Monday, April 27, 2009

Bobkov likes the Blue Jackets, or just a hat?

I was going through some photos from the U18s and came across one of Russian goalie Igor Bobkov in a Columbus Blue Jackets hat. This was the game against Norway where he backed up.

So the question is, does he like the team, or just the logo? And does his affection for the Blue Jackets make it more likely that they would draft him this June? Is he hinting to scouts that he would like to go to the team, or just a Filatov fan? Often the big question for Russians isn't their skill but their desire to play in the NHL. This couldn't be a bad sign.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Notebook cleanout from the U18s

Most of the information I gathered at the U18s went straight into prospects' profiles and feature stories at HF. That process is still going on. But here's a few leftovers.

  • I think Nashville will try to take Ryan O'Reilly. They already have his brother Cal and I was chatting with a scout in the stands and when I said I was originally from Erie, he brought up O'Reilly and said how much he liked him. I later found out he worked for Nashville.
  • Jerry D'Amigo put up a lot of points. But I kept thinking "all he can do is score goals." While that sounds great, being one-dimensional doesn't get you to the NHL.
  • Adam Murray made some big motions in net for the USA, like a windmill and a couple statues of liberty. Good goalies make the hard saves look easy by being in position for them to hit in the stomach. But what he was doing was making normal saves look hard. I see why he is ranked so low.
  • Team USA captain William Wrenn had the misfortune of being paired with Nick Mattson, who was not impressive. I wanted to see Wrenn separately.
  • David Valek (USA) was invisible. I looked for him a few times, just to fill something in for him, and still had nothing to say.
  • Simon Bertilsson looks a lot like Jimmy Slater in the face. And they are both poor interviews, but for different reasons. Bertilsson only speaks Swedish. Slater only speaks cliche.
  • Russian warmups was pure chaos. There didn't seem to be much of a plan, and by the end it deteriorated into individuals roaming on their own, doing trick shots. You can see a lot of a people's culture in their warmup I think.
  • Tarasenko, 2010-eligible, really likes attention. Really really likes attention. Not only does he talk when the questions aren't posed to him, he saw me with a camera and was posing. Much like Angelo Esposito has done in the past.
  • Czech Roman Horak has talent, but he's a hot dog who only skates hard when he has the puck. He stood around most of the warmup. I got a photo of him scratching his backside in warmup and that kind of epitomized things.
  • If Sweden had had a little better goaltending, things might have been different. It was the weakest position on a top-notch squad. Using their skill instead of their force would have played more to their advantage as well.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Comments on Central Scouting's final ranks for 2009

I've seen more of the draft-eligible prospects this year than ever before, so I actually have opinions about Central Scouting's list. In general, I like the final list much better than the mid-terms, though there were some guys who fell who maybe shouldn't have.

The North American skaters list thins out at about No. 100. I noticed that they added a few NCAA players who were eligible last year.

Peter Holland fell from 9 to 19, but he probably should have fallen farther. They had him way overrated before, and have only corrected it part way. Ethan Werek is kind of an awkward skater to be listed at No. 32. Bjorn Krupp at 108 (down from 88) is probably still too high given his skill level.

Landon Ferraro at 18 seems high. Cass Mappin fell from 27 to 73, but I think his rank was better before, at least based on what James Reimer told me. Tommi Kivisto took a plunge from 46 to 119 but that seems extreme given his attributes. Unless there is a character issue, he's too low now.

Michal Hlinka at 90 (previously 39) is too low. He was one of the best players for the Czechs at the U18s.

Morin and Shore seem overrated on not just Central Scouting's lists, but everyone's. They are 33 and 28 on the CS final, but they just aren't that far ahead of their teammates. On the other hand, Kevin Lynch at 100 seems low. He has good offensive skills and really stood out at the U18s.

Ekman Larsson is the fourth-rated European skater by CS, but he'll probably be taken as the second. He impressed me more than Paajarvi and Josefson at the U18s as well. I'll have a story done on him soon.

The European skaters list really thins out at about No. 50. And the European goaltenders list is thin, period. I saw a lot of goalies I wouldn't take, like Conz, Holly, Mazanec. But Russian Igor Bobkov did himself a lot of favors at the U18s (if you throw out the first game against Finland), and it would not shock me if he was the first European goalie taken.

Scouts at work at the U18s

Scouts outnumbered fans at many of the U18 World Championship games. All 30 NHL teams were there, along with many of the CHL teams, who have an import draft coming up in a couple months. I saw the Rimouski Oceanic and Portland Winterhawks for example.

Here's some photos of scouts in their natural habitat. If anyone knows what teams they are from, let me know.

There's a lot of looking for not much writing down.

Bob Owen of the Thrashers turns back to talk to guys from another team behind him. Norman Poisson, who scouts the Q for Atlanta, is next to him.

A familiar sight: scouts huddle up between periods. One team had a pizza delivered between periods. That's smart use of the cell phone.

Some smiles on faces, a rare sight. Scouts are a dour bunch. The lifestyle is not at all appealing either. Constant travel, cold arenas. I like seeing some of the top guys, but one or two trips a year is plenty for me.

