Also, his girlfriend was in town to see this goal and another one in his NHL debut. The already deep Blues are that much better now.
Also, his girlfriend was in town to see this goal and another one in his NHL debut. The already deep Blues are that much better now.
St. Louis Blues draft pick Jori Lehtera, a former Peoria Riverman, shows you how to get in down in the KHL.This took some serious nerve.
When the National Hockey League gets back to business, several once-prominent centers will strive to regain their old scoring form.
The Colorado Avalanche have players in that category, Matt Duchene and Peter Stastny.
Back in 2010-11 Duchene broke out with a strong 27-goal, 40 assist season. He followed that by scoring 16 points in his first 21 games last season. But then a knee injury derailed his campaign. He worked his way back onto the ice, but produced just one assist in 12 March games. He switched trainers during the off-season, got back into top shape and then put up numbers in Europe during the lockout. It will be interesting to see how all the offensive pieces coming together in Colorado this season.
Stastny was a point-per-game scorer until the last two seasons, when he slipped to 57 and 53 points. Not surprisingly he became the subject of many trade rumors, especially with center Ryan O’Reilly on the climb. He scored just 21 points in his first 37 games last season, then picked up his production to 32 points in his last 42 games. The addition of physical winger Steve Downie for the final quarter last season (13 points in 20 games, plus-9) gave Colorado new life up front.
Here are some other centers looking to get back on track:
Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks: Remember when he was a Top 10 center in the league? That seems like a long time ago to fans in Anaheim. Getzlaf averaged 1.09 points per game during a four season span. So how does a player like that fall to 11 goals, 46 assists and a minus-11 rating? Coach Bruce Boudreau hopes to solve that riddle while trying to re-ignite this formerly explosive offense. Getzlaf scored four goals in October, then scored just seven more all season. He scored at a 54-point pace in the first half and a 61-point pace in the second half. Yeech.
Travis Zajac, New Jersey Devils: He scored 25 goals, dished 42 assists and earned a plus-22 rating during the 2009-10 season, He appeared to be a star on the rise. Then he slipped to 13 goals with 31 assists and a minus-6 rating the next season and then missed most of last season after tearing his left Achilles tendon. He scored 14 points in 24 playoff games and figures to center a scoring line this season.
Alex Steen, St. Louis Blues: The departure of Jason Arnott via free agency could move the versatile Steen to center on one of the top three lines. He could also man a point on one of the power-play units. Alex scored 17 points with a plus-14 rating in his first 24 games last season, but a concussion ruined his campaign. He recovered during the offseason and spent some of his lockout time in Europe. In his previous two full seasons he scored 98 points.
Derek Roy, Dallas Stars: He was scoring at a point-per-game pace in Buffalo two seasons ago until he suffered a torn quadriceps muscle. He never got back to full speed last season as the big-budget Sabres struggled for much of the season. Roy was especially bad on the road, scoring just 16 points in 40 games while earning a minus-16 rating. Then he moved on to Dallas . . . and almost immediately underwent shoulder surgery. The lockout gave him a chance to heal and the talented Stars will give him every chance to revive his playmaking ability.
Jeff Carter, Los Angeles Kings: After scoring 115 goals during a three-year span for the Flyers, he scored just 21 for Columbus and Los Angles last season – and six of them game in two games. He showed a bit more life during the playoffs, scoring eight times in 20 games. Perhaps flanking his buddy Mike Richards on a full-time basis will revive his finishing skills. Also, Carter makes $6 million a year. If he doesn’t pick up his play he could become the target of a compliance buyout in the next collective bargaining agreement.
St. Louis Blues prospect Ty Rattie scored Canada’s lone goal against the United States in the semi-finals of the World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia.
Goaltender Jordan Binnington, another Blues prospect, played the second half of game after Canada fell behind 4-0. Both he and Rattie should benefit from their participation.
But hockey fans in the Great White North were pretty sour after the U.S. stunned Canada 5-1 to advance to the gold medal game. The Canadians will play for the bronze medal, which was definitely NOT their goal coming in.
