2019 NHL Draft tracker — Round 1

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The 2019 NHL draft kicks off with the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers at the top of the board.

The Devils began the night by selecting Jack Hughes, making him the eighth American-born player to be selected No. 1 overall.

The New York Rangers followed that up by taking Kaapo Kakko with the No. 2 overall pick.

It was a huge night for USA hockey with nine American-born players going in the first round. It was a disappointing night for hockey fans that like trades because there was only one — the Philadelphia Flyers moving from the No. 11 pick to the No. 14 pick in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes.

1. New Jersey Devils — Jack Hughes, forward, U.S. National team

“Elite skating, hockey sense and skill. Hughes has most attributes you look for in a star player. A very agile player with incredible speed. He is also equipped with fast hands and his puck handling along with his skating allows him to regularly beat player one-on-one.” — Elite prospects

For the second time in three years the Devils were the owners of the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and added another potential franchise player to an organization that already has Nico Hischier (the 2017 No. 1 overall pick) and a former NHL MVP in Taylor Hall.

2. NY Rangers — Kaapo Kakko, forward, TPS Turko (Finland)

“A quick-thinking winger, Kakko never seems to be in a rush. He reads the game exceptionally well and finds himself a step ahead while the play is still developing. He is confident with the puck and capable of handling it in small spaces. With his size, Kakko protects the puck well and uses his high hockey IQ to make smart offensive plays. Kakko excels offensively and beats opponents with smarts and skill both on and off the puck.” — Elite prospects

The Rangers were huge winners in the draft lottery in moving up to the No. 2 overall pick, and getting a potential impact player like Kakko could really accelerate their rebuild.

3. Chicago Blackhawks  — Kirby Dach, forward, Saskatoon Blades

“A Ryan Getzlaf-type pivot.” — TSN

It was pretty much a given that Hughes and Kaako were going to be the top-two picks in this year’s class, meaning the real intrigue began here with the Blackhawks, another team that was a big mover in the draft lottery. The Blackhawks still have a strong core of veterans with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith at the top of their lineup and need some cheap, young impact talent to complement them. Perhaps Dach can make that impact as soon as this season. Stan Bowman said on NBCSN immediately after the pick that Dach will have every chance to make the team.

4. Colorado Avalanche (from Ottawa Senators) — Bowen Byram, defender, Vancouver Giants

“An exceptionally gifted defenceman who knows his strengths and plays by them. He possesses elite skating ability and is at his best when playing high energy, up-tempo hockey. He handles the puck well and is able to keep control of it under pressure. He makes calculated decisions that consistently shift momentum in his team’s favor. His creativity in the offensive zone speaks to his confidence in his ability to be a game-changer.” — Elite prospects

The Avalanche received this pick as a result of the 2018 Matt Duchene trade and used it to take the first defender off the board, adding Byram to an already talented young blue line that already features Samuel Girard and Cale Makar. Those two, plus Byram, should be the foundation of the Avalanche’s blue line for the next decade.

5. Los Angeles Kings — Alex Turcotte, forward, USHL

“Exceptional hockey sense, impressive skating and compete-level. There is a lot to like about Turcotte. He is a very gifted playmaker, but also has fine release and goal scoring ability. Can be used in most situations and plays a very complete game.” — Elite prospects

The second American-born player taken in the top-five. The Kings need an organizational overhaul and an infusion of young talent. They hopefully get that with Turcotte to start that rebuild.

6. Detroit Red Wings — Moritz Seider, defender, DEL

“Seider is a mobile and very smart two-way defenseman with few weaknesses. Plays a mature game with strong and consistent defensive decisions. Offensively, his vision allows him to be a very good passer and he is also good at getting his shot through.” — Elite prospects

Steve Yzerman begins his rebuild of the Detroit Red Wings with what can probably be described as an “off the board pick.” Seider has great size and can move the puck and will now be one of the faces of the Red Wings’ rebuild.

7. Buffalo Sabres — Dylan Cozens, forward, Lethbridge Hurricanes

Dubbed “The Whitehorse Workhorse” and a “can’t miss” player by TSN’s Craig Button — TSN

The first of the Buffalo Sabres’ two first-round picks, the Sabres pick a two-way forward that they badly needed after giving away Ryan O'Reilly before the season. Cozens is the first player from the Yukon to ever be selected in the first round.

