Nothing Goes Right as Bobcats Drop Home Opener

On any given day, you can start off with the best intentions, work as hard as you can, set out to do everything the correct way, yet everything still conspires against you.  We’ve all had days like that.  Last night, that happened to the Lloydminster Bobcats.  After a very promising showing in Sherwood Park Friday night, the Bobcats simply could never get their game on track in the return bout Saturday night at the Centennial Civic Centre as a very talented Crusaders squad took it to them all night, defeating the Bobcats by a score of 6-0.

The late game is sold out, but tickets are still available for the noon game! Proceeds go towards the mental health initiative Project Sunrise. Head to Boundary Ford in Lloydminster to purchase your tickets and check out some of the Oilers and Flames greats for just $25.00!

It was an uphill battle for the Cats right from the get-go as just 11 seconds into the game a costly turnover led to a Kaden Bryant goal.  Then at the 12:16 mark Bryant put home his second of the game on a shot that Bobcats goaltender Cale Elder got a piece of, but not enough and it was 2-0 Crusaders after one.  Bobcats head coach Nigel Dube turned to Garrett Larsen to start the 2nd frame, however it was more of the same as the Crusaders put the pressure on and at the 5:14 mark Jacob Franczak made a beautiful stretch pass to Jarred White who had cheated into the neutral zone and he made no mistake going top shelf on the backhand which put the Crusaders up 3-0 and it would remain that score after 40 minutes of play.  The Bobcats entered the 3rd with a 35 second five on three power play, and despite not being able to capitalize on it, they were finally gaining a little momentum before Ty Mueller abruptly ended that as he fired a laser past Larsen to make it 4-0.  That goal seemed to really suck the life out of the building, as that goal was followed by goals from Franczak and Bryce Bader.  Three goals in 59 seconds from the Crusaders and it would remain that way as the Crusaders walked away with an impressive victory.

 

It felt from the broadcast booth that the Bobcats were badly gripping their sticks all night long.  Nothing was coming easy for the club.  Full credit to the Crusaders who have one of the best teams in the AJHL and will do what they did to the Bobcats to many teams in the league this season.  But the game the team played Friday night in Sherwood Park was impressive.  They weren’t intimidated by the Crusaders, they played loose, they showed they could take a punch and get right back up and keep fighting.  Saturday night, the effort level was still there, but the execution was far different.  They were two very different games.

 

After the game, Bobcats head coach Nigel Dube was taking the blame for the loss.  “As a coaching staff we’re six games in including pre-season and that’s on us to find a way to get these guys ready.  Tonight, we were off.  And when you play a team like Sherwood Park who is picked to probably win the league, you can’t be off, and as a coaching staff that’s on us.”  Dube went onto say “we had a little hiccup here in a couple area’s but we’ll be back to it tomorrow.  We’ll find ways to continue to grow.  19 new bodies and I can’t say that forever, but out of the gate here we’re going to have to learn and as a coaching staff we have to learn and execute what it takes to get these guys prepared every day.”  The schedule doesn’t lighten up at all either, as the defending North division champion Spruce Grove Saints are up next.  “For us, now we got to find the on.  We have a few days here, our practice on Monday and Tuesday will be structured a little bit different and we’ll look at it as game one on Tuesday and we’ll be good.  For us we can’t have being on and then being off.  Onus is on the coaching staff to sit down tonight, sit down tomorrow and execute a plan that’s going to help our guys and give them the resources to be better the next day.  That’s on us.”  It would have been VERY easy for Dube to point fingers after a disappointing home opener, but he showed great leadership with how he handled things.

 

The Saints roll into town Wednesday with a 2-0 record after sweeping their home and home this weekend against Drayton Valley, game time is 7:30.  If you can’t make it to the Centennial Civic Centre, then Shane Tomayer and myself will have the call on Hockey TV and on MixLR.

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Lloydminster Bobcats 2019-20 Season Preview

 

I believe the last blog that I did for this site specifically, I talked about my love for badonkadonks on beautiful women and how summer sucks/fall is awesome.  Real Pulitzer Prize winner stuff, I know.  But now we’re REALLY into fall, because hockey is getting fired up!  NHL camps have opened, and junior hockey is getting underway!  I got a couple of nephews debuting in Flin Flon tonight for the Bombers as they make the move from the AJHL to the SJHL (good luck tonight boys!!), and the AJHL season also gets underway, specifically the Lloydminster Bobcats who’ll start off with a home and home against perhaps the favourite’s in the AJHL North this season, the Sherwood Park Crusaders.

The Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames will be going head to head on September 28th and tickets are still available to the 12:00pm game! Get yours now lrhf.ca/events/bboa

Before I get rolling on the Cats and what the 19-20 season could look like, let’s talk about more local hockey action that will be seen at the CCC this season and that is the Boundary Battle of Alberta.  As you can see from the banner, the lineups are really coming together nicely.  At this point and time I’d give the advantage to the Oilers both in numbers, and the Flames lack of a goaltender at this point.  Trevor Kidd?  Fred Brathwaite?  TSN personality Jamie “noodles” McLennan?  Joey McDonald who wore some of the most deadly gear of his generation?  It remains to be seen!  But in reality, we are well aware that nobody is worried about the on-ice result.  The big thing is supporting Project Sunrise, a mental health initiative which the proceeds are going towards.  I’ve had my struggles with mental health, plenty others in my life have, it affects us all greatly and we need to do what we can to battle it.  Just $25 bucks a ticket gets you a great afternoon of hockey and goes towards a great cause.  If haven’t got your tickets yet, what’s the wait?

Back to the Bobcats…

The tale of the 2018-19 Lloydminster Bobcats is a pretty simple one to tell: what could go wrong, did go wrong.  After a 5-13-1 start, head coach Travis Clayton was let go, and new head coach Nigel Dube was brought into a scenario where they were already looking towards the 19-20 season.  It quite frankly wasn’t a lot of fun to go watch the Cats last season.  They hit rock bottom, ending up with a 9-49-1-1 record.

But now they have a completely fresh start.  Being around the team the last few weeks, the big thing that stands out is what they appear to have in head coach Nigel Dube.  Dube is not only determined to build a proper foundation with the Cats, but he has tremendous attention to detail.  The type of talent he has assembled, the structure he is implementing, the environment he has created both with the staff and in the dressing room, it is all very carefully orchestrated.

Maybe the most exciting part about the Bobcats going into this season isn’t that they have the makings of a team that can really compete.  Obviously that’s never going to be bad, but it is the bonus.  This team is really set up well.  I believe it is at 13 kids with at least three more seasons of junior eligibility starting the season with the club.  Through camp, it looks like a team with more talent, more structure, but one that can be sustained which has been a big problem for the organization throughout it’s history.

If you just go by their goal total in the pre-season, you might think that they’re going to lack offensive firepower this season, scoring six goals in four games.  But watching them (especially on Saturday), I’m actually really excited for what they have.  To my eye, Dube is going to have a lot of firepower up front, it’s just a matter of how he wants to use his talent.  Chance Adrian, Tanner Mack, Nolan Coventry, Alex Danis, Ty Mosimann, and Tyler Schendel all are kids who stood out in my opinion as players who are capable of putting points on the board, and it’ll just be a matter of how Dube wishes to run his lines.  Load up the top six, or spread it out through the top nine?  He also appears to have the makings of a very good shutdown unit with Cam Aucoin, Mason Hendrickson and Chad MacLean if he so chooses to run one.  Safe to say Dube is still mixing and matching a bit himself at this point, but I like the options available to him.

The best way to describe the blueline is that its old school.  Not in the sense that they’re a bunch of coke machines who can’t skate, but old school in that they really know how to defend and play without the puck.  I’ve said this a million times before and won’t ever stop saying it: hockey is not played three on two.  If a team is bad defensively, it is not solely on the defence.  Having said that, you want your defencemen to be strong in their own zone.  There will be nights where the Bobcats are out skilled, nobody is going to claim otherwise.  So you HAVE to know what to do when teams start dominating possession.  In the pre-season, we saw this.  In the two games I saw, the team didn’t give up much five on five.  It’s all anchored by 19 year old Gunner Kinniburgh.  He is going to be heavily leaned on by Dube this season and likely to see a ton of tough matchups, but he appears ready for the challenge.  He won’t be alone though as Ryley Hogan (the teams “elder statesman” at 19 years, six months and 29 days…) and the very recently acquired Kaeden Tenkoppel will also be required to do some of the heavy lifting.  It is my understanding that Tenkoppel should really fit the Bobcats well both on the ice and in the room as he is a very smooth skater and a terrific kid off the ice.

It is very possible that the strength of the club is right where you’d like it, which is between the pipes.  Dube is going to have two great options between the pipes with the returning Cale Elder, and newcomer Garrett Larsen.  Elder has the pedigree, and is very capable of being a number one goaltender.  But the Waukesha, Wisconsin native Larsen has put on a show thus far in camp and the pre-season.  A diminutive goalie, listed at a likely generous 5’10, it is the only hole that I have seen in the kids game to this point.  Last Saturday I couldn’t shut up about how terrific he was in the Cats crease as he ended up with a 36 save shutout in their 3-0 win against the North Battleford North Stars.  I said it on the broadcast during the pre-game show that he was perhaps who I was looking forward to seeing play the most that evening, and he managed to exceed those expectations.  If his play continues, and Elder plays up to his capability, there won’t be a night this season where the Bobcats have to worry about who is in goal.

Last season is done, and things can only go up from here.  Should anyone be planning a trip to the RBC Cup in May?  No, but I like the chances this squad has of being a good competitive squad this season.  It could be the start of some damn good AJHL hockey in town for years to come.  Tonight’s game against the Crusaders will be on Hockey TV starting at 7PM MST with Crusaders play by play man Brendan Escott on the call, then tomorrow night the two teams clash at the CCC.  If you can’t make it down to the game, Shane Tomayer and myself will have the call on Hockey TV and also on Mixlr.com and the Mixlr app.

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Bobcats Head into Regular Season on a High

The Lloydminster Bobcats wrapped up their pre-season in style on Saturday night with a 3-0 victory over the defending SJHL champion North Battleford North Stars.  The Bobcats were firing on all cylinders as they went a perfect 4 for 4 on the penalty kill, clicked on their first power play of the game, put 35 shots on goal, played very solid in their own zone, and if that weren’t enough they got a terrific performance from netminder Garrett Larsen who went the full 60 minutes between the pipes, earning a 36 save shutout.

The late game is sold out, but tickets are still available for the noon game! Proceeds go towards the mental health initiative Project Sunrise. Head to Boundary Ford in Lloydminster to purchase your tickets and check out some of the Oilers and Flames greats for just $25.00!

