Oilers Top 10 Prospects

I was listening to Oilers Now yesterday.  Full disclosure, I don’t normally listen when Bob doesn’t host, but I wanted to hear some of the fan feedback after the game seven loss.  No doubt it hurts, but that was likely as easy of a game seven loss as a franchise will ever suffer!  I was expecting fans to be disappointed, but all pretty pumped.  NOPE!  Callers to radio shows are always going to be a bit off.  But every caller?!  It really makes me question if fans aren’t so scared from what’s gone on here the last decade that they can’t comprehend what this team is on the verge of becoming.

 

I’m certain most of you reading this understand it though.  And it’s not to be a fan boy about it, and it’s not to discount that there is still work to be done.  But this team is going to be picked to win the Cup starting this fall.  Not by all, but by some, and it’s not going to be any kind of hot take.  They’re now a contender, and they’re setup to last a long time.

 

Obviously I’m hyped about what’s on the roster and the fact that this team is loaded with kids 24 and under, a lot of whom aren’t just on the team, but are leading this team.  And with the team taking that massive turn we had all been eagerly awaiting since the 2010 draft, what has flown under the radar is how well this team is all of a sudden drafting and developing.  Obviously we know why this has flown under the radar, but unfortunately it is now the offseason and we need to start looking to the future.

 

Being a big draft guy, I’d like to focus for a minute on the 22nd pick.  The way I’m looking at it, you either go centre or defence there.  Even if the Oilers don’t manage to land Spencer Foo in free agency, you can always put a centre on the wing.  I’m getting to the point now where, at least for me, where the winger has to knock me on my ass with his skill set to like him over a centre.  Now, who am I right?  But I’m certain there are NHL GM’s who see this the same way.

 

The kid I’ve loved for months now is Owen Sound centre Nick Suzuki.  In February that looked possible at 22.  Now, not a chance if you ask me as he has rocketed up a lot of lists.  In my latest mock draft I had London Knights centre Robert Thomas.  5’11, 185 pounds, right handed shot, great wheels, already real good in the dot and a point per game player this season.  Another one I really like is Jaret Anderson-Dolan out of Spokane.  He’d be a BIT of a reach at 22 the way most lists currently look, but the same size as Thomas with better point totals and just as good of speed.  Was held off the board at the U18’s for Canada, but was named captain of the team which is always a positive.

 

If you’re thinking a blueliner is the way to go, Henri Jokiharju is the kid I like.  6’0, 176 pounds with a right handed shot.  He’s a great skater, needs work in his own zone but what I really like about the kid is he’s always playing on his toes and does not lack aggression both in terms of taking chances and willingness to battle.  The one thing about taking a D-man in the draft, even though the Oil are pretty stocked with them right now, is that they always have great trade value.  Trades are nearly impossible to make these days, but defencemen are at an all time high as the Hall/Larsson swap proved, so you really can’t go wrong taking a defencemen.  Especially a right handed shooting puck mover.

 

But enough draft talk for now, onto the top 10.

 

Before I get started on the list, let’s make one thing very clear.  While I go glass half full with all these kids, it’s all hypothetical.  I’d say if four of these guys become SOMETHING, then it’s a massive win.  Also should mention, the ages are as of September 1st, 2017, so some guys aren’t as old currently as they’re listed (i.e. Ethan Bear).  I also put their team as who they played for the majority of this season rather than who they’ll be with to start 17-18.  Hopefully that puts to rest any misunderstandings of how I did this.

 

Honourable mentions:

 

Ryan Mantha  Niagara  OHL

Pos: D  Ht: 6’5  Wt: 225  Shot: R  Age: 21

Acquired: Free Agent, Signed March 1st, 2017

One of the latest additions to the Oilers stable.  Mantha was originally drafted by the Rangers in the 4th round of the 2014 draft, but they chose not to sign him.  I have a tough time at this point ranking him.  That size and those numbers this season say he’s a hell of a prospect, but he was an overager this season for Niagara.  Intriguing package, but the jury will still be very much out on him for now.  I’m guessing he’ll start the season in Bakersfield, likely part of the agreement when he chose the Oilers.

 

Filip Berglund  Skelleftea  SHL

Pos: D  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 209  Shot: R  Age: 20

Acquired: 3rd round, 91st overall, 2016 draft

This kid has me personally really intrigued.  He was originally set back with a knee injury in his draft year, hence not being taken until last June.  Seems to get pretty positive reviews at both ends of the ice.  His skating isn’t poor at all, but what I will say is that if he can make a subtle improvement with it that it’ll go a very long way.  Some really like the skill he will flash on occasion.  A long shot, no doubt, but it feels like they might have a diamond in the rough here.

 

William Lagesson  UMass-Amherst  NCAA

Pos: D  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 198  Shot: L  Age: 21

Acquired: 4th Round, 91st Overall, 2014 Draft

When I’ve seen and when I read up on Lagesson, everything points towards a Darius Kasparaitis type.  Bigger offensive numbers would without a doubt be nice to see, but he skates real well, and he’s simply miserable to play against.  As a prospect he reminds me a lot of Brandon Davidson, not at all in style of play, but in the sense that every time I watched and read something on Davidson, I liked it.  Same deal with Lagesson.  I love that he’s going back to Sweden next season, I believe it’ll really help his development.

 

Bogdan Yakimov  Nizhnekamsk  KHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’5  Wt: 232  Shot: L  Age: 22

Acquired: 3rd Round, 83rd Overall, 2013 Draft

Full disclosure, I’m not sure how it works with his rights.  I don’t see why he wouldn’t be under team control next season, but he is listed as an RFA this summer so I’d assume he needs qualifying?  For now, I’m listing him here.  He’s still got a very intriguing skill set.  I would never get overly excited about what he can bring to the table should he come back over, but I do believe he’s capable of being a Brian Boyle type with the upside to be more Michal Handzus…which of course is code for “a 3rd or 4th line centre”.  I’m definitely not holding my breathe on him, but until they officially don’t own his rights I believe he is still worth mentioning.

 

10. Nick Ellis  Bakersfield  AHL

Pos: G  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 180  Glove: L  Age: 23

Acquired: Free Agent, Signed April 7th, 2016

Ellis had a Sv% in the AHL this season that was 10 percentage points higher than Laurent Brossoit’s.  The size is a concern though, as he is very small by today’s goaltending standards.  He plays a very composed style, very similar to Cam Talbot.  At his size I fear he’ll have to go above and beyond proving himself to earn a shot with the Oilers, but so far he’s off to a good start.

 

9. John Marino  Harvard  NCAA

Pos: D  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 190  Shot: R  Age: 20

Acquired: 6th Round, 154th Overall, 2015 Draft

In the 6th round of the draft, I feel like you have to stick to a few rules.  If it’s me, I’m looking for kids who have decent size, skates real well, and a high IQ.  Marino checks all those boxes.  Obviously he’ll go back to Harvard for at least another season in 2018, and likely 2019 as well, so we’re talking about a kid who is still a long ways away.  But he took a pretty big step in his development in his freshman season at Harvard and should see an increased role next season, although he does have Calgary 2016 3rd rounder Adam Fox to contend with.

 

8. Markus Niemelainen  Saginaw  OHL

Pos: D  Ht: 6’5  Wt: 200  Shot: L  Age: 19

Acquired: 3rd Round, 63rd Overall, 2016 Draft

I really didn’t understand this pick.  It was great value, as most had Niemelainen as a late first/early second round pick.  But he was just more of what the Oilers had.  Adam Fox (getting mentioned twice in an Oilers piece, impressive) was taken two picks later by the Flames, and I personally felt Fox was a lot better fit for the Oilers in the organization.  Of course this is where I explain that as years have gone on I’ve become much more of a pick for need guy than a BPA guy because of the difficulty making trades has become.  Having said all this, he is similar to Adam Larsson in that he will not wow you in anyway, but can completely shut down the other teams top line.  He’ll be around 215-220 once he fills out, has great mobility for his size, and despite low offensive numbers he moves the puck very well.  Like William Lagesson, I’m a big fan of the fact that he’s headed back to Finland to play pro next season.  Should help his development a lot.

 

7. Ziyat Paigin  Kazan Ak-Bars  KHL

Pos: D  Ht: 6’6  Wt: 209  Shot: L  Age: 22

Acquired: 7th Round, 209th Overall, 2015 Draft

Man, it’s still ridiculously early, but the hope is very much alive that Peter Chiarelli knocked it out of the park with the D-men he selected post McDavid in the 2015 draft.  Paigin’s calling card is his bomb from the point.  But he has a long way to go in his development.  He has the skill set you want (size, mobility, willingness to engage physically), but he still needs a season in Bakersfield.  I can’t find and didn’t hear anything about how he played in his five games after coming over, although I wouldn’t put much stock into those games having just come over from Russia to what is a vastly different league and style.

 

6. Tyler Benson  Vancouver  WHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 190  Shot: L  Age: 19

Acquired: 2nd Round, 32nd Overall, 2016 Draft

Two brutal seasons from an injury standpoint.  The other scary thing about Benson is he isn’t the most fleet of foot player, definitely needs to work on his first step.  Having said this, there are too many positives in his game to quit on him as a prospect.  First and foremost, look at what he was doing while healthy this season (42 points in 33 games).  I’d be lying my ass off if I said the groin/pubic bone injury reoccurrence didn’t worry me.  Absolutely does.  But, should he play 60-70 games next season, he likely plays in the WJC, and he’ll likely dealt to a contender before January 10th.  At this point I’m definitely not writing him off, and still think there is a good chance he’s a steal.  It’s just going to take a bit longer than some thought.

 

5. Dylan Wells  Peterborough  OHL

Pos: G  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 182  Glove: L  Age: 19

Acquired: 5th Round, 123rd Overall, 2016 Draft

I first got hyped about Wells right after the Oilers drafted him last June.  A few OHL scouts I follow on Twitter were raving about the pick moments after the pick was made, as they both firmly believed that Wells had all the tools to be a steal, he just hadn’t put it together to that point.  Fast forward 10 months, and he’s really started to put it together.  Wells has had a great season, but his play went to another level around midseason, and continued to be incredible during the Petes playoff run. Through his first 11 playoff games, Wells had a Sv% of .941.  That did dip thanks to Peterborough getting destroyed in their final playoff game, but it was still a 2.51 G.A.A. and a .930 Sv%.  Size wise he isn’t much bigger than Nick Ellis, but with Wells only being 19 he is more likely to pack on the 20-30 pounds both netminders need to play in the league.  Goaltenders are a crap shoot, but I will say that had the Oilers taken Wells with a late 1st or early 2nd round pick, we’d all be raving about Wells right now.  It’s still so very early in his development.  BUT…so far, the pick has been a home run.

 

4. Griffin Reinhart  Bakersfield  AHL

Pos: D  Ht: 6’4  Wt: 208  Shot: L  Age: 23

Acquired: Trade, June 24th, 2015

As bitter as you are about this trade…I’m a whole lot more bitter about it than you are!  I immediately hated the deal, and could not be talked out of it no matter how hard some of my buddies tried.  Had they not done it and simply selected who they liked (sounds like Joel Eriksson Ek would have gone 16th, Brandon Carlo would have gone 33rd) they’d have one of the best prospect pools in the league right now.  But, it’s done and we all need to get over.  We also all need to understand that just because that trade was awful that it doesn’t mean Reinhart can’t play in the NHL.  From all reports, he came on real strong around January in Bakersfield.  It was only one game, but in his 13 minutes of play in game six, he did look solid.  It’s the same old story with Reinhart.  If he can get a chip on his shoulder and play with an edge (and I’m not just talking about throwing hits once in a while, but learning to play on his toes), he still has a chance to become a real solid top four defenceman.  I’m hopeful he’s not about to be snagged by Vegas in the expansion draft, but I also have a feeling the reason the return was low on Brandon Davidson was because Peter Chiarelli knows that George McPhee will take one of Pouliot (likely) or Fayne, perhaps thanks to Peter greasing the wheels a bit.  There for it was viewed as not only getting Desharnais, but shedding over 5 mil off the cap for 2018.

 

3. Ethan Bear  Seattle  WHL

Pos: D  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 205  Shot: R  Age: 20

Acquired: 5th Round, 124th Overall, 2015 Draft

It’s tough with Bear, because on one hand you can’t help but get giddy about the numbers he’s put up in the WHL the last two seasons and the fact that he was named the WHL defenceman of the year.  But on the other hand, that foot speed just simply isn’t good enough right now.  It’s not an easy thing to improve, but man, if he can get it to the level he needs to, this kid is going to be a huge steal.  The fact that he’s playing in the WHL finals with what is suspected to be a broken hand really speaks to this kids character and toughness.  And he’s not just a big shot on the PP.  That PP runs through Bear just as much, if not more so (when I’ve seen them play) than it does through Matt Barzal.  I really believe the upside on this kid is that he can be a Ryan Ellis type.  But even if his skating doesn’t improve to that level, I still believe he can play in the league as a number six guy who is sheltered five on five but sees a ton of minutes on the PP and PK.

 

2. Caleb Jones  Portland  WHL

Pos: D  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 190  Shot: L  Age: 20

Acquired: 4th Round, 117th Overall, 2015 Draft

I’m not the only one noticing that he could be pushing for ice time next season am I?  I’m not saying out of camp, but I could see him start getting looks on the big club around midseason or so, and by the 2018 offseason I could see a scenario where they’re looking for a way to get Sekera’s deal off the books to not only create cap space but also fit Jones onto the big club (depending on how Nurse’s development continues to go).  62 points in 63 games for Portland this season and was used on the top D pairing for the U.S. at the WJC this year in more of a shutdown role.  He’s been a hell of a find.  Some will scream that Bear should be ahead of Jones, but with Jones there is zero concern about his skating ability.

 

1. Jesse Puljujarvi  Bakersfield  AHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’3.5  Wt: 208  Shot: R  Age: 19

Acquired: 1st Round, 4th Overall, 2016 Draft

I’ve heard some people get worried about Puljujarvi.  Guys, R-E-L-A-X.  He just turned 19 five days ago.  He was great in the AHL.  He has nowhere near the strength to match his body size right now, you can see it with how he skates.  He’s going to be an offensive driver.  I believe his explosiveness will improve as he gains strength, and with that big frame and big ass he will be able to dominate defenders below the hash marks much like Jagr and Hossa can (not saying he’s going to be either of those guys, just in terms of how he protects the puck).  He’s also going to live off McDavid feeds on the power play with that righty one timer he has.  The Oilers have an absolute stud here.  I could see a scenario in a few seasons where McDavid, Draisaitl and Puljujarvi are each anchoring their own line much the way Mike Sullivan used Crosby, Malkin and Kessel last season.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

What an Oppurtunity

I have to admit, I’m getting a little fatigued with the ref talk.  We all know how horribly they have screwed the Oilers in the last two games with two of the worst blown calls (everything considered) in the last 17 years (hope Sabres fans notice I didn’t say 18 years).  And while nobody wants to get over it, you have to get over it because there is still a series to win here.  There is an opening here to get to the Cup final and everyone (fans included) have to keep that in mind.

