Edmonton Oilers v Colorado Avalanche

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

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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.”

Wild to play Coyle at RW, likely on top line with Parise and Staal

Minnesota Wild center Charlie Coyle, right, controls the puck against Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith during the first period of Game 1 in the second round of the NHL Stanley Cup hockey playoffs in Chicago, Friday, May 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
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It’s been the ongoing storyline over Charlie Coyle‘s four years in Minnesota — center, or wing?

This year, it’ll be the latter.

At least to start.

Head coach Bruce Boudreau confirmed Coyle will begin the year playing at right wing, potentially on the club’s top line next to Zach Parise and Eric Staal.

“I think I’m built more for that game,” Coyle said, per the Star-Tribune. “Long-term, I think they like me at center, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter to me, but it is nice to be able to consistently play one place and not go back and forth.

“Mentally, once you play one place, you feel more comfortable.”

Coyle has played center quite often, most notably during the ’14-15 campaign when he finished third on the team in faceoffs taken (behind Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund). And while it’s obvious he’d be able to impact the game more playing down the middle rather than outside, Coyle’s attributes on the wing are hard to pass up.

Specifically, his ability to find the back of the net.

Coyle scored a career-high 21 goals last year, many of them coming while playing RW. For a Wild team that isn’t all that dynamic offensively, such production is hard to pass up.

What’s more, the Wild do have options down the middle.

Staal and Koivu are there, as is Mikael Granlund. Erik Haula‘s proven to be a quality 3C or 4C, and Coyle could always flip back to center in a pinch.

Putting Coyle on the wing would also give Boudreau more balance among his forward group. Granlund — who, like Coyle, is also versatile enough to play wing — could move to the left side on the Koivu-Jason Zucker line, which would give Minnesota a nice third unite comprised of Haula, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Pominville.

Stecher makes memorable debut for Canucks, the team he grew up supporting

Vancouver Canucks' Alexander Edler, of Sweden; Joseph Labate; Alexis D'Aoust; James Sheppard; and Troy Stecher, from left, celebrate Labate's goal against the Edmonton Oilers during the second period of an NHL hockey preseason game Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016, in Vancouver, British Columbia. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Troy Stecher admitted he was “still shaking” when he met with reporters following last night’s preseason game in Vancouver. The 22-year-old rookie defenseman had just scored one goal and added two impressive assists in the Canucks’ 5-3 win over the Oilers.

Not bad for an undrafted, local kid who grew up a fan of the team.

“Something I’ll never forget, obviously,” Stecher said. “First game at Rogers (Arena). I grew up watching the Canucks, coming here. It was a different feeling being on the other side of it.”

It was only one game, but for the second year in a row, a defenseman who just finished his college career appears to be pushing for a spot on the Canucks. Last year, it was Ben Hutton, out of Maine, and he made it.

So, could Stecher, out of North Dakota, actually crack the Canucks’ roster as a right-shot, offensive defenseman?

Well, he’s already beaten out Jordan Subban, who’s been returned to the AHL. His main, remaining competition figures to be North America returnee Philip Larsen, who’s been in the KHL the past couple of seasons.

The answer has to be yes.

But again, it’s only been one game. He’s earned another one, according to head coach Willie Desjardins, so he’ll have to build on his first one.

“I’m a young guy, so confidence is huge,” said Stecher. “I think I played pretty well. If I have a poor game, then you kind of dwell on it all day tomorrow and it’s in your mind. At the same time, I’ve just got to put it in my back pocket. Tomorrow’s a new day and I’ve got to come to the rink prepared to work hard and just continue to do my thing.”

Related: Prized North Dakota d-man Stecher goes pro, signs with Canucks

Report: Lindholm seeking eight-year deal from Ducks, at least $6M per

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 04:  Hampus Lindholm #47 of the Anaheim Ducks reacts to his power play goal with Kevin Bieksa #2 to take a 4-1 lead over the Los Angeles Kings during the second period at Staples Center on February 4, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Details are starting to come out about the contractual impasse between Anaheim and prized young defenseman Hampus Lindholm.

Fresh off an appearance with Team Sweden at the World Cup, Lindholm — a still-unsigned RFA — is reportedly seeking “more than $6 million per season over eight years,” according to the O.C. Register.