Tyler Schendel opened the scoring on the power play midway through the first as he fired a one-timer home off a beautiful feed by Tanner Mack.  The Cats extended their lead late in the 2nd as defencemen Gunner Kinniburgh took a hit to make a nice neutral zone pass to Alex Danis who then proceeded to do the rest as he gained the zone, toe dragged the defenceman and put home a pretty backhand from the slot.  The setups by both Mack and Kinniburgh were nice plays, but they wouldn’t have been the “Soups on Hockey feed of the night”…if there were such a thing.  No, that would have gone to Ty Mosimann as he walked into the slot on his backhand and showed off the eyes he has in the back of his head as he dropped the puck to Kris Bladen who had an easy tap in for the third and final goal of the night.

 

As well as everyone played however, the star of the game was Larsen.  The native of Waukesha, Wisconsin was brilliant.  He was square to every shot, moving fluently, tracking the puck extremely well, the North Stars just couldn’t find a hole all night long.  Larsen also loves to play the puck, and when he needs to he has more than enough athleticism to come up with a five star save.  The kid is a lot of fun to watch play.

 

Bobcats head coach Nigel Dube was very happy with what he saw from his club.  “I thought we played a strong 60, I think the biggest thing for us is that I thought we had energy and played with emotion right from the puck drop and seeing the brotherhood between the group out there was a big part of it.  All around I was very pleased with the effort tonight.”  With this game putting an end to the pre-season, I asked Dube for his thoughts on how training camp went and if there were any pleasant surprises from either a team or individual standpoint.  “I think the quick connection that our guys had off the ice and just being a good team from day one with a lot of turnovers as we only have five guys back from last year and that was the big thing is how are the guys going to mesh together and I think that’s been a pleasant surprise as how that’s happened.  I don’t think I could pick out one or two guys, but just the pleasant surprise overall by our efforts from our guys on a day to day basis who may not be used to that junior schedule.”  Of course, the focus now moves to the regular season, and the Cats will open with a home and home set against what is expected to be one of the top teams in the AJHL North, the Sherwood Park Crusaders.  “It’ll be a good test for our guys.  I’m excited for it.  All the praise is going to them right now and for us to be able to go in there and see where we’re at, I think that’s the big thing.  And the exciting part is that they count now.”

 

That is the exciting part.  Friday night against Michael Benning and the Crusaders.  That game can be seen on Hockey TV at 7PM, with Crusaders play by play man Brendan Escott on the call.  Then Saturday is the Bobcats home opener with the Crusaders coming to town.  If by chance you can’t make it down to the Centennial Civic Centre that night, make sure you check out the broadcast on Hockey TV with Shane Tomayer and myself on the call.  Puck drop is at 7:30.

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Properly Deploying the Lineup

Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP

Do you know what I love?  A big ol’ badonkadonk on a beautiful woman.  But (pardon the pun) do you know WHAT ELSE I love?  Stepping outside and the sun is shining, but the air is a bit cool, and there is no humidity and a little condensation on the windows of my truck.  College football is now in full swing, my fantasy draft transpired last weekend, NFL gets going Thursday, junior hockey leagues are already getting into pre-season (doing colour for the Lloydminster Bobcats again this season who began their pre-season last Wednesday at home against Spurce Grove), and finally, NHL camps are about to open!  For some people, summer ending is the absolute worst.  Those people loathe me because I’m ecstatic that fall is here!

 

Speaking of which, we’re now only now a little over three weeks away from the Boundary Battle of Alberta!  Latest addition’s to the game are Oilers analyst on 630 CHED Rob Brown, and former Oilers captain Ethan Moreau.  Big names.  Brown is known as one of the greatest players in the history of the WHL.  212 points for Kamloops in the 86-87 season.  In 88-89, put up 49 goals and 115 points in just 68 games to help lead the Penguins to their first playoff appearance in six seasons.  After falling on hard times in the middle of his career, Brown’s resiliency was on full display after spending the large majority of five seasons (93-97) in the IHL, Brown found himself back with the Penguins for the 97-98 season, putting up 40 points in 82 games (let’s remember, 40 points in 98 was about the same as 70 points in 89).

 

Ethan Moreau faced his fair share of adversity in his career as well.  The 14th overall pick of the 1994 entry draft, Moreau was expected to be a scorer at the NHL level.  After a terrific rookie campaign in 96-97 for the Hawks, Moreau’s career stalled in Chicago and was eventually dealt to the Oilers right before the 1999 trade deadline in the Boris Mironov deal.  In Edmonton however, Moreau found a home and became part of the teams core.  He epitomized Oilers hockey in his years with the club.  His hard work both on and off the ice truly paid off in the 03-04 season with a career-high 20 goals.  Of course, that season likely paled in comparison to what the team accomplished in 05-06 as they went all the way to game seven of the Cup final, and Moreau’s efforts were rewarded with a four year extension prior to the 06-07 season.  He was named captain of the club prior to the 07-08 season, however once again his resiliency was put to the test as he’d missed most of 06-07 after needing reconstructive shoulder surgery, broke his tibia during the 07-08 pre-season, FINALLY returned to the lineup for the first time in over a year on December 29th, 2007…though only for two months as on February 25th his season was ended with a broken leg.  Most players might toss in the towel at that point.  Three major injuries in two seasons.  Moreau not only came back for the 08-09 season, but he played in 77 games and was rewarded with the NHL’s King Clancy award.  The guy was a total warrior.

The late game is sold out, but tickets are still available for the noon game! Proceeds go towards the mental health initiative Project Sunrise. Head to Boundary Ford in Lloydminster to purchase your tickets and check out some of the Oilers and Flames greats for just $25.00!

Onto other Oilers business…

 

Again I’m going to start off a piece with a grim reminder that the Oilers are very likely in a one year rebuild.  And again I’m going to say that while it’s a one year rebuild, it doesn’t at all mean that they’re tanking or not looking to win in any way.  So with the lineup looking so thin, what is the best way for head coach Dave Tippett to find balance throughout his lineup?  I have some suggestions…perhaps you’d like to read them…

 

As everyone should know by now, you want to find pairings up front, and then a 3rd man who more so simply fits on a line rather than a need to find a three man combination.  Obviously if you can afford to go with a trio (like the Bruins), you do so.  But the Oilers don’t have anywhere near that depth.

 

With this being said, here is what I’d look to do.

 

McDavid with Neal

This isn’t what will happen, but this is what I would like to see tried at least to start camp.  It’s maybe been stated 10-20 million times by now, but Draisaitl doesn’t need McDavid to produce.  I’m not as anti putting them together as I was at this time last year, but if Neal is in as good as shape as is being advertised, then these two have the potential to be a dynamic duo as well, and therefore Tippett should be able to spread the wealth so to speak by keeping McDavid and Draisaitl separated.

3rd Wheel?

I doubt many, if any, see it this way given how unproven the kid is, but I’ve liked the idea of trying Nygard with McDavid since they signed him.  This isn’t AT ALL suggesting that the kid is a first-line winger.  If he was, he’d have been in the league long ago.  But the thought of a burner like Nygard paired with McDavid is just so damn intriguing to me.  I realize that McDavid and Hall didn’t gel all that well when tried together, but that wasn’t because they were both great skaters, it was because neither were guys were used to deferring to someone else on their line.  Nygard with McDavid could potentially be a deadly combination in their own right.

 

Nugent-Hopkins with Draisaitl

A lot of us have discussed this a ton not just this off-season, it was heavily discussed leading into last season as I recall.  It’s simple: find a lesser name who McDavid can truly gel with (which could be Neal if last season was in fact an aberration), freeing up the 2nd and 3rd best offensive players to team up on their own line.  I will point out though that several people in the past have made the claim that Draisaitl is adamant he play with McDavid, so perhaps that is why it’s rarely been tried.

3rd Wheel?

Unlike with Nygard filling in on the top line, I’d feel comfortable with several options on the 2nd line.  As most likely would though, I’ll say Kassian.  Will he be able to produce as he did with McDavid and Draisaitl?  Highly unlikely.  But can he hold his own in the top six with Nuge and without McDavid?  I believe so.

 

Marody with Benson

So the last time around I was pretty steadfast that I didn’t like this idea.  But the more I’ve given it thought not just of where they’d line up, but how my lineup would look, perhaps it is best to try them together.  Add to that, it could be a big benefit for both to have that comfort level on the ice that they would.  I definitely believe there was merit to what I said last time around in keeping them separate not only for experience purposes but also for speed purposes.  But if you’re deploying the lineup properly, it should leave Marody and Benson (should both even make the opening night roster) with a lot of soft minutes on the 3rd line.

3rd Wheel?

For me, I love the idea of Josh Archibald here.  Talked about the lack of speed with the combination of Marody and Benson, well Archibald gives this line that.  He’s shown a pretty decent ability to finish as well.  I’m well aware that some would be screaming that I say Gagner or Chiasson in this spot, but with both players you have a lack of speed.  I’m not too eager to try what would make for a pretty slow line, no matter how soft of minutes they’re seeing.

 

Haas with Chiasson

By no means would I suggest that this is a combination that can do damage, even on the 4th line.  We’re not even sure if Gaetan Haas can play in the NHL (according to Bob Stauffer and the people he talks to, the jury is out).  But as I look at this lineup, I worry about guys who can kill penalties.  Kassian is ok at it, as is Archibald, but more is needed and the hope is that Haas can be that guy.  Chiasson was impressive at the start of last season playing on the 4th line, and was back down near that level once his hot stick finally cooled.

 

3rd Wheel?

Most would probably say Jujhar Khaira here.  I definitely am not against Khaira in this spot myself.  However, Markus Granlund is going to play, and I don’t have him anywhere in the lineup.  Granlund is a little better on the PK, a little more speed, and is a little better playing the middle if need be.

 

This leaves Sam Gagner and Khaira as the odd men out of the lineup.  It also sends Colby Cave to the minors.  With Gagner specifically, I really don’t like leaving him out as I still believe he has the ability to contribute 40-45 points (32 point pace last season for the Oilers with none of it coming on the PP).  If it’s me, he’s in direct competition with Marody for that 3rd line centre role.  But if Marody shows better than Gagner in the pre-season, I believe he should be the guy as he’s younger and is under team control for several more seasons.  In the case of Cave, I join most in being a fan, but this lineup is just so desperate for speed and Cave didn’t provide much of it last season.  It’s not that either guy is incapable of playing, but I’m having trouble finding a spot for either of them, or Khaira.

 

Again though, this is what I personally would do at this point without having seen these guys play pre-season.  Not that pre-season should be everything for a roster, but with this one they have about 15 forwards truly vying for spots.  It’ll play a big factor.

