The cautionary tale of Jason Bonsignore

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Hockey nuts who have been around the game for a few decades will recognize the name Jason Bonsignore. He was the 4th overall pick in the 1994 Entry Draft by the Edmonton Oilers—drafted ahead of guys like Jeff Friesen, Ethan Moreau, Jeff O’Neill, and Edmonton’s own Ryan Smyth. In his draft year, he scored 22 goals and 64 assists for 86 points in his time with the Newmarket Royals and Niagara Falls Thunder (OHL). He was a 6’4” playmaking forward who looked like a sure thing. He even scored a goal in his first NHL game.

Unfortunately, that was the only goal he would ever score for the Edmonton Oilers. In 20 more games, he would score two assists as he started bouncing around more North American hockey teams than he guys who work for NHL’s Central Scouting. His final NHL totals read like a 5th rounder who was brought up to fill in the gaps: 79 games, 3 goals, and 13 assists.

How could a player with that size and potential flame out before ever really getting started? For a long time, Bonsignore has been hesitant to tell his side of the story. People just assumed that he was a “bust;” the type of player who shouldn’t have been drafted as high as he was. Of course, that still could partly be true.

In an extensive interview with TEAM 1260 in Edmonton, Bonsignore told his side of the story that led to his underwhelming career. Here are a few selected quotes from the transcription at Kukla’s Korner:

“…to touch on what you were just talking about, when you’re 18 or 19 years old you don’t notice at the time, but now, I notice how young and impressionable you are. You look at some of the other people that were drafted in certain situations around the time I was and they struggled their first few seasons; Jeff O’Neill and Radek Bonk, some of the guys that were drafted in my draft year. But their teams stuck with them and nurtured them along and never really got down on them. They basically just helped them to progress and learn and mature. I guess I just never went through that process and never got to the opportunity where I got that point.”

(snip)

“It kind of got to the point at one stage where a couple of the veterans even went to the staff and said “You know you’re going to break this kid.” At this point, I was having absolutely no fun at all and was just miserable. Then you get put into the games, for five minutes, maybe get five minutes of playing on the fourth line and you’re expected to be a scorer. If you’re not scoring or producing points, then you’re a bust or they’re down on you. It was just really tough. I did get an opportunity to play sparingly there, but I was just so rusty and out of game shape, not physically but mentally and timing wise from not playing at all.

(snip)

“At this point in the press box I just said “Well Glen why don’t you just trade me.” And he says, “Nobody wants you, nobody wants you.” And at this point my agent told me that three or four teams had made some really attractive offers for me at this point with some big name players involved which I was quite honoured to hear and Glen tried to tell me I was lying.

“I just knew it was going nowhere. He just sort of pushed me and said “Have a nice career.” I was obviously pretty angry and I thought that if I tried to get back at him, or to try have a push and shove contest, or take a swing at him, that this is definitely the end of my career. And, I walked away. Then, 2 days later, my agent called me and said that Glen wants to have a meeting with me and apologize and I appreciated it, but they wanted me to come to camp the next fall? I mean how am I supposed to come back to camp after all of this and feel like I’m going to get a fair chance again or like its water under the bridge.”

The stories that Bonsignore tells are like a guidebook for ruining a prospect. From the former prospect’s description of events, GM Glen Sather and the entire Edmonton organization pushed him too far and put him in a position to fail. In a day and age that drafting and developing prospects has become tremendously important for an organization’s success, the narrative gives an example of how fragile 18-year-olds can be as they enter the world’s toughest league.

Now, most teams seem to understand that enabling their prospects to succeed is one of the most important functions of an NHL team. The Detroit Red Wings have become one of the model franchises for long-term success through their patient development of draft picks. More and more teams are following suit as they help their prospects mature before they’re thrown into the fire.

Look no further than James van Riemsdyk and his four-year journey for 2nd overall pick to multimillionaire. He was given four years to find his game with the University of New Hampshire (and briefly with the Philadelphia Phantoms). Only recently has he started transition from a bottom six forward to a difference-maker up-front.

James van Riemsdyk, Cody Hodgson, Braden Schenn, and a wealth of other prospects represent the new way of thinking for NHL teams. Each and every organization wants to maximize the potential of every player they draft. They need to if they want to become successful. As long as they remain patient, each of their players will have an opportunity to become the best player possible.

Bonsignore was never given the chance.

After surgery, Joe Thornton should be ready for 2017-18 (Wherever he plays)

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On Monday, we found out that Joe Thornton made the “courageous” (or … outrageous?) decision to fight through tears to his ACL and MCL and suit up for the playoffs.

(That still warrants a moment of reflection, because, wow.)

