Finally, 2003 first round pick Hugh Jessiman will make his NHL debut

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It’s taken eight years but after today, we can finally say that everyone taken in the first round of the 2003 NHL draft have played in the NHL. George Richards from On Frozen Pond reports this afternoon, the Florida Panthers have recalled former 12th overall selection of the New York Rangers Hugh Jessiman to play tonight.

Jessiman is the last player from the first round of the 2003 NHL draft to play in the NHL. It’s the first draft since the 1983 draft to have each of the players taken in the first round to all play in the NHL. Jessiman, however, comes with an unfortunate distinction. Being a New York City kid drafted by the New York Rangers, he was put on a pedestal almost immediately by the Rangers. The “local boy makes good” story is sometimes too good to resist.

Instead, Jessiman struggled mightily after leaving Dartmouth College two and a half seasons into playing there. He went to the Rangers farm teams in the ECHL and AHL and stayed there for good before being moved to the Predators in a minor league deal. Jessiman then signed with Chicago in the off-season and was involved in the trade that sent Michal Frolik from Florida to Chicago. Now, he finally gets to suit up in an NHL game.

Being the last first round pick to play from that 2003 draft shouldn’t be much of an insult as that draft was loaded with tremendous talent. Marc-Andre Fleury was the top pick and was followed by the likes of Nathan Horton, Jeff Carter, Dion Phaneuf, Thomas Vanek, Ryan Suter, and Eric Staal. All of those guys were taken before Jessiman at 12th overall. Of course, it’s who was taken after him that gets Rangers fans to throw a fit.

Kings captain Dustin Brown was taken with the 13th pick. Chicago’s Brent Seabrook went with the next choice. Zach Parise went five picks after Jessiman to the Devils. Ryan Getzlaf went 19th overall to Anaheim and the Ducks got Corey Perry 28th overall as well. Ryan Kesler went 23rd overall to Vancouver. Think of where the Rangers might be with any of those players and you can understand why Rangers fans might be a bit upset with GM Glen Sather still to this day for going for the good story pick in Jessiman. We won’t even get into how Loui Eriksson and Shea Weber went in the second round of that draft.

Making things a bit more awkward for Jessiman is that he’s the last of three Dartmouth College players taken in that 2003 draft to make it to the NHL even in spite of being taken in the first round. Lee Stempniak currently of the Coyotes went in the fifth round 148th overall to St. Louis while Vancouver’s Tanner Glass went 265th overall in the ninth round to Florida. That’s not taking into account other Dartmouth players who have also gotten the call ahead of Jessiman since then in Pittsburgh’s Ben Lovejoy and Nick Johnson, Colorado’s David Jones and T.J. Galiardi, and Montreal’s J.T. Wyman. Even Atlanta’s Grant Lewis has played in one NHL game before Jessiman.

All that aside, it’s been a long time coming for the once highly touted prospect and while he’s not highly touted anymore and a long time removed from his finest days as a member of the Dartmouth Big Green, it’s a bit of a credit to him for staying with it so long to end up in a situation with the Panthers where they’ve got such a need for forward help they can call on him to try and help out. Let the jokes end now about Jessiman, today is his day.

Rangers go college route, hire David Quinn as new head coach

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David Quinn will be leaving his post with the Boston University men’s hockey team to replace Alain Vigneault as the new head coach of the New York Rangers.

“We are excited to announce that David will become the next Head Coach of the New York Rangers,” said Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton in a statement. “In a coaching career that has spanned over two decades at the collegiate, pro, and international level, David has helped his teams achieve success while simultaneously teaching the game and helping his players develop on and off the ice. He is the ideal choice to bring our loyal and passionate fans the winning hockey they deserve.”

Gorton had pursued Jim Montgomery after firing Vigneault on April 7, but the former Denver University head coach decided to take the open job with the Dallas Stars. According to Larry Brooks of the New York Post, Gorton was looking for someone who could communicate well with young players and possessed strong team-building skills. None of the bigger names on the free agent coaching market like Dave Tippett, Dan Bylsma and Darryl Sutter, were on his radar. 

In five years behind the bench with the Terriers, Quinn, who replaced Jack Parker in 2013, had a 105-68-21 record, which included four trips to the NCAA tournament and a national title game appearance in 2015. He becomes the fifth head coach — following Ned Harkness, Herb Brooks, Bob Johnson and Dave Hakstol — to jump from the college ranks to the NHL.

(The hiring of Quinn also means that USA Hockey will have to look for a new head coach for its World Junior team after announcing in April he would take that job.)

Quinn’s deal is reportedly for five years and worth in the neighborhood of $12 million. Per College Hockey News’ Mike McMahon, the Rangers original offer of four years, $8 million was rejected before they added a year and bumped up the salary per season.

At BU, Quinn helped develop current NHLers like Jack Eichel, Charlie McAvoy, Clayton Keller and one of the top prospects in next month’s entry draft, Brady Tkachuk.

