Thoughts on “the Trade”- 30 years ago today Wayne Gretzky to Los Angeles helped to transform hockey in the USA

 

https://www.tsn.ca/the-trade-30-years-later-1.1155314

(Video posted to YouTube by CBC)

August 9, 1988…

I was 16 and in Florida visiting my grandparents with about a month left before my junior year in high school. I walked into the house that afternoon after a visit down to New Smyrna Beach, and my grandfather, a big baseball and football fan but who didn’t know (or give) a whit about hockey, greeted me with the last news I ever expected to hear.

“Hey, Kirk- did you hear that Wayne Gadsby just got traded?”

I must’ve stared at him blankly, because he followed up with: “You know? That hockey player from Canada?”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the largest percentage of hockey players in the NHL were from Canada, but my brain was beginning to process what he’d just said.

“Wayne Gretzky got traded?” I said.

“Yes! Gretzky…that’s the one! They’ve been talking about it a lot on the TV and radio…”

He started to tell me what he knew about the deal…Los Angeles Kings…cash and young players…but his words were like the teacher in Charlie Brown (Wah-WAH-Wah-Wah-Wah.) My mind was racing: Gretzky, the Edmonton Oilers’ four-time Stanley Cup captain and face of hockey, the only player in the history of the game to score more than 200 points in a season not once, not twice, not three times but FOUR times…had been dealt in the prime of his life at 27 years old. My goodness, I thought as the realization hit me- if my grandfather Merlin in Florida is talking about this trade- how enormous of an impact is Gretzky to Tinseltown going to have on the NHL and hockey?

The truth is…in my teenage mind, I couldn’t even begin to comprehend it.

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Update: final stats Benning, Bjork, Donato, Sherman plus Tanev watch

The 2015-16 hockey season came to an end in the first round of games at the NCAA D1 championship tournament Friday for a trio of Bruins prospects, plus a fourth who was injured and didn’t suit up for Harvard’s 4-1 loss to Boston College.

Northeastern University had a killer draw, facing the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks, who didn’t win the NCHC (St. Cloud State captured that honor), but were at or near the top of the NCAA poll all season. The Huskies took the early lead but UND scored five unanswered goals in what was an eventual 6-2 victory for the Hawks. B’s prospect Matt Benning scored NU’s final goal of the season, his sixth tally overall.

Anders Bjork was the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish’s top scorer yesterday, ripping a laser beam past University of Michigan goalie Steve Racine to tie the game at 1 in the first. He then assisted on Thomas DiPauli’s second period goal with a highlight reel move through three Wolverines players to gain the offensive zone, then one-hand a drop pass to the goal scorer. Unfortunately for Bjork and his mates, the game went to overtime and the famed ‘CCM line’ of J.T. Compher, Kyle Connor and Tyler Motte ended Notre Dame’s season with Motte’s sudden death strike.

The Harvard Crimson played hard, but a tough start and 0-3 hole was too tough to overcome against the BC Eagles. Ryan Donato showed some impressive flashes of what could be to come for the talented pivot, but was held off the score sheet. His linemate, Seb Lloyd, tallied Harvard’s only goal. On the other side of things, Ryan Fitzgerald was on the winning club, and assisted on Alex Tuch’s somewhat controversial goal to give the Eagles a 1-0 lead. Tuch appeared to drive Harvard goalie Merrick Madsen into the net before the puck ended up over the goal line, but after a lengthy delay on two reviews, the goal call was upheld.

Providence College’s double-overtime loss not only means that the Friars’ defense of their 2015 NCAA championship title is finished, but also began the Brandon Tanev free agent watch, and the Bruins along with another usual suspect in the NHL are rumored to be in on the speedy forward from Toronto.

