Pekka Rinne, Anders Lindback

Magnus Hellberg was the first goalie drafted in 2011 (by Nashville in Round 2)

For many decades, it was very rare to see a goalie drafted early in the first round. Whether you attribute that to the mere fact that goalies make up a small portion of a typical NHL roster (two to three goalies compared to at least 12 forwards and at least six defensemen) or the notion that netminders are tough nuts to crack, the hesitation to make big gambles on the important position was palpable for quite some time.

The last couple decades ushered in a new era in which teams seemed more willing to roll the dice with high-end picks in net. The Dallas Stars surprised many by picking cocky American goalie Jack Campbell with the 11th overall pick in 2010. The Nashville Predators opted to draft Chet Pickard with the 18th pick in ’08. Plenty of other goalies went much earlier in previous drafts.*

That being said, it’s possible that the trend is moving back in the other direction a bit. In three of the last five years, a goalie hasn’t been drafted in the first round. (To be fair, the New York Islanders made Mikko Koskinen the first pick of the second round in 2009, but it still doesn’t count.)

The Nashville Predators became the first team to draft a goalie in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, taking Magnus Hellberg in the second round (38th overall). The second round did open the goalie floodgates turn on the goalie faucet a bit, though, as the Anaheim Ducks chose John Gibson one pick later at No. 39 while the Los Angeles Kings made Christopher Gibson the 49th pick. (Click here for a full list of the 2011 draft results.)

The Predators’ decision to draft Hellberg surprised some because the two Gibson goalies (no relation) were higher-ranked netminding prospects. Mike Morreale points out that Central Scouting didn’t even name Hellberg as the top European goalie, either.

Still, Nashville scout Lucas Bergman apparently saw glimpses of their top two goalies (Pekka Rinne and Anders Lindback, both featured in this post’s main image) in Hellberg.

“We’ve had success Pekka (Rinne) and (Anders) Lindback here and I see a lot of similarities with those two goalies and Hellberg’s game as far as size, athleticism and ability to read the game and mental state … definitely,” Bergman said. “In my book, I saw a separation between Hellberg and those two (North American goalies). Magnus, in our eyes, is the top goalie in this draft with a separation.”

It seems like perceived NHL-readiness might also be one of the factors that enticed the Predators.

Hellberg just recently signed a two-year deal with Frolunda in the Swedish Elite League and will likely join the team, which also happens to be in his hometown, next season.

“I just moved there so my focus is to play with Frolunda, but if (Nashville) wants me to come over we’ll talk about what is best for my development,” Hellberg said.

Bergman likes the fact Hellberg is an older goalie (he was born in 1991).

“He’s an older kid in the draft and played senior hockey last year,” he said. “His maturity … I don’t think he’s that far away. I don’t see any reason to rush him but maturity wise, he’s not far off.”

Some might view the Predators’ decision to draft Hellberg instead of the Gibsons (or a skater) as “far off” but we’ll eventually learn if they found themselves another useful goalie as the years go by.

* Here are a few quick examples: Carey Price (fifth overall by Montreal in 2005), Al Montoya (sixth overall by the Rangers in 04), Marc-Andre Fleury (first overall by Pittsburgh in ’03), Kari Lehtonen (second overall by Atlanta in ’02), Rick DiPietro (first overall by the Islanders in ’00) and Roberto Luongo (fourth overall by the Islanders in ’97).

The Panthers are healthy scratching Bolland, and he is their highest-paid forward, but they insist they’re not sending a message

Dave Bolland, Derek Nansen
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It feels like there’s a story brewing in Florida, where Dave Bolland — the team’s most-expensive forward, at $5.5 million a season — has been a healthy scratch for three consecutive games.

But according to head coach Gerard Gallant, there’s nothing to see here. Move along.

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Gallant said, per the Miami Herald. “He sat out, our team is playing well. There’s nothing more than that. We have to sit two guys and I like the way we’re playing. The next game is a different game. We may change something up, who knows.”

Bolland had just one goal and five points in 18 games prior to getting parked in the press box. Well, technically he got dropped to the fourth line before hitting the press box, but you get the idea. He’s not exactly in Gallant’s good graces.