 

If I had to guess at what Tippett will do, I’d suggest that it’s something like this:

Draisaitl – McDavid – Kassian

Benson – Nugent-Hopkins – Neal

Granlund – Gagner – Chiasson

Khaira – Haas – Archibald

 

The D is another story, mainly because we’ve got a little insight as to what they’re planning thanks to Jim Playfair’s interview with Bob Stauffer last week.  Nurse and Larsson seeing top matchups last season weren’t good.  Now, in saying that, I’ve always been and will continue to be a big believer in Nurse’s upside deep into his 20’s as he continues to grow.  Larsson is capable of being one of the best shutdown D-men in the sport, but it has now been two years since we’ve seen that player.  Can it work?  100%.  Will it work?  I have my fears.

 

The other thing that came of that interview was that Playfair talked about possibly moving Kris Russell to the left side.  I have no problem with that at all…except…if this was the plan all summer, why didn’t Ken Holland at least explore a trade of Russell?  They have as good of a D-man coming in Caleb Jones whom they will also want to play the left side.  They also have William Lagesson who isn’t flashy but brings a VERY solid defensive game to the table.  I’m all for Russell playing the left side, but it doesn’t make any sense when you look at what else they have to work with.  I assume that they’re going to try Klefbom with Benning, which analytically does make some sense, but for me personally, I’m not a fan of that pairing.

 

If it’s me, I keep Klefbom and Larsson together, use them as the shutdown pairing.  I’d then use Nurse with one of Persson or Bear (outside chance of Bouchard but obviously as I and many others have repeatedly said, much prefer Bouchard to spend the season in Bakersfield).

 

Interesting tidbit yesterday on Twitter as Bob Stauffer talked about William Lagesson.  I’ve talked at length about Lagesson in the past, especially this off-season as being very ready to play in the show.  But the interesting thing is that if Lagesson plays, where does that leave pretty much everyone else?  Russell is supposedly going to play the left side and that means he’s at best on the third pair.  If Benning is with Klefbom, then I guess that third pair right side spot is open.  However, the coaching staff has been pretty open about wanting D-men playing on their strong sides.  They also have others such as Joel Persson and Ethan Bear who are righties ready to fill that role.  I just cannot figure out why more of an effort wasn’t made to move out Kris Russell this off-season.  Not even a whisper.  And I realize that a lot of people love Russell’s game, but even if you’re one of those people, you’d have to agree that he no longer fits with the club from a cap POV given the kids they have who are ready for minutes.  You have as many as five defencemen ready to play, you need minutes in Bakersfield for the likes of Bouchard and Samorukov, and here you have a four million dollar a year defencemen who is your third best LH shooting D-man blocking the path for several kids who are ready to play.  It just couldn’t make less sense.

 

This team has some depth.  It remains to be seen if it is QUALITY depth, but they are deeper (especially on the back end) then they have been in a long time.  Word is that Tippett would like to give most of the kids one pre-season game and then immediately send them down to have a much smaller camp, and when you go through the roster you can definitely see why as there are a lot of tough decisions to make, and a lot of time needs to be dedicated towards seeing how the pieces fit.

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Playoffs? Unlikely, but Possible

Do you have tickets to the Boundary Battle of Alberta yet?  I know the first game sold old in just hours, but I told you a few weeks ago that they added a 2nd game and as of writing this, tickets are still available at just $25 bucks a ticket.  And thus far it’s a solid list of names on both sides, with more to come.  For me, this week’s additions were the most exciting thus far as I’m a MASSIVE fan of both Brian McGratton and big Georges Laraque!  Probably the two best heavyweights in the league from 06-09.  If we could get Georges and McGratt’s to throw down, that would be GREATLY appreciated!  I’m not asking them to do it, just if they feel like it I wouldn’t hate it…The game is going to be a great, but the big thing for me is the proceeds going towards project sunrise, a mental health initiative and anyone who knows me likely knows that’s something that really hits home for me having dealt with mental health issues as I’m sure most of you (if not all) have as well.  I have no problem talking about my problems, but many do.  We need to do what we can to end that.  So my suggestion is to get some tickets to the noon game.  It’s affordable, it’ll be a blast and it’s going towards a great cause so how can you go wrong?!  Tickets available at Boundary Ford in Lloydminster.

If you’ve been reading my stuff this summer then you know that I do not believe that the Oilers are making the playoffs.  I’ll say it again, this is a one year rebuild.  That doesn’t mean that they’re looking to tank the season at all, but it just means that the focus from management is on the following seasons much more than this one.

 

We know what they’ll get from a lot of players assuming they remain healthy.  We know McDavid will be amazing, we know Draisaitl even in a poor season is still capable of being terrific, Nugent-Hopkins, Klefbom, Nurse, etc. we pretty much know what those guys are going to bring to the table.  But if they’re actually going to make a run to the playoffs this season, it is pretty vital that they max out on what they have on these six players.

 

Mikko Koskinen

He’s not the tire fire most fans think of him as…not yet anyway.  The issues with the glove to me was MUCH more mental than it was physical.  That doesn’t appear to me to be something that can’t be overcome.  And if he does overcome it, where is the weakness?  Koskinen given proper rest this season, not to mention being prepared both mentally and physically for more of a grind, could produce some real nice numbers.  If the Oilers are to make the playoffs, a large part of it rides on him giving the team at least a .915 Sv%.  Don’t get me wrong, the easy thing to say on Koskinen is that the league started to figure him out.  I was guarding against that when he was rolling early.  But it’s at least possible to suggest that when he first started to struggle it was because of the injuries on the blueline (Klefbom and Russell, not to mention Sekera), and by the time that blueline got healthy he was getting more and more fatigued.  With a healthy blueline, and before getting run into the ground, Koskinen had a .927 Sv%.  I’m not going to suggest that’s who he is, but most people want to point to the disgusting decision made on him and say he’s awful.  Don’t confuse the decision/contract with the goaltender.  And while it’s unlikely he’s a .920 or better goaltender, there is some evidence that suggests he could be.

 

Mike Smith

Obviously, I could have just said the goaltending in general.  But I get paid by the word…(I don’t get paid…well, actually I in a way do on this one, but not by the word).  Bruce McCurdy from the Edmonton Journal brought this to my attention on Twitter the other day that while Smith had a rough season last year, post All-Star break he was actually pretty decent with a .912 Sv% and a 2.28 G.A.A. in 17 games.  Can he do that for 35-40 games this season?  If he can, it’d make his contract well worthwhile.

Don’t forget with both these tendy’s that they’re now playing in a Dave Tippett system.  Mike Smith was awesome for Tippett in Dallas, saw his game erode in Tampa, and became a star again for Tippett in Arizona.  Ilya Bryzgalov looked elite playing for Tippett in Arizona, and never looked like the same guy anywhere else.  Marty Turco was the same.  People forget that Devan Dubnyk got his career back on track playing for Tippett first, THEN ending up in Minnesota.  Two big, athletic, and technically strong goaltenders like Koskinen and Smith could really thrive playing for Tippett as we’ve seen in the past.

 

Cooper Marody

The more I’m giving this thought, the more I like Cooper Marody’s chances to make the team with a good camp.  That 3rd line centre spot is his for the taking.  If he’s ready, he’s the perfect fit for the role being a RH shot who can really dish the puck and is willing to play a complete game.  Some might say Gaetan Haas is penciled in for the role, but I personally see him as the 4th line centre, with Brodziak going to Bakersfield (or going on LTIR as I was told the other day that his back is essentially done).  Jujhar Kaira has an outside chance of filling the role, so does Sam Gagner.  But for me, the 3rd line centre role is Marody’s job to lose.  Not only could thrive given softer minutes as I’m sure he would see playing behind McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins, but he’s a real weapon on either PP unit with his vision.

 

James Neal

This one might have been at the top of the list for a lot of people.  Not that I’m really ranking them, but I actually believe in Neal’s ability to rebound to form, or close to it anyway.  To me, if we’re talking about the Oilers making the playoffs, 25 goals is a must from Neal.  But again, I don’t see it as that far fetched.  He’s more talented than Patty Maroon was in 2017 who netted 27 in what will likely be the same role for Neal.  And Neal has a much better shot than Maroon has or had.

 

Tyler Benson

I can’t stress enough that you remember the pedigree this kid had going into his draft year and the injury issues began.  This is not your normal 2nd round pick who has a year under his belt playing in the AHL.  Benson is the type of talent where had he been healthy, even just in 16-17, that he may not have even seen the AHL.  He has two completely healthy campaign’s under his belt, and he’s looked like the potential top-six winger he looked since Bantam.  The scary predicament for the team here however is having both Benson and Marody in the lineup.  Ideally, you break in one before bringing in the other.  But for the Oilers to make the playoffs, it might be a case where both players are going to be required to make the lineup.  This whole time I’ve been saying that Benson should be broke in on the 3rd line, but if Marody ends up as the 3C, I’d probably want Benson on another line.  Most would say horse shit to that and they’d love Benson and Marody together because of how they performed together last season.  It’s a fair point, but I personally don’t like playing rookies together, and neither are great skaters so I’d want some speed on both their lines.  With that all said, you aren’t going to start Benson on the 4th line with very limited minutes.  So then the ideal spot is on the 2nd line with Nugent-Hopkins.  I believe he’s very capable of filling that role, but it is a lot bigger ask than getting softer minutes on the 3rd line would be.

 

Top Four RD Emerges

I cheated a little here, because this is not one player, but one position where they’ll need one of three candidates to be able to handle.  Right now, the 2nd pairing RD is Kris Russell.  Russell falls into the category of “know what you’re getting”.  What we know we’re getting from Russell isn’t a top-four defenceman.  Matt Benning MIGHT have the ability to play in someone’s top four, but he and Nurse were pretty awful together when given that opportunity last season.  So that leaves the candidates for the role being Joel Persson, Ethan Bear, and Evan Bouchard.  The problem is that it is very likely too much to ask of one of these players to step in and be legitimate top-four defencemen, but all of them fit much better with Darnell Nurse on the second pair as they all move the puck much better than Russell.  Persson is likely the top candidate for the role as he is the most experienced in pro hockey of the three (of course this is his first in North America).  Bear has everything except he is the weakest skater of the three.  Bouchard is the most talented, but he’d have to absolutely kill it in camp to even get a look for me as I would pretty badly want him to spend most of the season in Bakersfield.  Very unlikely one of these three can emerge as a top-four guy this season, but if one of them could it would be a MASSIVE lift for the blueline.