Losing, Rattie told reporters after the game, is “the worst feeling in the world.”
What went wrong?
“They came out quick,” Rattie told reporters. “We didn’t. We didn’t respond until the third – and that was too late.”
Team USA coach Phil Housley, a former Blues defenseman, earned a big victory in his second career. One of his key performers was Harvard forward Jim Vesey, son of a former Blues and Boston Bruins forward by the same name.
“We got the start we wanted, scoring the all-important first goal,” Housley told reporters. “We wanted to dictate the pace of the game early and we were able to do that and then it carried into the second period. We're going to enjoy this win tonight and then start thinking about the gold medal game tomorrow.”
Blues fans can look forward to seeing Rattie and Binnington in future Blues training camps. Both players factor into the organization’s plans.
Rattie is a small but persistent scorer. In his last 99 games for the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League, he has scored 168 points.
If he can add the strength needed to fend off NHL checking, he could rise to the highest level. He has a great feel for the game and a knack for converting opportunities around the net.
Rattie batted in his own rebound for a shorthanded goal Thursday, catching the Americans anticipating a stoppage in play. That was the only the Canadians got all game.
Binnington, backed up Malcolm Subban in the tournament, is trying to follow Jake Allen’s path from major junior hockey to the American Hockey League. He could earn a depth role for the Blues organization next fall.
For more on the Blues at the WJC, check out my story at STLToday.com.
Young winger Vladimir Tarasenko, back in the KHL during the lockout, taking the puck to the middle to score a goal. Some day NHL fans will see this.
John Davidson accomplished every goal but one since coming back to the Blues. He didn’t bring the Stanley Cup to St. Louis.
Still, Blues fans will remember his seven-year run with tremendous fondness. Davidson, a Blues goaltender back in the good old days, restored the franchise’s credibility within the league and within this market.
He build such an excellent hockey operation that new owner Tom Stillman judged saw his position – and the hefty salary affixed to it – as a luxury he couldn’t afford.
Stillman is setting out to make the Blues financially stable. Part of his plan was to streamline the front office, which was a bit top heavy with good hockey men.
Sometimes a top executive can surround himself with too many good people. That is what Davidson did during his seven years as president of hockey operations.
So now will move on to new challenges. If another team doesn’t hire him in an executive capacity, Davidson could resume his highly successful career in broadcasting.
He left that career for the challenge of running NHL hockey operation. When David Checketts and Co. bought the Blues, Davidson answered their call to run the team.
The Blues were at rock bottom. Bill and Nancy Laurie pulled the chute as owners and ordered team president Mark Sauer to dump salaries.
The franchise sank to dead last in the NHL as a result. That left a massive rebuilding job for Davidson and his new owners.
Davidson developed a masterful plan. The team would build from the goal line out, getting stronger in goal and on the blue line. They would rebuild largely with youth and look to build a consistent winner in the long haul.
For more on Davidson's regime, check out my story on STLToday.com.
Goaltenders are an unpredictable lot by nature. For every reliable Martin Brodeur, there are three Jose Theodores all over the map from year to year.
This season experts project repeat greatness from Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers, Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings and Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators. Each was stellar last season and each is expected to carry on.
But check out the disparate fantasy rankings of some other key NHL netminders:
Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis Blues: NHL.com ranks him fifth in the league, but Dobber Hockey has him at No. 19 in its latest rankings and Yahoo! Sports has him at No. 29. The latter two ratings reflect his anticipated time share of Brian Elliott.
Ilya Bryzgalov, Philadelphia Flyers: Yahoo! Sports believes his strong regular season finish will carry over. Hence the No. 3 ranking it gave him. NHL.com (No. 13) and Dobber Hockey (No. 16) had nagging doubts about him.
Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings: He has been brilliant in his career. He has also been mediocre. Dobber Hockey had him sixth, but Yahoo! Sports had him No. 10 and NHL.com had him down at No. 18.
