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Martin St-Louis’ journey didn’t start with his name being called at the draft, but that didn’t stop him from reaching great heights in the NHL. This season, these five undrafted players are making their presence felt.
Friday night in Tampa Bay, the Lightning celebrated the career of Martin St-Louis, one of the greatest players in franchise history, by raising his famed No. 26 to the rafters.
For St-Louis, the jersey retirement marked one of the final great moments in a career that had plenty. From Art Ross Trophies to a Stanley Cup victory, St-Louis was one of the greatest players of his generation, hanging up his skates with nearly 400 goals and more than 1,000 points to his name.
Despite having an outstanding career, though, the one thing St-Louis never got to experience was having his name called at the draft. Instead, he played his way through junior hockey in Ontario and Quebec, made some noise with four solid seasons at University of Vermont and earned his shot at the NHL after producing consistently in the minor leagues. Even still, that St-Louis was never selected in the draft is one of the great misses in draft history.
An undrafted player having a career like St-Louis’ is rare, but of the 100-plus players in the league who were skipped over on their respective draft days, a handful are making their presence felt this season. Here are the five undrafted players impressing the most this campaign:
5. Conor Sheary, Pittsburgh Penguins
Sheary landed a deal with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins after four seasons with UMass in the NCAA, and few would have pegged him to be the type of impact depth player he has become. However, after a strong, 20-goal, 45-point campaign in 2014-15, Sheary got his shot at the big league and filled in as a fourth-line piece. His real breakout came in the post-season, though.
En route to a Stanley Cup with the Penguins, Sheary netted four goals and 10 points in 23 games, matching his regular season total in roughly half the time, and he has continued to score in his sophomore season. Through 34 games this season, Sheary has 11 goals and 25 points.
4. Jonathan Marchessault, Florida Panthers
One of the best stories early in the campaign was the breakout Marchessault was experiencing as a member of the Panthers. Signed in the off-season to a two-year, $1.5-million deal, Marchessault was brought for his potential to be a contributor in the bottom-six, but he’s been a top-six player for much of the campaign in Florida with 12 goals and 26 points in 37 games.
Marchessault’s path to the NHL had a few more stops than some of the others on this list, too. After finishing his QMJHL career with the Quebec Remparts, Marchessault found a spot with the AHL’s Connecticut Whale and then inked an entry-level deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets. After kicking around the AHL for much of the next three seasons, became a part-time NHLer in 2015-16 with the Tampa Bay Lightning before making his mark with the Panthers this season.
3. Torey Krug, Boston Bruins
Size was one of the knocks against St-Louis, who’s listed at 5-foot-8, and it was likely one of the major reasons why Krug was overlooked as a defender. At 5-foot-9, he is the league’s most diminutive blueliners, but size hasn’t stopped him from becoming a key part of the Bruins’ back end.
No defender in Beantown has put up even half the points that Krug has this season, who has four goals and 28 points, and he’s worked his way into top-pairing minutes. He’s averaging nearly 22 minutes of ice time per game.
Krug’s big breakout came during the 2012-13 post-season, which saw the Bruins make their way to the Stanley Cup final. He chipped in four goals and six points on that run, and was an every-game NHLer by the time the 2013-14 campaign rolled around.
2. Mats Zuccarello, New York Rangers
Zuccarello’s the only player on this list who had the opportunity to play with St-Louis, and the 5-foot-8 Rangers winger definitely picked up a thing or two from a veteran who had made a career as a small man in what is sometimes viewed as a big man’s game.
Unlike others on this list who had to fight their way through the college game and minor leagues to make it to the NHL, Zuccarello managed to find his way to the NHL through the Swedish league. After a couple of outstanding seasons in Norway, Zuccarello landed with MODO in the SHL, but up two great years and inked a deal with the Rangers. He’s been a Blueshirt ever since.
After a career-best 61 points in 2015-16, Zuccarello looks to be on pace to nearly equal that total this season. The shifty playmaker has eight goals and 31 points in 43 games.