I’ll add one crazy idea to this before I’m done, which is moving Nurse to the top pairing with Klefbom.  @WheatNOil on Twitter brought this up a few months back suggesting that Nurse’s game could possibly lend itself to switching sides as his game wouldn’t be near as hindered as an exceptional puck-mover would be playing their off-side.  And with how Klefbom can move the puck, I could see them really meshing well together.  That would allow Larsson to move to the 2nd pair possibly with Caleb Jones, whom it isn’t ideal for him either to start out in a top-four role, but being the most talented and most ready of the D-men ready to step in this season, and believing that Jones and Larsson might really mesh together, perhaps that’s the move.  I think it’s really unlikely the coaching staff would look at Nurse on the top pairing with Klefbom, but it’s something worth exploring given the current situation on the blueline.

 

If all six of these things happen for the Oilers, they won’t make the playoffs, they’ll comfortably make the playoffs.  That has about a 2% chance of happening.  They do need most of it to happen though, especially the goaltending.  Do not hold your breath on this team making the playoffs.  But, it is possible.

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Integrating the Kids

Did anyone check out the Ocho yesterday?!?  All day, TSN2, all Ocho!  I got to check out the Cornhole and the Dodgeball.  Was on the treadmill while the Cornhole was being played, didn’t realize I was pulling against Canada.  I loved the dude in the cowboy hat with the beer in his hand though, dude could Cornhole!  The Dodgeball was disappointing from a Canadian POV, as our boys quite frankly choked.  The one thing I know about Dodgeball is that if you got someone down 12-2, you have to finish it.  Felt awful for the great Matty O.B. on that final throw, just heartbreaking, but you just HAVE to win that game.  I haven’t seen a comeback like the States pulled off since Peter LaFleur (no relation to Guy, or new Packers head coach Matt) and his team from Average Joe’s gym came back to defeat that dastardly White Goodman (cousin of John) and the Globo Gym Cobras.

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So, my big theme this summer has become that we as fans need to see this Oilers season for what it is, which is a one year rebuild.  It doesn’t mean they won’t try to get in the playoffs, and it doesn’t mean they’re going to blow anything up.  But it is a massive mess that Peter Chiarelli left behind, and it is going to take some more time to untangle everything.  What would Connor McDavid like to see more: the Oilers doing everything they can to scrap into the playoffs every season, or the Oilers having a great plan to move things forward and become an elite team who are Cup contenders every season?  It’s without a doubt the latter.

 

But it’s not just about waiting out the cap mess.  This team has a lot of prospects who are close to playing right now.  They also have a lot of kids who are going to be eligible for the Seattle expansion draft too.  So this is really a perfect season to take a hard look at what they have in the system.  But you can’t just try to jam as many of them in the lineup as you can at once.  And it’s not as if they’re all finished products.  So it is going to be a balancing act for Holland and Tippett.

 

I know they’re reading this, and I know they’re dying to know “how Soups would handle such a difficult situation”.  No problem fella’s, I’m happy to help.

 

Tyler Benson

Where does he fit:

Entering this season, the best fit on the roster for Benson would be on the 3rd line seeing some softer minutes.  Put him in a position to succeed.  Long term, I see Benson as a top-six winger.  I’ve said in the past that I like him to ride shotgun with McDavid.  Do not confuse that with suggesting he’s a 1st line winger, I’m not saying THAT.  But what I am saying is that his game (should he pan out) will be a perfect fit.

What needs work:

The skating.  His top speed will never be high-end, but the explosiveness and edge work can always go up another level.

How many NHL games:

I expect Benson to win a spot right out of camp.  I’m not saying they’ll gift it to him, nor would I, but I do believe he’s going to earn it.  Should he go back down though, they still should be looking to get him 25-30 games this season.  It isn’t a make or break season for Benson’s career by any means, but having become such an intriguing piece for the Oilers future they need to test him.

 

Cooper Marody

Where does he fit:

3rd line centre.  Early last season I was suggesting that Marody could make Ryan Strome expendable simply because he brought many of the same traits as Strome did to the table (similar size, RH shot, similar skating ability, etc) but Marody was the far better playmaker and perhaps would produce at the same level as Strome or maybe even a bit better.  Obviously we know that Strome is long gone and that 3rd line centre spot is desperately needed to be filled.

What needs work:

Just like Benson, it’s the skating.  To me, he just looks as though he lacks lower body strength (much the way I feel about Maksimov’s skating).  His stride looks clean, but he just doesn’t generate the speed you’d expect.

How many NHL games:

I believe he’s going to get a good hard look in camp.  Most aren’t looking at him as a possibility for the big squad, but he might have a better shot to make the club than Benson based on what isn’t in his path.  And again, much like Benson, I believe 15-20 games should be the goal here.  Marody is now 22, 23 in December.  They need to see what they have in him.

 

Kailer Yamamoto

Where does he fit:

On the right side, pretty much anywhere in the top nine.  His skill suggests he can play in the top six, but obviously we’ve seen him struggle offensively when given the chance.  He’s been really good in his own zone however, and appears as though he can be an excellent penalty killer.  So in my mind you aren’t hurting him if he plays on any of the top three lines.

What needs work:

Strength.  People hate this being said right now about undersized players, but he’s too small.  When I say that, it’s not his height, it’s his weight.  With added weight will come added strength (assuming he’s putting on muscle, not just going to McDonald’s for 20 nuggs all the time, I’d love to do that, nuggs are deadly).

How many NHL games:

Kailer needs most of the season in the AHL.  He’s been jerked around badly by the Oilers the last two seasons.  Let him go to Bakersfield, play in the top six, and get his game going.  Having said that, you can likely do that while giving him 10 games.  But I wouldn’t let that happen until January at the earliest.

 

Caleb Jones

Where does he fit:

Bottom pair on the left side.  He can play either side, but you want to make it as easy of a transition as you possibly can for Jones who is the most ready to step in this coming season.

What needs work:

Defensive positioning.  Not sure there is a D prospect who doesn’t need to work on his D zone positioning, but the Oilers can’t afford to bleed any more chances then they already do this season.

How many NHL games:

I don’t believe Jones will see much of the AHL this season.  Maybe not at all.  But, given how many D-men they have to break in coupled with the fact they have five D-men returning from last season, I wonder if Jones won’t go down just to give others more of an audition?  Even if he should take a step back, I’d still be looking to get him into 20 games or more.

 

Joel Persson

Where does he fit:

For me, the only two spots for Persson at the moment would be as the number seven defenceman which definitely isn’t ideal for any of these kids, or the number four role which could be far too much responsibility.  But it is very possible he gets a look in that spot as he might be the best fit with Darnell Nurse.  We’ve seen Kris Russell in that spot, they can get exposed.  We’ve seen Matt Benning in that spot, and they’re a train wreck together.  Persson is 25, RH shot, skates well, and moves the puck well.

What needs work:

I’d be a major hypocrite if I tried to claim I know.  I’ve seen clips of the guy play, and read several scouting reports on him, but compared to the other kids I really don’t know his game that well.  Couple that with the fact that he’s been playing in Sweden his entire career.  So the best I can say at this point is experience in North America, which is coming.

How many NHL games:

Who knows what kind of true agreement the Oilers have with Persson and his agent for coming over this season?  It might be that he refuses to play in the AHL.  But if he’s smart, he’ll be ok with possibly playing the first 20-25 games of the season in Bakersfield to get adjusted to North America, and then seeing spot duty with the Oilers.  A 15-20 game stint should give them a decent look at what they have, and obviously you can go from there.

 

Ethan Bear

Where does he fit:

Same thing for Bear as with Persson.  The two spots that make the most sense are the number seven guy which isn’t ideal for a kid to sit in the press box, or on the second pair with Nurse which is a LOT to ask.

What needs work:

Skating.  I do believe it gets overrated how weak of a skater Bear is.  His edgework appears very solid to me.  His top speed is where he’s lacking, and that is difficult to improve.  However, I recall Bear’s quotes from the interview Mark Spector did with him back in May.  “I had my fun last summer, and the summers before. It’s time to grow,” Bear said. “To realize how much hard work it takes to make it in the NHL.”  It’s a good quote, and that’s one where it’s easier said then done.  But reading between the lines here I’d say that it’s possible Bear’s lack of commitment in past off-season’s has possibly hurt his skating.

How many NHL games:

As many as possible.  I believe he’s ready, but the fact of the matter is that Holland only moved out Sekera so there are a lot of D who need time with the Oilers and not very many spots available.  To me, you have to find a way to get him 20 games, but I say that as someone who is still a very big believer in the kid.

 

William Lagesson

Where does he fit:

3rd pair left side, or like a lot of guys, the number seven spot.  But with Jones in the way and it not being ideal to have any of the kids in the number seven spot, Lagesson might have to wait for an injury on the big club to get his opportunity.

What needs work:

Puck-moving.  You could easily say his skating, but his stride is rougher, which means he’s likely topped out in his skating ability.  It’s good enough, but just not a strength in his game.  So with that being the case, I believe to succeed in the NHL he’ll need to move the puck at a pretty high level.  He moves it decent already, but it can improve.

How many NHL games:

This is going to be difficult barring a rash of injuries.  Perhaps Tippett and Holland will see him differently than some schmuck like myself, but as much as I’ve liked Lagesson over the years, he’s still a lower ranked prospect than Jones, Bear and now Persson (although Persson mostly because of his one-way deal).  So how many should they be looking to give him this season?  I would want to give him at least 10, but again, it is going to be difficult to do barring some guys going on the shelf.

 

Evan Bouchard

Where does he fit:

Short term, he’s in the same mix as Persson and Bear, except that we know they won’t have him sit in the press box as the number seven guy.  Long term though, we know they’re banking on him being at least a top four guy.  For me, I believe he can be a top pairing guy.  Unlikely he could be a legitimate number one guy (though you never know with D, see Mark Giordano), but a top pairing guy.

What needs work:

Defensive play.  I know he said in an interview on TSN the other day that he has been working on his skating and puck retrieval this summer, and that’s good, but if he is going to play as soft as he tends to in his own zone, then his positioning and stick need to be high-end.

How many NHL games:

Nine games or less.  Unless I’m mistaken, despite being eligible for the AHL this season, Bouchard’s ELC still will not kick in until the following season as long as he stays below the 10 game mark.  I can’t find it for certain, but I don’t believe the seven he played last season count towards that total.  Basically, give him a few games for sure (without triggering his ELC), but mainly just give him the season in the AHL.  Don’t fuck around here.  Benning, Persson and Bear should mean you have zero reason to.

 

Honourable mention goes to Dmitri Samorukov.  He moves to pro hockey this season, but with SO many kids possibly needing time, I just can’t see him getting his shot.  Add to that, a full season in Bakersfield is not going to hurt him in the slightest.  You could say the same for Bouchard, but the only thing about Bouchard is they have such a massive need for a defencemen of his exact game that he may get at least a small look.  If it’s up to me, perhaps they both get a game or two, but for the most part I want them anchoring the top four in Bakersfield.

