So I had been wanting to write one of these for a week or so, and life has got in the way. But I’m finally getting around to it now. I had to scrap the opening of how “hot” these actually were as it was +30 or more most of last week. But it isn’t today. Its just ok out. So that’s screwed. And only a part of this is about anything real recent (the Hlinka/Gretzky Cup stuff), so nothing is really a “hot take” other than a few of those observations. This might get renamed this season because if you don’t get that its sarcasm, which I’m certain most don’t, then its a ridiculously named piece. Anyway, here you go. Read this.
I’ll start it off with the passing of Stan Mikita, and I’m too young to have seen him play, but he was one of those players who doesn’t get the love that he maybe deserves from fans and the media, but was one of the most respected players all time by his peers. The one thing I always go back to is what a terrifyingly dirty player he apparently was when he first entered the league, and then ended up a two time winner of the Lady Byng. Imagine a guy like Brad Marchand winning the Lady Byng. I can’t speak to whether or not that is exactly how Mikita played early on, but I’m guessing its not a terrible example either! Probably would have won a Selke had the trophy been around in the 60’s, and how many people know that he held the record for most points in a season?! Only held it for two years, but he had it. The man who now holds that record took his first face-off in the league against Mikita. He’s always felt like a very underrated guy among the legends of the game. He’s always mentioned, but I can’t help but think Bobby Hull couldn’t have done a lot of what he did without Mikita doing a ton of the dirty work. From all accounts, as great of a man as he was a player. A legend.
I wanted to do a full blog on Jarome Iginla and didn’t get around to it. So this is essentially it. He made mention during his press conference while talking about the 2004 run “we even had some Edmonton fans pulling for us”. I was one of those fans. I wasn’t putting on a Flames jersey or anything along those lines, but that team was one of the most likable teams I remember watching, and Iginla was the biggest reason for that. St. Albert kid, grew up an Oilers fan, as humble of a star as you’ll ever find, and the guy played the game EXACTLY how any fan would want a player to play. He could score anyway he needed to, was fearless, and if things weren’t going his way he’d looked to kick the shit out of you. And he didn’t pick his spots either. Remember the 04 run? Mattias Ohlund, who wasn’t much of a fighter but was a big boy and Iginla had enough of him in that first round series. Derrian Hatcher who was a TOTAL spot picking piece of shit, and Iginla didn’t care that Hatcher had three inches and probably 25 lbs on him. None of the Sharks would go him in the Conference finals that year because word had likely got out that its what would get him going! Lecavalier obliged in the final though, and what a great tilt that was. Maybe the best star v star fight in playoff history? I don’t know of too many others off the top of my head. Loved him. Absolutely loved him, and I don’t care who your team is, I’m not sure how you couldn’t. He’s a guy who deserved a Cup, and it really is a shame that he’s walking away without one. But really, would it have changed anything? Me personally I don’t think it would have. Had they won in 04, and he been a winger who carried his team to a Cup, THAT would have changed my view on him! But the fact that he was able to get that team to game seven of the final was insane. That and the gold medal game performance in 02. The more iconic highlight is setting up Crosby in 2010, but in 02 the combination of him and Sakic was just INCREDIBLE. That season was his coming out party, and that game was his grand finale. Remember, he wasn’t initially a camp invite that fall. He was a last minute replacement for….Brendan Shanahan if I recall right? I should look it up, but I like the challenge of seeing if I get it right (no joke, I hate looking things up because I feel like I should know, even if it looks more unprofessional). Anyway, what a tremendous career, tremendous player, and again just like Mikita, Iginla has always been a total class act.
Last week (five days ago to be exact) was the 30 year anniversary of the Gretzky trade. 30 years since one of my earliest childhood memories, balling my eyes out. I remember actually crying about it in my kitchen when the news broke, and then again when mom and I were out picking up the chicken we ordered from KFC (I probably didn’t even enjoy the KFC that night, and as anyone who has seen me knows…I love KFC! At that age, I was all about the chicken skin, wouldn’t eat any other part of the chicken, just the skin and put it back in the bucket, don’t know how I became such a fat little fuck….) And this might have been a few days later, but I just remember it was the news that Messier was going to be the Captain. For whatever reason, Kevin Lowe was my second favourite Oiler as a four year old, and I thought he should be the captain. So that crushed me, but in reality it was knowing that Gretzky was gone. It really bugs me to this day from the standpoint of I was of an age where I barely remember it. Certain moments here and there, but for the most part I remember watching post Gretzky. My first game was in 89, we started going regularly in 90, basically the one time I really remember watching a game was when they beat the Bruins to sweep the 88 final and our neighbour came over and I just recall him saying “oh they won it already”. Not anything about the game, just how it was so matter of fact that the Oilers won another Cup. There were three more Cups left in that team. Maybe not in a row, but definitely three more. It still makes me a little sick to see all the stuff on it.
