BUFFALO, N.Y. - The New York Islanders recalled centre Jeremy Colliton from Bridgeport of the AHL on Saturday, a day after left wing Andy Hilbert sustained a hairline fracture in his left foot in a victory over Toronto.
Hilbert, who has eight goals and 17 points in 35 games this season, is expected to be out indefinitely. Colliton has an assist in five games with the Islanders, and has 17 points in 25 games for Bridgeport.
Goalie Yann Danis also was recalled from Bridgeport on Saturday, and backed up Joey MacDonald against Buffalo. Rick DiPietro, who returned Friday night from a two-month layoff after his second knee surgery in five months, was scratched. He's expected to start Monday night at the New York Rangers.
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.
In the war to secure talent, agents are going after kids before they even hit their teens. Is it time to curb the chase?
There is a boy playing minor hockey in Toronto you haven’t heard about yet but probably will before too long. Then again, he could be out of hockey in three years or become a marginal player in junior or college hockey. We have chosen to not publish his name. But he’s very, very good. He’s attending an elite hockey academy in Toronto and is thriving a year above his age bracket for one of the top Triple-A organizations in the Greater Toronto Hockey League. He’s big and he’s skilled and he has lots of promise.
He’s also just 12 years old. And his family has been getting calls from player agents. The same agents who represent multimillionaires playing in the NHL have been contacting the parents of a 12-year-old kid. And he’s not the only one. Players, particularly in Canada’s biggest city, have become accustomed to being contacted by agents during their bantam years, (ages 13 and 14) and some of them already have representatives.
“He’s the one people think is ‘The Next One,’” said Anton Thun, a longtime player agent of M-Five Sports, of the player in question. “People think he might be the next Connor McDavid or John Tavares. Numerous agencies have spoken with the family and, quite honestly, we have spoken with the family. We’ve gotten information into his hands to let him know we exist. We’re not going to let other agencies come into our backyard and take the best player.”
Said another agent who requested anonymity, “It’s brutal and it’s getting out of hand. I don’t want to do it, but if I don’t, I’m going to be out of business. Now it’s not about who wins the battle, but who gets there first.”
Whether the NHL Players’ Association, which certifies and regulates player agents, is prepared to do something about it remains to be seen. Setting age restrictions was a hot topic at the NHLPA’s meeting with agents in the summer, and the union has since sent out a missive to agents to determine whether it’s an issue that needs to be addressed. And as the self-appointed pseudo-governing body for agents, it appears the NHLPA is the only institution that can save the agents from themselves on this one.
“The matter of the age restriction regarding recruiting is something that is somewhat on hold while the Hockey Summit discussions regarding draft age, development are ongoing,” said an NHLPA spokesman in an email, referring to the Hockey SENSE meetings that took place this summer, the second of which spent a good chunk of time focused on youth hockey.
As a group, the agents want to have age limits put on them when it comes to contacting prospects. For one, it levels the playing field for everyone. And it also means they can spend their time doing more productive things than chasing bantam players around cold local arenas. And lastly, the agents want this for the same reason Pat LaFontaine and his group are looking into a 19-year-old draft. The longer they give players to develop, the less chance there is for a mistake to be made by everyone involved.
“Back in the 1980s, we recruited 18-year-old kids,” Thun said, “but now I’m being asked to go watch a hockey game where there’s a 13- or 14-year-old kid.”
The only problem is that if one or two rogue agents chase after kids barely in their teens, everyone is forced to do it or risk missing out on the best players. It’s pretty much the same principle that guides the salary cap in the NHL. There’s no age limit on when U.S. college teams can recruit players, and there have been examples of kids barely in their teens committing to programs – albeit making commitments that are not binding when it comes to choosing between major junior hockey and the NCAA. The WHL has a bantam draft, and there is always talk the OHL might follow suit. So young kids are being expected to make monumental decisions, including whether they need an agent or family advisor.