 

The team and yes, the fans, have to keep this positive.  I’m not the most positive guy, more of a realist.  But I’ve found myself saying since the end of game five “what a chance they have here”.

 

First of all, I believe the team and the fans need a way to look and get past the officiating.  That way?  Well the way I’m trying to look at it is that Dana White always says with fights in the UFC “don’t leave it in the hands of the judges”.  So many awful decisions have come from fights going to the judges score cards.  And really, that’s what happened with all these awful calls against the Oilers.  They’ve left these games in the hands of the refs.  Yes they were screwed, and if you don’t think so you’re just attempting to troll Oilers fans.  But they left it in the hands of the judges so to speak and you can’t do that.

 

The one concern going into tonight without a doubt is that the Ducks confidence couldn’t be any higher now.  You may have heard Bob Stauffer say earlier in the series, part of Ryan Getzlaf’s confidence is coming from nothing being called against him (not to whine about the officiating, but it’s just been a fact).  Well now this team has gotten away with two blatant goaltender interference calls, combined with a dramatic comeback has to have them believing nothing is going to go wrong.

 

But don’t sleep on the stat Jack Michaels tossed out on Twitter after game five though:

Two of the last three years, it’s followed this exact same pattern.  Lose first two games at home, win the next three.

 

I’m sure many are expecting the Oilers to fold in this one after all that’s gone on.  I’d be shocked if the Oilers folded tonight.

 

If they were going to fold, they would have done so in game five against San Jose, they didn’t.  They would have done so down 3-0 in game three of this series, nope.  Would have done so in the third period of game four, another no.  Would have done so in game five, wrong again.  Would have done so in the first OT in game five, ONCE AGAIN they did not.  So if you’re expecting that tonight, I can’t help but think it’s your pessimistic attitude, because this team, while frustrating at times, has given none of us any reason to believe they’ll fold their hand.

 

Fold their hand…remember hearing that non stop last year?  I’d say it’s been a lesson learned.

 

One of the most resilient teams I’ve ever seen in sports was the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks.  Twice in the 2001 World Series they were an out away from grabbing that series by the throat, and twice their closer Byun-Hun Kim gave up a game tying home run and eventually the Yankees won both games in extra’s.  Similarities?  The D-Backs won the first two games.  The D-Backs were also down 3-2 with game six at home.  They dismantled the Yankees in game six.  You kept thinking as that series went on “this HAS to of killed them”, and nothing did.  The end of that series was them down 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth with Mariano Rivera on the mound, who at that time hadn’t blown a postseason save in 23 straight appearances (his career postseason E.R.A. was 0.73 entering that game).

 

Goes without saying but the Oilers have to get another two or three nothing lead.  You may emphatically say “DUH!!” , or “the Ducks will be fine just like they were the last two games”, and that could be the case.  But I’m certain at least some of those Ducks wouldn’t be fine.  I’m certain some of them would be flashing back to what’s happened in anyone of the last four seasons.  If it’s only happened once or even twice it’s probably just a coincidence.  Four straight years?  It’s a mental thing.  In 2015 there was no way they should have lost to the Blackhawks.  They were the better team in all of the first five games, and they flat out choked in games six and seven.  And I have little doubt that’s what went on last year against Nashville.  So it’s vital the Oilers get them on the ropes again.

 

That D-Backs World Series win is one of the best sports stories I’ve ever seen play out in my life, and here are the 2017 Oilers with a chance to do the same.  Absolutely every reason to fold up shop and call it a year.  Bet they don’t.  And if the Ducks don’t finish them tonight, they’ll be questioning themselves.  Not just from what’s happened in the past, but they’ll be asking themselves “why won’t this team just die?”  After outplaying the Oilers for the majority of the series, keeping McDavid in check for the most part, by my count five what would be at best questionable goals in the series, and two what should have been absolute back breaking/crushing and crucial goals which should have been called back and weren’t…that momentum all goes the other way with an Oilers win tonight.

 

Think about how sweet winning this series would now be.  Think about what that would mean for this team once they become serious Cup contenders and what a brick jaw they’d collectively have thanks to having gone through this.  Hell, think about what it’d do for the team moving forward in THESE playoffs!

 

What a story this team has a chance to write.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

2017 NHL Mock Draft 2.0

This is very poor timing.  Being an Oilers guy, releasing my top 50 prospect list and mock draft right after Anaheim ties the series.  No, I’m not throwing in the towel on that series, although I always had Anaheim to win that series and win the Cup (hence the reason my order is the way it is for the last four picks).

 

As always, a little insight to how I look at things.  I’m looking at what teams have age 25-27 and under in their organization.  I look at need and not just the BPA (best player available) these days as do most teams because it is getting more and more difficult to make trades in the NHL.  Also I try and look for patterns with teams and their past four or five drafts.  Do they go CHL heavy?  Do they love the NCAA/USHL kids?  Maybe they’re big on Europeans?  Do they not like taking defencemen high?  Do they value size?  Skill?  There are just a ton of things to take into consideration.

 

The number on the right side of the players name is the ranking I have on the player in my top 50 list which you can read here: http://soupsonsports.com/2017/05/05/2017-nhl-draft-top-50-prospects-may-5th/

 

 

1. Nico Hischier (2)  Halifax  QMJHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 176  Shot: L

Comparison: Kyle Turris

The draft is very “trendy”.  Hischier has been the trendier guy between himself and Nolan Patrick.  He also is going to be viewed as the safer pick of the two.  You ask me though, the Devils didn’t win this lottery, Philly did.  Jersey has to make the choice, Philly just has to sit back and pick the other guy.

Other Options: Nolan Patrick

 

 

2. Nolan Patrick (1)  Brandon  WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 198  Shot: R

Comparison: Mark Scheifele

As I just said, a perfect spot for the Flyers.  And if it plays out like this, I believe they’re getting the better player in the long run.  Patrick has had his fair share of injury problems (not just this season, although this was the worst), but I doubt anything that’ll effect him long term.  Even if he only is a 2nd line centre in the show, he’s still going to be an extremely valuable player with what he brings to the table.

Other Options: None

 

 

3. Gabe Vilardi (4)  Windsor  OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 198  Shot: R

Comparison: Ryan Johansen

Craig Button had them going with Miro Heiskanen here, but the Stars situation reminds me a lot of the Oilers in that everyone says they need D, and they do, but not in the draft.  They have a ton of great young D-men either on the roster or in the organization.  Meanwhile Jason Spezza is 34 years old, 35 in February, you can’t pass up a chance to get a prospect like Vilardi to step into that role in a few seasons.

Other Options: Casey Mittelstadt, Cody Glass

 

 

4. Miro Heiskanen (8) HIFK  SM Liiga

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 170  Shot: L

Comparison: Nick Leddy

It’s not like the Avs couldn’t have used Hischier or Patrick.  It would have made a Matt Duchene deal much easier to do.  But in this spot they should be able to get the top D-man in the draft, and then focus on perhaps getting a centre for Duchene instead.  I don’t have Heiskanen as the top D-man in this draft, but much like Hischier he’s the trendier guy right now, and he’s the best LH shot D-man in the draft, which is the bigger need for the Avs.  Prefers the right side, but I’m certain he won’t have an issue playing his proper side if need be.

Other Options: Cale Makar

 

 

5. Casey Mittelstadt (6) Eden Prairie  USHS

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 194  Shot: L

 Comparison: Matt Duchene

Tough to say at this point who they’ll prefer between Mittelstadt and Glass.  I probably prefer Glass because I feel his game translates a little better to the league, but no doubt Mittelstadt is the more dynamic of the two.  Call me nuts, but I actually believe the Canucks aren’t the ocean away from competing for a playoff spot like most do.  They need to hit a homerun though on one of these picks though, and Mittelstadt might have a better chance to be that home run and maybe compliment Bo Horvat a little better.

Other Options: Cody Glass

 

 

6. Cody Glass (5)  Portland  WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 180  Shot: R

Comparison: Charlie Coyle

Ending up picking 6th might be best for the Golden Knights in their initial entry draft.  Now the pressure is off to find “the face of the franchise”.  Just take the BPA, and don’t rush him.  A kid like Glass could be a great fit as he has quite a bit of versatility in his game.  The hype train has really amped up for Glass the last little while.  I had him 9th in my top 32 back in February asking “why don’t more scouts have this kid ranked higher” and now scouts are going nuts on him saying he’s either Ryan Johansen or Mark Scheifele just because he’s a thin 6’2-6’3 kid who has put up good numbers.  EASY guys.  I like him, but let’s use safer projections.

Other Options: Cale Makar, Timothy Liljegren

 

 

7. Cale Makar (9)  Brooks  AJHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 175  Shot: R

Comparison: Dan Boyle

Makar, much like Glass, is a kid who I fear scouts are going a little overboard on.  Love the potential obviously, but he’s a ways off and could just as easily be another Ryan Murphy as much as he could be a Dan Boyle.  But for the Yotes, I see them loving Makar.  They have a lot of pieces up front (although I would guess they aren’t feeling very certain about Dylan Strome’s long term outlook at this point), and even though John Chayka and Dave Tippett were able to add Jakob Chychrun and Cam Dineen in last year’s draft, I think the play is still to go D.  Add to that, if you have D, you can make trades in this league, it’s that simple.  I wouldn’t be shocked to see as many as four D-men go in the top 10 of this draft in large part because of that reason.

Other Options: Timothy Liljegren

 

 

8. Juuso Valimaki (10)  Tri-City  WHL

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 204  Shot: L

Comparison: Wade Redden

This is a reach for most (not me), and a lot of a need for the Sabres.  Having said that, if this is what they do I’m going to be in favour of it.  I’d take Timothy Liljegren here myself, but I’m accepting of the fact that he is this years Jakob Chychrun and is going to fall.  I don’t agree with it at all, but you can see it coming.  Anyway, the Sabres take Valimaki here and I actually do think it’s a solid move.  I’d maybe explore moving back if you’re going to do it, but trades even in the top 10 of the draft now days are scarce.  You don’t want to move out of range where you’d miss your guy.

Other Options: Timothy Liljegren

 

 

9. Martin Necas (11)  Brno  Czech

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 167  Shot: R

Comparison: Ales Hemsky

Tons of skill with Necas who needs to round out his game.  The Wings have THRIVED off drafting these types of players.  Slowly bring them along, never get to the show until they have their 200 foot game rounded out at least a bit.  The big need for them is on D (RH shooting D to be specific) just like it is with Jersey, Colorado, Vegas, Arizona and Buffalo.  So why not Liljegren here?  In my opinion it would be the smart and obvious pick, and maybe Ken Holland knows better than most of these guys.  But I just am already seeing it coming with Liljegren.  Independent scouts are souring on him, which indicates to me that a lot of teams amateur scouts have soured on him even more.

Other Options: Timothy Liljegren

 

 

10. Michael Rasmussen (7)  Tri-City  WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’6  Wt: 215  Shot: L

Comparison: Jeff Carter

With Dale Tallon now back in power for the cats, I see Rasmussen as his kind of guy.  Size, speed, skill.  Gudbranson, Bjugstad, Barkov, Ekblad, and Crouse were all Tallon’s picks.  This team looks solid moving forward on D with kids like Pysyk, Matheson, McCoshen and of course Ekblad they look pretty solid.  I wouldn’t go as far to say that they can’t use one in the system, but more so that they’re in position to go with the BPA and I believe if Rasmussen were there he would fit too well for Tallon and company to pass up.

Other Options: Owen Tippett, Elias Petterson

 

 

11. Nick Suzuki (18)  Owen Sound  OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 187  Shot: R

Comparison: T.J. Oshie

This is a reach according to everyone’s board other than Craig Button’s.  I love Suzuki, but he probably shouldn’t go this high.  But my thinking here is he’s a centre which is a big need for the Kings, he’s out of the OHL and the Kings have loved taking kids out of the OHL, and he’s a relatively safe pick.  He’ll play.  Might only be a 3rd line centre, but he’ll play and he’ll be effective.

Other Options: Timothy Liljegren, Owen Tippett

 

 

12. Owen Tippett (11)  Mississuaga  OHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 202  Shot: R

Comparison: Joffrey Lupul

Not EXACTLY how I believe the Canes would like this draft to fall, but if you consider them one of the leading contenders to land Matt Duchene this summer (and I do), then Tippett is a perfect fit.  Even if they don’t land Duchene though, this team is going to be real good soon.  Don’t be shocked if YET AGAIN they go with a D-man with their top pick should the BPA be a D-man, because Ron Francis is a heck of a GM who understands D-men have all the value on the trade market right now.  Tippett is really going to need a disher to play with down the road if he’s going to make an impact in the show.

Other Options: Timothy Liljegren, Elias Petterson

 

 

13. Timothy Liljegren (3)  Rogle  SHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 191  Shot: R

Comparison: Kris Letang

FINALLY the other option goes!  For the record, I’m going to be dead set against the Liljegren fall which is coming at the draft.  If it’s within range to do so, I’m praying the Oilers trade up to take him because he is exactly what they need in the system, and is falling for a completely stupid reason.  Some will say this pick won’t happen (of course they easily could be right) because the Jets are already three deep on the right side on the blueline.  True, but Byfuglien is now 32 years old, Tyler Myers can likely now be listed as injury prone, and Jacob Trouba still likely wants a trade.  It’s a sneaky need for the Jets.  If Liljegren doesn’t go by this point, I still think he wouldn’t get past Tampa with the next pick.  Quite the fall for a kid looked at as a sure fire top three guy for the last year and a half.  I’m still a big believer, but I seem to be on an island.

Other Options: Elias Petterson, Cal Foote

 

 

14. Lias Andersson (17)  HV71  SHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 198  Shot: L

Comparison: Frans Nielsen

The blueline should be the major concern for the bolts.  Craig Button had Cal Foote going here.  While he fits the need for a RH D-man, I don’t believe he fits with the pace that they want to play in Tampa which has clearly been a mandate with the way they’ve drafted.  It’s also not really their style to take a D-man high.  The times they do, it seems to go poorly (Slater Koekkoek, Anthony DeAngelo).  But with Tyler Johnson continually having injury concerns, Valteri Filppula and Brian Boyle now gone, this team has major concerns down the middle.  And with Andersson, while every centre can go to the wing, Andersson is extremely comfortable on either wing which could be a need too should the Bolts move out Jonathan Drouin this summer.  Andersson feels like a kid they would love and would fit in great with the break neck style the Bolts play.

Other Options: Elias Pettersson, Eeli Tolvanen

 

 

15. Elias Pettersson (13)  Timra  SWE-Als

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 156  Shot: L

Comparison: Ondrej Palat

Probably another team who could use a kid like Cal Foote.  But the Islanders under Garth Snow haven’t seemed to like going D high in the draft and passed on kids like Tyler Myers, Cam Fowler, Dougie Hamilton, etc in the first round.  Then you factor in that he drafted Griffin Reinhart which he turned into two more forwards, and Ryan Pulock who he seems to dislike and I find it tough to believe that Snow would go D in this spot.  Tolvanen could fill their need on the right side which they’ve had pretty much through John Tavares’ entire tenure with the Isles, which ironically could be finished draft weekend if he doesn’t want to commit long term.

Other Options: Eeli Tolvanen, Cal Foote

 

 

16. Callan Foote (15)  Kelowna  WHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 200  Shot: R

Comparison: Jake Muzzin

Not an ideal spot for the Flames.  They really could use a right handed shot up front, whether it’s a centre or a winger.  So Tippett or Necas would really fit the bill.  They could reach on Robert Thomas or someone like that, but this is a good spot to pick Foote.  Plus he’s a RH shot on the blueline which is always a valuable chip to have if you’re looking to trade, but the Flames aren’t loaded with RH shot D-men either.  Michael Stone is a UFA who I’d expect to re-sign there but I guess we won’t know until the GM situation is sorted out.  Rasmus Andersson and Adam Fox are in the system, but neither are anything of a sure thing.  So Foote actually makes a lot of sense.

Other Options: Eeli Tolvanen, Kailer Yamamoto

 

 

17. Nicolas Hague (16) Mississuaga  OHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’5  Wt: 208  Shot: L

Comparison: Colten Parayko

I could see the Leafs using this pick to acquire a defenceman.  Ideally, Cal Foote would have fallen to them.  I do think there is a great chance for the Leafs to move up a few spots if they want (Tampa has never been shy to move back in the draft while Steve Yzerman has been there), but I believe they’re going to look for a young top four D-man this summer and this pick could be used as primary trade bait.  But should everything fall like this and the Leafs pick, I like Hague.  He plays the right side despite being a LH shot, he has tremendous size as you can read, he has a bomb of a shot, and moves well for a kid his size.  The hockey sense has been called into question, and the offensive numbers weren’t as big as some were hoping (18-28-46 in 65 GP), but if I’m the Leafs I’m not overly concerned with that.  I’d want to find a potential shutdown D-man who can play with a Morgan Rielly down the road because I believe if Rielly starts playing with the right partner that his game will go to another level.

Other Options: Robert Thomas, Erik Brannstrom

 

 

18. Ryan Poehling (19)  St.Cloud State  NCAA

Pos: C  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 202  Shot: L

Comparison: Steve Rucchin

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  Despite the shit show that has been the Boston Bruins front office the last few seasons, their system is looking pretty solid.  Not nearly as solid as it should look, but solid nonetheless.  As for Poehling, you have to think this would be a tremendous landing spot for his development considering the Bruins have two of the best 200 foot players in the last eight years or so in Patrice Bergeron and David Backes.

Other Options: Shane Bowers, Robert Thomas

 

 

19. Kailer Yamamoto (22)  Spokane  WHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’7  Wt: 153  Shot: R

Comparison: Cam Atkinson

The need for the Sens in this spot is a D-man, but it might be a pretty big reach to take that guy here.  For some reason Yamamoto really stands out to me as a great fit with the Sens.  Really undersized and incredibly speedy, plus while it’s not a big need they aren’t overloaded with RW’s in the system.  More of a BPA pick (not by my list but others), but really feels like a great fit.

 

 

 

20. Eeli Tolvanen (14)  Sioux City  USHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 170  Shot: L

Comparison: Mike Cammalleri

This is a BPA pick, plain and simple.  The Sharks feel like the team that would say “this kid can’t fall any further”.  But like Timothy Liljegren, Tolvanen appears to be falling in the eyes of a lot of people as well.  He’s really one dimensional.  So while it’s great to have a big shot and be a pure sniper, you simply don’t win hockey games building around those guys.  I believe the need for the Sharks is a centre, and there are a lot of centres to be had in this range.  But I believe they’ll be a top contender for John Tavares this summer should he be available, or perhaps Matt Duchene.

Other Options: Kailer Yamamoto, Robert Thomas

 

 

21. Shane Bowers (20)  Waterloo  USHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 178  Shot: L

Comparison: Brandon Dubinsky

I love this kids game and I could see Doug Armstrong feeling the same way.  What might hurt Bowers in this draft is that one area this draft is actually solid in is two way centres which Bowers is near the top.  So perhaps the Blues would hold off until their Washington pick to take a kid like this.  Either way, I expect Armstrong to jump on one of these centres as the Blues could use more help in the middle as they attempted to address last year with the Tage Thompson pick.

Other Options: Robert Thomas, Kristian Vesalainen

 

 

22. Robert Thomas (21)  London  OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 185  Shot: R

Comparison: Derick Brassard

Finally he goes.  Both with Thomas and Liljegren earlier, just feels like they fit for a lot of different teams.  This pick is going to depend a bit on Spencer Foo’s decision.  He is going to be the type of kid who you can move up and down the lineup and play in any situation.  If he doesn’t sign in Edmonton then I believe it opens up another need with Jordan Eberle almost certainly to be shipped out in the offseason.  But even if Foo does sign elsewhere, in the draft I believe the way to go (especially in the 20-30 range) is with one of the centres.  For me, I got ten centres in the 17-37 range.  Thomas might have the highest ceiling offensively of those ten centres.  Righty shot which they can really use.  He’s also a great faceoff guy which wouldn’t carry over immediately but does give hope to being a key guy in the dot down the road.  I believe a trade down to the 30-35 range in an attempt re-coup the 2nd round pick lost to Boston because of how many centres who can be had and fit their need in this part of the draft is very possible.

Other Options: Henri Jokiharju, Jaret Anderson-Dolan

 

 

23. Kristian Vesalainen (23)  Frolunda  SHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 207  Shot: L

Comparison: James Van Riemsdyk

It’s risky to suggest Vesalainen will end up getting to this spot.  I have trouble being much of a fan of his because of the wheels, but perhaps it won’t be a problem for some other teams earlier on.  If he gets to 23 though, I can’t see Marc Bergevin passing on him.  I’ve never seen a guy try so hard to increase a teams size, with really minimal results.  Vesalainen doesn’t just help out with the size desires, but also the desire to increase their scoring.

Other Options: Henri Jokiharju, Klim Kostin

 

 

24. Aleksi Heponiemi (39)  Swift Current  WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 147  Shot: L

Comparison: Sebastian Aho

This is the pick the Coyotes acquired from the Wild in the Martin Hanzal deal.  I’m interested here, because now with both these Arizona picks I’m assuming they’re going to go all in on numbers and f*** the players size!  That’s KIND of what they did last year, but the team builder side of me says having a team full of undersized guys is a recipe for failure.  I’m personally really intrigued by Heponiemi.  Even though he’s only a few months younger than Yamamoto, he’s a 99 kid.  So at a similar weight, three more inches of height, and his numbers aren’t far off (28-58-86 in 72 GP).  Plus, for me anyway, I always put more value on a kid who has been playing the middle rather than the wing, even though Heponiemi likely will be on the wing in the pro’s.

Other Options: Erik Brannstrom, Jake Ottinger

 

 

25. Erik Brannstrom (25)  HV71  SWE J20

Pos: LD  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 173  Shot: L

Comparison: Sami Vatanen

I’m thinking there is a very good chance Ryan Murray is moved this summer.  Could be because of the expansion draft, or it could be in an attempt to fetch a centre like Matt Duchene.  Another thing to look at here is that the Jackets don’t have what I’d consider an “A” level prospect on the blueline, so it might be a good idea to keep adding to their depth.  All that being said I really like them to take one of the four D-men I have ranked from 24-27 in this spot.

Other Options: Henri Jokiharju, Urho Vaakanainen

 

 

26. Klim Kostin (47) Moscow  KHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 196  Shot: L

Comparison: Thomas Vanek

The need here is defence.  That blueline is getting old pretty quickly and there is no sure thing on the way.  Maybe Gustav Forsling, but notice I used the word maybe there.  But the problem is that Stan Bowman has never used a first round pick on a D-man, it’s been all forwards since he took the reigns from Dale Tallon.  There are a few teams who I believe would be willing to take a home run swing on Kostin, and at the moment I’m willing to bet that the Hawks are who ends up taking the swing.  I don’t like him at all with the Russian bust factor and the Russian flight risk, but at 26 and for the Hawks in particular, this would be completely justified.

Other Options: Marcus Davidsson, Josh Norris

 

 

27. Jake Oettinger (30) Boston U  NCAA

Pos: G  Ht: 6’4  Wt: 203  Glove: L

Comparison: Braden Holtby

This is the pick the Blues acquired from the Caps in the Kevin Shattenkirk deal.  This is a little bit of a need, I guess that depends on how high they are on Ville Husso.  But more so I just believe if they address a need down the middle with Bowers at 20 then they don’t have a real glaring need up front or on D, so I think more so this is about taking the BPA.  For some, Oettinger or U.P. Luukkonen are going to be ranked high, it’s just a matter of whether or not a team is willing to take a goaltender in the 1st round.  A lot won’t, but I believe in this spot the Blues could.

Other Options: U.P. Luukkonen, Isaac Ratcliffe

 

 

28. Jaret Anderson-Dolan (32)  Spokane  WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 180  Shot: L

 Comparison: Nick Bonino

Last year’s draft couldn’t have fallen much more perfect for them.  The one thing they kind of had a need for in the system was a RH shot D-man after moving Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen, and that’s exactly what fell into their lap with Dante Fabbro.  So with that task completed, this season it looks to me like a forward of some sort is the need here and I really believe Anderson-Dolan really fits the Nashville culture.  Plus if it’s me, always go centre over wing.

Other Options: U.P. Luukkonen, Josh Norris

 

 

29. Alexei Lipanov (40)  Balashikha  MHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 165  Shot: L

Comparison: Mike Riberio

This would be a home run swing by the Rangers, who really need to re-stock the cupboard after years of dealing away their first round pick (four straight years without one).  Lipanov has tremendous skill, but needs to fill out and will likely find himself on the wing in the pro’s, although he’s no smaller than Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was when he entered the league.  At this point in the draft, for a team that doesn’t have much on the way, I wouldn’t mind this pick at all should it all break this way (trust me, it wont’).

 

 

30. Henri Jokiharju (24)  Portland  WHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 176  Shot: R

Comparison: Tobias Enstrom

One of these D-men I have ranked in the 24-27 range will fit perfectly with the Pens who love their undersized puck moving D, and I happen to feel like Jokiharju is the best of that bunch.  Unless they still haven’t given up on Derrick Pouliot, it appears the Pens have absolutely nobody on the way, and they have to be at least a little concerned with how Kris Letang will bounce back from his neck surgery.

Other Options: Connor Timmins, Marcus Davidsson

 

 

31. U.P. Luukkonen (31)  HPK  SM Jr. Liiga

Pos: G  Ht: 6’4.5  Wt: 196  Glove: L

Comparison: Pekka Rinne

What do you get the team that has everything?  I still really believe this team is winning the Stanley Cup this season, and if they do I do not recall a team winning the Cup while having one of the best farm systems in the league.  I don’t see a goaltender in that grouping though.  I know John Gibson is still real young, but you always want to make sure you have another guy coming, so Luukkonen could be a great fit.  But of course, they can wait on a goaltender if they prefer.  It’s a pretty big crap shoot in these spots when the draft is good.  In a weak draft, it only increases.

Other Options: Kole Lind, Scott Reedy

 

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

2017 NHL Draft: Top 50 Prospects May 5th

Just like back in February, allow me to start all of this off by saying that this is not shaping up to be a good draft.  There is a clear cut top two, but don’t expect either of them to be superstars.  No Matthews, no Laine, sure as hell no McDavid (and no Adrian Dater, Laine will never be the player McDavid is or will be).  And from what I understand at this point (and I make no bones about it, I learn as I go about these draft classes) this draft doesn’t have a ton of depth either.  Maybe a better draft than 2012 (which is probably the worst draft in the last 17 years), maybe better than 2007’s top ten (no first line centre’s or number one D-men were in that one), but it’s not looking pretty.

 

This is my first top 50 of the year.  Back in February I did a top 32, now I got my 50 and I really like the kids I have in there, but you really notice the hype level being down for so many of these kids.  It’s as if either one of the last two drafts were to simply start at ten.  But having said that, kids will undoubtedly emerge from this draft and fans will always want to look at how their team can or will improve.

 

As for what I look for?  I really look at trends and try to project where these kids may end up, so I put risers higher than most, and guys falling lower than most.  I also like rare, so I might value things like elite speed, elite size or right handed shooting centres and D more than most.  I’m starting to put more and more stock into birthdates.  So for this draft in particular, late 1998 birthdates I tend to pay more attention to their numbers from last season, and I also put stock into guys who are near the youngest amongst the draft class.  I’m also really into building a team not just compiling talent, so I put a big premium on centres and D-men over wingers.  Finally, I tier my prospects.  I’m not sure why more lists aren’t done this way (a few are), it makes much more sense to me and I have been told that this is how most NHL teams tend to look at things as well.  So pay more attention to the tier a guy is in and less as to what the number is beside his name.

 

Also did my mock draft today so if you’re interested on how the pieces may fit: http://soupsonsports.com/2017/05/05/2017-nhl-mock-draft-2-0/

 

So we good?  I don’t care, I’m getting started anyway, enjoy.

 

Tier One

1. Nolan Patrick  Brandon  WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 198  Shot: R

Comparison: Mark Scheifele

Most aren’t going to have him number one come draft day.  I know how this works.  Hischier will be the guy, Hischier will go first, but until I get what I feel is a good reason to move off this, I’m sticking with Patrick as my top guy.  The injuries are a concern no doubt, but we aren’t talking knee or back injuries, so I don’t believe the groin and collarbone stuff should be a long term concern.  Scouts, for some insane reason, think that if a guy’s skill level isn’t off the charts that he can’t produce big numbers.  He does all the little things that’ll help him produce big numbers.  He’s a kid who’ll be a coaches dream.  He’ll be a cornerstone piece for whichever franchise gets him.  Even if that’s only as a real solid 2nd line centre, he will still be a vital piece to anyone’s puzzle.

 

hischier2. Nico Hischier  Halifax  QMJHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 176  Shot: L

Comparison: Kyle Turris

One thing I noticed watching him first at the World Junior’s and then in the top prospects game, he’s bigger than I thought.  He’s a very legit 6’1.  Of course he’s slender right now, but being 6’1 he could get up close to 200 pounds without it hurting his wheels.  Great vision, great shot, can pick teams apart on the PP.  Neither of this top two are locks to be first line centres in the league, but as I said with Patrick which will be true here with Hischier, both are going to be vital pieces to any teams puzzle.

 

Tier Two

timothy-liljegren-rogle3. Timothy Liljegren  Rogle  SHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 191  Shot: R

Comparison: Kris Letang

Scouts can knock him down all they want, I’m not.  The reason I’m not is because the reason they’re knocking him down is for having mono this season.  It’s ridiculous.  As a friend said to me “he’s probably lost 20 pounds!”  Everyone will have their own comparisons, and they will seldom differ.  But I don’t know if I like a comparison I make in the rest of this piece more than Liljegren to Letang.  He plays really smooth, really mobile, terrific in the offensive zone especially running a pp, and ok in his own zone, but not necessarily going to be used in a shutdown role, of course that can change as his game develops.  Add in, size is similar, as is the hand he shoots.  As an Oiler fan, I’d kill to land him, as Liljegren is EXACTLY what the Oilers lack.  He’s exactly what a lot of teams lack.  With how difficult it is to find a high end RH shot D-man, I’d hope front offices wouldn’t be SO stupid to let a prospect like this slide to the 10-20 range.

