nastier version of Scott Niedermayer, who is now employed just down the road in Anaheim. The fact Doughty played for a mediocre Guelph team in junior means he’ll never have the Memorial Cup Niedermayer earned in Kamloops, but the young Kings star did get his World Junior Championship gold medal in 2008 and it’s only a matter of time before Doughty’s name is etched into the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman. Read more