NHL combine ‘just another piece of the puzzle’
By Jim Matheson, edmontonjournal.com
May 27, 2012 8:19 AM
Ryan Murray #27 of Team Canada and Austin Watson #26 of Team USA shove each other during the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championship game at Rexall Place.
Photograph by: Getty Images , edmontonjournal.com
EDMONTON - The NHL Central Scouting draft combine starts Monday at a suburban Toronto hotel where 105 muscular kids of all shapes and sizes will be analyzed by 30 clubs.
What does it all mean?
“It means 83 interviews ... that’s a whole whack of talking,” said Edmonton Oilers chief scout Stu MacGregor, laughing.
Yes, the No.-1 ranked Nail Yakupov of the Ontario Hockey League’s Sarnia Sting will get an interview.
“But we’ve already talked to him twice,” said MacGregor. “(Oilers general manager) Steve Tambellini will be there for this one, though.”
Yakupov, the Russian-born forward who is listed at five-foot-10-1/2 and 189 pounds, is shorter than Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was, but considerably thicker than the Oilers rookie, who was listed at 173 pounds at the 2011 combine.
The Oilers, however, didn’t much care how big Nugent-Hopkins was last May at the combine, how much weight he could bench-press or whether he was a standup comedian in the interview. He was their guy going in and at the entry draft in Minnesota, when they also picked him first overall.
“I’ve never cared how much a player weighs. I think Steve Yzerman was 155 and Pavel Datsyuk as about the same (in their draft years). They got a lot bigger,” said MacGregor.
“The combine is just another piece of the puzzle that (teams) use to whatever advantage or disadvantage ... playing on the ice is the most important thing. It’s not how you do the tests.
“I know the year we took Taylor Hall (first overall in 2010) he wasn’t able to do most of the tests because he had just come off the Memorial Cup and he had some injuries. That takes the workout phase out of it.
“It was important for Ryan (at the 2011 combine) to see how he did in the strength issue. He had a better build than we thought and we had an additional test, working out with our fitness guy Simon Bennett later on. We found out he was pretty good in the gym, too.”
Do the interviews really matter?
“You only have a short window of 20 minutes to talk to the kids,” said MacGregor, “and in most cases either you or somebody on your staff has done a lengthy interview anyway. Something may have come up during the season that we want to ask about.”
An example could be gauging Yakupov’s willingness to be an NHL player and not even think about Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.
“He’s told everybody his first goal is to play in the NHL. He understand he might make more money back there (in Russia), but he wants the NHL,” said MacGregor.
Yakupov had a concussion this past season in Sarnia, but there’s no alarm bells there.
“He seemed to recover fine, but we get medical reports (combine test or from the player’s agent) on everything,” said MacGregor.
The Oilers will pick first overall on Day 1 of the NHL entry draft June 22 at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh and MacGregor again won’t say if they will pick Yakupov, which would give them another weapon up front.
There’s also a cadre of defencemen — Ryan Murray, Griffin Reinhart, Morgan Rielly, Matt Dumba — all with puck-moving or skating ability to get the offence charged.
The NHL entry draft isn’t like the NFL draft, where the Indianapolis Colts told one and all they were taking quarterback Ryan Luck before draft day.
“(If) you tell everybody, where’s the suspense for the fans?” asked MacGregor, who says he has a pretty good idea who will be the best player up for grabs at the draft.
“I’m working on it in my mind. Yeah, OK, I’ve got a pretty good idea.”
I know MacGregor likes Murray a lot. He knows Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Co. need the puck in flight, not with their faces pressed against the glass. And the Columbus Blue Jackets will likely take Murray at No. 2 if the Oilers don’t want him.
MacGregor swears Tambellini hasn’t told him yet if they should be drafting by position rather need than as to who’s the best player, with more holes on the Oilers back end.
“My job is to put them in line (by ranking), and then whatever happens with trades or whatever, that’s Steve. He can massage that list however he wants.
