Hockey Canada Tattoos I
Cody Stokowski, Camrose, Alta.
Hockey Canada Tattoos I
Cody Stokowski, Camrose, Alta.
The undersized but feisty defenseman made a statement in his first exhibition game and while he may not be an overnight success, he is helping blaze a trail
Vancouver Canucks fans got a treat last night – a glimpse of the possibilities that come with defenseman Troy Stecher. An undrafted free agent signing out of the University of North Dakota, Stecher is competitive, a pain to play against, offensively dangerous and brings an active stick on the defensive end. Why was Stecher undrafted, you ask? Well, he was only 5-foot-10 and 179 pounds back then (now he’s up to 190).
Despite the fact he was putting up great numbers in the BCHL for Penticton (where he won the national Jr. A championship RBC Cup in 2012), the call never came and size is the most obvious factor. But timing was also against Stecher.
Only now are we really seeing smaller defensemen get a fair shake and I predict that the next two drafts will be watershed moments. Some of the most exciting blueliners available will, barring a growth spurt, come in at 5-foot-10 or less: Erik Brannstrom and Clayton Phillips in 2017 and Quinn Hughes in 2018.
I call it the “Jared Spurgeon Effect.”
The Minnesota Wild defenseman has managed to carve out a nice career for himself, despite coming in at 5-foot-9 and 176 pounds today, as a 26-year-old. Spurgeon was picked late by the New York Islanders in 2008 (he was their 12th pick, 156th overall), but went unsigned, inking a deal with the Wild instead. Last season, he played the toughest minutes of any Minnesota player while also ranking second in scoring and ice time (Ryan Suter was first in both cases) among Wild blueliners. Dude can play, even if he’s not built like a cement-mixer.
Which is where Stecher comes in. Will he make the Canucks this season? Hard to say right this second, but he’s definitely making great noise for the future. Just check out his poise and vision on this set-up from last night against Edmonton:
All told, Stecher had a goal and two assists in a 5-3 exhibition win over the Oilers. Vancouver can look at what Spurgeon has done and see Stecher’s future. The game is faster now and puckmoving defensemen are at a premium. If you can carry it and dish it, you’re a lot more valuable than the old-school bouncer who made sure the crease was a no-fly zone for opponents. And hey; you still need that element to an extent, but hockey smarts and an active stick can be just as effective.
While GMs have been reticent in the past to draft small early, Arizona made a big statement this summer when the Coyotes took center Clayton Keller (5-foot-10, 168 pounds) with the seventh pick overall. Now that the forwards taboo has been broken, can defensemen be next? It’s tricky, because traditionally progress has been slow. But with more teams employing analytics gurus, or execs with that background, perhaps the future will come sooner than expected.
And if Stecher should see time with the Canucks this season, even as a call-up in his first year of pro, then excuse the cliché, but he’ll be winning one for the little guy.
THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season. Today, XXXXXX.
THN's Prediction: 5th in Central, wildcard team
Stanley Cup odds: 29-1
Key additions: Patrik Laine, RW; Shawn Matthias, LW; Brian Strait, D
Key departures: Grant Clitsome, D
-Was Mark Scheifele's breakout for real? The Jets have a superstar No. 1 center on their hands if we accept Scheifele’s performance over the season’s final two months as legit. He ripped off 16 goals and 32 points in 25 games after Bryan Little’s season-ending back injury.
That Scheifele’s performance improved when he was thrust onto the top line, facing tougher defense pairings without Little to insulate him, bodes extremely well. Scheifele also has first-round draft pedigree. It’s hardly a stretch to imagine him as a top-10 scorer in the league as soon as this season.
-Will Patrik Laine take the NHL by storm? It sure seems like Laine will light up opposing goalies as an 18-year-old rookie. His powerful, dynamic sniping game reminds scouts of a young Alex Ovechkin. It’s no guarantee Laine immediately excels and wins the Calder, but would you bet against it? He has an NHL body and was named MVP of the Finnish League playoffs last year, facing grown men every night. He’s ready. He’ll make the Jets’ power play deadly with his wrist shot and one-timer.
-Who will be Winnipeg's No. 1 goalie by year's end? Winnipeg still pays Ondrej Pavelec, its third-best goalie, a $3.9-million AAV. The Jets handed No. 2 stopper Michael Hutchinson a two-year extension. Meanwhile, their best netminder, Connor Hellebuyck, may have to start the year in the AHL. Hellebuyck looked like he belonged when the Jets called him up to the NHL last year and really should be starting for them now if they want the best chance to win. But it may take a trade or injury to give him the shot he deserves. Hellebuyck remains a good bet to win the job once and for all by season’s end.