Matt Benning, D Northeastern University (HEA)

2015-16 regular season stats:

Games Played: 41  Goals: 6  Assists: 13  Points: 19  Penalty Minutes: 37  +/-:  0

Differentials from 2014-15 stats:

Games played: +5  Goals: +6  Assists: -11 Points: -5 Penalty Minutes: +1  +/-: -6

Season in review: One year after scoring nary a goal in a 24-assist sophomore season, the former Spruce Grove Saint (AJHL) and Dubuque Fighting Saint (USHL) found the net six times and finished with 19 points from the blue line, good for second place on the Huskies among defensemen (Garrett Cockerill-22 points). Benning played a career-high 41 games as a junior. He was as solid and dependable a defensive presence as they come; Benning is not a big point getter, but he played a lot of minutes at even strength and special teams for NU coaches Jim Madigan and Jerry Keefe as one of the Huskies’ alternate captains.

Outlook: In a more recent update, TSP (this blog for those who might be wondering) talked about Benning being one of the more underrated prospects in the Boston organization. He’s not flashy or dynamic- he skates well and uses his natural hockey savvy to be in the right place to make plays in his own end. He’s not big by NHL standards, but like a defense version of Noel Acciari hits hard and clean. The son of former NHL rearguard Brian Benning isn’t an in-your-face intimidator, but he’ll step into players in the open ice with his ability to come across the grain smoothly with effective lateral glide and footwork. He’s just a smart player who motors along while other more hyped players get the lion’s share of the attention, but his goal yesterday was a statement and reminder that after being an unheralded sixth-round pick in 2012, he’s still progressing and growing. Don’t sleep on Benning as a solid eventual middle tier contributor in the NHL who just might have the same kind of stealthy upside his dad brought as a legit No. 2-3 two-way defender in his prime.

 

Anders Bjork, RW  University of Notre Dame (HEA)

2015-16 regular season stats:

Games Played: 35  Goals: 12  Assists: 23  Points: 35  Penalty Minutes: 8  +/-:  28

Differentials from 2014-15 stats:

Games played: -6  Goals: +5  Assists: +8 Points: +13 Penalty Minutes: -6  +/-: +31

Season in review: One word for Bjork’s sophomore campaign in South Bend: impressive! The 2014 fifth-rounder doesn’t have much in the way of size with a 6-foot frame that isn’t going to put on a lot of mass beyond his already 187 pounds. However, he used it to max advantage this year, leading the Fighting Irish in scoring despite being the third-youngest player on the roster behind fellow 1996-born skaters Dennis Gilbert (October vs. August) and Dylan Malmqvist (another Aug. ’96 who is younger by just a couple of weeks). Bjork consistently found his way on the scoring ledger all year and demonstrated an impressive ability to set the play from the off-wing.  He plays a heavy game despite not having an abundance of size and against Michigan in the NCAA tourney he was dangerous and pushing the pace well until it appeared he took an awkward spill that might have affected him. He was not as effective the rest of the way, but still was a noticeable presence as Notre Dame put a scare into the Wolverines.

Outlook: As a sophomore, the Bruins will likely leave Bjork in school for at least one more season, maybe two. He’s not what you would consider an elite scoring forward but there are no flaws in his game. The Wisconsin native is smart, hard-working and opportunistic. He’s shown a penchant for scoring the highlight reel variety of goal, particularly in the USA bronze medal-clinching game last winter at the World Jr. Championship. While I’m not one to throw the words “draft steal” around all the time, Bjork looks like superb value at 146th overall. He’s got the speed, smarts and tough mental makeup of a higher-end third-liner if he continues to develop and progress. The Bruins are thrilled with what Bjork has done since they drafted him.