8. Edmonton Oilers — Philip Broberg, defense, Sweden

“Philip Broberg is a gifted two-way defenseman. His fluid skating ability allows him to punish over-extension immediately with how quickly he can start plays from his own end. On the fly, he pays close attention to where the puck’s going and where it’s been. This allows him to read the play early and make the most of any time and space found. On the downside, his defensive play could be more consistent as well as his decision making. Additional improvement when it comes to his release as well as puck distribution could make him a high-scoring defenseman.” — Elite Prospects

Ken Holland knows his team needs help on the blue line and players that can skate and move the puck. Broberg is a good place for him to start when it comes to reshaping an Oilers team that has holes all over its lineup after Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

9. Anaheim Ducks — Trevor Zegras, forward, USHL

“Zegras is an elite two-way forward that can play both wing and center. His pro-level mobility is the foundation of his game, supplementing an in-transition speed that shifts the pace of play. He knows how to get under the skin of opponents and will actively seek out opportunities to lay the body and create separation, all the while staying attentive to the unfolding play. This unique aspect of his game makes him difficult and frustrating to play against.” — Elite Prospects

The third player from the U.S. National development program in the first round and all went in the top-10. The Ducks lineup needs some creativity and skill and Zegras brings the potential for plenty of both.

10. Vancouver Canucks — Vasili Podkolzin, forward, Russia

“A skilled winger who plays with an edge. Podkolzin combines his fine hockey sense, puck handling and shooting with an aggressive, in-your-face, type of game. He competes hard, is very difficult to play against and has the tools to be a high scoring player.” — Elite Prospects

The first Russian-born player take in 2019 and a potential impact player, but Canucks fans will have to wait for two years for him to play in the NHL. So be patient, Canucks fans.

11. Arizona Coyotes (from Philadelphia Flyers) — Victor Soderstrom, defender, Sweden

“An uber competitive two-way defenceman who thinks the game at the highest level, A gifted skater, his ability to traverse all three zones is best described as smooth and effortless. He never looks disinterested and it’s always apparent just how badly he wants to win. His vision and awareness is great, allowing him to play a responsible yet dynamic brand of hockey. He’s a dangerous puck-carrier with a great shot. Defensively, he makes good decisions quickly and consistently, never looking out of place when pitted up against the other team’s top players. He pressures the opposition and limits options, never getting in the way of his goalie.” — Elite Prospects

Our first trade of the draft saw the Coyotes move up from No. 14 to No. 11 in a deal with the Flyers. The Coyotes moved up to continue the first-round run on defenders.

12. Minnesota Wild — Matthew Boldy, forward, USHL

“Boldy is a highly skilled winger. A finesse player with impressive creativity, a quick release and fine playmaking ability. Not the fastest of skaters, Boldy’s hockey sense and overall skill level still allows him to be reliable offensive threat.” — Elite Prospects

Another big win for the US National Development program as Boldy goes to the Wild at No. 12 to add some skill to the Wild’s farm system. He is ready to play at Boston College next season.

13. Florida Panthers — Spencer Knight, goalie, USHL

Yet another player from the US Development team and the first goalie off the board. The Panthers have some long-term goaltending questions with Roberto Luongo being near the end of his career and James Reimer potentially out the door. It remains to be seen when Knight will make an impact in the NHL, but he is an incredible athlete in net. He is just the third goalie drafted in the first round since 2012, so it is a bit of a gamble pick.

14. Philadelphia Flyers (from Arizona Coyotes) — Cam York, defender, USHL

“A highly skilled defenseman. York has impressive hockey sense and his overall skill level is high. Furthermore, he is very mobile, has a good passing game and a quick release. Defensively he is solid with an active stick and strong positioning.” — Elite Prospects

The SIXTH player from the US National Development team. The Flyers get York, as well as an additional pick in the 2019 draft, by moving down three spots in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes.

15. Montreal Canadiens — Cole Caufield, forward, USHL

“A game-breaking goal scorer that, despite his diminutive frame, thrives under pressure and is difficult to contain. Defensively, he’s uncomfortable having the puck in his own end for long and he’ll make the extra effort to pressure around the blue line and take away cross-ice options. Upon procuring puck possession, he’ll be the first to explode up ice in-transition. The hallmark of his game is his exceptional goal-scoring ability. He has a shot that absolutely leaps off his stick with pinpoint accuracy when he lets loose and a low centre of gravity that facilitates fast and flashy puckhandling at pace.” — Elite Prospects

This could be an absolute steal. The best goal-scorer in the draft and an electrifying talent that probably would have been a top-10, or even top-5 pick if he were just a few inches taller.

