Laine vs. Puljujarvi: How the presumed No. 2 and 3 picks stack up in key areas

Ken Campbell
(Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)

When it comes to the NHL draft, there has never been a better year for Finland than 2002, when Kari Lehtonen went second overall to the Atlanta Thrashers and Joni Pitkanen was taken at No. 4 by the Philadelphia Flyers.

Until this year, that is. The Tiny Country That Could™ has never had a No. 1 overall pick in the draft, and it won’t this year, either, but there’s an excellent chance it will have the No. 2 and 3 picks in Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi. Or is that Jesse Puljujarvi and Patrik Laine? They’re different players, but there’s almost nothing to choose between them when it comes to projecting them as NHL players. “You’re really splitting hairs here,” one scout said. “Scouts just keep going back and forth on them because it’s so close.”

As was the case in 2002, it was good times for young players in Finland. At that time, the Finns were in the middle of a four-year run in which they won a silver and three bronze medals in the World Junior Championship. This year, the Finns won gold for the second time in three years, taking the latter one in large part because of the efforts of Laine and Puljujarvi. Both were named to the all-tournament team, but Puljujarvi took home MVP and top-forward honors with five goals and 17 points in seven games to win the tournament scoring title. Laine finished third with seven goals and 13 points.

Here’s how they stack up in the key areas:

Read more

Daft Draft: Remembering the many misses of the 1996 NHL draft

Ken Campbell
Pavel Datsyuk. (Tom Pidgeon/Allsport)

Even the man who discovered Pavel Datsyuk has no idea where ‘The Magic Man’ was playing during the 1995-96 season. That’s because Hakan Andersson never even laid eyes on Datsyuk until two years after that.

If you’re ever looking for more proof that drafting young athletes is the most inexact science in the world, consider Datsyuk. Then look at the 1996 NHL draft. It’s generally regarded as one of the weakest ever. To be sure, it has its share of first-round clunkers. But its status would have been enhanced had people thought to scout a skinny 18-year-old kid in Yekaterinburg, a city on the border of Asia where Czar Nicholas II and his family were slaughtered by the Bolsheviks in 1918.

Read more

Former NHLer Tom Lysiak passes away at 63 after battle with leukemia

The Hockey News
Tom Lysiak. (Getty Images)

Editor’s Note: Former NHLer Tom Lysiak passed away on Monday following a battle with leukemia. He was 63. Former THN Atlanta Thrashers correspondent John Manasso profiled Lysiak during his battle for a feature in the Dream Teams special issue released in September 2015. Here is the feature in its entirety.


Tommy Lysiak was recovering from a bone marrow transplant earlier this year when a nurse at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital made a suggestion. She wanted him to walk two miles a day to aid in his recovery after undergoing leukemia treatment. Part of her pitch was it shouldn’t be that hard for Lysiak since he used to be an athlete.

Lysiak, the Atlanta Flame and Chicago Blackhawk forward who finished second in Calder Trophy voting in 1974, took exception. “No, you’re mistaking me for an athlete – I played hockey,” Lysiak told her. “I wasn’t really an athlete. I didn’t work out. I didn’t go to camp in shape. Camp was meant to get into shape.”

Read more

Want your kids to get better at hockey? Have them play less, experts say

Ronnie Shuker
London's Mitch Marner (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Ben Prentiss sees it all the time. Parents come in to his Connecticut gym and expect him to put their child on a path to becoming Jonathan Quick, Max Pacioretty, Kevin Shattenkirk or any of the other NHL stars he trains during the off-season. What they don’t know is that comparatively little training for his high-profile clients involves hockey. In the summer, his guys don’t even hit the ice until late July or early August.

Hockey may be a year-round job for NHL players, but it shouldn’t be for kids. It actually hurts their development in two ways: it decreases their overall athleticism, and it increases the likelihood of typical hockey injuries like torn labrums, hip impingements and groin problems. “That’s a big, big, big problem now,” Prentiss said. “These kids, who are 12 to 15, they’re playing 70 games a year…All they do is play hockey. They don’t get their feet out of skates, they play too many games and they develop an overuse injury.”

