Photo shoot with Mei from Fully Loaded Autumn 2012
A.J. Messier Photography
A.J. Messier Photography
A total of 29 teenagers will start the season drawing NHL paychecks. That number will dwindle, but the impact of teens is still significant.
Here we are, finally, with opening night in the NHL only hours away. It really is the most wonderful time of the year. It’s the day the NHL trots out all kinds of facts and figures in order to get fans excited. For example, did you know that the score was within one goal for 75 percent of the 74,758 minutes and 59 seconds of playing time last season? Which is pretty easy to understand when you consider almost nobody scores anymore.
It’s also the day the NHL releases its opening night rosters for the season. And we’re not saying this year’s rosters are young, but some teams might want to consider having their post-game gatherings at an all-ages party instead of a bar. To start the season, there are a total of 29 teenagers on NHL rosters. Some of them, such as Vili Saarijarvi in Detroit, Daniel Sprong in Pittsburgh, Luke Opilka in St. Louis and Jonne Tammela in Tampa, are injured and will likely be dispatched as soon as they are healthy, but it’s an eye-popping number nonetheless.
And when it comes to the effect teenagers will have this season, there are two teams that bear watching. One of them is the Arizona Coyotes, who have an 18-year-old Jakob Chychrun and two 19-year-olds in Lawson Crouse and Dylan Strome to start the season. The other is the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario League, which was counting on making a run for the Memorial Cup this season with Chychrun, Travis Konecny of the Philadelphia Flyers and Pavel Zacha of the New Jersey Devils in their lineup. As it is, the Sting are off to a 5-1-1 start, thanks in part to a league-leading eight goals from Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Nikita Korostolev.
It is a rather staggering number and it is a further indication of how younger players are more prepared to play in the NHL than ever before. For instance, everyone knows about Auston Matthews and his skill set. Matthews is a player who has had the spotlight on him for a couple of years now and was on full display at the World Cup of Hockey. But with the Zurich Lions last season, Matthews had a 5-foot-8, 163-pound teammate named Denis Malgin, who was drafted by the Florida Panthers in the fourth round in 2015 and is on their opening day roster at the age of 19. The Calgary Flames, meanwhile, didn’t envision Matthew Tkachuk making the team, but it looks as though he’ll start the season on a line with Sam Bennett and Troy Brouwer.
All told, 21 of the league’s 30 teams are starting the season with at least one player who has yet to see his 20th birthday on either their roster or injured list. That number is sure to dwindle as the season goes on. A good number of them will get a nine-game audition before being sent back to junior. Some will stick around until December, then be sent off to play in the World Junior Championship before being sent back for the rest of the season. Others, such as Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Matthews and Patrik Laine, will almost certainly produce and be impact players right from the start of the season.
The combination of NHL-readiness and the fact that they are salary-cap friendly makes putting young players in the lineup a more popular decision now. Sometimes it works out and other times it doesn’t. Can’t imagine there’s a worse way to develop a young player than the way the Ottawa Senators dealt with Curtis Lazar, a player they rushed into the NHL at the age of 19 and allowed him to play a limited, lower-six role for the better part of two seasons before dispatching him to the minors to start the 2016-17 season. So now you have a kid who’s probably wondering what he did wrong when, in reality, he did nothing wrong. The Senators were doing a great job of taking a kid with some real offensive skill and making him a 15-goal scorer as an NHL player. And now they’re basically back to scratch.
Which makes the Red Wings formula of having their players over-ripen before putting them in the NHL a wise way of doing it. Some kids are phenoms and they’re going to be great as teenagers. Others who are rushed might not have ever been good enough to be impact players regardless of when they came into the NHL. But one thing is clear. Hockey’s scrap heap is littered with players who came into the NHL too young and couldn’t handle the rigors of playing in the best league in the world, but nobody has ever been able to find a player who has been ruined by spending too much time in junior hockey or the minors.
Here’s the list of players from each team who have not yet reached their 20th birthday:
Jacob Larsson, 19, D
Jakob Chychrun, 18, D
Lawson Crouse, 19, LW
Dylan Strome, 19, LW
Brandon Carlo, 19, D (turns 20 in November)
Jack Eichel, 19, C
Matthew Tkachuk, 18, LW
Sebastian Aho, 19, RW
Noah Hanifin, 19, D
Mikko Rantanen, 19, RW (injured, turns 20 in late October)
Zach Werenski, 19, D
Vili Saarijarvi, 19, D (injured)
Connor McDavid, 19, C
Jesse Puljujarvi, 18, RW
Denis Malgin, 19, C
Mikhail Sergachev, 18, D
Blake Speers, 19, RW
Pavel Zacha, 19, LW
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Mathew Barzal, 19, C
Anthony Beauvillier, 19, LW
NEW YORK RANGERS
Thomas Chabot, 19, D
Travis Konecny, 19, LW
Ivan Provorov, 19, D
Daniel Sprong, 19, RW (injured)
Luke Opilka, G, 19 (injured)
Jonne Tammela, 19, RW (injured)
Mitch Marner, 19, RW
Auston Matthews, 19, C
Patrik Laine, 18, RW
Respected by veterans, adored by young players, worshipped by nerds, Patrice Bergeron might be the best defensive forward in NHL history.