 

vilardi4. Gabe Vilardi  Windsor  OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 198  Shot: R

Comparison: Ryan Johansen

I know the calling card on Vilardi is his playmaking, and everyone loves Johansen’s shot, so why the comparison?  Well, obviously the size, the right handed shot, to me the skating ability is very similar, but also Johansen has been much more of a playmaker since that 33 goal 2014 campaign.  And it isn’t as if Vilardi has a muffin of a shot.  So I believe this is a very fair comparison.  I can’t bring myself to rank him ahead of Liljegren even though I’m about the only one left who wouldn’t.  I still see Liljegren as having elite potential while Vilardi at this point projects as a high end second line centre.  But a RH shooting centre with real good size and isn’t afraid to mix it up physically…he’s going to be a great add for someone.

 

5. Cody Glass  Portland  WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 180  Shot: R

Comparison: Charlie Coyle

Glass is a tremendous skater, has real nice size, as always with me I would want to know how intelligent of a kid he is (not saying he’s not, I just have no idea). Size, speed, big numbers (94 points in 69 games), so back in January when I did my top 32 list I kept asking myself what the big flaw is?  Hell, he’s even a right handed shot which is a tougher find around the league.  Now, everyone seems to have finally noticed this kid is a really solid prospect.

 

mittelstadt6. Casey Mittelstadt  Eden Prairie  USHS

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 194  Shot: L

Comparison: Matt Duchene

Two big things could hurt him in some of the rankings over the next two months.  He’s a late 98 birthdate and those guys normally drop as the process goes on (you’ll see I talk about this a lot throughout this list).  Also going back to Eden Prairie won’t help.  He started the season in Green Bay of the USHL, and decided he wanted to go home.  Riley Tufte did this last year and while it’s far too early in his development, a lot of people have soured on him.  It’s tough because you try to juggle how a kid’s skillset will translate, their numbers this season, their past numbers, upside, bust potential, etc.  For Mittelstadt I have to think the skillset translates perfectly.  Speed, skill, willingness to play 200 feet, real good down low, I compared him to Duchene but as time goes on a Chris Drury type wouldn’t shock me in the least because of that willingness to play 200 feet already.

 

Tier Three

rasmussen7. Michael Rasmussen  Tri-City  WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’6  Wt: 215  Shot: L

Comparison: Jeff Carter

Just to tame the comparison a bit, Jeff Carter in that he skates real well (not as well as Carter) and he’s a shoot first centre.  Rasmussen was another kid I was bigger on than most around midseason, but unlike with Glass, he’s dropping for some because of the fractured wrist that shut him down for the season.  Still had 55 points in 50 games this season, and I think his combine testing and interviews could shoot him back up on a lot of teams lists.

 

8. Miro Heiskanen  HIFK  SM Liiga

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 170  Shot: L

Comparison: Brian Campbell

He was maybe the best player for Finland at the WJC this year, which means a lot less in 2017 than it did in 2016.  Last year they won it all, this year they humiliated themselves.  Still, it’s something, and far from the only impressive thing he’s done this season.  The kid is seeing pretty big minutes for HIFK which is pretty rare for a kid in his draft year.  He might have the best stick defensively out of any kid in this draft, and engages physically though at his size he tends to lose a lot more of those battles than he wins.  He provides everything you would expect a D-man ranked this high and at this size to have.  Speed, escapability, great passer, great vision, the only flaw other than his size for me is he doesn’t have a big shot.  He likes using a wrist or snap shot on the point, which can work just fine as it has for the Flames Mark Giordano.  Get the shot through and let your forwards to the rest.

 

9. Cale Makar  Brooks  AJHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 175  Shot: R

Comparison: Dan Boyle

Back in February I actually had him two spots higher than this while everyone was still slow on him.  After so many years of following and quite frankly studying the draft, you can see these things developing.  But now I’m starting to get worried that the hype is going too far.  He plays in the AJ.  Remember people going nuts over Joe Colborne and Dylan Olsen?  It isn’t exactly the toughest competition.  Makar is as flashy of a defenceman as there is.  He needs to prove he can play without the puck though.  That’s a vital trait for centre’s and wingers let alone D-men!  He will likely need in my opinion either two years at UMASS or a year at UMASS and at least a bit of time in the AHL, but if he goes top five, which at this point it sure looks that way, he easily could be rushed.    A right handed shooting D who can fly and has the confidence with the puck that this kid has is very intriguing.  It’s one of the toughest pieces to find in the NHL.  I’ve seen him play a lot, and get the intrigue.  But I have my concerns with what may happen with his development.

 

juusovlimkitricityamericansvkelownabtjfhmygp2_l10. Juuso Valimaki  Tri-City  WHL

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 204  Shot: L

Comparison: Wade Redden

What I really like about Valimaki is what I read about his play in his own zone.  The headliner with him will be his 61 points in 60 games played.  But Valimaki will get his nose dirty with the physical stuff, has a great stick in his own zone, and he already has the thick frame to hold up to the punishment.  His point totals suggest he’s flashy, but he really isn’t.  This kid is just very solid at both ends of the ice and doesn’t really have a flaw in his game although again something I’ll harp on to keep in mind throughout this list….late 98 birthdate.

 

Tier Four

tippett11. Owen Tippett  Mississuaga  OHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 202  Shot: R

Comparison: Joffrey Lupul

He’s very one dimensional.  He’s a lot like Keiffer Bellows in last year’s draft, who lots of scouts seemingly loved more than NHL teams did.  I never too high on these types of players early in the draft, but frankly it just goes to show you how thin this draft is.  Speed, shot, and decent size.  I fear he’ll never become more than a one dimensional player, but he has the tools to be more of a complete player than he shows right now.

 

necas12. Martin Necas  Brno  Czech

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 167  Shot: R

Comparison: Ales Hemsky

Another guy who is listed as a centre, but I’m not sure he’ll be a centre at the next level.  I compare him to Hemsky simply because no matter where he plays, he has that same level of confidence with the puck and is much more of a playmaker than a shooter.  He’ll need a year or two to pack on the pounds if he wants to play centre in the pros, but this kid could be an elite point producer in the show someday.  He’s been extremely inconsistent all season so expect to read a lot of varying opinions on him.

 

13. Elias Pettersson  Timra  SWE-Als

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 156  Shot: L

Comparison: Teuvo Teravainen

Right now he’s rail thin obviously, but a lot of scouts are in love with this kids upside because of that.  His numbers this season were off the charts good for a draft eligible kid in Sweden (though keep in mind he’s a late 98 birthdate).  Highly skilled, and plays a complete 200 foot game.  I’ve seen some question his toughness.  Tough to say when he’s this slight if he’ll get more brave so to speak once he’s up to 180-195 pounds.

 

tolvanen14. Eeli Tolvanen  Sioux City  USHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 170  Shot: L

Comparison: Mike Cammalleri

Originally had him lower than most, but much like with Glass and Makar, more people are seeing it the same way.  So a 5’10 winger, I am by no means suggesting he can’t play or produce in the NHL, but I just see it as an easy piece to acquire which for me hurts a players draft stock.  Also, I see Tolvanen as a one dimensional guy, much like the guy who I compare him to.  No doubt that one dimension is vital to an NHL teams success.  A pure sniper with a tremendous shot.  But something that gets overlooked by most when it comes to drafts is a players draft stock.  You can find this type of player for cheap in free agency, and they’re always available at the trade deadline.

 

Tier Five

foote15. Callan Foote  Kelowna  WHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 200  Shot: R

Comparison: Jake Muzzin

I can’t remember if I read it or heard it recently, but someone came out and said “he’s NOTHING like his dad was…”  That’s all I’ve ever seen on Cal Foote is that he plays mostly like his old man.  Even though I can’t remember who said that (I believe it was Craig Button), the main reason they were saying that is because Cal Foote put up points.  57 points in 71 games this season for Cal.  Out of curiosity I thought I’d look up what Adam had in his second year of major junior.  55 points in 61 games.  So by THAT logic, Adam was a better offensive defenceman at this point.  Point is that you can’t get too wrapped up in what their numbers are in junior, you have to ask yourself how will his game translate.  I don’t see Cal as a guy who’ll put up great offensive numbers (doesn’t have those kind of wheels or that kind of shot).  I do see Cal as a guy who can be a shutdown defender, much like his old man was.  If he can put up points as well, great!  But if you want different comparisons (which I did switch), I see him as a Jake Muzzin, Adam Larsson, Marc Methot, Marc-Edouard Vlasic type of guy.  All these guys CAN put up numbers, the latter two have had a few good offensive seasons, but first and foremost they’re shutdown guys.  Late 98 birthdate, I’m sorry you’re sick of that already.

 

hague16. Nicolas Hague  Mississuaga  OHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’5  Wt: 208  Shot: L

Comparison: Colten Parayko

You see a kid who is 6’5, 208 and you think defensive D-man who is basically a coke machine.  Hague is actually very active offensively, and it’s his defensive game which needs the work.  A lot of the Parayko comparison (other than his similar size) comes from his bomb of a point shot and how much he utilizes it.  I still have him relatively high even though McKenzie’s rankings had him dropped to the 20’s.  I wonder if that’s scouts once again believing that a guy isn’t intelligent because of his defensive zone play, but he was the OHL academic player of the year in 2016 which at least tells me at worst he isn’t a dumb kid.  If he cleans up the play in his own zone this kid is going to be a heck of a pick.

 

Tier Six

lias-andersson17. Lias Andersson  HV71  SHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 198  Shot: L

Comparison: Frans Nielsen

Versatility is what this kid is all about.  I list him as a centre, but he plays all three forward positions.  And while that isn’t a very sexy attribute for fans or media to discuss, coaches adore these guys.  On that alone Andersson is a pretty safe bet to play in the league someday soon.  I do question his upside though.  Not that being a 3rd line centre isn’t a need, I probably value it more than most!  But if that’s all he becomes, those aren’t the most difficult guys to find.

 

18. Nick Suzuki  Owen Sound  OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 187  Shot: R

Comparison: T.J. Oshie

He’s been trending up all season, and I totally get it.  Craig Button now has him 10th on his latest list.  I couldn’t go that high, but I totally get it.  Put up awesome numbers (96 points in 65 games, 21 points in 14 playoff games), but this kid is going to play in the show because he’s always engaged.  Has a tremendous motor.  I can see him being a guy who’ll do whatever it takes to play in the league someday.  I personally wouldn’t be concerned with being a top six guy, which can end up hurting a lot of players.  Wheels are good, can play in any situation (four short handed goals this season), size is fine, and a good shot.  So to me Suzuki is a very safe pick.  Some like him as a winger, but the more I dig on him, the more I find people believing he’ll be a centre in the show.

 

poehling19. Ryan Poehling  St.Cloud State  NCAA

Pos: C  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 202  Shot: L

Comparison: Steve Rucchin

I’m going back a ways and a little obscure with the comparison here!  Had a great Ivan Hlinka this summer, one of the best players in the tournament, but then has struggled making the jump to the NCAA this season.  Still, real good size, seems to be committed to learning a 200 foot game, good hands, good vision, high end speed is good, the foot speed is really the only concern but foot speed can be fixed.  There is no real reason to believe this kid can’t be at least a 3rd line centre in the NHL and definitely has the upside to be a solid 2nd line centre.  Out of all the centres in this tier, he definitely has the biggest upside.

 

20. Shane Bowers  Waterloo  USHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 178  Shot: L

Comparison: Brandon Dubinsky

Love this comparison.  I should point out, Bowers is a Canadian kid despite playing in the USHL, so don’t think I just compared a 6’1 American centre to another 6’1 American centre.  But if you think of the way Dubinsky plays it is extremely similar to the way Bowers plays.  He’ll be in a guys face all night, and as we’ve seen this season with Nazem Kadri, that is the type of centre all teams would love to have on their team.  Going to Boston University in the fall.

 

21. Robert Thomas  London  OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 185  Shot: R

Comparison: Daymond Langkow

Shocking, another London Knights prospect.  This kid is a major riser this season.  I have him higher than likely anyone, but his trending arrow is pointing straight North and it’s pretty rare that draft risers don’t continue to rise.  But also just look at the assets he has.  Awesome wheels, obviously not big but his size is fine, has that right handed shot which I never shut up about, and he’s a tremendous playmaker who can change his pace of play.  The more ice he’s seen this season, the better he’s been.  PPG player this season, and stayed pretty close to that clip in the playoffs with 12 points in 14 games.  Obviously not near the numbers that Nick Suzuki had being just three spots higher and the same tier, but Thomas didn’t see that kind of ice time and has a higher ceiling offensively in my opinion.

 

22. Kailer Yamamoto  Spokane  WHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’7  Wt: 153  Shot: R

Comparison: Cam Atkinson

He’s tiny, and I likely wouldn’t have him this high most seasons.  But this season, he’s worth using a first round pick on.  99 points in 65 games, he’s got a high motor, obviously a ton of speed and skill, and despite his stature is pretty willing to go anywhere on the ice.  Obviously he’s not going to dish out the punishment, but he doesn’t shy away from the corners or front of the net.   You have to keep in mind with him though that he’s only a few weeks younger in a few cases than last year’s picks (9/29/98).  His numbers, while great, weren’t really eye popping for an 18 year old season.  I really like the kid thus far in the process, and I believe he’s a very safe pick.  But I’m seeing now some guys ranking him in the top 15.  To me that’s going overboard because even though it’s a down year for the draft, there are still kids who play more vital positions who bring more to the table.

 

kristian_vesalainen123. Kristian Vesalainen  Frolunda  SHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 207  Shot: L

Comparison: James Van Riemsdyk

He’s been inconsistent this season, but tore up the U18’s last month.  Still for me, the big concern is the skating.  If he can clean that up, I like him a lot, but that’s a big ask.  He has that great size, and he’s great around the net (where the JVR comparison comes from).  But I just have trouble getting past his wheels and his motor, which obviously isn’t an original story for a big/skilled winger.

 

Tier Seven

24. Henri Jokiharju  Portland  WHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 176  Shot: R

Comparison: Tobias Enstrom

Another Finnish D-man.  He’s just a pure puck mover.  Great skater, passes the puck very well whether it be with zone exits or on the PP, and maybe his best attribute is how good of a stick he has defensively.  He isn’t real flashy, but he is very effective.

 

25. Erik Brannstrom  HV71  SWE J20

Pos: LD  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 173  Shot: L

Comparison: Sami Vatanen

Something Redline Report said about Brannstrom was a great point.  Why is it that Cale Makar is being touted as this amazing prospect, yet for some people Brannstrom gets looked at as a 2nd round guy?  There isn’t a big difference between the two players.  I’m still a little leery to shoot him up my rankings at this point because so many guys I respect are down on him.  But if there is any candidate to make a big jump in my rankings before the draft it is this kid.

