Continuing a new kind of mailbag, with deep-dive answers to your most pressing hockey questions.
Keep ’em coming, everyone! This is our third edition of the Friday Hockey AMA, and I’m loving your questions. By now you likely know the format, so I’ll get right to the answers.
2Tall (@Scorvat_53) asks…
Can you see Filip Zadina pushing Andrei Svechnikov out of the No. 2 spot in the draft this year?
Hey there, 2Tall. I understand why you’d wonder about Svechnikov’s draft stock. A year ago he was perceived as neck and neck with Rasmus Dahlin for the No. 1 overall spot. I’d even say Svechnikov had the edge. Now Dahlin has separated himself from the pack, leaving Svechnikov in a tier of his own at No. 2.
Things have gotten complicated, though. Svechnikov broke his hand a couple weeks ago and is expected to miss up to two months. I assume you know that and ask the question for that very reason. The injury does limit the look we get at Svechnikov in his draft year, and it leaves him questionable for the world juniors.
And Filip Zadina certainly looks like a dynamic scorer early on with Halifax in the QMJHL. The Mooseheads have become trustworthy developers of imported prospects in recent seasons, too, yielding Jakub Voracek, Nikolaj Ehlers, Timo Meier and Nico Hischier.
Still, I don’t think Zadina has pulled ahead of Svechnikov just yet. For one, Svechnikov came over to North America last year and already gave scouts a long look in the USHL, where he was dynamite for Muskegon, with 29 goals and 58 points in 48 games. He was just as good as advertised to start his debut OHL season with Barrie as well, ripping 10 goals in 10 games. We’ve seen enough to know Svechnikov is special. He has a tantalizing blend of size, speed and puck skills. His ceiling is elite. We’re talking a potential Rocket Richard winner and perennial first-team all-star.
And getting hurt during a draft year isn’t always a death knell. Connor McDavid broke his hand in his year, too! Other big-time prospects who shook off draft-year injuries in recent seasons include Alex Galchenyuk, Morgan Rielly and Nolan Patrick. Each of them went in the top five. And Svechnikov will be back in plenty of time to make noise this winter. The Colts are Memorial Cup contenders, so we might see Svechnikov on a national stage this spring.
By the way – if you have more draft- or prospect-related questions, hit up my colleague Ryan Kennedy on Twitter at @THNRyanKennedy. I honestly believe he has as much prospect knowledge as any hockey insider on the planet. He knows everything I do, multiplied by five. And I wouldn’t know nearly as much if he didn’t sit five feet from me in the THN office. He is the authority for draft prospects.
Jennifer Berthelette (@propertyjen) asks…
Is the Jets’ Connor Hellebuyck really this good? Or was he just playing behind a really bad defensive team last year?
Here’s the interesting thing, Jennifer: the questions aren’t mutually exclusive. The answers are yes and yes.
First off, Hellebuyck really is this good. At least, that’s what he was always supposed to be. We’ve followed his development closely for years at THN. He checks off every box. He has a nice, big frame at 6-foot-4 and 207 pounds. He has a strong pedigree, too, having excelled pretty much everywhere during his rise toward the NHL. He dominated in college and captured the coveted Mike Richter Award as the NCAA’s top goaltender in 2013-14 with UMass-Lowell. Hellebuyck made a smooth transition to the AHL with the Manitoba Moose. Just as John Gibson did, Hellebuyck also started for Team USA alongside NHLers at the World Championship before he even reached the NHL. Hellebuyck posted a 1.37 goals-against average and .948 save percentage in the 2015 tourney.
He also had a starter’s swagger. I first interviewed Hellebuyck a couple years ago when he was playing in the AHL, and he had such a coolness to him. He viewed his career as a long con.
“At the tournament I definitely sat back and said, ‘I had a great tournament,’ and it was a big milestone in my life at that point,” he told me after the 2015 worlds, “But it’s just a tournament. There’s nothing proven yet. You’ve got just keep continuing to get better every day, keep proving yourself on a daily basis. So I didn’t sit back and say, ‘Oh, I’m ready for the NHL.’ I took it with a grain of salt.”