So the big reason I wanted to do this piece today was to talk about the Hlinka/Gretzky Cup. First thing I noticed: This is annoying for a draft guy like myself, because what we saw last week is going to get extremely overrated by a lot of people who had never seen the tournament before. I’ve never seen so many draft experts on Twitter. And I’m definitely not claiming to be, but fella’s, you’ve never seen the tournament before, so how would you know how well guys performed when you don’t have another Hlinka tourney to compare it to? SETTLE DOWN…
You would think Craig Button hadn’t seen it before with his overreaction rankings. Dylan Cozens is now second? Really? And Alex Turcotte is now out of the top five? Seriously? Come on guys. Alex Newhook, who shouldn’t have been cut from team Canada, he’s apparently out of the top five now too even though its highly likely that Newhook got left off the team just because he’s not a CHL kid. I get it, Cozens looked great. But Cozens performance didn’t really stun me, nor did Kirby Dach’s. Now, some things I’ve heard about Dach have me questioning whether or not I should have him 2nd on my rankings, but the talent doesn’t. Bowen Byram, same thing. Vasili Podkolzin was tremendous but yet again, it wasn’t a big stunner that many are making it out to be. I guess it is for guys who had never heard of any of these players, and I’m not trying to downplay it at all but I just think if you were going nuts about some of these players on Twitter or other forms of social media that you probably knew nothing about these kids before hand.
Obviously I’ve left out one big name to this point, but he deserves his own paragraph. Alex Lafrenière is another kid who had a performance “up to par”, though that goal against the Swedes in the gold medal game was just ridiculous. For me, his wowing me moment was in the U-18’s last year where he and Jack Hughes for my money were the two best players in the tournament. Maybe its the Canadian in me, but to me, Lafrenière is going to be the better player….SLIGHTLY. Offensively, Hughes will have the edge. Hughes is a faster and slightly bigger version of Patty Kane in my opinion. Lafrenière might be the more complete guy though, while still owning a tremendous offensive skill set of his own. Lafrenière has the size advantage too. Hughes isn’t tiny, but he’s not big. Lafrenière might be 6’2, 205 lbs by the time the 2020 draft hits. Either way though I believe it’ll be splitting hairs with these guys. Its going to be awesome to watch them grow. I don’t think either guy is generational, but not very damn far off.
The big surprise and the big surge up the rankings will be from Philip Broberg. And no doubt, he should be well within everyone’s top 31 now. But some are talking as if he’s emerged as the top D-man in the draft and he’s going top five. If those people can tell me what else they saw from him other than elite speed, then I’ll gladly listen. But be honest, he jumped off the screen with a few highlights and that’s why you’re so high on him. At this point, he looks like another Jay Bouwmeester to me, which is a damn good top four defencman….but not someone I’d be overly excited about. Bowen Byram is the much better defencemen of the two. Byram is exactly what teams are craving in a D-man these days. I love how active he is, not just jumping in the play but without the puck as well. Keeps his feet moving, itching to read the play, itching to make a play, and yet when he gets the puck as we seen on that completely legal and not anything wrong with game tying goal against the Americans….amazing composure.
Speaking of that goal…I’m going to look at this from both sides. I think we all agree, that was horse shit. I felt dirty after Canada won. The Americans were very wronged. And as a Canadian, World Junior loses really don’t both me in the grand scheme of things. We usually don’t have our full lineup, so it is what it is. And yes, we did knock them off in the U-18’s last spring. Having said that…this one worried me. That was the Americans at about half strength…if that. They didn’t have two absolute STUD players, both of whom might be better than any Canadian kid, not to mention several others like Cole Caufiled, Cam York, Alex Vlasic, etc. And they technically beat us with our best. That’s big time worrisome as a Canadian hockey fan. The Canadian media has been itching for this to be the case for 20 years now, but I think it might finally be the case. Not now, but 10 years from now, we might be a clear cut 2nd best internationally. Now, having said that…a part of me looks at what happened to the Americans as a bit of karma. You dip shits half ass it when you play every other country internationally and then play the game of your lives against Canada. They’re LITERALLY more concerned with pissing off Canadians than winning anything. Look at the World Juniors. That team made a tremendous comeback and beat Canada in a shootout (of course), and then in the semi final against the Swedes they looked like they were playing a pre tournament game. Its very obvious that you don’t care as much about winning as you do about beating Canada, so maybe next time play your balls off for the entire tournament and a bounce like that won’t go against you.
Anyway, if I had to redo my rankings today, I’m not sure my top 10 would look a whole lot different. MAYBE Broberg gets into the nine or ten spot? Cozens MAYBE moves up a spot or two? Literally off the top of my head I’d probably go Hughes, Turcotte, Byram, Dach, Newhook, Cozens, Kakko, Podkolzin (and if I got a Russian kid this high then you know I must like him), Krebs and Broberg. So….not a LOT of movement for me. I question how much you’ve seen Hughes play if you currently believe anyone will challenge him. I’m not going to ding Alex Turcotte for not playing in the tournament. Byram moves from six to three, Dach slides from two to four, Newhook sides from four to five but even with getting cut from the freaking team I still am not going to ding him too much and prefer the centre over the next four who are all wingers in Cozens (up one), Kakko (down two), Podkolzin (up nine) and Krebs (down one). Broberg is 10 but like I say I’m going to need to see more than just an ability to out skate kids. Miles Wood can out skate a ton of players too. Pump the brakes on the hype train. And remember, this was the first showcase of the season for these kids. We have a LONG ways to go.
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