Roberto Luongo. Vancouver Canucks (for now): At the moment he finds himself in a time share with upstart Corey Schneider. Rather than become a pine time player, he is willing to move back to Florida in a trade. Dobber Hockey still lists him as the 10th best goaltender for this season, but NHL.com had him at No. 16 and Yahoo! Sports had him at No. 30.
Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins: His playoff collapse created a mixed vote for his 2012-13 projection. Dobber Hockey had him fourth. NHL.com had him at No. 7 – but Yahoo ranked him 19th.
Jonas Hiller, Anaheim Ducks: Banking on this team to pick up where it left off, NHL.com gave him a solid No. 10 rating. Dobber Hockey ranked him 13th and Yahoo! Sports had him at No. 27.
Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary Flames: Dobber Hockey loves this veteran and ranks him fifth. Yahoo! Sports (14th) and NHL.com (20th) were less enthusiastic.
You get the idea. After the top few, even the guys who project statistics for a living are guessing.
Top 2012 NHL Draft pick Nail Yakupov has extreme skill and boundless confidence. He is fully equipped to make a big impact as a rookie.
The Edmonton Oilers will surround him with elite offensive talent while playing a go-go style. So how can this not turn out well?
Nail scored 170 points in 107 games in the Ontario Hockey League while generating comparisons to former Russian star Pavel Bure. He should follow the lead of Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to quickly blossom into a 50- to 70-point scorer.
With his family moving to Edmonton to support him, his transition to the NHL should go more smoothly. This should be quite a show.
Other potential breakout forwards include:
James van Riemsdyk, C, Maple Leafs: The second overall pick in the 2007 draft has never scored more than 21 goals in a season. That could change this season as Toronto converts him into a scoring line center. JVR scored 16 points in his first 19 games last season in Philadelphia before a series of injuries ruined his campaign. During the 2011 playoffs he scored seven goals while putting 70 shots on goal in 11 games. If he can play the pivot, he will create serious match-up problems coming down the middle.
Brayden Schenn, C, Flyers: He appears ready to graduate into a major offensive role after scoring 12 goals in 54 games last season. His reunion with big brother Luke – acquired from Toronto in an off-season trade – should bolster his spirits. “For me and Luke, we’re pretty close,” Brayden told the National Post. “To get a chance to play with each other on the same team, it’s pretty surreal. It’s almost like we can’t even believe it.”
Vladimir Tarasenko, W, Blues: At the age of21 he already has four years of KHL experience. He scored 23 goals in 54 games last season for Novosibirsk Siber and St. Petersburg SKA. He was captain of Russia’s gold-medal winning team in the World Junior Championships two years ago. The Blues see him playing on one of their three scoring lines and bidding for power play time as well.
Cody Hodgson, C, Sabres: In Vancouver he was stuck behind Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler. In Buffalo he could emerge as the No. 1 center in the wake of Derek Roy’s departure to Dallas. Hodgson didn’t get a point in his first 10 games as a Sabre last season, but a later eight-game surge saw him score three goals and add five assists. He could benefit went Buffalo stages a major bounce-back season.
Mikael Granlund, C, Wild: While Minnesota is fixated on free agent additions Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, and rightfully so. Those additions cost the franchise almost $200 million. But Granlund could be a huge difference maker. He tied for the Finnish Elite League’s scoring title (51 points in 45 games) last season. He could move into the No, 2 center role behind Mikko Koivu.
Chris Kreider, W, Rangers: This bulldozing winger from Boston College scored five playoff goals while demonstrating his vast upside. He scored 23 goals in 44 games during his third collegiate season. He could at least match the 14 goals and 24 assists that teammate Carl Hagelin scored in games last season as a rookie.
Kyle Turris, C, Senators: The third overall pick of the 2007 draft could finally arrive as a scoring line pivot. Ottawa gave him a five-year, $17.5 million contract extension, so expect that team to give him every chance to post numbers. He scored 12 goals and added 17 assists with a plus-12 rating in 49 games for the Senators last season.