So he put in the work to get truly ready for the NHL. Last year there was maybe too much pressure on him and Michael Hutchinson, and Hellebuyck’s defense didn’t help him out too much. But here’s the thing…this year, the Jets aren’t helping him too much, either. Per corsica.hockey, the Jets allowed the 12th-fewest shot attempts per 60 minutes last year. This season they allow the 11th-most shot attempts. They have actually regressed defensively and are being bailed out by Hellebuyck, so he’s really earning his numbers this season.
Maybe the key to Hellebuyck’s breakout was GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s decision to bring in a veteran goalie to push Hellebuyck in Steve Mason. Just before the season started, I spoke with Jets captain Blake Wheeler. I asked him specifically, “What was your reaction when you found out about the Mason signing?” Wheeler’s answer, which you may have seen when I tweeted it:
“We need better goaltending. It’s a tough business, and being a goalie is tough. By no means is this closing the door on anyone, but I think having competition back there is really important. Because, if you keep putting somebody back into the net, and they’re 24 years old and maybe they’re not quite ready for it, it can be damaging to them a little bit. And seeing someone go in there who has worked for it, who’s had success doing it, can really only help them. Having competition back there, having that hunger to get back into the net, that’s a huge thing for any team. The ideal situation is that we have two No. 1 goalies and we ride the hot guy, and the guy who’s not playing is pissed off, and when he gets into the net, he gets hot, and they work out like that. And if one guy grabs the job and runs with it, that’s great, too. There are 31 starting goalie jobs in the entire world, so there’s an incredible amount of competition, so it’s a thankless job a lot of times. But for us to get to where we need to go, we need to have that position solidified.”
An amazingly thoughtful answer from Wheeler – and a prophetic one. The competition, not better defense, seems to have bred a better Hellebuyck.
Ben Gravel (@Powerforward68) asks…
What is Vladislav Kamenev’s potential?
Hey Ben. Kamenev has reasonable potential. He doesn’t offer a sky-high ceiling, but the good news is he plays a “pro” style of game. He’s a mature player, a playmaking pivot who earns praise for his commitment to defense and has decent size. A decent comparison for him would be Radek Faksa or a smaller Martin Hanzal. Kamenev isn’t likely to post front-line scoring totals but possesses more than respectable offensive skill and could become a solid No. 2 or 3 center at the NHL level. In our most recent edition of THN Future Watch, our scouting panel placed Kamenev inside the top 50 overall prospects. He captained Russia at the 2017 world juniors and potted five goals in seven games.
It’s no surprise to hear that Kamenev will join the Avs when they return from Sweden. He’s played two seasons in the KHL and two full AHL campaigns, too. He has little left to prove at those levels, and Colorado could use a forward with strong two-way instincts. I wouldn’t expect a ton of offense right away, but it wouldn’t be remotely surprising if he sticks with the big club all season.
Devils Insiders (@DevilsInsiers) asks…
Pavel Zacha…when is it time to get worried?
Great question. On one hand, it’s tough to believe Zacha is still just 20 years old. Feels like he’s been around a long time, doesn’t it? But he comes from the same draft class as Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel and Ivan Provorov and Mitch Marner. Zacha is very much still a kid. He was a beast in major junior with OHL Sarnia.
Whether to worry depends on what you want him to become. I do worry Zacha isn’t the front-line NHL forward he was advertised to be on draft day 2015. If he was going to become a big-time NHL star, he’d likely be showing flashes already. Look at what Clayton Keller has done in Arizona, for example. At the same time, a big specimen like Zacha sometimes takes longer to hone his game. He still has an intriguing blend of speed, size and offensive ability. It’s alarming to see him a healthy scratch on a team committing to so many young players, sure, but Zacha’s NHL career is just 85 games old. He’s two years younger than rookie sensation Will Butcher, for example. There’s still time for Zacha to become a high-impact NHL player.
