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Rookie Race: Backlund, Grabner Among the Best So Far

In BAL, GLP, IHS, NAS, Special Features on December 27, 2011 at 10:31 am

We might be just 20 games into the 2011-2012 rookie race, but there’ve already been some flat-out stunners. With several marquee freshmen handed plum jobs in their teams’ top-sixes, it’s boom-or-bust time. Here are four of the biggest surprises – good and bad – so far.

Mikael Backlund, Ice Harbor Storm

Backlund is a 2009 draftee who saw 23 games last year (0 goals, 4 assists). This season, with a young Ice Harbor team that’s thin up the middle, he’s had a chance to play a big role. And while the Storm have struggled (6-13-1), Backlund’s played well with second-line minutes, notching 8 goals and 6 assists on the quarter.

Taylor Hall, Great Lakes Pilots

First overall Jeff Skinner has had a decent start for 8-11-1 Nashville, with 12 points in his first 20 games. But where’s second overall Taylor Hall? He’s playing big minutes for the Great Lakes Pilots but has managed just 3 goals and 3 assists so far, is being outscored by teammates like Darren Helm, and sits at a team-worst -11.

Michael Grabner, Baltimore Crab

The fleet Austrian was drafted in 2010 by Vancouver and immediately dealt for a second rounder in 2011, who would become winger Kyle Palmieri. After spending all of last season on reserve, Grabner has started this season well with the Baltimore Crab, with 11 goals in his first 20 games.

Sergei Bobrovsky, Nashville Knights

Bobrovsky was taken 21st overall in 2011 and the expectation was that he’d step in and backstop a young but very talented Nashville team to playoff contention. But no one’s going anywhere with numbers like his: a 4.30 GAA and .887 save percentage. Bobrovsky has been soundly outplayed by Cory Schneider (4 games, 1.76, .927).

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Season Preview: Plante

In BAL, CHA, DEN, EDH, GLP, PIT, SAL, SCA, STE, Uncategorized, WIN on November 26, 2011 at 10:00 pm

The Sawchuk Conference has its powerhouses – and the last five cups. But the Plante is where all the intrigue is.

Apart from a strong Salem squad fresh off a trip to the Gump Cup Finals, the entire conference is full of dark horses – young teams, growing teams, sure, but few that are in flat-out rebuilding mode. That kind of parity makes the conference incredibly tough to call.

In – D Ryan McDonagh, F Nino Niederreiter, G Jacob Markstrom, D Michael Sauer, F Blake Geoffrion, F Teemu Hartikainen, F Brandon Prust
Out – F Evgeni Malkin, F Cal O’Reilly, D Bryan McCabe, F Darroll Powe, D Anton Stralman, F Rob Schremp, F Jamie Langenbrunner

Baltimore made the boldest move of the off-season, unloading Evgeni Malkin for all of Pittsburgh’s draft picks. That meant a pretty big personnel turnover – 7 guys in and 7 out, not counting poor Steven Kampfer, released before he even got a sniff. It’s hard to look as this as anything but a small step backwards in the short term, but any team with Anze Kopitar is poised to compensate for the loss of a player of Malkin’s calibre, and the team still has a strong core in its prime.

In – F Luke Adam, F Matt Halischuk, F Matt Calvert, D Jason Garrison, F BJ Crombeen, F Mike Knuble
Out –  G Michal Neuvirth, F Alexander Frolov, F Benoit Pouliot, F M-A Pouliot, D Kurtis Foster, D Oskars Bartulis

Charleston should be a playoff team, there should be little doubt of that. After a surprising trip to the finals led to two straight years of mediocrity, the Chiefs started rounding back into form when Steven Stamkos hit the scene. Now that they have a marquee scorer, they have a roster with few glaring weaknesses, and with Miikka Kiprusoff and Jonathan Quick splitting duties in goal, they should be one of the Plante’s better teams.

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6 Most Surprising Pre-Season Cuts of 2011

In BAL, BOS, PWH, SAL, SFS, Special Features on November 22, 2011 at 2:29 pm

If you’re a GWMHL general manager bent on taking your team anyplace other than the golf course, you’ve got to make some hard choices as you try to shoehorn yourself in the league’s strict 28-man roster limit. Drop that draft choice before he’s ever sniffed the pro game? Let go of the fading vet?

This year, GMs have been particularly ruthless, jettisoning some good (well, mostly once-good) players in favor of the latest toys.