 

26. Conor Timmins  S.S. Marie  OHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 180  Shot: R

Comparison: Mark Pysyk

I love that he isn’t your standard puck moving, won’t get his nose dirty type D-man.  He plays with aggression in the D zone, in addition to putting up good numbers, being a right handed shot (there it is again), and being a kid who can play in any situation.  Late birthday has him just a bit behind Jokiharju and Brannstrom for me, but he could be the safest pick of the three.

 

27. Urho Vaakanainen  Jyvaskala  SM Liiga

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 185  Shot: L

Comparison: Nick Schultz

It gets a little redundant after a while, but Vaakanainen is much like most other smallish puck moving D-men.  Great skater, moves the puck well (obviously), decision making is suspect at times, keeps a good gap defensively, good stick.  He’s a safe pick, I’d say the big question mark with him right now is how much can his offensive game grow because at his size you expect a guy who can put up at least 30-40 points from the back end.

 

28. Mason Shaw  Medicine Hat  WHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 5’8.5  Wt: 180  Shot: L

Comparison: Viktor Arvidsson

Tough to see him being this small and playing the middle in the pro’s so I’ve got him on the wing, but you’ll likely see him listed as a centre.  I’m always going to have a little bit of bias towards a kid who is local and played a lot of high end hockey in Lloyd.  But I’m even more bias towards a guy who plays this style.  Shaw plays in your face all night long, and is completely fearless on the ice.  Arvidsson was who I finally settled on for the comparison, but another I gave thought to was Brad Marchand.  I wouldn’t ever expect a career year like Marchand just had, but his second and third year major junior numbers are pretty similar to what Marchand’s were.

 

29. Kole Lind  WHL  Kelowna

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 176  Shot: R

Comparison: Alex Killorn

Good speed, good shot, and plays gritty.  Probably not shocking that these are the qualities a Saskatchewan kid possesses, I know.  But there is always a spot for a kid like this in the show.  Something that helps separate Lind from other kids around this range is also nothing of a shocker which is that Kelowna simply pumps out more quality prospects than anyone else in the WHL.

 

Tier Eight

oettinger_horizontal30. Jake Oettinger  Boston U  NCAA

Pos: G  Ht: 6’4  Wt: 203  Glove: L

Comparison: Braden Holtby

As weak as this draft is shaping up to be, the one that looks stronger than most years is goaltending.  Oettinger, Mike DiPietro, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, Ian Scott, Cayden Primeau, Keith Petruzzelli, Maxim Zuhkov, there are a LOT of goaltenders in everyone’s top 50-75.  Now, perhaps that’s great goaltending, or that’s a product of a weak draft so the attention tends to go more in that direction (it did in 2012).  Oettinger is worthy of this ranking though.  The kid has the size, has the athleticism, very technically sound and smooth, has phenomenal numbers, he’s everything you look for a goaltender to be.  Now, that’s physically.  Mental toughness is the most important component for a tendy which is why they are the biggest wild card’s to draft, which is why I dropped him to borderline 1st round status (for me anyway).  He was the 3rd goaltender for the States at the World Junior’s this year, though he never got a chance to play with Tyler Parsons and Joseph Woll both playing so well.

 

31. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen  HPK  SM Jr. Liiga

Pos: G  Ht: 6’4.5  Wt: 196  Glove: L

Comparison: Pekka Rinne

Size, athleticism, a Fin, I really honestly try to stay away from the stereotypical comparisons.  I can’t in this case.  He just reminds me exactly of Rinne.  Unlike Rinne however, he’s not a raw talent.  He already has shown that he’s pretty technically sound for his age and plays a composed style with great rebound control.  Sometimes you see guys with this skill set like Jonas Gustavsson or Anders Lindback who just can never get away from depending solely on their size and athleticism.

 

32. Jaret Anderson-Dolan  Spokane  WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 180  Shot: L

Comparison: Nick Bonino

One of my favourite comparisons.  Anderson-Dolan’s best trait is that he has one of the best motors in this draft.  He’s also one of the youngest players in this draft (9/12/99) and was over a PPG player this season for the Chiefs.  Great skater with a great 200 foot game who plays in your face all night.  Was very tempted to have him up in the group with Bowers and Thomas, but until I find out more an early 30’s ranking will do.

 

33. Marcus Davidsson  Djurgardens  SHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 191  Shot: L

Comparison: Mikael Backlund

It is so rare that you find a Swedish kid who doesn’t play a 200 foot game, it’s unreal the job they do developing their kids.  Like the Luukkonen/Rinne comparison, I just couldn’t not think of Backlund when talking about Davidsson, and I’m guessing this is the comparison most will have.  Needs to keep developing his lower body strength which will help his skating out a lot (not a bad stride, just a little weak) and isn’t very physical.  But he plays a very complete game.

 

34. Josh Norris  USA NTDP  USHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 192  Shot: L

Comparison: Shawn Horcoff

Norris can’t be left out of the group with Anderson-Dolan, and Davidsson.  And I’d say it’s pretty damn difficult to separate these three players.  All of them around the same size, similar skill sets, lefty shots, playing in three completely different leagues, it’s just tough to rank one ahead of the other in my opinion.  Same thing though, plays a good 200 foot game, will be able to score a bit thanks to the speed and energy he plays with, maybe has the lowest ceiling of these three centres, but tough to think he won’t play in the league at least as a bottom six guy.

 

35. Filip Chytil  Zlin  CZE-Jr

Pos: C Ht: 6’0.5  Wt: 178  Shot: L

Comparison: Rickard Rakell

I don’t consider Chytil to be in that group of centres, even though he is listed as one, simply because he’s different style of centre who is a little more of a risky pick.  Has become a big time riser as this season has wore on.  Looked great at the U18’s.  Great speed, vision, good shot, willing to go to any area on the ice, has some grit, plays a 200 foot game, really the only knock on him is going to be that he needs more time.  Watch for this kid to go late first round on draft day, as he really doesn’t have much of a flaw.

 

36. Isaac Ratcliffe  Guelph  OHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’5  Wt: 196  Shot: L

Comparison: Dustin Penner

As is the case with a lot of big players, Ratcliffe needs to work on his first step.  But at 6’5 and only 196 pounds, you could likely chalk that up to being a lanky kid who doesn’t have the strength to match his frame.  At top speed his skating is great for a player his size.  Hasn’t shown a nasty streak to this point, so doubtful that’ll ever come.  Was the leading goal scorer and second in points on a weak Storm team this season.

 

Tier Nine

37. Stelio Mattheos  Brandon  WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 190  Shot: R

Comparison: Mike Fisher

He’s dropped a bit this season, but I really like the kid in this early-mid 2nd round range.  Good size, natural centre, right handed shot, good wheels, everyone raves about the way he forechecks, I think he’s got a great shot at being a pretty valuable top nine forward in the league whether it be at centre or on the wing.  The ability is there and I believe a season back in Brandon with it being his team could do big things for his development.

 

38. Michael DiPietro  Windsor  OHL

Pos: G  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 196  Glove: L

Comparison: Marty Turco

I have railed against people who basically champion for the undersized kids in the draft.  It’s clear to me that they’re A) pulling for who they view as the underdogs, B) they don’t pay close enough attention to how GM’s need to build a team as opposed to just simply compiling talent, and C) pulling for all GM’s to move in this direction because it’s much more fun to watch.  It isn’t as if I disagree with the latter, but I also try to keep in mind what has been much more successful over the last 100 years in the NHL, which is size.  But in THIS scenario, I just believe DiPietro is getting drastically undervalued and it’s obviously because of his size.  Something that he has working for him this season though is Juuse Saros was exceptional, and he was a kid who the Preds debated drafting in the 4th round because of his size.  DiPietro had ridiculous numbers when I did my last list with a 2.15 G.A.A. and a .925 Sv%.  He slipped a bit afterwards, finishing with a 2.48 G.A.A. and a .917 Sv%, but still real solid and he’ll have the Memorial Cup to build on that.  He won’t go in the 1st round, might not go in the 2nd round, but this is my list and I like him in the 30-40 range.

 

39. Aleksi Heponiemi  Swift Current  WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 147  Shot: L

Comparison: Sebastian Aho

Obviously has some filling out to do, and didn’t have a great playoffs for the Broncos (0 goals, 8 assists in 14 GP).  In fairness to that though, he is a pure playmaker.  Look at guys like Joe Thornton, Nicklas Backstrom, Ryan Getzlaf, etc.  The one thing you’ll always hear about their game is the question “why don’t they shoot more?”  Heponiemi is the same way and will hang onto the puck sometimes too long looking for that seam.  Despite the size, I find myself really intrigued at how good this kid could be in a few years.  The weight is shocking, and worrisome that he won’t be able to get up to 175-185 that he needs to get to.  If he does, he should play in the league.

 

40. Alexei Lipanov  Balashikha  MHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 165  Shot: L

Comparison: Mike Riberio

There is another Russian who you’re probably wondering how I could have Lipanov ahead of him.  Well Lipanov still has a lot of filling out to do, and is a centre which goes a long way in my books.  He’s pure offence.  The 200 foot game needs a lot of work, but this is a kid who has a boat load of skill.  Really similar to Heponiemi (hence them back to back and in the same tier).  The Fin gets the nod because of less risk, Lipanov is likely the more talented of the two.

 

41. Scott Reedy  USA NTDP  USHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’1.5  Wt: 204  Shot: R

Comparison: Boone Jenner

Ignore that Jenner had 30 goals in 2016 with this comparison.  He’s a threat to move up on my list.  Right now I’m reading mixed reviews on his skating and hockey IQ, but this kids upside is tremendous.  His stick skills are his big claim to fame, but I also like what I’m hearing on his grit and playmaking abilities.  And we’ll see what comes out of the combine, but for now I got Reedy as a mid 2nd rounder.

 

Tier Ten

comtois42. Maxime Comtois  Victoriaville  QMJHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 199  Shot: L

Comparison: Milan Michalek

One of the drafts big time fallers from the start of the season.  I tried to resist back in February, but he’s just had a brutal season production wise and I can’t help but drop him into this range.  Still though, I can’t help but think back to 2015 and Nicolas Roy who had a very similar fall to where he was an afterthought heading into the draft.  Another kid like this was Anthony Duclair.  I’m not intending to just pick kids out of the Q, but that’s the two that stand out to me.  So for me personally, I would take a chance on Comtois in this range simply because it could have simply been a case of a kid putting far too much pressure on himself in his draft year.  When you just look at the skill set of size, grit, speed, and a great shot, you have to think he’ll still find his way into the league.

 

43. Grant Mismash  USA NTDP  USHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 186  Shot: L

Comparison: Jason Zucker

Fast and skilled kid who is a bit inconsistent, but when on he is active all over the ice.  Willing to get his nose dirty, of course this becomes a question mark once he gets to the AHL and NHL.  Is he going to start to shy away from it when facing bigger and tougher guys, or is he going to embrace it?  Tough to say how that mental part of the game will ever go for a player, but Mismash definitely has the skill set to be a very effective top nine winger in the league.

 

44. Sasha Chmelevski  Ottawa  OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 186  Shot: R

Comparison: Marcus Kruger

Congratulations to the 2017 OHL scholastic player of the year, Sasha Chmelevski.  I’m a sucker for kids who show a high IQ.  Of course that doesn’t mean it will translate to hockey sense, but I do believe it shows work ethic and maturity on top of intelligence.  Great wheels, good skill, his 200 foot game has shown a lot of improvement as the seasons progressed, and he’s a right handed shot.

 

45. Ostap Safin  Sparta  CZE-Jr

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’4.5  Wt: 191  Shot: L

Comparison: Brad Isbister

First, an explanation on the comparison.  If I said Todd Bertuzzi, it would be ridiculous expectations.  Isbister had that same talent, just didn’t have the drive.  These types of players are few and far between and the ones who pan out end up dominating, so it’s tough to find a middle of the road guy to compare Safin to.  If he were a Canadian kid I really wonder how much higher he would be in most rankings.  He loves to throw his weight around.  Would that change once over in North America, or would he then become more comfortable playing that style the rougher the game gets?  Foot speed needs work, but his high end speed is real good and has some good skill with a great shot.  The ceiling is really high with Safin.

 

46. Alex Formenton  London  OHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 162  Shot: L

Comparison: Drew Stafford

The biggest draw with Formenton is that he is going to be one of the youngest (possibly the youngest) player in this draft.  9/13/99.  Even age aside though, he’s very raw so the belief here is that in another two seasons playing for Dale Hunter, Formenton will develop into a very effective top nine winger.  He has great wheels and a great work ethic, so if you’re going to gamble on a bit of a project, he’d be a good one to bet on.

 

kostin47. Klim Kostin  Moscow  KHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 196  Shot: L

Comparison: Thomas Vanek

I’m going for “lowest you’ll see him ranked”, and I’m tempted to not have him on my top 50.  The big, and/or skilled, “unstoppable” Russian winger seems to bust more than any other type of player, and they’ve burnt their bridge with me.  Filatov, Burmistrov, Yakupov, Grigorenko, Nichushkin, I’m just done with these guys.  You will likely point out Tarasenko and Kuznetsov, of course there are always exceptions to the rule.  Added to the bust factor, and the flight risk, this kid missed half the season.  So I’m not touching him anywhere in the top 20 where most have him.  Mid 2nd round though, for me, he would be worth a shot.

 

48. Matthew Strome  Hamilton  OHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 206  Shot: L

Comparison: Greg Adams

Both his brothers have been disappointments to this point, he is the least talented of the three, and the book is that he has really heavy feet.  So while I would take a chance on him, I wouldn’t be taking that chance anytime early.  Big and skilled, so I understand a bit of the intrigue.  But again I’ll say it, the speed in the league has gone to another level.

 

Tier Eleven

49. Josh Brook  Moose Jaw  WHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 185  Shot: R

Comparison: Jason Demers

I cannot find a consensus on his skating!  Redline Report say “his fluid skating with light edging allows him to play effectively in all three zones”.  Future Considerations say his “overall speed game isn’t flattering”.  And I found some more and again, opinions were split.  I don’t get how that happens, but even with some of the negative things I read I still like the overall package.  Big frame, righty shot, high IQ, plays gritty in his own zone, even without great wheels I’m intrigued at this point in the draft.  If Redline is right and his wheels are as good as they claim, this kid has a chance to be a massive steal.

 

50. Eemeli Rasanen  Kingston  OHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’6  Wt: 216  Shot: R

Comparison: Tyler Myers

I understand that these types of European defencemen have a high bust rate, but at the same time how can you ignore a kid who plays nasty like Rasanen does and will become a better skater simply with time as he grows more into his body?  Most have Pierre-Olivier Joseph as a better prospect, yet Joseph and Rasanen had virtually the same numbers this season.  He has some upside offensively, and isn’t just a banger in his own zone but really does a great job controlling his gaps and angles.  At this point in the draft, you can definitely look at taking a home run swing like this.

 

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Fool me Once, Shame on You. Fool me Eight Times…

I didn’t know how I was going to start this blog today.  I didn’t want to jump right into the Caps and how flawed they are, and THEN the Oilers/Ducks game happened!  Wow!

