Chicago fans discovered the power of the hashtag this week as the Blackhawks did indeed “Ban ‘The Stripper.’ ”
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.
Summer is a time for whimsy, so I thought it would be fun to figure out which team is the best in all 50 states of the good ol’ USA. In some cases it was simple: Just mark down the local NHL team. In others not so much. For example, right off the hop you have Alabama. The state has a Division 1 college team in Alabama-Huntsville and a Southern Pro League team in the Huntsville Havoc. While the Havoc play in the low minors, they were a playoff squad. The Chargers, on the other hand, got wrecked last season, winning just two of 48 games. So I went with the Havoc.
The pecking order was pretty simple and based on last season’s standings: NHL, AHL, ECHL at the top, followed by the Central League, SPHL, college, major junior and the United States League. Other than Alabama, no judgement calls had to be made. The only exception to the standings rule was California. Yes, Anaheim had a better record in the regular season, but the Kings won the Stanley Cup and beat the Ducks in the playoffs. To the victors go the spoils.
Also, Hawaii was not included because according to USA Hockey, there are 19 registered players in the state and only 15 are adults.
In states where no pro, junior or Division 1 college team exist (there are eight), I chose the top NCAA club team. UNLV gets the nod in Nevada because the ECHL’s Las Vegas Wranglers went dark after the season ended and won’t return until at least 2015-16.
Without further ado, here’s a look at the teams that rule, state by state:
As Cam Talbot was waiting for festivities to begin at the Smashfest charity fundraiser earlier this summer, an exuberant New York Rangers fan spotted the backup goalie and couldn’t help but yell out some praise.
“Hey Cam!” he said. “You helped us get to the playoffs man, thanks!”
Zach Werenski had a nerve-wracking summer, but it will all be worth it when autumn rolls around. The Grosse Pointe, Mich., native is foregoing his second year of service with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program in order to go straight to college, where he will suit up for the University of Michigan Wolverines as a 17-year-old.
There’s not much of a debate to be had; Henrik Lundqvist is one debonair dude. He owns Manhattan thanks to his day job of backstopping the New York Rangers, he plays guitar in his spare time and now, for the second year in a row, ‘The King’ has been named to Vanity Fair‘s best-dressed list. He’s so cool, even snow loves him.
Every summer, some of the best under-18 players in the world travel over to the Czech Republic and Slovakia for the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament, named after the former NHL coach. This event serves as the first major showdown of the season for the upcoming draft class and yes, it’s 2015′s turn in the spotlight.
Technically, this is not a best-on-best tournament, since Team USA does not send the National Team Development Program – the kids who end up dominating the world under-18s in the spring. Instead, the American squad is made up of prep schoolers and players from major junior and the United States League. For a look at Americans to watch for, check out my report from the camp earlier this summer. Also, Connor McDavid won’t be there, since he just got finished with Canada’s world junior camp. And Pavel Zacha, who recently signed with the Ontario League’s Sarnia Sting, is out as well. But there is still a lot of talent suiting up.
Here are some of the players to watch for:
Matt Barzal, Canada – A center with the Western League’s Seattle Thunderbirds, Barzal is an excellent playmaker with hands, quickness and creativity. He played as an underager at the world under-18s and projects to be a top-five or top-10 pick in 2015.
Oliver Kylington, Sweden – Skating, skating, skating. Kylington is a gifted speedster on Sweden’s blueline who will likely be the second D-man taken in 2015 after Noah Hanifin (USA). Kylington’s Farjestad club provided the opposition for the American League all-stars this past season and he won the fastest skater competition as a 16-year-old against the AHL’s best.
Dylan Strome, Canada – A big, growing center for the Ontario League’s Erie Otters, Dylan has excellent hockey IQ and some sweet hands. The younger brother of Ryan Strome, Dylan projects to be a top-12 pick in 2015.
Travis Konecny, Canada – A tantalizing combination of high-end skill and heart, Konecny was amazing for a lowly OHL Ottawa team this past season and will likely be a top scorer in the ‘O’ for 2014-15. Projects as a top-15 pick, since he measures in at just 5-foot-10, but Konecny is going to make some NHL team very happy.
Mitch Marner, Canada – Like Konecny, Marner is undersized, but the kid can flat-out play. Marner possesses an abundance of skill and flash, which will serve him well as he takes on a bigger role with the OHL’s London Knights this season. Projects as a top-15 pick.