“You can’t stop people talking to you (about moving back from No. 1 in a trade) ... depends what people throw at us, but I think we’ll pick (first).”
The Oilers have seven picks in the seven-round draft, including two in the third, one coming from the Los Angeles Kings in the Dustin Penner trade. They have none in Round 7 because they gave up that pick to the Kings in the Ryan Smyth trade.
The Oilers have not selected a defenceman with their first pick in Round 1 in more than 20 years. The last No. 1 blue-liner pick one was Jason Soules (Niagara Falls) in 1989.
“Really? That was the last time?” said the disbelieving MacGregor.
As for Soules, he decided he would rather run into a burning building than break up a two-on-one rush. He wanted to be a firefighter, not a blueliner, although at last look he was involved in a hockey academy in Hamilton, so he’s back to his roots.
In the 33 years the Oilers have been at the NHL entry draft, they have only taken seven defencemen with their initial selection in the first round, five of them came in the first six years including Kevin Lowe (1979), Paul Coffey (1980), Jim Playfair (1982), Jeff Beukeboom (1983) and Selmar Odelein (1984).
The other first pick in Round 1 was goalie Grant Fuhr.
There was also Francois Leroux (1988) and Soules.
“I’d say Coffey and Kevin worked out pretty well,” said MacGregor.
Playfair, the Coyotes assistant coach, played two games for the Oilers. Odelein, who had bad knees, got into 18. Leroux played 11. Soules none.
The Oilers have taken three defencemen with a second pick in Round 1: Nick Stajduhar, 1993, after getting Jason Arnott with their first choice; Mathieu Descoteaux, 1996, after they took Boyd Devereaux; and Oscar Klefbom at 19 last June, after they grabbed Nugent-Hopkins at No. 1.
“I do not buy the theory that you can’t take a defenceman early in the draft because they take too long (to develop to get to the NHL). Did Scott Niedermayer? Did Chris Pronger? Did Drew Doughty? It is a harder position to learn, but maybe we’re in a good position (as a team) for a young guy to learn,” said MacGregor.
In the top 15 at next month’s draft, 10 might be defencemen.
“The only forwards I can think of (being selected in the top 15) are Yakupov and (Alex) Galchenyuk, (Mikhail) Grigorenko, (Filip) Forsberg and the Finn (Tuevo) Teravainen. He could be the most skilled guy in the draft. He’s very talented, great, great stickhandler, not very heavy (165 pounds),” said MacGregor.
Everybody wants Zach
Has there been a hotter ticket than New Jersey Devils forward Zach Parise on the free-agent stage in the last 10 years?
You can see how badly he wants to win, the pistons pumping as he hunts down a loose puck in the neutral zone and sends it into the open net to ensure the Game 5 win for the Devils at Madison Square Garden.
He’s the engine that drives the Devils, with due respect to the big wheel Ilya Kovalchuk, who is much better than I thought he’d ever be when they gave him that lifetime contract as a free agent.
But how can there be room for both players next season and beyond when the Devils ownership is an absolute mess and Parise can easily get $8 million US on the open market?
The Devils have no wiggle room because Elias ($6 million) and Dainius Zubrus ($3.4 million) aren’t unrestricted free agents until July 2013, the same with Marek Zidlicky on defence.
There are four scenarios: Parise stays in New Jersey; he goes to Detroit, where the Red Wings will sell him on playing with Pavel Datsyuk, he slides over to the New York Rangers; or Parise, who turns 28 in July, goes home to suit up for the Minnesota Wild.
The Rangers know going after Parise is a better deal than trading for Columbus Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash and his $7.8-million salary in exchange for some young assets such as Chris Kreider, Tim Erixon, Derek Stepan or J.T. Miller, a 2011 first-round pick.
If I was handicapping, I’d say Parise winds up with the Red Wings, who have had pro scout Mark Howe watching him all season, with the Rangers No. 2, the Devils No. 3 and the Wild No. 4.