But like so many other things it does well when it comes to dealing with young players, Sweden appears to have come up with a great way of dealing with this problem. There are about 50 agents/recruiters in Sweden, and they have an agreement with the Swedish players’ association that they cannot approach or be approached by any player prior to Jan. 1 of the year he turns 16. That coincides with the first time they have an opportunity to be selected for a national team. Every fall, the country holds its annual TV Puck tournament featuring the best 15-and-under players. That’s basically the first time elite players are identified, and by January, they can make contact with an agent. Agents who directly or indirectly contact players prior to the set date are first warned, then fined, then risk having their licenses revoked.
And the agents are also working with the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation to try to put sanctions in place that penalize players whose (often overaggressive) parents reach out to agents or sign an agreement with one.
“If I get a call from a parent looking for an agent, the first thing I ask, ‘So, you don’t have an agent?’ ”said longtime Sweden-based agent Claes Elefalk of CAA. “The second question is, ‘How old is he?’ And if it’s before Jan. 1 of the year he turns 16, I have to say, ‘Oh, we have a rule that means I need to hang up the phone immediately and you can only call me back the first of January.’ I’m not allowed to even speak for five minutes or send an email or anything. I must say it has been working really well in Sweden.”
The Capitals acquisition of defenseman Tom Gilbert is a classic depth move by an elite team preparing themselves for the playoff grind.
The fact that the Washington Capitals made a minor move Wednesday is proof they’re priming themselves for a long playoff run. It might not seem like much that they acquired defenseman Tom Gilbert from the Los Angeles Kings for a fifth-round pick, particularly since Gilbert will start his tenure in the Capitals organization in the minors.
But this is a classic depth move that elite teams make, one that has the potential to pay dividends in the playoffs. It’s basically an insurance policy against injury, giving the Capitals a useful defenseman they can put in their rotation if they’re hit with any injuries before or during the playoffs.
The Capitals, like a bunch of other teams, are currently on their NHL-mandated bye week and don’t return to action until Saturday. While they kick up their heels, they can do so knowing they’re firmly entrenched atop THN.com’s Power Rankings once again. (Last week’s rankings in parentheses.):
THE CREAM OF THE CROP
1. Washington Capitals (1) 2. New York Rangers (5) 3. Chicago Blackhawks (6) 4. Minnesota Wild (2) 5. Pittsburgh Penguins (3) 6. St. Louis Blues (10) 7. Boston Bruins (25) 8. San Jose Sharks (4) 9. Anaheim Ducks (14) 10. Edmonton Oilers (11)
With their 6-4 win over Anaheim on the weekend, the Capitals became the second team in NHL history to score five or more goals in 11 straight home games…With his 400th win, Henrik Lundqvist is one behind Chris Osgood for 11th on the all-time list. He’ll be in the top 10 by the end of the season…By the time the Blackhawks host Edmonton Friday night, the will have gone 23 days between games at the United Center…The Wild’s next victory will give them 38 on the season, which would equal their total of 2015-16…Sidney Crosby’s next point will be the 1,000th of his career…Paul Stastny, who left a game last Thursday with a lower-body injury, was put on the injured list and will be out at least two more games…The Bruins are 3-0-0 under new coach Bruce Cassidy and have scored 14 goals, more than any other three-game stretch under Claude Julien this season…With Tomas Hertl moving back to center, the Sharks have Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Hertl and Chris Tierney down the middle. That’s good…Antoine Vermette could be in a world of trouble for slashing a linesman in the Ducks’ 1-0 win over Minnesota Tuesday night…Oilers’ GM Peter Chiarelli doesn’t think he’ll be active at the deadline and is not looking at a rental. “I don’t think we’re quite ready to contend for the Cup,” he said.
