Matt Walilko had a playoff game to remember, recording six goals and five assists. It wasn't exactly a once-in-a-lifetime game since he had a 10-point game earlier this year.
In the dying minutes of his Jr. C playoff game Tuesday night, Matt Walilko of the Midland Flyers had his stick broken in two by a slash. A dastardly deed to be sure, but you can kind of see his opponent’s reasoning. It was the probably same thought process Bobby Clarke had when he broke Valeri Kharlamov’s ankle during the 1972 Summit Series.
“The guy was telling me that my stick was way too hot and he had to break it,” Walilko said. “He just axed the stick right in half and said it had too many points in it. We were laughing about it after the game.”
Considering that stick – along with the 17-year-old using it - was responsible for six goals and five assists in a 12-3 rout over the Huntsville Otters, you can understand why the opponent would rather see that one propping up tomato plants than demolishing his team’s playoff hopes. So when his team hits the ice for Game 6 of their playoff series Friday night, Walilko will be using new lumber, but riding the confidence of a once-in-a-lifetime game.
Or was it? Earlier this season, the Grade 12 high school student registered a 10-point game with five goals and five assists en route to scoring 80 points in 39 games and being named rookie of the year in Ontario's Provincial Junior Hockey League. Walilko is just 17, playing in a league where there are players as old as 22. He was easily the youngest player among the league’s top 10 scorers this season and one of only two teenagers. In what should come as no surprise, Walilko’s night vaulted him into the league’s playoff scoring lead with 10 goals and 20 points in five games. “It makes it look like I’ve been lighting it up every night,” Walilko said, “but I only had nine points in four games before that one.”
Back to the game, Walilko attributed his good fortune to being in the right place at the right time. He said a couple of key players were out with injuries and school commitments, so he knew he would have to step up. One of his linemates had seven points in the game and the other linemate had six. Walilko said that, as was the case in his 10-point night earlier this season, he went into the game knowing he was facing the opponent’s backup goalie.
“You kind of do your research, right?” Walilko said. “You see the backup is starting and you try to put a lot of pucks on net.”
What makes the feat even more impressive is that it gave Walilko’s team a 3-2 series lead with a chance to win it in Game 6. The Flyers had dug themselves into a 2-0 hole in the series, but have stormed back and clearly have some momentum on their side, not to mention a confident young man leading the attack.
Which begs the question: What is a young man this good doing playing this far down the junior hockey ladder? Well, Walilko played AAA midget last season in Barrie and rather than play on the third or fourth line for a Jr. B or Jr. A team this season, he thought it would be better for his development if he were a prime time player at a lower level. He has his sights set on earning a scholarship, something he hopes to do in a year or so. Walilko plans to take next season off school and hopes to play next season for the Pembroke Lumber Kings. He plans to write his SATs in the hope of attracting interest from U.S. schools.
Flyers president and GM Gerry Asselin said Walilko is so focused on getting a scholarship that he turned down a chance to practice, and perhaps even play, with the struggling Barrie Colts this season. The Flyers are affiliated with the Colts, who are struggling and in last place this season. Asselin said he recently had a conversation with Colts GM Jason Ford, in which Ford asked him to suggest a couple of players the Colts might have a look at down the stretch. Asselin said when he approached Walilko, he was flatly turned down.
“He’s a smart kid,” Asselin said. “He has his head screwed on right.”
A student at a Catholic high school in Barrie, Walilko said he can’t take all the credit for his success. His personal motto comes from the Bible passage Philippians 4:13, which says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
“I’ve put it on every stick I’ve bought since I was a young kid,” Walilko said. “I grew up in a religious family and every time I’m on the ice and having a tough time, I’ll just look down at that and kind of re-motivate myself. It kind of applies to me in everything I do, not just hockey.”
Walilko will be looking to continue making a big contribution in the playoffs, but is another double-digit performance in the future?
“I don’t know if any of my backup sticks have that many points in them, but I’ll try.”
Adding big pieces at the deadline isn’t going to be easy thanks to how tight a number of contenders are to the cap. There are some cheap veterans who could make an impact, though.
