Tyler Toffoli

On the importance of ‘support from the bottom’ (see: Toffoli, Krug, Saad, etc.)


Tyler Toffoli: 22 years old, drafted 47th overall by the Kings in 2010. Five points in the playoffs.

Torey Krug: 23 years old, undrafted, signed as a free agent by the Bruins in 2012. Six points in the playoffs.

Brandon Saad: 21 years old, drafted 43rd overall by the Blackhawks in 2011. Four points in the playoffs.

Andrew Shaw: 22 years old, drafted 139th overall by the Blackhawks in 2011. Four points in the playoffs.

Brendan Gallagher: 21 years old, drafted 147th overall by the Canadiens in 2010. Five points in the playoffs.

Erik Haula: 23 years old, drafted 182nd overall by the Wild in 2009. Two points in the playoffs, key defensive forward.

And those are just the young guys — none of them first-rounders, you’ll notice — on teams still alive in the postseason. Let’s not forget about the diamonds in the rough that were eliminated in the first round, like San Jose’s Matt Nieto (47th overall in 2011, five points) and Columbus’ Boone Jenner (37th overall in 2011, five points).

Meanwhile, in Vancouver, here’s what president of hockey ops Trevor Linden said about a Canucks team that’s gone from elite to missing the playoffs in practically a blink of an eye:

“When I see playoff teams that are successful, I see teams that have some depth, teams that can roll four lines out. I like the people we have in [our] core positions, but they need support from the bottom. There’s a gap between the core players and what’s coming from below them. There hasn’t been a real push from the bottom and that’s created issues.”

Consider: Alex Edler and Jannik Hansen are the last Canuck draft picks still with the team that have made a considerable impact at the NHL level, and they were chosen a decade ago. OK, fine, d-man Chris Tanev, 24, has turned out to be a savvy college free-agent signing, but Vancouver is still a prime example of the importance of drafting and developing, even for teams that can afford to spend to the cap and go after unrestricted free agents.

And it absolutely has to go beyond first-rounders. Edler was a third-rounder; Hansen was taken 287th overall! Back when those two were playing on cheap contracts, they were a huge source of value for the Canucks. Ditto for undrafted Alex Burrows and the since-departed Mason Raymond, a second-rounder in 2005.

John Tortorella wasn’t the right coach for the Canucks, but he was right when he said Vancouver “needs youth.”

Because every team needs that.


After years of hype, McDavid to play first NHL game

Connor McDavid
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The hype surrounding Connor McDavid couldn’t be much greater, but finally expectations will start to give way to results.

The NHL career that’s been talked about for years will begin tonight when his Edmonton Oilers face St. Louis.

“It’s something that you dream of for so long,” McDavid told NHL.com. “The draft is one thing, but to finally be in this situation is another, so I’m really excited. It’s been a long road; it’s been a lot of hard work. I think a lot of guys’ stories are different in how they get here, but the one common theme is hard work and my story is not any different that way.”

McDavid has transformed the Oilers with his mere presence. Its breathed fresh optimism into a city that have watched this team struggle in its efforts to dig out of the NHL basement. One also has to wonder if Peter Chiarelli would be the team’s new general manager and Todd McLellan its new head coach if Edmonton hadn’t won the draft lottery.

But where will he lead Edmonton? Will he be just the sixth 70-point rookie of the salary cap era? Will he struggle out of the gate, putting the hype into question? Perhaps he’ll draw comparisons to Steven Stamkos, who had a modest rookie campaign by the standards of a highly regarded top pick, but has nevertheless gone on to become a superstar.

That would surprise Stamkos as the Lightning captain feels McDavid is better than he is currently. Just further proof that those lofty expectations are coming from all sides.

“You don’t want to put too much weight on his shoulders; he’s an 18-year-old kid,” Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli said. “I don’t care how good he is or how good he’ll be, it’s a lot to shoulder if you’re supposed to be the guy and you’re the only guy. Fortunately we have a lot of high-pedigree players that are high picks who have gone through similar situations that he’s going through.”

Edmonton certainly has no shortage of first overall picks, but none as highly regarded as McDavid. But then, few ever are.

Related: There’s ‘a real positive vibe’ in Buffalo, where Eichel will make NHL debut tonight

There’s ‘a real positive vibe’ in Buffalo, where Eichel will make NHL debut tonight

Connor McDavid
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Jack Eichel didn’t disappoint in the preseason, finishing with six points in four games, including two shorthanded goals.

Tonight in Buffalo, his NHL career will start for real when the Sabres host the Ottawa Senators in regular-season action.

“It’s something I’ve dreamed of my whole life, stepping foot on that ice and making the NHL,” Eichel said, per NHL.com. “It’s kind of been a whirlwind, but you’re finally playing hockey for a living and everything you’ve done your whole life is to get to this point. It’s pretty special.”

The 18-year-old’s debut was front-page news this morning in Buffalo, where the Sabres have been among the NHL’s worst teams since last making the playoffs in 2010-11.

Eichel front page

Granted, even with the additions of Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane, Robin Lehner and Cody Franson, expectations for 2015-16 remain modest for the new-look Sabres. Certainly, a spot in the playoffs would count as a surprise.

But for the fans of a team that’s barely possessed the puck the past couple of years, it’s night and day.

“People are excited,” GM Tim Murray said earlier this week. “It’s great. They think we’ve improved, and there’s a real positive vibe, I believe.

“That’s what I said to our coaches, ‘I want everybody to be positive. I’m the only guy in the organization allowed to be negative.’ That’s the way I wanted it. If I’m the most negative guy in the city about the team, that’s pretty good.”