 

It is a BIG season for some of these kids as the system continues to get better and fewer spots are available not just on the big club, but throughout the organization.  Decisions are going to be made soon on some of these kids, so Holland, Tippett, and company better find out what they have.

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2020 NHL Draft: Top 32 Prospects

I sure hope this doesn’t go as last year did.  Last year I did my first list right after the 2018 draft, and then didn’t have time to do even a second list until just days before the draft.  By those standards, I’m already well behind.  But the plan/hope is that this year I’ll be on top of things much better and by season’s end I’m hoping to have as many as eight different lists, but at least five.  We’ll see, life has a way of getting in the way, but I’m an ambitious person.

 

The timing on this first list is pretty coincidental.  It looks good with the Canadian Hlinka/Gretzky lineup just announced yesterday, but the truth is that I’ve been working on these rankings for a month now (literally hours after the draft wrapped up), and I had actually finished the list itself on Monday.  It’s a deep draft, much deeper than last season’s.  At this point, I’d say 2016 would be a fair comparison, but it’s far too early to tell.  Last year at this time I thought the 19 draft was full of studs, but the truth was that the studs weren’t as “studly” as I thought, and very few surprises emerged as the season went on.  So we’ll see.

 

As I always say around this point, I’m not a scout.  These rankings are much more like Bob McKenzie’s in that I’m not getting to see these kids as much as I need to declare myself a scout.  What I do is look through every quality and trusted write up I can find on these kids, every piece of video I can find, and then form my own opinion from there.  So I rely heavily on guys like Mark Edwards and Hockey Prospect (specifically the Black Book, if you’re a draft fan it is a MUST get, amazing every year), Future Considerations, even though I don’t normally agree with how he ranks his players I read and have big-time respect for the work Corey Pronman does, same goes for Steve Kournianous (who also does a good podcast that’s a great listen).  Also this season I’m working with Yannick St. Pierre covering the QMJHL, Sean Patrick Ryan covering the OHL, and I’ll be covering the WHL.  Not sure how my work will stack up, but these two do a tremendous job covering those leagues.  I couldn’t do my own rankings without these guys doing far better work than what I do.  But I will say I don’t simply take the averages of where these guys rank players and call it a day.  I have my own insights on what I’m looking for, so I take their reports more so than their rankings or opinions, couple it with what I’ve been able to see and create a list of my own (and as you’ll see, I definitely do MY OWN rankings).

 

What do I look for?  A lot.  First and foremost skating is most vital.  Skill is obviously extremely important.  IQ is huge though you won’t see me use “hockey sense” very much as I believe in IQ in general over “hockey sense” (theory being that sometimes players are so talented they might not have to think the game coming up, but if they have a high IQ that it will come).  I MUCH prefer playmakers to snipers.  Playmakers are often more intelligent players, and playmakers can play with other playmakers while it’s extremely rare that snipers work well with each other.  I’m not near the “sizest” that I once was, but still am likely more of a size guy than most seem to be.  One thing I will now value a bit more moving forward is players being NHL ready.  Reason being with ELC’s only being three years, a team shouldn’t be wasting the majority of the contract on developing a player, so I won’t be as hot as I’ve been in years past on a player who is much more of a project.  When I dig into the numbers, I want to know who the damage was done against, who were they playing with, and what the situation was (ES?  PP?  SH?).  Something I’m not as high on as most is “dynamic”.  I get why scouts love it, and I don’t disregard it, but you don’t get style points in hockey.  If you can toe drag a junior defenceman, it really doesn’t mean much because it’s unlikely you’ll be able to do that in the pros.

 

Is that enough for you?  Well that is just what I like in my players.  After all that, I then look for five big things: Current production, ceiling/upside, downside, how the players game will translate, and acquireability (I’m making this a word).  I guess the most simple way to put it for “acquireability” is I put a higher value on assets or player types which are tougher to acquire mostly due to how difficult it is to make a trade in today’s landscape and how crippling UFA can be.  I don’t disregard wingers nearly as bad as I used to (2015, put Mitch Marner 7th in my rankings…OOPS…) but centres and defencemen are more difficult and more valuable pieces to land, so they get preferential treatment in my rankings.

 

Finally, I do tiering.  More people do it now thankfully, and I’m not sure why anyone wouldn’t quite frankly.  Do some scouts truly believe there is a definitive gap between every prospect?  There are so many cases where kids are so indistinguishable as prospects, that a team is bound to go with the biggest need within a tiering.  You don’t pick need over the best player available (BPA).  But you also can’t ignore team building, especially in a league where it is increasingly more difficult to make trades.  So you shouldn’t disregard which tier I have players in.  That is more vital in my mind then whichever number a guy is overall.

 

Allow me to say this right now: I’m still getting to know these kids.  So I’m not doing comparisons this time around.  I do have comparisons I like for some, but not most.  Another bigger difference in my early rankings opposed to my final rankings is I’ll lean much more towards potential at this point in the process.  Take Kaiden Guhle for example.  I put him first in my WHL top 10 rankings, and have him MUCH higher in my top 32 than anyone else.  But the kid has the tools to be elite.  So while others are down on him, I believe he’s about to break out this season.

 

Speaking of WHL kids, the Western influence in this draft might be getting a bit underrated at this point.  There very easily could be 0 Western kids taken in the top 10 (we have a ridiculously long way to go though).  But the depth this season is better than last, and couple that with two kids out the AJ who are threats to be taken in the first round, and we have nine Western kids in my top 32 (10 if you include Dylan Holloway).  I don’t have a Western bias, yet fully admit that at this point I know those kids better than others and it does contribute.  So while we just may see nine kids from the West go in the first round this season, I fully admit that I know those kids the best and it has an influence.

 

This season I’m hoping to do podcasts as an accompanying piece to my prospect rankings and my mock drafts, so click here for more of my thoughts on these rankings, or perhaps to listen to while you read them.

 

Ok, down to business.

 

For the last four drafts, not only has a Canadian not gone number one in the draft, but only one has even been a contender for that spot (Nolan Patrick in 2017).  That is going to change this season, as a Canadian looks like a lock to go first.

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Tier One

1. Alexis Lafrenière

Team: Rimouski  League: QMJHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 192  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 61  G: 37  A: 68  P: 105

Born: 10/11/01, Saint-Eustache, QC

There are only two questions: Will he go 1st, and whether he’s a star or superstar?  That’s it.  He will step right into the league for the 20-21 season and be a force.

 

Tier Two

2. Quinton Byfield

Team: Sudbury  League: OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’4  Wt: 214  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 64  G: 29  A: 32  P: 61

Born: 08/19/02, Newmarket, ON

I believe Byfield is the only player who has the ability to contend with Lafrenière for top spot in the draft.  A centre who is 6’4 and can fly is pretty damn difficult to find.

 

Tier Three

3. Lucas Raymond

Team: Frölunda HC J20  League: SuperElit

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 165  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 47  G: 15  A: 35  P: 50

Born: 03/28/02, Göteborg, SWE

Didn’t do comparisons this time around, but if I were this one was my favourite.  Paul Kariya.  Speed, IQ, playmaking, stature, they’re very similar to one another.  Needless to say, that’s not an insult.

 

Tier four

4. Jamie Drysdale

Team: Erie  League: OHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 165  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 63  G: 7  A: 33  P: 40

Born: 04/08/02, Toronto, ON

A right-shot D-man who is one of the top skaters in the draft, the upside with Drysdale is ridiculous.  He reminds me a lot of Morgan Rielly.

 

5. Kaiden Guhle

Team: Prince Albert  League: WHL

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 187  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 65  G: 3  A: 14  P: 17

Born: 01/18/02, Sherwood Park, AB

He is raw, but the skill set is incredible.  Franchise defenceman type ability, though he hasn’t had the opportunity to truly show that.  But he will this season.

 

6. Anton Lundell

Team: HIFK  League: Liiga

Pos: C  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 183  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 48  G: 15  A: 19  P: 34

Born: 10/03/01, Espoo, FIN

Complete 200-foot centres aren’t the sexiest picks, but they’ll always have a higher spot on my lists than most others.

 

Tier Five

7. Cole Perfetti

Team: Saginaw  League: OHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 185  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 63  G: 37  A: 37  P: 74

Born: 01/01/02, Whitby, ON

He may have only been an 02 kid by a day, but those numbers are scary good for an 02 born kid.

 

8. Alexander Holtz

Team: Djurgårdens IF J20  League: SuperElit

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 183  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 38  G: 30  A: 17  P: 47

Born: 01/23/02, Saltsjö-Boo, SWE

Maybe the best pure goal scorer in the draft.  One of the most exciting players to watch in the draft.

 

9. Marco Rossi

Team: Ottawa  League: OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’9  Wt: 179  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 53  G: 29  A: 36  P: 65

Born: 09/23/01, Feldkirch, AUT

Normally I write off a kid who is smaller than 5’11 and especially smaller than 5’10.  But Rossi is extremely skilled and a very committed 200-foot player, so he’ll have a chance in the middle and if he can’t cut it he can always thrive on the wing.

 

Tier Six

10. Dylan Holloway

Team: Okotoks  League: AJHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 192  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 53  G: 40  A: 48  P: 88

Born: 09/23/01, Calgary, AB

Most have him as a winger, but I like his talents better to play the middle.  Off to Wisconsin this season for a much stiffer test than the AJ.

 

11. Justin Barron

Team: Halifax  League: QMJHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 192  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 68  G: 9  A: 32  P: 41

Born: 11/15/01, Halifax, NS

I love Barron’s skillset, but I’m not a big fan of the numbers given that last season was his 17 year old season.  Then again, they’re similar to Evan Bouchard’s who was also an older draft eligible.

 

Tier Seven

12. Hendrix Lapierre

Team: Chicoutimi  League: QMJHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 165  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 48  G: 13  A: 32  P: 45

Born: 02/09/02, Gatineau, QC

Terrific skater and terrific vision.  When you have those two traits, I’m likely to put you pretty high on my list.

 

13. Justin Sourdif

Team: Vancouver  League: WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 165  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 64  G: 23  A: 23  P: 46

Born: 03/24/02, Surrey, BC

Much like Guhle, the opportunities that Sourdif will get this season will be far greater than he got playing on a top team in the WHL last season.

 

14. Tim Stützle

Team: Jungadler Mannheim  League: DNL U20

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 165  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 21  G: 23  A: 32  P: 55

Born: 01/15/02, Viersen, GER

A lot to like here.  Only thing that keeps him lower than Lapierre and Sourdif at the moment (for me) is the league he plays in.