 

On one hand, thank you NHL because you made this opening rant easy as F***!  On the other hand, it’s getting exhausting ranting about how disgusting NHL officiating has become.  I don’t recall a game where a team literally scored three illegal/blown call type goals.  Don’t get me wrong, the Oilers aren’t without blame here.  They got themselves into this mess by letting their collective foot off the gas to start that second period last night, but you can’t deny that the awful officiating crew cost them that game.  The NHL wants to talk about Perry’s foot on the first goal but that wasn’t the issue.  Talbot’s blocker was caught on Perry’s ass and that’s exactly where Talbot got beat.  Having no ability to review then cost the second goal, and of course the OT goal was a total cluster f*** by the linesmen which also caused the one ref to get in Larsson’s way, it’s unbelievable.  The Ducks, who I picked to win the Cup and in total fairness have been the better team in the series, now have by my count five goals now in the playoffs that the officiating crew have completely butchered.  This cannot keep up.  The NHL needs to wake the f*** up (lot of F bombs today, I apologize) and take an actual serious look at how their game is officiated top to bottom.  The old boys who want to tell you that “the refs don’t cost you the games” and just try to brush it off as an excuse are starting to get drowned out by fans and new aged media who are taking notice that refs are absolutely costing teams games.  I’ve harped on it for years now, and it is not in anyway an Oilers thing.  It’s a league wide issue and I along with many others have had enough of it.

 

Case in point…the first humiliating call made last night was late in the Pittsburgh/Washington game on T.J. Oshie…

 

So why don’t we all notice that the Washington Capitals are not a good hockey team?  Why do we miss all the flaws the Caps have?  Why do we constantly blame Alex Ovechkin for a problem that his GM’s have failed to recognize throughout his tenure with the Caps?

 

I’ve hammered on this for years now.  The Caps do not have a 1st line centre.  Nicklas Backstrom is fine.  He’s ok in his own zone, but he’s nothing great.  He isn’t locking down anyone’s 1st line centre.  He’s a real good playmaker, but let’s not kid anyone.  Playing with the games top sniper his entire career has made a major impact on his numbers.  I laugh at how Backstrom gets a total pass on his playoff performance.  His career playoff PPG number is the exact same as “playoff choker” Joe Thornton (0.77 PPG).  Numbers are far from everything, but when you aren’t putting up big numbers as a 1st line centre then you better be a great two way player, and he is not.

 

Then as their 2nd line centre the Caps run out Evgeny Kuznetsov who can’t play away from the puck.  Evgeni Malkin was kind of that guy for the Penguins too in 2009, but Malkin was so offensively gifted that he would (and from the 2nd round on, did) torch you if you were sloppy with your matchups as an opposing coach.  Kuznetsov is real good, but I don’t think he worries opposing coaching staffs.

 

So just to start, your 1st line centre should be your 2nd line centre, and your 2nd line centre should be playing the wing.  You can make up for that though if you have a great blueline…

 

Do they have an elite number one defenceman?  I’ll make this easy for you…nope.  John Carlson, very good, but he’s never moved past being a very good top four guy.  Combined with Karl Alzner, it’s a top pair, but if you don’t have an elite 1st line centre then you damn well better have that elite number one defenceman and they simply don’t.  Kevin Shattenkirk was a nice add, but Shattenkirk was sheltered in Ken Hitchcock’s system for years and he’s simply not good in his own zone…which is what they really needed.

 

Then you look at the overall makeup of the team, and it’s just as flawed.

 

They’re a big team.  Nothing wrong with that.  If I were a GM I’d make sure the team has a lot of size.  But while they’re big, they aren’t fast.  And while they’re big, they aren’t bruising, so they aren’t a team that is going to wear anyone down, which is the main reason you want to form a big team!  Big teams historically win in the playoffs because they wear down the teams they play.  So in a league in which the speed seems to have really increased over the last two seasons in particular, they’ve gotten slower, and they utilize their size advantage near enough.

 

And when have they ever made an effort to get some leaders in this room?  George McPhee did it once with Sergei Fedorov, and the Caps seemed to play a lot better in big moments when they had a guy like Fedorov in their room.  2009 they came back from 3-1 down against the Rangers, won game six in Pittsburgh facing elimination, they were good.  Fedorov left after that season, and I can’t recall when the Caps ever went out and got a guy who’d be considered a leader again.

 

But it’s all Ovechkin.  All you’ll hear about is how Ovechkin can’t win.  I am going to rip out all of my hair over this, even the body hair and I’ve got a lot of body hair if I let it get away from me! (TMI?)  The media just loves the easy narrative and the easy narrative is to blame Ovechkin and that is such a crock of shit.  And don’t get me wrong, last night he was terrible.  He said as much after the game.  But name the big name Caps player who was good.  This is far from all Ovechkin.  Look at the Oilers in these playoffs.  McDavid has been shutdown a lot of the time and they continually have guys stepping up.  It’s not like I believe Ovechkin is blameless in all this.  He has not done enough to improve his 200 foot game over the years.  But the lazy narrative is to point the finger at Ovechkin gets so old and to me makes it look like you don’t know hockey.

 

I’ve always said the Crosby v Ovechkin comparison is absurd.  If you can’t figure out that Ovechkin is the best SNIPER and not the best PLAYER all these years, then you’re an idiot.  I don’t know what else to tell you.  People covering MLB don’t claim that Mark Trumbo is better than Mike Trout.  NFL guys aren’t telling you that Julio Jones is better than Aaron Rodgers.  Yet the majority of people who cover the NHL have tried telling you for years that Ovechkin is better than Crosby.  If Ovechkin ever at any point had Crosby’s overall game, he’d play centre.  The reason just about all of these one dimensional players play the wing is because they don’t have a well rounded game.  For some reason, this is completely lost on the media, and even some people in the league (look at some of the mistakes in the draft over the years).

 

Then they make Ovechkin out to be the Alex Rodriguez of the NHL.  A-Rod literally couldn’t hit during the MLB postseason.  Ovechkin has 89 points in 94 playoff games, a breakout game away from being a PPG guy.  Five points off.  Patrick Kane for example, is three points off that pace during his career in the playoffs.  Does Ovechkin have Toews or Keith to play with?  No, he has a media perceived 1st line centre, and a media perceived number one D-man.

 

Ovechkin is up there with Mike Bossy and Brett Hull as three of the greatest snipers of all time.  Bossy has four Cups.  He also had Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin and Billy Smith.  Hull was in the exact same situation in St. Louis as Ovechkin is.  Hull goes to Dallas where he has Mike Modano, Sergei Zubov and Ed Belfour…shocker.  He wins a Cup.

 

I liked the Leafs to give the Caps fits in the first round, and while I knew the Leafs had a speed advantage, I wasn’t sure it would matter much or that it was as big of a gap as I’d thought.  But it became clear to me early on in that series.

 

So the autopsy finds that we have a second line centre pretending to be a first line centre, a top six winger pretending to be a second line centre, a number two defenceman trying to be a number one, a number three defenceman trying to be a number two, no leadership in the room and no speed in a league that’s become noticeably quicker in the last three seasons.

 

Last night, they got royally screwed on that completely bogus high stick call and it’s disgusting that the league doesn’t ACTUALLY look to crack down on dives (give them a game suspension and save your “that’s far too harsh” BS because if they’re getting an automatic suspension for a dive then guess what players are going to quit doing)  but you had no Sidney Crosby and you’re facing a 3-1 deficit and you give that piss poor of an effort?  I knew this was coming again this season, knew the Pens would knock them off, and yet I’m still just so sick of it all.

 

I’m sick of the media beating the piss out of Ovechkin when he’s doing his part, I’m sick of them not noticing all the flaws the Caps have as a team, and I’m sick of them continually believing that this Caps team should be better than they are just because they dominate in the regular season.  They’re like Nail Yakupov.  Had enough speed and talent to dominate junior, but can’t do shit in the pros.  The Caps have enough speed and talent to dominate the regular season, but can’t do shit in the playoffs.

 

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That was Quite Impressive

Is the Ottawa/Boston series THAT boring, are does it just feel that way in comparison to the Washington/Toronto and Edmonton/San Jose series?  Those latter two are (or were in one case, which of course I’m getting to) pretty clearly the best two series of the opening round.  Then I watch Ottawa/Boston and I just couldn’t care less.  Is it just me?  It’s not only boring hockey, but two teams that just feel about 10,000 miles away from the Cup and neither have a mode of transportation to get there.  I shouldn’t want any series to end, but yeah, it wouldn’t break my heart if we didn’t get a seventh game there.  The Caps and Leafs….give me seven, but I’ll talk about that beauty another day.

 

So I said Oilers in seven prior to the series.  Couture and Thornton came in hurt, Sharks even before those injuries were badly stumbling (I believe it was the night prior to the Couture injury they were blown out by the Stars), and it felt like the Oilers were the much better team coming in, however the Sharks had such a massive experience advantage that you knew it’d be a long series.  So while I can say “I called it”, I really only called the end result.  That series was NOTHING as to what I expected.

 

I figured the Oilers would pump the Sharks in game one.  The young Oilers are so fired up that they’ll look to win the series in one game and the veteran Sharks will somewhat let them and comeback to punk them in game two.  That I guess was the case for the first period, and then as you know the Sharks toyed with the Oilers the rest of the game.

 

Ok, this isn’t good.

 

The Oilers quite literally looked terrified as the game got tight in game one, so if that’s the case then how are they going to play now with even more pressure on to win game two.  Naturally, they dominated….

 

They win game three 1-0.  SERIOUSLY?!  Of the two teams, they’re winning a road game 1-0?!  And of the two teams, the Sharks are the team winning game four 7-0?!

 

In game five a team has a 3-1 lead only to let it slip away and lose in OT.  Ok, well that must have been the young Oilers.  Game six, a team pushes hard early on which leads to a 2-0 lead, there is a hard push the remainder of the game by the team trailing in the series but it comes up short.  This shit is ass backwards!!

 

And to put up with the way that series was officiated was frankly incredible.  You and me probably could have handled it better, but I thought the Oilers were awesome outside of the frustration in game four.  I know I bitch and moan about the officials a ton, but I rarely ever feel like they cost teams games, and it’s not just in the Oilers favour I complain.  It’s the consistency that rattles me.  Having said all this, in the last two games, the Sharks were given gifts both on what wasn’t called against them, but what got called on the Oilers.  I personally counted 7-1 (being generous on calling the Maroon penalty, I’ve never understood why a goaltender has a hall pass while outside his crease), yet the PP’s were 2-1 I think?  I probably have seen it that blatant before, but I don’t recall seeing it that blatant of an advantage for the “veteran team”.  Dave Randorf hinted at it a lot during the game five broadcast.  Nick Kypreos finally brought it to light in the first intermission last night.  It was horrendous, and the Oilers fought through it.  I said to my buddies I was watching with, it was fitting that the series ended with McDavid getting very obviously hauled down, with the puck, no call was coming yet again….and he still scored.

 

Now I’m not about to get all “fan boy” about this (although I’m sure a lot of you believe I had my Oilers goggles on big time with the ref rant…fair enough).  The Ducks were my pick to win the Cup and I’m definitely sticking to that.  Randy Carlyle is going to be comfortable with any of his top three centres on the ice against McDavid.  I know analytics guys don’t think faceoffs are overly important, but you have the number one team in the league in the dot against the 30th team in the league in the dot.  The Ducks are also (at least publicly) saying that they expect Cam Fowler and Sami Vantanen to both be back this series, Hampus Lindholm left game four against the Flames but he is supposed to be ready for game one.  So to sum that up, their blueline which is likely the deepest in the league is now going to have all hands on deck.  The one advantage it looked like the Oilers would have most of the season over the Ducks was in goal.  Well in three of the four games John Gibson was outstanding, and when called upon, so was Jonathan Bernier.

 

Having said all of that, the Oilers definitely can win this series.  I think it’s going six or seven either way, and the Oilers have proven they can win the tight games, they can win without McDavid being a force, they look completely comfortable with playoff hockey.  Remember, this lineup has nine kids most nights (most of whom make up their core) who are 24 or younger.  This team apparently won this last series with a pretty nasty flu bug going around their room.  Could have contributed to McDavid’s struggles, we know contributed to Draisaitl’s struggles early in the series, knocked out Klefbom for a lot of game six, and who knows who else it hit.  We have yet to see this Oilers team best in these playoffs.  So while I believe the smart money is on the Ducks, I definitely don’t believe it’s anything lopsided.

 

But even if they got swept by the Ducks, would anyone be overly pissed?!  Forget what anyone else thought, most of us Oilers fans didn’t see this team making the playoffs this season let alone knocking off the defending Western Conference champs.  It is all gravy from here.  It’s next season that this team will be one of the favourites to win the Cup.  For now they’re playing with house money!

 

Add to this, rumours suggest we are getting an answer as to where Spencer Foo will be signing, perhaps as soon as this is posted, and not only would he be a great addition to the Oilers, but most seem to feel the Oilers are the favourites to land him.  I watched this kid play a few times in Bonnyville, and his wheels alone are going to make him a top nine guy in the league.  Intelligent, skilled, plays with some balls, Oilers fans would really like him.

 

Last year I wrote this piece: http://soupsonsports.com/2016/02/25/darkest-before-dawn/

 

Can you believe that was just 14 months ago?  This time last year, fans around the league were petrified the Oilers were about to win another 1st overall pick.  Now, this team is in the second round of the playoffs with a relatively legitimate shot to win the Cup (though again, I don’t believe they’ll get past the Ducks, and if they get past the Ducks, the Preds are a brutal matchup, and then if they actually got to the final, they’ll likely see the Pens who are…well…the Pens).  Incredible turnaround, which I know isn’t lost on any of you.

 

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Top 5 Conn Smythe Worthy Performances

Before I start this, we have to go through a few ground rules.  For starters, these are all guys from teams who never won the Cup.  Second, I was born in 83.  And while I can go toe to toe with anyone in the media on the history of hockey, I can’t really judge anyone’s playoff run pre 1984 or so.  Not that I’m able to remember much before 1989, but I do know all about the 84-88 playoffs thanks to my Oilers fandom.

 

Third, goaltenders aren’t on this list, because the fact is that if I can do a whole list on goaltenders.   It happens so often, that it really isn’t that special of a feat.  Still, let’s give honourable mention to those goaltenders: 2016 Martin Jones, 2014 Henrik Lundqvist, 2013 Tuukka Rask, 2006 Dwayne Roloson, 2004 Mikka Kiprusoff, 2001 Martin Brodeur, 2000 Ed Belfour, 1999 Dominik Hasek, 1998 Olaf Kolzig, 1996 Jon Vanbiesbrouck, 1994 Kirk McLean, 1985 Pelle Lindberg, etc.

 

It’s really ironic here because it’s a lot of guys who were on Canadian teams.  Not really my fault, there’s been a lot of Canadian teams in the last 23 years who went on dramatic playoff runs only to lose in the seventh game of the Cup final.

 

T-5. 1997 Eric Lindros

I guess this is a top six really because I kick things off with a tie.  I still remember how much he got CRUSHED for the sweep against the Red Wings.  What was Lindros supposed to do?  They pretty literally didn’t have a goaltender who could stop a puck.  Lindros was incredible through that entire run.  Only until he had to go against Centres like Yzerman and Federov (easily two of the top two way centres in hockey at the time), an OK D-man in Nicklas Lidstrom, and the best coach of all time was he slowed down.  In the moment nobody realized just how great that Red Wings team was, and Lidstrom in particular was just then emerging as one of the games elite defencemen.  But Lindros dominated the playoffs to that point, and still put up three points in four games in the final, he just simply didn’t get any other help.  26 points in just 19 games, and much like a Milan Lucic today there was so much more to Lindros than what the numbers say.  If you were shutting him down on the scoreboard, then he was going to completely dominate you physically.  Unfortunately, Lindros was never better than during this run.  But was it ever a great run!

 

T-5. 2002 Peter Forsberg

Yep, didn’t even play a game in the final and he’s on this list…he was THAT good!  Although we should be really honest here, in 2002 even the Eastern media wasn’t shy to say that the Eastern Conference was disgusting and would pose zero threat to whoever came out of the West, so game seven between the Red Wings and Avs in the West final was pretty widely regarded as the Cup final.  27 points in just 20 playoff games in an era where you didn’t score.  The guy missed the entire regular season, and his first game back which was game 1 for the Avs vs LA in the playoffs the guy didn’t have an ounce of rust.  Four game winners in that run, two of those were OT winners.  I was and always will be a massive Joe Sakic guy, and always got annoyed when people suggested Forsberg was the better player of the two.  But in the spring of 2002, Forsberg was the best player in the world without a doubt.

 

4. 1994 Pavel Bure

Another honourable mention at this point goes to Trevor Linden.  It was so tough to leave Linden off of here because it felt like he had more dramatic moments during that run for the Canucks, in particular game seven against the Rangers where he sniped twice.  That shorthanded goal he scored in the second period with the Canucks trailing 2-0 was all heart.  He was such a deadly player early in his career.  But the fact is that they don’t get to game seven, or the final, or the conference final, or get past Calgary without the Russian Rocket.  Started off slow with just three assists in the first four games.  Didn’t score (might not have had a point) in the first four games against the Flames, had only one goal going into game seven.  He did a total 180 after that.  Two goals in that game seven including that OT goal.  He had 15 goals in 18 games from game seven on.  He was simply unstoppable, and incredible to watch.  Not as good as what McDavid is today, but for those people who didn’t get to see Bure in his prime he had that similar game breaking speed with the puck that McDavid has today, which is so rare to see.

 

3. 1993 Wayne Gretzky

This was a run that’s well remembered simply because pre 2012 being the only season the Kings made the Cup final.  What seems to be somewhat forgotten is not only how tremendous Gretzky was during that run, but how surprising it was.  Gretzky was always good with the Kings, but he never seemed to be QUITE what he was with the Oilers.  Understandable, those Oilers teams had a lot more talent and he started to run into a lot of injury trouble.  He was out the first half of the 93 season due to back surgery and there was talk of him possibly retiring, which made his 93 playoffs all the more amazing.  40 points in just 24 games, three game winners including the controversial OT goal in game six against the Leafs in the conference final which sent that series to a seventh game, and we all know what Gretz then did in game seven.  Gretz had a couple of pretty good runs with the Blues and Rangers in the 96 and 97 playoffs, but this was the last one of his prime.

 

2. 2004 Jarome Iginla

Hate the Flames or love them, this team was pretty difficult to dislike, and a large reason for that was the way Jarome Iginla played during this run.  Iginla didn’t have the amazing numbers some of the other guys had (different era), but Iginla would get it done in vital moments seemingly every time.  Game seven vs Vancouver he got both Flames goals in regulation, then really was responsible for the Gelinas OT winner with his work in front of the net.  The series against the Sharks was slipping away.  Sharks had won games 3 and 4 and were coming home.  Early in game 5 they went to the pp, and it was Iginla who stepped up with a tremendous solo effort for a short handed goal which completely turned that series around.  In game 5 against Tampa in OT, it’s known as “the shift” in Calgary where Iginla, helmetless and all, completely took over the game which led to an Oleg Saprykin’s goal and the Flames were a win away from the Cup.  And of course here I’m only talking about his goals.  He was physical, his fights with Matthias Ohlund, Derrian Hatcher and Vincent Lecavalier were tremendous and always gave the Flames a big spark, Iginla was a freaking beast in 2004.  He played the way we all would play if we had that kind of talent.

 

1. 2006 Chris Pronger

Flames fans won’t like me for this, but take it as a compliment to your 2004 team Flames fans.  The 2006 Oilers would not have been anywhere near a Stanley Cup in 06 had it not been for Pronger.  He should have been the Conn Smythe winner in 06 over Cam Ward.  I recall Pierre Lebrun having that same sentiment after game seven.  21 points in 24 games (as a defenceman), was playing 30 minutes a night matched up against guys like Datsyuk, Thornton (in his MVP season), Selanne, and Eric Staal and was completely shutting these guys down.  Three guaranteed hall of famers, and Staal sure looked as though he could become one in 2006 (still will have a shot).  Keep in mind that I never saw Bobby Orr play, but I can say I never have seen another defenceman at the level Pronger was in 06.  He was just simply incredible, seemingly never making a mistake.  Most Oilers fans will never forgive him for what happened in the days following this run, but when you think of 2006, you think of Pronger and how tremendous he was.  He elevated an average team that spring to a team that had it not been for the Dwayne Roloson injury probably would have won the Cup, and there for Mr. Pronger wouldn’t be on this list.  But it happened, and he is, and this Oilers fan will just have to accept it one of these days…

 

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2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview

April is the best month, isn’t it?!  If you love sports, it is.  Combine the Final Four with MLB opening day, the Masters, the Stanley Cup playoffs, the NBA playoffs, and the NFL draft with the fact that the snow is melting (or in the case here…has melted) and you can rock your flippy floppies around town again, it’s good times!

 

But obviously this year, especially in Alberta, it’s a lot different.  Five Canadian teams.  It’s only the second time since 1991 that both the Flames and the Oilers have made the playoffs in the same season.  It’s the first time since 1990 that the Flames, the Oilers, and the Leafs have all made it in the same season!  Here is another one for you…it’s the first time since 1993 that three Canadian teams have had home ice advantage.  So all these years of being near the bottom of the standings look as though they’re about to really pay off for the Canadian teams.  The Oilers and Leafs look as though they could be on a collision course in the next few years to meet in the final, and in my opinion the Jets and Flames won’t be far behind.

 

But that’s in the years to come.  This is 2017, and it’s getting depressing to look three and four years down the road so let’s just focus on what’ll happen in the next two months.

 

Anaheim vs Calgary

This is going to sound bad.  This is going to sound like a bitter Oilers fan.  I don’t care, because I know that isn’t at all what it’s about and it’s purely from a hockey POV.  The Flames are the weakest team in the West and to me don’t look like a threat to anyone in the conference.  This team hasn’t beat a playoff team with their starting goaltender on regular rest (not on the 2nd half of a back to back) in regulation time since NOVEMBER 23rd!  The media (Eastern media specifically) can rave about how they’ve looked the last few months all they want, the truth is that they’ve simply won the games they should win.  Now, in fairness, that’s not easy to do.  But the fact that they aren’t beating good teams at their best unless it’s in a gimmick format, that’s a terrible sign.  I also don’t think the Flames do anything that would intimidate another team.  Their skill is good not great, they’re not a big team, they have real good speed but not elite speed, the blueline is real solid but not overwhelming, and the goaltending is solid but nothing special.  Then you have the Ducks, who look terrific top to bottom.  I know, they’ve choked in game seven a lot, but don’t you have to take them seven before that becomes a factor?  The Ducks either match everything the Flames have, or better them.  I might have said the Flames are better in net about a month ago, but not the way I’ve seen Gibson play lately.  I just really don’t like them as a playoff team, and out of all the teams they could have played the Ducks are likely the worst matchup of all.

Ducks in 5

 

Edmonton vs San Jose

A lot of this depends on how healthy both Logan Couture and Joe Thornton.  I believe both are going to play, but I can’t see either of them being near their normal level of play.  If they are, the Oilers are in big trouble here.  The Sharks have a boat load more experience, and match the Oilers speed, size, goaltending, basically it’s the same matchup as Anaheim/Calgary.  But if those two players are what I expect them to be which is shells of there former selves, then the Sharks are at a major disadvantage in this series.  Home ice is pretty vital for the Oilers here just because they’ll be able to keep Vlasic away from McDavid a lot more often.  I know McDavid had success against him and Braun in the regular season, but Vlasic is the type of guy who can raise his game.  But while that’ll be the matchup everyone watches, I believe the X factor here is Brent Burns.  Possibly the best PP weapon in the league this season, and the Oilers PK was horrendous at times in the final two months.  Mind you, the Sharks had the worst PP of all 16 playoff teams, and Burns cooled off dramatically in the final month.  But as an Oilers fan I really fear the PP vs PK matchup here.  Another thing Oilers fans have to know going in, the officiating is going to be disgusting.  Not because it’s the Oilers, but it’s a veteran team vs a youthful team.  It’s humiliating that Elliotte Friedman can go on the air and talk about how a teams strategy will be to take as many penalties as they can against a player and in hockey circles this is accepted, and then they wonder why scoring is down and they have trouble growing the game.  ANYWAY…Tough time picking this one, because I THINK it’ll be the Oilers, but I just hope I’m doing this with the head and not the heart.

Oilers in 7

 

Chicago vs Nashville

I doubt many will have this one the same, but I’ve been hot and bothered by the Preds since about midseason (maybe I’m going a LITTLE far by saying I’m hot and bothered by them).  When everyone is going for the Preds, they’re damn good!  For me, something just doesn’t feel right about this particular Hawks group.  Full disclosure, outside of the Oilers, I’m pulling for Chicago in the West.  I’d kill for a Hawks/Pens Cup final.  But, I can’t put my finger on it, but I just don’t trust this Hawks team.  Zero adversity all season long, and they really drew the short end of the stick getting Nashville instead of St. Louis in my opinion.  I feel like the Preds can matchup with the Hawks everywhere, and the big X factor in this series is Pekka Rinne.  He’s not near as consistent as he used to be, but still has the ability to raise his game to an elite level.  If he does, and I’m saying he does, it’ll be the big reason the Preds pull off the upset.  As a bit of a Hawks fan, hope I’m wrong.

Preds in 6

 

Minnesota vs St. Louis

Not at all a sexy matchup here, but a very interesting matchup.  The Wild for 2/3 of the season were the top team in the West and looked like they would cruise to top spot in the Central.  In the last third of the season, Devan Dubnyk resorted back to Oilers Devan Dubnyk and the Wild crashed hard down the stretch.  Meanwhile, until the Ken Hitchcock firing the Blues looked as though they wouldn’t make the playoffs.  Since Mike Yeo has taken over, the Blues, Jake Allen in particular, have been great.  So which way do you go here?  I’m sure most will take the Blues.  I’m taking the Wild.  The Wild analytically, and I go back and forth on how much stock I put into analytics, but analytically the Wild are still a great team, they just aren’t getting saves.  The Blues are now getting saves, but are you going to trust Jake Allen in a pressure spot?  You’re going to be that person?  Ok, good luck with that.  Go watch these two teams in the playoffs two years ago and tell me how Allen looked.  How about the 2010 World Juniors, how’d he look there?  This kid is going to have to prove himself under pressure, and until he does I won’t trust him.

Wild in 6

 

Montreal vs NY Rangers

What an awful prize for the Habs to win for finishing first in the Atlantic.  I just don’t see how the Habs pull this series out.  Goaltending is pretty much a wash, the Rangers are quicker, the Rangers have as good of a blueline, are stronger down the middle, I think Claude Julien is an elite coach but so is former Habs bench boss Alain Vigneault.  I’m sorry to any Habs fans out there reading this, but I’m just not seeing it.

Rangers in 6

 

Ottawa vs Boston

I know the Sens managed to sweep the Bruins in the season series.  I know the Sens are the much quicker team of the two.  But the Bruins have so much experience, and so much high end talent that I really think in the end that is what’ll win out.  Plus, we don’t know just how healthy Erik Karlsson will be, and if he’s not 100% (I doubt he is) I’m not seeing how the Senators can win it.

Bruins in 6

 

Washington vs Toronto

This one might be the biggest shocker pick of all.  Ok, no.  That’ll be the Preds pick.  But the amount of games I go with here might surprise you all.  I just think you have a classic case of one team having all the pressure in the world, not to mention a brutal history, vs a team that nobody expected to be here and simply couldn’t have less to lose.  The Caps could easily sweep this series, so it’s a risky bet putting it out there that I believe it’ll go seven, but I just really believe that with how well coached this Leafs team is and that refuse to die attitude they seem to have, I really believe they’re going to be a very tough out for the Caps.  Washington is still going to take the series, and it might be good for them to get a bit of a scare early on.  You think of a team like the 89 Flames who could never get over the hump, looked like they had an easy first round matchup against the Canucks that season, and it went to OT in game 7 before they advanced.  Point is, these kind of things happen and I’m playing a hunch that the Leafs will push them to the brink.

Caps in 7

 

Pittsburgh vs Columbus

The biggest problem here is that I don’t think the Blue Jackets have another gear.  I believe we’ve been seeing their best all season long, and that’s great, but A) they likely have now emptied the tank and B) the Pens have a whole other gear to go to, yet still finished ahead of Columbus.  Having said that, I do think the Jackets are going to be a miserable out for the Pens.  Torts can coach in the playoffs, and knows Mike Sullivan well.  The Jackets have an edge in goal no matter who the goaltender is for the Pens.  They’ll start with Matt Murray, but he’s been inconsistent of late so don’t be surprised if Marc-Andre Fleury re-emerges.  Another thing you can’t forget is how miserable Brandon Dubinsky makes life for Sidney Crosby.  Still, despite all of this, and no Kris Letang, I don’t see the Jackets pulling this one out.  The Pens are just simply too talented and too experienced for the Jackets to handle.

Pens in 6

 

Conference Finals

Anaheim vs Nashville

Not at all a sexy matchup, but has the makings for a great series.  A rematch of the first round a year ago that saw the Preds pull a massive upset to everyone….but me (although maybe I shouldn’t brag, I think I got like three of eight right in the first round last year, and this season I think I took the Kings and Lightning in the final…)  Two teams that have a lot of size, a lot of speed, and a lot of skill.  At midseason I loved the Preds, and still do.  But as we’ve moved towards the playoffs, I’ve been seeing a Ducks team that pretty literally has it all and will be a nightmare for teams to matchup with.  Randy Carlyle has won in the playoffs too, and while I’m not sure he’s a better coach than Bruce Boudreau, I do believe that mentally it’ll help the Ducks simply not having Boudreau’s postseason shortcomings hanging over their heads.