Ryan Donato, C  Harvard Crimson (ECAC)

2015-16 regular season stats:

Games Played: 32 Goals: 13 Assists: 8 Points: 21 Penalty Minutes: 26 +/-: 4

Differentials from 2014-15 stats: (combined from USHL, USPHL, prep- Dexter)

Games played: -20 Goals: -15 Assists: -37 Points: -52 Penalty Minutes: -6 +/-: +1

Season in review: Don’t be alarmed at the statistical differentials, as the biggest disparity comes from Donato’s senior prep season- he scored 53 points in 31 high school games. His NCAA freshman season production compares more favorably to his stints in the USPHL with South Shore and USHL at Omaha. As a center playing for his father, Donato showed promise and validated his standing as a late second-round draft pick in 2014. He took a backseat to Jimmy Vesey, Alexander Kerfoot and Kyle Criscuolo when it came to scoring, but he flashed his impressive offensive talent throughout his first ECAC season. Last night, he made one memorable play in the first period when he came out of the corner and took the puck to the net, evading one BC defender before cutting back against the grain and nearly tucked a shot inside the left post. He was denied by Thatcher Demko, who made a great athletic play, but that kind of display of stick handling and hockey sense is a reminder of why Donato was such a dominant prep forward at Dexter School. Donato also looked good with Team USA at the World Jr. Championship, scoring a pair of goals in the bronze medal game but also showing a willingness to bear down and play a more limited/checking role for the American squad.

Outlook: Steady as she goes for Donato, who has the hockey bloodlines and passion to be a real good one in time. The Bruins aren’t in any immediate need to have him develop on a rapid timeline, so they can afford to be patient and take their time- expect him to play at least two more seasons in Cambridge, possibly three. However, he’s got to get stronger and keep improving his three-zone game. Watch for the production to jump as he will soon be one of Harvard’s most skilled forwards with the departure of Vesey and other upperclassmen.

Wiley Sherman, D Harvard Crimson (ECAC)

2015-16 regular season stats:

Games Played: 31 Goals: 4 Assists: 6 Points: 10 Penalty Minutes: 10 +/-: 9

Differentials from 2014-15 stats: 

Games played: -6 Goals: +4 Assists: +3 Points: +7 Penalty Minutes: +6 +/-: +9

Season in review: A solid sophomore year ended in disappointment with Sherman injured and out of the last couple of games. He finished second in scoring on the Crimson blue line with 10 points, scoring his first goal after going without hitting twine in 37 games as a freshman. With his mobility and reach, he showed improved play in his defensive end and his confidence is growing. Not having him against BC made a tough slog that much more difficult for Harvard, so it will be interesting to see how he performs in his next couple of seasons and if he can become a dominant shutdown presence in the ECAC.

Outlook: The 2013 fifth-rounder out of the Hotchkiss Bearcats is 6-foot-6 and skates fluidly for a guy so tall. He’s still lanky and has a lot of filling out to do. He’s more of a gentle giant than a tough, intimidating baggage-masher, however. When afforded time and space, Sherman moves the puck quickly and effectively. However, when the game speeds up and closes in on him, he can be forced into turnovers and questionable decisions. Extremely raw when the Bruins drafted him, even then-GM Peter Chiarelli said that Sherman was going to be a project player. He’s coming along well, but it’s far too early to project him with a crowded organization of middle-to-lower tier defense types. It will be another two years before the B’s are forced to make a decision on him, so watch for them to take the maximum time and assess how he performs as an upperclassman when he’s given a larger role as the anchor of the Crimson blue line corps.

The Brandon Tanev watch is on:

Brandon Tanev is officially on the market

Born on on the last day of 1991, the 24-year-old undrafted free agent out just finished his fourth and final NCAA season at Providence College.

The brother of Vancouver Canucks D-man Chris Tanev has blazing wheels and can put defenders on their heels with his pure open ice speed. More of a defensive/energy forward than a high-upside scoring winger (Tanev can play either side), he’s one of the better free agent options this spring,  but should not be expected as an immediate impact guy in the NHL.

