Saturday, July 16, 2016

2016-2017 National Hockey League Pre-season Preview(Teams 20 and 19)

20.Edmonton Oilers

A ranking that very much coincides with a great deal of recency bias. For years, I've recklessly prognosticated the Edmonton Oilers as feasible Stanley Cup contenders, or at the very least in the last couple seasons, locks to make the playoffs. Like the old adage stipulates, you learn from past mistakes and it's with that that I regretfully rank the Oilers at number twenty knowing full well that this will have the reverse kiss of death effect by this being the season where the Oil catapult to supremacy. Remember that 2015 Summer blockbuster starring Amy Schumer, "Train Wreck"? Well this current state of affairs on the back end puts the original movie interpretation to shame. Justin Schultz was viewed as the resident whipping post in Edmonton but yet when dealt to the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins he all of  a sudden became a reliable third pairing defenceman. Coincidence......I think not. This Edmontonian defensive core gets shredded by insiders in our great game but in reality the defensive structure is almost as much to blame as the actual group of d-man that General Manager Peter Chiarelli has compiled. It's only appropriate that we begin this morning detailing the prized and controversial acquisition, from the New Jersey Devils Adam Larsson. The trade can be deemed as controversial because for the last twelve months, Chiarelli has repeatedly homilized that he's been in the market for a number one defenceman and by trading away Taylor Hall, the expectation is for giving away a player of that magnitude that you would safely land a franchise defender. The concern in Edmonton these days is that most aren't convinced that Larsson was enough compensation. Larsson has certainly had an interesting trajectory throughout his young career. Before being selected by the Devils he was long believed to be a probable # 1 selection of that 2011 draft, but his stock steadily dropped through that campaign which ultimately translated into him becoming the fourth selection.  My scouting report of Larsson is the following, he's an average to slightly above average skater who doesn't possess the puck skills to ever flourish into that desired premium defender. On the plus side, he's a pain to play against his own zone because physically he's built like a veteran and he's fairly poised out on the ice meaning scarcely will you find him out of position. Taking a gander at his statistical productivity you'll notice that he's never tallied more than three goals in a season and possibly due to his increased role in Edmonton that may skyrocket(one can dream), the likely inevitably is that the numbers that he's capable of are better suited for a number 2/3 defenceman. Taylor Hall>Adam Larsson in trade value, sadly so. Chiarelli felt pressured to make a move for the sake of making a move, and admittedly I was one of those keyboard warriors begging for that, and look where it got us? The piece on the back end that I firmly believe has top pairing potential is Darnell Nurse. Nurse comes from as very athletic family with his sister heavily involved in the Canadian Women's basketball program and you can tell, he's a gifted commodity in all facets. Nurse gets typecast as a bruising body that famously stifled now teammate Connor McDavid in the 2015 Ontario Hockey League conference finals while a member of the Sault Ste.Marie Greyhounds but there's another compellling dimension to his game that get's overshadowed, his skating. Nurse's skating comparable is St.Louis Blue Alex Pietrangelo. The lankier  one is the more we overlook skating ability but in this day and age hockey players are built differently and no longer do we see defenceman like Rod Langway or Joe Reekie that lag around the ice with their tallish,thinner frames and held the same equivalence to the way Yao Ming used to hustle up a basketball court. The fitness levels are extreme, not something I want to explore too deeply as that's another topic for another day but the essence behind what I'm attempting to imply is that a player like Nurse is so fit and quick, that the size that he's inherited is a definite asset and the nature of the beast is that the evolution of hockey players will force all making the plunge to the next level to work as hard off the ice as Nurse does. I said it when the Oilers made the selection but the Oilers have a long term keeper in Darnell.

First came the selection of Sam Gagner back in 2007, that seemingly flamed out quickly. In 2008, the Oilers settled for Regina product Jordan Eberle, unfortunately for Jordan he never received the memo that to be successful meant more then living off his World Junior laurels and that to be a trusted entity one must venture into the defensive game, something that was never ingrained in his D.N.A In 2009 the Oilers stumbled upon the enigma that was Paajarvi-Svensson who for whatever reason lost his confidence when he turned professional and I maintain to this day that he should've converted to a defenceman when the tribulations at forward were evident. I could continue down this path until I'm blue in the face but I'm reminded this post wasn't dedicated to revisiting Oiler draft history. The crux of what I'm attempting to illustrate is that while the Oilers have always sided with the "sexy" pick, their lack of awareness when building a roster has crippled draft performances and have led to non playoff teams since 2006. Can Connor McDavid be the messiah that performs the unthinkable and carries the Oil to late April hockey? As a previously confessed Oiler fan, I'm skeptical that he has the necessary supporting cast in place but will feature a couple who'll need to begin to breakout. Don't be frightened Oiler supporters, I know I just explained the Paajarvi pick was a disaster(through fault of the coaching staff) but it's a player that shares a similar name sake that has me awfully excited. Jesse Puljujarvi is an Anze Kopitar clone who I believe will come in and contribute immediately. The cold hard truth is that the Calder trophy is awarded to the prodigy coming in, McDavid would've been a shoe in hadn't it been for the injury that took away half his season and it's using this logic that Matthews will find a way to secure the award but voters abroad ought to pay close attention to Pulujarvi as I think if he receives tangible playing time with McDavid he'll be daily conversation around the water cooler as the Calder whispers grow louder and louder. Another Fin to keep up with the nationality obsession let's evaluate the worth of Iiro Pakarinen. Right off the hop, people invested in Oiler nation will surmise that Pakarinen isn't assured of consistent playing time with the big club but for a team that coach Todd McLellan constantly complains about an acceptable work ethic someone like Pakarinen who busts his but on every play would be welcome in the lineup. Realistically the Lovissa,Finland native is effective as a fourth line player and the cap on him is more then likely twenty points but we must ignore the output and focus on his work ethic. On Stanley Cup winning teams as we saw on the Stanley Cup Champion Penguins this past spring, role players such as Matt Cullen are imperative and if the winning resumes in the City of Champions, I could definitely see a scenario where Cullen and Pakarinen share a similar role.