Cam Atkinson, W, Blue Jackets: After scoring 29 goals in 51 AHL games, he scored seven goals and added seven assists in 27 games for the Columbus. With Rick Nash gone, the Blue Jackets will try to score by committee. Atkinson will definitely be part of that committee.
Peter Mueller, W, Panthers: Remember him? Back in 2009-10 he scored nine goals and added 11 assists in just 15 games after arriving in Colorado in a trade. Injuries eradicated him in 2010-11 and limited him to 16 points in 32 games last season. Florida will give him a second chance to become a big-time scorer.
Vladimir Tarasenko eased onto the St. Louis sports scene with a low-key introductory news conference Thursday at the team’s practice facility.
The player carrying the nickname “Tank” proceeded with great caution after his ceremonial donning of the No. 91 Blues sweater.
Although he can speak enough English to get by, Tarasenko, 21, preferred using an interpreter in front of the cameras and microphones.
He declined to name a favorite Russian or NHL player that he emulated while growing up. When asked which Blues player he most looks forward to playing with, he said he was eager to meet and work with them all.
Which will be more difficult, adapting to the NHL or adjusting to North America? He expected each to be equally challenging.
In event of a lockout, would he play in Peoria or return to Russian’s KHL? Tarasenko said he would make that decision when and if that time comes, in consultation with Blues general manager Doug Armstrong.
Aside from expressing his preference to play right wing rather than the left side, he was short on specifics during his brief media session.
That was probably for the best, since the Blues will proceed carefully with their hot young scoring prospect.
For more on Tarasenko, check out my story on STLToday.com.
An army of young puck-rushing defensemen energized the NHL during the past few seasons, led by Ottawa Senators star Erik Karlsson.
He broke into the NHL with 26 points in 60 games back in 2009-10, then surged to 45 and 78 points the last two seasons. His shots on goal jumped from 182 to 261. He made historic improvements on the plus-minus front, too, improving from minus-30 to plus-16 last season.
All that earned him a seven-year contract that reaffirmed his standing as one of the game’s elite young stars.
“It's going to be higher expectations from everyone,” Karlsson told reporters at the NHL Awards ceremony. “That's the way it is. It's something that comes with this work, something that I know about. It's not something that's kind of snuck up on me. I know how it works. I'm going to try to play my best every night.
“It's all I can do. I'm not happy with where I am today. I'm still trying to be a better hockey player. I'm becoming a better person, as well. I know Ottawa has all the capacity to help me be that guy. It's going to be an exciting thing and something to look forward to.”
Earlier we looked at 10 NHL defensemen just hitting their prime and 10 emerging NHL offensive defensemen.
Here are the NHL’s other young cornerstone defensemen:
Alex Pietrangelo, Blues: He developed into a elite defenseman in all facets of the game – power play, penalty killing and defending against top lines. He boosted his offense from 43 to 51 points last season while earning a plus-16 rating in 24 minutes, 43 seconds of playing time per game. He earned 24 power play points. He and Zdeno Chara were the only top five scoring defensemen who also killed penalties.
Kris Letang, Penguins: He has developed into one of the NHL’s elite offensive defensemen, as evidenced by his 10 goals and 32 assists in just 51 games last season. He has 92 points and a plus-36 rating during his last two seasons in Pittsburgh. His only real negative is durability; he has suited up for more than 74 games only once in his five-year NHL career.
P.K. Subban, Canadiens: After scoring 74 points (including 32 on the power play) in his first two full NHL seasons, he could really take off if the Canadiens get their offensive act together. Subban was a big point producer at Belleville of the Ontario Hockey League (76 points in 56 games) and Hamilton of the American Hockey League (53 points in 77 games.) He made defensive strides in Montreal last season, improving his plus-minus rating last season from minus-8 to plus-9. He finished well, scoring 12 points in his last 18 games last season.