He’s smart and tenacious- and make no mistake- if you come out of Nate Leaman’s demanding system, you’re well-coached and know what it takes to succeed as a pro. Here’s his 2014-15 highlights package courtesy of the Providence College Friars (and he did score the NCAA championship-winning goal btw):

The Bruins brought Tanev to their development camp last summer, but that is no guarantee in itself that they can successfully convince him to sign with them. The familiarity no doubt helps, and the B’s have done a good job of keeping tabs on him and making their faith in him known. Whether it is enough to convince him to come to Boston or he opts for a team that can provide him a better opportunity to come in and play sooner/with less potential competition could be the deciding factor. Of course, if he’s looking at Frank Vatrano, PC pal Noel Acciari and even how well Austin Czarnik has done this season in the AHL, Tanev is already well aware of the opportunity that exists in Boston.

There’s also this- a solid source mentioned today that the Chicago Blackhawks like Tanev as well. It’s amazing what a winning organization can accomplish- the ‘Hawks know they can unload draft picks every spring, but when they can attract the better free agent options, losing picks in favor or more developed and mature players on a faster timeline to the NHL is the way a top team stays in the elite. We saw it with Artemi Panarin a year ago, and while Tanev might not presently project as a top-six NHL forward, with his speed and smarts, he’s one of those guys you win with. If Chicago wins the bidding for him, then it’s one more shot across the bow to the rest of the league that at times to be playing checkers while Stan Bowman is playing chess.

Of course, Boston and Chicago are just two teams after Tanev…there are others. You can bet on it.

We shall see where Tanev ends up, but as of now, the B’s are in on him, so we’ll just have to see where it all leads.

InGoal Magazine publishes top 50 goalie prospects article: Subban, McIntyre in top-10

Gothberg Hamilton dev camp

Greg Balloch and the staff of InGoal magazine published a top-50 list of the best goaltending prospects in the world last week and you can read the entire thing here:

Top 50 NHL Goaltending Prospects for 2015-2016

The criteria for establishing the listed players as prospects are the following:

1) Must be 25 years old or younger,
2) Have only played 10 games or less in the NHL, and
3) Must be drafted or signed by a professional club.

The last part is key- because there are a few undrafted/unsigned guys out there you could certainly make a case for, but not for this exercise.

Not surprisingly, Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets tops the ranking. This former UMass-Lowell star posted a very good rookie season with the St. John IceCaps last season, leaving a big hole on the RiverHawks’ roster after two seasons and a Mike Richter award in 2014. He and former Bruins prospect Mike Hutchinson are going to be two huge goalies in the Jets crease who both give shooters very little to shoot at, but Hellebuyck’s upside appears to be enormous (no pun intended).

I admit it- I was a tad surprised that Malcolm Subban was No. 2 overall on the list…not because I don’t think he doesn’t deserve to be there (he does), but because every time I say something about him on Twitter, I usually get several tweets from people “in the know” who tell me Zane McIntyre has surpassed him on the B’s prospect depth chart. I don’t bring this up to slight Zane- as you will see, he’s featured prominently on the list as well.

But seriously, folks- Subban is one of the best pure athletes in all of hockey. This is a critical year for him, because his first two AHL campaigns have brought him to a bit of a crossroads- more was expected of him last year, but journeyman pro Jeremy Smith cut into the planned playing time for Subban by performing more consistently. As my friend Mick Colageo of the Bedford Standard-Times points out- Providence bench boss Bruce Cassidy said late last year that Smith had a “B” game when his “A’ game wasn’t working…and that’s why Smith got the nod in the playoffs for the one-and-done P-Bruins.

On Subban, InGoal asserts:

“It looks as if Malcolm Subban will have a legitimate opportunity for an NHL job next season. Based on his back-to-back .920+ save percentage seasons with Providence of the AHL, he’s ready.”

The save percentage totals are solid, no question. Where Subban has gotten into difficulty is with sustaining high level performances without mediocrity and poor starts slipping into the mix. He can be dominant one night, barely average the next. And that’s where Cassidy’s comment about Subban needing to develop his “B” game (read: playing just well enough to give the team a chance) comes in.