The San Jose Sharks sent out a positive update in that regard: after successful surgery yesterday, Thornton is expected to be ready to play by the start of the 2017-18 season.

So, that answers one big question. It doesn’t settle an even bigger one, though: where will Thornton play next year?

Patrick Marleau indicated that he believes he has “at least five good years” left, a fine thought that becomes trickier when you consider San Jose’s salary structure problems for 2018-19 and on. The impression is that Thornton wants to come back, too, but what if he – justifiably – seeks security in a longer term deal?

That situation is currently unclear, but at least it sounds like he’ll be healthy to start next season, whether he remains a member of the Sharks or joins a different roster.

Ovechkin on facing Crosby, Penguins: ‘You don’t have to be afraid’

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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) Sidney Crosby is standing in Alex Ovechkin‘s way again. Of course.

Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins extinguished two of the Washington Capitals’ best Stanley Cup hopes in 2009 and 2016, going on to win the championship each time. Now as Ovechkin and the Capitals face a summer of change, it’s only fitting that perhaps their best chance to win it all means going through defending champion Pittsburgh in the second round.

Ovechkin knows the playoff history, the blowout loss at home in Game 7 in 2009 and the overtime loss on the road in Game 6 that ended last season. He brought them up unprompted Tuesday as if to try to bury them in the past.

“We play them twice in the playoffs and we don’t have success,” Ovechkin said. “We lost in Game 6 and Game 7. You just have to move forward. You don’t have to be afraid. You know you play against Stanley Cup champion and they are very good team, but so we are. This battle have to be done if we want to get success.”

In franchise history, the Capitals have only beaten the Penguins once in nine playoff meetings. That matters more to the respective fan bases than players, only a few of whom are still around from 2009.

This season brings a matchup of the top two teams in the regular season, put on a crash course to face off before the conference final by the NHL’s division playoff format. Crosby said, “You kind of expected we’d see each other at some point,” and the Capitals figure no better time than the present to tackle their biggest obstacle.

“You usually have to go through the best team to get to where you want to go,” said center Jay Beagle, who is going into his third Capitals-Penguins series. “It was either now or maybe in the third round. Let’s do it now.”

What better time for a renewal of Crosby versus Ovechkin, which to this point has been a lopsided rivalry? Crosby owns a 38-21 record in their meetings in the NHL regular season and playoffs, world junior championships, world championships, World Cup and Olympics.

Ovechkin, the No. 1 pick in the 2004 draft, and Crosby, the No. 1 pick in 2005, have been stars for more than a decade and have been compared to each other for longer than that. They spent some time together at the gathering of the NHL’s top 100 players during All-Star Weekend and their friendship has evolved over time.

“We respect each other,” Ovechkin said. “That battle between me and him, it’s great. I think me and him enjoy it, you guys enjoy it, fans enjoy it. But right now it’s not about me and him, it’s about Caps and Penguins.”

Crosby and Ovechkin are quick to deflect the spotlight to star teammates – Pittsburgh has Evgeni Malkin and Washington has Nicklas Backstrom – and shift the focus to team play. Over his three years as Capitals coach, Barry Trotz has seen Ovechkin grow up and his priorities change.

Trotz has seen Ovechkin celebrate teammates’ goals harder than his own and languish in losses all while putting up goals at a faster clip than anyone in this generation.

The only thing that has evaded the three-time Hart Trophy winner and six-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner is the Cup. Trotz said Ovechkin understands what he means to the team, the league and what’s left undone “before the sun sets on his career.”

Ovechkin is 31 and still has four years left on his contract. But with winger T.J. Oshie, defenseman Karl Alzner and others set to be unrestricted free agents – and the salary cap crunching the Capitals, too – there’s an urgency about winning this year.

That means trying to finally get over the second-round hump.

“It’s a big opportunity for us to beat the Stanley Cup champion and play the next team in the third round,” Ovechkin said. “Obviously we’ve never done it before. It’s a big opportunity for us to move forward and get success.”

NOTES: Capitals RW Tom Wilson left practice when he took a puck off the left ankle. Trotz called it a stinger and said he was fine. … Ovechkin missed the second half of practice after breaking a skate. … C Lars Eller didn’t skate, with the team calling it a maintenance day.

AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Pittsburgh contributed.

More AP NHL: https://www.apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno

Karlsson explains how Senators plan on getting to Lundqvist

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GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) After struggling through a subpar season by his standards, Henrik Lundqvist was at his best when the Rangers needed him in the first round.

The 35-year-old goalie will again have to be at the top of his game against Ottawa for New York to reach the Eastern Conference finals for the fourth time in six years.

“Hank has been through this before,” coach Alain Vigneault said Tuesday after the Rangers began preparing to face the Senators in the conference semifinals.

