2015 Draft Preview – Tampa Bay Lightning apprentice is now the master

Tampa Bay's Andrei Vasilevskiy (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, the NHL’s reigning GM of the year, was weaned by the Detroit Red Wings as a player and an executive, so it’s no surprise he puts such a strong emphasis on drafting and developing players. And it should come as no surprise he and the Lightning have had such positive results. Yzerman and his hockey department have restocked the Bolts’ system with a bountiful crop of young players. In the 2011 draft alone, the Lightning picked six players, and four of them – Vladislav Namestnikov, Nikita Kucherov, Nikita Nesterov and Ondrej Palat – have turned out to be bona fide NHL players.

Round 1, pick 28
Round 2, pick 44
Round 3, pick 64
Round 4, picks 118, 120
Round 5, pick 150
Round 6, picks 153, 180
Round 7, pick 208

Injuries tested Tampa’s depth on defense and, after trading Radko Gudas, the Lightning lack a physical and punishing force on the back end.

Read more

2015 Draft Preview – Buffalo Sabres take baby steps with their baby faces

Ken Campbell
Sam Reinhart. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

So how does a center ice corps of Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Mikhail Grigorenko and Johan Larsson sound? Well, considering only two of the four can legally drink in New York State, pretty young. And considering the top end of that group, pretty darn promising. As a group, Buffalo will continue to take its lumps as the Sabres continue through a painful rebuild. When you finish 30th in the NHL in successive seasons, the rewards at the draft are potentially astronomical. Even with Eichel, the Sabres will still finish near the bottom, meaning they’ll be getting another gem in 2016.

Round 1, pick 2
Round 1, pick 21
Round 2, pick 31
Round 2, pick 51
Round 4, pick 92
Round 5, pick 122
Round 6, pick 152
Round 7, pick 182

Buffalo’s future on defense is tied to Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov, but if the Sabres are going to come close to competing in the next few seasons, they’re going to need depth, preferably in the form of a player who can help show the young blueliners the way.

Read more

Is the Maple Leafs’ asking price for Phil Kessel too high? Don’t be so sure

Matt Larkin
Phil Kessel. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

We knew Phil Kessel trade rumors would swirl like a hurricane leading up to next week’s NHL draft. We also knew it would be complicated for the Leafs to pull off a deal. Kessel, after all, carries an $8-million cap hit, a reputation for questionable fitness and defensive play and an ugly stat sheet from 2014-15.

It’s not a huge surprise, then, suitors are calling Toronto’s asking price for Kessel too high. ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reports two executives have balked at the Leafs’ demands.

Read more

Why No. 3 overall is the “swing pick” of the 2015 draft

Matt Larkin
Erie's Dylan Strome. (Photo by B Wippert/Getty Images)

Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel know precisely which sweaters they will don next Friday at the NHL draft in Miami. We all know. McDavid is an Edmonton Oiler to be, Eichel a Buffalo Sabre to be. We’re so confident, we superimposed the respective jerseys on each prospect for our Draft Preview covers.

The suspense of next week’s draft begins at No. 3 overall. The Arizona Coyotes must make a difficult choice between two or three tantalizing prospects, and what they do will set off a chain reaction beginning with the Toronto Maple Leafs one pick later.

So, which path does Desert Dogs GM Don Maloney take? There are three realistic outcomes to consider.

Read more

Top 10 trade candidates at the 2015 NHL draft

Matt Larkin
Patrick Sharp. (Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

What do Ryan Kesler, James Neal, Scott Hartnell, Cory Schneider, Jordan Staal, James van Riemsdyk and Sergei Bobrovsky have in common?

Each was traded at or just before the NHL draft over the past three summers. It’s a time of year when the smoke of the NHL rumor mill produces fire. Some teams need to shed salary before free agency. Others simply want draft picks to kickstart their rebuilds. It’s different than the trade deadline, when we primarily see rentals of expiring contracts. All 30 teams are ready to effect change come June. Everyone’s a suitor. That’s why the draft yields some of the biggest blockbusters.

Which names are most likely to move within the next nine days? And make no mistake, some will move…

Read more

Panthers’ Jaromir Jagr calls his shot: the Cup is coming to Florida in 2016

Jaromir Jagr (Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images)

There may not be a player who has become more universally adored as his career has worn on than Jaromir Jagr. That’s not without reason. Everything he does, Jagr seems to be having a blast and, at 43, he pulled his best Babe Ruth impression and called his shot, saying the Florida Panthers will be bringing home the Stanley Cup in 2016.

In a tweet sent out by Jagr shortly after Chicago’s Stanley Cup win, the surefire Hall of Famer posted a picture of himself with Blackhawks stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and congratulated the two on their 2015 Cup victory. But he doesn’t want them to get too comfortable, because he’s coming for that Cup with the Cats next season. Read more

Five reasons why the Tampa Bay Lightning will win tonight’s Game 7

Brian Boyle and Tyler Johnson. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning have delivered exactly what we hoped they would. We’ve gotten mostly fantastic goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist and wildly unpredictable goaltending from Ben Bishop. We’ve seen the NHL’s two fastest teams trade chances in a warp-speed transition game leading to breakaways and comebacks. Steven Stamkos and Rick Nash have awakened. Martin St-Louis and Ryan Callahan have scored on their former teams.

So it’s perfectly fitting to see these two teams clash in a Game 7 tonight. Who ya got? It depends on what you value most: veteran goaltending and the mystique of a storied arena or good, old-fashioned scoring chances, the symptom of possessing the puck more than the other team. Can you guess which side I fall on?

Here are five reasons why the Tampa Bay Lightning will prevail in Game 7.

Read more

Generational talents: McDavid vs. Gretzky, Lemieux, Lindros and Crosby

Connor McDavid  (Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)

Connor McDavid provided scouts, fans and NHL GMs with plenty of eureka moments throughout his draft year. But none compared to what he did April 10 in a playoff game against the London Knights.

McDavid calmly, casually assaulted the OHL’s most prestigious franchise with five goals, leading his Erie Otters to a 7-3 victory. He wasn’t the first mega prospect to score five in a playoff game, but the way he did it bugged many eyeballs out of many skulls. It was just so…easy for him. He scored on a laser wrister through a self-designed screen. He blew past three Knights on a 1-on-3 rush to create his own breakaway. He picked a defenseman’s pocket and stuffed home a puck in the blink of an eye. He even scored accidentally when a Knight pokechecked the puck into his own goal, for Pete’s sake.

The performance carved McDavid once and for all into an echelon above Jack Eichel as the surefire No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft. McDavid, by all accounts, is a generational talent, the most hyped player since Sidney Crosby, following in the footsteps of Eric Lindros, Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky. But how do we know McDavid’s game will translate into NHL superstardom? What evidence can we glean by looking at prior generational talents?

The best expertise comes from those who rubbed shoulders with the greats, so we turned to two of them for help: Hall of Famer and Carolina Hurricanes GM Ron Francis and probable Hall of Famer turned Pittsburgh Penguins player development coach Mark Recchi.

Read more