Horcoff looks to lead young Oilers… to the playoffs?

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Are the Oilers going to be one of the elite teams this season? Looking at the roster as currently constructed, probably not. But wins, losses, and playoff berths aren’t necessarily what the 2011-12 season is all about in Edmonton. Ask most hockey people and this season is all about growth. It’s about the young players growing into their NHL roles as they realize their unlimited potential; it’s about the collection of young players growing together as they try to form an identity as a team. Neither of those come over night—and no team in the NHL can be considered a contender without both: players playing together and maximizing their potential. That’s what this season is all about.

Take a quick look at the Edmonton Oilers forwards. Names like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have fanatics in Oil Country daring to dream about the future for the first time in decades. Some people have been as presumptuous as to mentions names like Messier, Kurri, Anderson, and even Gretzky. They have a lot of potential—but let’s take this rebuild one step at a time.

With all of that youth and inexperience comes growing pains.

For this season, there’s a forward on the roster who may be more important than all the blue-chip prospects Central Scouting can drool over: captain Shawn Horcoff. Just like the team as a whole, the numbers Horcoff puts on the scoreboard will be secondary to the work that he does in practice and in the locker room.  The Oilers captains knows it would be nice stay healthy and play in some meaningful games at the end of this coming season:

“In my case, I’ve endured two of the hardest years of my career. I’d like to think that’s behind me now. A realistic goal for us is making the playoffs. At the very least, we have to be playing meaningful games in the second half of the season, especially down the stretch.

“Look at Pittsburgh. They had three high, high drafts (Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeny Malkin and Sidney Crosby; the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 1 selections in 2003, 2004 and 2005, respectively) and it wasn’t until the fourth year where they made the playoffs and lost in the first round. We’re just two drafts in and it’s still early.

“The first step is making the playoffs and taking it to the next level.”

A subtle correction: the first step is becoming competitive on a nightly basis. They’ll need to learn to push back when things go south; they’ll need to learn how to limit a potential losing streak to two or three games and not seven or eight. Horcoff is a guy who has been around for a while and knows what it takes to be an NHLer on and off the ice. He’ll be instrumental if the Oilers are to start fulfilling their promise this season.

People forget that it was only five years ago when the Oilers were within a single game of their sixth Stanley Cup. For the first time, the franchise has committed itself to a complete rebuild—a rebuild that is starting to bear fruit. The next step is for all of the assembled prospects to learn to take the next step together as a team. If Horcoff has it his way, he’ll take care of that part this upcoming season.

Ducks say they’ve allowed Draisaitl too much freedom, too much fun

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Given the nicknames bestowed on Leon Drasaitl recently — the German Gretzky, Certified Duck Killer — it’s safe to assume the big Oilers forward is having a pretty good time.

That’s something Anaheim wants to put to an end, starting tonight.

“He’s a power forward and we’re allowing him too much freedom. He’s having too much fun,” Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle told the Journal, after Drasaitl went off for four points in Wednesday’s series-opening win.  “I don’t know how I can put it any simpler.”

The 21-year-old has made a habit of tormenting Anaheim this season. He has goals in five of seven career games at the Honda Center and, in his last 11 tilts versus the Ducks, has racked up an whopping 17 points.

Coming into this second round series, most of the focus was on how Carlyle and company would shut down Connor McDavid.

But now it appears they have another matchup issue on their hands.

Carlyle’s most logical choice is to put out the Ryan Kesler line against McDavid, given Kesler’s stout defensive play and ability to shut down opposing centers. But in terms of straight matching, that puts plenty of responsibility on Kesler’s wingers — especially Andrew Cogliano — to deal with Draisaitl. He has good size (6-foot-1, 216 pounds) and has been bolstered by McDavid’s playmaking ability.

As such, there’s a fascinating game-within-a-game to watch this evening. Carlyle has the benefit of last change. The forward matchups will be worth monitoring, but so will the defense — veteran blueliner Kevin Bieksa is doubtful after exiting Game 1 with a lower-body injury, but Sami Vatanen could return after sitting out since Game 1 of the Calgary series.

 

 

Canucks could really use Patrick or Hischier

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The Vancouver Canucks are hoping for better luck in tomorrow’s draft lottery. If they receive it, they may get a player who can step right into their lineup, and stay there for years to come.

