Brent Sutter

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


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.”

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock
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ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”

It looks like Havlat won’t make Panthers

Martin Havlat

As PHT’s mentioned before, the Florida Panthers stand as a fascinating contrast between youth and experience.

Let’s not kid ourselves, though; fresh faces usually beat out gray beards, at least when it comes to teams that are still trying to build toward contender status.

While it’s by no means official, two Panthers beat writers – the Miami Herald’s George Richards and the Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Harvey Fialkov – report that the Panthers are likely to pass on Martin Havlat.

It wasn’t just about the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad leading the charge. Other young Panthers (maybe most notably Quinton Howden and Connor Brickley) made the team, thus making Havlat less necessary.

One would assume that it might be tough for the 34-year-old to find work, at least if he insists upon only an NHL deal.

Health issues continue to dog him, but he’s no longer one of those guys who tantalizes with talent when he is healthy enough to play.

Havlat also doesn’t really bring much to the table defensively. While other veterans can kill penalties and show a little more verstaility, Havlat’s greatest selling point is scoring.

Could this be it for a solid career that may nonetheless end with a “What if?” or two?