Elite centers are the hardest thing to find in the NHL – ask any GM. Actually, you don’t have to, because I already did. It’s the reason Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Dylan Strome were the top picks this past summer and it’s the reason we’re all going to be super-mad if Edmonton somehow gets Auston Matthews this time around.
But in Boston, a strange dichotomy has arisen. In the past decade, the Bruins have traded two of the top centers in the game – first Joe Thornton, then a not-yet-in-his-prime Tyler Seguin – and barely suffered for it. In fact, the team won a Stanley Cup post-Thornton and is threatening for first place in the Atlantic Division right now with Seguin off doing wonders in Dallas.
So what gives? Well, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are two pretty good answers. And check out this play by third-line finess pivot Ryan Spooner from last night’s walloping of Pittsburgh:
The Vancouver Canucks have unloaded 2013 first-rounder Hunter Shinkaruk in a deal that brings center Markus Granlund from rival Calgary. Shinkaruk grew up as a Flames fan, so he’s excited – but which team won this deal?
I’ve been to the arena in Lake Placid where it all went down. You can feel the vibe, see where the ghosts might hang out on weekdays. But to modern eyes, it’s incredible how small everything appears. Peer out the window and you can see where the opening ceremonies were held – it had to be closer to a high school graduation than the Beijing overdose at the 2008 Summer Games – and the concessions are spartan, as if that really ever matters.
But that’s why the Miracle on Ice was special, wasn’t it? The Americans were the little guys, taking on the Big, Red, Soviet Machine. The Yankees weren’t supposed to hang with Viktor Tikhonov’s army, but they did. And 36 years ago today, the final score was 4-3 for the locals.
How far has hockey in America come since that victory? Light years.
The father of the Flint Firebirds top scorer this season said his son will not return next season if the Ontario League does not do something about Firebirds owner Rolf Nilsen. Michael Bitten, the father of Firebirds leading scorer Will Bitten, said his son would have probably left the team immediately, but has been advised by his agent to remain with the team for the rest of this season.
But Michael Bitten said there is “no way” his son will return to the Firebirds next season if Nilsen still owns the team. “If there are not changes there, my son will not go back, and I don’t think many others would as well,” Michael Bitten said. “It’s probably out of (OHL commissioner) David Branch’s control to a certain extent, but he must have the power to rectify it and I don’t know what that is. But surely they have to take this team away from that man. How can you go on long-term?”
The Toronto Marlies have a luxury not many, if any, teams in the American League enjoy. When the parent team is out of town, the Marlies have access to two ice surfaces in the same building. And they use them. At one point during practice, coach Sheldon Keefe splits the groups up, with one going to one rink for skill development, the other on another sheet working on systems.
And what exactly does that have to do with the Toronto Maple Leafs acquiring prospect Tobias Lindberg in the trade with the Ottawa Senators for Dion Phaneuf? Actually, quite a bit. Because how Lindberg develops under the watchful eye of Keefe will go a long way to determining how good he’ll be as an NHL player. And how good he’ll be as an NHL player will go a long way to ultimately deciding how well the Leafs did in the trade.
While John Scott was being carried on the shoulders of his all-star teammates in Nashville (I can see the reports now: Joe Pavelski, day-to-day, hernia. Brent Burns, day-to-day, hernia…), the American League’s finest were having their skills competition at their all-star festivities in Syracuse. And there were some pretty nice performances for fans of a couple NHL franchises.
The world juniors in Finland were almost unprecedented in terms of draft influence. Four of the six tournament all-stars (as chosen by the media) were 2016 prospects: Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Olli Juolevi and overall MVP Jesse Puljujarvi. The kids aren’t supposed to dominate like that, but here we are. With Alexander Nylander and Matthew Tkachuk also having strong tournaments, the big question around the campfire right now is where to slot defenseman Jakob Chychrun.
The OHL Sarnia star did not make Team Canada, but he’s the only defenseman in the top echelon right now – though Juolevi is seriously threatening that. One exec I spoke with believes Chychrun is in a positional class by himself, while another team scout told me Juolevi is pushing his way into the conversation.
So what happens on draft day? Top D-men are hard to find, but those elite forwards are awfully tempting. Since we’re nowhere near knowing which teams will be selecting early, I’m keeping things conservative, as I generally do. Here’s a look at my current top-30:
HELSINKI, FINLAND – It has been the year of the draft phenom at the world juniors. Auston Matthews flirted with an American goal-scoring record, Alexander Nylander put up points in his injured brother’s stead, while Finland got gigantic performances from Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi (my choice for tourney MVP).
But let’s not forget Matthew Tkachuk. The American left winger ended his tournament on a high note, posting up two goals and three points in an 8-3 wiping out of Sweden, winning himself a bronze medal in the process. With his size, smarts and skills, Tkachuk is firmly entrenched in the top-five for me, with Nylander behind him (and perhaps Jakob Chychrun, though being the only defenseman in the conversation may help him on draft day).