1. Artemi Panarin, Chicago Blackhawks
That Panarin slipped through the draft is incredible given the way he has shown he can handle the big league game, but his career didn’t really take off until the 2013-14 season, so maybe it’s hard to fault scouts for missing on him earlier.
Panarin, who has 17 goals and 42 points in 45 games this season, saw his first pro action all the way back in 2008-09 with the KHL’s Vityaz Chekhov, and he scored at about a half-point per game rate during those early years. A move to SKA St. Petersburg in 2012-13 changed his career, though, as he started to find his scoring touch in a big way. In 108 games with SKA, Panarin scored 46 goals and 103 points, often outshining more recognizable talents on the team, such as Ilya Kovalchuk.
Panarin was scooped up by the Blackhawks ahead of the 2015-16 season on a bonus-laden two-year deal, and the Russian sniper has cashed in big. He met all of his bonuses with an outstanding 30-goal, 77-point rookie season, captured the Calder Trophy and he has continued to tear up the opposition this season.
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The Jets were a popular breakout pick for 2016-17 thanks to all their young talent. They instead remain mired in mediocrity. How can they save their season?
We really didn’t see this coming, Jets fans. We swear.
We oozed optimism last summer while forecasting Winnipeg’s 2016-17 finish in the Central Division standings. We saw the Jets rising into a Western Conference wild-card playoff position. They’d landed one of the game’s most dynamic young talents in Patrik Laine. Mark Scheifele had blossomed into a true No. 1 center after a torrid finish to 2016-17. Dustin Byfuglien was inked long term to be the franchise’s horse on defense. New captain Blake Wheeler was fresh off a top-10 finish in scoring.
Two seasons earlier, in our 2015 edition of THN Future Watch, we dubbed the Jets "2019 Stanley Cup champions." We felt confident making that call because they had the game’s best youth brigade. Jacob Trouba flashed all-star potential on the blueline. Josh Morrissey had potential as a rushing defenseman. Nikolaj Ehlers had oodles of speed and offensive creativity. Connor Hellebuyck was a star goaltender in the making and only needed his chance. And, heck, in the two years since that magazine printed, the Jets padded their elite farm system even more. They traded for Marko Dano, drafted Kyle Connor and Jack Roslovic in 2015 and, of course, landed Laine last June at the draft. Plus they still had veterans like Mathieu Perreault and Bryan Little up front and Tyler Myers and Tobias Enstrom on defense.
We absolutely thought the Jets would ascend past the Minnesota Wild and swipe a playoff seed. It hasn’t happened. Last night, the Jets suffered their 11th loss by three or more goals this season and, as you’ve likely seen already, coach Paul Maurice blew a gasket. Three wins into a four-game stretch suddenly became two losses in a three-game stretch, Wednesday’s by an ugly 7-4 margin. It was a boiling point for a team hovering just below .500 at 20-21-3, technically one point out of a playoff berth but having played three more games than the L.A. Kings, the team they’re chasing. With Laine out an indefinite amount of time with a concussion, the Jets’ playoff hopes look grimmer by the day.
What on earth went wrong with this promising squad? And what solutions might rescue its season?
Any fan who rejoiced Ondrej Pavelec’s demotion was justified. That’s not meant as an insult to Pavelec. But, statistically, he’s had a devil of a time stopping the puck over the past half decade. Forty-two goaltenders have appeared in 100 or more games over the past five seasons. Among them, Pavelec ranks 41st in save percentage over that time at .906. So yes, it was a godsend when the Jets settled on a young battery of Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson to start 2016-17.
Their performance, however? Uninspired. Among the 47 goalies with enough game action to qualify for the league leaders, Hutchinson’s .890 SP across 17 appearances ranks 46th. Hellebuyck sits at a pedestrian .910 over 33 appearances, placing him 30th. The supposedly improved Jets goaltending has looked positively Pavelecian thus far. What’s the solution? Do the Jets have to promote Pavelec? Explore the trade market? Stay the course?
