Tag: 2011 NHL Entry Draft

Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews, Viktor Stalberg

Blackhawks prospect Brandon Saad makes case to stay at NHL level

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The Chicago Blackhawks’ 2010 Stanley Cup run was built on a foundation of strong draft picks. Many of those stars made an immediate impact in the NHL, too, as the team’s fortunes began to change when Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews made their rookie debuts in 2007-08.

With that in mind, the team should be among the league’s most open-minded organizations when it comes to embracing an ahead-of-schedule youngster. That being said, it’s still surprising that 2011 second round pick Brandon Saad is making such a preseason impact.

Saad performed well enough to earn his fourth preseason start (coming up Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings), after he teamed up with Viktor Stalberg and Jonathan Toews for an explosive third period on Friday. He even scored the game-winner against the Washington Capitals to make it 3-2.

Naturally, there’s a huge difference between carving up defenses in exhibition games and making an NHL team as an 18-year-old player – let alone continuing that scoring pace in the big time. Saad wasn’t even the team’s first second round pick in 2011, as the team bagged four prospects in the draft’s first two rounds:

Mark McNeill (round 1, 18th overall)
Phillip Danault (round 1, 26)
Adam Clendening (round 2, 36)
Sadd (round 2, 43)

Saad’s first impression caught some off guard, but he’s running with his chance to do so. CSNChicago.com’s Tracey Myers asked Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville about Saad’s impressive start.

Still, nobody quite expected the Blackhawks’ second-round draft pick to have this much of an impact this quickly. The question is, can he really make this Blackhawks team?

“I don’t know. If he keeps doing that way every day we’ll probably be talking about him the next day,” said Quenneville on Friday, after Saad’s goal claimed a 3-2 Blackhawks victory over the Washington Capitals. “This is not something we envisioned. But every training camp there’s someone who gets your attention and captures it, makes you look at the case differently. He’s done that.”

Of course, if he does make the team, it’s unlikely that he’ll see much time alongside 2010 Conn Smythe Trophy-winner Toews on the first line. All he can do is put himself in the best position to succeed, though, whether he ends up on the team’s opening night roster or at the junior level with Saginaw.

Carolina signs 2011 first round pick Ryan Murphy

2011 NHL Entry Draft - Portraits

Last year, Calder Trophy winner-to-be Jeff Skinner impressed enough to make the Carolina Hurricanes’ roster right out of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. If offensive defenseman Ryan Murphy hopes to follow in Skinner’s footsteps, he’ll need to be under contract, so it’s great news for both sides that they came to terms on an entry-level deal today.

Murphy was the 12th overall pick of this year’s draft and Carolina’s top pick overall. NHL.com reports that Murphy’s deal is worth $832,500 per season with a $277,500 signing bonus.

If Murphy doesn’t make the jump to the NHL, he’ll return to the junior hockey level, where he’s been an impressive scorer from the blueline. Here’s a little bit more about Murphy’s successes and how the Hurricanes feel about his future – whether that manifests itself sooner than usual or if he understandably takes longer than Skinner to make the leap.

“Ryan is a gifted offensive defenseman,” [Hurricanes GM Jim] Rutherford said. “He skates extremely well and is dynamic with the puck. He put up very impressive numbers as a 17-year-old in the OHL, and he’s put himself in a position to push for a spot on the NHL level.”

Murphy has played two seasons for the Kitchener Rangers in the Ontario Hockey League. He ranked second among all OHL defenseman last season with 79 points in 63 games. His 26 goals led all OHL blueliners and were second among all defensemen across Canada’s three major junior hockey leagues. His 53 assists were second among defensemen in the OHL.

Murphy has some international acclaim as well. He was named the top defensemen at the 2011 IIHF World Men’s Under-18 Championship earlier this year when he led Team Canada with 13 points in seven games.

The Hurricanes play an attacking system, so Murphy could be a great fit whenever he shows that he’s ready for the rigors of the NHL. Carolina would certainly be delighted if he eventually helps them improve a power play that has earned a league-leading amount of opportunities since the lockout but hasn’t produced the results you’d expect from all those chances. He’ll have to prove himself in training camp and possibly preseason games to have a chance to make an immediate impact, though.

Edmonton Oilers must deal with weighty issue of Ryan-Nugent Hopkins bulking up

2011 NHL Entry Draft - Portraits

While most pundits approved of the Edmonton Oilers’ decision to make Ryan-Nugent Hopkins the top pick of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, many believe that he might not be ready for the big time until the 2012-13 season. One of the main reasons why people feel that way is his size; RNH weighed in at just 161 lbs. during the beginning of the 2010-11 season, according to the Edmonton Journal.

Jim Matheson wonders if the promising prospect responded to those questions a bit excessively being that he’s reportedly weighing in around 175 lbs. now. It’s hard to fault him for bulking up with the hopes of making an immediate jump to the NHL, but Matheson is among those who wonder if he’s overdoing it. Sam Gagner compared the difference to “skating with a 10-pound vest.”

RNH scored two late goals in the first Red-White scrimmage at Rexall Place with one bullet shot and another quick move, showing some of his obvious magic but he didn’t stand out in the five-day camp.  Maybe we’re expecting too much from the kid? Maybe RNH would be better at 165 than 175, for now. Would that be a problem? It shouldn’t be.

As Gagner said this week, his buddy Patrick Kane was 161 pounds when training before he joined the Blackhawks. He’s bigger than that now but 95 percent of NHLers are larger than Kane who almost never gets hit. Same for local boy Tyler Ennis, who has some dazzling moves, in Buffalo.

GM Steve Tambellini is saying all the right things about bringing him along at the right speed, so hopefully the Oilers will be careful with their second consecutive top overall pick. As Matheson wrote, RNH’s perceived sluggishness could have as much do with his busy summer schedule as his weight gain, and it might just be a matter of him getting accustomed to playing at a higher weight.

Ultimately, the team and the player are justified in taking their time to gauge his ideal playing weight – even if that amount is lower than what is considered the “ideal” amount – and move on from there. The NHL has seen many success stories with smaller players, from undersized and unorthodox goalie like Tim Thomas to fellow smallish forwards such as Martin St. Louis and Kane. Talent and drive ultimately matter more than a player’s dimensions.

Don’t get me wrong; Nugent-Hopkins is justified in trying to add some weight to his frame, but if it comes at the cost of his elusiveness or confidence, then he should drop back to a more comfortable level. It just seems like sports teams occasionally make the mistake of asking an athlete to make fundamental changes to their game after they’ve had success for years; just look at how seemingly every NFL team messes with a quarterback’s mechanics in their 20’s. That way of thinking doesn’t have the greatest success rate.

In the end it’s up to the Oilers and RNH to handle this situation properly. If they find the right balance, the Oilers might just be on a similar track as teams like Kane’s Chicago Blackhawks, a franchise that went from the NHL’s cellar to becoming an elite squad full of talented young players.