6. LW Kristian Huselius, cut by Salem – The Wannabees are deep up front and Huselius is battling serious injuries, so this is no huge shocker, but he’s still a one-time 50-goal scorer and a big contributor to Salem’s run to the finals in 2011. He was also a top-3 draft pick once upon a time – and not a very good one.

Year   Name                       GP    G    A  PTS  +/-  PIM
02-03  Vancouver Sea Otters       79   21   14   35  -10   28
03-04  Vancouver Sea Otters       78   28   21   49    7   20
04-06  Vancouver Sea Otters       44    1    2    3   -4   18
04-06  Montreal Smashers           9    1    1    2   -3    0
06-07  Salem Wannbees             78   22   20   42  -12   26
07-08  Salem Wannabees            81   50   51  101   63   24
08-09  Salem Wannabees            80   20   17   37    0   14
09-10  Salem Wannabees            37    8   12   20    7   18
10-11  Salem Wannabees            68   17   33   50   14   38
                  Totals         554  168  171  339   62  186

5. D Cody Franson, cut by San Francisco – Franson might not be a bluechipper anymore, but he’s in his early 20s and managed a whopping 42 points in 52 games last season, his rookie year. The writing was on the wall when the Seals drafted Cam Fowler and Alec Martinez.

Year   Name                       GP    G    A  PTS  +/-  PIM
10-11  Oregon Rugrats             52   12   30   42   12   16
                  Totals          52   12   30   42   12   16

4. LW Jason Blake, cut by Boston – Blake’s bounced around, but he’s got a pedigree that includes a 48-goal year in ’07-’08. He only managed 9 goals last season for the Banshees, who are fairly deep on the wings.

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6 Biggest Free Agent Steals Since 2006

In BAL, EDH, GLP, IHS, Special Features, STE on October 26, 2011 at 8:53 am

The Free Agent Draft. Used by most teams to fill out bottom-end depth and injury insurance, it’s also a chance for the occasional Hail Mary – take a wild swing (sorry, “intelligently allocate your scouting resources”) and you never know, you might get something good. Even the worst free agent class, especially at the notoriously shallow mid-season signing period, can yield a diamond in the rough.

Almost every Free Agent Draft has a few consensus top picks – players that every team vies for. Stephen Weiss and Martin Hanzal in 2009. Ryan Malone in 2008. Niklas Backstrom in 2007.

But let’s look past those gimmes, the obvious choices, the first rounders, and peer into the darkest depths of recent Free Agent Drafts in search of some of the biggest heists.

6. D Jan Hejda, Ice Harbor (2nd round mid-season in 2007-2008)

Hejda’s not flashy, but he’s a blueline rock on a rebuilding Ice Harbor team – a guy who’s not bad with the puck and excels defensively. And when your D is as young the Storm’s, you need players like Hejda.

Year   Name                       GP    G    A  PTS  +/-  PIM
07-08  Ice Harbor Storm           39    0   12   12   -8   14
08-09  Ice Harbor Storm           59    1    6    7   -5   50
09-10  Ice Harbor Storm           82    4    9   13   -9   30
10-11  Ice Harbor Storm           62    2    8   10  -10   34
                  Totals         242    7   35   42  -32  128

5. D Dennis Seidenberg, El Dorado (5th round pre-season in 2006-2007)

El Dorado has an impressive up-and-coming defense corps and Seidenberg, a late-late-late-round steal in 2006, is a big part of it. He was taken one pick before Kris freaking Beech, but now he’s one of the Lynx’s leaders in ice time and will be for at least a few more seasons.

Year   Name                       GP    G    A  PTS  +/-  PIM
03-04  Chesapeake Icebreakers     52    5    8   13  -20   12
04-06  Did Not Play
06-07  El Dorado Lynx             64    3   41   44   11   34
07-08  El Dorado Lynx             25    2    3    5    0   12
08-09  El Dorado Lynx             33    0   10   10    0   18
09-10  El Dorado Lynx             41    1   28   29    2    8
10-11  El Dorado Lynx             57    4   24   28   14   37
                  Totals         272   15  114  129    7  121

4. D Mark Streit, Colorado (2nd round pre-season in 2006-2007)

Another defenseman, it’s true, and for good reason – this 2nd round free agent draftee by Colorado (now Baltimore) is his team’s best defenseman by a wide margin, leading all Crab players in ice time and hovering around the 50-point mark for three straight seasons.