The Rangers have gone after two other Devils in free agency — Bobby Holik and Scott Gomez. But Parise is a different kettle of fish. He’s as good as Nash, not as big, but he does more things.
If the Rangers signed him, and cleared Brandon Dubinsky’s $4.2 million for the next three years, they could afford him, and not have to give up any of their young players.
In Minnesota, the citizenry are awash with expectations that Parise might want to come home. His dad, J.P., runs the hockey program at the exclusive Shattuck St. Mary’s prep school and Parise’s girlfriend is from North Dakota and one of J.P.’s best friends is former North Stars GM Lou Nanne, who holds significant sway in that area. But then again, plenty of NHLers don’t want the pressure of playing before friends and family.
Dominik Hasek coming back to the NHL at 47?
Sorry, don’t buy it for a second, no matter what the story back in the Czech Republic says. There have been absolutely no discussions with NHL clubs about the two-time Hart Trophy winner, and first-ballot Hall of Famer — if he ever quits strapping on the pads.
Hasek is in good shape, but he didn’t play last season and there’s no way he would return to the NHL to be a 25-game backup. His pride wouldn’t stand for that.
“I am waiting and we’ll see. June will be decision time,” Hasek told the newspaper.
There will be scads of unrestricted free-agent netminders on July 1: Josh Harding, Scott Clemmensen, Dan Ellis, Alex Auld, Jonas Gustavsson and other starting goalies who could get traded such as Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas.
I find it interesting that Edmonton Oilers president Kevin Lowe says he wishes he had Saint John Sea Dogs coach Gerard Gallant on his team when Gallant was a player.
Gallant was one of those unique talents: he could score, fight and get in your face. Over a four-year span with the Detroit Red Wings in the late 1980s he scored 38, 34, 39 and 36 goals respectively while simultaneously recording 216, 242, 230 and 254 penalty minutes respectively during those seasons.
What the Edmonton Oilers need is a mean winger who can score. Teemu Hartikainen might be a big man in the team’s top nine in time, but he doesn’t have a mean bone in his body.
There is only one guy playing in the NHL today who’s like Gallant and that’s Milan Lucic of the Boston Bruins.
To this day, I’m sure the Oilers wish they still had that 2007 second-round draft pick they gave up to the Bruins along with Marty Reasoner to get Sergei Samsonov at the 2006 trade deadline. The Bruins selected Lucic 50th overall in Round 2 in ’06.
Samsonov helped the Oilers for three months, but that was it. There was no sign of him playing in the Kontinental Hockey League this past season.
Jesse Rogers’s ESPNChicago story the other day in which he offered up a possible trade involving the Pittsbrugh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks was intriguing.
The Blackhawks definitely need a No. 2 centre to help Jonathan Toews. In this story, Rogers proposed the Blackhawks go hard for Jordan Staal and give up Dave Bolland, who’s their No. 3 centre, as well as Pittsburgh-born top prospect forward Brandon Saad, former first-round pick Kyle Beach, who was hurt last season, and a draft pick.
The Blackhawks have Marcus Kruger to take Bolland’s spot and Bolland could take Staal’s role as the Penguins’ third-line centre. Saad, who got into a playoff game this spring, could easily make the Blackhawks roster at training camp in the fall. The farm-teamer Beach is a mean centre with a short fuse who has never fulfilled his potential.
I like Roger’s idea, and the Penguins would save some money.
This 'n' That
• NHL teams should explore an offer sheet on Washington Capitals defenceman John Carlson, who will be getting low money from the Capitals in a new deal as a restricted free agent with no leverage. Carlson’s blue-line partner Karl Alzner didn’t have any cards to play last season and had to sign a two-year deal at $1.2 million per season. The Caps can qualify Carlson at $877,000, but would probably try for the same two-year deal Alzner got. Carlson, 22, and Alzner, 23, were Washington’s top defensive pairing in the playoffs, going against the other team’s top guns.