“I think he’s really thriving on the pressure and the opportunity. … He wants to be a difference-maker and he’s looking forward to this series.”

This season, Lundqvist had to deal with periods of inconsistency – highlighted by winning a season-high five straight starts Feb. 2-11 and then losing three of five from Feb. 26 to March 7 before a hip injury cost him nearly three weeks.

He then won just once in six starts (1-3-2) after returning in late March and finished the season 31-20-4 with a 2.74 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage – career worsts for the latter two.

However, since the playoffs started he has been sharp, getting his 10th career postseason shutout in the opener against Montreal and then finishing with a career-high 54 saves – regular season or playoffs – in an overtime loss in Game 2.

Lundqvist finished the first round with a 1.70 GAA and .947 save percentage – both the best among all goalies. He gave up just four goals on 88 shots while the Rangers won the last three games of the series after allowing seven goals on 87 shots in losses in Games 2 and 3.

“The guys played so hard with a lot of structure in front and made it so much easier for me to focus on my game and try to do my part,” said Lundqvist, who has 2.25 GAA and .923 save percentage in 122 postseason games.

“It was a great feeling to see the way we worked, especially the way we battled back the last couple games.”

He had a big save in the clinching Game 6 win against Montreal with the Rangers leading by one and less than two minutes remaining, making a lunging pad stop on Tomas Plekanec‘s backhand follow attempt in close.

“I knew I was in trouble because I wasn’t in good position on the first play and then he threw it at me,” Lundqvist said. “My first thought was `don’t knock it in,’ and then it ends up right on his stick. It was just a desperation save. Luckily he didn’t put it far corner.”

Now, he’ll be going up against an Ottawa team lead by former teammate Derick Brassard (two goals, six assists in first-round win against Boston), Bobby Ryan (four goals, three assists) and fellow Swede Erik Karlsson (six assists).

“They have some key players in their core group that play a big part for their team,” Lundqvist said. “When you watch them play, it’s a lot of tight game (and) strike when they get a chance.”

Lundqvist knows how tough his good friend Karlsson is to contain. The defenseman and team captain has topped 50 assists and 70 points in three of the past four seasons.

“You can stop him, you just got to be really good,” Lundqvist said. “You got to have a game plan and follow that. He’s definitely one of the best players in the game, and he plays a big part for them to have success. He’s a good skater, sees the game really well.”

Karlsson, in turn, believes the key to beating Lundqvist is to frustrate him.

“We’re going to have to make it hard on him,” Karlsson told The Canadian Press in Ottawa. “If he sees the puck he’s going to make most of the stops and we’re going to make it hard in front of him by putting a lot of traffic in there and throw a lot of pucks at him. The more shots we have the more opportunities we’re going to have for one to go in.”

Game 1 is Thursday night in Ottawa.

Follow Vin Cherwoo at http://www.twitter.com/VinCherwooAP

More AP hockey: https://www.apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Ducks have better chance to slow McDavid with healthier defensemen

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Trying to stop – or at least inhibitConnor McDavid is likely to be a conundrum for opposing teams for, oh, the next decade or two. Still, it helps matters to at least be near 100 percent.

The Anaheim Ducks dispatched the Calgary Flames (a team with some serious firepower on the blueline and also magician-forward Johnny Gaudreau) in four games despite serious limitations on defense. It seems like they’re getting closer to being their full-fledged selves, as the team website revealed that Hampus Lindholm and Cam Fowler seem likely to play in Game 1. Also, Sami Vatanen is getting better.

Much has already been made about the Ducks matching up Ryan Kesler and Andrew Cogliano against McDavid, at least when they can.

“We’ll start looking at things and try to come up with some sort of plan,” Cogliano told the Los Angeles Times. “He’s dynamic. I think with how good he is sometimes you look [past Draisaitl]. Not that he flies under the radar, but he’s a player you have to keep an eye on, too.”

Still, Randy Carlyle faces some interesting choices as far as which blueliners to send out against McDavid.

Fowler is more known for his offensive skills, but his skating ability makes for an intriguing option, at least if he’s close to 100 percent. Lindholm might not get much press just yet, but he’s quietly building a resume as one of the league’s best defenders. It’s a little tricky with them being even somewhat slowed by injuries, though.

For what it’s worth, the Ducks had some success against McDavid in 2016-17, limiting him to zero goals, one assist and just two shots in three regular-season games.

It’s dangerous to put too much weight on such stats, especially considering the small sample size. The bottom line is that Carlyle gets the final change for Games 1 and 2, a potentially key advantage against McDavid and the Oilers.

You know, assuming there’s even an ideal matchup for Anaheim.