How Duncan Keith went from job-dodger to bionic Blackhawk – and Conn Smythe winner

Duncan Keith scores the Stanley Cup-winning goal. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

It seems ludicrous that there was a time when Duncan Keith refused to get a summer job. After all, it’s pretty clear he’s anything but averse to heavy lifting. But there was a time, right around when Duncan turned 15, that his father, David, thought it might be a good idea for his son to learn the value of a dollar earned.

Impossible, Duncan said. Getting a job would get in the way of training. Training for what, his father asked. Training to be an NHL player was the answer. After all, Duncan had made the proclamation in large letters on a big piece of paper when he was just seven or eight years old, “Duncan Keith will make it to the NHL,” which his parents still have framed at their home in Penticton, B.C.

By the time he was a teenager, Duncan was studying the training methods used by the likes of Jaromir Jagr and Pavel Bure.

“When he told me he had to train, I said, ‘We’ll talk about it when I get home,’ ” David said. “When I got home from work, he was running around the yard with a rope and three tires he was dragging around on the grass.” Read more

In The Cards: Jacques Lemaire’s pre-emptive Sabres card

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Trading card companies have made plenty of errors on hockey cards in the past. Sometimes, they might misspell a player’s name, print an incorrect stat or even use a photo of a teammate by mistake. But this gaffe from 40 years ago may trump them all. In the hockey card sets issued by Topps and O-Pee-Chee during the 1974-75 season, Montreal Canadiens center Jacques Lemaire is erroneously pictured as a member of the Buffalo Sabres — a team he never played for. A close-up photo had been doctored, with Sabres colors painted over Lemaire’s Canadiens jersey. According to the Hockey Hall of Fame website, it was speculated that Lemaire was going to be dealt to the Sabres, so the card companies responded in kind, albeit a bit prematurely. Read more

Vermette’s stay in Chicago was short but very, very sweet

Antoine Vermette (Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

As Antoine Vermette made his way through the mass of humanity in the cramped visitor’s dressing room at Amalie Arena after Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final, he was unfailingly polite.

“Sorry for the sweat,” he said as he brushed up against people on his way to the door. “I probably stink, too. But I guess that’s a good thing at this time of the year.”

There were games during the playoffs when Vermette didn’t stink at all. That’s because he was likely wearing expensive cologne under his designer suit while sitting in the press box. Check that. He kind of did stink, which was why he was in the press box wearing the expensive cologne under his designer suit in the first place. Read more

Why is Brandon Saad’s nickname ‘Man-Child’?

Brandon Saad (via Columbus Blue Jackets/Twitter)

Long before he was a man-child in the NHL, Brandon Saad was a 15-year-old kid who was terrorizing goalies in youth hockey in Pittsburgh, dreaming of one day playing in the same league as his heroes, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Bob Mainhardt recalls sitting in the Saad family’s kitchen trying to get George Saad’s two sons, George Jr. and Brandon, to commit to playing for his junior team.

Mainhardt remembers George Sr. telling him point blank that if his two sons decided to commit to playing for the Mahoning Valley Phantoms of the North American League, Brandon would be his leading scorer. Mainhardt thought highly of Saad, but he also had a veteran-laden team that was a contender for the national championship.

He admired the father’s chutzpah but didn’t put much faith in the prognostications of a proud hockey dad. After all, Brandon would still be 15 when the season started, and he’d be playing with and against players as old as 20.

“Well, if he had been a gambling man,” Mainhardt said of the senior Saad, “he should have put money on that one. Brandon was the best pro prospect I had ever seen. I had 18 kids from that team get Div. I scholarships, and we made the national semifinals. He was our best player.” Read more

Coyotes prospect Nick Merkley is ‘a pleasure to be around’

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Nick Merkley (Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

Since the teenagers taken at the NHL draft this summer aren’t old enough to drink, we’ll assume Nick Merkley celebrated being taken 30th overall by Arizona with an Oreo ice cream sandwich instead.

That was the junk food of choice for the Kelowna Rockets right winger after road trips this season, and it served him well: Merkley finished sixth in WHL scoring and helped Kelowna drub the competition in the playoffs.

The Rockets dropped just three games on their way to a dream final with the Brandon Wheat Kings before that showdown turned out to be a four-game nightmare for the Wheaties.

“Sweeping them was crazy,” Merkley said. “We were just trying to get a split (in Brandon), then we got both games. It was huge for us.” Read more

‘Battling’ Ben Bishop took long and winding road to NHL success

Brian Bishop (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

When the Montreal Canadiens chased Ben Bishop from the net in the second round of the playoffs, Habs defenseman P.K. Subban couldn’t resist taking a shot at the Tampa Bay Lightning goalie, saying Bishop had been “sitting on a horseshoe” to that point in the series. Subban, of course, meant to imply that said horseshoe was wedged in a certain part of Bishop’s anatomy. Subban is subtle that way.

The implication was Bishop had luck rather than skill to credit for his play in that series. If that’s the case, then perhaps it was a case of karma coming around. Maybe Bishop was finally due for some good luck, because until he joined the Lightning, good fortune wasn’t something in huge supply for him.

By the time Bishop was dealt to Tampa at the trade deadline in 2013, he was a 26-year-old goalie with just 36 NHL appearances and was already in his third organization. His hometown St. Louis Blues had given up on him, trading him for a second-round pick. Then with no room on their depth chart for a goalie who takes up a lot of room in the net, the Ottawa Senators dealt him to Tampa Bay for Cory Conacher and a fourth-rounder, not the kind of bounty that has “future NHL star” written all over it. Read more

Meet the NHL’s burgeoning blueline beast

Victor Hedman (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

When Victor Hedman was 17, he was playing in the Swedish League and living in an apartment with his girlfriend in Ornskoldsvik, in northern Sweden, cooking his own meals, paying bills – on time – and doing laundry. Colors didn’t bleed, either. He didn’t think that was a big deal. But then again, Swedes rarely think anything they do is a big deal.

Hedman, like many of his countrymen in the NHL, isn’t terribly impressed with himself. He’s making $4 million a year to play in the best hockey league in the world and doing it very well. Yet there is no air about him. He prefers to allow his performance to do his communicating, and by that standard, he’s starting to scream from the rooftops.

Hedman has become the player the Lightning envisioned when they selected him second overall behind John Tavares in 2009. He has become a punishing shutdown defenseman with an offensive bent. He has an ability to make opponents look ordinary and teammates extraordinary. In short, he has all the makings of becoming one of the best defensemen in the NHL. Read more

How slow and steady won the race for Canucks prospect Cole Cassels

Oshawa's Cole Cassels  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Kelowna’s Leon Draisaitl was the Memorial Cup MVP, but in two games (plus a minute and a half of overtime), the Edmonton Oilers prospect didn’t have a single point against the Oshawa Generals, who raised the major junior trophy thanks to a 2-1 overtime win over the Rockets. Instant hero Anthony Cirelli, a 2015 draft prospect, scored both goals in the final, but Cole Cassels was the embodiment of a Generals squad that grinded, smothered and physically punished teams all year long.

Cassels, taken 85th overall by Vancouver in 2013, helped suffocate Connor McDavid in the OHL final, holding the Erie Otters phenom to one point in the first two games of Oshawa’s five-game series triumph. Oh, and Cassels wasn’t on the ice for that power play assist.

A premier two-way center who also packs a physical wallop, Cassels was a revelation for the Generals.

“He’s the guy that makes our team go,” said coach D.J. Smith. “Offensively, defensively, penalty kill, power play; he’s the first guy on the ice for every situation and he’s the last guy on at the end of the game. He’s the heartbeat of this team.” Read more