Year   Name                       GP    G    A  PTS  +/-  PIM
06-07  Colorado Wildfire          39    4   13   17  -16   36
07-08  Kenora Thistles            76   13   19   32   -2   28
08-09  Kenora Thistles            79   10   38   48   -1   26
09-10  Baltimore Crab             73   16   40   56  -26   72
10-11  Baltimore Crab             82    8   41   49  -31   34
                  Totals         349   51  151  202  -76  196

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Draft Day: The Big Winners

In BAL, GLP, PIT, SCA, Special Features on October 23, 2011 at 3:08 pm

It’ll take a few years until there’s really a “win” or a “loss” from today’s GWMHL Rookie Draft (when we promise to mercilessly mock the losers) and really, every team made some smart choices and picked up intriguing young talent. But some teams stand out for us as having made the most of their picks – or lack thereof. Here’s our top four.

4) South Carolina Fire Ants

The Ants dealt away their final two picks, but they shored up an injury-prone defense. Travis Hamonic (15th overall) could well blossom into a key on this injury-prone defense, someone who could play with Zdeno Chara while Sami Salo is on IR. The acquisition of veteran blueline Filip Kuba also helps in the short run.

3) Baltimore Crab

They traded away one of the game’s best in Evgeni Malkin, but they got what they wanted: picks, picks, picks. Never shy about making a splash, the Crab came away with a lot of long-term talent, including potential impact forward Nino Niederreiter (10th overall) and goalie Jacob Markstrom (30th). Ryan McDonagh (8th) and Michael Sauer (48th) give them an instant defense pairing – and they need one.

2) Pittsburgh Hornets

It seems impossible that a team with no picks in a draft could walk away a winner. But the Hornets made a bold move in sacrificing all their selections and came out of it with their deepest roster in years. Malkin is still young, if injury-prone, and may well end up on Brad Richards’ wing, while both Bryan McCabe and Cal O’Reilly should be able to contribute this season.

1) Great Lakes Pilots

The Pilots were the big winners at the draft lottery, moving up from 6th to 2nd, so it’s no big leap to say that they won the draft, too. Defenseman Nick Leddy will help shore up the back end, but the addition of Taylor Hall finally gives them a left-winger to play with Martin St. Louis. The team still has some big holes to fill up front, but the future’s looking a lot brighter than it was yesterday.

2011 Rookie Draft: Skinner Takes Top Spot

In BAL, GLP, NAS, News, PIT, Transactions on October 23, 2011 at 1:50 pm

The biggest question of the 2011 Rookie Draft was answered in mere moments – Skinner or Hall? The Nashville Knights went with Jeff Skinner, adding to an already deep corps of young forwards. The Great Lakes Pilots would make Taylor Hall the latest addition to the list of high-level draft-day bridesmaids.

Forwards Tyler Seguin (Winnipeg), Jordan Eberle (Ice Harbor), and Derek Stepan (Delta) rounded out the top 5. The first defensemen went sixth – Cam Fowler to the San Francisco Seals. Nashville took the first second goaltender at #21, sparking a run that resulted in netminders drafted in 7 of 20 second rounders.

The Baltimore Crab kicked the day off in a big way, dealing Evgeni Malkin (himself acquired on draft day last year), along with Cal O’Reilly and Bryan McCabe, to the Pittsburgh Hornets in exchange for all four of Pittsburgh’s picks in the draft. It meant that the Crab ended up making 7 selections on the day.

Other minor trades included Ice Harbor dealing its 3rd and 4th rounders to Denver for a 3rd rounder in 2012, and the Night Train shipping blueliner Filip Kuba to South Carolina for a 3rd and 4th.

Complete 2011 Rookie Draft Results

Round 1

1. Nashville F Jeff Skinner
2. Great Lakes F Taylor Hall
3. Winnipeg F Tyler Seguin
4. Ice Harbor F Jordan Eberle
5. Delta F Derek Stepan
6. San Francisco D Cam Fowler
7. Vancouver D Oliver Ekman-Larsson
8. Baltimore D Ryan McDonagh
9. Boston F Marcus Johansson
10. Baltimore (from Pittsburgh) F Nino Niederreiter
11. Denver D Kevin Shattenkirk
12. Sterling F Magnus Paajarvi
13. El Dorado F Alexander Burmistrov
14. Farmington F Cody Hodgson
15. South Carolina D Travis Hamonic
16. Charleston F Luke Adam
17. Saint Louis F Jacob Josefson
18. West Virginia F Nick Palmieri
19. Portland G James Reimer
20. Salem D Jonathon Blum

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The 5 Most Surprising Breakthroughs of 2010-2011

In BAL, PWH, SFS, Special Features, STL on May 28, 2011 at 10:46 am

Every year, players rise, players fall. Here are five who unexpectedly broke through in the 2010-2011 regular season, shattered their own career numbers, or otherwise made a difference.