More than ever, it feels as though this season’s trade deadline is set to be plagued by league parity and the salary cap. For the most part, the teams in contention are the teams who have spent like it, meaning those right in the thick of the playoff picture don’t have all that much room under the cap to make additions in their hunt for the Stanley Cup.
In all likelihood, the tight cap and battles for wild-card spots around the league will result in the number of blockbuster deals we see come March 1 being less than in years prior, and it could very well result in a few teams in contention looking for cheaper additions that can help down the stretch and into the post-season. That can come in the form of young players just about to hit the open market for the first time or, more likely, as veteran players who’ve only months remaining on their current deals with not much left to provide a non-playoff team.
The list of veterans who could be in line to shuffle around the league is plentiful, but landing the Jarome Iginlas or Shane Doans of the league isn’t going to be all that affordable for a number of top contenders. There are several 30-plus players who fit the bill for those teams tight to the cap, though.
Here are five veterans who could be cheap but effective acquisitions at the deadline:
5. Kyle Quincey, New Jersey Devils
He’s not the first name that comes to mind when you think of trade targets at the deadline, but Quincey, 31, could be an intriguing addition to a team’s defensive corps as the post-season approaches. He doesn’t bring with him the flash of someone like, say, Kevin Shattenkirk, who stands to be the top free agent target in the summer, but Quincey has managed four goals and 12 points in 51 games for the Devils while averaging upwards of 18:30 per game.
Quincey has some playoff experience, too. All told, he’s played 54 post-season games and has appeared in the playoffs in each of the past five seasons as a member of the Red Wings. While in Detroit, Quincey was used to middle-pairing minutes in the playoffs, even while playing under coach Mike Babcock. Quincey could be a very useful fifth or sixth defenseman on a top contender without breaking the bank. He’s on a one-year deal that pays $1.25 million.
4. P-A Parenteau, New Jersey Devils
Depth scoring is one of the biggest factors in post-season success, especially against a team that’s good at playing the matchup game. If your top stars are shut down, you need the secondary scorers to step up and make the difference. One target for teams looking to add a boost to their secondary scoring game might need to look no further than the Devils’ P-A Parenteau, 33, who’s earning $1.25 million on a one-year deal.
Parenteau is one of those players who has seemed to be a fixture of trade deadline talk for the past few seasons, but this could actually be the year when a team steps up to take him on. A 20-goal scorer in 2015-16, Parenteau is again on pace to near the 20-goal mark with 13 in 57 games in New Jersey this season. His rate of scoring is all the more impressive when you consider he’s skating bottom-six minutes on a Devils team that doesn’t have all that much offense.
If Parenteau comes in and contributes 5-10 goals before the playoffs, he’s already more than made the acquisition worth it, and he’s likely a lock to contribute a couple of goals in the playoffs.
3. Brian Boyle, Tampa Bay Lightning
Boyle’s an interesting one. The most expensive player on this list, he’s currently in the final season of a three-year, $6 million contract, but he’s the kind of acquisition teams will be after as much for his two-way play as they are for his offensive punch. He’s had some of that this season, too. His 13 goals in 52 games matches his total from the entire 2015-16 season, and he’s already surpassed his point total from the year prior.
The rumor has been that it could cost as much as a first-round pick to pry Boyle, 32, out of Tampa Bay, which apparently isn’t all that frightening a price for some teams given the strength of the draft this year. And while that may seem a hefty price, teams value — and sometimes overvalue — experience. It’s going to be hard to find a player of Boyle’s ilk with more experience, either.
Since the start of the 2011-12 season, Boyle has played 95 playoff games. Only Carl Hagelin has played more, but that Boyle would have been tops in the league over that span and then some if his Lightning had been able to eke out the Game 7 victory against Hagelin’s Penguins in the 2016 Eastern Conference final.
2. Patrick Eaves, Dallas Stars
Versatility, two-way ability and a strong checker. Those are the staples of Eaves’ game. The fact that he has 21 goals this season, though, is going to put a premium on his services if the Stars are willing to part ways with the veteran winger. It’s not easy to find a player who can provide punch on the power play, skate on the penalty kill and switch to either wing at the drop of a hat, and even more difficult to find that player for a mere $1-million cap hit.
