Every year, there's a prospect or two whose combination of hockey sense and a prototypical NHL frame make for intense discussions at the draft table. This year, look no further than Frederik Gauthier.
Scouts have raved about his complete, 200-foot game and total commitment to excelling in all three zones. For a young kid, the emerging skills and towering 6-foot-3 frame are a rare commodity and you have to think some team (if one hasn't already) will fall in love with the kid and do whatever it can to move up the draft board.
In his first season with Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL), Gauthier was a standout player. He scored 22 goals and totaled 60 points in 62 games, and didn't miss a beat despite a broken jaw that caused him to miss two weeks of action in the fall. Gauthier is considered to be a bit of a project because of an occasional bout with inconsistency, but there's no questioning his hockey sense.
He has a knack for being around the puck at the right time and being on what coaches call "the right side of the puck." At 18 years of age, that's quite the compliment to be paid. Scouts have projected Gauthier as the ideal second or third-line center that can play against any of the opposition's lines, but preferably in a position to shut down offense.
(photo credit: Hockey's Future)
Valentin Zykov's first season in North America gave scouts and their NHL clubs a birds-eye view of the game-breaking talent that's put him high on many draft boards.
After one year spent with CSKA's second-division (junior) team in Russia as a 17-year-old, Zykov opted to bring his game to the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) and prepare himself for a possible career in the NHL. A strong performance for Team Russia in the 2011 World Junior A Challenge put him on the radar for this year's draft, but gaining experience in North American was deemed the best route for his career.
In one season with Baie-Comeau in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Zykov was responsible for a lot of flights to Quebec - and there weren't many nights when scouts left the rink disappointed. He played 67 games this year for the Drakkar and scored 40 goals and totaled 75 points, and was named rookie of the year in the QMJHL as a result.
Zykov was also named the top rookie in the entire CHL with goal and point totals that were unsurpassed by any players in the WHL, OHL or QMJHL.
Selecting two goaltenders at last year's NHL Draft in Pittsburgh (Oscar Dansk and Joonas Korpisalo) was merely a continuation of what came before. Former GM Scott Howson made a deal for Bobrovsky earlier that week, then signing Curtis McElhinney and retaining Anton Forsberg with an entry-level deal helped round out the goalie stable.
The club also has University of Maine goaltender Martin Ouelette in its system. Allen York, who has spent time in the ECHL, AHL and NHL over the past few seasons, is scheduled to become a restricted free agent on July 5. Qualifying offers must be submitted by NHL clubs to RFAs by July 2 this year.
Got all that? Alright, let's continue.
The first item of business for John Davidson and Jarmo Kekalainen is to get Bobrovsky signed to a new contract, Davidson said, but there's more work beyond that. A fantastic season with Springfield (AHL) earned McElhinney a new one-year, NHL contract with the Blue Jackets but there are no guarantees he will backup Bobrovsky in the fall.
Ever wondered what it's like inside the Blue Jackets interview room when hockey operations is talking to draft prospects?
NHL Network is taking you behind-the-scenes and giving you an inside look at NHL teams and what goes on at the annual Scouting Combine, which was held in late May in Toronto.
In the video clip above, Jarmo Kekalainen and the amateur scouting staff have their combine sit-down with top prospect Seth Jones of the Portland Winterhawks. The Scouting Combine Recap show will air on NHL Network on Saturday, June 29 at 5 p.m. and Sunday, June 30 prior to the network's live Draft pre-game show.
It has been a lengthy and at-times frustrating rehabilitation process for Ryan Murray, but the finish line is finally nearing.
Originally scheduled be to ready for "game action" sometime in early-to-mid July, Murray's injured shoulder is getting back to normal. Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson told BlueJackets.com this morning that Murray's shoulder is "back to 100 percent" and he's doing very well in offseason workouts, and should be completely ready for training camp in September.
Murray is also scheduled to be in attendance at the Blue Jackets' annual development camp, which will take place in mid-July at the OhioHealth Ice Haus attached to Nationwide Arena.
"He's doing very well," Davidson said. "By the time September comes around, he's going to be a well-conditioned young man."
Murray has spent the first part of his offseason back home in Saskatchewan, but his workouts will shift to Columbus for the balance of the summer after development camp. The Blue Jackets' first pick (second overall) at the 2012 NHL Draft in Pittsburgh, Murray suffered a season-ending shoulder surgery in November during a game against the Victoria Royals when he was captain of the WHL's Everett Silvertips.