The 22-year-old is currently in Sweden training with SHL club Rogle BK, the team he played for prior to getting drafted sixth overall in 2012.

Lindholm is coming off his three-year, entry-level deal, one that carried a cap hit of $894,166.

The Ducks are in a bit of a financial squeeze and also need to sort out another RFA — versatile forward Rickard Rakell — so it’s understandable why negotiations with Lindholm have been drawn out.

That said, they’re not going to want to drag feet much longer.

Lindholm is a budding star on defense, coming off a year in which he scored a career-best 10 goals and 28 points in 80 games, averaging 22 minutes per night. He was also a huge part of Anaheim’s run to Game 7 of the Western Conference Final the previous spring, scoring 10 points in 16 games while increasing his ice time to 23:15.

According to the Register, the “feeling” is that Anaheim’s closer to a deal with Rakell than Lindholm. And on that note, it’s worth mentioning the Ducks make their season debut in two weeks — on Oct. 13, with a road date in Dallas.

Unlike in Sochi, Crosby’s been piling up points at the World Cup

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 24: Brad Marchand #63 of Team Canada is congratulated by his teammates Sidney Crosby #87, Drew Doughty #8, Patrice Bergeron #37 and Alex Pietrangelo #27 after scoring a second period goal at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at Air Canada Centre on September 24, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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TORONTO (AP) Sidney Crosby has been surrounded by the best hockey players on the planet at the World Cup of Hockey, and still seems as if he is in a class by himself.

“He’s probably the best player of our generation,” Canada goaltender Carey Price said.

The Pittsburgh Penguins superstar has a World Cup-high nine points – two more than anyone else – and is within a win of adding another accomplishment to his Hockey Hall of Fame-ready resume. Canada will play Team Europe in Game 2 Thursday night, leading the best-of-seven series 1-0.

The eight-nation European team has been led lately by Tomas Tatar, who scored his team’s only goal in a 3-1 loss Tuesday night. The Slovakian forward scored twice, including the game-winner, in a 3-2 overtime victory over Sweden in the semifinals on Sunday.

Tatar, who plays for the Detroit Red Wings, acknowledged he is inspired by Crosby’s greatness. And he knows slowing Crosby down is a key to forcing a Game 3 on Saturday night.

“I’m not saying one guy should be standing by him, but we should be always aware of where he is on the ice,” Tatar said.

Crosby has been much more effective than he was in his last best-on-best tournament appearance. He had only one goal and two assists at the 2014 Sochi Games, where he won his second Olympic gold medal.

In the World Cup opener against the Czech Republic alone, he produced as many points with a goal and two assists in a sensational stretch of the game that lasted less than 20 minutes.

Crosby insisted he could not care less that he has already tripled the number of points he had in Russia.

“I just want to win,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s what you want to do. In Sochi, it was more about why weren’t we scoring, low-scoring games, and the teams we were playing we’re supposed to be winning by a certain amount of goals.

“At the end of the day, we were winning games,” he said. “It’s always nice to score, but we knew that we had to play a certain way and sometimes that meant not scoring five or six to win.”

Mike Babcock, Crosby’s coach at the previous two Olympics, put Crosby on a line with Boston Bruins teammates Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron at the World Cup. The trio has combined for 22 points in five games.

“He got feeling it early,” Babcock said. “And, he’s feeling it and he thinks it’s going in.”

Crosby has continued the roll he started last season when he won his second Stanley Cup and was named the postseason MVP with 19 points in 24 games. He was the runner-up for the Hart Trophy, coming close to being named NHL MVP for the third time in his career. And, he finished a career-high seventh in voting for the Selke Trophy that recognizes the league’s best defensive forward.

“He’s been obviously playing really well since last December,” said Zdeno Chara, a Team Europe defenseman who also plays for the Bruins. “He really raised his game.”

Canadian and Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said Crosby is probably playing better than he ever has.

“The three tournaments I’ve had the opportunity, I would say he’s playing unbelievable,” Doughty said. “Things are working for him now. He’s hot. Not that he didn’t play well at the other tournaments, he just didn’t get this hot.”