Paul Boislard, Woonsocket, R.I.
Paul Boislard, Woonsocket, R.I.
The budding power forward is having a successful season with USHL Youngstown, with Penn State on the horizon. Learn about him and other future NHLers in our weekly wrap
The world junior camp rosters are really rolling out now and there have been some minor surprises. Sweden will not be taking a last look at 2017 draft prospects Timothy Liljegren and Erik Brannstrom on defense, while Russia is taking a pass on Columbus pick Vitalii Abramov, among others. And now we know that Nolan Patrick will not suit up for Canada, due to injury. But let's concentrate on the player around the prospect world that are having good weeks. As always, here's our wrap-up of who is making waves.
Brett Murray, LW (Buffalo): We are just beginning to see what Murray is capable on the ice, but it's been a pretty good show already. The burgeoning power forward has the right frame at 6-foot-5 and 222 pounds and has put up 16 points in his first 22 USHL games with the Youngstown Phantoms. Now it's just a matter of speed for the Sabres' fourth-rounder.
“Being a bigger guy, my acceleration and quickness off the start is something I can work on," Murray said. "Always improving top speed in open-ice skating is a huge thing.”
With that foreboding frame, Murray can grow into a force once he puts it all together. The early results are encouraging and he already has championship experience from this past season, when he helped the CCHL's Carleton Place Canadians win their Jr. A title in Ontario's Ottawa region. In Youngstown, he's facing tougher competition and the stakes will rise again next year when he heads to Hockey Valley and the NCAA's Penn State Nittany Lions.
“It just seemed like the right fit," Murray said. "They have a new state-of-the-art facility and as a progression for me, just being in the gym every day with an elite strength and conditioning coach and nutritionist seemed like the best for me.”
So if everything goes according to plan, Buffalo will have a beast of a left winger once Murray is finished in the NCAA. He's already got the instincts to be a handful.
“I like to work the puck down low in the corners," he said. "Use my size and skill to create space for my linemates and myself.”
And with the World Jr. A Challenge coming up in Bonnyville, Alta., Murray is proof of what that tournament can do for a prospect that isn't necessarily on the mainstream radar. Murray played for Canada East last season and soaked in everything he could from international duty.
“I really enjoyed it," he said. "It was an excellent experience, matching myself up against top prospects from other countries and even my linemates.”
In The Pipeline
Sergei Zborovskiy, D (NY Rangers): Games don’t get much better than the seven-pointer Zborovskiy hung on poor Prince Albert in his Regina Pats’ 12-2 destruction. The big-bodied defenseman was all over the place, jumping into scoring positions and getting pucks to the net. He has also been invited to Russia’s final world junior camp.
Carter Hart, G (Philadelphia): It seems like I’m mentioning Hart a lot lately, but I can’t help it because he refuses to give up goals. Using structure and technique, the favorite heading into Canada’s WJC camp posted three straight shutouts before Medicine Hat finally dented the armor in his most recent game. Hart still got the win, though.
Guillaume Brisebois, D (Vancouver): Canada has a lot of options on the blueline, so it will be interesting to see if Brisebois can snag a spot. The Charlottetown Islanders rearguard has great size and skating ability, helping him to 17 points through 23 games. But he can also use his tools to shut players down and that might be his key to making the world juniors.
Henrik Borgstrom, C (Florida): He’s been great all year for NCAA Denver, but the announcement of Finland’s world junior roster gives us another reason to mention the speedy and talented freshman. Borgstrom has 16 points through 14 games with the Pioneers and Finland will need his offense with so many big names from last year’s squad unavailable.
Caleb Jones, D (Edmonton): Team USA named its preliminary world junior roster on Monday and it's looking like a solid crew. But who will step up on defense with so many options? Jones is one candidate, as his combination of physicality and skill make him dangerous. The Portland Winterhawks rearguard has an impressive 25 points in 28 WHL games this year.
2017 Draft Stars
Robert Thomas, C – London Knights (OHL): Thomas had one heckuva coming out party on the weekend, racking up five points for the Knights in a 6-2 win over Flint. Strong on his skates and blessed with some fantastic offensive moves, Thomas now has 30 points in 27 games on a deep team.
Owen Tippett, RW – Mississauga Steelheads (OHL): There is so much to like about Tippett’s game, from his size (6-foot-2, 204 pounds) to his skating to his shot. All of those were in full gear against Ottawa on the weekend, where Tippett popped in four points in a 6-3 victory.