Michael Del Zotto, Rangers: After splitting the previous season between Hartford and New Yorkd during his classic sophomore slump, Del Zotto broke out last season with 41 points. He showed his full potential last December, scoring 14 points with a plus-17 rating during 15 games. Overall he finished plus-20 after finishing minus-25 during his first two NHL seasons. He could take another step still with the addition of Rick Nash to the Rangers power play.
Tyler Myers, Sabres: A hand injury and Buffalo’s general malaise caused him to suffer serious statistical regression. But Myers scored 85 points during his first two NHL seasons and has the ability to score 45 to 50 points while adding a physical presence to the blue line. He finished well last season, earning a plus-14 rating during his last two months.
Kevin Shattenkirk, Blues: Moving from Colorado to St. Louis allowed him to full develop his offensive game and become one of the league’s better power-play operators. In 107 games for the Blues, he has 60 points and a plus-27 rating. He finished well last season, scoring 20 points in 33 games after the All-Star break. If St. Louis can stay healthier this season and enjoy more offensive continuity, Shattenkirk could post career numbers.
Drew Doughty, Kings: He pulled out of a baffling funk and helped Los Angeles roll to the Stanley Cup last spring. His scoring declined from 59 to 40 to 36 points overall the last three seasons, but Doughty finished fast with nine points in 15 March games. He can play a robust game and help in all game situations when he is one top of his game.
Jack Johnson, Blue Jackets: He is a go-go offensive defenseman that Columbus plans to build around. After arriving from Los Angeles in the Jeff Carter deal, Johnson excelled in 21 games. He scored 14 points with a plus-five rating, 35 hits, 45 blocked shots and 56 shots on goal. In 143 games with the Kings, he had a minus-33 rating.
Zach Bogosian, Jets: Winnipeg will miss him during the next few months as he recovers from surgery to repair a “chronic tear” of a wrist ligament. He is a forceful defender with big offensive potential. Last season he scored five goals and added 25 assists in 65 games, a big increase from 17 points in 71 games the season before. He improved his plus-minus rating from minus-27 to minus-3. He finished well, scoring nine points in his last 12 games.
The Blues had a good thing going last season.
So, naturally, general manager Doug Armstrong is looking to build on that success. While some fans are clamoring for a significant overhaul after the team’s second-round playoff exit, Armstrong is largely staying the course with his team.
He re-signed restricted free agent Chris Stewart for another season, giving the power forward another chance after his disappointing 2011-12 season.
Armstrong then re-signed unrestricted free agent Barret Jackman, keeping defensive-minded defenseman with the only team he has played for.
Both moves may a lot of sense within the context of where the Blues are today and what the NHL marketplace looks like this summer.
Big, skilled players are hard to find in the NHL. They can make an inordinate impact come playoff time, as Stewart belatedly demonstrated during the spring.
Giving Stewart another shot was a no-brainer. He was still an asset, even after a maddeningly inconsistent season.
Jackman was a more difficult call. In this corner of cyberspace, moving on to an Eastern Conference team seemed like a good option for the venerable Blue.
For more on this topic, check out my story on STLToday.com.
Sidney Crosby is just one concussion case leaving NHL experts a bit dizzy as they struggle to forecast the stretch run.
Recovery times for these injuries are almost impossible to predict. The risk of re-injury is high. Many teams with Stanley Cup aspirations will have to deal with these uncertainties during the decision weeks ahead.
So when Sid the Kid resume skating with teammates Monday, was this an exciting development for the Pittsburgh Penguins? Or was this just another tease?
Crosby skated for the first time in more than six weeks. He worked on a line with injured teammates Jordan Staal and Simon Despres, who are both on the mend from knee injuries. Crosby’s return to the rink came after he learned about his neck bone fractures that had gone undetected previously.
Those fractures have apparently healed, but he is undergoing independent medical evaluation.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma told reporters that Crosby “was pretty excited about being on the ice and back with some of his teammates” and “going at a fair clip” during Monday’s session.
Maybe we’ll see Crosby before the end of this season after all. Or maybe we won't.
