"I just think there's going to be no hitting in this game. I think that what is going to happen."
- The Maple Leafs' Clarke MacArthur following his two-game suspension.
Nolan Patrick. Image by: Mathieu Belanger/Getty Images
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.
11. Martin Necas, RW, Kometo Brno (Cze.)
12. Kristian Vesalainen, LW, Frolunda (SHL)
13. Cale Makar, D, Brooks (AJHL)
14. Elias Pettersson, C, Timra (Swe.)
15. Cody Glass, C, Portland (WHL)
16. Ryan Poehling, C, St. Cloud State (NCHC)
17. Juuso Valimaki, D, Tri-City (WHL)
18. Maxime Comtois, LW, Victoriaville (QMJHL)
19. Nikita Popugaev, LW, Prince George (WHL)
20. Cal Foote, D, Kelowna (WHL)
21. Isaac Ratcliffe, LW, Guelph (OHL)
22. Nic Hague, D, Mississauga (OHL)
23. Lias Andersson, C, HV71 (SHL)
24. Kailer Yamamoto, RW, Spokane (WHL)
25. Shane Bowers, C, Waterloo (USHL)
26. Nick Suzuki, C, Owen Sound (OHL)
27. Jake Oettinger, G, Boston U. (Hockey East)
28. Ivan Lodnia, RW, Erie (OHL)
29. Jaret Anderson-Dolan, C, Spokane (WHL)
30. Erik Brannstrom, D, HV71 (SHL)
31. Sasha Chmelevski, C, Ottawa (OHL)
Patrik Laine set the Winnipeg Jets franchise rookie record with 30 goals, surpassing…Ilya Kovalchuk? It’s time to get used to referencing the Thrashers when it comes to present-day Jets history.
When Patrik Laine blasted home his second goal in Tuesday night’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, his 30th tally of the season, he set the Winnipeg Jets’ rookie goal scoring record. It takes a split second to realize how, though, because the rookie goal scoring record — not just for the team, but for the league — belongs to Teemu Selanne, who scored 76 goals during his high-flying Winnipeg Jets days. And while it may lead to some confusion down the road, the 18-year-old winger was able to set the franchise mark because Selanne’s Jets aren’t Laine’s Jets.
Most know that to be true, yes, but it’s worth repeating when something monumental, like Laine breaking the franchise rookie goal record, happens. The ‘Finnish Flash’ set his record and scored his points as a member of what is now the Arizona Coyotes franchise, even if that history isn’t celebrated the same around those parts as it is 3,000 kilometres north. As for Laine, he set his franchise’s mark by blasting his way past the previous high of 29 set by Ilya Kovalchuk in 2001-02. It’s a record that’s almost a decade younger and not even close to as hard to surpass, but the record nevertheless.
Even knowing full well that’s the case, it’s still a somewhat jarring fact. Hearing Laine take the franchise rookie record by snapping the mark set by Kovalchuk sounds bizarre. It takes a moment to realize these are the Jets related to Kovalchuk, Marian Hossa, Kari Lehtonen and, to a much lesser extent, Patrik Stefan. This isn’t the same franchise that was led by Selanne, Dale Hawerchuk, Teppo Numminen and Nikolai Khabibulin. It’s not the one that came over from the WHA during the Avco Cup-winning era, and it’s not the same franchise that signed Bobby Hull.
Separating the old Jets from the new Jets isn’t something that happens much, especially not in Winnipeg where the franchise’s outdoor game features an alumni team filled with what are technically former Coyotes. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, as the former players who were part of Winnipeg’s original NHL run mean more to the city and its fans than the former Thrashers players. Bringing them back is to celebrate the city’s hockey history, not necessarily that of the current franchise that calls Manitoba’s capital home. The fact of the matter, though, is the original Jets alumni has very little to do with what are franchise records for the present-day Jets, and that’s something we have to get used to.
