2011 IIHF World U20 Championship - Day One

Could Ryan Ellis skip the usual AHL time and earn a roster spot with the Predators?

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When it comes to team building in the NHL, it might be appropriate to think of different teams’ approaches in terms of how restaurants prepare meals. Some franchises take the fast food approach, pumping out rebuilding processes and changing personnel with blinding speed. Every once in a while, that works out pretty well if the money and talent is there.

The Nashville Predators aren’t one of those franchises, though. Instead, they prepare the slow-cook process. Part of that comes with being patient with their long-standing GM David Poile and head coach Barry Trotz. Trotz buys into that notion when it comes to prospects as well, urging them to “marinate” in the minors, foreign leagues, junior level or at college.

Trotz is known for making this point very clear: the road to Nashville must go through Milwaukee (The Admirals are the team’s AHL affiliate). NHL.com gives concrete evidence to back up that notion: only three Predators draft picks earned a roster spot without playing in the AHL first. Really, David Legwand (the team’s first-ever first round pick, selected second overall in 1998) barely counts since he only played one game. Anders Lindback comes with a caveat, too, because he gained experience in the Swedish Elite League. The only guy who really bucked the trend was Scott Hartnell and that was all the way back in 2000.

The next player with a half-decent shot at making that uncommon jump is hot defensive prospect Ryan Ellis. He scored 101 points in the OHL during the 2010-11 season, earning its player of the year award in the process. The 11th pick of the 2009 draft draws comparisons to other small but explosive offensive defensemen such as Brian Rafalski and Tobias Enstrom.

With his skill level (and a hole in the lineup left behind by traded blueliner Cody Franson) in mind, the Predators might not be able to keep Ellis in the minors for very long. Assistant GM Paul Fenton admitted as much to John Manasso of NHL.com.

“Odds are saying that he’s going to be in Milwaukee, but I would put nothing past this kid because he does have the ability to make our team,” Fenton said. “Will that be right? We’ll let that play out in training camp and see how close he is.”

It’s wise to have standards, but the Predators shouldn’t allow arbitrary guidelines determine if a player is ready or not. Their rule of thumb seems to work well in the big picture, but they don’t want to stunt his growth, either.

Although he wants to make the team as soon as possible, Ellis also showed awareness of the way the Predators run their system. Ellis thinks that he might follow a similar path to fellow young blueliner Jonathon Blum.

As was the case in the playoffs, Jonathon Blum figures to be one of Nashville’s second-pair defensemen, in all likelihood with veteran Kevin Klein. Blum, 22, was a rookie last season and only skated in 23 regular-season games but ended up playing an average of 3:32 more per game in the playoffs than Franson. In some ways, Blum, another former first-round pick, might be the model for Ellis, as Blum did not make his debut until Feb. 22.

“That’s kind of exactly how Nashville works,” Ellis said. “They kind of give you a year of experience in the minors and when they feel you’re ready, they bring you up. And I think that was a prime example. Blum was ready and he flourished and he became a big part of the team.”

If their mutual excitement is any indication, it seems like it might not be about if Ellis will join the Predators, but when. That being said, Nashville is willing to wait if it becomes clear that he’s not quite ready.

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock
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ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”

It looks like Havlat won’t make Panthers

Martin Havlat

As PHT’s mentioned before, the Florida Panthers stand as a fascinating contrast between youth and experience.

Let’s not kid ourselves, though; fresh faces usually beat out gray beards, at least when it comes to teams that are still trying to build toward contender status.

While it’s by no means official, two Panthers beat writers – the Miami Herald’s George Richards and the Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Harvey Fialkov – report that the Panthers are likely to pass on Martin Havlat.

It wasn’t just about the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad leading the charge. Other young Panthers (maybe most notably Quinton Howden and Connor Brickley) made the team, thus making Havlat less necessary.

One would assume that it might be tough for the 34-year-old to find work, at least if he insists upon only an NHL deal.

Health issues continue to dog him, but he’s no longer one of those guys who tantalizes with talent when he is healthy enough to play.

Havlat also doesn’t really bring much to the table defensively. While other veterans can kill penalties and show a little more verstaility, Havlat’s greatest selling point is scoring.

Could this be it for a solid career that may nonetheless end with a “What if?” or two?