Meanwhile, here are some other cases to keep an eye one:
Andy McDonald, W-C, St. Louis Blues: He went through his first practice without the “no-contact” sweater, signaling that his return is becoming imminent. Since this team doesn’t play its first post-break game until Friday, he will get four practices to ramp up his work pace and test his recovery. “No timetable,” McDonald told St. Louis reporters. "This is just kind of the next step to be able to get out there and take some contact in practice and see where I fit in that regard and see how the body reacts from getting bumped around. It's nice to be able to compete for real and get some contact out there.”
Alex Steen, W-C, Blues: He appeared on track to return before the All-Star Game, but he couldn’t quite rid himself of concussion symptoms. Although he was back on the ice with McDonald and his other teammates Monday, he continued to proceed cautiously in his comeback. “There's nothing really to say about it,” he said. “You get off the ice and right now, you just wait and see how it is. I'm not going to diagnose myself every minute of practice or every minute of the day. If I'm doing that, I'm not ready to go. When I'm ready to go, I won't be thinking about it. I'm just going to let it take its time.”
Nathan Horton, W, Boston Bruins: He suffered what the team believed to be a mild concussion Jan. 22 in Philadelphia, but he hasn’t even resumed exercising. That suggests that Boston’s first-line power forward could be sidelined for a while. Given his previous concussion history and his importance to the team, the Bruins will handle his recovery with treat care.
Evander Kane, W, Winnipeg Jets: Coming out of the break, this cornerstone power forward stopped by in Philadelphia to see his teammates before they played the Flyers. But the reunion was brief. He returned to Winnipeg for further evaluation of his concussion. “He’s probably a little ways away because we've got to get him working out, but he's feeling better,” Jets coach Claude Noel told the Winnipeg Free-Press. “We'll see what his assessment is there. I think he still has some areas of symptoms. We haven't got to the stage where he is working out yet and that's probably a little ways away.”
Nicklas Backstrom, C, Washington Capitals: He did not skate during the All-Star Break, which means he is no closer to returning. The Washington Post noted that the Caps’ top-line center has skated for just five minutes since Jan. 6.
Daniel Briere, C, Philadelphia Flyers: He was back on the ice Monday with teammates in Philadelphia, but he departed before the hitting began. Given all the concussion trouble this team has endured this season – including the loss of defenseman Chris Pronger until next season as the earliest – expect a cautious comeback here.
James van Riemsdyk, W, Flyers: He, too, practiced Monday. But, too, left the ice before the hitting began. Until he is cleared for contact, he can’t really evaluate the latter the stages of his recovery.
Guillaume Latendresse, W, Minnesota Wild: He is back on the ice but not participating in contact drills. He has missed 32 of the team’s last 34 games with concussion symptoms and hasn’t played since Dec. 14. He could return more quickly than teammate Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who has been sidelined since Jan. 4 because of post-concussion syndrome.
Blues fans are busy proposing blockbuster deals on the Internet to bring a proven scorer with a gigantic salary to St. Louis.
It is a fun exercise, for sure, especially since this team has nearly $10 million in salary cap space and lots of assets that other teams covet.
But with franchise still in ownership limbo, general manager Doug Armstrong’s more immediate challenge is to lock in the core talent responsible for this season’s surge.
Extending Brian Elliott’s contract for two more years $3.6 million was another step in that direction. For the price of one elite goaltender, the Blues will control Jaroslav Halak and Elliott through the 2013-14 season.
Could Elliott have gained more on the open market? Perhaps, given his glittering statistics and All-Star Game invite.
But Elliott is a well-traveled career back-up and fill-in. It is hard to imagine another team projecting him as a top-notch starter for 2012-13 and beyond.
Halak has rallied to regain his lead role with the Blues. Barring a relapse from Jaroslav, Elliott is likely to settle into a support role during the stretch. Other Blues goaltenders have taken that gamble on the marketplace and lost.
So this deal was a win-win for both sides.
For more on this story, check out my piece on STLToday.com.