• A name to watch in the entry draft as the ultimate wild card is Mark Jankowski, nephew of Montreal Canadiens scout Ryan Jankowski. Jankowski is a six-foot-three, 175-pound centre who will attend Providence College in the fall unless he tries out for a team in the junior British Columbia Hockey League.
• Former Oilers defenceman Kurtis Foster has been doing some commentary work for the NHL Network in the playoffs, a foot in the door to a broadcasting career after hockey. Foster finished the season back in Minnesota, where he originally shattered his leg, but the Wild likely won’t re-sign him., so his NHL days may soon be over.
• With a shallow free-agent pool, winger Jiri Hudler will likely get his $4 million a season from somebody on July 1. There’s no way the Detroit Red Wings want to give him Johan Franzen money — $3.95 million. And the Red Wings don’t consider Hudler, even if he could score 30 gaols, as good as Val Filppula, who makes $3 million and is a better all-around player. Hudler is a smaller player and has to go to a team that has bigger forwards. I could see Steve Yzerman of the Tampa Lightning taking a run at him, and the Ottawa Senators because head coach Paul MacLean is a former Wings assistant coach.
• Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo was not at all happy with Devin Setoguchi’s play last season after he came over from the San Jose Sharks. With a host of young players on the horizon, including Charlie Coyle, Johan Larsson and Brett Bulmer, he might be expendable. He’s well-priced at $3 million. The Wild would love to move up from their No. 7 draft slot. Yes, they like Edmonton Oil Kings defender Griffin Reinhart, but he might not be there as the seventh pick. Reinhart’s dad, Paul, played for the father of Wild GM Chuck Fletcher in Calgary during the Battle of Alberta days if you’re looking for a connection. Finn Olli Maata (London Knights) might be there, however.
• World No. 1 women’s tennis player Victoria Azarenka, now 22, once lived with the family of Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin in Scottsdale, Ariz., when the Minsk-born tennis ace was 15.
• The Wild are wondering whether defenceman Jonas Brodin, Oscar Klefbom’s Swedish blue-line partner at Farjestads, can play in the NHL next season. He’s slight at 166 pounds, but he was on the ice every shift against Russia’s Evgeni Malkin at the world championship and he doesn’t turn 19 until July. Klefbom, the Oilers’ second first-round pick (19th overall in the 2011 draft), is going to stay in Sweden for one more year.
Would the Wild take a run at Los Angeles Kings power forward Dustin Penner on July 1? Don’t forget that Wild GM Chuck Fletcher was Brian Burke’s right-hand man with the Anaheim Ducks’ 2007 Stanley Cup-winning team. Most people think Penner’s stock has risen dramatically, but as one NHL executive said: “I don’t know if I’d give him more than a one-year contract. Keep him on a short leash.” Free agents on July 1 don’t get one-year deals, however. They get deals for three years or longer.
• Another unrestricted free agent who will get lots of interest from Cup contending teams on July 1 is Kings centre Jarret Stoll. He’s the perfect No. 3 guy and he’s a right-hander in the faceoff circle, always a huge bonus. The teams that should make a concerted run at Stoll are the San Jose Sharks or the Vancouver Canucks. They both need upgrades in their bottom six.
By the numbers
6 - Playoff goals for Oklahoma City Barons centre Chris VandeVelde.
7 - Games the Los Angeles Kings have lost in regulation over the last 35 games since the Jeff Carter trade.
Matty’s Short Shifts
• The stock of Edmonton Oil Kings winger Henrik Samuelsson rose significantly at the Memorial Cup. He now might be a late first-round pick. If Samuelsson can improve his speed, he’s what most teams are looking for — a power forward with an edge. The Oilers, New York Rangers and Phoenix Coyotes are all interested, but probably as a second-round pick. The stock of defenceman Griffin Reinhart’s stock stayed the same after the Memorial Cup. “Griffin was outstanding in Game 1, then the whole group hit the wall, other than maybe Samuelsson,” said Oilers head scout Stu MacGregor.