16. Colorado Avalanche — Alex Newhook, forward, Victoria Grizzlies 

“Offensively driven player, he handles the puck with finesse and excels when leading a rush.” — Elite Prospects

The second of Colorado’s two first-round picks, Newhook becomes the newest member of the Avalanche organization. After bolstering their defense depth at No. 4, the Avalanche add another skilled center with Newhook with their own pick at No. 16 overall.

17. Vegas Golden Knights — Peyton Krebs, forward, Kootenay Ice 

“Krebs is a potent point-producer and offensive catalyst that rises to the occasion whenever he’s on the ice. He is a smooth, shifty skater that traverses all three zones with ease and closes the gap on the backcheck quickly. Defensively, his understanding of the game communicates itself through his proactive positioning and an active, lane-disrupting stick. Willing to go to the dirty areas and fight for the puck, but isn’t at his best there.” — Elite Prospects

The Golden Knights have traded a lot of prospects and draft picks in recent years, but they now have Krebs and Cody Glass to still drive their prospect pool down the middle at center.

18. Dallas Stars — Thomas Harley, defender, Mississauga Steelheads

“Harley skates well and stands out with his hockey sense, especially when handling the puck. He sees openings many players don’t and is a very good passer. On the downside, there is room for improvement when it comes to his decision making and compete level.” — Elite Prospects

An organization that is already blessed with John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen at the top of its blue line for the next decade gets another gifted playmaker.

19. Ottawa Senators (from Columbus Blue Jackets) — Lassi Thomson, defender, Kelowna Rockets

“Skilled two-way defenseman with above average offensive tools. Thomson is a fluid skater and moves the puck well up the ice. Not a bad passer, but stands out more with his slapper from the blue line.” — Elite Prospects

The Senators had to make a deal at the deadline to get back into the first-round of the 2019 draft, and while it may not have been the top pick they would have wanted for such a down year, they still add another solid defense prospect to the system to go with Thomas Chabot and Erik Brannstrom.

20. Winnipeg Jets (from New York Rangers) — Ville Heinola, defender, Finland

After trading Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers the Jets need to start rebuilding their defense and Heinola is a good place to start. Craig Button said on Friday night he is probably two or three years away and projects as a second-pair defender.

21. Pittsburgh Pittsburgh — Samuel Poulin, forward, Sherbrooke Phoenix 

“Poulin is a very all-round player. He plays a good two-way game and has very few weaknesses to his game. Furthermore, he competes hard, has leadership qualities and is a decent point producer.” — Elite Prospects

This is the Penguins’ first selection in Round 1 since 2014, while their most recent first-round pick on the roster is Sidney Crosby, taken during the 2005 draft. Poulin is still couple of years away from the NHL so do not expect him to be scoring goals in Pittsburgh anytime soon.

22. Los Angeles Kings (from Toronto Maple Leafs) — Tobias Bjornfot, defender, Sweden

“Björnfot is a very capable two-way defenseman with few weaknesses in his game. A strong skater who reads the game well and contributes both offensively and defensively. Also a good leader and he competes hard on every shift. Can be used on the powerplay, but stands out more in his own end with this solid play.” — Elite Prospects

The second Kings pick of the first-round and the result of the trade that sent Jake Muzzin to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Kings use it to add another defender to the organization.

23. New York Islanders — Simon Holmstrom, forward, Sweden

“An offensively skilled player who competes hard. Holmström is a good skater and stands out with really good hands and impressive puckhandling skills. Quite shifty and a player that can do the unexpected offensively. Has a good wrister and his two-way game is underrated. Great character and team player.” — Elite Prospects

The Islanders were the big surprise team during the 2018-19 season but really lacked impact goal-scorers. Holmstrom could one day help solve the latter part as he has the potential to be a finisher in the NHL.

24. Nashville Predators — Philip Tomasino, forward, Niagara IceDogs

He nearly tripled his offensive production this past season and as a result rapidly climbed draft boards. Speedy forward that can make an impact all over the ice.

25. Washington Capitals — Connor McMichael, forward, London Knights

“A smart center with impressive hockey sense. Reads the game very well and plays well in his own end too. Puckhandling is good and he has a decent nose for the net. Some consistency issues.” — Elite Prospects

Versatile player that can play a number of different roles. Had 72 points in 67 games for the London Knights during the season.

26. Calgary Flames — Jakob Pelletier, forward, Moncton Wildcats

Undersized, but very talented. Just the type of player you want to take a chance on late in the first round. The Flames have had success with a player like that in Johnny Gaudreau. He recorded 89 points in 65 games in the QMJHL this season. Played center and wing in juniors but Craig Button sees him as a winger at the NHL level.

27. Tampa Bay Lightning — Nolan Foote, forward, Kelowna Rockets

Two years after the Lightning selected Cal Foote in the first round, they selected his brother, Nolan. This is Julian Brisebois’ first pick as general manager of the Lightning. He scored 36 goals and finished with 63 total points in 66 games for Kelowna this season.

28. Carolina Hurricanes — Ryan Suzuki, forward, Barrie Colts

“Suzuki is a good skater, excellent passer and is very good at putting himself in scoring positions, where he rarely fails to capitalize. He does not play overly physical, but is very good at avoiding contact while doing so. He has excellent hands and all around vision. On the downside, his effort-level has been questioned.” — Elite prospects

The younger brother of Montreal Canadiens prospect Nick Suzuki. The Hurricanes add another playmaker to promising young roster. He started the season as a potential top-10 pick but slid down a little throughout the year.

29. Anaheim Ducks (from San Jose Sharks- from Buffalo Sabres) — Brayden Tracey, forward, Moose Jaw Warriors

Excellent production for Tracey this past season to go with a lot of talent. The Ducks use their second pick of the first round to add some much-needed skill and offense to an organization that just lost Corey Perry (buyout) and Ryan Kesler (injury).

30. Boston Bruins — John Beecher, forward, USHL

The eighth player taken in the first round from the US National Development team. The Bruins have a bunch of excellent centers at the NHL level but they are not going to play forever. Have to restock the cupboards at some point, and Beecher helps do that.

31. Buffalo Sabres (from St. Louis Blues) — Ryan Johnson, defender, USHL

The Sabres need Ryan Johnson to pan out, not only because they need as much help as they can get on the NHL roster, but because this pick, along with the development of Tage Thompson, is the only hope the Sabres have to salvage the Ryan O’Reilly trade.

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.

 

Islanders place Andrew Ladd on waivers

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New York Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello announced that the team put forward Andrew Ladd on waivers on Thursday, and from the sound of things, it’s unclear if we’ll see Ladd in the NHL again.

That said, Ladd’s $5.5 million AAV doesn’t expire until after 2022-23(!) so it’s possible that this saga may not be over.

For now, the Islanders are putting Ladd on waivers with the plan of assigning him to the AHL. Ladd had been on a conditioning stint while on LTIR as he tries to recover from a torn ACL suffered in March, and Lamoriello said that the Islanders hadn’t seen enough from that conditioning stint to have him resume playing. Setting such a standard would always make sense, really, but especially so with the Islanders humming along with an impressive 13-3-1 record so far in 2019-20.

Ladd’s longer-term future is fuzzy, and Lamoriello didn’t want to speculate about his chances (or lack thereof?) to play in the NHL again.

Newsday’s Andrew Gross clarifies that Ladd won’t need to be taken off LTIR to make this happen, which is relevant considering the whole $5.5M thing.

Ladd’s signing ranks as one of the many cursed 2016 free agent contracts, joined by Milan Lucic, Kyle Okposo (the player he essentially replaced for the Islanders), David Backes, Loui Eriksson and more.

To be fair, Ladd had some utility if you looked beyond disappointing numbers for the money at times with the Islanders, but again, it’s hard to get too thrilled about such positives when the price tag was so steep. Still, he had some aptitude, particularly defensively, during his first two seasons for the Islanders, as illustrated by this Hockey Viz heat map:

Looking at Ladd’s contract structure at Cap Friendly, there’s the remote chance that the Islanders might be able to move that $5.5M cap hit (LTIR-bound or not) as the deal goes along. Ladd’s actual salary slips to $4M from 2020-21 through 2022-23, and it’s split up by a $3M signing bonus and $1M base salary each year. Maybe a team hoping to hit the cap floor might be willing to eat that cap hit to inflate their numbers for assets after the signing bonus is already paid, even if that would most realistically be able to happen heading into 2022-23? Perhaps the Islanders could bribe the Seattle expansion franchise to eat that deal, much like Vegas ended up doing with David Clarkson‘s contract?

Ultimately, those details are mostly the concerns of whoever is handling the Islanders’ cap situation in the future, and perhaps other teams hoping to squeeze every ounce of value out of an offseason.

Unfortunately, whether Ladd ever plays for the Islanders (or any other NHL team) again, it’s clear that the Islanders didn’t get much value from signing the former Winnipeg Jets captain.

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.

Fabbri finding a home with new opportunity in Detroit

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This season for the Red Wings is about developing youth. There are over 10 players currently on the roster who are 24 years old or younger, so getting the kids up to speed to continue this transition phase is vital if the franchise is to become a playoff team again.

One of those kids is a recent addition to the team — thanks in part to Darren Pang — and a player who was in need of a new opportunity after a couple of tough seasons.

Robby Fabbri left the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues for the Red Wings earlier this month in a trade that sent Jacob De La Rose to St. Louis. He signed a one-year deal with St. Louis in July, but when it was clear he wouldn’t have a regular role in the lineup, he asked to move on. So far, the change has paid off as through three games, the 23-year-old winger has two goals and four points, including two primary assists on Detroit’s last two game-winning goals.

“He’s been great. He’s a playmaker,” said Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin. “He gets the puck and it’s going to someone with a purpose after he’s got it. Adding a guy like that who can make plays and does it a lot, and he’s a crafty guy, he’s been an energy guy for us and a huge addition.”

Entering the 2014 NHL Draft, the Red Wings were interested in Fabbri, who scored 45 goals and recorded 87 points in 58 games with the OHL’s Guelph Storm during his draft year. But when they were on the clock, general manager Ken Holland announced Larkin’s name at pick No. 15. Six spots later, Fabbri went to the Blues.

“He was always dangerous with the puck and he always had the puck on his stick,” Larkin said about playing against Fabbri in their younger days. “He was one of those guys where being from Detroit, he’s from Toronto, you knew who he was and you knew going into the game that it’s Robby Fabbri, he’s going to make plays and he’s going to be a star out there. It’s cool to have that and be in the same locker room with him now and come up through the same draft. We’re pretty familiar with each other through events and just knowing each other through time. I’m excited that he’s here and I think he’s excited that he’s here.”

Fabbri got off to an okay start with the Blues, scoring 29 times in his first 123 games, but two ACL injuries in the same knee derailed the next year-and-a-half of his career. By the time he returned last season, he showed he could still play, but it would remain a process before he’d 100% be back to his old self.

A new team, a new chance. It’s all working out so far as Fabbri continues in a positive direction.

“We’re hoping we can get Robby back up to the speed he was when he first came into the league and he had lots of success,” said Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill after the trade. “I talked to Ken Hitchcock and (Blues head coach) Craig Berube. There’s a belief there’s more in him. There’s opportunity. … [W]e have opportunity here, a clean slate and now he’s got to grab it. We need more scoring, he can potentially provide that, so I look forward to watching him play.”

For Fabbri, putting his injuries in the rearview will help him move forward with his new opportunity and help him be a consistent offensive presence on a Red Wings team hoping to begin a consistent move in the right direction.

“When you’ve been hurt with the massive injuries he’s been hurt with sometimes you can get a little bit cautious, so it takes a little bit of time to get away from that,” said Blashill. “I’m hoping he can play as hard as he has in the past and he can give [us] scoring depth.”

————

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.

Book excerpt from Eddie Olczyk: Beating the Odds in Hockey and in Life

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The NHL on NBC’s Eddie Olczyk was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer in Aug. 2017 and after a long journey was deemed cancer-free seven months later. Since beating cancer, the former player and current analyst has been dedicated to be an advocate for those fighting the disease and their families.

Olczyk was recently named the NHL Hockey Fights Cancer Ambassador for the 2019-20 season and his new book “Eddie Olczyk: Beating the Odds in Hockey and in Life” tells the story of his fight.

***

On February 21, at precisely 9:02 am, I was unhooked from my final chemo treatment. What a relief! It was incredible to be finally done — epic. I was done after six months. I had a bunch of family and friends call and congratulate me and I received so many texts from the hockey and horse racing worlds with exclamation points. Diana brought me a bouquet of helium balloons shaped like horses and dogs with the words You Did It. She almost flew away because of all the balloons. 

After that last round of chemo, I got rid of anything that reminded me of what I had gone through during those treatments—clothes, pillows, blankets. Anything that reeked of chemo, I disposed of. That felt really good. The week before I went to the mall and went on a shopping spree. I was about to embark on the rest of my life and the rest of my career. 

It was around this time that Illinois congressman Mike Quigley spoke on the House floor and addressed my situation. He had a Blackhawks jersey with my name and number brought in for display and talked about my battle and what I had been doing to raise awareness about the need for earlier screenings and continued research to find a cure. He described me as a native son of Chicago who has exemplified the heart, grit, and the character of the city we both call home. 

“Like many others who have faced cancer, he was concerned that he was letting people down and he began to question his mortality, but as he went through treatment and reflected on this ordeal Eddie started to recognize that it was okay to be scared,” Congressman Quigley said. “He knows it’s important to emphasize that there’s nothing wrong with people getting colonoscopies at an earlier age. He knows that if he can help just one individual get a checkup sooner, he will feel like his battle with cancer was worth it. To Eddie and to all fighting cancer, stay strong and know we’re with you.” 

I was very grateful for him doing that. What an honor.

On March 8 I had the scan and the next day while traveling with the team to Boston, I asked Dr. Michael Terry, the Blackhawks team physician, if he had any update. He had been part of my illness from the start; I call him the captain of my doctors. 

He had access to the scan on his iPhone. He looked at me and said, “Edzo, from what I can see, it looks really clean.” 

I gave him a huge hug because I’d just dodged a huge bullet. After getting emotional, I took a couple of deep breaths. I wanted to yell something like what most hockey players do after they score a goal, but I was just overcome thinking about so much—my family, my kids, my friends. I just couldn’t wait to tell Diana that it looked good, but we still had to wait to hear from Dr. Mulcahy. 

It was a relief and a half that it was all gone. Thank God. I was so thankful for the physicians and the team that I had and the support I had. It’s always going to be with me, but I felt okay. We had come a long way since that first meeting with Dr. Mulcahy. Yes, it was absolute hell for six months. Going through the chemo was the most difficult part because there was a chance, God forbid, I’d have to continue with more treatment. 

I endured a lot and tackled it straight on and felt like I had conquered it. Now I had to recover and rid myself of all this medicine and tell my story to encourage people to go in for checkups and get colonoscopies. This is why we tried to be so open and outgoing without being overbearing. If you don’t feel good or you get to the age of 45, you’ve got to get checked, whether you have a history of cancer in your family or not. 

I called Diana after we deplaned and told her the news and we subsequently gave the heads-up to the kids. 

Four days later, at 5:07 pm, Dr. Mulcahy called and told me I was cancer-free. Diana was there with me and we didn’t do anything special other than maybe hug a little tighter when I got back home. It was like, “We did it. Let’s get as far away from this as we can.” 

On March 22, just before the start of the second period of a game at the United Center between the Hawks and the Vancouver Canucks, I went back on the air with Pat Foley to update people on my condition. He told the audience that because of what I had gone through, he had gotten a colonoscopy, as had Troy Murray and a bunch of Pat’s friends. He said my ability to go public with what I had gone through was tremendously inspirational and also heroic, because anybody who has gone through chemotherapy knows how devastating a situation that can be. 

Happily, I told everyone I was cancer-free. I reiterated as I had throughout my battle that it was a team effort, including the doctors, the entire Hawks organization, the National Hockey League, the people I worked with on TV, my family, my wife, my children, and my friends. If it wasn’t for my family, there was no way I could have gone through this. We all beat this. And I said I had done enough crying to last me a lifetime. 

Pat was so pumped. “You beat cancer, baby!” he exclaimed. 

Now that I was publicly revealing I was cancer-free, I wanted to reinforce to people who were battling cancer or knew someone going through it that they are not weak individuals. My message for them was to stay strong, believe they are tough, and believe they will beat it. I ended the interview by saying if I could inspire one person to stay away from this by going for a colonoscopy, then I guess it was well worth it. It tests your will to live. 

I did a bunch of interviews afterward, just as I had done since I went public with my cancer battle, so it was kind of like going full circle. It wasn’t easy but it’s a lot less stressful when you’re telling them the happy ending of the story. Sharing that news was such a relief. 

I subsequently underwent the hernia surgery in which they put an 8″x10″ piece of mesh in my stomach to seal it up and fix it. In a way, it also felt like the final touch on my long journey.

This excerpt from Eddie Olczyk: Beating the Odds in Hockey and in Life by Eddie Olczyk with Perry Lefko is printed with the permission of Triumph Books.  For more information and to order a copy, please visit www.triumphbooks.com/EddieOlczyk.

Bolt from the blueline: Avs rookie Makar off to flying start

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DENVER — Cale Makar is on the move these days – into his own place and into hallowed hockey territory. He’s just getting settled in, too.

The Colorado Avalanche rookie became only the fourth defenseman in NHL history to record 18 points through his first 18 career regular-season games. His teammates maintain that’s due to his ability to see the ice with a veteran’s vision and rarely making the same mistake twice.

His own appraisal is much more subdued.

”I still feel like a rookie,” said Makar, who moved out of teammate Matt Calvert‘s house this year to achieve another level of independence. ”I still have lots to learn.”

Those are precisely the words fellow defenseman Ian Cole wants to hear from the 21-year-old who was drafted with the fourth overall pick in 2017 and received his first taste of NHL action last spring in the playoffs.

”But what’s he going to say? ‘Man, am I good!”’ Cole cracked.

The numbers and early accolades do tend to suggest that, though. Makar was named the third star by the league for the week ending Nov. 10.

On Tuesday night, he scored his fifth goal of the season in a 4-0 win at Winnipeg. It was a game in which goaltender Adam Werner stepped in after starter Pavel Francouz was hurt after 31 seconds. All Werner did was turn in a 40-save shutout in his unexpected NHL debut.

It could be another injury for the Avalanche to weather in what’s already been a banged-up season. They’re currently without captain Gabriel Landeskog, forward Mikko Rantanen, goaltender Philipp Grubauer, forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and defenseman Nikita Zadorov.

”It’s tough,” said Makar, who has 13 assists this season. ”At the end of the day, we have so much depth.”

Makar has given Colorado a big scoring boost.

A notable stat: The last rookie defenseman with more points than Makar through their first 18 regular-season games was Hall of Famer Larry Murphy, who had 19 for Los Angeles in 1980-81. The two other NHL blueliners with more points through 18 games were Hall of Famers Hap Day (21 points with the Toronto St. Patricks in 1924-25) and Harry Cameron (20 with the Toronto Arenas in 1917-18), according to research from NHL Stats.

Another noteworthy stat: Makar’s nine assists in October set an Avalanche record for a rookie defenseman in a month.

And another: His five straight games with at least a point to kick off the season matched the Avalanche record (since 1995-96) for the longest stretch to begin a career.

”He’s a guy that’s just so naturally talented,” Cole said. ”His maturity level is well beyond his years. He’s very analytical in the sense that when he sees something, we can talk through something and you can almost see him learning. He can catalog that.

”If I’m right in that assessment, he’s going to be very, very good very quickly and for a very long time.”

Last April, Makar signed an entry contract with Colorado after his Frozen Four run with UMass came to an end (he won the Hobey Baker Award as the nation’s top NCAA hockey player).

His first contest in an Avs sweater was Game 3 against the Western Conference’s top seed, Calgary. He made an immediate impact by becoming the first defenseman in league history to score a goal while making his NHL debut in the playoffs. Makar ended up with one goal and five assists in the postseason.

That jumpstarted his career. But it doesn’t lessen his learning curve, he maintained, through his first regular season.

”It’s just adjusting – whether it’s to the lifestyle or just the game schedule. Everything is different here,” said Makar, whose new place is within walking distance of most of his teammates. ”You have a lot more free time. It’s filling those times with useful stuff that’s going to help you. … It’s your job to worry about this.”

A little bit ago, Avalanche coach Jared Bednar sat down with his young defenseman after not seeing quite the same version of Makar he saw in the playoffs. They went over a few things – using his skating to work his way out of tough situations inside the ”D” zone and taking off if he sees openings in the neutral zone.

No need to tell him twice.

”He’s really implemented it in his game, and really bounced back in a hurry,” Bednar said. ”I feel really comfortable with where his game’s at.”