I don't profess to being a numbers guy (the journalism degree on my desk is evidence of that), but over the past few months I've become keenly interested in advanced metrics in hockey. Basically, we're looking at patterns and how hockey, like other sports, can be measured based on those patterns and evaluated accordingly.
As the movie "Moneyball" proves, just about anyone - including a grumpy MLB GM played by Brad Pitt - can be convinced that numbers, most often, don't lie. That's kind of where I am, and after a few days delving deep into the numbers presented by Gabriel Desjardins on behindthenet.ca, a site described as "the premier site for advanced hockey statistics and analysis."
It didn't take long for me to realize that's 100 percent accurate. This stuff is fascinating.
Basically, this series of posts on CBJ Today will be filled with my findings and analysis from these numbers and how they pertain to the Blue Jackets' 2012-13 season. How big of a factor Sergei Bobrovsky's play was, what areas need addressed in the offseason and other questions can hopefully be answered by taking a closer look at these metrics.
With that being said, here's where we will start: match-ups.
Speed, skill, power. If you're an NHL team looking for an instant impact and potential franchise player, those characteristics top the list - and Nathan MacKinnon has all three.
He's unanimously considered to be the most explosive offensive player in this year's deep draft class and MacKinnon stands a very good chance to be a difference maker at the NHL level right out of the chute. MacKinnon has ideal NHL size, is a powerful skater and can finish plays in the blink of an eye. Simply put: he's the total package that teams look for in high-end draft picks.
There's virtually no way MacKinnon slides out of the top three of this NHL Draft, so either the Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers or Tampa Bay Lightning will be feeling pretty good about themselves walking off the stage with MacKinnon in tow. Obviously, we don't know what kind of trades will take place at the draft so another team could jump into the fray, but let's assume for now that these teams remain where they are.
As part of a dynamic 1-2 punch with the Halifax Mooseheads, MacKinnon and teammate Jonathan Drouin (also a projected top-three pick in this draft) completely re-energized the Mooseheads franchise and brought an exciting, offensive style of hockey every single night.
Winning the Vezina Trophy is an enormous accomplishment for 24-year-old Sergei Bobrovsky, but a new opportunity born from change may be even bigger.
Coming from an organization which signed him out of Russia and helped put him on track to become a solid, young NHL goaltender, Bobrovsky perhaps needed a change of scenery and a new challenge to jump-start his career after things got stale for the Flyers following the 2010-11 season. It was deemed time for change between the pipes and Bobrovsky was no longer "the guy."
He continued to work - that's pretty much his hallmark, if you talk to goaltending observers around the sport - and push forward in pursuit of getting another crack at being a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL. When he was traded to the Blue Jackets a year ago, his life and career completely changed.
Perhaps exactly what Bobrovsky needed was to take the reins of the Blue Jackets and be part of the club's extensive remake that began at the 2012 NHL Draft, selecting Ryan Murray at No. 2 overall and selecting two other young goaltenders to form a solid pipeline for the organization. A few weeks later, it was the acquisitions of Nick Foligno, Adrian Aucoin, and then the blockbuster deal with the New York Rangers that brought three players and a first-round draft pick back to Columbus.
The re-shaping was in full swing, and when John Davidson came aboard in October, there was a new confidence and attitude instituted.
Near the top of Darnell Nurse's list of attributes is an athletic pedigree.
His mother, Kathy, was basketball player and dad Richard was a wide receiver with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League. Oh, and his uncle is former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb, making for quite the lineage when it comes to performing on the field.
The standout defenseman for the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds just completed his second season of junior hockey, both with the Greyhounds, and the 2012-13 season was his strongest to date. Nurse netted 12 goals and 41 points in 68 games played, leading the Soo defense in a season that was anything but ordinary: the Greyhounds fired coach Mike Stapleton on Dec. 3 and replaced him with Sheldon Keefe, who brought a track record of success and experience with Hockey Canada with him to the club.
The Greyhounds qualified for the OHL playoffs for the first time in three years in 2012-13, and a large part of that was due to stability on defense that allowed for a strong puck possession style of hockey. Nurse is known as a solid skater with a high hockey IQ, and a guy that can shut down offense as well as make plays of his own.
He's a monster, too: Nurse checks in at 6-foot-5 and a shade under 200 lbs., giving him an NHL-type frame that he's only going to further grow into. Scouts have regularly compared his game to that of Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber, and those lofty comparisons are not without merit.