Most of them stuck around to watch the USHL playoff game between the Fargo Force and Omaha Lancers. I'm sure all of the players were aware that they were being heavily scouted.

This group was so interested in a Russian that they attended a Team Russia practice, as did another NHL team.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Team USA's extra white stripe at the U18's

The whole purpose of the US National Team Development Program is to build a team that can represent the US in international tournaments. So it comes as no surprise that virtually all the US players at the U18 and U20 championships have gone through the program. That said, right now there's a few players on the regular-season U18 team that didn't make the cut for the U18 championships (some U17 players went instead). Forward John Henrion told me that the players who are there are remembering those who aren't by putting and extra white stripe of tape on their right legs.

Above, Kevin Lynch prepares to take a faceoff.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Photos from the U18s in Fargo/Moorhead

A few photos from the U18 Championships. These are roughly in chronological order.

Team Czech Republic. At the top of the stands you can see all the NHL scouts in black.

Filip Gunnarson (SWE)
Sweden during warmups.

Sweden during a game.

USA goaltender Adam Murray checks out the Finns.

Finnish captain Sami Vatanen gets into a scuffle against USA. I mentioned it to a Finnish official later and he said he didn't see it. Uh-huh.

Team USA celebrates victory over Finland.

USA and Finland during the anthem at the Urban Plains Center.

Vladimir Tarasenko chats up some girls in the stands during the USHL game that followed theirs.

Team Sweden watching the USHL game. Bertilsson and Ekman-Larsson are sitting together in the top row.

Russian goalie Emil Garipov.

Nikita Dvurechensky and Sergei Chvanov.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Adventures in interviewing at the U18s

I had what had to be the most challenging day of interviewing ever today. I'm at the U18 World Championships and interviewed three Europeans with low levels of English ability. Some interviewees are so easy that you just give them a topic and they do a monologue. Brett Sterling is this way. Not today. Today was painstaking.

Typically Swedes and Germans speak good English, however, I managed to pick out some that barely did. Then the Czech I talked to came out with a teammate as an interpreter, which is usually kind of awkward but the teammate was very easy-going, while at the same time doing a good job, so we three had a fine time. That one was actually the most successful by any measure.

Here's a ranking of the English skills of players/coaches I've talked to at the tournament, from best to worse:
Erik Haula (FIN) - so good he could pass for a native, mannerisms and all.
Coach Stephan Lundh (SWE) - searched for just a few words
Robin Lehner (SWE) - about the level of most Europeans who play in the NHL in that he can express his thoughts and just gets a few grammatical things wrong.
Mikael Granlund (FIN) - his English was surprisingly good
Tomas Rachunek (CZE) - he played in NA last year so he can say everything he wants to. Not an outgoing person though.
Kirill Kabanov (RUS) -- he tried to say somewhat complex things, but I had to ask for clarification a couple times.
Thomas Brandt (GER) - conversational, but not in a complex way.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson (SWE) - warned that his English wasn't good. He almost got a translator.
Finnish coach Mika Marttila -- hard to tell because while he understood some things, he used interpreter to respond.
Toni Rajala (FIN) - answered some questions himself, some via teammate Haula.
Vladimir Tarasenko (RUS) - like Rajala, answered some himself, some via Kabanov.
Simon Bertilsson (SWE) - struggled to give more than 3-4 word answers. We needed an interpreter, but didn't have one.
Adam Polasek (CZE) - full-on interpreter (Robin Soudek).

And here's a photo of the Finns tossing a football around in the parking lot. Erik Haula's dad used to coach football, he told me. Interesting.

A strange first day at the Under 18s

I had a thoroughly enjoyable evening at the Under-18 World Championships. I'm not ready to talk about particular players yet, but here are a few observations.

1. Everyone loves beating the Russians. The Swedish coaches in the stands nearby actually applauded when the Finns took the lead over Russia. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, apparently. There was quite a big celebratory noise coming out of the Finnish locker room after the game as well. When I told two Finnish players that the Swedes clapped for their goal, they looked at each other with a sort of befuddlement. How bizarre indeed.
2. The Finnish team looks very small compared to the Russians. They have skill to make up for it.
3. The Finnish coach used an interpreter, probably to make sure his meaning was precise. I was surprised he wasn't comfortable in English though, virtually all European coaches are.
4. I found the Swedish coach in the stands and talked to him about a particular player. Very nice man.
5. There was virtually no press at the rink we were at (the secondary one). It was quite bizarre to be at a very important tournament and have to be the lead question-asker towards a coach. Shouldn't someone else, someone writing a game story, be doing this? But on the other hand, I could get any player I wanted and no time limit. That was good. So far it has sort of a high school tournament feel to it -- well, if there weren't so many scouts here.
6. I'd say there were about 100 NHL scouts, virtually all dressed in black, on the top ring on all four sides. I think they might have outnumbered the fans.
7. Several guys are listed on the roster as 5'12. Hmm. That makes me wonder what how tall the guys who are 6'0 are. Maybe I should use the centimeters and convert on my own.
8. The rink was freezing, an 'I had long underwear but I still need gloves' kind of cold. I thought it wouldn't feel cold outside after so many hours in the cold rink, but I was wrong. The windchill out there is brutal.
9. Erik Haula's English is so good, you would think he was native. Amazing. You want to blurt out 'are you really Finnish?' but then he talks to someone else in Finnish and, well, nevermind.
10. This place really is just like the movie Fargo. Stopped and asked someone directions today, and they didn't know how to get to the arena, but they called three people on their cell phone to find out. "Near the high school, you're figuring?" he said. That one made me giggle on the spot. That's where it was alright, behind the "Home of the Spuds," but unmarked.
11. The flood danger has not passed. They are building a secondary sand dyke right outside the hotel here. I anticipate that the work will go on all night.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Off to Fargo