The top two picks in the 2017 draft are expected to be centers Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier.

It remains to be seen who will go first overall. Patrick was the consensus pick for a while, but Hischier started to gain ground with an impressive showing for Switzerland at the World Juniors.

“I think the top two players in this draft have the potential to maybe step in and play next year and be productive players at the NHL level,” said Canucks GM Jim Benning. “But I think the next three players, whether you’re looking at a play-making center, or potentially a power-play defenseman, there’s good choices there too.”

Gabe Vilardi, Casey Mittelstadt, and Cody Glass are centers the Canucks could select if they fall out of the top two. Cale Makar, Miro Heiskanen, and Timothy Liljegren are options on defense.

But getting Patrick or Hischier would be a huge win for a team that will soon have to replace Henrik Sedin, who turns 37 in September.

Benning says Patrick offers a combination of size (6-3, 198), skill and hockey sense, with “no real weakness in his game.”

As for Hischier, it’s his speed that really stands out.

“He’s built for today’s game,” said Benning. “His speed going through the neutral zone is fun to watch.”

The Canucks have the second-best odds to win the draft lottery. The furthest they can fall is to fifth.

Last year, Vancouver fell two spots from third to fifth, with Winnipeg and Columbus moving up. The Canucks drafted Finnish defenseman Olli Juolevi with their selection.

Draft lottery odds

Colorado Avalanche 18.0%
Vancouver Canucks 12.1%
Vegas Golden Knights* 10.3%
Arizona Coyotes 10.3%
New Jersey Devils 8.5%
Buffalo Sabres 7.6%
Detroit Red Wings 6.7%
Dallas Stars 5.8%
Florida Panthers 5.4%
Los Angeles Kings 4.5%
Carolina Hurricanes 3.2%
Winnipeg Jets 2.7%
Philadelphia Flyers 2.2%
Tampa Bay Lightning 1.8%

Paajarvi out, Barbashev in as Blues look for ‘physical element’

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After losing Game 1 — and with it, home ice advantage — of their series against Nashville, the Blues are making a lineup change for Friday’s Game 2.

Ivan Barbashev, who’s been a healthy scratch the last three games, will draw in, replacing Magnus Paajarvi. Paajarvi sits despite being a fairly productive player recently, notching a goal and three points in his last five games.

This, of course, includes the game-winning, series-clinching OT goal against Minnesota on Saturday:

“We like to give players a chance to respond and a chance to get back in there when they’re coming out of the lineup,” Blues head coach Mike Yeo said, per NHL.com. “We saw what that did for (Jori Lehtera). It’s in no way anything against Magnus. We’re very grateful and appreciative of what he’s done and what he can do for us, but ‘Barby’ has been a good player for us for a long time, too.

“Having him in the lineup, he’ll be energized and bring a physical element… When he gets the puck of the offensive zone, he has a chance to create something. We’ll see how he does tonight.”

The hope is that Barbashev can rediscover some of the form shown during the regular season. The Russian rookie made an impact, scoring five goals and 12 points in 30 games.

Sabres granted permission to speak with Futa

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Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Kings promoted Mike Futa to assistant general manager.

But Futa received that promotion before the Sabres cleaned house last week, and that timing is important to note.

Because it’s now being reported, via a Kings spokesman, that the Sabres have been granted permission to speak with Futa about their GM vacancy.

It’s no surprise that Buffalo has asked to interview Futa. He was a candidate for the Sabres’ GM job in 2013 — a job that eventually went to Tim Murray.

Futa was once thought to be heir apparent to Dean Lombardi in Los Angeles. But when Lombardi was fired, the Kings went with Rob Blake instead.

Some background on Futa, courtesy the Kings:

Futa most recently served as Kings Vice President, Hockey Operations and Director of Player Personnel. This upcoming season will be Futa’s 11th season with the Kings.

Futa recently concluded his 10th full season with the Kings, and third in his most recent position. He was named VP of Hockey Operations and Director of Player Personnel in May of 2014 after serving as Director of Amateur Scouting, a position he assumed on June 5, 2007, when he originally joined the Kings.

Futa came to the Kings when he was appointed Co-Director of Amateur Scouting along with Mark Yannetti. Together, Futa and Yannetti rebuilt and retooled the entire Kings Amateur Scouting staff.

Related: Darryl Sutter wants to keep coaching