Whoever it was that named the town of Waterford, Mich., could clearly take a hint.
The hamlet where Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine’s family settled when they moved from St. Louis is 35 square miles and home to 34 lakes, which means you can’t walk a mile without getting your feet wet. There’s Cass Lake, Clam Lake, Huntoon Lake, Little Silver Lake, Upper Silver Lake, Pleasant Lake, Loon Lake, Lotus Lake, Schoolhouse Lake and Wormer Lake, among others. There’s also Our Lady of the Lakes Church, Christ of the Lakes Catholic Church, Williams Lake Church of the Nazarene, Great Lakes Baptist Church and Wellspring Bible Church. The town’s nature center alone has 11 ponds on it. And just in case you needed to be clubbed over the head, the Charter Township of Waterford has trademarked the term “Lakeland Paradise.” The serial number is 76611742. You can check that.
It turns out Dylan Larkin could take a hint, too. He didn’t grow up on one of the hundreds of ponds that run off those lakes in Waterford, but it was just a short walk down the street and a few backyard shortcuts to a pond that ran off Oakland Lake. It was there Larkin laboriously planted the seeds that have germinated into one of the best, and most unlikely, rookie campaigns in the NHL this season. Sure, he’d play shinny with his older brother and cousins and the kids in the neighborhood, but what has him in the NHL at the age of 19 and in the conversation for the Calder Trophy is what Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill calls “unbelievable inner drive.” Long before the others would get there and long after they left, Larkin would be out on the pond by himself, working on his skills and finding his inner Zen. “Just me and a puck and a net,” Larkin said. “That was my childhood. Up here (in the NHL), you want to put up points and win, but there it’s just about hockey.”
Jack Eichel sounds like the happiest kid in the NHL right now.
He was one of the top rookie scorers at the midway point and had clearly found his feet in Buffalo, with particular success on a line with Zemgus Girgensons and Sam Reinhart.
But it’s not just on-ice chemistry. The Massachusetts native is finding Buffalo to be a second home pretty quickly. He’s living with the family of Sabres veteran Matt Moulson and, after a year in Boston U. dorms on his own, Eichel is loving the family atmosphere.
“They do so much for me, I could never repay them,” Eichel said. “Having a stable home environment, not worrying about cooking meals or doing laundry…it made the adjustment so much easier.”
One of the NHL’s most prominent pugilists of all-time says take a good look at fighting now, because you won’t see it much longer.
Dave Manson, a former NHL defenseman and now an assistant coach with the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders, says the game of hockey has evolved to the point where fisticuff action is getting phased out.
“Long gone are the days when an enforcer would be there to fight then sit on the bench, only playing two minutes a night,” Manson said. “You have to be able to keep up and make plays. You have to be able to play as an enforcer. You need four lines that can play hockey.”
Feels like Christmas in the THN office. Future Watch, my personal favorite yearly edition of our magazine, hits newsstands any day now. I like to think of it as our prospect bible.
So how does it work? We start by consulting scouts from all 30 NHL franchises, who rank their organizations’ top 10 prospects who are not yet full-time NHLers, creating a pool of 300 players. We turn that list over to our scouting panel, which typically consists of 15 executives, head scouts and GMs, with the number fluctuating slightly year to year. Each member ranks the top 50 players from the group of 300. We then assemble the votes to create an aggregate top 50, which expands to the top 75 players who received top-50 votes.
From 2014 to 2015, Anthony Duclair and Shea Theodore were the big movers, and the newfound love from scouts has proven warranted given both players’ ascensions in the past year. Which players made the biggest jump in overall rank between Future Watch 2015 and 2016?
Here are the top 10 rising prospects. Keep in mind that players drafted in 2015 and debuting in the ranks this year don’t count, nor do players who have graduated to full-time NHL duty.
The buzz from his cellphone, which he normally turned off during his pre-game nap, startled Mike Johnson. He quickly focused his eyes to see who was calling and saw it was Pat Quinn.
“Uh oh, I thought,” Johnson said. “He’s probably not calling to see how my day was going.”
It was Feb. 9, 2000, and the coach-GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, indeed, wasn’t exchanging pleasantries. He was about to throw a wrench in Johnson’s day – in his life, for that matter. “The most surprising part was how fast the conversation was,” Johnson recalled. “He literally said, ‘Hi, Mike. This is Pat Quinn. Listen, Mike, we made a trade. You’re going to Tampa. You know to get something we have to give something. We really liked you here, all the best. Somebody from Tampa will call you. Good luck. Bye.’
“I was like, ‘Excuse me?’ The call took 20 seconds. I did not for the life of me remember the team. I’m thinking, ‘Is it Boston?’ I sat there for 15 minutes not sure who I had been traded to.”
Seth Jones has just sat down to dinner in Nashville when his phone rings. It’s Predators GM David Poile on the line. Jones has no idea why he’s being summoned. Little does he know, he’ll board a flight to a new home two hours from now.
Ryan Johansen knows exactly what’s happening when his phone rings in Columbus. So does his girlfriend, Madison. They look at each other. “I think it’s done,” he tells her.
Johansen heads to Nationwide Arena, two blocks from his apartment. Waiting for him are GM Jarmo Kekalainen and the rest of the Columbus Blue Jackets management team. The event every rumor mill, television panel and podcast predicted over the past few months is now a reality. Johansen has been traded.
When Julien Gauthier was nine, his father asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. The dutiful son said he wanted to be a hockey player, so his dad unfolded a plan for success: “When you’re young, you don’t know what it takes,” Gauthier said. “From that day on, I’ve gone to the gym.”
Yep, that’s right: Gauthier has been hitting the gym since age nine. He wasn’t doing heavy squats or anything of that ilk at the start, but he was building a solid base. And his dad wasn’t just some loon. He was a successful body builder who was named Mr. Canada when he was 18. Gauthier’s grandfather was also a Mr. Canada winner, as well as runner-up for Mr. Universe and a wrestler, while Gauthier’s uncle is ex-NHL defenseman Denis Gauthier. So athleticism runs in the family. As for that old saying about weightlifting stunting your growth? Gauthier is already 6-foot-4 and 224 pounds – so he’ll probably be OK.
What started as a $5 foot-long on Jeff Skinner’s dinner plate is now a filet mignon. Every juicy bite perfectly symbolizes the transition from junior hockey to life as a professional in the NHL, and it literally happened to Skinner. He remembers scrounging his cash during his OHL days with the Kitchener Rangers to hit up Subway for whatever sandwich was on special. The next thing he knew, Carolina drafted him seventh overall in 2010 and he was an 18-year-old wunderkind, sniping 31 goals en route to the Calder Trophy. He signed an entry-level contract in September of that season paying him a $900,000 salary and a $500,000 performance bonus. His bank account ballooned. Submarine sandwiches were no longer a necessity.
One look at Skinner’s baby face betrays his age, sure. But this puts into perspective just how young he was as a suddenly wealthy NHL rookie: he says a car wasn’t the first thing he ran out to buy, because he had only just learned to drive before he moved to Raleigh.