James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.

Video: Who might play for USA Hockey with 2018 Winter Olympics looming

It’s hard to believe that the 2018 Winter Olympics are only 100 days away.

With a bit more than three months to go, there were some pertinent videos from NBC/NBCSN regarding USA Hockey’s two teams. The first video, seen above this post’s headline, provides some neat background on Hilary Knight as part of the women’s national team appearance on “The Today Show.”

While Knight & Co. hope to improve on that silver in 2014 to gold in 2018, the men’s team faces the most unpredictable tournament in ages. One big part of that uncertainty comes down to the makeup of the roster, which Darren Dreger discussed on NBCSN tonight:

Dreger mentions a few possible members of the men’s team in the video above:

  • Mark Arcobello, 29, likely most well-known for his time with the Edmonton Oilers.
  • Matt Gilroy, 33, who spent time with the New York Rangers.
  • NCAA standouts, some of whom are NHL prospects, including Troy Terry (Anaheim Ducks), and Ryan Donato (Boston Bruins).

The biggest name Dreger brings up is actually for Canada’s team, though, as it sounds like Jarome Iginla might just suit up for his country one more time.

Those videos aren’t the only worthwhile considerations for patriotic puckheads. Check out this PHT post to take a look at the spiffy uniforms that Team USA will sport. (What, you want one too?)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Report: Golden Knights were nearby when New York attack happened


    Darren Dreger noted on NBCSN tonight that members of the Vegas Golden Knights organization were staying at a nearby hotel when the New York City terrorist attack took place.

    Dreger described the situation, as you can see in the video above, revealing that staff members even witnessed some of the events.

    (You can read more about the attacks at NBC News.)

    As the AP reports, the Golden Knights were delayed on their way to Madison Square Garden before their eventual loss to the New York Rangers on Tuesday. Before that contest, the Rangers held a moment of silence at MSG:

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Contrasting Crosby, McDavid heading into Penguins – Oilers


    As you can see in the video above, NBCSN’s Mike Milbury and Keith Jones discussed the similarities and differences in the games of Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid as the Pittsburgh Penguins and Edmonton Oilers meet for the last time in 2017-18.

    (Assuming, of course, that they won’t face off in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.)

    This seems like a fun opportunity to delve even a little deeper. To start, check out this piece about McDavid’s potential to create new hockey fans with his blistering mix of skill and speed.

    More than just speed with McDavid

    Sometimes it almost seems dismissive to talk about McDavid’s speed. Here’s the thing, though: there are plenty of NHL players who can haul. Some struggle to finish despite having great wheels to varying degrees: Mason Raymond rarely made it work, and Penguins forward Carl Hagelin‘s seen peaks and valleys in his career in that regard.

    With McDavid, it’s that he can do such high-skill things and make such smart decisions while baffling defensemen.

    Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts for Sportsnet keyed in on this drill, and that story also discussed how Crosby has adapted his techniques during faceoffs (so it’s worth your click).

    Evolving games

    The fun thing about star athletes is that they rarely seem content with the skills they bring to the table early in their careers. John Tavares ranks among the stars known for revamping his game in big ways, and other sports apply, with Lebron James being a fantastic example.

    To little surprise, both McDavid and Crosby show that hunger to not just be the best, but to keep pushing the bar higher.

    Crosby’s work in the dot is an obvious example, yet the two centers share an interesting parallel in their leanings on the offensive end. To be specific, both might be pass-first by nature, yet each player is working on becoming more dangerous shooters.

    When you look at Crosby’s early scoring stats, his assists dwarfed his goals. That was especially clear in his ridiculous sophomore season back in 2006-07: he scored 36 goals and 84 assists for 120 points in 79 games. Obviously, 36 goals is fantastic, and also a reminder of how much tougher it’s become to score even in the last decade. But it’s interesting to note, nonetheless, that his goals-assist ratio is closer to 1:1 as time has gone on.

    So far, Crosby has five goals and six assists. Last year, he generated 44 goals and 45 assists. His actual shots on goal metrics remain reasonably similar from a volume perspective, so a lot of that improvement comes from Crosby working on his shooting skills.

    McDavid may follow a similar path, particularly if he parallels Crosby in being surrounded by linemates he needs to carry (so Leon Draisaitl‘s presence could influence this situation). Last season, McDavid scored 30 goals and 70 assists for 100 points, generating the sort of clean numbers that seem to only show up in prognostications.

    At the moment, McDavid’s numbers are amusingly similar to Crosby’s: also five goals and six assists. (McDavid’s played three fewer games than Crosby.)

    Those five goals aren’t pure happenstance, either, as McDavid’s firing four shots on goal per contest. He wasn’t shy last season, but this represents a full SOG extra per contest. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues all season long.

    Frankly, even if McDavid’s shot is good-but-not-great, coaches generally should be delighted when star players are assertive and decide to “call their own number.” (At least, they should in the often excessively deferential NHL.)

    Struggling teams

    Edmonton (3-6-1) obviously has the more pressing headaches, but Pittsburgh’s suffered some humbling losses despite an OK 7-5-1 record.

    Considering their stats, the Oilers can only ask McDavid to try to maintain his level of play, and the same is reasonable with the Penguins and Crosby.

    Ultimately, Crosby and McDavid need the Draisaitls, Evgeni Malkins, and other players to win the big team awards that number 87 keeps piling up and number 97 is chasing. Even so, it’s a lot of fun to compare stars like these, and should only get more thrilling as their careers progress.

