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Isaac Ratcliffe. Image by: Mathieu Belanger/Getty Images
Isaac Ratcliffe pairs good hockey sense and deft hands with a 6-foot-6 frame, though he could add some weight and muscle.
The big news of the week in the prospect world is that Regina will host the 100th Memorial Cup next year. The WHL’s Pats are one of the best teams in the CHL already and won’t lose too many significant parts over the summer, so they’ll be very competitive hosts – and hey, perhaps the defending champions. Elsewhere, Chicago pick and Erie Otters star Alex DeBrincat continued his assault on the record books by breaking the 50-goal mark for the third straight season. No one had done that in the modern OHL and Dale McCourt was the last before that, dating back to 1977. Let’s take a look at who else is making noise around the world right now.
Isaac Ratcliffe, LW – Guelph Storm (OHL): At 6-foot-6 and nearly 200 pounds already, there’s an obviousness to Ratcliffe’s potential. The fact he marries his great frame with good hockey sense and deft hands makes it all the more clear why the left winger will be one to watch in the first round of the draft this summer. Not that it’s easy to grow that frame.
“The past couple years I’ve definitely been conscious of what I’ve been eating,” Ratcliffe said. “I have that skinny-lean body and I need to get thicker. Eating well, putting on some mass and muscle will be part of getting to the next level.”
Right now, he’s getting help from fellow Storm forward Givani Smith, a Detroit Red Wings pick who plays a hard game, but laces it with skill.
“Being an older guy here, he’s definitely a strong leader,” Ratcliffe said. “He’s a big man like me and I’ve taken some pages from his book, try to play a bit like him.”
Ratcliffe likes to use his size and smarts to his advantage, whether it’s along the wall or down low by the net. He showed a nice touch at the CHL Top Prospects Game and leads the Storm with 44 points through 55 games. That’s not exactly a huge total, but Guelph is in the midst of a serious rebuild that saw the team bottom out last season. With Ratcliffe, Smith and top OHL pick Ryan Merkley growing together, there’s hope for the future. And even though the Storm will likely finish last in the Western Conference, at least there has been more wins than in last year’s rough campaign.
“It was tough, but we tried to keep a strong head on our shoulders,” Ratcliffe said. “We weren’t separate off the ice, we just weren’t clicking on the ice.”
The big left winger still wants to get stronger and faster, but with his foundation, he already has a nice set of tools to entice scouts with.
In the Pipeline
Jonathan Dahlen, LW (Ottawa): One of the top junior-aged snipers in Sweden’s Allsvenskan (just below the SHL) all season, Dahlen is playing on Timra’s top line and excelling. The smart and skilled youngster now has 39 points in 41 games against men.
Ethan Bear, D (Edmonton): The WHL’s player of the week, Bear put up a sick 10 points in his past five games – not bad for a blueliner. The right-shot D-man has a sturdy frame and loves to jump into the rush for the Seattle Thunderbirds.
Filip Hronek, D (Detroit): Thanks to eight points in his past three outings, Hronek is now averaging more than a point per game in his rookie OHL season with Saginaw. The offensive defenseman from the Czech Republic has a wicked shot and lots of puckhandling skills, though he still needs to get stronger.
Peter Thome, G (Columbus): Part of a big USHL goalie trade carousel, the new Waterloo Black Hawk repaid his squad by earning goalie of the week honors in the league. Thome, a 6-foot-3 North Dakota commit, had two wins (including a shutout) and a .964 save percentage to pick up the honors.
Adam Gaudette, C (Vancouver): Now riding an 11-game point streak for Northeastern, Gaudette has been deadly as the Huskies’ second-line center. The NCAA sophomore goes to the tough areas and is reliable in both ends, as well.
2017 Draft Stars
Finn Evans, RW – St. Michael’s Buzzers (OJHL): A two-way forward who plays in all situations for the Buzzers, Evans has five points in his past five games. The Princeton commit works hard and loves to spin off defenders when he has the puck.
Denis Smirnov, LW – Penn State Nittany Lions (Big Ten): His size and skating will likely hold him back until the later rounds of the draft, but Smirnov has incredible offensive skills, no doubt. One of the top scorers in the conference, the puck wizard has 39 points in 28 games as a freshman.
Rickard Hugg, C – Leksand Stars (Swe.): A two-way center who can also slide seamlessly to the wing, Hugg captained Sweden’s Five Nations squad recently and has been very reliable wearing the blue and gold. Locally, he had three points in his most recent win with Leksand’s junior squad, one of the best in the league.
