Dale Tallon, Jonathan Huberdeau, Scott Luce

Five teams you could call winners at the NHL Draft

9 Comments

The NHL Draft is a great time for the kids who get selected to play for any of the 30 NHL teams and getting to live that dream where your name is called and you get to throw on the team sweater is a huge thrill. Of course, not every team makes the pick that turns out to be the big winner and sometimes kids (they are kids after all) don’t turn out the way a team hopes they will. When you’re right, you’re a genius but when you’re wrong you’re on the unemployment line as a scout or general manager.

With all that said, there are five teams who we looked at in the draft who came away looking like big winners for one reason or another. Making the right picks is a tough thing to do at the draft but these five teams stood out above all others for what they were able to pull off.

1. Detroit Red Wings

They traded out of the first round swapping their first round pick for a pair of second rounders from Ottawa and managed to land super skilled forward Thomas Jurco and defenseman Xavier Ouellet. Defense was a key point in this draft for the Wings as they also took defenseman Ryan Sproul with their own second round pick. Overall Detroit grabbed five defensemen with the nine selections they had in the draft. Perhaps Nicklas Lidstrom’s eventual retirement finally set in on their thinking.

In Jurco they land a puckhandling wizard the likes we haven’t seen since… Oh right, Detroit already has Pavel Datsyuk to do silly things with the puck. That said, if we see Datsyuk doing the kinds of things we’ve seen Jurco do in highlight reels on YouTube, the NHL world might implode.

They also landed forward Philippe Hudon in the fifth round. The NHL Central Scouting bureau had Hudon ranked 31st at their midseason rankings but when the final list came out, Hudon dropped to 74th. Could the Wings have tripped and fallen into another late-round success story? Time will tell, but Hudon is worth keeping an eye on at Cornell next season in the NCAA.

2. Florida Panthers

Aside from the Panthers swinging a draft day deal with Chicago that landed them Brian Campbell to play defense for them in exchange for Rostislav Olesz, GM Dale Tallon did pretty well at the top half of the draft as well. With the third overall selection they grabbed potential goal scoring machine Jonathan Huberdeau and in the second round they took diminutive spark plug forward Rocco Grimaldi.

Grimaldi’s skills at North Dakota and with the Team USA World Junior Championship teams has people thinking of Brian Gionta when they see him. Those kinds of comparisons are nice to have as Gionta made a killing in college hockey and carried it on to the pros in a big way. If Grimaldi can develop like that, the Panthers all of a sudden have some great skill on the wings.

A handful of other picks could turn out nicely as well for them including what they did in the third round grabbing center Vincent Trocheck, right wing Logan Shaw, defenseman Jonathan Racine, and center Kyle Rau. Four third round picks give Florida a nicer shot at landing someone else who could pan out in the NHL.

3. Minnesota Wild

What the Wild lacked in the number of picks they made up for it by having the prototypical great Round 1 for the hometown fans. While their first pick of Swedish defenseman Jonas Brodin may or may not have been a great pick for them as a reach at tenth overall, the Wild helped keep things exciting for the fans that didn’t go streaming for the exits immediately after that selection.

Minnesota swung the huge deal with San Jose that sent Brent Burns to the Sharks and Devin Setoguchi to Minnesota. That deal also gave the Wild a second first round pick which they used to take centerman Zack Phillips out of Saint John in the QMJHL. Phillips was Jonathan Huberdeau’s linemate on that Memorial Cup winning team and he’s got a ton of upside as a potential set up man in the NHL. Trading up to add Minnesota boy Mario Lucia late in the second round was another great thing to make the fans get excited as there’s nothing they love more than having guys from Minnesota play there.

4. New Jersey Devils

Full confession, the Devils making this list is based solely upon what happens when you hit the lottery both literally and figuratively. When the Devils won the NHL Draft Lottery that allowed them to move up to fourth overall, they had their fingers crossed that maybe Swedish stud defenseman Adam Larsson could fall their way. With how unpredictable things would be with the three teams ahead of them, it was a toss-up how things could go.

Lucky Lou Lamoriello proved to get things to go his way once again as the Oilers took Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Colorado grabbed Gabriel Landeskog, and Florida took Huberdeau. Hello future career stud defenseman. Larsson’s skills on the blue line have people making all kinds of lofty comparisons, but the one we’re thinking of here is Scott Niedermayer. Larsson is going to be very good and there’s a distinct chance he’ll be playing in New Jersey right away next season. It’s good to be Lou Lamoriello.

5. Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers weren’t set to have much to do at the NHL Draft before they cleaned house sending Jeff Carter and Mike Richards out of town. The Carter deal, while it’s got him in hiding feeling upset about the whole thing, landed the Flyers the eighth pick overall in the draft. There they lucked out in a big way after Winnipeg went off the board somewhat and took center Mark Scheifele ahead of them. That left the Flyers to take big centerman Sean Couturier from Drummondville of the QMJHL.

At 6’3″ 197, Couturier is set to be a big, physical and well-rounded center with the skills to defend and dish it out on offense as well. He plays well physically and can score with the best of them (96 points in 58 games last season, including 36 goals). Sounds like the ideal kind of guy to play in Philadelphia, wouldn’t you say? Their third round pick, center Nick Cousins, could turn out to be a nice complimentary player in the future as a playmaker type but for the Flyers, their culture change moves helped them land one of the five guys that was slated to be one of the best talents in the draft. Not a bad deal at all.

For Frederik Andersen, the spotlight’s on

LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 21:  Frederik Andersen of the Toronto Maple Leafs speaks with the media during a press availability on June 21, 2016 at the Encore Ballroom in Las Vegas, Nevada. The 2016 NHL Award Ceremony will by held on June 22 at the Encore Theater at Wynn Las Vegas.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

This post is part of Toronto Maple Leafs day at PHT…

James Reimer, Jonathan Bernier, Ben Scrivens and Jonas Gustavsson.

Over the last half decade, those four were tasked with the responsibility of being Toronto’s No. 1 goalie. Reimer was the lead dog, with 153 starts over five years, followed by Bernier (140 over three), Gustavsson (96 over three) and Scrivens (28 over two).

As the figures suggest, those four had plenty in common. They each spent multiple years in Toronto, and had a shot at the No. 1 gig.

Now they have something else in common, too.

None of ’em play in Toronto anymore.

It’s been a revolving door — one pushed by fans and media, some would argue — and the Leafs tried to halt it this summer, striking a bold move to finally solidify their goaltending position.

Frederik Andersen, the lanky Dane that rose to prominence in Anaheim, was acquired for a pair of high picks, then quickly signed to a lucrative five-year, $25 million deal.

That trade was profound, and so was the payday. The contract nearly quintupled what Andersen made on his previous pact, and made him one of the highest-paid players on the active roster.

The Leafs insisted it was money well spent.

“Whenever you have the opportunity to acquire a goaltender who has proven to have success in the playoffs, is at the prime age, has the reputation on and off the ice that he has, and the players love playing in front of him — I don’t know how you cannot try to acquire a goaltender like this,” GM Lou Lamoriello said upon acquiring Andersen. “We’ve acquired a 6-foot-4 goaltender who has athleticism.

“Right now we’re extremely comfortable with our goaltending.”

And it’s true — Andersen has all the attributes of a quality No. 1. He’s shouldered a heavy workload before, making 53 starts during the ’14-15 campaign, followed by another 16 in the playoffs as Anaheim advanced to Game 7 of the Western Conference Final.

He’s also in the “sweet spot” as far as development goes. Andersen had plenty of seasoning in Europe and the American League before making his NHL debut at 24.

Now he’s a veteran of three full campaigns, with 125 regular season and nearly 30 playoff games on his resume.

And he only turns 27 this October.

Those are the positives.

How about some negatives?

For starters, he’s going from a pretty good team (the Ducks finished sixth in the NHL last year) to a pretty bad one (the Leafs, as you might’ve heard, finished dead last). He’s also going from a relatively laid back market to one of the most frenzied in the league.

Canadian cities can be tough on goalies, something that Reimer, Bernier, Gustavsson and Scrivens all experienced to some degree during their times in Toronto.

It happens elsewhere, too.

“It takes a certain temperament to play in Canada,” former NHL goalie and current TSN analyst Jamie McLennan told the National Post. “Roberto Luongo was a star in Florida, goes to Vancouver and stars there and then the fans turn on him because he doesn’t deliver a Cup and then leaves and it’s like, ‘Oh geez, we lost a really good goalie.'”

So, how will Andersen adjust to the spotlight? The Leafs did well to take some pressure off by inking veteran Jhonas Enroth to be the backup, but Enroth is exactly that — a backup.

Toronto fans will see how Andersen deals with increased attention this September, as he projects to be Team Europe’s No. 1 for the World Cup of Hockey — which, of course, will be played in Andersen’s new home rink, the ACC.

It’ll be like a dress rehearsal prior to the live show.

But for Andersen, the stakes might feel a little bit higher.

Poll: Will the Leafs have a captain this year?

Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock stands on the bench during the first period of the team's NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, in Toronto. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
4 Comments

This post is part of Toronto Maple Leafs day at PHT…

There are six teams currently without a captain — Carolina, Edmonton, Florida, Nashville, Winnipeg and Toronto — and of the six, it’s the latter that seems furthest from filling the role.

Back in April, head coach Mike Babcock said he didn’t expect the Leafs to have a captain this season. That news hardly came as a surprise — Toronto had just wrapped a difficult first year of what figures to be a lengthy rebuild, and didn’t seem to have any leading candidates to inherit the “C” from Dion Phaneuf, who was traded to Ottawa in February.

Of course, things have changed since then.

The biggest, by far, was Toronto landing phenom Auston Matthew with the first overall pick at the draft. GM Lou Lamoriello also locked in two of the club’s better young players — Nazem Kadri and Morgan Rielly — to matching six-year deals, and added a physical veteran presence in free agency by signing former Islander Matt Martin.

All of this makes for a different dynamic in the dressing room, but will it impact the captaincy?

Hard to say.

At first glance, the Leafs still seem to lack a leading candidate, at least for the present. If Lamoriello and team president Brendan Shanahan wanted to go the veteran route, they could anoint Brooks Laich or Matt Hunwick as a placeholder, though neither projects to play a significant role on the team beyond this year and into the future.

Rielly could be the guy but, at 22, he’d be awfully young.

The same can be said of Matthews, though many do expect him to eventually captain the Leafs. But asking him to shoulder that responsibility now — as an 18-year-old rookie — would be the most anti-Lamoriello move of all time, so you can rule that out.

Anyway, here’s how this will work. The poll will be a straight yes-no and, if you vote yes, put your pick for captain in the comments section.

Welcome back: Flames sign Higgins to camp PTO

Chris Higgins
Getty
1 Comment

Chris Higgins is back in Cowtown.

On Tuesday, the Flames announced that Higgins would be attending training camp on a professional tryout, bringing him back to the organization he played part of the 2009-10 campaign with.

Higgins, 33, had spent the last six years in Vancouver. His stint with the Canucks included some quality highs — a trip to the ’11 Stanley Cup Final, and an 18-goal, 43-point season the year following — but ended on a sour note last spring when, after GM Jim Benning failed to orchestrate a trade, Higgins was placed on waivers and spent time in AHL Utica.

All told, Higgins finished the campaign with three goals and four points in 33 contests.

In June, the Canucks bought out the last of his four-year, $10 million deal.

Higgins has played in Calgary before — as mentioned above — but that’s not his only connection to the organization. The Flames’ new head coach, Glen Gulutzan, was the assistant in Vancouver for the last three years and worked closely with Higgins (who had a good season in Gulutzan’s first year with the Canucks, scoring 17 goals and 39 points).

 

 

Under Pressure: Auston Matthews

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24: (l-r) Lou Lamoriello and  Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs attend round one of the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty
4 Comments

This post is part of Toronto Maple Leafs day at PHT…

It’s the collective, really.

There’s no single reason why Auston Matthews was our clear cut choice for today’s “Under Pressure” post.

No single reason, because there are so many reasons.

There was the pre-draft hype, which was off the charts. There was Toronto tanking to get the No. 1 overall pick — or, as team president Brendan Shanahan put it, earning the pick “the hard way.”

There were the names, too.

Matthews is now linked to Patrick Kane, after becoming the first American to go No. 1 overall since Chicago took Kane nine years ago. Matthew is also now forever linked to Leafs legend Wendel Clark — Toronto’s last No. 1 overall pick, taken all the way back in 1985.

Then, there’s his pedigree.

And with that pedigree comes privilege.

Before he ever played a second of NHL hockey, Matthews was named to Team North America for the World Cup of Hockey — ahead of the likes of Max Domi, Boone Jenner and Alex Galchenyuk, the latter a 30-goal scorer and already a veteran of nearly 300 NHL contests.

Pundits have already slotted Matthews into a top-two center role in Toronto, one that will come with all the requisite power play time befitting a special offensive talent. As a result, expectations for this year are sky high. A recent NHL.com projection said the 60-point plateau should be within reach, and think pieces about how other rookies won’t just concede the Calder.

Smartly, but perhaps futilely, Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello is trying to shield Matthew from some of pressure that comes along with being, y’know, the savior of a team in one of the league’s most storied markets.

“I don’t think there’s any player that’s going to be the face of this franchise,” Lamoriello said at the draft, when asked if Matthews would be exactly that. “The logo will be the face of the franchise.”

Lamoriello went on to say that when “you’re taking an 18-year-old and expect him to do wonders, it’s not fair.”

No, it’s not fair.

But it is the reality.