5. RW Tyler Kennedy, Saint Louis Blues

Cast as a roleplayer, Kennedy found himself playing with some of Saint Louis excellent group of centres and delivered with a rock-solid 24 goals. Of those, 5 were game-winners.

4. RW Alexandre Burrows, Baltimore Crab

Burrows’ stock has been rising every season, but nobody saw his 49-goal 2010-2011 performance coming. The agitator led the Crab in scoring on a team that also features names like Evgeni Malkin, Daniel Sedin, and Anze Kopitar. Burrows also led the team in plus-minus and scored 8 shorthanded goals.

3. D Lubomir Visnovsky, Portland Winterhawks

Visnovsky is an excellent offensive defenseman – he’s shown it before and has even cracked the 70-point barrier a couple of times. But he added goal-scoring to his resume in 2010-2011, exploding in the second half to finish with 27 goals – more than any other defenseman in the league.

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Draft Day Transactions: Malkin in Blockbuster Swap

In BAL, DEL, DEN, News, Transactions, VAN, WVR on October 16, 2010 at 4:38 pm

It wasn’t as busy as some GWMHL draft days, but today’s Rookie Draft was punctuated with one of the biggest blockbusters in recent memory.

No sooner had the Baltimore Crab picked Matt Duchene second overall did they flip him, along with blueliner Kyle Quincey, to the Midland Bulldogs for Evgeni Malkin and Jamie Langenbrunner. Malkin gives the Crab some top-end talent they’d been sorely lacking.

Baltimore made another trade a round later, picking up young Michael Grabner, who’d just been drafted by the Vancouver Night Train, for a 2nd round pick in 2011.

Vancouver also shored up their defense by dealing a 1st round Free Agent pick to Delta for Adam Foote. And Delta continued their rebuild by sending Brian Rafalski to West Virginia in exchange for Andrew Ladd and a 2nd rounder this year, who turned into Jason Demers.

2010 Draft Results: Myers Goes First Overall

In BAL, IHS, News, SFS, Transactions on October 16, 2010 at 2:31 pm

The draft lottery was kind to the Ice Harbor Storm, who moved up to the first overall slot. Today, they used the pick on defenseman Tyler Myers, giving the rebuilding squad a stellar 1-2 punch on the blueline along with Kris Letang.

Matt Duchene went second to Baltimore – though he was later traded. The Oregon Rugrats, who had moved up four spots, took center John Tavares third.