An example that comes to mind, even though they don’t play an identical style: Nazem Kadri. He was a top-10 pick with projected front-line ability but didn’t stick in the NHL for good until he was 22. He never became a No. 1 pivot for but he secured an important role on the Toronto Maple Leafs as a secondary threat. Maybe that’s the type of trajectory Zacha will follow as a Devil. This team will end up more Nico Hischier’s than Zacha’s.
Aayush Dash (@nottthatbrownkid) asks…
Matt Barzal is currently on pace for 76 points. Will he crack 60 this year?
Hey there Aayush. Ah, finally, the Mathew Barzal breakthrough! We’ve always known this kid had magic scoring ability. The five-assist game last week was a signature Barzal performance, as he has the smarts and vision to pile up points in bunches as a playmaker. His ice time has slowly risen – it sits at more than 16 minutes a game during his hot streak, in which he has 14 points in 10 games – and his possession numbers are elite. Nothing about Barzal’s performance so far this season looks fluky to me.
Will he crack 60 points? Tough call. I’ll play it conservative and predict he falls juuuust short, maybe around 58 points. Keep in mind that (a) Barzal had to stay in junior a couple extra seasons to get his body thicker and more mature, and that means he might wear down physically in the second half of his first full NHL campaign; and (b) 60 points is a tall order for any 20-year-old NHLer. The only 20-year-olds to notch 60 in a season over the past 10 years are Anze Kopitar, Sidney Crosby, David Pastrnak, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom, John Tavares, Nikolaj Ehlers, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Filip Forsberg and Sean Monahan. That list doesn’t include the 18- and 19-year-olds who’ve done it, of course, but the point is they’re all top-notch players. Barzal would join a very special group if he does it.
Not that he can’t. Barzal’s raw ability is special. But he’s taken longer than the aforementioned players to reach the NHL. Even cracking 50 points would make his rookie year a huge success.
Garrett Funk (@bringthafunk) asks…
Who does Anaheim deal for since we desperately need a forward?
This question is much more complicated than it should be. Typically, the Ducks would be Pacific Division bullies and positioning themselves as buyers. It’s the same reason they traded for Patrick Eaves last year and rented David Perron and Jamie McGinn the season before. And if that were again the case for Anaheim, we’d be talking them up as an ideal landing spot for a scoring winger like, say, Evander Kane, a pending UFA on a Buffalo Sabres team likely to miss the playoffs.
But the Ducks are devastated by injuries right now, most importantly to their top two centers, Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler. Eaves also has a serious medical condition, while goalie John Gibson is concussed and D-man Cam Fowler remains sidelined about another month with a knee injury. I wrote at length about why I believe the Ducks would be better off to miss the playoffs just for this year. Read about it here.
But if GM Bob Murray decides he does want to acquire forward help right now, it might mean looking at long-term options with multiple years remaining on their contracts. One option that makes sense to me: Alex Galchenyuk in Montreal. He’s signed through 2019-20, meaning he’s not a pure rental. He can play wing or center. The Habs don’t seem to have any confidence in him, as GM Marc Bergevin publicly trashes him every chance he gets. The price thus might be quite reasonable for someone who is still just 23 and has a 30-goal season to his name.
Whom would the Ducks give up? Murray would likely need to wait until Fowler returned – then trade from the team’s position of strength, which is of course defense. A prospect like Jacob Larsson probably wouldn’t be enough – but Sami Vatanen would be an ideal fit. He costs roughly the same as Galchenyuk, with only a $25,000 difference in their cap hits, and the Ducks have a younger, cheaper blueliner who offers the same strengths as Vatanen in the emerging Brandon Montour. Without Vatanen, they’d still have a top four of Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, Fowler and Montour, with Larsson possibly sliding into the regular lineup, too.