Not helping Bolland’s case is the fact that, as Gallant pointed out, the club is playing pretty well without him. The Panthers have rebounded from a rough start to November by winning back-to-back games against the Islanders and Red Wings, which set them up nicely for the remainder of this current five-game road swing.

Florida has games still to play in St. Louis, Nashville, Columbus and New Jersey. It’ll be interesting to see when — or, if — he draws back into the lineup.

In closing, a reminder that Bolland’s in the second of a five-year, $27.5 million deal.

Canucks rookie Virtanen exits with upper-body injury, won’t return


After sitting out Friday’s game in Dallas, Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen had to be excited at drawing back in for tonight’s game against the Ducks.

Unfortunately, the excitement didn’t last long.

Virtanen suffered an upper-body injury after playing just 1:45 in the opening frame, and was ruled out of the contest during the intermission. It’s unclear exactly what happened, but it looks like Virtanen was injured on a hit by Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf.

Virtanen didn’t take another shift following the incident, and Getzlaf was given a minor penalty on the play.

While we don’t know what the injury is or it’s severity, losing Virtanen for any length of time would have ramifications for the Canucks and this year’s Canadian entry at the World Juniors. There has been talk of Virtanen possibly being released by the Canucks to participate in the tournament; last year, he was part of the team that captured gold in Montreal and Toronto.

Virtanen has played in 18 games for the Canucks this year, scoring one goal and four points while averaging 10:17 TOI per night.

McLellan sounds off on Oilers after shutout loss in Toronto

Todd McLellan

Edmonton lost for the fourth time in five games on Monday, a 3-0 defeat in Toronto that marked the second time in a week the Oilers have been shut out.

Needless to say, the head coach wasn’t happy.

In a fairly blunt and harsh assessment aimed at a variety of players, Todd McLellan had some choice words for what he called a “disappointing” effort.

Some of the more choice quotes:

“I didn’t think we were a very hard team. I didn’t think we stood over a lot of pucks. I didn’t think we won a lot of battles along the boards. I didn’t think we were competitive enough in a lot of areas.”

“When I look at the trip as a whole, we had some key, key people really under-perform on the trip. Significant minus numbers, not hitting the score sheet. It can’t always be the [Leon DraisaitlTaylor Hall line] that provides that.”

It’s fair to suggest that last one was directed at Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.

Nugent-Hopkins has just two points and zero goals in his last five games, with a minus-8 rating. Eberle is pointless entirely, and also at minus-8 over the same stretch.

They’re hardly the only Oilers not pulling their weight at the moment, however. Edmonton has lost 15 times in its first 25 games, a figure that suggests there are more problems that just a couple of underachieving forwards.

Just ask McLellan, who all but admitted his team has issues matching up.

“We’re not where we need to be,” he said. “We’ve got work to do as a team, work to do as an organization to get bigger, stronger, harder, and physically win more battles than we lose.”

Roy: Avs ‘need, expect more’ from Varlamov


The tough times continue for Semyon Varlamov.

After another unsuccessful outing on Monday — allowing four goals on 27 shots in a loss to the Islanders — Varlamov was subjected to a familiar refrain: Patrick Roy saying the Avs need more from their No. 1 netminder.


You can hear all of the head coach’s comments in the video above but, for brevity’s sake, here’s the Varlamov stuff:

“It’s not easy for him. Obviously we need that extra save and we didn’t get it on the road. It’s hard to win if you’re giving four goals on the road.

“We just need more from him. He’s our No. 1 guy and we’re behind him, but we need, we expect more from him.”

There has to be serious concern about Varlamov right now, if there wasn’t already.

His save percentage through seven games in November (.891) is marginally better than it was through seven games in October (.889), and that’s not the only alarming stat. Varlamov’s yet to record a shutout this year, yet to record back-to-back victories and has given up at least three goals in six of his last seven starts.

Not good.

Compounding things for Colorado are the standings. The Avs are now 9-14-1 and mired in the Central Division basement, meaning that — if they have any hope of going on a tear and getting back into playoff content — they’ll need to do it soon.

Which means they might not have the time, or the patience, for Varlamov to find his game.