Quinn is no stranger to the NHL. Before arriving at BU, he spent the 2012-13 season as an assistant with the Colorado Avalanche, three years after taking over the head coaching duties with their AHL affiliate in Lake Erie.

The Rangers missed the playoffs this season for the first time since 2010. Gorton threw in the towel in February, signaling to the fan base he was ready to re-tool on the fly and look toward next season. The roster is littered with a number of restricted and unrestricted free agents to deal with this summer, per CapFriendly, and with nearly $25 million in cap space to play with this summer, it’s not hard to imagine them being back in the postseason next spring.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Barry Trotz takes his turn at the Capitals’ hot lap ahead of Game 7

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It’s the final gameday for either the Tampa Bay Lightning or Washington Capitals as Game 7 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, live stream) arrives in the 2018 Eastern Conference Final. The Lightning have been here before as this is their third straight conference final that will end with a Game 7. The Capitals, well, their history is well-documented, but they’re feeling good and loose, as evidence by head coach Barry Trotz taking the “hot lap” on Wednesday morning.

Via NBC Washington, here’s the hot lap backstory:

The weird tradition began in the first round at Nationwide Arena in Columbus when Jay Beagle grew tired of waiting for the ice to freeze over following a fresh Zamboni cut. Beagle’s teammates implored him to wait a little longer for the ice to cure, but he grew impatient and took it upon himself to kick off the skate by racing around the rink, a la the fastest skater competition at the All Star Skills competition.

A new skater is selected after each road loss and Alex Ovechkin, who uses it to “wake up” his legs, took over the duties in the second round against Pittsburgh. Since the Lightning won Game 5 at AMALIE Arena, it was time for a new skater and the 55-year-old Trotz got involved.

“That came out of nowhere. Obviously, we had to change it. We lost here last time,” said Trotz. “I look at it this way, real simply — they called my number. At this time of year, you’re all in. So I was ready. I was surprised. I was a little bit worried about the turns because the rudders haven’t been sharpened all year. You didn’t see a lot of crossovers there. I used body mass and weight to dig in. It was a little bit of a slow lap.

“You’re all in. This time of year it’s fun. They call your number. You step up to the plate, you’ve gotta do it.”

That answers any questions about whether the Capitals are feeling nerves ahead of what Ovechkin described as “probably biggest game in my life, this team, organization probably.”

MORE:
• Oshie, Ovechkin give Capitals’ power play unique options
Lightning need to ‘push back’ after missed opportunity in Game 6
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Locking up Evander Kane is smart business for Sharks

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The San Jose Sharks arguably got the best bang for their buck at the trade deadline when they acquired Evander Kane from the Buffalo Sabres. No one was really sure how Kane would fit in with his new team, but he made enough of an impact that the Sharks are reportedly about to hand a new seven-year contract extension, according to Irfaan Gaffar of Sportsnet.

The report suggests that Kane’s new contract will come with a cap hit in the $7 million range. Locking up the enigmatic winger for that long could be seen as risky, but the fact that he’s going to be 27 years old when the season starts takes some of the risk out of the new deal.

When the trade between the Sharks and Sabres went down in February, many speculated that Kane would be nothing more than a rental. After all, if San Jose extends him, the second-round pick they’re sending to Buffalo becomes a first-rounder in 2019. Kane fit in so well on the top line with Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi that it appears as though they don’t mind giving up their top selection in next summer’s entry draft (can you blame them?).

Oh, and by the way, the 2019 pick is lottery protected, according to the Associated Press. So if the Sharks were to fall apart next season, they could push the selection to 2020.

Kane hit a bit of a rut during his time in Buffalo, but it’s hard to blame him? No one should be making excuses for a millionaire on skates, but these guys are human, too. The Sabres haven’t played meaningful hockey in so long that daily motivation is probably hard to come by.

In San Jose, it became clear pretty early on that Kane was going to be comfortable in his new surroundings. He had 20 goals and 20 assists in 61 games before the trade and nine goals and 14 points in 17 games with the Sharks. In the postseason, he added four goals and one assist in nine contests.

As you’d expect, all of his advanced metrics went up after he moved to the West Coast. According to Natural Stat Trick, his CF% went from 49.94 in Buffalo to 53.60 in San Jose. His FF% 50.80 to 55.03, his SF% went up by almost six percent. When Pavelski was on the ice with Kane, his CF% was 56.11. When Pavelski was on the ice without Kane, his CF% was 46.27 percent. Playing together clearly made both players better.

There’s a risk anytime a team hands out a long-term contract. In this case, Kane hasn’t been the most consistent player over the course of his career, so there’s a little cause for concern. But it’s also important to note that power forwards that can skate and that are under 30 rarely hit the open market. Even if they do hit free agency, you never know how well they’ll fit in with your current group of players. This situation is already different in that respect because the Sharks had a couple of months to evaluate him in their building, with their players. He fits.