 

15. Noel Gunler

Team: Luleå HF J20  League: SuperElit

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 176  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 31  G: 27  A: 19  P: 46

Born: 10/07/01, Luleå, SWE

Another fantastic sniper playing in the SuperElit league last season.  At the moment, he might have the best shot in the draft.  Gunler reminds me a lot of Brock Boeser.

 

16. Jan Mysak

Team: HC Litvinov  League: Czech

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 176  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 31  G: 3  A: 4  P: 7

Born: 06/24/02, Litvinov, CZE

Maybe the two best attributes that Mysak brings to the table are his IQ and his skating ability, which are the two things I value most in a prospect.

 

Tier Eight

17. Yaroslav Askarov

Team: SKA-Varyagi im. Morozova  League: MHL

Pos: G  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 163  Glove: R

2019 Stats – GP: 31  G.A.A.: 2.37  Sv%: .921

Born: 06/16/02, Omsk, RUS

Pretty rare for a goaltender to be this highly touted these days.  Even more rare to be one in a good draft year.  Yet here we are, with Askarov entering the season with a shot at being a top 10 pick.

 

18. Jean-Luc Foudy

Team: Windsor  League: OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 168  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 63  G: 8  A: 41  P: 49

Born: 05/13/02, Scarborough, ON

Foudy has two things I simply love which would be speed for days and is a pure playmaker.  I like him a little more than most.

 

19. Vasili Ponomaryov 

Team: MHK Krylia Sovetov Moskva  League: MHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 176  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 37  G: 9  A: 20  P: 29

Born: 03/13/02, Zelenograd, RUS

The one negative with Ponomaryov has is his skating isn’t GREAT.  But he counters that negative with one of the best motors in the draft.

 

20. Antonio Stranges

Team: London  League: OHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 170  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 66  G: 13  A: 21  P: 34

Born: 02/05/02, Plymouth, MI

I have a feeling that people now know who he is thanks to a certain goal he recently scored?  The kid has insane skill, the question is if he has more than that?

 

21. Connor McClennon

Team: Winnipeg  League: WHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’8  Wt: 154  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 46  G: 14  A: 15  P: 29

Born: 06/25/02, Wainwright, AB

One of three WHL undersized wingers who I have an extremely difficult time separating from one another.  McClennon should be on at least a competent team this season, which should drastically improve his numbers.

 

22. Seth Jarvis

Team: Portland  League: WHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’9  Wt: 165  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 61  G: 16  A: 23  P: 39

Born: 02/01/02, Winnipeg, MB

Jarvis is the second of those WHL kids.  He had the best numbers of the three kids last season.

 

23. Ozzy Wiesblatt

Team: Prince Albert  League: WHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 187  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 64  G: 15  A: 24  P: 39

Born: 03/09/02, Calgary, AB

The third of the three WHL kids (as Shooter McGavin would say: “oh you can count, good for you”), Wiesblatt has the best size and perhaps plays the most in your face of the three.

 

24. Carter Savoie

Team: Sherwood Park  League: AJHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 5’9  Wt: 170  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 58  G: 31  A: 42  P: 73

Born: 01/23/02, St. Albert, AB

The lesser-known Savoie as his younger brother Matthew is already being hyped (along with Shane Wright who was the 1st overall pick in the OHL draft last spring) to be the first pick of the 2022 draft.  Why Carter Savoie didn’t get an invite to the Hlinka/Gretzky camp, I REALLY don’t know.  He was more than worthy and will likely prove why this season.

 

Tier Nine

25. Jacob Perreault

Team: Sarnia  League: OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 198  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 63  G: 30  A: 25  P: 55

Born: 04/15/02, Montreal, QC

Might end up being a better fit on the wing than the middle, largely thanks to having a terrific shot.  Much better skater than his old man (Yanic) was, but a questionable motor.

 

26. Connor Zary

Team: Kamloops  League: WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 174  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 63  G: 24  A: 43  P: 67

Born: 09/25/01, Saskatoon, SK

Interesting kid as he came a little out of nowhere to get on the map, especially late last season.  Was it a kid getting hot, or has he taken his game to another level?

 

27. Ty Smilanic

Team: U.S. National U17  League: USDP

Pos: C  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 168  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 54  G: 20  A: 18  P: 38

Born: 01/20/02, Denver, CO

High-end speed with a high-end motor.  Smilanic’s scouting report is so similar to what Josh Norris scouting report was just three years ago.

 

28. Will Cuylle

Team: Windsor  League: OHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 201  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 63  G: 26  A: 15  P: 41

Born: 05/02/02, Toronto, ON

Power forward with a big shot, but average skating ability.  He reminds me a lot of James Neal.

 

Tier Ten

29. Jake Sanderson

Team: U.S. National U17  League: USDP

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 170  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 44  G: 4  A: 20  P: 24

Born: 07/08/02, Whitefish, MT

Like his dad, tremendous skater.  Very raw defenceman but thanks to those wheels he has a chance to be a heck of a defenceman.

 

30. Michael Benning

Team: Sherwood Park  League: AJHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 5’9  Wt: 170  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 60  G: 10  A: 51  P: 61

Born: 01/05/02, St. Albert, AB

Consider this: Benning had almost identical stats last season as Cale Makar had in his 17 year old season.  This season will be Benning’s 17 year old season…

 

31. Dawson Mercer

Team: Drummondville  League: QMJHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 170  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 68  G: 30  A: 34  P: 64

Born: 10/27/01, Bay Roberts, NL

The Voltigeurs are set to have another strong team this season, but with Joe Veleno and Max Comtois off to pro hockey, a lot more offensive responsibility/opportunity will go to Mercer.

 

Tier Eleven

32. Helge Grans

Team: Malmö Redhawks J20  League: SuperElit

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 192  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 34  G: 5  A: 12  P: 17

Born: 05/10/02, Ljungby, SWE

Great combination of size and mobility, coupled with the fact that he’s a right-shot defenceman means that Grans could find himself going a lot higher than this come June.

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2020 NHL Draft: Top 10 WHL Prospects

Welcome to the first edition of my top ranked WHL prospects for the 2020 NHL draft!  My buddy SPR was looking for someone to keep an eye on the WHL for him this season and so I’m going to be that guy!  And even though I’m saying WHL, I’ll also be keeping a close eye on the tier II junior leagues in Western Canada as well.

 

Not the sexy class of dub kids that we just saw with the 2019 draft class, but at this point, I wouldn’t call it a down year for the league either as 2018 was.  It’s probably deeper than last year’s was, with as many as eight kids of this top ten getting consideration for spots on my initial top 32 list for the 2020 draft.

 

A couple things before I get to the list.  I didn’t do comparisons for the kids this time around as my comp’s tend to change drastically as the year goes on, I have more viewings, and simply more information in general.  Also, even though this should go without saying, I look at this as if I were a GM.  So I’m projecting, and I’m considering not necessarily need but things I view as most valuable.  If you want to see who the best point producers are of these kids, the WHL has a quality website and others do as well to check out the stats.

 

With all that said, here is the list:

 

1. Kaiden Guhle

Team: Prince Albert Raiders

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 187  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 65  G: 3  A: 14  P: 17

Born: 01/18/02, Sherwood Park, AB

He’s number one for me.  I know he’s not for most, but at the moment I have a difficult time putting him behind anyone in the dub given his overall pedigree.  Guhle was the number one pick in the 2017 WHL draft, captain of the U17 team, and a VERY complete defenceman.  Obviously, he doesn’t have tremendous stats, but a lot of that was the team he played on this season.  Guhle had to take a backseat to many this season as the only regular on the Raiders blueline who wasn’t a 99 born kid.  A phenomenal skater who is already very effective in his own zone and loves the throw his weight around.  The big thing that everyone will be watching with him this season is whether or not the offence is going to come.  His puck skills are a bit in question at this moment, but I’m personally willing to cut some slack to a kid who was in his situation this season.  Had he been playing for most other teams in the league, he’d have seen a lot more quality minutes.  Even without improving his puck skills however, he will be a very solid pick.  However, if those do come around, the offence should follow.  And if the offence comes, the scouting community is going to be gushing over him.

 

2. Justin Sourdif

Team: Vancouver Giants

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 165  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 64  G: 23  A: 23  P: 46

Born: 03/24/02, Surrey, BC

For me, Sourdif was the only one in consideration for me with Guhle for top kid in the WHL.  When you look at the numbers with Sourdif, keep in mind most of his damage was done either five on five or PK (20 goals, 20 assists).  Really thin at the moment too, Sourdif has the framed to easily put on another 20lbs.  The big thing for Sourdif will be continuing to improve his skating.  Right now, he’s quick, but he’s not real fast.  He’s not slow, but as you can read he is currently listed as 5’11 so if you’re drafting someone sub 6’0 then you hope to get a great skater.  The stats indicate he isn’t much of a playmaker, but in my opinion, those numbers were hurt by having to play most of the season on the wing and playing a game the Giants needed.  I see him as a natural centre and expect his assist totals to really shoot up this season, especially given much more PP time.

 

3. Connor McClennon

Team: Winnipeg Ice

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’8  Wt: 154  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 46  G: 14  A: 15  P: 29

Born: 06/25/02, Wainwright, AB

2nd overall in the 17 draft behind Guhle.  Tough to judge playing on such a terrible team last season, it wouldn’t stun me with the Ice now being on much more solid footing as an organization if McClennon were to rocket up some scouting lists.  The downside is that a lot of McClennon’s points were on the PP (3 goals, 8 assists).  The upside is that 12 of his 15 assists were primary.  He was also terrific at the U-17’s last year, putting up 8 goals and 11 points in 5 games.  I’d say that tournament gives you a much better indication of what McClennon is playing on a competent team.  He’s a sniper.  He has a hell of a shot.  Zero issue with getting his nose dirty and going to the tough area’s on the ice, and while his top speed isn’t elite, he’s an extremely quick player.  McClennon is first in a group of three kids who I had a very difficult time separating.

 

4. Seth Jarvis

Team: Portland Winterhawks

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’9  Wt: 165  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 61  G: 16  A: 23  P: 39

Born: 02/01/02, Winnipeg, MB

Just barely edged out by McClennon who got the nod for me mainly due to playing on such a terrible team and being the higher pick in the bantam draft.  But Jarvis had a tick better PPG, much better five on five numbers, and even though both are small kids he has a bit more size.

