Willie Desjardins is the newest coach of the Vancouver Canucks and he certainly has his work cut out for him. The Canucks went from one of the top teams in the West to a basketcase franchise in an almost inconceivably short period of time and one of the reasons was based on structure.
Just to give you an idea of how difficult drafting a goaltender is, I present two classes.
In 2006, NHL teams selected Semyon Varlamov, Jonathan Bernier, Steve Mason, James Reimer, Michal Neuvirth, Jhonas Enroth, plus several others who have played at least a dozen games in the big league.
In 2007, there were 20 netminders selected and only two of them ever made it to The Show: Timo Pielmeier played one game for San Jose in 2010-11, while Allen York suited up 11 times for Columbus a season after that.
So you’ll excuse GMs around the league of being a little gun-shy when it comes to taking a goalie in the draft. But Carey Price went fifth overall and Roberto Luongo went fourth, so you can’t exactly ignore the position until the latter rounds, either – even though that’s where Pekka Rinne (258th) and Henrik Lundqvist (205th) ended up.
All this means that the netminders themselves usually have no idea when they’ll be picked.
The draft is officially one week away and things are beginning to become a little more clear. Still muddy, mind you, but with a tiny bit of transparency. The following represents my opinion on how the draft will shake out in Philadelphia based on countless interviews with NHL scouts, GMs and execs, plus my own viewings and research into how past drafts have tended to shake out in terms of positional distribution. Goalies tend to go later than their potential worth, for example, because it’s so hard to predict which ones will turn out. And size tends to bump a player up, whether or not there is an actual correlation between bulk and talent – it’s just how teams have drafted in the past.
This is not a straight-up mock draft, though some consideration was given towards past drafting tendencies – plus trades always muck that up in the end. So without further ado, here are my top 100 draft rankings for 2014:
Every year, hockey writer Chris Peters does some serious Yeoman’s work and crunches the raw data put out by USA Hockey regarding grassroots participation in the nation. In his latest post, Peters notes that the state of Arizona was one of the biggest gainers for 2013-14 and I would hazard to guess that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman feels pretty good about that.
As you will no doubt recall, Bettman has played a big part in keeping the Coyotes in Phoenix in recent years, even as many Canadian writers howled (see what I did there?) about bringing the franchise north, where attendance would be plentiful instead of pitiful.
Coming off a disastrous finish to the 2014 world juniors in Sweden, where a confused defense corps and feckless power play dropped Canada to a fourth-place finish, the Red and White have a big challenge next year. Not only will expectations still be sky-high, but the tourney will be played in the nation’s two most pressure-packed hockey markets, Montreal and Toronto.
Yesterday, Hockey Canada tabbed Gatineau Olympiques coach Benoit Groulx as the bench boss for that squad. Groulx, who was an assistant under Brent Sutter in Sweden, has a consistent history with the national team and is known for getting the best out of his players.
The Ontario League’s Erie Otters went from doormat to powerhouse in a year thanks to a talented ensemble that included Connor Brown, Dane Fox, Andre Burakovsky and Adam Pelech. But the spotlight has always come back to phenom Connor McDavid. The top prospect for the 2015 draft knew about playing for a marquee team even before the Otters turned around thanks to his days with the minor midget Toronto Marlboros. As an underager, McDavid played on a squad that featured a murderers’ row of talent and went all the way to the OHL Cup final before losing to the Mississauga Rebels. Robby Fabbri, now of the Guelph Storm, was part of that Rebels team and he’s up for the draft this year, as are several former Marlboros.
I caught up with McDavid at the OHL Awards, where he took home trophies for sportsmanship and academics. Though top prospects have been known to check out the draft a year early just to scope out the scene, McDavid will not be going to Philadelphia. Instead, he plans on using his summer to get bigger and stronger with training guru Gary Roberts. In the meantime, I asked him to scout his buddies from that Toronto team that will be selected this summer.
Being the son of an NHLer is a blessing and a curse. The blessings are obvious: Not only do you get those athletic genes, but also access to dressing rooms growing up and tons of great training advantages. The curse is that the media will never shut up about who your dad is.
So let’s take a look at 2014 draft prospects Ryan MacInnis and Dominic Turgeon from a different angle. Sure, they are the progeny of Al MacInnis and Pierre Turgeon respectively, but the two big pivots actually share more than just famous bloodlines.
There’s no getting around it: Blake Clarke had a rough season. After tallying 19 goals and 51 points as a rookie with Brampton in the Ontario League, Clarke found the back of the net just twice this year, getting traded from the Battalion (now in North Bay) to Saginaw. In 54 games, he had 12 points.
But thanks to a new wrinkle in the process, the American left winger was invited to the combine. In past sessions, the players chosen were based off of Central Scouting’s rankings. This time, NHL teams picked candidates too. So Clarke, ranked 134th amongst North American skaters by Central Scouting, made the final list (including Europeans and goalies) of 119 prospects. Now it’s his job to justify the decision.