You can criticize Subban for his inability to seize the starting job in Providence to date, but that ignores the fact that Niklas Svedberg and Smith posted strong seasons to earn the bulk of the starts, as opposed to Subban playing poorly. Make no mistake, though- this is the year for him to take charge of the crease (assuming he’s not playing in Boston) and assert himself. He’s far too talented not to do that in my view.

The article reminds us that Subban did not even start playing the position until an advanced age (13), which is why his athletic ability is so important. When he was drafted 24th overall in 2012, to say that his technique was a work in progress was couching it in pretty generous terms. I was an outspoken critic of Subban’s in his draft year (and at some humble pie at the draft because I was so sure the Bruins *wouldn’t* draft him) because I felt that if he wasn’t the younger brother of a certain NHL defenseman and (since) Norris Trophy winner, he would not have gotten the attention he did.

In hindsight- I was unfair to the middle Subban brother, who has worked to refine his technique and certainly has the tools to thrive in the NHL one day. It’s a shame that he had such an ignominious debut against St. Louis last season, but you know the old saying about that which does not kill you…

Zane McIntyre checks in at the ninth spot. I probably would have him a couple places earlier than that, but that’s a quibble as there are some accomplished netminders from 3-8 on the list. Here’s the meat of the assessment:

“Still only 22 years of age, McIntyre is deserving of elite prospect status. Every part of his game has been developed; He is a very well-rounded goaltender. Even his puckhandling skills are above-average, although he does get caught being headstrong at times. The Bruins already have Malcolm Subban and Tuukka Rask at the NHL level, so they will continue to be stacked in the minors if McIntyre handles most of the load with Providence in the AHL. If they sign a veteran to back up Rask, or go with Jeremy Smith out of camp, an AHL duo of Subban and McIntyre would be incredible to watch. The only thing that can be questioned about McIntyre is his ability to track a pro-level shot. A slow-and-steady approach to his development should give him plenty of time to figure it out, even if he struggles at first.”

Well, close enough…he’s two days away from turning 23 so there’s that, but the Bruins chose him in the sixth round five+ years ago knowing he was a long-term project and they’ve carefully cultivated and developed him since then.

I can’t say enough about how far he’s come from that gangly, raw goalie I saw at Bruins development camp right after Tyler Seguin came to town. Like Subban, McIntyre (who went by the last name Gothberg back then) had holes in his technique that he’s worked hard to address, namely in his lateral movement- opening up holes that the more adept shooters were able to exploit by being patient and waiting for those openings. He’s become a far more composed goaltender, although his style is still reminiscent of Tim Thomas in the way that he’ll battle hard and extend himself to get any piece of his equipment on a shot as opposed to the more mechanical and fundamental of butterfly goalies who square up and maximize their economy of movement.

I maintain that what McIntyre brings to the table best is his mental toughness- he’s the rare player who has thrived alternately as a backup in junior and the NCAA as well as a starter. When you look at his statistics going back to his first USHL season with the Fargo Force in 2010-11, he’s been remarkably consistent, whether playing a full workload or getting into games on occasion. He earned that league’s top goaltending honor in 2011-12, and then had to work his way back up with the University of North Dakota in 2012-13. By the following year, he won the battle for No. 1 and in 2014-15, he played every game on the schedule, winning honors as the top NCAA goalie and finishing as one of three finalists (to Jack Eichel) for the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s premier player.

All of this is not to say that I believe it makes sense for him to be the Boston backup this season. McIntyre has said that is his goal and I know he believes that with all of his heart. Hey- anything is possible…but would opening and closing the door for the Bruins skaters to the tune of 60+ games of Tuukka Rask next season be in McIntyre’s best interest?

I get it- people are excited about him and understandably so. But this is a player with a grand total of 0 minutes of pro experience at any level let alone the NHL. So- rather than push for the shiny new toy, doesn’t it make sense to allow him the opportunity to play his way into a comfort level starting with the AHL and see how he does?