    If their histories are any indication, we haven’t seen all of their tricks just yet.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    WATCH LIVE: Flyers – Blackhawks on Wednesday Night Rivalry


    A lot has changed since the Chicago Blackhawks bested the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, but now the two teams find themselves in somewhat similar circumstances.

    At least, they do if you look at it strictly from the perspective of the 2017-18 season. Both the Blackhawks (5-5-2) and Philadelphia Flyers (6-5-1) are hanging in there in their respective conferences, yet each team likely identifies plenty of areas for improvement.

    Even with the Blackhawks’ and Flyers’ issues, there is still plenty of firepower on hand. To start off Wednesday’s doubleheader of NBCSN games, we get to see the powerful Claude GirouxSean CouturierJakub Voracek line (along with a power play featuring Wayne Simmonds) square off against Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and the rest of Chicago’s big names.

    It should be a fun one, and a useful barometer for two prominent NHL teams. You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App.


    For a full preview of both NBCSN games (tonight also features the Sharks and Predators), check out this post.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Blues defy big odds to rank among NHL’s best


    After an absolutely maddening run of injuries before the season even began, there was some concern that the St. Louis Blues would miss the playoffs. Instead, they’re in a position to run away with the Central Division with November about to begin.

    You can forgive the Blues for setting their sights higher than that, too, even after all those false alarms about “this being the year,” to some extent stretching back to the days of Al MacInnis’ booming shot and Steve Yzerman-administered heartbreak.

    Maybe it’s fitting, then, that the Blues enter Tuesday tied with Yzerman’s Tampa Bay Lightning with matching 10-2-1 records as the top teams in the NHL (and, thus, the top seeds in their conferences). They ended October with quite the win, too, topping the Pacific-leading, also-resurgent Los Angeles Kings.

    Really, the Blues’ successes might be more impressive than that of the Lightning and Kings. While everything seems to be going right for the Lightning after an injury-ravaged 2016-17 campaign, St. Louis’ black-and-blue status makes its run of victories seem that much more impressive.

    Alex Steen missed a big chunk of October. Jay Bouwmeester‘s status remains murky, and Patrik Berglund hasn’t returned yet. Robby Fabbri‘s season-ending knee issues deprived the Blues of a fascinating young forward. Zach Sanford lost a chance to move up the ranks and prove himself.

    With all of that, the Blues are 10-2-1, but are especially hot lately: four wins in a row and a 6-0-1 points streak.

    That’s pretty fantastic, and might only be an under-the-radar story because of how well-built this franchise is thanks to GM Doug Armstrong. He doesn’t get many mentions among the game’s brightest minds, yet Armstrong looks pretty shrewd as of this moment.

    Let’s ponder what is going right for the Blues, and maybe also consider a few elements that make this run even more impressive.

    • The season began with a hot power play, but they’ve learned to adjust as it cooled off.

    To start 2017-18, the Blues scored a single power-play goal in five straight games. That man-advantage dominance hasn’t sustained, however, as St. Louis has only generated PPGs in one of their last eight contests (2-for-3 against Calgary on Oct. 25).

    • Critics can’t just dismiss the Blues as having a cushy schedule. So far, they’ve played eight of 13 games on the road. They’ve also faced three back-to-back sets, so if anything their success should have tapered off.
    • As disruptive as those injuries must have been, this is Mike Yeo’s first real season running the Blues.

    After all, Yeo was an assistant-turned-interim head coach last season. This time around, Yeo had the opportunity to implement his systems and really cement his philosophies in training camp. Perhaps that makes some difference in how the Blues are approaching each game?

    • Jaden Schwartz has been healthy, and Jaden Schwartz has been a force. With 17 points in his first 13 games, Schwartz leads St. Louis in scoring, enjoying a hotter start than star sniper Vladimir Tarasenko (14 points). Now, with a 25 percent shooting rate, Schwartz is bound to slow down a bit. The Blues would settle for him regressing if he can flirt with a healthy season.

    • Alex Pietrangelo is quietly amassing a pretty compelling Norris Trophy argument. He’s already a sneaky-fantastic, all-purpose defenseman.
    • Some hit-or-miss supporting cast members are belting our homers like Yasiel Puig. Paul Stastny is nailing his contract year so far, including 11 points in 13 contests. Brayden Schenn‘s been a great fit after the trade.
    • The biggest factor is probably the goaltending, which seems to be carrying over the momentum from last season’s turnaround once Yeo took over. Jake Allen continues to look like a legitimate number one guy, while Carter Hutton managed a .950 save percentage in his three appearances.
    • That said, there are the red flags you’d expect from a team wildly exceeding expectations. The Allen-Hutton tandem combined for the best save percentage in the NHL, and that .9475 mark at even strength will slip even if they’re outstanding all season. Other stats over at Natural Stat Trick look fishy, with their third-best PDO signaling that the party might stop or at least slow down.

    Of course, the Blues can sidestep some of the plummeting one might expect from the rigors of the season by getting back some key players.

    They’ll likely face challenges in their schedule, in the standings, and on the scoreboard to pair with injury headaches, as just about every NHL team hits cold streaks. They still deserve credit for a strong October, all things considered, and their reward is more than just pride: St. Louis currently leads the Central Division by seven points.

    Not bad for a team that seemed like an ailing afterthought heading into the season.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.