Imagine taking the ice with two linemates. One is the guy you play with every day, your longtime friend, someone you know inside and out. The other is the greatest player of the past decade. It’s safe to say the first guy would have to do something spectacular to stand out more than the second.
Yet that’s what happened when Brad Marchand played with Patrice Bergeron and Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh Sept. 14 for a World Cup exhibition match between Canada and Russia. Halfway through the first period, Crosby threaded a pass to Bergeron, who darted between Dmitry Orlov and Artem Anisimov, dangled and roofed a laser of a backhand over Sergei Bobrovsky’s shoulder. Marchand had the privilege of playing on Sidney Friggin’ Crosby’s wing, but it was Bergeron dropping Marchand’s jaw.
“I was in awe,” Marchand said. “He was on another level, and I said that to him. He was like a man among boys. It’s a lot of fun to watch him play.”
Also enjoying the show that night was Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask, whose Team Finland wasn’t even playing. When THN caught up with him at World Cup media day 24 hours later and brought up Bergeron, the first thing Rask asked was, “Did you see the goal he scored last night?”
Reactions like that are what make Bergeron unique. He may not be one of the NHL’s fan-favorite players, a la P.K. Subban, but Bergeron’s the fan favorite among the players. They look up to him. Even future Hall of Famers, talk him up like he’s James Bond. Bruins captain Zdeno Chara points out how good-looking Bergeron is. Rask calls him “a cool dude.” Pretty much every player points out how stylish he is. “He’s doesn’t force it,” Marchand said. “It’s just kind of a natural thing for him. He’s awesome. He’s French, so he knows how to dress. He’s got the cool car, nice house. He knows where to put his money and where not to, and he makes everything look good.”
That worship traces all the way back to Bergeron’s days as a teenage elder statesman at the 2005 World Junior Championship, when Canada fielded its greatest team in tournament history, featuring everyone from Crosby to Ryan Getzlaf to Shea Weber to Jeff Carter. Bergeron had already spent a season as the NHL’s youngest player but got an unexpected opportunity to suit up for the Canadian kids because of the 2004-05 lockout. His peers admired him for his professional demeanor, his two-way play and, yes, his style.
“I probably asked him about a thousand questions,” Crosby said. “He was great about it, and we’ve been friends ever since. I have a lot of respect for him, putting up with all my questions at a young age.”
At the NHL level back then, Bergeron was still the student, not the teacher. He credits Martin Lapointe, a rugged veteran winger with the Bruins, as the man who taught him how to be a pro. More than a decade later, though, it’s like Bergeron is back in the world junior dressing room. Fellow veterans respect him as a teammate and an opponent, and the young kids follow him around like he’s hockey’s Pied Piper. Bruins right winger David Pastrnak, 20, calls Bergeron “the best leader I’ve ever seen.” Buffalo Sabres center and Massachusetts native Jack Eichel, 19, trained with Bergeron for several weeks over the summer and relished the chance to be a sponge.
“A young guy like myself can learn a lot just from being around him,” Eichel said. “Hearing him talk, the way he carries himself, how hard he works. He’s on the ice after practice in August, bagging himself. It says a lot.”
It seems busting his tail doing all things hockey is all Bergeron thinks about. This is a man, don’t forget, who played through a broken rib, torn cartilage and a separated shoulder in the 2013 Stanley Cup final. He’s a fanatic of the sport, and not just because he’s an NHLer. His favorite off-season hobby is, uh, hockey. For years, he had an outdoor rink with an artificial ice surface on his property in Quebec City, Que., and hosted tournaments every weekend. He sold that house but still enjoys playing ball hockey with his buddies throughout the summer, albeit not this year with the Word Cup in the way. He has a designated shooting area at his new place, too.
The idol isn’t a role Bergeron asked for. As Pastrnak points out, Bergeron leads more by example than with a megaphone. But he’s still happy to pay forward what he learned from Lapointe.
“I try to be of any help, really,” Bergeron said. “I try to be there for them off the ice, to show my experience and tell them about things I used to do and that I’ve learned over the years. And it’s about on-ice stuff as well. I also don’t want to overdo it. They have to find and learn some stuff on their own. But at the same time I’m always there for them. It’s something I want to give back.”
