Edmonton Oilers v Colorado Avalanche

Colorado’s fortunes rest on Erik Johnson backing up his confident words


While the 2003 NHL Entry Draft is roundly considered the best draft in years – if not decades – the 2006 one is fascinating as well. Just take a look at the varied paths taken by the top five picks.

1. Erik Johnson (St. Louis)
2. Jordan Staal (Pittsburgh)
3. Jonathan Toews (Chicago)
4. Nicklas Backstrom (Washington)
5. Phil Kessel (Boston)

Even looking at the top five alone – and thus ignoring certain small droppers like Claude Giroux (22nd) and bigger ones like Milan Lucic (50th) – it’s reasonable to think that people would reassemble that top five quite differently today. Most would put Toews at No. 1, although perhaps stat-happy folks might lean toward Nicklas Backstrom and his exact point per game average. One could imagine some heated debates about the merit of defense-minded center Staal vs. flawed but explosive winger Kessel.

Yet while those four players have raised two Stanley Cups, battled through some epic playoff series and won an individual award or two, Johnson has been left in the dust. (Or some cruel jokers would say, he was left in a sand trap from a golf cart mishap.)

source: Getty ImagesLittle reason for confidence in Colorado

“Left in the dust” might be how people describe the Colorado Avalanche lately. The team just fell apart during the 2010-11 season, with blatantly obvious on-ice issues and mysterious locker room funkiness prompting drastic changes. The team jettisoned starting goalie Craig Anderson and budding power forward Chris Stewart in separate trades, the latter bringing in Johnson, the No. 1 pick who couldn’t live up to that billing with the Blues.

The real stunner of a trade came this off-season, though, when the Capitals seemingly bamboozled the Avs, nabbing Colorado’s 2012 first round pick and a conditional second rounder for the negotiating rights to another 2006 first rounder: Semyon Varlamov. Many smart hockey people expect that first round pick to be an excellent one, making this deal smell a lot like the Phil Kessel trade (yup, another 2006 draftee) that helped the Boston Bruins acquire Tyler Seguin.

By reasonable wisdom, draft pick disappointments might be the story of Colorado’s continued woes. Of course, there’s at least one person who confidently shot down such talk: Erik Johnson, the so-far-disappointing top pick of 2006. Here’s what he told Adrian Dater about Colorado’s upcoming season.

“It’s not going to be a (high) pick. It’s going to end up being a great trade for us. People are saying we got the short end of the trade and they’re happy because they think we’re going to finish at the bottom of the league — and we’re not going to do that this year,” Johnson said.

The article portrays Johnson as extremely motivated, with a new workout regime and the kind of take-charge attitude that might help him become one of the leaders on a team that went rudderless during an ugly 2010-11 season. There’s even some talk that he might have “captain” potential …

Johnson was one of five Avs players who took advantage of open ice time Monday at Family Sports Center. Together they did drills, with Johnson appearing to take on the role of ringleader. It just so happens the Avs have a vacancy at captain, and despite having been with the team only since late last season, it’s not inconceivable the 23-year-old could get the honor. The Avs have been up front with their hopes that Johnson will be the cornerstone to a big, strong and skilled defense for years to come.

Giving him the “C” might be a nice public show of faith in the native of Bloomington, Minn.

Johnson boasts all of the physical tools you hope to see in a top defenseman (and high draft pick), but he hasn’t put that together yet. It’s easy to forget that he’s young (23) and that defenseman often take a longer time to develop at the NHL level. It doesn’t help that he was part of a losing team in St. Louis, although one could lay some of that blame at his feet for falling short of expectations.

If the Avalanche have a chance to avoid being a laughingstock like many expect next season, it could come down to Johnson having the confidence to take over on the defensive end.

“I want to be a guy the coaching staff can use in all situations,” he said. “When I came here, Joe (Sacco) just told me to go out and play, have fun and don’t think too much out there. I started to feel like the player that I had been in the past. I felt like I started to get my confidence back, and when I’m playing with confidence, (I) almost feel unstoppable.”

Goalie nods: Elliott won’t play against former team, Flames will start Johnson vs. Blues instead

CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 18: Brian Elliott #1 of the Calgary Flames during warm-ups prior to an NHL game against the Buffalo Sabres during an at Scotiabank Saddledome on October 18, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Playing against your former team is always special, but Flames goalie Brian Elliott won’t have that pleasure tonight.

Instead of giving Elliott the start against St. Louis, Calgary will turn to Chad Johnson.

“You want to play good against your old teams,” said the veteran goalie, per beat reporter Wes Gilbertson. “Turns out, I didn’t get the opportunity today. Can’t really get hung up on it.”

Elliott spent the previous five seasons with the Blues.

It’s important to point out that these two teams will go head-to-head in St. Louis on Tuesday and Elliott will probably start that game.

“We thought about it, obviously, with (Elliott) having such a great career in St. Louis,” Calgary coach Glen Gulutzan said, per the St. Louis Dispatch. “But at the end of the day, we thought we wanted to keep (Johnson) going a little bit so we put him in.

Still, it has to be disappointing not to face your old teammates.

The 31-year-old has struggled with his new team. He’s dropped each of his first three starts of the season and he’s allowed four goals or more in each of those games.

Jake Allen will be between the pipes for St. Louis.


Carey Price will make his second straight start since coming back from the flu. With Tuukka Rask on the shelf, the Bruins will likely turn to Anton Khudobin.

–We should get an excellent goaltending duel in the Rangers-Capitals game, as Henrik Lundqvist will go up against Braden Holtby.

