PHT Morning Skate: Oliver Ekman-Larsson discusses late mom’s long battle with cancer

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–Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of Toronto’s last Stanley Cup victory, so Sean McIndoe decided to compare the Leafs’ drought to the struggles other teams have had over the few years. The Panthers, Capitals, Blues and Sharks all made the list. (Sportsnet)

–Here’s the first part of an upcoming series of articles discussing John Tortorella’s views on leadership. Fun fact, the 2017 Jack Adams nominee hates when his players refer to him as “coach”. “Leadership is not about you and thinking it’s like a dictatorship. I think one of the most important aspects of being a leader is to empower people. I can’t stand when players call me coach. I hate the title because it’s all of us doing it together, first of all. And it takes you longer to peel away at being a team if they feel it’s ‘you’ and ‘us.'” (NHL.com/BlueJackets)

–After a 10-year cancer battle, Oliver Ekman-Larsson‘s mom, Annika, passed away this year. As you’d imagine, his mother’s difficult situation really weighed on Ekman-Larsson throughout the hockey season. “She got me skating when I was a kid and when I didn’t like it at first, she kept pushing me. She and my dad were at all the games, and she was the reason I played for Leksands Idrottsförening for two years. I was going to play for another team but she wanted me to look at that team, and I’m happy I did.” (arizonasports.com)

–Thanks to last night’s 2-1 win over the Blues, the Nashville Predators are now just one win away from reaching the Western Conference Final. You can check out the highlights from that game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–The Dallas Stars were extremely fortunate when they landed the third overall pick in the draft lottery, but should they hang onto the pick or should they ship it elsewhere? The Hockey News’ Matt Larkin believes they need to offer it to New Jersey for Cory Schneider. Larkins writes: “The Stars are one year removed from winning the Central Division and leading the NHL in goals. They have two superstar forwards in their prime in Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, and they are running out of good years from No. 2 center Jason Spezza. General manager Jim Nill stuck to his guns and gave his goalie tandem of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi a chance at redemption this year, and they flopped again. But if Nill can properly remedy his team’s crease for 2017-18, we could see the Stars competitive again.” (The Hockey News)

–The Predators have had a few famous national anthem singers this postseason. Yesterday, country singer Vince Gill sang the Star Spangled Banner with his two daughters. In a bit of a random twist, PGA Tour golfer Brandt Snedeker jumped on the ice after the anthems. (Sportsnet)

–Red Wings forward Anthony Mantha took some huge steps forward this season. From being the grandson of a former NHLer to having a decorated junior career in the Quebec junior league, here’s his story:

The biggest loser in the NHL Draft Lottery? Probably the Vegas Golden Knights

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It’s somewhat fitting that the Colorado Avalanche, coming off of a season where they were one of the worst NHL teams in recent memory, found another way to lose on Saturday night when they dropped all the way down to the No. 4 overall pick in the NHL Draft Lottery. For a team that needs a ton of help across the board, that is a huge loss.

But they still probably weren’t the biggest losers in the lottery.

That honor has to go to the team that hasn’t even played a game in the NHL yet, the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.

Entering the lottery with the same odds for the first pick as the third-worst team in the league (10.3 percent) Vegas ended up dropping down to the No. 6 overall pick thanks to the New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers (probably the biggest winners in the lottery, even without getting the No. 1 overall pick), and Dallas Stars all making huge moves into the top-three.

This could not have possibly played out worse for George McPhee and his new front office in Vegas.

These people are trying to start a team from scratch. From literally nothing. The only player they have right now is Reid Duke and while the expansion draft rules are supposedly going to give them more talent to pick from than previous expansion teams, they are still facing a long building process. Even if they do have a decent amount of talent to pick from, they are not going to find a franchise building block among those selections.

Their best chance of landing that player is always going to be in the draft. Their starting point is going to be the No. 6 overall pick.

That is a painfully tough draw for a number of reasons.

First, if you look at the NHL’s recent expansion teams going back to 1990 this is the lowest first pick any of the past 10 expansion teams have had when they entered the league.

  • San Jose Sharks — No. 2 overall in 1991
  • Tampa Bay Lightning — No. 1 overall in 1992
  • Ottawa Senators — No. 2 overall in 1992
  • Anaheim Ducks — No. 4 overall in 1993
  • Florida Panthers — No. 5 overall in 1993
  • Nashville Predators — No. 2 overall in 1998
  • Atlanta Thrashers — No. 1 overall in 1999
  • Minnesota Wild — No. 3 overall in 2000
  • Columbus Blue Jackets — No. 4 overall in 2000
  • Vegas Golden Knights — No. 6 overall in 2017

Only one of those teams picked outside of the top-four (Florida in 1993, and that was in a year with two expansion teams when the other one picked fourth).

When you look at the recent history of No. 6 overall picks it’s not hard to see why this would be a tough starting point for a franchise. Historically, there is a big difference between even the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in terms of value, and that gap only gets larger with each pick that follows.

Just for a point of reference, here is every No. 6 overall pick since 2000: Scott Hartnell, Mikko Koivu, Scottie Upshall, Milan Michalek, Al Montoya, Gilbert Brule, Derick Brassard, Sam Gagner, Nikita Filatov, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Brett Connolly, Mika Zibanejad, Hampus Lindholm, Sean Monahan, Jake Virtanen, Pavel Zacha, Matthew Tkachuk.