There’s going to be some questions about the 32-year-old, however. He has spent the majority of this season skating alongside Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, and it doesn’t take Einstein-level intelligence to determine that playing on a line with two of the game’s top scorers is going to benefit any winger.
Does Eaves manage to produce even close as well away from Dallas’ dynamic duo, or does his scoring screech to a halt when he’s playing a middle-six role beside second- or third-line talents? Eaves could be a boom or bust addition at the deadline.
1. Radim Vrbata, Arizona Coyotes
Here’s a list of players Vrabta, 35, has produced as much or more than for at least $2 million cheaper: Ryan Johansen, Joe Thornton, Tyler Johnson, Patrick Marleau, Mike Fisher, Justin Williams and you get the point. Vrbata went back to the desert for the third time in his career, and for the third time it was the shot in the arm his game needed.
The goals haven’t been quite as frequent as in the past, but he still has 11 tallies and 40 points in 57 games on a Coyotes with an absolutely anemic offense. Matter of fact, Vrbata has factored in on 30 percent of the goals Arizona has scored this season, which is telling about how well he’s played. He hasn’t just been good for a Coyote, though, he’s been good for any player heading to UFA status. Of all players set to his the open market at season’s end, Vrbata is the fourth-highest scorer, and he’s earning just $1 million this season.
If Vrbata changes locales, the biggest concern has to be whether or not he keeps his scoring up. He succeeded in his first season as a Vancouver Canuck, but he slowed significantly in 2015-16, to the point that some were questioning whether he’d even land a deal for the current campaign. There has to be some worry about playoff scoring, too. In 42 games, he has eight goals and 18 points, which is far from his .60 points per game rate in regular season play.
That said, he might be worth whatever the risk. If a team is looking for high-scoring potential in a cheap veteran winger, Vrbata has to be the top target.
There's no "generational talent" at the top of the draft this season, but there is a nice battle for the top spot between Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier.
It’s time for draft rankings, people, and it’s getting very interesting out there.
The 2017 draft class has already been pilloried quite a bit this season, but I think we just have to appreciate it for what it is: a chance for teams to get better. We’ve been spoiled by “generational” talents such as Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews lately, but that can’t happen every year. Instead, we have a nice little battle shaping up at the top between Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier. And don’t be surprised to see even more movement as time goes on.
I have Timothy Liljegren third, but I’m kinda conservative when it comes to moving top players down. Recognize that he may slide as other blueliners make their cases, or if it appears we’ll have another run on centers at the top this summer in Chicago. Whatever happens, here’s the first round as I see it right now.
1. Nolan Patrick, C, Brandon (WHL): Back from injury and from all appearances, not suffering. Patrick has the size, skill and all-around game to be an instant NHLer
2. Nico Hischier, C, Halifax (QMJHL): The high-end skills and smarts are so tantalizing. Hischier is certainly giving Patrick a run for his money and surpassing the Wheat King is not out of the question.
3. Timothy Liljegren, D, Rogle (SHL): Liljegren seems to be back on track after illness and a loan to Timra. His skating and offensive instincts are excellent and he’s getting some nice responsibility with Rogle.
4. Gabe Vilardi, C, Windsor (OHL): Skating is the knock, but scouts are already downplaying it by hyping up his other skills. Vilardi is big, smart and talented and really, the speed isn’t that bad right now.
5. Owen Tippett, RW, Mississauga (OHL): A weaponized winger with size, speed and a big-time shot, Tippett doesn’t have the versatility of Vilardi, but the physical tools are beguiling.
6. Klim Kostin, RW, MVD (Rus.): Surgery ended his nightmare season, but Kostin is enough of a known quantity thanks to earlier international duty. He’s a big, powerful kid with loads of talent.
7. Casey Mittelstadt, C, Eden Prairie (Minn. HS): The Minnesota commit wanted one more shot at a state title, so Mittelstadt is currently laying waste to high schoolers with Eden Prairie. Tons of skill and he put up numbers in the USHL, too.
8. Michael Rasmussen, C, Tri-City (WHL): Starting off with his nearly 6-foot-6 frame, there’s a lot to like about Rasmussen. Naturally his reach is good, but his hands are also pretty sweet and he can play with an edge.