• Will the New Jersey Devils be OK in the Stanley Cup final without any high-end defencemen? Marek Zidlicky, Bryce Salvador, Andy Greene, Mark Fayne, Anton Volchenkov, Peter Harrold? Are there really any top-two blue-liners in this bunch?
• Edmonton Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal is pumped to win a Memorial Cup next year with his young charges, with 20 of 25 players probably returning for 2012-13. But I still think the Dallas Stars are looking seriously at Laxdal to coach their American Hockey League farm team in Austin, Texas. Laxdal was once a player in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ organization along with New York Islanders head coach Jack Capuano — if there any NHL assistant jobs open there. Oil • Kings GM Bob Green said before the Memorial Cup that you can’t hold anybody back. “The kids all want to be in the NHL someday and the coaches want to move up, too,” he said.
• This is a make-or-break season for Edmonton Oilers goalie Devan Dubnyk. If he’s not the No. 1 the Oilers are counting on, they’ll need two goalies in 2013-14. Dubnyk, who will likely be looking for Corey Crawford money (three years, $8 million) in a new deal after July 1, should get 60 games this upcoming season.
• What player could the Oilers use most with the Cup final looming? Actually two: Dustin Brown, who’s a hitter and a scorer. Or Ryan Callahan, who’s a shot-blocker and a leader. Both are captains and both are gamers and very hard to play against.
• If you’re the Colorado Avalanche, shouldn’t you be calling up the Phoenix Coyotes and offering centre Paul Stastny because the Avs have Ryan O’Reilly and Matt Duchene who can be their top two guys in the middle? Stastny has become redundant in Denver. If they could get a young defenceman, such as Brandon Gormley of the Shawinigan Cataractes who was also a member of the Canadian national junior team, and another piece like Mikkel Boedker, would either side do it? Getting Gormley, off his terrific play at the Memorial Cup, might be a stretch, however. He could be in the NHL next season.
• The last time the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement was set to expire was in 2004. There were no main camps for the NHL players following on the heels of the World Cup that fall. So don’t expect any camps this time around if there’s no agreement in place by the Sept. 15 deadline. And the way negotiations go, there is no pressure to get a deal done until league games are being missed.
• If the 76-point season of Edmonton Oilers forward Jordan Eberle wasn’t an aberration and he puts up the same sort of stats in 2012-13, isn’t he a $6-million-a-season player in a new deal witht he Oilers? Stastny’s five-year $6.6-million-a-year package in Colorado looks like a comparable. Stastny had 78 points and 71 in his first two seasons, then 36 in 45 games when he was hurt in Year 3 of his entry-level contract. He signed his five-year deal when he was 24. Eberle had 43 points in his rookie NHL season. He will be 23 after this season.
• Mike Smith is a fabulous goalie, but there’s some petulance in him. While Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan felt sheepish after his outburst at the referees — there is no classier player in the game — Smith wasn’t ready to retract anything. He said that if Raffi Torres got 25 games for his hit on Marian Hossa, then Dustin Brown “should be done forever” for his knee hit on Michal Roszival (thigh bruise) in Game 5 of the Kings-Coyotes Western Conference final series. It was a borderline hit, no more, no less. He was mad at Brown, the Kings captain and possible Conn Smythe Trophy leader, for knocking the glove out of his hand, too, as he skated through the crease. That’s legal. Smith, a revelation down the stretch and in the playoffs, has one year left at $2 million, a bargain for a No. 1 goalie. You can bet the Coyotes will tie him up for two or three more years in the $3.5-million range.
Who’s Hot: Bryce Salvador, a defensive blue-liner, has 11 points in 18 games and is plus-10 for the New Jersey Devils.
Who’s Not: New York Rangers winger Carl Hagelin never got on track with just three assists in 17 games after a fine rookie season.
© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal