While the New York Islanders bucked the trend a bit by handing the “C” to veteran defenseman Mark Streit, young players are receiving more and more leadership roles around the NHL. From Alex Ovechkin’s captaincy with the Washington Capitals to Sidney Crosby leading the Pittsburgh Penguins and on, graybeard captains are rapidly giving way to guys who might not even be able to grow a beard.
It almost seems like a No. 1 overall pick should receive at least an alternate captain’s “A” when they sign an entry-level contract. Here’s a look at two top picks who could see an increase in responsibilities in the near future.
Should Erik Johnson be Colorado’s next captain?
The Colorado Avalanche are at tough team to gauge. After a Cinderella run to the playoffs in 2009-10, the mostly young squad absolutely fell apart last season. Young players such as budding power forward Chris Stewart and offensive defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk were traded (as was goalie Craig Anderson) during that campaign, while scoring blueliner John-Michael Liles parted ways with the team during the off-season.
With all that change in mind, the team’s 2011-12 fortunes could rest on the shoulders of players they traded for: goalie Semyon Varlamov and defenseman Erik Johnson. Johnson was the first overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, in front of players such as Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom, Jordan Staal and Claude Giroux. While Johnson has shown flashes of the brilliance the St. Louis Blues were hoping for, he fizzled out badly in 10-11 before being traded to Colorado for Stewart and Shattenkirk.
No doubt about it, the Avs hope that Johnson not only bounces back from last season, but that he’ll put together the best season of his young career. Denver Post writer Mark Kiszla goes one step further, though: he thinks Colorado should make him their new captain after Adam Foote retired from the job.
Matt Duchene brings the dash and flash that sells tickets. Milan Hejduk has more gray in his beard, Paul Stastny flinches less than a rock.
But are any of these fine men really the answer at captain?
Johnson is the right choice. He represents where the Avs want to go. This is a team obviously trying to tell the league it’s tired of being a pushover. At 6-foot-4 and 232 pounds, you don’t want to mess with Johnson at the blue line.
Personally, I’d go with Stastny, but Johnson would be a great representation of which forces will be most pivotal for Colorado next season.
Should Steven Stamkos wear the “A” in Tampa Bay?
Lightning head coach Guy Boucher made Stamkos an alternate captain during a preseason game, but it remains to be seen if the letter will stick. Then again, it might be right to think that it’s just a matter of time for the star sniper. Of course, it could be a while before he becomes more of a leader than current captain Vincent Lecavalier and invaluable winger Martin St. Louis, but he’s obviously a crucial cog in what should be a consistent contender.
“We know how he can play, and it’s not necessarily bringing a certain amount of points,” Lecavalier said. “It’s what he brings to the table. We know he’s going to bring more leadership this year. He deserves it.”
More than that, Boucher said, “He earned it.”
Stamkos seems like an easy choice for an alternate role, but what about Johnson’s possible quick turnaround as the Avalanche captain? Should it instead go to a veteran as a stopgap (Milan Hedjuk) or a player entering his prime like Stastny or Matt Duchene? Let us know in the comments.