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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.

Update: Clarke MacArthur suffers concussion

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 8: Clarke MacArthur #16 of the Ottawa Senators skates with the puck during the game against the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center on October 8, 2015 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Brenner/ Getty Images)
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Update: As many feared, Clarke MacArthur suffered a concussion. The Ottawa Senators announced that he will be “evaluated daily.”

***

Rough news for the Ottawa Senators on Sunday: forward Clarke MacArthur needed help off the ice following a big hit during a team scrimmage.

The hit was delivered by Patrick Sieloff, prompting an immediate response from Bobby Ryan, according to The Hockey News’ Murray Pam.

MacArthur has been hoping to return to NHL action after some serious concussion issues, so this is a troubling situation. More than a few people wonder if this might end his career.

Update: Here’s a GIF of the hit.

Robin Lehner certainly has swagger

ANAHEIM, CA - FEBRUARY 24:  Robin Lehner #40 of the Buffalo Sabres stretches during the first period of a game against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on February 24, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Robin Lehner is a big goalie, and barring possible language barrier issues, sure seems to have a pretty big personality.

That at least seems to be the case with the Buffalo Sabres’ top guy, who provided the Buffalo News’ John Vogl with a great quote:

“There’s a lot of pressure on me, and that’s fine. … I know I’m a good goaltender,” Lehner said.

Hey now.

As much as the Sabres feel like a work in progress, acquiring Lehner was one of GM Tim Murray’s boldest moves. Murray was able to observe Lehner in Ottawa, and despite some struggles, the big Swede (6-foot-5, 240 lbs.) was sneaky-good in 2015-16.

Twenty-one games serves as a limited sample size, yet a .924 save percentage seems quite promising. His 107 career regular season games are spread over six seasons, so to some extent, the 25-year-old is still something of an unknown entity.

If nothing else, it looks like he could provide some Bryzgalovian entertainment.

Back in March, Ben Scrivens admitted he was happy to avoid a fight with a guy he called a “bit of a psycho.”

Sounds like a guy to watch.

Team Europe is happy to play underdog role

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TORONTO (AP) When the World Cup of Hockey started, Team Europe was not picked as a team to beat.

In fact, the unique team made up of eight nations outside of the continent’s traditional hockey powers was expected to be out of the best-on-best tournament.

Team Europe had other plans.

The blended group of players opened the tournament with a 3-0 win over the U.S. and then beat the Czech Republic in overtime to seal a spot in the semifinals before losing to Canada.

“I know nobody really expected us to be here right now,” Danish and Detroit Red Wings forward Frans Nielsen said Saturday. “But when you look in the room and go over the team, there’s not a lot of players better than (Anze) Kopitar in this tournament. We got (Marian) Hossa. We got some good guys on the backend and good goaltending.”

The Europeans will face Sweden on Sunday for a spot in the best-of-three finals against the winner of Saturday night’s Canada-Russia game.

When Team Europe players have faced Sweden for their countries – Switzerland, Denmark, Slovakia, France, Germany, Slovenia, Austria and Norway – in previous, they didn’t have a legitimate chance to win.

They do now.

A veteran group of skaters and a star in Kopitar along with Slovak and New York Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak give them a shot on any sheet of ice.

“He’s the kind of goalie that almost every night, he gives you a chance to win,” said Nielsen, who played with Halak in New York. “And, he’ll make that save when you need it.”

Team Europe coach Ralph Krueger said he’ll likely save his rah-rah speeches for another team because this one simply doesn’t need it.

Krueger began to sense something special was in store for Team Europe nearly a year ago when several candidates to be on the team met when Boston and the New York Islanders played. When the entire group gathered nearly three weeks ago in Quebec, Krueger got even more excited about the natural chemistry the team already had from their shared experiences.

“We didn’t have to do a lot of extra team-building,” Krueger said. “It just happened with a combination of leadership and personalities and character and will – of pure will – of these eight nations that are forever underdogs, forever going home when the final four is staged, forever watching other teams play in finals of best of best. That opportunity has fueled the fire that taken us here.”

Follow Larry Lage at http://www.twitter.com/larrylage and follow his work at http://www.bigstory.ap.org/content/larry-lage

Sadly, Crosby praise still comes at Ovechkin’s expense

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 24: Alex Ovechkin #8 and Sidney Crosby #87 shake hands following Team Canada's  5-3 victory to move on to the finals during the World Cup of Hockey at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at Air Canada Centre on September 24, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)
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Here’s a homework assignment for you: praise Sidney Crosby‘s incredible work without downgrading Alex Ovechkin.

Yes, it’s not easy.

ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun presented an interesting column that spotlighted an admittedly “tired narrative” while still ultimately pumping up Crosby at Ovechkin’s expense.

LeBrun quoted anonymous executives who, yes, trotted out tired narratives. One executive did the baseball thing in making it Crosby (“five-tool guy”) vs. Ovechkin (“home run hitter”) while another equated it to a full-court player vs. a “half-court” player.

It’s all … well, tiresome.

Ovechkin may not have had the greatest game of his life on Saturday, but watching that game, was the takeaway really that he let Russia down? That the difference between the two teams was, in any way, about Crosby over Ovechkin?

You can throw out all sorts of stats or lean on the eye test to note how over-matched Russia really was in that game. Or you can consider the defensemen Russia dressed in a best-on-best clash:

Dmitry Kulikov, Dmitry Orlov, Nikita Zaitsev, Alexey Marchenko, Alexei Emelin, Andrei Markov and Nikita Nesterov.

Yikes.

Search your soul for a second and ask: how uneasy would an NHL team feel about that group of blueliners? Such a collection would struggle against one of the league’s 30 squads, let alone against a virtual All-Star team.

Is Crosby better than Ovechkin? There’s a strong chance that is the case, because of the whole “Crosby probably being the best player of his generation” thing.

How about this for a daring idea, though: why not enjoy the work of both players?

Ovechkin is easily the best sniper of his generation, and with 82 points in 84 career playoff games, sure seems like a strong big-game player. As we all know, hockey is a team sport, yet the blame falls on Ovechkin again and again.

Instead, let’s give Crosby and the rest of his brilliant teammates our attention, as we’ve seen here, here and here.