Read more

Mikko Rantanen bound and determined to take on the big boys in the NHL next season

Ryan Kennedy
Mikko Rantanen. (Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Before Mikko Rantanen even got drafted, before he knew which players he would be competing against for a job, he maintained that his goal for 2015-16 was to play in the NHL. And after the powerful right winger was taken 10th overall by the Colorado Avalanche, he did just that – for a handful of games, at least.

Rantanen, the brightest prospect in Colorado’s system and Future Watch’s No. 5 prospect overall, made the Avalanche out of camp and played the first six games of the season. The strapping young Finn didn’t register a point and never eclipsed 11 minutes of ice time in any given game, but it’s tough to consider his assignment to the AHL as a disappointment, especially given how Rantanen has performed ever since. “It was an experience for him to dip his toe in the water,” said David Oliver, Colorado’s director of player development. “With ice time comes confidence, and for his development curve we wanted to get him to the AHL to play those big minutes.”

Read more

Should prospect goaltenders play a lot in the AHL – or a little in the NHL?

Matt Larkin
Matt Murray.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

A fractured larynx
 is horrible news for anyone. Merely writing about such a gruesome, frightening injury churns the stomach. For Providence Bruins goaltender Malcolm Subban, though, taking a puck to the throat Feb. 6 was especially discouraging.

After all, he was somewhere he didn’t think he should be.

If it were up to Subban, 22, he would’ve been far away from Portland, Maine and the Providence warmup, where he sustained the injury before a game against the Pirates. Subban spoke to THN shortly before training camp, and he made it clear he would rather be an NHL backup, fighting for scraps behind Tuukka Rask in Boston, than an AHL starter.

“From the OHL to the AHL, once I got in and got comfortable, I did really well coming in as a young guy, so I feel I can do the same in the NHL,” he said. “I’ve done it at the last two levels and succeeded there. So, looking at it the same way at the NHL level, I could play until I’m 28 and develop in the AHL, you know what I mean? So who’s to say when the age is? I definitely feel I can jump up there, and I’ve had a good couple seasons in the AHL.”

Subban wasn’t pulling a prima donna act. He dutifully accepted his AHL assignment to start 2015-16. He only admitted his preference for the big club when asked. And his mentality reflects how virtually every young goaltender feels once he’s drafted. They all want to be in the NHL as soon as possible, no matter how small the workload might be.

“In one sense, we’d all think there’s something wrong with them if they didn’t say that,” said Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford, a former NHL goalie.

Read more

The Right Way: The Maple Leafs complete franchise makeover is going swimmingly so far

Ken Campbell
William Nylander. (Graig Abel/Getty Images)

The Toronto Marlies are generally treated as the bastard child of the Toronto Maple Leafs, an afterthought in a hockey market where fans call into talk radio and wonder why their NHL team can’t just trade for P.K. Subban, like it’s that easy, or simply snap their fingers and sign Steven Stamkos and John Tavares when they become free agents. Toronto’s AHL franchise plays in a former horse palace, albeit a wonderfully refurbished one that makes for a great viewing experience, and despite being in the AHL’s biggest city and the Center of the Hockey Universe™ where they’re in first place and the NHL team is dead last, you can always get a ticket. Sometimes you might even have to pay for it. But there’s a lot of foot room for patrons since the arena is usually only about two-thirds full.

On this day in early February, however, the Marlies have the rule of the roost. The Maple Leafs are out of town on an extended road trip, so the Marlies take over the big club’s practice facility, a four-pad rink in the west end of the city. At one point during practice, Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe breaks the team into two groups, with one traipsing over to one rink to work exclusively on skill development and the other staying behind to work on systems.

Read more

Development guru pushes the pace in fast, complicated drills to boost player skills

Jared Clinton
(Courtesy of Jari Byrski_

Arguably the nicest goal of Sam Bennett’s career came this past November. In a game against Pittsburgh, the Calgary Flames rookie faked as if to cut outside before dropping his shoulder, pulling the puck around Penguins defenseman Ian Cole and spinning him into the ground before using a few quick dekes to fool goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

For as good as Bennett’s goal was, it may not have been possible without time and effort put into developing the exact moves utilized to score that highlight-reel tally. The toe-drag, the deke and the patience with the puck, all executed at full flight, were the result of dedication to the skill development that separates him from his peers. It’s something he’s been doing since before he was drafted, and he continues to spend chunks of his off-seasons working on it with SK8ON’s Jari Byrski.