 

5. Ozzy Wiesblatt

Team: Prince Albert Raiders

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 187  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 64  G: 15  A: 24  P: 39

Born: 03/09/02, Calgary, AB

Wiesblatt is a little different of a prospect than Jarvis and McClennon in that he has a little more size as you can see, and he plays with a lot of edge.  Good numbers in the regular season, and good numbers in the playoffs too with 5 goals and 5 assists in 23 games.  It is so close with all three of these kids.  Wiesblatt was the lowest drafted of the three and has the lowest PPG.  You could also point to seeing some PP time and five on five minutes with some real good players.  But then on the other hand, he’s got better size than Jarvis are McClennon and not just that but he uses that size to play a more in your face and physical game.

 

6. Connor Zary

Team: Kamloops Blazers

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 174  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 63  G: 24  A: 43  P: 67

Born: 09/25/01, Saskatoon, SK

Just missing this past draft by 10 days, Zary’s numbers stack up decent against a guy like Kirby Dach on a less talented team than the Blades were in Kamloops.  Zary actually had three more points than Dach at five on five, only playing one more game.  Obviously there is much more to this than the numbers, but that is one big positive for Zary.  At this point in the process however I still need to compare his 2018 numbers to the other kids in this class, and that’s where he falls a little down these rankings as his 17 year old numbers are lower (29 points in 68 games).

 

7. Jake Neighbours 

Team: Edmonton Oil Kings

Pos: LW  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 201  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 47  G: 11  A: 13  P: 24

Born: 03/29/02, Airdrie, AB

I like the size (obviously more so the thickness), and he’s has great hands, but Neighbours best trait is his IQ.  He is an extremely cerebral player.  The big concern I have though is the skating.  I’ll need to see some improvement in his top end speed next season, but if he does that he’ll start getting serious buzz come next season.

 

8. Ronan Seeley

Team: Everett Silvertips

Pos: LD  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 176  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 52  G: 1  A: 8  P: 9

Born: 08/02/02, Yellowknife, NT

He’s 8th right now, but Seeley has the ability to jump all the way to tops on this list in the next 11 months.  This kid has a lot of talent but was stuck in Everett as a bottom pair guy every night.  Terrific skater, and though his puck skills aren’t tremendous, like Guhle in P.A. it could just be a case of not getting to handle it much thanks to a lack of ice time.  This one is much more about projecting than anything.  Others would have guys like Braden Schneider or Daemon Hunt ahead of Seeley, but Seeley has a much higher ceiling than both.

 

9. Ridly Greig

Team: Brandon Wheat Kings

Pos: LW  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 159  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 63  G: 14  A: 21  P: 35

Born: 08/08/02, Lethbridge, AB

Greig just needs to add strength.  He’s rail thin at the moment.  And because of this, Greig is getting knocked off the puck relatively easy and isn’t generating the power in his stride that he needs to be a good-great skater.  Yet he put up 35 points?  28 at even strength?  14 of the 21 assists were primary?  Keep your eye on him.

 

10. Daemon Hunt

Team: Moose Jaw Warriors

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 198  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 57  G: 7  A: 13  P: 20

Born: 05/15/02, Brandon, MB

Similar to Guhle, Hunt was playing with a very good blueline this past season.  Dissimilar to Guhle however is that Hunt was getting a lot of minutes with Josh Brook and Jet Woo.  That might have helped him out a lot defensively, but also maybe hurt his offensive production.  Only one of those goals and two of those assists were on the PP, while Brook and Woo lit it up on their PP.  Pretty good skater and very solid defensively.

 

Hounourable mention

Braden Schneider

Team: Brandon Wheat Kings

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 209  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 58  G: 8  A: 16  P: 24

Born: 09/20/01, Prince Albert, SK

Certainly, the biggest omission from the top 10 as others have him much higher than I.  Hell, I even seen that Corey Pronman gave him a special mention and he only did a top 21 list (top 28 with those extra names) and Pronman NEVER likes this type of player!  For me, 24 points in his 17 year old season isn’t much to get too excited about.  He only missed the draft by five days.  I like his skating, and his defensive play is very sound, but the production is uninspiring for me at this point.  But it’s VERY early in this process, plenty of time to make me look like a jack ass.

 

Josh Pillar

Team: Kamloops Blazers

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 165  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 68  G: 7  A: 15  P: 22

Born: 02/14/02, Warman, SK

Scary good wheels.  His numbers this past season don’t stack up with the other kids in my top 10 so I couldn’t put him in there, but this kid is going to be one of the best skaters in this draft.  He’s going to be interesting to track playing on what I expect to be a pretty good Blazers team.

 

Carter Savoie

Team: Sherwood Park Crusaders (AJHL)

Pos: LW  Ht: 5’9  Wt: 170  Shot: L

2019 StatsGP: 58  G: 31  A: 42  P: 73

Born: 01/23/02, St. Albert, AB

Obviously he’s in the AJHL and not the WHL, but I’m still going to be tracking him closely this season as I said off the top.  The Winnipeg Ice tried to get him, but in the end Savoie is sticking with the Crusaders and then it’ll be off to the University of Denver for the 20-21 season.  It may have “only been the AJHL”, but leading an elite AJHL team in scoring as a 16 year old is no joke.  In fact, his 73 points were good for 5th in the league.  One scouting service currently has him 80th.  It’s only my opinion, but I’m predicting that scouting service is going to give better “consideration” to their next list.  Dylan Holloway is top 10 for a couple of scouting services right now, no lower than 11th that I’ve seen.  Holloway (who missed being a 2019 pick by eight days) had 88 points in the AJ this season and was only at a PPG pace the year before.  So if he had played the 58 games in 2018 which Savoie played this past season, let’s assume he has 58 points.  So obviously a 30 point in improvement from last season to this.  Savoie has a 30 point improvement and we’re talking about a 100 point player.  The skating is great, the IQ is high, I know the hype is around his brother but the elder Savoie is going to be a damn good one too.

 

Michael Benning

Team: Sherwood Park  Crusaders (AJHL)

Pos: RD  Ht: 5’9  Wt: 170  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 60  G: 10  A: 51  P: 61

Born: 01/05/02, St. Albert, AB

Along with Savoie, the Crusaders also have defenceman and very close friend of Savoie’s, brother of Oilers defenceman Matthew Benning, Michael Benning.  The big thing I can’t take my eyes off of with Benning is the stats in comparison to AJHL alumn Cale Makar.  In Makar’s 17 year old season, he was a shad over a PPG with 10 goals and 45 points in 54 games.  As you can see, Benning put up extremely similar numbers in his 16 year old season (although in fairness, Benning is only a little more than two months younger than Makar was at the time).  However, while the numbers are so similar, the style of play is not.  Makar was as dynamic of a defenceman as you’ll see, while Benning plays a much more understated/cerebral game.

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Is Holland Done? He Doesn’t Have to Be

Just like the last blog, before I get rolling I’m going to talk more on the Boundary battle of Alberta game because now we have a second game to talk about!  The first game not only sold out in incredible time, but the roster spots also were snatched up quickly.  Tickets go on sale tomorrow morning (Tuesday, July 30th) at 9 AM and can be bought either at LHRF.com or at Boundary Ford in Lloydminster ($25.00 per ticket).  Also, with a new game comes new roster spots so there are now eight spots (four per team) available for $1,000.00.  And the two latest names to get added to the list of players playing in this game were announced Friday.  Mark Fistric for the Oilers, and Mike Commodore for the Flames.  Fistric was dealt to the Oilers just after the lockout ended and the season began in 2013.  At that time the team was getting pushed around and needed someone who could push back and Fistric did just that.  Every game he’d play there would be someone from the opposition laid out, one of the last true crushers the Oilers have had.  A 1st round pick in 2004 by Dallas, Fistric spent six seasons in the Stars organization before joining the Oilers and then spent the final two years of his career in Anaheim with the Ducks.  His style was very similar to Commodore’s, who took a full four seasons to truly establish himself in the league.  But he finally did during the 2004 run to the Cup final for the Flames.  Commodore became a fan favourite during that time and continued that after he packed his shit and was dealt from the Flames to the Hurricanes prior to the 05-06 season (see what I did there?!), in a move that turned out terrific for Commodore as he was a key contributor in the Canes Cup winning team (still pains me to say that as an Oilers fan).  Like Debrusk and Macoun, it’s an amazing opportunity to play with genuinely good guys who played in the league and have about a billion stories to tell.  These aren’t guys who are going to “big time” anyone.  They’re going to be an absolute blast to play with, and again all this money is going towards Project Sunrise which is a terrific mental health initiative, so you’re not only paying for one hell of a good time, but you’re helping end the stigma which is something I’m personally all in on.  If you’d like more info on how to play in the game, call the Lloydminster Region Health Foundation at  306-820-6161.  The extra game added will also be on September 28th, this one starting at noon MST.

Well Ken Holland sure got back into Oilers fans good books since the last blog I wrote!  Getting James Neal for Milan Lucic, even in the absolute worst case scenario is still a huge win for the Oilers.  Even with the money retained, the Oilers would still open up 3.3 million per season on the cap.  Lucic on a buyout would have only opened up 500k in two of the next three seasons, only 2 million in the other.  And that’s the worst case scenario.  I actually believe that everything I’m hearing and reading on what happened with Neal last season and what he’s been doing this off-season, he sounds like a solid bet to rebound this season, not to mention he’s a terrific fit for the team.  Would I put the chances that Neal bounces back high?  No.  Maybe 45-50%.  But the chances Lucic could help the Oilers were down to about 5-10%.  It is a sure win, with the potential to be a home run.

 

So now that fans are satisfied, the Oilers are ready for camp to open in a little under seven weeks…right?  If this is what Holland entered camp with, I believe most rationale fans would be ok with it.  He’s improved the team speed, he hasn’t ruined the cap situation, I still don’t understand the Sekera buyout at all over possibly moving out a guy like Kris Russell, but it is debatable and he did at least open up a spot on the blueline for Caleb Jones to step in.  But the thing is that he still has some moves he can make to improve the roster further.

 

Starting with Matt Benning, and this conversation always drives me nuts.  I’ve wanted the Oilers to explore moving on from Benning for a year now, but when I lay this out for people they don’t ever seem to understand why.  I don’t dislike the player.  Matt Benning is very worthy of being an NHL player, might even be capable of playing in a top-four role if given the proper D partner.  But he’s not a fit for the Oilers at all.  This blueline is overrun with D-men who lack skill, speed, and/or a high-end ability to move the puck.  Couple that with the fact that they have three kids either needing NHL minutes or are close to ready for them who play the right side in Joel Persson, Ethan Bear and Evan Bouchard (all of whom are better puck movers with at least as good of skating ability) and it just makes it so obvious to me that Holland should be looking to use Benning to secure another forward.

 

We all thought that player was going to be Connor Brown.  Could it still?  The Sens still aren’t too deep on the blueline and have a lot of young forwards ready to crack their lineup.  Marcus Sorensson from the Sharks might make sense, Calle Järnkrok from the Preds, there are a few options out there which might make sense.