Ducks in 6

 

Pittsburgh vs NY Rangers

We saw this one in the first round last year as well, and it wasn’t nearly the series Anaheim/Nashville was.  I kept waiting and waiting and waiting for the Rangers to show up, and wow did that ever not.  At that point, the Pens had been a massive underachiever since 2009, and the Rangers…NEW YORK…was seemingly always forgotten despite a lot of recent success.  Yet here we are a year later and even without Kris Letang I still like the Pens to come out of the Metro, and I only like the Rangers to get this far because the Atlantic is a bit of a joke.  The Rangers on paper matchup with the Pens pretty good.  But having seen that demolition by the Pens last spring I have a hard time believing it wouldn’t happen again

Pens in 5

 

Stanley Cup Final

Pittsburgh vs Anaheim

Not the matchup I’m hoping for, but I think this has the makings of a tremendous Stanley Cup final.  The Ducks can match the Pens speed, have a better blueline should Cam Fowler make it back (and now that the Pens won’t have Letang), and the biggest thing of all is that the Ducks are one of the few teams in the NHL who can matchup with the Pens down the middle.  Kesler vs Crosby, Getzlaf vs Malkin.  You might then say “yeah, but the Pens kill you with the Kessel line”, but the Ducks have recently been running a 3rd line of Antoine Vermette with Rickard Rakell and Corey Perry!  It would be a total pick’em series in my opinion.

Ducks in 7

 

Conn Smythe – Hampus Lindholm

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

They Got Lucky, Just Like All Other Good Teams

It was a nice scene last night at Rogers Place.  It was long overdue for Oilers fans to see their team finally back in the playoffs.  I know I went over it all just yesterday, but from June 19th, 2006 on, this organization, city, and region has taken way more shit than anyone ever deserved.  A little anti-climatic as most of the players and fans focus is on the race inside the Pacific division and much bigger games upcoming both tomorrow night and Saturday, but it was still a great moment and nice to see the monkey finally off the organizations back.

 

But of course in today’s day and age where bitterness and fake toughness is king, there was a complete hack media member who took to Twitter last night in a desperate attempt to troll Oilers fans.

 

I’m not going to put up the tweet, I’m not going to mention his name even though I’m sure you know who it is, but also this is not near as much about the tweet as it is with a perception in general.  Had it not been for Darcy McLeod and another buddy of mine responding to it, I wouldn’t have seen it.  I don’t follow hacks on twitter, and trust me this has been my opinion of this particular guy LONG before last night.  I don’t waste my time with people who I know have pretty much zero respect from their peers and are looked at as being purely schtick.  I can promise you that you’ll get far better hockey insight reading anything I’ve wrote than the garbage he comes up with, and I’m far from an egotistical guy.  But a lot of Oilers fans were pretty pissed off about the tweet, so I’m going to poke an extremely large hole in not only that tweet, but the opinion which has reigned around the NHL since April 18th, 2015.

 

I will never be the guy who will say the Oilers weren’t lucky to win the Connor McDavid lottery.  But a ton of people outside of Edmonton can’t wait to tell Oilers fans that.  Anytime this squad is going to win anything, we’re going to see and hear people who are bitter/butt hurt/hate their lives/hate themselves/whatever have you, who will go to this.  So allow me to list off other teams who “got lucky”.

 

I’ll start with the one I put on Twitter last night to the hack Devils fan who inspired this piece.  The Devils won three Stanley Cups in large part due to having Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer.  I think it’s safe to say that without both those guys, the Devils wouldn’t have won a Cup.  The Devils were literally given Scott Stevens as compensation for the Blues signing Brendan Shanahan away in 1991.  The Devils “lucked” into getting Scott Niedermayer thanks to the Leafs trading them their 1991 1st round pick in 1989 for Tom Kurvers.  Did Lou Lamoriello know in 1989 where the Leafs would pick in 1991 when doing that trade?  Or was he lucky that in 1991 the Leafs were awful?

 

We all know how the Pens got lucky a few times, didn’t they?  Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby, you can even throw Evgeni Malkin in there.  The Pens got pretty lucky didn’t they?  Craig Patrick apparently did nothing to win those back to back Cups in 91 and 92, it was all luck.  Ray Shero did nothing to win his Cup in 09.  Sheer luck.  Take those banners down Pens fans!

 

The Chicago Blackhawks.  Three Cups in six seasons.  They won the Patrick Kane lottery, and to that point had been terrible for eight of the previous nine seasons.  Went from 5th to 1st in the lottery, and the only reason they were 5th and not 6th, was because the Calgary Flames discovered they had clinched the 8th seed in the West during the 2nd intermission of their 81st game against the Oilers.  The Oilers came back to win the game 3-2 to bump the Hawks down a spot in the standings.  Not only that, they got Jonathan Toews the year before.  Was it not lucky the Pens chose to take Jordan Staal instead of Toews?  Toews was ranked ahead of Staal for most of that season and easily could have been the 2nd overall pick.  Wow, that whole Hawks mini dynasty thing really was just all luck I guess.

 

No fan base loves to play “the Oilers just got lucky” card more than Calgary Flames fans, a lot of whom have this belief that they’ve simply worked real hard and have earned everything they’ve got in recent years unlike those insanely lucky Oilers…

 

In 2011 nobody in Calgary knew who the hell the Flames took with their 4th round pick.  Johnny Gaudreau being a college kid could have very little to do with the Flames organization during his time at Boston College.  He played exactly zero games in the AHL.  The Flames didn’t get “lucky” that he turned into the player he has?  That was just all amazing drafting and developing by the Flames hey?  John Weisbrod and Jay Feaster knew that Gaudreau would become a 1st line player in the NHL and also knew that they could wait until exactly the 104th pick in the 2011 draft to take this 1st line player did they?  No luck involved?  What about the Hurricanes passing on Sean Monahan for Elias Linholm?  Not lucky?  All a genius plan devised behind the scenes?  They let Mark Giordano go to Russia, yet there was no luck involved in getting him back and then developing into a top pairing defenceman?  It’s weird, teams usually don’t lose guys who they know are going to be top pairing defencemen to the KHL.

 

Speaking of late round gems, how about the New England Patriots?  They got a QB in the 6th round once upon a time, 199th overall in the 2000 NFL draft.  It wasn’t lucky that they picked him?  They knew he was going to be the greatest QB of all time did they?  No luck involved?

 

The Chicago Bulls in 1984 had the 3rd pick in the NBA draft.  Did Rod Thorne and Bulls management at the time know something the rest of the NBA didn’t and that they were about to draft the greatest basketball player of all time?  They didn’t?  So we can just ignore six titles in eight years because the Bulls got lucky to get Michael Jordan so they actually didn’t win anything.  I got that right don’t I?  Seems to fit that same logic.

 

It might be the worst argument going in sports right now that the Oilers are where they are now because of “luck”.  Two of the four 1st overall picks have been moved out.  One of the others, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, has yet to live up to his potential.  This team isn’t in the playoffs this year without Cam Talbot, Andrej Sekera, Patrick Maroon, Adam Larsson, Kris Russell, go down the list of all the moves Peter Chiarelli has made.  No doubt, McDavid is the biggest reason they’re in this position and will soon be a contender, but not a chance this team is anywhere near this position without a lot of the tremendous moves that Chiarelli has made.

 

And Bob Nicholson brought in Chiarelli.  And Kevin Lowe is the reason Daryl Katz knew Nicholson and then hired Nicholson.  So by the same logic as the “the Oilers just got lucky” people, I’m going to say that Lowe is to thank for all this.  Because he made them awful for all those seasons, he was the reason Katz brought in Nicholson, who brought in Chiarelli, who brought in McLellan, etc, etc.  So Lowe made it all happen, isn’t that right “the Oilers just got lucky” people?!

 

The truth in all this is you have a lot of bitter people about this because they don’t like change and they don’t like being wrong.  The Oilers were the whipping boy for most of these people, and now they had their whipping boy taken away.  This is a psychological habit for a lot of people.  When they see someone looking to better themselves or go further than others believe they could or should, they’ll look to hold those people back.  They’ll mock and trash those people because consciously or subconsciously they don’t like the change and they don’t like seeing people improving themselves.  They could point at the Oilers and laugh, and proudly say “see, told you there rebuild wouldn’t work”.  They took pleasure in it not working, and in large part that was thanks to the Oilers who marketed their rebuild like no other in league history to that point and had a lot of arrogance about how it wouldn’t fail.

 

But the actual truth is…as much as “the Oilers just got lucky” people don’t like to hear it…is that it has worked.  It took a lot longer than it should have, but in 2010 the cry not just around Edmonton but around the league was that bottoming out was the way to go because you couldn’t get players like Crosby, Toews, Stamkos or Tavares unless you went that route.  Well the Oilers were down there in 2015, just as everyone in 2010 said they needed to be to get that kind of player.  And let’s not forget, they were the one team in 2015 that wasn’t openly tanking to move up in that draft.  The Sabres, Coyotes and Leafs weren’t the least bit shy about getting as many ping pong balls as they could.  While they were doing that, the Oilers were, much to my dismay, helping the Flames put a nail in the coffin of the LA Kings.

 

Could you not argue that the Oilers were “unlucky” in 2010, 2011 and 2012 that the clear cut 1st overall picks were two wingers and an undersized centre?  By no means am I saying management wasn’t a complete joke, the amateur scouting wasn’t a complete joke, but had those three 1st overall picks been Ekblad, McDavid and Matthews they sure as hell wouldn’t have taken so long to get their rebuild off the ground.

 

Give me ANY TEAM IN PRO SPORTS who have had success, and I can point to a very fortunate bounce that they got to get them to that point.  Get the fuck over it ladies and gentlemen.  The Oilers are good.  They got extremely lucky to win the pick that netted them Connor McDavid, just like any team with any kind of success got extremely lucky somewhere along the line.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

Time for Reflection

I don’t know if there is a more nostalgic person than me.  I’m just a complete sucker for pretty much anything in the past.  And since my mom joined Facebook it has been easy for me to figure out where I get this from.  It’s a trait that can be annoying to some I’m sure.  I’m constantly looking back on what’s been done and how I miss seemingly everything that’s happened.  It’s made worse by how good my memory is.  But for pieces like this, it’s pretty useful, and with the Oilers on the brink of officially qualifying for the 2017 postseason I believe it’s the perfect time to reflect on some things.

 

June 19th, 2006.  We all know what that date represents for the Oilers.  That ended up being one SHITTY night.  Since that night, the Oilers fan base has been laying on their backs, spread eagle, and having fans from the other 29 teams in the NHL take turns punting them in the balls with steel toed boots on.

 

How many false starts did we see in the last 11 seasons?  In April of 2008 if you told an Oilers fan that Tom Gilbert would be basically shit the rest of his career we would have laughed you out of the room.  Not even hesitated.  I met up with a friend at a Jays game in early April 2008 and at the time this friend was VERY close to the team.  And I recall us talking about what Gilbert’s contract would be (as he was an RFA that summer) and he said “I don’t know, but they better get that kid locked up…he’s DAMN GOOD”.  He was the guy they were going to build around on the blueline.  6’3, terrific skater, RH shot, already proving he could log big minutes, 13 goals and 33 points while playing in a shutdown role for the second half of that season, and only 25 years old.  How could he miss?

 

Another D-man I always freak over is Ryan Whitney.  And for all the disgusting decisions Oilers management made over the years, you don’t get to be quite as bad as they were without some horrendous luck too.  Whitney (and I apologize if you read my stuff, I bring this one up a ton) had 27 points in the first 35 games of the 2011 season.  The guy was a rock on D as well.  He had three years left at a four million a year cap hit.  He was just hitting his prime at 27 years old.  He was becoming the top pairing defenceman he was always projected to be.  And then in game 36 against Buffalo he injures his foot and never again gets close to being that player again.

 

Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Robert Nilsson.  This is it!  These are the kids who are going to lead us on deep playoff runs.  We just missed the playoffs in 2008, but those days are done because this trio is going to lead the Oilers to the top.  Wrong.

 

Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson (was soon to be just Paajarvi).  In the spring of 2010, sure the organization had sunk to the bottom.  But that’s what needed to happen.  Now, with these three kids leading the way, the Oilers are going straight to the top.  Hell, they even have another slick kid coming over from Sweden named Linus Omark!  Only straight up from here, right?!  Nope.

 

2013, and those three (unfortunately for Mr. Omark not four) have now been joined by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, and Justin Schultz.  Imagine that, all things were equal in bidding for Schultz and he picked EDMONTON!  Finally, the Oilers were back!  If this wasn’t confirmation, I don’t know what will be….Wrong again.

 

It really did take some VERY SPECIAL awfulness to completely fuck up things to the degree the Oilers did over all these years.  I knew it was bad in the moment, but as time goes by it just looks worse and worse and worse.

 

What can you say about the 2014 and 2015 seasons?  This fan base had already gone through what were supposed to be the worst times, and then the team got so much worse.  It was pretty literally depressing.  It had become clear that a losing culture, something the organization fearful of from the start of the “rebuild” in 2010, had become embedded in the team.

 

I don’t know how so many of you stood by the team the way you did.  I never stopped being an Oilers fan at any point.  It’s what I was born into, and I don’t quit on things, and even though I’m not much of a jersey wearer these days and do my best to look at everything objectively….I’m still an Oilers diehard, it’ll never leave me.  But having said that, I definitely got to a point where I was pretty apathetic to them.  I remember when I wrote my most read piece in November of 2014 which absolutely tore this organization to shreds for their incompetence, fans were still in their corner and coming to their defence.  The building was still packed, sure tickets were easy to come by and we were seeing empty seats on a regular basis, but for an organization which had not only been awful, but always found a way to make things even more embarrassing than they had to be like when Katz wrote an apology letter in the newspaper or Lowe told Mark Spector how he had six rings (as a player) so he knows a thing or two about winning, a lot of you STILL kept at it.

 

The nightmare really ended April 18th, 2015.  Sure, another tough season was still to come, but the reality was that it was a fresh start.  I might get more pissed now than I did that night and/or the days after when I go back and read or listen to what was being said from outside the market.  “They don’t deserve him”.  Remember that?   Edmonton and Northern Alberta in general were just supposed to be a laughing stock for fans and media, they weren’t supposed to have anything good go their way.

 

I know none of you have forgot any of this, but I feel like it’s good to reiterate it.  The Oilers got INSANELY lucky to get Connor McDavid, and any success this team now has that’ll always be the go to for any detractors.  Who cares.  Fact is that this fan base deserved something good to break their way for a change.  As big of a break as landing McDavid?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But they deserved a big break and he was it.  If you’re a fan of another team reading this right now, and you disagree with that, let me ask…did your teams superstar force a trade and piss all over your city in the process?  Did your team trade the face of their franchise the same day they were honouring and retiring the number of one of the greatest players to ever play?  Did your team have an owner who was more worried about having his buddies work for him than winning hockey games?  Did your team have a 1st overall pick in one of the worst years to have it?  Did your team have a near flawless attendance record for 10 seasons while not making the playoffs once?  Hell, they only even came close in two of those 10 seasons!

 

Oilers fans have gone through so much shit to get to this point.  The point being that they clinch a playoff spot with a win tonight.  And while I know it’s anti-climatic seeing that we all know they’re in and the real focus is on the seeding.  But take a moment to remember all of what’s gone on.  The first time they’ve had a game to clinch a playoff spot since April 13th, 2006.  Most of us didn’t know what Facebook was and thought Myspace was the next big thing.  Let all that sink in.  Enjoy it and embrace it because if you’re an Oilers fan there are very few sports fans on this planet who deserve a little success more than you.

 

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