Lias Andersson, C – HV 71 (SHL): One of three draft prospects to make Sweden’s final WJC camp roster, Andersson plays an excellent two-way game and already has chemistry with Carl Grundstrom and Elias Pettersson on the international stage. Back with HV 71, Andersson is one of the top-scoring junior-aged players in the SHL with eight points in 22 games.
Jayson Dobay, D – Thayer Academy Tigers (Mass. HS): An excellent skater with great offensive instincts, Dobay is a UMass commit and one to watch in the New England prep ranks this season. With six assists in his first three games for the Tigers, his campaign is off to a great start.
Jesse Bjugstad, D – Stillwater Ponies (Minn. HS): When you think of Minnesota high school defensemen, finesse and skating usually comes to mind. But Bjugstad can also play the game with an edge. The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder has great NHL pedigree (dad Scott, cousin Nick) and has kicked off the season with two goals in two games.
There’s still no word as to what exactly caused Coyotes AHL captain Craig Cunningham to collapse on ice, but the 26-year-old was in contact with teammates and cracking jokes earlier this week.
More than two weeks after collapsing on the ice ahead of an AHL game between the Coyotes and Jets AHL affiliates, news has come that Craig Cunningham is starting to get back to his old self.
According to Tucson’s KVOA, Cunningham spoke with two teammates, Brandon Burlon and Christian Fisher, via FaceTime earlier this week, and both said that things are starting to look up for the 26-year-old Cunningham.
“He's awake, he's alert, had a good little chat with him and tried to boost his spirits a little bit.” Burlon told KVOA of speaking with Cunningham.
Fisher added that it was nice to see Cunningham, the captain of the Coyotes’ AHL affiliate Tucson Roadrunners, smiling again. But he wasn’t just smiling, he was also trying to have a good time with his teammates while hinting that he wants to get back on the ice.
“He was cracking jokes just as if he were here the next day," Fisher told KVOA. "It was pretty funny. He said he wanted us to come pick him up and take him to the rink. He was joking around. Stuff like that.”
The mystery still remains as to what caused Cunningham’s collapse, however. It came just moments before the game was set to start and resulted in medical staff in the building cutting away his equipment in order to attend to him. Cunningham ended up leaving the ice on a stretcher, was transported to hospital and he remained in critical but stable condition for much of the past two weeks.
Still, though, Burlon and Fisher said that there’s no “definitive answer” as to what caused Cunningham’s medical emergency. That’s more than all right with both players, too, so long as Cunningham’s health is starting to look up.
"What we do know is that he is doing well and we are moving forward here," Fisher told KVOA. "Hopefully, he will start the road to recovery now.”
Cunningham has suited up for 319 AHL games over the course of his career, netting 101 goals and 203 points, as well as scoring an additional three goals and eight points in 63 NHL games. He was drafted 97th overall by the Bruins in 2010, but was picked up by Arizona off waivers from Boston during the 2014-15 season.
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While the loss of the two centers is a crushing blow in the short-term, this team is positioned too well to lose assets in a hasty trade scenario
The Montreal Canadiens will be without top center Alex Galchenyuk and fellow pivot David Desharnais for at least six weeks, perhaps even eight. Both players sustained knee injuries in recent games and the news is obviously not good. But GM Marc Bergevin would make it even worse by jumping into a hasty trade.
True, the Habs now look skeletal down the middle (though Tomas Plekanec isn't a horrible choice for the top line and Andrew Shaw can help out), but this is a short-term problem. Montreal is the top team in the Eastern Conference right now and with netminder Carey Price, they can win more than a few games in the next month or so just on the strength of his gifted play. And the Shea Weber-led defense has been better than expected, so even if the Habs are super-boring and conservative until February, they'll get some results.
Will Montreal still be on top by then? Maybe not, but as long as they don't lose like, 20 games in a row, they'll still be in a playoff position with enough runway left to climb back up the rungs. And as the Los Angeles Kings have proven twice already, you can win the Stanley Cup as long as you get into the playoffs, particularly if your goalie is one of the best on the planet (caveat: being a great possession team helps and the Canadiens are only middling).
But a trade is not the way to go, particularly since the Canadiens aren't deep to begin with. They don't have many attractive pro prospects right now – unless they can drum up interest in a Charles Hudon or Nikita Scherbak – and their best recent draft pick is defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, who should be seen as untouchable. I mean, if Pittsburgh offers up Evgeni Malkin for the 2016 first-rounder and a couple other goodies, you make that trade – but I don't think that's going to happen.