 

You could also move Ethan Bear.  It is a similar situation to Benning in that it’s not the best of fits, especially if Benning is staying.  Bear has similar skating issues in that he can move well enough to play in the league, but maybe not well enough to help an already average skating team.  Another case for Bear is that while he’s the cheaper cap hit and moves the puck extremely well, that also might make him a bit more valuable on the market.

 

In both cases, they are pieces which could bring back what is really needed which would be complementary wingers for the top two lines or a third-line centre.  When I say complementary wingers, I’m not talking about top-six wingers, but rather wingers who can play with top-six guys.  If you assume that four of the top six are McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, and Neal, then you really just need to find a couple of players who can hang with those guys.

 

Of course, the one wildcard in all this remains Puljujarvi.  To me, it’s very unfortunate that him going to Europe to play was really just a bluff from his agent, Markus “I’m hell-bent on destroying my client’s career” Lehto.  I wouldn’t have wanted him over there for one year, I wanted two.  But neither seem likely all of a sudden and now we’re hearing more and more rumours that Puljujarvi is going to end up back with the Oilers come September.  It’ll be interesting to see if he does end up back with the team what he’s going to look like.  On one hand, the double hip surgery should help his skating long term.  Not that his skating was shitty, but he still looked as though he really lacked strength and his agility wasn’t where it could be.  But on the other hand, I’m going to be surprised if he’s ready to roll.  I’m sure that a two week conditioning stint in Bakersfield to start the season would be possible, but that won’t be the cure.

 

IF he’s back, he needs patience.  Patience from the organization, patience from the media, and patience from the fans.  He needs to play and stay on the third line.  I still strongly believe that once this kid starts getting some real traction that he is going to flourish.  To what level?  Remains to be seen.  I don’t think it’s far fetched that he still ends up reaching his full potential, but obviously at this point, nobody is going to set that as an expectation.

 

After the Lucic trade, fans are feeling much better about the Oilers entering the season.  But the reality of the situation is that things are still very bleak entering next season.  Thanks to the scenario in goal, it might be hopeless.  But there are still bullets to fire that can improve this squad without hurting the future of the team either in terms of future cap or future assets.

 

Nobody should be expecting them to make the playoffs this season, but we all want/hope Holland and company do everything they can (without sacrificing the future) to give them the best opportunity to do so.

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Trying to Figure Out the Long Term Plan

Photo by Ian Kucerak/Postmedia

Before I start today, we have a pretty big event coming to my hometown of Lloydminster on September 28th.  Eight alumni each from the Oilers and Flames will square off in the Boundary Battle of Alberta with all proceeds going toward Project Sunrise which is a terrific mental health initiative.  The event is already sold out (I believe tickets went in something like six hours, ridiculous), but why go sit in the stands when you can play in the game?  Not sure where it currently stands, but when the event was announced they had four spots available on each team for $1,000.00.  The first two names are being announced today (perhaps already have been by the time this gets posted) will be Sportsnet colour analyst and former Oiler Louie Debrusk, and former Flames defenceman, two time Stanley Cup champion, over 1,100 games in the NHL Jamie Macoun.  Both guys have reputations as being among the most genuinely great people ever to suit up in the league.  We’re not talking about guys who if you pay a grand to play next to them they’re going to treat a guy like shit and then get the hell out of there when the game is done.  Great guys with a couple thousand or so stories from their years playing hockey to tell (a lot of which I’m sure can’t be shared in public settings…).  It’s a great start to the list and I know that more great names are still to come, so if you got the dough it’d not only be worth your money but it goes towards a terrific cause.  If you’re interested, send me a DM on Twitter (@TJ_Soups) and I should be able to get you in touch with the right people to make it happen.

 

Now, how to transition from something damn good to something terrible…I’m kidding, it’s not terrible.  But if you’re impatient, as all Oilers fans should be, it’s a very hard truth to hear or read, but it’s a fact.  And the fact is that this is at least a one year rebuild for the Oilers.

 

I’m guessing very few Oilers fans, even those who view themselves as the “elite” fans, were aware of this.  Or perhaps they were trying to convince themselves otherwise.  To me, it was obvious from the moment they fired Peter Chiarelli that it would take a minimum of 18 months to undo the knot that Chiarelli tied.  I’m not a big Ken Holland fan, but it was going to take damn near a miracle for anyone to step in and turn this team into a playoff contender.  Even in trying to construct a roster myself, assuming UFA’s would sign, assuming GM’s would take my trade proposal’s, what I pieced together still wasn’t going to be anything of a sure bet and really isn’t far off what Holland has done.

 

What I find funny though is seeing people mock signings like Joakim Nygård, Gaëtan Haas, and Josh Archibald and I can’t help but think just how moronic people can be.  What is wrong with these signings?!?  Sure, they aren’t the BIG moves people want, but they’re low risk, rationale moves that this club has been begging for since…2008?  2006?  And yet the moment they’re announced, people can’t wait to shit on them.  At least you can see a plan here with Holland and it’s to put out a much faster lineup, which is one thing I was clamoring for entering the off-season.

 

But those type of moves again suggest that this is going to take a year.  Not to suggest that they’re looking to tank this season or anything along those lines.  They’re not.  They’re trying to put together as good of a lineup they can, but without killing the gains they’re making on the cap over the next few seasons.  You can’t quick fix this.  Did anyone notice it cost the Leafs a first round pick to unload a year of Patrick Marleau?  I’d guess Kris Russell would have cost a second, and can you imagine what it’d then cost to shed the rest of the Lucic deal?!?  No thank you.

 

So it is going to take some time.  And how much more damn patience are us Oilers fans going to have to display?!  Well, if you want them to put together a perennial playoff team, give them a year.  Obviously, we all want them to make the playoffs this season.  But we as fans need to have the mindset that they won’t and what we’ll see is more of what we saw last season.  For our mental health, this is a much better approach then demanding they make the playoffs ASAP.  And we must remind ourselves, we want to win Cups, not be what the Minnesota Wild or Columbus Blue Jackets have been.

 

As it currently sits, they’re going to have close to 25 million in cap space next summer.  So that’s a nice start, but it’s not just that.  A year from now, Kris Russell is much more movable with only a year left on his deal and a no-trade list that shrinks from 21 teams to 16.  I also believe that after he gets his signing bonus (whenever that is as it’s been disputed a lot in the media) Milan Lucic will be much more movable.  After his bonus is paid, Lucic will only cost 1 million dollars for the 20-21 season.  Now, before you say “yeah, but then he still has another two years left after that at a combined 9 million and a 6 mil a year cap hit”, remember that after the 20-21 season the CBA is up.  Teams are getting compliance buyouts.  At least two, maybe more.  Is he movable without penalty?  No.  But he’s much more movable, and in a year from now, Holland will have more assets stockpiled and a chance to be more aggressive.

 

You also have to go back to the draft with what I still find to be a completely bizarre use of the 8th overall pick in the draft selecting Philip Broberg.  It’s not just that it was a reach, it’s the lack of justification which came with it.  The Oilers strength in their system is the blueline, and specifically on the left side.  Add to that, Klefbom is young and locked down for four more seasons at an extremely team-friendly number, and Nurse is already a top-four D-man at 24 years old.  They already had 10 D-men 26 and under who are either on the roster or on the cusp.  Another seven defencemen in Europe, NCAA, or in the AHL.  A kid like Broberg just couldn’t have been less of a need.  BUT…

 

You have a lot of power to make trades when you’re deep on the blueline, and you will save on the cap.  Defencemen probably get overpaid more than any other position in the league.  If you’re developing them and locking them down at the right times, it can cut way down on cap mistakes.  Look at the Preds.  The only bad deal they made with their D-men was matching the Shea Weber offer sheet, which they made up for by moving him for P.K. Subban.  In turn, they’ve been able to pretty much do whatever they’ve wanted to the last few seasons.

 

The Broberg pick combined with the cap space coming up had me wondering if there wasn’t something to all the smoke around Taylor Hall possibly making a return.  Those rumours won’t go away.  And it would be one thing for them to be coming from people with zero credibility, but Elliotte Friedman has hinted at it before.  It was around the trade deadline where he said it on a podcast (can’t remember which it was, but not his own), and also talked about it on Oilers Now when asked days after.  Bob Stauffer has hinted at it a lot for several months now, and from all accounts has remained in close contact with Hall since being dealt.  Back to Friedman, who has also talked recently about Hall’s desire to play in a market where it really matters.

 

But the problem is that while fans would hear 25 million and believe they can easily go out and sign Hall for 12 million a season, they can’t.  Well, they COULD, but we’re talking shedding all of the 10 million of dead weight on the cap that Russell and Lucic eat up, AND you’d have to move out Darnell Nurse who is looking to be in line for a contract extension worth 6-7 million per season if his numbers can stay in the 30-40 point range.  Then you still likely have to go get a goaltender to be a 1B with Koskinen (if not a 1A), and even with Nurse in the lineup, you have to upgrade the blueline.  Sure, they have a lot of kids who will likely see some quality NHL minutes this upcoming season, but will kids like Jones, Persson, Bear or Lagesson be ready for top-four minutes after next season?  HIGHLY unlikely.

 

But the thing about the Oilers is that they don’t need another star like Hall.  Filling the holes they have better would take this team from the outhouse to the penthouse.  Mikael Granlund, Alex Galchenyuk, Chris Kreider, Robin Lehner, Jared Spurgeon, Sami Vatanen, Justin Faulk, there are a lot of guys who might get to the open market who would be great fits for what the Oilers really need.

 

Giving them a year to focus on a build rather than to be dusted in five by the Sharks would also give them a chance to really implement a lot of kids to save even more cap space.  Benson, Jones, Persson, Lagesson, Yamamoto, and Bouchard are all kids who are either going to push for spots on the roster or should be ready to go for the start of the 20-21 season.

 

So this very possibly could be what their plan i.  If so, I believe it’s fair to say “ok, one year build, next year playoffs, the year after that is when they’ll be able to put out a true contender”.  For those of you fearing a McDavid trade request if this is the case, he’s not going to ask out if they have a very legitimate plan.  You can miss the playoffs trending up and miss the playoffs trending down.  Sure, shit could hit the fan once again this season and be a nightmare and if that’s the case then he just may finally snap.  But more than likely they’ll be more competitive this season and if they do miss the playoffs they’ll at least do so trending up.  The kids gain experience, the system gets stronger, the cap space increases, and the organization at least has a GM who isn’t going to piss away any asset or cap space he can get his hands on.  That’s a BIG improvement over how things have been here.

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