Player comparisons are fraught with peril, especially when teenagers who have yet to see their first NHL shifts are part of the equation. On top of the age gap, there’s also a hype factor because it’s much more fun to say a smaller skilled player is the next Patrick Kane versus the next Steve Sullivan or David Desharnais, no matter which is most accurate. But when scouts saw Leon Draisaitl play for the Western League’s Prince Albert Raiders this past season, names such as Joe Thornton and Anze Kopitar came up. Keep the latter in mind, because there’s more than just one similarity between the stupendous Los Angeles Kings pivot and the growing Raiders teenager.
When the Edmonton Oilers tabbed Draisaitl with the third selection overall at the draft, they made him the highest German pick ever. Not that it was a long list, but Germany has produced a decent amount of NHLers, from Marcel Goc (the former record holder, who went 20th in 2001) to Christian Ehrhoff and Jochen Hecht. But none of those players lacerated the landschaft the way Draisaitl did. As a 15-year-old in Germany, he put up a staggering 97 goals and 192 points in (wait for it) just 29 games. He kept the same six-points-per-game pace up in the playoffs. And keep in mind, that’s not as fun as it sounds when you’re serious about your sport.
“It was never easy,” Draisaitl says. “It’s not easy to get ready for those kinds of games when you know you’re going to score a lot of goals. It’s not easy to concentrate when you know it will be a high-scoring game. I just wanted to get better every game and work hard.”
Jack Eichel has thrown his tag up first in Buffalo.
Next month, fellow 2015 draft phenom Connor McDavid will get his chance to match when his Erie Otters face the Niagara IceDogs at the First Niagara Center, but as MVP of the third annual All-American Prospects Game, Eichel drew first blood.
The United States League may have lost its playoff champs in the Indiana Ice, but the junior circuit gained two expansion teams in Bloomington and Madison. The USHL has become a great league for players on the cusp of NCAA careers and this year will be no exception. I surveyed a crew of insiders to get power rankings and added a player to watch for each franchise. As a note, Team USA (the National Team Development Program) is not included in the standings since both the under-18s and under-17s play in the league and because the playoffs are kind of an afterthought; the best of the NTDP are always at the world under-18s at the time, so USHL post-season success is fleeting at best.
In the two full seasons Randy Carlyle has been the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, his team has led the league in fights both seasons and led in penalty minutes once. Whether or not the Leafs are at the top of either of those departments will come down to some interesting decisions they’ll have to make over the next two weeks.
In an effort to bolster their bottom six forwards, the Maple Leafs have 17 forwards on one-way contracts coming into this season. Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren, when measured simply on their hockey skills, are their two worst. But they’re also the most truculent, combining for 15 of the team’s league-leading 48 fights last season. With the logjam up front, it doesn’t seem likely they’ll be able to keep both of them in 2014-15. Read more
This past February was a good month for Philippe Desrosiers. The Rimouski Oceanic goaltender went on an epic tear, posting four straight shutout appearances and breaking the record for the longest streak without giving up a goal in the Quebec League by barring the door for 243:35 over the course of six games.
The Dallas Stars just sent Desrosiers back to the ‘Q,’ but that just means he’ll have ample time to get his Oceanic to the top of the standings, where they hope to stay until the playoffs are over.
If you hadn’t been beaten over the head with the news already, the top prospect in the NHL draft this year is Connor McDavid of the Ontario League’s Erie Otters. But will the stellar center’s team win the title? He’ll have to do a lot, since there’s no guarantee left winger Andre Burakowsky will be back in town – the Swede could go to the Washington Capitals or even the American League. Similarly, Kingston may get Sam Bennett back, but he might end up in Calgary, while Darnell Nurse could be in Edmonton. But even without Nurse, the Soo Greyhounds will be strong. I surveyed a group of experts to find out how strong, then added a player to watch on each team.
The excitement is palpable. Even before the 2014 draft had taken place, folks were already talking about 2015, when phenom centers Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel would be eligible for selection. But it goes far beyond those two pivots – there is also Noah Hanifin and Oliver Kylington on the back end to consider, plus a host of skilled forwards and burly power forwards. Here’s my initial take on the top 30 picks for 2015:
Tampa Bay Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos is on the cover of the latest issue of The Hockey News. I was tasked with getting ‘Stammer’ on the phone for the article, which also included interviews with teammates, family and others who know the captain.
And as it happens, Stamkos has impeccable timing that stretches far beyond his goal-scoring prowess. The day Stamkos was supposed to call me, he was given my office number and my cell phone number, since I would be commuting home at one point. In Toronto, the subway line is almost entirely underground, with only a handful of stops offering daylight – and therefore, cell phone signal. Just as my train pulled into one such stop, my phone rang. I pulled one earbud out and with my iPod still blaring into the other side of my head, answered the phone as I jumped onto the station platform. It was Stamkos.