Jakub Zboril, Czech Republic – Repping for the home side, Zboril is a smart defenseman with good size who can contribute at both ends of the rink, including on the power play. Zboril, who will join the Quebec League’s Saint John Sea Dogs this year, makes a good first pass and moves the puck well. Projects as a top-50 pick.
Sebastian Aho, Finland – Not to be confused with the Swedish Sebastian Aho, the Finnish Aho is a forward who makes those around him better and shows a great deal of poise and professionalism on the ice. Projects as a top-50 pick.
Also to watch on Finland is big scoring forward Patrik Laine, who is not eligible until 2016.
Alexei Platonov, Russia – Honestly, I don’t have much of a book on the Russians at the Ivan Hlinka, but Platonov is a sturdy tank on the blueline who comes in at about 6-foot-5 and 203 pounds. Has some scoring potential, but that’s not his primary game. Projects as a top-50 pick.
Adam Huska, Slovakia – A big, prototypical modern goaltender, Huska was great for Slovakia at the world under-18s, where his solid butterfly technique and ability to track shooters often bailed his team out. They’ll need him to be strong again at the Ivan Hlinka. Projects as a top-10 goalie for 2015.
Dominik Diem, Switzerland – An energetic forward with a big shot, Diem isn’t blessed with great size, but he has shown an ability to maximize his impact in the past. Gets back on defense, too. Projects as a top-100 pick.
Edited to reflect that Patrik Laine is from Finland
I didn’t really have a true sense of how rough Alex Burrows’ season was until I looked at his game-by-game results. When I did that, I realized that there was only one week in which he actually found the back of the net.
From March 12-17, the Vancouver Canucks left winger scored five goals in four games, the only goals he would score in a 49-game campaign marred by injuries. But Burrows won’t simply sooth himself by blaming bad puck luck.
“Satisfaction is the beginning of regression,” he said. “Never be satisfied, keep working hard. I had a tough year with injuries and broken bones, but it’s a new year, a new chapter. A lot of us weren’t too happy with the season we had and it’s a fresh start for a bunch of us.”
The Canucks, who easily could have gone into rebuild mode after trading away Roberto Luongo and Ryan Kesler, instead went for a reload instead, with new GM Jim Benning making a big dent in free agency. Vancouver brought in Ryan Miller to be the No. 1 goaltender, while Radim Vrbata and his consistent goal-scoring prowess improves the offense.
“He’s a give-and-go player,” Benning said of Vrbata. “We feel he’ll work well with the Sedins.”
Of course, Burrows has usually been Henrik and Daniel’s running mate, but the agitating point-producer isn’t going to cut up Vrbata’s skate laces before camp this fall, even if the Czech veteran is poised to usurp his role on the top line.
“Funny story,” Burrows said. “I used to play junior with Radim in Shawinigan. He was a first-liner, I was a fourth-liner, but I got to play with him for a few games back then. During the past decade, I’ve always talked to him during warmups. We’ve gotten along. If he’s with the twins, great, or if I’m with them – at the end of the day, winning is more important than personal stats. That’s how I’m looking at it.”
The Canucks will be in tough to get back into the playoffs after missing out this past season. The West isn’t getting any easier and the razor-tipped Pacific Division is a far cry from the old Northwest, where Vancouver basically just had to show up to get the banner.
The new-look forward corps will include the Sedins, Burrows, Vrbata and new second-line center Nick Bonino (acquired from Anaheim in the Kesler trade). And while the Canucks do have some talented youngsters coming up the pipeline – Bo Horvat jumps to mind – the new GM isn’t going to throw them into the fire.
“I come from Buffalo and Boston, where we didn’t rush players,” Benning said. “That’s the philosophy I bring to Vancouver.”
Perhaps Horvat or Nicklas Jensen can make a big impact in camp, but right now the Canucks will rely on their top end and that means everybody, including Burrows, will have to bounce back from a season to forget.
The Los Angeles Kings will honor Luc Robitaille with his own statue outside the Staples Center, where he will join fellow luminary Wayne Gretzky. But let’s play Oprah here and give everybody a statue! Below you’ll find new candidates for every NHL franchise. Legends who already have statues are noted, too. And yes, some players get two statues because they managed to win hearts in multiple cities.