The best way Bergeron does that is with his play, which is like one never-ending instructional video. “He's good in every area,” Crosby said. “He's reliable at both ends of the ice. He's got really good hockey sense. That’s what sticks out the most. Defensively he's tough to go up against, and offensively he can hurt you, so he's really an all-around player.”
That all-around ability has helped Bergeron win three Selke Trophies as the NHL’s best defensive forward. It’s helped him earn major roles and gold medals on two Canadian Olympic teams. It’s helped him win a Stanley Cup with the 2010-11 Bruins. It’s garnered the adoration of the NHL’s player population. Bergeron has never been a sexy name among the fans, however, rarely if ever mentioned in the same breath as Crosby or Alex Ovechkin or Patrick Kane. That’s likely because he sacrifices some offense to play a 200-foot game. The only stat categories he regularly dominates are faceoff percentage and plus-minus. He’s never topped 32 goals or 73 points. Marchand said Bergeron could easily be a 40-goal, 80-point player if he concentrated on offense more.
The way fans interpret the game is changing, though. We live in the advanced stats era now. Players who generate and suppress shot attempts at elite levels, also known as possession drivers, are gaining new levels of notoriety, especially when the analytics crowd is a vocal minority, proficient with social media. Our resident fancy stats writer, Dominik Luszczyszyn, said Bergeron “is basically God to the nerds.” Analytics website corsica.hockey tracks possession numbers dating back to 2007-08 and, over that nine-season span, Bergeron ranks top-five in Corsi percentage among forwards with 3,000 or more minutes. Factoring in Corsi relative to teammates, Bergeron cracks the top four. He’s the only player to rank top-four in both categories. He’s neck and neck with Pavel Datsyuk for the unofficial title of the greatest possession player since people started tracking the stats.
“Things generally tend to go very well whenever Bergeron is playing, and that applies to when he’s off the bench versus when he’s on the bench, or when his teammates are playing on a line with him or when they’re not on a line with him,” said corsica.hockey creator Emmanuel Perry. “Everything just seems to go when Bergeron is playing. That can be faulty logic if you’re looking at a few games or just one season, but when you sustain that sort of impact over your entire career, the way Bergeron has, and also when you break free from the pack and distance yourself that much, it’s very evident that he’s what makes things go.
Few players in NHL history have rivalled Bergeron’s ability to drive possession, actually. There’s a case to be made he’s the greatest defensive forward ever. Bergeron’s three Selkes tie him with Datsyuk, Guy Carbonneau and Jere Lehtinen for second-most all-time. Carbonneau won his third Selke at 32, Datsyuk at 31 and Lehtinen at 29. Bergeron won his third at 29, and he’s 31 now, fresh off a second-place finish in the 2016 vote. When asked if he knew who holds the Selke record, Bergeron nodded. He has Bob Gainey, the man with four Selkes, on the mind. Gainey is widely regarded as the gold standard for defensive forwards, but how would he compare to Bergeron if we applied modern statistics? There was no Corsi or Fenwick in Gainey’s era, which spanned from 1973-74 to 1988-89. The best we can do is evaluate him using hockey-reference.com’s defensive point shares. The formula is downright headache-inducing to laypeople like us, so here’s a simplified version: it factors in a player’s position, the league goals-per-game rate of his era and his plus-minus cross-referenced with a team’s goals for and against to create an approximation of defensive impact. “Point shares” refer to how many points in the standings the player was responsible for. Gainey gained 18.1 over 16 seasons for an average of 1.13. Bergeron has gained 21.2 in 12 seasons for an average of 1.77.
Bergeron thus measures up quite nicely to Gainey, who is, of course, in the Hall of Fame. Bergeron only has the one Stanley Cup to Gainey’s five, but Gainey played on one of the greatest dynasties in sports history with the late ’70s Canadiens. Bergeron has the Olympic resume and is a better offensive player than Gainey ever was. His body of work is starting to look Hall-worthy, and he has plenty of good years left. Hockey researcher and history Iain Fyffe has developed ‘The Inductinator,’ a system that predicts Hall of Fame berths, and he believes Bergeron must catch Gainey in Selkes to have a shot.
“Just to be in the mix of that, in the talk, is a huge honor for me,” Bergeron said. “Bob Gainey is a legend of the game. We’ll see what happens. There are some amazing two-way forwards that are always there and giving me competition. I’m trying to play my game and see what unfolds.”
The Dallas Stars are banged up to an almost unbelievable extent. Six regular forwards are already out of the lineup, and top-six center Jason Spezza appears as though he’ll be added to that list.
The season isn’t even two weeks old and already the Dallas Stars have been decimated by injury.