Player projections are based off a three-year version of Game Score (which you can read about here) weighted by recency and repeatability and then translated to its approximate win value (Game Score Value Added or GSVA). Team strength was derived from the combined value of every player’s GSVA on a team. The season was then simulated 10,000 times factoring in team strength, opponent strength and rest.
As is the case every season, the Winnipeg Jets have one very significant problem holding them back from contending, and it’s in net. In previous seasons there weren’t exactly many better options, but this year is different as heir-apparent Connor Hellebuyck has shown he’s ready for NHL duty after a brief stint last season. It’ll be difficult for him to get playing time because of the three goalie’s contract statuses, but it’s pretty clear he’s the best of the three.
These projections are based on all three getting their fair share of games, but the trio’s playing time is by far the hardest to predict of any team. With that in mind, here’s their playoff chances based on a few other games played scenarios.
The results are unsurprising, but they do show that a good team is being held back by Pavelec. With Hellebuyck starting (or with Hutchinson), the team is more likely than not to make the playoffs while the opposite is true with Pavelec starting (or with Hutchinson).
That the team is playoff calibre shouldn’t be a huge surprise given the rest of the roster. The team boasts five first line forwards – a tie with Florida and St. Louis for the league lead – according to this model and it’s possible rookie Patrik Laine (underrated here thanks to a low NHLe from the Finnish league) can jump to that level, too. The bottom six isn’t great which could be an issue.
The defense here is solid led by Dustin Byfuglien who is easily among the league’s best and most under-appreciated D-men. Jacob Trouba is a decent number two D-man with room to improve further. After those two, the core is okay, but nothing special. Tyler Myers has bounced back from those rocky Buffalo years while Tobias Enstrom has declined a fair amount over the last few years. The bottom pair is a question mark as to who actually plays on it, but if it’s Mark Stuart the Jets will take a big hit on the backend.
The Jets aren’t an amazing team, and probably not a contender yet either, but they’re on the cusp of something very good. If they play their best man in goal they have a very real chance at getting back to the playoffs.
Up next: Phoenix Coyotes
The Dallas Stars are still waiting for Tyler Seguin, Cody Eakin and Ales Hemsky to return to practice, and now they’ll have to wait until at least April to have Mattias Janmark in the lineup.
With a number of high-priced offensive players, the Dallas Stars forward group relies on young, talented and, most importantly, cheap players to fill out the bottom-six. One player who fits that bill to a tee is Mattias Janmark, but the Stars will be without his services for almost the entire season due to knee surgery.
Concern about Janmark arose Wednesday when he was mysteriously absent from the Stars’ roster for a pre-season game against the Colorado Avalanche, and the suspicion that Janmark had suffered an injury grew when he didn’t suit up for practice Thursday. Following the practice, Stars coach Lindy Ruff said that Janmark was indeed missing time due to injury and that an update would follow. However, few would have expected that update to be so dire.
Per DallasStars.com’s Mark Stepneski, Stars GM Jim Nill announced Friday that Janmark will be out at least five months following knee surgery, which is slated for Friday afternoon. It’s not a knock or a tear that Janmark is dealing with, but a joint disorder called osteochondritis dissecans.
While it’s not necessarily a season-ending injury for Janmark, it’s fairly close. A five-month timeline for return means Janmark would be healthy, if you can call it that, by February and possibly in line for a return by March. However, Stepneski reported that Nill isn’t expecting Janmark to make a return to the lineup until April at the earliest, which means he could only be healthy enough to skate in the final five games of the Stars’ season or make his real return come the post-season.
Janmark scored 15 goals and 29 points in his rookie campaign while logging 14:10 of ice time per game, but there was a very good chance Janmark was going to move into a full-time middle-six role this coming season. His ice time likely would have gone up, and the hope was his production would follow.
Losing Janmark is awful news for the Stars, but it’s even worse considering the list of injuries the club is already dealing with. Tyler Seguin, Ales Hemsky, Cody Eakin and Devin Shore are all on the shelf right now, and Jamie Benn, while healthy, is taking pre-season games off in order to rest up following core muscle surgery in the off-season. Ruff says things are moving in the right direction.