THE MUSHY MIDDLE
11. Columbus Blue Jackets (7) 12. Florida Panthers (9) 13. Toronto Maple Leafs (15) 14. Nashville Predators (13) 15. New Jersey Devils (12) 16. New York Islanders (8) 17. Philadelphia Flyers (21) 18. Los Angeles Kings (24) 19. Montreal Canadiens (16) 20. Ottawa Senators (20)
Remember the team that put together a 16-game winning streak? Well, the Blue Jackets have won two in a row only once since then, a span of 19 games…The Panthers are in the midst of a stretch of nine straight against Western Conference competition, with five of those games on the road…The Leafs adopted a new dressing room slogan, “Play Right. Play Fast” then went out and beat the Islanders 7-1 Tuesday night…The Predators are nothing if not confounding. They overcame a three-goal deficit to Dallas in a 5-3 win Sunday before their bye week, which should be a sign they’ve turned the corner, right? Well, the last time they overcame a three-goal deficit, they went out and lost eight of their next 12 games… Stefan Noesen joined the Devils Jan. 25 and was immediately placed on the third line with Pavel Zacha and Jacob Josefson. In the seven games since then, Zacha has three goals and six points, Josefson a goal and five points and Noesen two goals and three points…With a chance to take over a playoff spot, the Islanders did a face plant with a 7-1 loss against Toronto Tuesday night that coach Doug Weight called, “an ass kicking.”…The Flyers play eight of their next 11 on the road, where they’re 10-13-3 this season. They kick it off with a three-game trip through western Canada, where they’re 0-2-4 the past two seasons…The Kings salvaged a pre-bye week road trip with a 6-3 win in Florida Sunday. Prior to that, they had gone three-plus games without scoring a goal in regulation time…Prior to firing Michel Therrien, the Canadiens had not scored a 5-on-5 goal in seven games where either Max Pacioretty or Alexander Radulov was not involved…Curtis Lazar sat out his fourth straight game as a healthy scratch Tuesday night amid speculation that he could be dealt before the trade deadline.
VYING FOR THE PARTICIPATION BADGE
21. Tampa Bay Lightning (19) 22. Buffalo Sabres (23) 23. Arizona Coyotes (27) 24. Calgary Flames (17) 25. Winnipeg Jets (28) 26. Vancouver Canucks (30) 27. Carolina Hurricanes (18) 28. Dallas Stars (29) 29. Detroit Red Wings (26) 30. Colorado Avalanche (22)
The Lightning have won three of their last four, something they haven’t done in almost two months…The Sabres’ 3-2 win over Ottawa Tuesday night marked the seventh time they’ve won a game when trailing after two periods. That’s tied for best in the NHL with Montreal and Pittsburgh…Despite a 5-2 loss to Edmonton Tuesday night, the Coyotes are 6-3-1 in their past 10, the best 10-game stretch they’ve had all season…Johnny Gaudreau was briefly demoted to the fourth line after a turnover that led to a goal in a 5-0 loss to Arizona Monday night...Jets coach Paul Maurice had this to say about Patrik Laine after the rookie notched his third (third!) hat trick of the season in a 5-2 win over Dallas Tuesday night: “If he didn’t score the three goals, I could have still come out and said that was his best game of the season.”…With both Bo Horvat and Brandon Sutter out day-to-day with minor injuries, the Canucks had major pieces out of their lineup in a 4-0 loss to Pittsburgh Tuesday night…If the Hurricanes fail to make the playoffs, they can point to what will almost certainly be a dismal road record. They’re 7-16-6 on the road, worst in the Eastern Conference…Jamie Benn is heating up even as the Stars stumble around. He has eight goals and 15 points in his past 11 games…Thomas Vanek has been dealt at the deadline before and knows the drill. “Wait and see, wait for a phone call and I guess for someone to let me know if I’m staying or going,” he said...After more than 300 games and almost seven seasons in the minors, Jeremy Smith made his NHL debut in Colorado’s 3-2 loss to New Jersey Tuesday night. “He was our best player by a country mile,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said after the game.
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.”