However, as the years go by, it stands to reason that the new Jets, or Jets 2.0, will take over the current franchise record book and erase many of the marks held by former Thrashers. Already, that process has started. Ondrej Pavelec, for instance, is the franchise’s all-time wins leader. Though he started his career in Atlanta, all but 41 of his 152 wins came in Winnipeg. Chris Thorburn also holds the franchise’s games played record, but more than half of his 691 games have come as a Jet, not a Thrasher.
Those two are only a couple on a long list of franchise records held by former Thrashers that have been or stand to be surpassed by present-day Jets. Here are five major marks still held by former Thrashers players — and players most will recognize as Thrashers — that stand to be overtaken by current Jets:
Points by a rookie: Dany Heatley, 67 points, 2001-02
While Kovalchuk was sniping his way to the now-former franchise mark of 29 goals by a rookie, Heatley was doing his best to keep pace — he finished with 26 goals — and managed to set the team’s rookie scoring mark along the way. Appearing in all 82 games that season, he added 41 assists to his goal total for a combined 67 points and he’s held onto the rookie mark since then. There’s a good chance Kovalchuk could have matched or tied Heatley’s mark had the Russian winger been able to play the full season, but he missed 17 games and finished with 51 points.
And that Kovalchuk finished with 51 points means that Laine is already three points ahead for second-place in franchise history. Next up will be breaking Heatley’s record, and Laine’s current points pace suggests that shouldn’t be a problem. After Tuesday night’s performance, Laine is on pace for 40 goals and 72 points. And if he doesn’t miss another game, he’ll have only played 74 this season.
The split history version, wherein the old Jets franchise mark is adopted by the new Jets, is 132 points. Selanne really wasn’t taking any prisoners during his rookie season.
Points in a season: Marian Hossa, 100 points, 2006-07
At his current age, most think of Hossa as that incredibly talented two-way winger who keeps chugging along for the Chicago Blackhawks. Before he turned into the savvy veteran he is now, though, Hossa was one of the best scorers in the entire league. No season was that quite as apparent as the 2006-07 campaign when Hossa blasted home 43 goals and 100 points while playing alongside Kovalchuk during the height of his powers with the Thrashers.
Hossa’s record is one of those that is going to stick around for a while, too. Here’s the full list of players to score 100-plus points in a season over the past three full campaigns: Patrick Kane and Sidney Crosby. That’s it. The current Jets have some players with the potential to set the new mark, however. Mark Scheifele is proving with each passing game that he’s a top scorer in the league, Blake Wheeler neared the 80-point mark in 2015-16 and Nikolaj Ehlers has all the tools to do it. None of this is to mention Laine, who could be a real threat for a 50-goal season soon.
As for the Jets-Coyotes record, Selanne’s 132-point season was the best mark ever put forth by a member of the former Jets. Expect to have the same conversation about this record as we’re having today about Laine snapping Kovalchuk’s mark.
All-time points: Ilya Kovalchuk, 615 points, 2001-2010
This is worth tackling in a couple of parts. Let’s start with the goals, of which Kovalchuk had 328 during his time as a Thrasher. The only current Jet close to that mark is Bryan Little, who has played the majority of his career in Winnipeg after being drafted while the franchise was in Atlanta. Little’s contract is up following next season, however, so there’s a chance he’s not around to set the record. Realistically, Wheeler or Scheifele currently stand the best chance of reaching the 328 mark first, with Laine as the obvious favorite at this point to eventually hold the mark.
Kovalchuk also holds the record for assists, though, with 287. However, Toby Enstrom, who’s played the bulk of his games as a Jet, has a chance to take the mark. He’s 38 back with 249 assists for his career, and a good close to the season plus a productive 2017-18 could have him surpassing Kovalchuk’s mark.
The toughest one overall, though, will be the total points. The closest current Jet is Little, and he’s 199 points behind Kovalchuk. Wheeler is 236 back, Dustin Byfuglien is 288 away from the mark and Scheifele is a whopping 408. Who gets there first? Well, three 70-point campaigns gets Wheeler there, and as the Jets’ captain, he could very well be set to stick around for longer than the two years he has left on his deal once this season closes.