"Everybody is better, I can tell you that," Ruff said of the injuries Thursday, per Stepneski. "It's a process...Every day they are getting closer. I can see light at the end of the tunnel.”
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Sidney Crosby and winning in a Canadian uniform go together like macaroni and cheese. And as good as mac and cheese is, Crosby is better.
“Who owns this game?” It started out as a (terrible) marketing pitch for the World Cash Grab of Hockey™. But after the final of the World Cup of Hockey, that question has been answered emphatically. And with an exclamation point.
Sidney Crosby. Sidney Crosby owns hockey. The most valuable player of the 2016 playoffs and the most valuable player of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, the best player on the planet today, owns hockey. It’s all his and it sure looks as though nobody is going to take it away from him anytime soon. Sidney Crosby also owns two Stanley Cups, two Olympic gold medals, one World Championship, two NHL scoring championships, two NHL MVP awards and a Rocket Richard Trophy. Hell, let’s even throw in the Mark Messier Leadership Award. And the way he played in the playoffs last spring, don’t dismiss the possibility he might even win a Selke Trophy one day.
Lady Byng? All right, that’s a stretch. A big one.
Canada, by virtue of its nail-biting 2-1 win over Team Europe in Game 2 of the tournament final, does have some minority ownership here. After all, the players with the maple leaf on their chests have won five of the past six best-on-best tournaments and are the reigning World Champion. But Crosby now has a mind-boggling 25-game winning streak in a Canadian uniform – including 16-0-0 in best-on-best competition, a golden goal in 2010, an insurance goal in the gold medal game in 2014 and, now, the scoring title and MVP award at the World Cup.
Captain Canada indeed. There are only three players in the history of the game who have been named most valuable player in at least one NHL season, one Stanley Cup playoff tournament and a World/Canada Cup. One is Wayne Gretzky. Another is Bobby Orr. And the third is Sidney Crosby, a player who will be joining the previous two in the Hockey Hall of Fame someday. That’s because not only is Crosby the best player in the world, he’s the best player in the world at the most crucial times.
“I just think about serial winners and that’s what he is,” Team Canada coach Mike Babcock said of Crosby. “When you look at guys like him and (Patrice Bergeron) and obviously (Jonathan Toews) and guys like that, in the biggest moments they’re better. They can’t help themselves. They’re addicted to winning and they just make it happen.”
That has certainly been the case for Crosby in Canadian togs. The World Cup marked the eighth time in Crosby’s career that he has played for Canada. In those events, he now has five gold medals and a silver and has 32 goals and 67 points in 54 games. Of the 51 players who have averaged better than a point-per-game in their careers, Crosby is on a list of only 10 other players who have better than a point-per-game regular season, in the NHL playoffs and in international competition – Gretzky, Orr, Mario Lemieux, Peter Forsberg, Mike Bossy, Eric Lindros, Gilbert Perreault, Pavel Bure, Bobby Hull and Evgeni Malkin are the only others in that group. And, not surprisingly, they either all do or will in the future have plaques in the Hall of Fame.
“It’s special,” Crosby acknowledged after the game. “I think I don’t have to look too far to think about how tough it was a year ago starting the season. I think I appreciate this a lot. It’s not easy. To be a hockey player playing for Team Canada and be with this group of guys has been a lot of fun. To be able to win it is special for a lot of reasons, but yeah, it’s been a great month.”
There are some wonderfully talented players in the NHL right now. Patrick Kane is the league’s reigning MVP and Connor McDavid, entering just his second year in the league, is right on everyone’s heels. It would not be a stretch to think he might even win it this season, depending upon whether or not he can get the Edmonton Oilers in the playoffs. But right here, right now, at this moment in time, there is no one better than Sidney Crosby.
“Sid is unbelievable,” Babcock gushed. “He’s great to be around. I’ve been real lucky I’ve been three times and we win every time. He does it right. He works hard. He doesn’t complain. If he gets 15 minutes, he doesn’t say a word. If he gets 20 minutes, doesn’t say a word. If he misses three shifts in a row, he doesn’t say a word.”
Actually, when it comes to speaking of himself, Crosby doesn’t say a whole lot of anything. His play, though, has spoken volumes. In a tournament where there was too little intrigue, save the play of Team North America and the final three minutes of Game 2 of the final, Crosby went to the top of a mountain and screamed at the top of his lungs.
“I own this game!” he said with his play. Again.