SOLUTION: Stay the course. One thing Winnipeg has done right this season is give Hellebuyck, a top-notch netminding prospect, the chance to establish himself as the unquestioned bellcow. He’s started 31 games to Hutchinson’s 13. Hellebuyck hasn’t performed nearly as well as advertised, but it’s far too early to write him off. I interviewed him for the first time in fall 2015, and the attribute of his that blew me away the most wasn’t his size, athleticism or accomplishments for his age, all of which were impressive. It was Hellebuyck’s swagger that stood out most. He’s breezy in his demeanor, a gamer who believes in himself wholeheartedly. Mental toughness in goalies goes a long way – the same trait foreshadowed Matt Murray’s rise last season – and Hellebuyck has what it takes to get hot in the second half.
It was already happening before he coughed up three goals in 14 minutes Wednesday and got pulled for Hutchinson. Hellebuyck was 6-3-0 with a .924 SP in his previous nine appearances.
He ranks near the top of the NHL in low-danger SP among goalies with 1,000 or more minutes played but sits near the bottom in medium- and high-danger SP. That obviously means Hellebuyck needs to be better, but his 5-on-5 SP is better than what the Jets are used to so far in his career, and his sample size remains small. Check out this study from Garret Hohl for a good breakdown.
Trouba ended his holdout in early November and played his first game of 2016-17 Nov. 11. Myers sustained a lower-body injury that same game and hasn’t suited up since. He recently left the team due to a personal matter. That one fateful game Nov. 11, Winnipeg iced Trouba, Myers, Byfuglien, Enstrom and Morrissey simultaneously. Interestingly, the Jets are one of the NHL’s best this season at suppressing shot attempts, ranking fourth in the NHL at 5-on-5 Corsi Against per 60, but when their depth is tested because of injuries, they’re subbing in stopgap players like Ben Chiarot and Paul Postma, who grade out poorly in shot suppression.
SOLUTION: Get healthy. Hopefully Myers rejoins the lineup soon and we can finally see this group at full strength. It’s been especially encouraging to see Morrissey post strong possession numbers. His offense hasn’t arrived yet, but he’s been sneaky effective.
Oh, the irony! The Jets missed the playoffs in 2013-14 and 2015-16 largely because they couldn’t beat their Central neighbors during the regular season, going 9-15-5 and 11-16-2, respectively. In 2014-15, a playoff year, they went 16-8-5 against Central opponents. This year the Jets are a sparkling 9-4-1 in divisional play…and 7-12-2 against the Eastern Conference. Ouch.
SOLUTION: Here’s one we know the Jets can accomplish: play the East less. Winnipeg is 2-7-1 against the powerhouse Metro Division. Every team gets pummelled by the Metro, so that’s forgivable. Winnipeg has faced the East in 47.7 percent of its games so far. It only plays cross-conference 11 more times, or 28.9 percent of its remaining schedule. The Jets also face the Metro just six more times, thank goodness.
The Jets would never be confused with a “shallow” team in terms of forward depth but, in today’s NHL, every line counts. Look no further than the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have gotten tremendous mileage out of Scott Hartnell and Sam Gagner as high-skill fourth liners. The Jets’ fourth line has been somewhat of a bugaboo. Brandon Tanev and Chris Thorburn have each posted ugly possession numbers, the worst on the team 5-on-5, when slotted in there.
THE SOLUTION: Winnipeg needs Marko Dano back. He can play a rambunctious game in the bottom six but with a nice dose of skill. Unfortunately, he’s out until March with a lower-body injury. At least he’ll be the equivalent of a trade-deadline upgrade when he comes back.
Finally, we get to Maurice. All the problems above suggest we can’t blame the Jets’ underwhelming 2016-17 entirely on coaching, but most bench bosses eventually pay for their teams’ sins. Winnipeg ranks 19th in power play efficiency, 26th in penalty killing and 24th in shots on goal per game. It’s the NHL’s second-worst faceoff team. Only the Calgary Flames have taken more minor penalties. This team is struggling to master far too many small details.