9. Eeli Tolvanen, LW, Sioux City (USHL): A wicked shot in a smaller package. The Boston College recruit is a pure goal-scorer and draws penalties with his skill. Mixed opinions out there on his feistiness.
10. Miro Heiskainen, D, HIFK (Fin.): Smooth-skating defensemen are in and Heiskanen may even challenge Liljegren for draft stock. Some scouts thought he was Finland’s best blueliner at the world juniors.
Jarome Iginla's best days are behind him, but he'd be willing to waive his no-movement clause to join a club that would give him one last shot at a Stanley Cup.
The constant trade speculation surrounding Colorado Avalanche forwards Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog pushed the trade status of veteran teammate Jarome Iginla to the sidelines. The Denver Post's Terry Frei reports Avalanche GM Joe Sakic won't reveal his intentions leading up of the March 1 trade deadline, but will continue listening to offers. That includes those that might come in from playoff contenders for Iginla.
Now 39 and reaching the end of his 20-year NHL career, Iginla is willing to waive his no-movement clause to join a club that gives him one last shot at winning the Stanley Cup. ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun cites a source claiming the Los Angeles Kings discussed the merits of acquiring the veteran right winger, who played his best seasons for Kings coach Darryl Sutter during their years with the Calgary Flames.
According to LeBrun, Iginla's $5.33-million salary-cap hit could be a sticking point for the Kings. For a possible deal to take place, he believes the Avalanche would have to pick up part of it.
LeBun doubts the Avs are getting many call for Iginla. While he remains a well-respected player and leader, his best days are well behind him. With only seven goals and 15 points in 55 games, he's on track for his worst performance in a non-lockout NHL season since his 13-goal, 32-point sophomore campaign in 1997-98.
A playoff-bound club seeking experienced depth and leadership at right wing could take a chance on Iginla. Perhaps getting away from the moribund Avalanche for one last shot at that long-elusive championship might improve his production. The Avs, however, shouldn't expect to get much in return. At this point, they could be fortunate to receive a third-round pick.
BRIAN BOYLE A SOLID ALTERNATIVE TO MARTIN HANZAL
Arizona Coyotes center Martin Hanzal is frequently mentioned as a possible target for clubs seeking size and two-way skills at center. A more affordable option, however, could be Tampa Bay Lightning left winger Brian Boyle.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reports several playoff clubs are interested in the 6-foot-6, 244-pound Boyle. Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli scouted the 32-year-old during a recent Lightning game against the Minnesota Wild. Friedman also said the Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs could be among the suitors.
Like Hanzal, Boyle is eligible for UFA status in July. However, he has several advantages over the Coyotes' center.
A versatile checking-line forward, Boyle can play all three forward positions and can even skate on defense when needed. He's not a scorer but is on pace this season to reach 20 goals and he's had a healthier career than the oft-injured Hanzal.
Most importantly, Boyle has considerable recent playoff experience. He reached the Stanley Cup final with the New York Rangers in 2014, returned to the final the following season with the Lightning and helped them reach last year's Eastern Conference finals.
CURTIS LAZAR LIKELY LOOKING FOR TRADE
Trade speculation is growing over young Ottawa Senators center Curtis Lazar. A first-round selection by the Sens (17th overall) in the 2013 NHL draft, he was projected to become a quality two-way forward.
Now in his third NHL season, Lazar's career hasn't unfolded as expected. He tallied 15 points in 67 games as a rookie in 2014-15 and 20 points in 76 games as a sophomore in 2015-16. This season, the 22-year-old played in 30 games with only one assist to show for it.
Lazard was a healthy scratch in several recent contests, prompting some pundits to suggest he could become a trade candidate. The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch cites TSN's Darren Dreger saying he wouldn't be surprised if the unhappy young forward asked to be dealt.
Garrioch said the Lazar camp hasn't requested a trade, but will meet with Senators GM Pierre Dorion on Saturday to discuss options for his future. A trade will likely be among them. If Lazar is shopped before the deadline, Garrioch thinks Dorion could seek a high draft pick in return.
That might appear as an unrealistic asking price, but this year's draft isn't a deep one and some clubs could be willing to move their first rounders. Lazar could benefit from a change of scenery and a rival GM could take the gamble.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).