2010 Draft Results

Pick	Curr Team	Player
1	IHS	D Tyler Myers
2	BAL	F Matt Duchene
3	ORE	F John Tavares
4	FFS	D John Carlson
5	ALT	F Jamie Benn
6	SAN	D Victor Hedman
7	DEL	F Evander Kane
8	NAS	D PK Subban
9	BOS	D Erik Karlsson
10	EDH	F James Van Riemsdyk
11	CHA	D Michael Del Zotto
12	STE	F Ryan O'Reilly
13	SCA	F Tyler Ennis
14	STL	F Brayden Schenn
15	SOU	F Colin Wilson
16	WVR	F Eric Tangradi
17	SAL	F Logan Couture
18	PWH	D Jamie McBain
19	VAN	D Dmitry Kulikov
20	MID	F Brandon Yip
21	BAL	F Andrei Loktionov
22	IHS	F Nazem Kadri
23	FFS	F Tyler Bozak
24	ALT	F Lars Eller
25	SAN	G Jonas Gustavsson
26	DEL	F Tim Kennedy
27	ORE	D Cody Franson
28	NAS	F Dan Sexton
29	BOS	D Carl Gunnarsson
30	EDH	F Drayson Bowman
31	CHA	F Matt Beleskey
32	STE	F Ryan Stoa
33	SCA	D Jared Cowen
34	STL	D Jakub Kindl
35	SOU	F Viktor Stalberg
36	DEL	D Jason Demers
37	SAL	F Mark Letestu
38	PWH	D Alex Plante
39	VAN	F Michael Grabner
40	MID	G Thomas Greiss
41	BAL	D Matt Gilroy
42	BAL	F Bryan Bickell
43	FFS	G Corey Crawford
44	ALT	F Zach Hamill
45	SAN	D Ryan Wilson
46	DEL	D Derek Joslin
47	ORE	F Mathieu Perreault
48	NAS	D Keaton Ellerby
49	BOS	F James Wright
50	EDH	D Andrew MacDonald
51	CHA	D Oskars Bartulis
52	STE	F Zack Smith
53	SCA	D Mathieu Carle
54	STL	D Clayton Stoner
55	SOU	F Scott Parse
56	WVR	D Jonas Junland
57	SAL	D Arturs Kulda
58	PWH	D Matthew Corrente
59	VAN	F Vladimir Zharkov
60	MID	F Frazer McLaren
61	BAL	F Sergei Shirokov
62	SCA	D Vladimir Mihalik
63	FFS	F Nick Bonino
64	ALT	G Dustin Tokarski
65	SAN	F Ben Maxwell
66	DEL	D Paul Bissonette
67	ORE	F Bobby Butler
68	NAS	F Kenndal McArdle
69	BOS	F Maksim Mayorov
70	EDH	D Adam McQuaid
71	CHA	G Jhonas Enroth
72	STE	F Jesse Joensuu
73	SCA	F Cody Almond
74	STL	G Devan Dubnyk
75	SOU	F Robbie Earl
76	WVR	PASS
77	SAL	D Justin Falk
78	PWH	F Brad Marchand
79	VAN	D Philip Larsen
80	MID	G Justin Peters

Team by Team Results

Altoona: F Jamie Benn (5), F Lars Eller (24), F Zach Hamill (44), G Dustin Tokarski (64)

Baltimore: F Matt Duchene (2)*, F Andrei Loktionov (21), D Matt Gilroy (41), F Bryan Bickell (42), F Sergei Shirokov (61)

Boston: D Erik Karlsson (9), D Carl Gunnarsson (29), F James Wright (49), F Maksim Mayorov (69)

Charleston: D Michael Del Zotto (11), F Matt Beleskey (31), D Oskars Bartulis (51), G Jhonas Enroth (71)

Delta: F Evander Kane (7), F Tim Kennedy (26), D Jason Demers (36), D Derek Joslin (46), D Paul Bissonette (66)

El Dorado: F James Van Riemsdyk (10), F Drayson Bowman (30), D Andrew MacDonald (50), D Adam McQuaid (70)

Farmington: D John Carlson (4), F Tyler Bozak (23), G Corey Crawford (43), F Nick Bonino (63)

Ice Harbor: D Tyler Myers (1), F Nazem Kadri (22)

Midland: F Brandon Yip (20), G Thomas Greiss (40), F Frazer McLaren (60), G Justin Peters (80)

Nashville: D PK Subban (8), F Dan Sexton (28), D Keaton Ellerby (48), F Kenndal McArdle (68)

Oregon: F John Tavares (3), D Cody Franson (27), F Mathieu Perreault (47), F Bobby Butler (67)

Portland: D Jamie McBain (18), D Alex Plante (38), D Matthew Corrente (58), F Brad Marchand (78)

Salem: F Logan Couture (17), F Mark Letestu (37), D Arturs Kulda (57), D Justin Falk (77)

San Diego: D Victor Hedman (6), G Jonas Gustavsson (25), D Ryan Wilson (45), F Ben Maxwell (65)

South Carolina: F Tyler Ennis (13), D Jared Cowen (33), D Mathieu Carle (53), D Vladimir Mihalik (62), F Cody Almond (73)

South Park: F Colin Wilson (15), F Viktor Stalberg (35), F Scott Parse (55), F Robbie Earl (75)

Sterling: F Ryan O’Reilly (12), F Ryan Stoa (32), F Zack Smith (52), F Jesse Joensuu (72)

St. Louis: F Brayden Schenn (14), D Jakub Kindl (34), D Clayton Stoner (54), G Devan Dubnyk (74)

Vancouver: D Dmitry Kulikov (19), F Michael Grabner (39)*, F Vladimir Zharkov (59), D Philip Larsen (79)

West Virginia: F Eric Tangradi (16), D Jonas Junland (56)

* – later traded