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.”

Video: Flames goalie makes incredible behind-the-back glove save

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A save of the year candidate in September? It’s possible.

Jon Gillies of the Calgary Flames made an incredible stop during Wednesday’s exhibition game against the Vancouver Canucks.

The camera angle from directly above the net is the best, as it clearly shows how Gillies appeared to bump the puck back toward the goal line, then suddenly reach back with a no-look, behind-the-back glove save to prevent a Canucks goal and stop play.

That is one incredible save.

Drouin shows ‘commitment’ to community with donation to Montreal hospital

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Jonathan Drouin has yet to play a regular season game for his new team, the Montreal Canadiens.

But after getting traded to the Habs in the summer, Drouin has already made a sizable contribution in the community, donating $500,000 over 10 years to the University of Montreal Hospital Centre and planning to help in the fundraising activities to raise an additional $5 million, according to The Canadian Press.

From Sportsnet:

“I think all of that had some impact on his overall decision making,” Drouin’s agent Allan Walsh told Sportsnet. “One day when he’s retired and 50 years old, that hospital [which will begin serving patients for the first time this coming October] will still be here and he’ll have played a role in its development. That means something to him.

“But I think more than anything else he wants to help people. If he can help people—the hospital is going to be the largest hospital in North America and there’s a tremendous need for it in the city—and if he can use the fact that he plays for the Montreal Canadiens to do that, I wish more players felt that kind of responsibility to their communities.”

As noted in the Sportsnet piece above, Drouin is following in the footsteps of Saku Koivu and P.K. Subban, who made generous donations in the community during their time in Montreal.

The Habs acquired Drouin from the Lightning in June, sending prospect defenseman Mikhail Sergachev to Tampa Bay. They then signed the 22-year-old forward — who was born in nearby Ste-Agathe, Que. — to a six-year, $33 million contract.

It won’t be long before the pressure falls on Drouin’s on-ice ability, especially playing as a potential No. 1 center in Montreal and essentially being a hometown player for the Habs. But without even playing a meaningful game for his new team, he’s already giving back to an important cause in the city.

“And when you look at that, if you make $6 million and you give $50,000 a year, it’s not a big deal and you get tax receipts,” he said, per the Montreal Gazette. “But it’s a commitment, and being involved in the community and doing something for your community I think it’s something that you have to do.”

Lupul apologizes, takes ‘full responsibility’ after calling out Maple Leafs on Instagram

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Joffrey Lupul made headlines earlier this week after appearing to make accusations against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Instagram.

The comments — which have since been deleted but caught on a screen grab — came after the Maple Leafs announced Lupul failed his physical prior to training camp for the second year in a row.

“I’m ready … just awaiting the call,” Lupul wrote in the comments section of the Instagram post, per the screen grab. “haha failed physical? They cheat. Everyone lets them.”

On Wednesday, the 33-year-old forward, who hasn’t played since the 2015-16 season, posted a statement on his verified Twitter account, saying his Instagram comments were an “inappropriate response.”

Here is his entire statement:

What’s also significant is that he stated he will not seek a second medical opinion regarding this failed physical. As previously noted, that option was available to him, although, per reports, the deadline for this was 5 p.m. on Thursday.

Lupul is in the final year of his five-year, $26.25 million contract.

Erik Cole retires as a member of the Hurricanes

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Erik Cole has officially retired.

The Carolina Hurricanes made the announcement on Wednesday, stating that Cole signed a ceremonial contract with the NHL team and retired as a member of the Hurricanes.

Now 38 years old, Cole played 892 regular season games in the NHL, scoring 265 goals and 532 points. A number of his best seasons occurred while he was with the Hurricanes, reaching 30 goals with the 2005-06 Stanley Cup winning team.

His best season came with the Montreal Canadiens in 2011-12, as he scored 35 goals and 61 points.

His last season was in 2014-15. He began the year in Dallas and was moved to Detroit at the trade deadline, but a spinal cord contusion essentially meant an end to his playing career.

From the Detroit Free Press in April, 2015:

Cole revealed Wednesday that he has a spinal cord contusion severe enough doctors have cautioned him not to play again this spring.

“It stems back from my neck injury in 2006,” Cole said. “When I ran into the player in the Arizona game, I bruised my spinal cord. A spinal contusion is something that you have to let heal and obviously, it’s a pretty serious occurrence. Doctors feel I need to look out for my well-being as a person, not just as a hockey player.”

Cole is now a team ambassador for the Hurricanes.