And why does Maurice always seem to get a pass? He’s long been a media pet, a likable straight shooter, easy to root for. But how much more mileage can a coach get from being a good guy? Maurice has coached in the Stanley Cup playoffs five times in 18 completed seasons. His teams have missed the playoffs in nine of his past 11 seasons. Even if we subtract 2013-14, when he replaced Claude Noel in Winnipeg mid-season, that’s eight misses in 10 seasons. Maurice’s 2014-15 playoff run with the Jets was his only one in his past five seasons.
Maurice hasn't typically enjoyed a stacked roster to work with, rarely in his Hartford and Carolina days, never in his Leafs days and not for much of his Jets days. But he also hasn’t been saddled with laughing-stock franchises many times. And he has more talent in Winnipeg right now than he’s ever had, albeit some of it is young and raw.
SOLUTION: It’s doubtful anything happens to Maurice this season barring a major team slump, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable for Jets management to start paying close attention to how well this team responds to its coach over the rest of the season. We know Noel lost the room in three years ago. It happens. Sooner or later, Maurice has to start winning.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to thn.com. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin
Jake Allen’s recent struggles could have Blues GM Doug Armstrong scouring the trade market for help in goal as the post-season approaches. Meanwhile, trade talk surrounds the Flyers and Coyotes.
St. Louis Blues goaltender Jake Allen's recent performance has left much to be desired. After a strong effort through the opening two months of the season, the 26-year-old's play declined through December and into January.
After reeling off eight straight wins from Nov. 15 to Dec. 6, Allen has only four victories his last 13 starts. He had a save percentage below .900 in eight of those games and was pulled early in his last two starts.
Appearing on Montreal's TSN 690 last Thursday, NHL insider Bob McKenzie said the Blues are worried about Allen's decline this season. He thinks they could keep an eye on the trade market for a goalie, though they must be careful over what they afford in dollars and return.
In late-December, McKenzie's colleague Darren Dreger suggested the Blues should consider acquiring Marc-Andre Fleury from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Fleury carries a no-movement clause and the Penguins must move him in order to protect Matt Murray in the expansion draft. If Allen fails to snap out of his current funk and Fleury's willing to waive his clause, perhaps Blues GM Doug Armstrong might come calling.
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop could be another option. The 30-year-old began his NHL career with the Blues. He's eligible for UFA status in July and isn't expected to be re-signed by the Lightning.
The Bolts need a top-four defenseman and the Blues have a pending UFA blueliner in Kevin Shattenkirk. While that seems like a perfect fit for both clubs, Armstrong appears in no hurry to move Shattenkirk. He'll likely remain patient with Allen for the time being, but could consider other options if the netminder fails to improve.
SLIDING FLYERS NOT KEEN ON MOVING YOUNG BLUELINER
A 10-game winning streak by the Philadelphia Flyers from late-November through mid-December had them comfortably in the midst of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Since the streak ended on Dec. 17, however, the Flyers dropped 11 of their past 14 games. Entering this week, they're on the verge of tumbling out of the last wild-card spot in the East.
CSNPhilly.com's Tim Panaccio reports Flyers GM Ron Hextall said he'll only swing a deal if it'll significantly help the club. Given the Flyers poor performance of late, Panaccio feels a trade might be Hextall's only option to improve things.
Finding a suitable deal won't be easy. Panaccio acknowledges Hextall carries “only a few marketable commodities” that might fetch a good return. Rival GMs could have more interest in the Flyers' crop of promising young defensemen.
Hextall won't part with established young blueliners Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere. Panaccio suggests prospects Travis Sanheim, Sam Morin, Robert Hagg and Phillipe Myers have potential to become franchise defensemen. Hextall might not be keen to part with any of them, but it might be necessary if one or two could fetch a return that helps right the Flyers' sinking ship.
The Colorado Avalanche are in the market for good young defensemen and reportedly entertaining offers for left wing Gabriel Landeskog and center Matt Duchene. The Flyers limited salary-cap space, however, would complicate things.