If anything, Montreal needs to build their pipeline up, instead of taking assets away from it. The Canadiens ranked just 23rd in the NHL in our most recent Future Watch edition and Sergachev was the only pick they made in the first two rounds this summer. They do have two second-rounders for 2017 (their own and Washington's selection), but again: they need those.
Galchenyuk and Desharnais will be back and in all likelihood, the Canadiens will still be in a playoff position. The short-term may seem a little bleak, but the price of a quick patch isn't worth the long-term loss. Patience is a virtue here.
How good has Devan Dubnyk been for the Minnesota Wild this season? Well, according to his coach: "If he was in Toronto, there'd be no Carey Price."
It’s nowhere on the scale of grand gestures when compared to the ‘triple low-five’ P.K. Subban and Carey Price used to do at center ice, but Eric Staal and Devan Dubnyk of the Minnesota Wild have a rather interesting post-win ritual. At some point, Staal comes to Dubnyk in the dressing room and says, “You looked like you knew what you were doing tonight,” and the two of them bump fists. “I appreciate that,” is Dubnyk’s response. “I’m just trying to trick everybody just a little bit longer.”
But the fact of the matter is, Dubnyk is not tricking anyone. He’s playing in the best league in the world, one where posers and phonies get exposed pretty quickly. And he’s not only playing, he’s been a dominant force for the Wild this season. Among goalies with a minimum of eight appearances this season, no goalie matches Dubnyk’s .946 save percentage or his 1.65 goals-against average. His four shutouts also leads the league. With 35 saves in a 3-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs Tuesday night, Dubnyk was a winner in his 300th career start.
Them’s Vezina numbers. And Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, who knows a good sound bite when he sees one, had a pretty bold proclamation when it came to Dubnyk’s status among his brethren in the NHL this season. “If he was in Toronto, there’d be no Carey Price,” Boudreau said. “I’m just saying media-wise. I mean, he hasn’t allowed more than three goals in any game he’s played this year. He’s held us in. It was 17-3 in shots in the third period and they didn’t get any.”
Much has been made of Dubnyk’s renaissance since he adopted a technique known as head trajectory, which in its simplest terms, is tracking the puck with your head instead of your eyes. Before Dubnyk started doing it, he was out of the NHL, skating as a Black Ace as the Montreal Canadiens fourth goaltender in the playoffs. Since then, he’s been an elite goaltender in the NHL and he’s being paid like one on the second year of a six-year deal worth $26 million.
And there might be a reason for that. The past couple of seasons, teams have collapsed in front of their nets more than ever, leaving a bunch of bodies from both teams in the way. In those instances, tracking those pucks has become more important than ever. “You have to pick and choose when I’m going to use my height to find pucks and when I’m going to need to get low,” Dubnyk said. “I think it’s more on the rebounds when those pucks do get through or if they hit shin pads. If you can look first, you’re eliminating moves that don’t seem to happen and you’re just more efficient. I always say it should look relatively boring when I’m back there.”
The ability to self-analyze quickly and adapt also helps. Case in point was the goal scored by Tyler Bozak, who pounced on a turnover, then undressed Minnesota defenseman Matt Dumba before firing a backhander over Dubnyk’s shoulder. Dubnyk was clearly upset with himself after the goal, but instead of falling apart, he steeled his resolve and completely shut the door on the Maple Leafs.
“That goal goes in and I give myself a quick talking to and I realize that’s not my best way to stop a puck and move on,” Dubnyk said. “And just make sure I do it properly the next time.” And for a guy who sees the ice so well, Dubnyk didn’t notice the shaft of Mitch Marner’s broken stick in front of him for the longest time. In fact, it wasn’t until Ben Smith scored. “Was that the stick or the ice? It hit something,” Dubnyk said. “I actually think it was the ice. I’ll have to watch the replay, but it skipped hard.”
Three years ago, when Dubnyk went from Edmonton to Nashville to Montreal in one season and finished in the American League, those kinds of goals would have destroyed him. But that summer, Dubnyk signed with the Phoenix Coyotes and joined Mike Smith, who was plucked off the same scrap heap as Dubnyk a couple of years before. Then came the trade to Minnesota, then he saved their season, got a big contract and hasn’t looked in the rearview mirror…except to appreciate what he has now.
“It’s a position that’s extremely mental and when things start to pile up, it’s not a position you can play if you’re second guessing what you’re doing,” Dubnyk said. “It just doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for anybody. That whole year that seemed like forever, I always believed I’d get another shot somewhere. I’ve said it before, but it just allowed me to be grateful that I have a job in the best league in the world.”