Overall, it’s a good list. The point isn’t that you can’t get a great player at No. 6 overall because there are a lot of really good players on there. But there are also some misses, and other than maybe Ekman-Larsson there really isn’t anyone that you look at say, “this is a player you can build a franchise around.”

Just because Vegas is an expansion doesn’t mean they should have been guaranteed the top pick (or even the No. 2 pick). It is a lottery system and it all just depends on how lucky your team is when it comes time to draw the ping pong balls.

But for a team that is starting from scratch, ending up with the No. 6 overall pick in a draft class that is not regarded as particularly a deep one (at least compared to some recent years) is a really tough draw when it comes to starting your team.

If they end up finishing the worst record in the league, as most expansion teams tend to do, they could easily end up picking fourth in 2018.

Just ask the Avalanche what that is like.

Report: Devils GM plans to reach out to Kovalchuk’s agent next week

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Rumblings of a possible return to the NHL for Ilya Kovalchuk have continued for some time now, and it appears the New Jersey Devils are taking the next step in this process.

On Saturday, prior to the draft lottery, John Shannon of Sportsnet reported that Devils general manager Ray Shero plans to reach out to Kovalchuk’s agent next week to gauge Kovalchuk’s interest of a potential return.

Kovalchuk is now 34 years old, having spent the last four seasons with St. Petersburg SKA in the KHL.

Getting Kovalchuk back for the Devils could provide an instant boost in scoring, which is an area New Jersey has struggled in. This past season, the Devils finished 28th in the league in goals for. Only the Canucks and Avalanche were worse in this category.

Kovalchuk had 32 goals and 78 points in 60 games this past season.

From NJ.com:

Kovalchuk would step in and immediately serve as a top-six winger for the Devils, Outside of Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri, the Devils constantly rotated wingers into the top six last season. Having him up top would add another scoring dimension and help the depth down the rotation by bumping a player down.

Kovalchuk has also been in the news for more than a possible NHL comeback. According to reports on Saturday, he will forego the upcoming World Hockey Championship for Russia in order to have knee surgery.

Adam Larsson has become an ‘anchor’ for the Oilers

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Last summer’s Taylor Hall-for-Adam Larsson swap wasn’t popular in Edmonton, and it probably still isn’t now, but it likely stings a lot less today.

Larsson came up huge in Game 1 of their best-of-seven series against the Anaheim Ducks, as he scored a pair of goals and an assist in the 5-3 victory.

The 24-year-old’s first goal extended Edmonton’s lead to 3-1 in the third period, while his second tally gave them a 4-3 lead (it proved to be the game-winner) with under five minutes remaining in regulation.

Larsson finished Game 1 with a plus-2 rating, two shots on goal, three hits and two blocked shots in 18:47 of ice time (it’s the first time he’s played less than 21 minutes this postseason).

He now has four points in seven games during these playoffs, and he’s averaging 22:41 of ice time.

“We needed to improve our blue line and we needed to have an anchor back there and Larsson has become that,” said head coach Todd McLellan after his team’s win in Game 1, per the Edmonton Sun. “We could have kept floundering without fixing that hole and I think Peter Chiarelli and his staff did a tremendous job of addressing that issue. What he did to change the complexion of our team took a lot of courage. That’s not an easy thing to do when you are trading a player of Taylor’s caliber and popularity.”

Of course, we’ll never know if the Oilers would’ve made it this far had they not made that blockbuster deal last off-season, but it’s a good sign that Larsson has turned into a solid option for a team that was clearly lacking talent on defense.

Game 2 of the series will take place in Anaheim on Friday night at 10:30 p.m. ET. Don’t forget, you can stream the game via the NBC Sports app, which you can find right here.

Related:

Todd McLellan named finalist for 2017 Jack Adams Award

Oilers showed off their depth beyond McDavid in beating Sharks

Kraft Hockeyville: For Schneider, road to NHL began in Massachusetts

New Jersey Devils netminder Cory Schneider‘s professional career is littered with highlights.

A first-round pick by Vancouver at the 2004 draft, Schneider has appeared in a Stanley Cup Final, captured the Jennings Award, signed a lucrative seven-year, $42 million contract (with the Devils) and has represented the U.S. on a number of international platforms.

Schneider backstopped Team USA at a pair of World Junior Championships, and was one of three goalies selected to last year’s entry at the World Cup of Hockey. It marked a significant stop on a road that began in his hometown of Marblehead, Massachusetts.

“I owe a lot to the youth hockey program, and where it’s gotten me,” he explained. “It got me started playing goalie, because we would rotate the equipment. So every game, someone new would play goal and every chance I got when someone didn’t show up or didn’t want to do it, I’d say ‘I’ll play goal.'”

After playing for Marblehead High School and Phillips Academy, Schneider spent some time with the U.S. National Team Development Program before embarking on an impressive career at Boston College.

He has since become one of the NHL’s busiest netminders. In ’14-15, he started a career-high 68 games and has continued to rank among the league leaders in appearances.

For more on Kraft Hockeyville, check out the two finalists for this year’s title: The Rostraver Ice Garden in Belle Vernon, PA, and the Bloomington Ice Garden in Bloomington, MN.