DESPITE DOWN YEAR, DOAN COULD DRAW INTEREST
The ongoing struggles of the Arizona Coyotes makes the club a frequent topic for media trade chatter. Most of the speculation concerns center Martin Hanzal and defenseman Michael Stone. Both are eligible for unrestricted free agency in July and could be moved by the March 1 trade deadline.
In recent years, right wing Shane Doan usually surfaced in the rumor mill, though the conjecture was always quickly quelled by Doan or Coyotes management. This year, however, might be different.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reports the Coyotes might consider moving Doan before the deadline. He believes if management approaches the 40-year-old with an opportunity to play for a winner, he might consider waiving his no-movement clause. The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch doubts Doan's movement clause will prevent some rival clubs from making inquiries. He claims the San Jose Sharks attempted to land the veteran forward over the last two years.
With only 12 points in 42 games, the aging Doan is on pace for 24 points, his lowest output in a non-lockout season since his 22-point campaign in 1998-99. Still, the 6-foot-1, 223-pound winger has good size, years of experience and leadership ability. He also netted 28 goals and 47 points last season, so perhaps he might regain his scoring touch on a deeper club.
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.).
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.
Ryan Callahan’s battle back from a hip injury cost him eight games to start the season, put him out of action for all of December and is now threatening to cost him a significant chunk of the second half of the campaign.
In the off-season, the Ryan Callahan got the bad news that the surgery to repair a hip labral tear would keep him on the shelf for five months. That meant missing the World Cup of Hockey, sitting out the start of the campaign and not making his way back into the lineup until the end of October.
But no one would have expected that Callahan’s issues with his hip would get quite this bad.
After returning to action for the Lightning’s final game of October, Callahan suited up for the next 14 games, but with his injury flaring up, he was forced to sit out the next 15 games, missing more than a month of action. He finally got back into action to for Tampa Bay’s first game of 2017, but less than a week later Callahan was back on the sideline and the Lightning don’t expect him back anytime soon. It was announced that the “nagging lower-body injury” would force Callahan out for another four weeks.
Asked about the injury, Lightning coach Jon Cooper was open about the situation, admitting there was “lot’s of concern” about Callahan’s health at the moment.
“Everybody knows who follows our team what a gamer he is, his passion to play and to help our team, especially when things haven't gone as well as we'd have hoped,” Cooper said, per TampaBayLightning.com. “For him to get in for (three) games and have to be out with some lingering effects with some past issues he's had, it's killing the kid. So, you feel for him. We're missing an emotional leader. It's tough all the way around.”
And there is no doubt concern for Callahan, who now has played only 18 games this season and could potentially play less than half the campaign by the time he gets back into action. The only good news in all of this, if you can call it that, is that the four weeks Callahan is out will likely include the weeklong break the Lightning get in mid-February. That will give him ample opportunity to heal up without the worry of missing action.
More than the short-term, though, the Lightning have to be worried about what Callahan’s injury could mean for the future. Since coming over to Tampa Bay in a blockbuster deal at the 2014 trade deadline, Callahan hasn’t had to miss much time at all. All told, he has been sidelined for just 14 games over the past two seasons. However, with his current ailment persisting for roughly seven months post-surgery, there has to be some worry that the next three seasons of his contract could be awfully tough to get through.
That has to be a worry for Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, too. It wouldn’t be too tough a criticism to call the Callahan contract one that the Lightning wish they could get out from under because of the term and salary remaining for a player who has become a fixture in middle-to-bottom half of the lineup but is out-earning all but Ben Bishop and Steven Stamkos this season. And with three years at $5.8-million per remaining, the contract could provide a significant roadblock when it comes to inking some of the free agents Tampa Bay will have to deal with in the near future, including Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Jonathan Drouin.
A healthy Callahan gives the Lightning more options when it comes to making their roster work, even if that means finding creative ways to maneuver around the salary cap due to his hefty contract. But if the injury continues to haunt him, putting him in and out of the lineup for the next few seasons, that’s the worst-case scenario for everyone.
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