I still rank Subban ahead of McIntyre on the Boston depth chart, but it’s extremely close. In fact, the gap between them has closed so significantly that I would not at all be surprised if when the dust settles, McIntyre ends up being the longer term option. But for now, Subban’s pure ability/projected ceiling and the fact that he’s entering his third pro season gives him the slight nod over the Minnesota native who once won the Frank Brimsek Award as the top high school goalie in the Land of 10,000 Lakes- Mr. Zero’s home state.

At 38, Boston’s newest prospect in net checks in- a pretty solid debut. Daniel Vladar went in the third round, 75th overall, and while I felt they could have gone with someone else there (I was higher on Matej Tomek who went at the end of the round to Philly), there is no denying that this Redwood in net has some impressive albeit eventual, very eventual potential.

“You can’t teach size” is a common saying, and the 6-foot-6 Vladar is a perfect example of why it is used. His massive 84-inch wingspan turned heads at the NHL combine, which led to him rising to 75th overall in this year’s draft. While he is still a long term investment, Bruins fans won’t have to wait very long to see him in North America. He’s slated to play for the Chicago Steel of the USHL in 2015-2016, and will work one-on-one with their new assistant coach, the recently retired Peter Mannino.”

Other goalies of note on the list-

3. Ilya Samsonov, Capitals- Yep. If you’re not going to have many picks in a draft, get yourself someone with All-Star potential and that’s precisely what the Caps did. Of course- with Braden Holtby playing so well, they have nothing but time to bring the big, smooth Russian along at a leisurely pace. My guess is he’ll be knocking at the door to the Verizon Center before too long.

4. Eric Comrie, Jets- Between Comrie (a value pick in 2013 because of injuries) and Hellebuyck, once again the Jets are building one hell of an organization. They were on the cover of the 2015 THN Future Watch for good reason and then went out and had another hellacious draft in Sunrise. They have premium talent at every position and this fundamentally superb player who is on track after getting a hip issue in his draft year under control is a legit stopper.

10. Jon Gillies, Flames- Man, what a gamer. One of my favorite New England-area prospects of all was so good when he had to be last spring, leading the PC Friars to their first-ever NCAA championship.  He’s so big, but was knocked for his overall athleticism in his draft year. To be honest- he’s such a competitor that it’s never really been something I think prevents him from being a success, but it’s a whole new shooting match in the pros, so it will be interesting to see how he develops now that he’s signed and in Calgary’s farm system. I wouldn’t bet against him.

12. Thatcher Demko, Canucks- A wonky hip complicated matters for the talented Californian who soldiered through it in the midst of a disappointing year for Boston College- no Beanpot, no Hockey East title, a quick exit in the NCAA tourney. Demko is another prototype big guy who takes away a lot of net and finds ways to make the big save. A project player several years away, but a good one for Vancouver.

18. Alex Nedeljkovic, Hurricanes- The American playing in the OHL goes against the grain in terms of possessing average-to-below-average size for the position by today’s standards, but he’s a stopper who thrives when under pressure. I liked him a lot in the 2014 U18 championship run to get USA back on the gold medal platform, and he’s got some long-term upside in Carolina.

28. Colin Stevens, Panthers- Undrafted free agent led Union to the 2014 NCAA championship and I was impressed with him when watching him years ago with the Boston Jr. Bruins. The New York native has always brought an impressive mix of size, quickness and the ability to steal games. Winner.

46. Matej Tomek, Flyers- I got in to see him multiple times live in the NAHL last year and I personally feel that the Slovak and heir apparent to McIntyre’s vacated crease in Grand Forks would have been a better choice for the Bruins than Czech rival Vladar. Nothing against Darth Vladar- I didn’t see him other than on film at the U18 (and he didn’t have the greatest performance there) But in my mind- Tomek is the sleeper- underrated and underappreciated, but Flyers fans will soon be like the people at Cheers- they’re going to know his name.

Daniel "Darth" Vladar- 3rd round, 75th overall in 2015 (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Daniel “Darth” Vladar- 3rd round, 75th overall in 2015 (Kirk Luedeke photo)