Aleksi Heponiemi, C – Swift Current Broncos (WHL): Small but feisty, Heponiemi is quick on the forecheck and creates a ton of offensive opportunities for the Broncos. The 5-foot-10, 141-pound Finn has 70 points through 58 games in his first ‘Dub’ campaign.
Mathieu Charlebois, D – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL): There’s a lot of raw potential in the 6-foot-3, 206-pounder, but it will take time for it to come together. Charlebois has taken on a big, physical burden for a young Mooseheads blueline and scouts like his “boisterous” game.
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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Joe Thornton is two assists away from becoming the 13th player to reach the 1,000-assist milestone, and it should have him considered among the greatest playmakers the league has ever seen.
Two assists. That’s all Joe Thornton needs to hit 1,000 for his career, and there’s a chance he could be celebrating the milestone helper in less than one week, earning an undeniable spot as one of the greatest playmakers the game has ever seen.
When he reaches the milestone mark, and there’s no question he will, it only stands to add to what are some already stellar Hall of Fame credentials. Thornton has a Hart Trophy and Art Ross to his name, a first all-star team nod and two times he was voted to the league’s second all-star club. But forget the awards and look past the nearly 400 goals, because reaching the 1,000-assist milestone is the most impressive of all of Thornton’s feats. It’s a statistical achievement the likes of which has seldom been recorded.
It may seem like the 1,000-assist mark wouldn’t be so rare given there are two assists handed out for every goal scored, but there are only 12 players to have hit 1,000 assists for their career. By comparison, 19 players have at least 600 goals and there are 45 with 500 or more tallies in their career. The all-time assists leader, as one would expect, is Wayne Gretzky, with the likes of Mario Lemieux, Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman, Ray Bourque and Jaromir Jagr among those who round out the 12-man 1,000 assist club.
That’s indicative of the type of savvy playmaker Thornton has been throughout his career. His puck distribution skills have been and remain some of the best in the league, and that he’s still managing to dish out perfect tape-to-tape passes as he inches closer to his 38th birthday is telling about the dedication he has to his craft. This season, only 15 players have more assists than Thornton, and the list includes a number of the league’s current greats, from Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby to Brent Burns and Duncan Keith.
It’s not as if Thornton has maneuvered his way to 1,000 assists by way of being in the right place at the right time, either. Some contest that he’s racked up a boatload of secondary helpers over his career, but stats.HockeyAnalysis.com has data on primary assists over the past 10 seasons. No one has registered more overall assists than Thornton’s 548, and no player has more first assists than the 314 Thornton has compiled.
But with Thornton close to the end of his career, it’s worth wondering how far up the all-time assist chart he can rise. Once he hits the 1,000-assist milestone, he’ll be 16 back of matching Joe Sakic, 33 behind Lemieux, Marcel Dionne will sit 40 assists ahead and Howe 49 up on Thornton. Realistically, he could make a dent in the chase to tie Sakic by the time the season ends, possibly by as much as another 10 to 12 assists. That would put Thornton up to 1,010 in his career. What happens next season, though?
First and foremost, the concern has to be about returning to a lineup where he can produce. There has been speculation that Thornton, a free agent come July, wants to hang around for at least another couple seasons, playing into his 40s and possibly beyond. That’s not out of the realm of possibility, especially with him continuing to contribute, and we’ve seen the likes of Jagr, Shane Doan and Matt Cullen contribute as they enter the “over the hill” stage of their career. If Thornton does come back, as it seems he will, the question then becomes the rate at which he is actually able to contribute.
At his current rate, he’s registering .57 assists per game, down from last season’s .77 rate and slightly down from his .63 rate during the 2014-15 campaign. Over the past three seasons, that’s a pace of .66 assists per game, which means over the course of an 82-game season he’d register roughly 54 helpers.
It’s likely, though, that Thornton’s assist rate drops as he continues on. Let’s say he nabs 43 assists in 2017-18, 39 in 2018-19 and 34 in 2019-20. That’s a consistent dip of .05 assists per game from his current rate over the next three seasons. It’s only an estimation, of course, but that would net Thornton another 116 assists over the following three seasons. Add that to the 1,010 he projects to have by the time the post-season rolls around, and Thornton would have 1,126 assists in his career. He would sit seventh all-time, ahead of Adam Oates and Steve Yzerman and only slightly behind Bourque and Paul Coffey.
The thing about the all-time list, though, is that it doesn’t take into account the era the player’s career occurred in. The first seven seasons of Thornton’s career came in the low-scoring pre-lockout years, and he’s spent 12 in the post-lockout, more free-flowing game that we see today. Scoring isn’t up all that much, however. Thankfully, Hockey-Reference has done the legwork in adjusting scoring for the separate eras, and on that list, Thornton is already top-five all-time. The only players he trails are Gretzky, Howe, Jagr and Ron Francis.
As far as catching the foursome at the top of the adjusted assists list goes, it’s not going to be easy. He sits 87 back of Francis, and it’s going to take much of the rest of Thornton’s career to surpass him, and there’s about no chance he reaches the same heights as Jagr, Howe or Gretzky. Even still, that’s company even more exclusive than the list of players with 1,000 assists. Being mentioned alongside arguably the three greatest offensive players in the league’s history, and three veritable legends of the sport, would put into perspective the type of assist machine Thornton has been.
Thornton’s chase to the 1,000-assist milestone is something to pay attention to and worth even more recognition than it’s sure to get. While the Stanley Cup may have eluded Thornton to this point, the longer he plays, the more he cements his legacy as one of the greatest set-up men the league has ever seen. And when the time comes, he’ll be more than worthy of enshrinement in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
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Bill Foley and George McPhee
Claude Julien's off the board as a free agent coach, but there are several other out-of-work bench bosses vying for the job with the Golden Knights. But who should Vegas choose?
The Vegas Golden Knights are coming together quickly, and are just a couple weeks (and an important payment to the NHL) away from even being able to make trades. They have a lot of front office pieces in place except for one notable addition still to be made -- the coach. And given the number of high-profile coaches who have recently become unemployed, the Knight appear to have a decent pool of candidates to draw from.
So here are our picks for who should be the first coach in team history. Turns out only two stand out above the rest.
Golden Knights GM George McPhee said he’s open to looking at all options for Vegas’ first coach, but the sense is he’s leaning towards a more experienced, veteran coach who can come in and instantly establish himself in the dressing room. Hard to think of a coach who brings with him more clout than Hitchcock, who’s two wins away from becoming the third winningest in league history. Were it not for some shaky goaltending, he’d likely be in position to coach for the Stanley Cup this season, but Hitchcock’s bad luck could be the Golden Knights’ good fortune.
Strategically, there’s not a better coach available than Hitchcock, and he has the ability to take a ragtag group assembled through the expansion draft and put them into a place to compete for a playoff spot in their first season. It’s not an easy task, but one made that much easier by nabbing the best coach available on the market. (Jared Clinton)
I know Habs fans will probably groan at this answer, but Therrien would give the Golden Knights instant credibility and years of NHL coaching experience. Look at some of the most successful expansion teams of the past and you'll find an old hand behind the bench: Minnesota and Jacques Lemaire, Florida and Roger Nielsen, St. Louis and Scotty Bowman (who took over midway through the first season from the also-experienced Lynn Patrick), to name a few.
It's not fun and yes, it's kinda boring, but Therrien has been to a Stanley Cup final and gone on numerous playoff runs. His act may have worn thin in Montreal, but Vegas will need a strong personality right off the hop and Therrien can be that guy. I'm not saying he's the long-term solution – ideally Vegas finds their Al Arbour or Fred Shero once the Knights get settled in after a few seasons – but he's a great option to get the ball rolling. (Ryan Kennedy)
It’s pretty simple, really. Ken Hitchcock has worked for three GMs in his NHL coaching career – Bob Clarke, Bob Gainey and Doug Armstrong. It’s important that he have a good relationship with his GM and, guess what? He and George McPhee happen to be pretty good friends. And despite Hitchcock’s pronouncement at the beginning of the season that this would be his last as a coach, he has backed off on that and is believed now to still be considering his options. All of which makes Vegas the perfect landing spot for both him and the Golden Knights. Look at it this way, this team is not going to be tanking off the hop because the talent the NHL is making available will make it impossible to do so. They’re going to get two very good NHL goalies and the team will be stocked with mid-range forwards and defensemen, good players at the NHL level who have character, compete and experience. They may have trouble scoring, but they’ll also be a bugger to play against. Now is that the perfect template for a Ken Hitchcock team or what? It should happen, it must happen and we’re betting heavily that it will happen. (Ken Campbell)
Michel Therrien is my pick. He has lots of recent experience with veteran-laden clubs, having guided the Montreal Canadiens through some decent regular seasons and several playoff series victories. Therrien isn't known for leaning on his youngsters, which is fine – as the Vegas squad will take a few years to stockpile draft picks and line its system with legit young prospects. The expansion draft should give the Golden Knights a bunch of bona fide NHLers, creating the need for a coach to merely keep a veteran squad relevant and prevent it from embarrassing itself in front of an unpredictable fan market. The Ken Hitchcocks and Gerard Gallants of the world have shepherded young teams in recent seasons, and those are the types of coaches the Golden Knights might prefer two or three years from now. (Matt Larkin)