Already dealing with the absences of Patrick Sharp, Mattias Janmark, Jiri Hudler, Ales Hemsky, Patrick Eaves and Cody Eakin — also known as half of their regular forwards — the Stars found out Monday that they could also be without Jason Spezza for a period of time. How long exactly is unknown, but Spezza, 33, is questionable for Tuesday’s game due to an injury he suffered Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“(Spezza) left practice with something he irritated last game," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said, per the team’s website.
There were no specifics about Spezza’s injury, but him being sidelined for any length of time, even just one or two games, would be an absolute headache for a Dallas team that cannot wait to get healthy.
Spezza remained one of the only entirely healthy members of the Stars’ top six at this point in the season, and he had been leaned on heavily by Ruff. After averaging 17:13 and 16:31 over his first two seasons in Dallas, Spezza had started this campaign on the top unit and was playing nearly 19 minutes per game. In five games, he had notched two goals and three points, too, and that makes his questionable status a serious blow.
Were Spezza the only Stars player on the shelf, the impact would likely be significantly less, but it’s the timing of the injury that makes his ailment so troublesome.
The injury issues for the Stars began before the training camp had even started. Over the course of the off-season, captain Jamie Benn was sidelined with a core muscle injury, sniper Tyler Seguin was forced out of the World Cup due to a foot injury and Cody Eakin found himself on the shelf long-term due to a knee injury. The injuries continued to roll in as the season approached, and it wasn’t just slight knocks.
Janmark, for example, will be out at least five months with a knee injury. Hemsky has been placed on injured reserve with a groin injury. Sharp is dealing with a concussion and has yet to return to the ice since taking a jolt from Los Angeles Kings defenseman Brayden McNabb on Oct. 20.
Thankfully Benn and Seguin are back healthy and in the lineup, but if Stars players keep dropping like this, expect Dallas’ top six to look a lot more like its bottom six by next week. That would be about the worst possible news for a team as reliant on scoring ability as the Stars.
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If defenseman Brent Burns heads to free agency, he'll generate considerable interest, including from the Oilers, who still need to improve their blueline.
San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns could be the best player available in next summer's unrestricted free agent market. It remains to be seen, of course, if he tests the open market. The Sharks will likely do all they can to keep him in the fold.
If the 32-year-old Burns heads to free agency, he'll generate considerable interest. The Edmonton Journal's David Staples cites Oilers insider Bob Stauffer speculating the Edmonton Oilers could pursue the Sharks rearguard, just as they did power forward Milan Lucic this summer.
The Oilers still lack a true top-two defenseman and Burns would certainly address that need, but they'll have to pay a lot to get him. His current annual salary is $5.76 million and he could command upwards of $8 million per season on the open market.
With over $55 million invested in 17 players for 2017-18, the Oilers could afford Burns in the short term. However, rising star Leon Draisaitl is coming off his entry-level deal and could seek a significant raise on a long-term deal. In 2018, superstar Connor McDavid and promising blueliner Darnell Nurse will also be in line for lengthy and expensive new contracts. They must ensure they have sufficient cap space to re-sign those young stars.
The Oilers also won't be the only club with serious interest in Burns. A significant bidding war for his services could put him out of Edmonton's price range.
STARS NOT INTERESTED IN BROWN
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reports a recent rumor had the Dallas Stars interested in Los Angeles Kings left winger Dustin Brown. However, Friedman claims that speculation was shot down.
Whoever started the “Brown-to-Stars” speculation was engaging in wishful thinking. The former Kings captain is in the third season of an eight-year deal worth an annual cap hit of $5.85 million. He also carries a modified no-trade clause indicating eight trade preferences.
Even if the Stars were on Brown's list, they have no reason to pursue him. Since 2013-14, Brown's offfensive production has dried up, managing consecutive 27-point performances (2013-14, 2014-15) and only 28 points last season. At 31, his best seasons are now well behind him. The last thing the Stars need is a fading power forward on an expensive long-term deal.
RANGERS CAN'T FIND TAKER FOR McGILRATH
Earlier this month, the New York Post's Larry Brooks reported the New York Rangers were believed seeking a trade partner for little-used defenseman Dylan McIlrath. So far, however, they're not getting much interest in the 24-year-old blueliner.
Brooks followed up this week by speculating Rangers GM Jeff Gorton is likely listening to any trade offers for McIlrath. However, the 6-foot-5, 220-pounder must establish himself as an NHL regular to bolster his value. Brooks believes Gorton would accept a third-round pick.
In his previous three seasons, McIlrath skated in only 37 games with the Rangers. Heading into Saturday's contest with the Washington Capitals, he played only one game this season. At this rate, McIlrath seems more likely to be a waiver candidate.
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.).
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