“That shows the type of confidence I have with the puck to make plays like that,” Bennett said. “It’s thanks to my work with Jari in the summer.”

The kind of skill development Byrski provides isn’t entirely new, but the emphasis players have put on developing individual puck skills has increased over the past several years. Skills coaches have popped up throughout the sport, and even notable names, such as Hockey Hall of Famer and ex-Capitals and Devils bench boss Adam Oates, are starting to share their knowledge. Byrski, 54, is one of the pre-eminent names in the business.

But skill development isn’t a one-size-fits-all practice. Byrski’s methods have had to change over the years to adapt to each specific player as well as the overall increasing ability of players – “individualization of the skill set,” as Byrski calls it. One major adaptation over the past several seasons has been adapting drills to match the increase in speed the game sees seemingly each year. That’s something Byrski focuses on and something helped by taking cues from overseas.

“The European system was emphasizing not just sheer power and strength but adding a bit of finesse to the play as well,” Byrski said. “Growing a player’s skill set as far as agility and being able to maneuver with the puck and stickhandling ability…I started to see the effect that training this way had on some of my students playing the games, and that started to dictate how we trained.”

Bennett, who worked with Byrski throughout his time with the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs, isn’t the only notable player Byrski has trained. Since his school opened in 1993, he has become a sensei to some of the game’s most talented puck handlers, passers and shooters. Jason Spezza worked with Byrski as a pre-teen and still returns to his camps in the off-season. Steven Stamkos is a regular attendee, as is Jeff Skinner. Brent Burns and Byrski have also worked together for many years, including during Burns’ transition from right winger to a Norris Trophy-contending defenseman. All this is to say Byrski is a well-respected voice in the skill development community.

Byrski’s drills, which Bennett said can be extremely difficult, range from simple stickhandling to maneuvering between and slipping the puck through obstacles. And everything is done with speed. The purpose behind the drills is to focus on the fine skills. But when it comes to getting the most out of progressing an individual skill set, it has to be the player who commits to the training.

Jimmy Roy, the Winnipeg Jets’ co-ordinator of player development, said building the necessary puck skills is player-dependent and specific to each individual, but there has to be “ownership” from each player. “If the players care as much about their career as we do as an organization, and we take ownership of the things that we’re trying to teach them and get them better at, that’s the best thing for a player. But realistically, the players are the ones who are going to get themselves to the NHL.”

Byrski understands that, too. He’ll be approached by agents and players about off-season training, and, on occasion, teams will step in and look into getting a player the help to take the next step. “It will sometimes happen that when I have a player from an organization come to me in the summer, the organization is going to call me and address that they’ve seen this or that, but usually the player knows that from the exit meetings, especially the young players,” Byrski said. “They know what the team is seeing, what they would like them to work on or progress.”

Working on puck skills isn’t something that ends, either. Each season, a player has to work on making progress. Byrski worked with Daniel Alfredsson late in his career and recalled how impressive the then-Senators captain’s ability to control the puck was. Alfredsson told Byrski it was because of the work put in to sustain those abilities. “You learn how to maintain a skill set, how to nourish it, how to cherish it,” Byrski said. “When you’re young, you don’t appreciate the opportunities. But as you mature, you start to realize the potential that you have can be utilized in a greater way. Which means training. A lot of training.”

Continued training can breed confidence, which is backed up by Bennett’s belief that each off-season he’s worked on skill development has made him a better player. Byrski, who has formal education as a children’s psychologist, said confidence, or a lack thereof, can have the greatest effect on a player’s game, especially in a league that has become so obsessed with numbers – those that appear on the scoresheet and those underlying advanced statistics that don’t. But over the course of an off-season, a player’s confidence can grow and his game can become much better. Byrski compares it to adjusting a television set to get the clearest look at their game. “The first day they come in, they even tell me after 40 minutes, they feel sluggish, so the picture is faded,” Byrski said. “They already know and they’ll tell me they need to focus on something. As the off-season progresses – dryland, off-ice, on-ice – you can see the brightness, you can see the colors coming in. By the time a player leaves, you can see that it’s a much sharper picture.”
This is an edited version of a feature that appeared in the Future Watch edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.