Dale Hawerchuk holds the original Jets records for goals (379) and points (929), but it’s Thomas Steen who possesses the all-time assists mark with 553. Shane Doan, who started his career as a Jet, holds the franchise’s all-time record in every major scoring category with 401 goals, 564 assists and 965 points.
Single seasons wins by a goaltender: Kari Lehtonen, 34, 2006-07
The way things have gone between the pipes for the Jets this season has some feeling like Lehtonen’s record might take forever to fall, but rest-assured that at some point he’s going to have his 34-win total surpassed by someone suiting up for Winnipeg. It’s actually been close to happening in the years since the team moved to Manitoba, too. During the 2011-12 season, Pavelec turned in 29 wins, and Pavelec holds three of the five winningest seasons by a goaltender in franchise history.
The thing is, though, that Lehtonen wasn’t all that good during his record-setting season, and Pavelec wasn’t either in his pursuit of the record. Lehtonen had a .912 save percentage and 2.79 goals-against average, which was better than Pavelec’s .906 and 2.91 marks.
Even through his tough season, Connor Hellebuyck remains the hope for the future in goal, and if he can right the ship come next season with a more experienced Jets team that is, once again, looking to take a step into the post-season, putting up a 30-plus win season shouldn’t be too tall of a task. And if he really hits his stride, don’t look past the possibility he turns in a stellar 35-win season.
In doing so, Hellebuyck — or whoever surpasses Lehtonen’s record — also stands to set the all-time mark for Winnipeg’s NHL clubs. Bob Essensa’s 33 wins in 1992-93 was the franchise record when the Jets moved to Phoenix. Overall, it’s Ilya Bryzgalov who holds the original Jets’ franchise record with 130 wins.
All-time coaching wins: Bob Hartley, 136, 2003-2007
Hartley was less than three seasons removed from a Stanley Cup championship with the Colorado Avalanche when he landed with the Thrashers. The situation wasn’t all that dissimilar to what happened with Claude Julien, actually. Let go by the Avalanche in December 2002, Hartley was hired by the Thrashers a month later and led the team to a 19-14-5-1 record to end the season and ended his tenure with a 136-118-13-24 record. It was his 0-6-0 start to the 2007-08 season that resulted in his firing.
Hartley’s record isn’t set to stand for much longer, however. Paul Maurice is currently 12 wins back of surpassing Hartley for the franchise mark. With the rest of this season and what is currently slated to be the entirety of the 2017-18 campaign remaining, Maurice should easily be able to take the record barring an unforeseen firing. No other coach in franchise history has surpassed the 80-win mark.
The best output from any coach for the former Winnipeg franchise was 106 wins, accomplished by John Paddock. In overall Jets-Coyotes franchise history, Dave Tippett stands atop the list with 273 wins in nearly 600 games behind the bench.
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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.”
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Evander Kane has been on fire of late and he could interest teams looking to add another scoring threat by the deadline. But trading him now might not be the best move for the Sabres.
The Sabres find themselves in an interesting position as the trade deadline approaches. With 60 games played, Buffalo is four points out of a playoff spot, but, according to THN’s playoff predictions, the Sabres have about a six percent shot at actually making it to the post-season. Stranger things have happened, but with the deadline eight days away, the Sabres have to decide whether they want to buy, sell or stand pat.
The most realistic scenario sees Buffalo GM Tim Murray take stock of what he currently has on his roster and decide how he can make his team better in the future by selling at the deadline. That’s to say Murray should be focused on shipping out expiring contracts or assets deemed non-essential to the future of the club and building for next season. This Sabres team isn’t ready to compete for a Stanley Cup — at least not yet — so no use going all-in at the expense of the rebuild.
