The big news in the prospect world right now concerns the class-action lawsuit filed against the CHL and without going into too much detail, I think this could have a dramatic effect on junior hockey. With profits and losses so extreme across the continent, I believe a minimum wage policy would have to be supported by revenue sharing. But let’s get back on the ice, shall we? Because that’s what The Hot List is, a round-up of the kids we can’t wait to see in the NHL one day.
Drouin, who coach Jon Cooper had earlier said would not be making his debut until later in the Lightning’s Western road trip, likely would have made the Lightning right out of training camp had his preseason derailed by a slight fracture of the thumb on his right hand which sidelined the much-talked about rookie for nearly four weeks. Late last week, the Lightning and Drouin made a bit of news with his activation and subsequent transfer to the American League’s Syracuse Crunch for a conditioning stint.
It didn’t take long for Drouin to make his mark on the professional ranks, scoring on an absolute laser of a wrist shot in the third period of his AHL debut.
On a macro level across North America, there’s an ongoing battle for the hearts, minds – and most importantly, the monies – of elite teenaged athletes who are major revenue generators for their development leagues. In the United States, the NCAA collegiate system is involved in a momentous high-stakes showdown with former athletes – with potential repercussions that could shake their business model to its foundations. And in Canada, a similar war is being fought at the major junior hockey level, with the latest volley taking place Friday: a $180-million lawsuit filed against the Canadian Hockey League by former players (including former Niagara IceDogs player Sam Berg, son of retired NHLer Bill Berg) seeking outstanding wages, holiday, overtime and vacation pay and employer payroll contributions and alleging basic minimum wage laws were broken.
Leave aside the particulars in both cases, and you’re left with the same essential questions: if we’ve turned amateur sports into big business, how much of the cut do amateur athletes deserve? And why do owners get to dictate that players’ dreams of playing in the best league they can has a monetary value equal or greater to the actual money their current organizational structures bring in? It’s been a Canadian tradition to romanticize players chasing their dreams for free, but when everyone can see the amount of money that’s being made, why is it so unfair for athletes to be included in the financial windfall?
Certainly, it’s worthwhile to ask who is involved with any particular lawsuit – and in their initial response to Friday’s suit, the three commissioners involved at the junior hockey level (OHL commissioner David Branch; QMJHL commissioner Gilles Courteau and WHL commissioner Ron Robison) did exactly that. While promising they would “vigorously defend” against this latest legal action, the trio accused brothers Randy and Glenn Grumbley, union activists who attempted to start the Canadian Hockey League Players’ Association, of being behind it. Read more
So much for the Anaheim Ducks’ goaltending controversy.
Entering training camp, no one knew much about Anaheim’s plans in net. We did know unrestricted free agent Jonas Hiller was a goner, but that was pretty much it. The Ducks were blessed with John Gibson, the NHL’s top goaltending prospect and No. 2 overall prospect according to THN Future Watch, and Frederik Andersen, a less-heralded but highly effective Dane who flourished in his rookie year. It was anyone’s guess as to who would win the starting job in 2014-15. The long-term edge seemed to be Gibson’s, considering his pedigree and the fact Bruce Boudreau had enough confidence in Gibson to toss him into a Game 7 against the L.A. Kings.
But things haven’t gone exactly as expected between Anaheim’s pipes in this young season – and it’s actually great news for the Ducks.
John Gibson, 21, wasn’t ready for a Game 7 last spring, and he didn’t look ready for a No. 1 job in the NHL in his first start this fall, a six-goal clobbering, albeit it came against Pittsburgh.
And then there’s Andersen. The towering Dane, 25, has been the mightiest of Ducks, starting the season 5-0-0 and allowing just seven goals, producing a 1.38 goals-against average and .950 save percentage. He’s made some serious history, too. Andersen is now 25-5-0 to start his career, which makes him just the second stopper in NHL history to win 25 of his first 30 decisions. The other was Boston’s Ross Brooks, who opened 25-2-3 from October 1972 to February 1974.
Roberto Luongo and Zach Fucale were born 16 years apart, but they do have several things in common: they’re both Quebec-born goalies and Quebec League stars born to Italian families, and they’ve each represented their country in high-stakes international competitions.
Fucale, 19, has yet to play an NHL game after his hometown Canadiens drafted him 36th overall in 2013, but he attended Canadiens camp this year and had just returned to his Halifax Mooseheads team to start the season. That’s where special guest editor-in-chief Luongo caught up with him for an exclusive, insightful talk, under the supervision of yours truly, that was more conversation than straight-ahead question-and-answer.
With NCAA hockey officially in full swing, there is action aplenty to watch for in the prospect world. Boston University’s Jack Eichel and Erie’s Connor McDavid already seem to have a fantastic game of anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better going on, but who else should you be watching this season? Here are some of the other names making noise right now.
Dmitrij Jaskin wants to play in St. Louis. Blues GM Doug Armstrong and coach Ken Hitchcock think he’s good enough to play in St. Louis. Alas, he’ll open 2014-15 with the team’s American League affiliate in Chicago. The Blues were just too deep, with too many players on one-way deals, so down went Jaskin, the team’s No. 1 prospect in Future Watch 2014.
In one sense, St. Louis is prospect heaven. The Blues are a well-coached Stanley Cup contender with plenty of great two-way players to learn from. In another sense, it’s prospect hell, or at least purgatory. It’s oh-so difficult just to make the team, as Jaskin learned, and even if you do, there’s still the matter of winning Hitchcock’s trust. Just ask Vladimir Tarasenko.
Talk to any scout, GM, media member or hockey pool guru about the most promising young goal scorers in the game today and, invariably, Tarasenko’s name pops up. There’s no denying what the kid can do with the puck on the stick. He has an Alexander Mogilny-like ceiling. He made that clear with five points in his first two NHL games two seasons ago.
That same year, Future Watch 2013 ranked Tarasenko the top prospect in the game. In an interview for that magazine, however, Hitchcock foresaw a bump in the road. ‘Hitch’ predicted an adjustment from lateral puck movement to linear. Sure enough, Tarasenko slumped badly in the second half of that season. Hitchcock, who preaches defensive responsibility and system play like few other coaches, entrusted his rookie sniper with just 13 minutes of ice time per game in 2012-13.
Between learning Hitchcock’s scheme and simply cracking one of the NHL’s densest, most talented depth charts, life is difficult for any Blues rookie. That’s why Jaskin has an uphill climb.
“It’s always hard to be a rookie, but especially here, when you get 12 of the best players in the NHL,” he said two weeks before being cut. “It’s way harder to get here faster and get more time. But that means you have to work for it harder than somewhere else.”
When Brock Boeser and his buddies want to unwind in the summer, they go to Cannon River, near his hometown of Burnsville, Minn. It’s a perfect spot for swimming and cliff-jumping and sounds like an idyllic getaway for teenagers, particularly since Boeser’s career as a pro hockey player is looking promising right now.
A potential first-round pick in the 2015 draft, Boeser played at the All-American Prospects Game in Buffalo and before that, was chosen to represent Team USA at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup in Europe this past August. He and linemate Tom Novak, a longtime friend from summer hockey, were 1-2 in tournament scoring, helping the Americans to a bronze medal. But just as the elite gathering was kicking off, a tragedy rocked Boeser’s world.