Cory Schneider will get the call for the Devils, while the Wild have yet to name a starting goaltender. Don’t be surprised if it’s Devan Dubnyk.

Martin Jones will be between the pipes for the Sharks. Jimmy Howard gets a second straight start for the Red Wings. He was excellent in Wednesday’s 2-1 win over the Rangers.

Semyon Varlamov will make his third straight start for Colorado. He’s coming off a 27-save shutout against Tampa Bay. Veteran Roberto Luongo will start for Florida.

Frederik Andersen will be in goal for the Leafs after getting the night off on Thursday. The Blackhawks will likely go with Scott Darling because Corey Crawford played last night.

Eddie Lack will make his second consecutive start for the ‘Canes. The Flyers will go with Steve Mason.

Andrei Vasilevskiy starts against Ottawa on Saturday night, while Craig Anderson will face the Bolts.

–The Columbus Blue Jackets have yet to name their starter. Kari Lehtonen will be between the pipes for the Dallas Stars. Lehtonen has a 2.03 goals-against-average and a .934 save percentage against the Jackets in his career.

Marc-Andre Fleury makes his sixth straight start for the Penguins. The Predators, who have been hit by food poisoning, have yet to name a starter.

Jacob Markstrom is making another start for the Canucks. Peter Budaj is expected to get the nod for the Kings, after Jeff Zatkoff was injured during the morning skate.

Gretzky surprised by support from Jets fans heading into Heritage Classic alumni game

EDMONTON, AB - APRIL 6:  Former Edmonton Oilers forward Wayne Gretzky greets fans during the closing ceremonies at Rexall Place following the game between the Edmonton Oilers and the Vancouver Canucks on April 6, 2016 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The game was the final game the Oilers played at Rexall Place before moving to Rogers Place next season. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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It’s Heritage Classic weekend in the NHL, which means that there will be an alumni game between the Jets and Oilers on Saturday afternoon.

The rivalry between these two teams has come down a few notches over the years (mainly because the Jets moved to Phoenix), but that doesn’t diminish how intense it used to be.

It was so intense that Wayne Gretzky, who will be dressing for the Oilers alum, was surprised when he was cheered during Friday’s practice at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg.

“I was kind of Public Enemy No. 1 back in the day,” Gretzky said, per “But, that is the way it should be. I was with the other team. When I was in Winnipeg, the people were great to me and they always treated me with respect. You have to cheer for your own team and I understand that.”

It’s not hard to figure out why Gretzky and the Oilers were so hated in Winnipeg during the 1980’s and early 90’s.

Edmonton won five Stanley Cups between 1984 and 1990 and they beat the Jets all six times they met in the playoffs, sweeping four of those.

Gretzky, who’s looking forward to playing against the Jets alumni on Saturday, hasn’t played much hockey since retiring in 1999.

“I don’t play a lot. I skate once a year. I just never really find the energy, the enthusiasm to grab my equipment and say I’m going to go play pickup hockey.

“I played in one outdoor game in Edmonton and it was fun and it was great for hockey. When Winnipeg talked to me about this game a couple years ago, playing in Winnipeg was always fun and when we get together as a team, it is always a unique situation.”

Here are the rosters for this afternoon’s game:

The alumni game gets going at 4:00 p.m. ET.

Kings’ Zatkoff injures groin during morning skate

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 14:  Jeff Zatkoff #37 of the Los Angeles Kings looks on after allowing a goal during the second  period of a game against Philadelphia Flyers  at Staples Center on October 14, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

To say that the Kings haven’t been lucky this season would be an understatement.

Earlier this month, they lost starting goaltender Jonathan Quick for three to four months and now, they may have lost his backup too.

On Saturday, Jeff Zatkoff suffered a groin injury during the team’s morning skate and needed help coming off the ice.

“He stopped a shot, and his groin tightened up,” head coach Darryl Sutter said, per “We’ve seen it in a game, and now we’ve seen it in practice.”

Even with him in goal, the Kings had been struggling mightily since Quick went down.

Zatkoff has an 0-3 record with a 4.37 goals-against-average and a .839 save percentage in 2016-17.

Expect Peter Budaj to make this second consecutive start. He should be backed up by former first rounder Jack Campbell, according to beat reporter Jon Rosen.

Coming into this year, Budaj had made just one NHL start over the last two seasons.

There is a silver lining in all of this mess.

With Campbell being recalled from AHL Ontario, it means that Los Angeles’ minor league goalie coach, Dusty Imoo, will be the backup for his son Jonah in Ontario’s game against the San Jose Barracuda.

Clutterbuck says Barclays Center ice was ‘unplayable’ (again) on Friday

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 08: Players participate in the 2015 New York Islanders Blue & White Rookie Scrimmage & Skills Competition at the Barclays Center on July 8, 2015 in Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The New York Islanders may have won their home game against the Arizona Coyotes on Friday night, but at least one player wasn’t happy with his home rink.

Cal Clutterbuck wasn’t pleased with the quality of the ice and he made it known after the game.

“From about the 5-6 minute mark of the second, you knew it was one of those nights,” Clutterbuck said, per Newsday. “You basically couldn’t string three passes together, the ice was unplayable. But we found a way.”

This is hardly a surprise and it’s not the first time a player has called out the quality of the ice in Brooklyn. Last March, Kyle Okposo mentioned that the ice was “awful”.

We know the ice is bad, but why is it so bad?

Chris Botta reports that the piping system at the Barclays Center isn’t up to NHL standards. The only solution, according to Botta, is to ‘tear up’ the floor of the arena to put in the proper pipes, which is something that should have been done during the off-season.

New York’s next home game is Sunday night against Minnesota.

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