That means players such as Dmitry Kulikov, Cody Franson and Derek Grant could very well be trade chips come March 1. All have expiring contacts and serve to be potential rental pieces as the post-season approaches. Captain Brian Gionta could also be added to that list, but he’s reportedly told the team he would prefer to stick around. The most interesting name on the roster, however, isn’t a rental in the traditional sense. That said, Evander Kane, with one year remaining on his deal after this season, could start to draw increased interest due to his recent performance.
Kane has had the Midas touch of late, especially over his past eight games. He’s scored seven goals over that span, all of which have come at even strength. It hasn’t just been this eight-game run, however. His scoring has picked up significantly as the season has progressed. In the past month, for instance, Kane is a point per game player with nine goals and 13 points in 13 games. Since the start of January, Kane has 13 goals and 19 points in 23 outings. Once on pace to finish the year with roughly than 20 goals and 35 points, Kane is now looking to near the 30-goal, 50-point mark for the first time since the 2011-12 season, which was his third in the league.
There’s also the matter of Kane contributing alongside a pair of youngsters, Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. The trio has produced a combined 15 goals and 37 points over the past four weeks. And Kane has also continued to show he can log and be effective in big minutes, as his place as one of Dan Bylsma’s favorite forwards hasn’t changed, either. Kane has averaged upwards of 19 minutes per game over the past month, third behind Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly, and Kane ranks fourth in average ice time among all Sabres forwards over the course of the season.
Really, for the first time since he was acquired in a blockbuster, eight-player deal in February 2015, Kane is providing what the Sabres wanted out of him and hoped they would get. And that’s exactly the reason why some teams who may have been scared off pursuing the winger earlier in the year might circle back around and check in with Murray now.
However, despite the early season rumbles that Kane was on the block, it seems Murray has stepped back from sell mode. In interviews with WGR 550, both TSN’s Darren Dreger and ESPN’s Craig Custance reported that Kane’s name is out there in trade speculation, but that a deal is only really there to be made if the package is such that Murray can’t really turn it down. And despite all the off-ice happenings, from legal difficulties to the scratch due to oversleeping, that have made some Sabres fans want to see Kane shipped out, Murray would be right to hang on to the 25-year-old if it means potentially landing a better return in one year’s time.
Think of it this way: if Kane’s production over the past two months carries over into the 2017-18 campaign, he could be a near 30-goal scorer and 50-plus point producer by the time next season’s deadline rolls around. Not only does having Kane playing at such a high level stand to benefit the Sabres in their pursuit of a playoff berth. Given his big minutes, ability to break a game open with his speed and shot and fit alongside Eichel and Reinhart, he’s a weapon the Sabres could use. But then, come the deadline, it would be time for the Sabres to start listening to offers.
As next season winds down, so does Kane’s contract. At that point, he’s a true rental and the number of teams willing to pay up for him might increase as they’d be free of the contract if they so choose come the 2018-19 campaign. And it is quite the contract. Kane’s cap hit is $5.25 million for both this season and next, meaning any team competitive enough to want to land him might want the Sabres to take back some salary in the deal. Retaining salary on Kane this year means less money to spend in the off-season for Buffalo. That’s not an issue come next deadline, however, with the deal expiring only months after any potential trade.
Not only that, but trading Kane next year, regardless of what position the Sabres are in, stands to help the team recoup some of the assets that were lost in acquiring him. It would also be worthwhile because, at this point, the likelihood Kane remains in Buffalo beyond next season seems slim. Again, despite the off-ice issues that have plagued him in the past few years, Kane will have his share of suitors and he’ll be free to go to any of the clubs willing to pony up the cash.
It only makes sense then that Murray should be playing the long game with Kane and eying up next deadline, or close to it, as the time to ship the winger out. While there are no doubt other factors at play come next season, that Kane has seemingly started to hit his offensive stride seems to bode well for the chances of a repeat performance. And if he’s flirting with 30 goals come the next deadline, he stands to be one of the hottest assets available for next season’s playoff push.
(Ed. Note: Cody McCormick was listed as a free agent-to-be. McCormick was forced to retire due to blood clots last season.)
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