Handing over roughly $50 million over to Kane likely means that they’ll be out of the running for John Tavares, but there’s no guarantee that the Islanders captain will go there if he hits the market anyway.

GM Doug Wilson is making the right decision here.

MORE:
• 
Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• 
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Oshie, Ovechkin give Capitals’ power play unique options

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WASHINGTON — When you think of the Washington Capitals’ power play the first thing that probably jumps into your mind is Alex Ovechkin casually standing on top of the left circle, waiting for somebody to lob a perfectly placed pass directly into his wheelhouse, and then him bombing a one-timer at the net. If you are a fan of the Capitals or have no rooting interest in the outcome of the game it can breathtakingly fun to watch. For everybody else there has to be a sense of inevitability to it all because you know where he is going to be, you know what is going to happen, and you know your team is probably not going to be able to stop it.

It is perhaps the most dominant play in the league, and it is a big part of what makes the Capitals power play such a valuable weapon for them. It is not the only weapon the Capitals have on the power play.

Entering Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final on Wednesday night (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN) the Capitals power play is clicking at 29.8 percent, which is an absurdly efficient rate. Among teams that have played at least 15 games in a single postseason that is the second-highest mark in league history (up from the fifth highest a few days ago when we last looked at these stunning numbers) trailing only the 1980-81 New York Islanders.

What makes the unit so difficult to defend is that is it has so many different options that can — and will — beat you.

The Ovechkin option is the obvious one, and the one that gets most of the attention both in terms of how the unit is talked about and defended.

In the second round the Penguins tried to take that option away from the Capitals by shading a player over into Ovechkin’s office and trying to keep him from unloading his one-timer on net. In terms of shutting down Ovechkin, it kind of worked. He didn’t score a single power play goal in the series (the only series this postseason in which he has not scored a power play goal, and only the fifth playoff series in his career he did not score a power play goal) and was limited to just five total shot attempts in 20 minutes of power play time That is only 0.25 shot attempts per minute, a shockingly low rate for Ovechkin. By comparison, he attempted 27 shots on the power play in 37 minutes of power play time (0.729 shots per minute) in the first-round against the Columbus Blue Jackets and has attempted 22 shots in 20 minutes of power play time in the first six games against Tampa Bay (1.1 shot attempts per minute).

The problem the Penguins ran into: All of that focus on Ovechkin left T.J. Oshie and John Carlson (17 shot attempts in 20 minutes of power play ice time, including a massive goal in Game 5 of the series where he was able to walk down the middle of the ice wide open) alone to beat them. And they did. Even with Ovechkin being a non-factor on the power play in terms of shot attempts and goals, the Capitals power play still managed to convert on 26.6 percent of its power play opportunities in the series. The top power play unit in the NHL during the regular season (Pittsburgh) converted on 26.2 percent of its chances. So … still great. Still better than everybody else.

The problem with shading over to Ovechkin and making it a 4-on-3 everywhere else is the “everywhere else” is also filled with talented players that form a cohesive unit that is masterful in what it does. They find the open area. They find the open man. They put the puck exactly where it needs to be to allow for the best and quickest shot possible. 

While the Ovechkin one-timer is the notable play, the Capitals have seemingly perfected another one-timer that takes advantage of all of the attention that goes to Ovechkin. That would be where T.J. Oshie drifts into the soft area in the middle of the penalty kill box and creates just enough space to get a shot of his own. That play has worked numerous times for the Capitals in these playoffs. So far Oshie has a team-leading five power play goals this postseason, with four of them coming from this exact location, standing directly between four opposing players.

This is T.J Oshie’s office.

(He scored a power play goal just seconds after that screen shot).

Three of them were by the one-timer from there and one was a deflection from that spot. The fifth was a rebound off of a scramble in front.

Perhaps the biggest of those goals came in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning to break what was at the time a scoreless tie in the second period. This went in the books as the game-winning goal.

After the game on Monday Oshie talked about what makes that play work and gave a lot of credit to the presence of Ovechkin.

“I think the biggest thing there is No. 8 over in his office,” said Oshie. “How teams play us all depends on where he is and how they want to play him. For me it’s just a matter of a couple of feet here and there to find that soft area, whether it’s [Nicklas Backstrom] or [Evgeny Kuznetsov] typically they are able to find a way to get that puck into the wheelhouse and it’s up to me to find the hole.”

So, in a way, Ovechkin still drives the success even if he is not the one doing the damage. This is definitely a case of making players around him better. It is still up to those players to make it work. They do exactly that, and it is what makes the Capitals’ power play almost impossible to defend. If they didn’t make it work the whole thing would fall apart and the “shadow Ovechkin” approach might actually create its desired result: Stop the power play. That is not at all what happens.

Take away Ovechkin’s office? Oshie and Carlson are going to beat you in the middle of the ice. Try to clog the middle of the ice? Ovechkin will once again be lurking above the circle with nobody around him. It is a no-win game. The only way to truly stop them is to just stay out of the penalty box.

MORE:
• Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.