Just a note to say I’m off to Fargo tomorrow for the U-18 World Championships. I will post things as they warrant, and if time is available. I anticipate being busy, but having some down time too. It’s not like the happenin' nightlife of Moorhead, Minnesota will be as distracting as say, Nashville.

The highs will only be in the 40’s, but given that I had to use the ice scraper on my windshield this morning – in Atlanta – it won’t be a big change.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Reimer's future may not be just in playing

Every so often you meet someone who you know is going somewhere and you think to yourself, 'I'll be able to say I knew them on the way up.' I said that about one of my students once. I said it again after meeting James Reimer last weekend.

Reimer is a goaltending prospect for the Maple Leafs. He's quite a good goalie and has a bright future on the ice. But that's not the end of it. He has that special something that will draw people to him, inspire them. The kind of quality you find in a great coach.

Here's the Q&A I did with him for Hockey's Future. If he didn't have to catch a bus, I could have talked to him for an hour.

I'll go on record as saying that in 25 years, Reimer is coaching in the NHL. Most likely a goalie coach, but very possibly more than that. And he'll be an excellent one.

Photo of the back of Reimer's mask, featuring Ramona's Courage and an accompanying bible verse.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Real locker room drama welcome

When we hear the term "locker room drama," it's almost always a bad thing: someone is acting like a prima donna, or teammates aren't getting along. But the playoffs mean a good kind of drama, the win or go home kind. The kind that brings things out of people they didn't know they had. I was in a losing locker room after a deciding game in the finals once, and it was a very powerful thing. Like walking into a movie.

I raised my hand to go to Charlotte tomorrow to cover the Gwinnett Gladiators last game of the season, the one that decides whether they make it to the playoffs or not. It's a powerful storyline, and there will be strong emotions. We just don't know which way they will go.

I have a feeling that 95% of the words I turn in will be written after the second intermission. This one will be all about the emotions, not really about how the goals were scored.

Della Rovere turns pro (photos)

Tonight was Stefan Della Rovere's second game as a pro, having joined the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays from the OHL Barrie Colts. He looked about as I expected, having seen him in the WJC. He's an agitator and played like most agitators do. Like a lot of guys fresh out of junior, he ran around a lot, sometimes from one side of the ice to the other just to make a hit. He always finished his checks -- to a fault. His physicality seemed to turn up the tempo on the game though, which worked to South Carolina's advantage. Della Rovere had several failed hits, as his timing was a bit off. Also cherry picked and had a roughing penalty for putting a guy in a headlock along the boards after the whistle.

Della Rovere played left wing on a line with Pierre-Luc O'Brien and Jeff Corey and had one assist. Also had a good tip in front for a chance, and made a nice centering pass.

Here are some photos.

At warmups.

Listening to the older and wiser Maxime Lacroix explain what to do during warmup.

Crashing the net -- par for the course for him.

Chirping all the way back to the net. Also par for the course.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

AHL may return to dressing 17 skaters a game

Prior to this season, the AHL had dressed 17 skaters a game, one fewer than the NHL. For this season, they increased the number to 18. But the economy may push it back down to 17, as everyone tightens their belts.

From the Patriot-News (Hershey):

Economics played the prime role in the AHL's traditional use of 17 skaters. Adding a player to the lineup adds to costs (contract, health care, equipment).

The economic downturn ultimately could mean a return to 17. It's a topic that likely will be addressed at upcoming AHL meetings.

"There could be contraction and reducing it to a less number for next year," [Hershey Bears president-GM Doug] Yingst said. "My sense right now is that the vote would be to reduce the number.

It sounds like Hershey rolls four lines regularly, which is good for the rookies, who do get the experience they need. But not all teams use all four lines regularly, which means that a lot of rookies don't get much playing time. Some would be better off in the ECHL where they would see more situations.

It's interesting that the ECHL just broke its own record for number of players graduating to the NHL in a season (49 players) during a year in which the number of prospects sent by NHL teams went down. Surely there's a delay effect -- the guys who played in the NHL this year largely played in the ECHL last year or the year before. If the 18-skater rule doesn't change in the AHL though, that record will probably stand because fewer prospects will have seen time in the ECHL,