Another 1st-rounder responds to Brent Sutter’s ‘he’s not ready’ assertion

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The Colorado Avalanche made Conner Bleackley their first-round pick (23rd overall) at the 2014 draft, which comes with big pressure given both of the club’s last two first-round selections — Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog — jumped straight to the NHL.

One person that doesn’t think Bleackley can make the same leap this year is his current WHL Red Deer coach, Brent Sutter.

“No, he’s not ready for NHL hockey,” Sutter said, per the Denver Post. “Conner still needs to grow, especially with skating and defensive responsibilities. His vision needs to improve. I’m not Colorado, I’m not Patrick Roy, but I feel like he’s not NHL ready. There is growth in his game. There is a reason he went (23rd) and not in the top 10, but I do think he’s a great prospect for that organization.”

This isn’t a flame job by Sutter. He’s as straight a shooter as his brother Darryl — and, presumably, all the Sutter brothers — and is telling it like it is.

Just like he did with another first-rounder from two years ago.

Brendan Gaunce, the OHL product Vancouver took 26th overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, got a similar review after working under Sutter at a Canadian National Team junior camp. From The Province:

“He’s a big guy and he’s a ways away from being a pro player yet,” Sutter said of Gaunce.

“He’s a very defensive-oriented guy as far as understanding the game. He knows his limits offensively, but he’s a big power forward who’s a decent skater and he’s got some good skills. But I see him more as a third- or fourth-line player in the National Hockey League, more of a power guy.”

Again, nothing malicious from Sutter here — he didn’t think the kid was ready, so he said so. The only issue, it seems, is that the likes of Bleackley and Gaunce were forced to answer questions about Sutter’s comments, which is a less than comfortable situation. These kids haven’t played a day in the NHL, so they can’t fire back and certainly don’t want to question the hockey knowledge of a two-time Stanley Cup winner.

But they also want to, y’know, stick up for themselves.

“Everyone has their opinions and he is obviously an established coach for the NHL and junior levels, and he knows what he’s talking about,” Gaunce said in reply. “And if that’s his opinion, that’s his opinion, I can’t change that.

“That’s not something I should probably comment on further, because I’m not a coach and I don’t want to comment on someone else’s opinion.”

As for Bleackley?

“Obviously [Sutter] knows a lot more about pro hockey,” he said. “But at the same time, my mindset hasn’t changed. Do I think I’m going to play [in the NHL] this year? I don’t know.

“No one really knows for sure. It’s up to me and my training.”

Devils give Jimmy Hayes a shot with PTO

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The New Jersey Devils have made dramatic moves to improve their forward group over the last few years, but even with Taylor Hall, Marcus Johansson, and Kyle Palmieri in the mix, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

With that and the Devils’ recent struggles in mind, it only makes sense for GM Ray Shero to be open-minded to “reclamation projects.”

Perhaps that will be the case with towering forward Jimmy Hayes, then. The Devils announced that the winger has been invited to training camp on a PTO.

Look, there’s no doubt that Hayes has frequently struggled to make a difference at the NHL level. Not that long ago, he broke a 35-game pointless streak.

Still, it’s probably fair to give him an incomplete grade instead of a failing mark from 2016-17. After all, there are only so many players who can produce much offense when they’re receiving 9:14 TOI per game.

Hayes went from averaging 15:09 per contest in his best season (2014-15, when he scored 19 goals for Florida) to 13:50 TOI with Boston in 2015-16 and then that new low last season.

So, no doubt about it, Hayes’ stock couldn’t get much lower.

We’ve seen fringe guys become valuable assets after getting clean slates, including with bigger forwards. Zack Kassian resurrected his career following some significant struggles, just to name a recent example.

The Devils could use another NHL-caliber forward, particularly with valuable center Travis Zajac slated to miss a chunk of 2017-18. Maybe Hayes can be part of the solution.

No need for Flyers to rush Nolan Patrick after injury-plagued year

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This post is part of Flyers day at PHT…

It wasn’t long before Nolan Patrick began lighting up the Western Hockey League.

Two years before he was even selected second overall by the Philadelphia Flyers, he had scored 30 goals in his first full season with the Brandon Wheat Kings. A year later, he had 102 points, vaulting him into the position as the likely No. 1 overall pick for the 2017 Entry Draft.

Dating back more than a year, however, Patrick has been sidetracked by injury.

He underwent sports hernia surgery last summer. He played in only 33 games for Brandon this past season and couldn’t play for Canada at the World Juniors. In June, just prior to his selection by Philly, he had another operation — an abdominal surgery, the Flyers later announced — with a window of four to six weeks before he could resume full activity.

The Flyers had only a 2.2 per cent chance of winning the first overall selection, yet they still made a massive move up the board when the lottery had concluded. The first pick would come down to Patrick or Nico Hischier, who worked his way into the conversation for No. 1 overall as his QMJHL season continued.

In the end, the lottery-winning Devils took Hischier and Patrick fell right to the Flyers.

In Patrick, the Flyers get a center that stands at 6-foot-2 tall and 198 pounds, and is capable of producing significant numbers offensively — at least that’s what he showed in junior. Even if his 2016-17 season was hampered, Patrick still managed 20 goals and 46 points.

“And then playing and not being a 100 percent. I didn’t play one game this year feeling [like] myself. I’ve got the summer to get where I need to be,” said Patrick, per CSN Philly.

“My skating was kind of bugging me throughout the season. I needed to get my conditioning back to where I wanted it to be. I did as much as I could, but I wasn’t pouting about it.”

Patrick turns 19 years old next month during training camp and will look to make the Flyers for this upcoming season. Given everything he’s dealt with over the last several months, it would be, despite the talent that made him a top prospect in the draft, unreasonable to place lofty expectations on him right away, as he makes the transition into the NHL.

Having him healthy and ready for camp is a good start, but there really is no need to rush him along, particularly if it’s at the expense of future gains.

“We’re looking at the big picture here,” said general manager Ron Hextall earlier this summer, per the Courier-Post. “We’re not looking at next season. We’re looking at hopefully the next 10 to 15 seasons. We will do what’s best for Nolan long-term.”

Report: College free agent Alex Kerfoot opts to join Avalanche

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The wait appears to be over.

College free agent Alex Kerfoot has reportedly made his decision, choosing to join the Colorado Avalanche, according to Darren Dreger of TSN.

The news comes days after it was reported the New York Rangers were among the finalists to land the Harvard product, which would’ve provided a boost in depth at center for that club.

The 23-year-old center was also targeted by the Vancouver Canucks, which is hardly surprising given Kerfoot is from that area and played his junior hockey in nearby Coquitlam.

Kerfoot, originally drafted by the New Jersey Devils, was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award this past season, after scoring 16 goals and 45 points in 36 games with Harvard.

He decided not to sign in New Jersey, becoming an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 15.

Islanders add Terreri as goaltending development coach

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The New York Islanders made a coaching move Wednesday, naming former NHL puckstopper Chris Terreri as a goalie development coach and goalie coach for the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

“Chris has a vast amount of knowledge and experience, both as a player and a coach,” said Islanders general manager Garth Snow. “We’re excited for him to work with our goalies at every level, as well as assist in our scouting process and to make his mark on this crucial position.”

Terreri appeared in 406 NHL games between 1986 and 2001, spending most of his career with the New Jersey Devils.

He then transitioned into coaching, spending the last eight years working as a goalie coach with the Devils.

Related: Under pressure: Jaroslav Halak