The consensus of most Oiler fans is resentment towards the Cam Talbot acquisition last summer. Here's the gripe that I, and a lot of Oiler fans have is that during that particular off-season there were a plethora of more polished goaltenders available, ala from Stanley Cup finalists Martin Jones and one time Cup champ Antii Niemi. I'm all for committing to a proper rebuild but the goaltender is the one position where if not assembled justly it can exude a negative connotation for the rest of the retool. In a daunting attempt to get inside the head of Peter Chiarelli, I can somewhat appreciate the logistics behind the transaction as I think their was a stemming belief that Talbot inherited a winning culture from the great Henrik Lundqvist and he would bring back that knowledge, and it just hasn't happened. 21-9 with the Rangers in 2014-2015 projects as a smokescreen as I'm not expecting that Talbot will ever replicate a winning percentage like that with Edmonton.

19.Minnesota Wild

Out with the old, in with the new for the  Minnesota Wild pertaining to their coaching carousel. After the decision was made by General Manager Chuck Fletcher to let go of Mike Yeo, they've caved into fan pressure by hiring the hottest name in the coaching market in Bruce Boudreau. The hiring of Boudreau delves into one of my biggest pet peeves in this premise that teams are held to this puzzling delusion that they're better off recycling coaches. Was Boudreau a winner in Washington? Not when it came to the playoffs and ditto when analyzing his success rate employed by the Anaheim Ducks. I'm sure tactically Bruce is a fine coach but he's shown the propensity to choke in the games biggest moments, something I would've advised Chuck  to stay away from at all costs. Since the Wild aren't in the business of looking back and strive to push  forward, we will now take a look at the group up front. The pace of play that Boudreau advocates not withstanding my disdain for the hire concurrently matches the type of nucleus the Wild possess. A fast, smaller group that will live and die by the transition game and they're a couple of stalwarts that this strategical initiative fits to  a tee. Let's first discuss the merits of Jason Zucker.  It's interesting, keeping in mind that what I'm about to elaborate on are wild projections but on a few different occasions I've seen the name of Jason Zucker mentioned as a possible expansion candidate  for the soon to be Las Vegas franchise but I can't envision the Wild view Zucker expendable. I will admit however that when watching Jason play on a nightly basis, he at times that can leave a lot on the table due to not taking his time and ensuring he makes the sound hockey decision. He's fast, extremely, think Geoff Courtnall for an apt comparison but unlike Courtnall who was a revered sniper his career high is only twenty one goals. Why is that? Well....the first thought that comes to mind is other then questionable hockey I.Q, he worries too much about his defensive assignments which assuredly makes coaches smile but in the process dampens the offensive potential I know he has. Let me rephrase, if Zucker plays to his capabilities then no chance is he exposed for expansion however if doesn't buy in to the high speed transition game Boudreau calls for, then looking into real estate in Vegas may become a reality.After reading back today's postings, I've came to the conclusion that I've spent an awful amount of time boasting about some of these Finnish born players, and although I have no prominent ties to the country this vaunting will continue a tad longer. Mikael "puck magician" Granlund. There was a goal, , I believe it was in one of the World Championships Finland was playing in when he scored a game winning goal where afterwards TSN ran a piece where Mikael indicated that the celebration was a picture taken that went on to be made into a postage stamp. This doesn't necessarily speak to his production for the Wild, doesn't at all to be exact but what it does to be precise is it's a useful measuring stick that Granlund covets the big games and when they come around which has been few and far between for Minnesota, his productivity increases. Granlund is a playmaking genius but this enlies one of the problems I have with the Wild which definitely correlates with the low ranking of #19, and that's where's the compliment to Granlund? Is it Zach Parise? If that's what Wild management wants us to believe then I fret the future of the organization because Parise is essentially an older version of what Granlund is trying to become, a playmaker who requires the finisher. What made Parise very successful with the New Jersey Devils was that he had snipers like Ilya Kovalchuk beside him which maximized the value of Zachs game. Who does Mikael have to pass to.....Charlie Coyle and Nino Nieddereiter? I hate to rag on the great "El Nino" but players of this elk have no business being looked upon as the franchises top scoring threat. It's roster management flaws like this that have me believing we're staring a non playoff team  in the face.

A talented, puck moving defenceman is the scouting report on 2011 tenth overall pick Jonas Brodin. As bland as that scouting report may seem, what I get out of it is Brodin projects out as a mundane defenceman and for someone who is widely perceived as the Wild's building block, they need someone more creative and willing to buy into the team concept to fulfill their actual number one responsibilities. Although "talented"(again, words of numerous scouting reports) he lacks the physicality to be entrusted lining up against first forward lines. And in all honesty, his skating isn't as polished as some are led to believe, in fact I rank his skating in the poor ledger. I was watching one of my favourite podcasts the other day named the "Quack Attack Podcast" and they had actor Ty McClary who memorably played the role of Texan Dwayne Robertson. I highly recommend you check out the podcast/interview but one thing stood out for me when they were chatting with Ty and that's when the project began filming Ty had no idea how to skate so what the producers did was allow Ty to hold on to a rope as coming from a rodeo family this came naturally to him and unbeknownst to the actor what it did was take his mind off the stress of learning how to skate. To tie this back to Jonas, I can only advise Jonas to check out this podcast himself and perhaps put this learning tactic to good use as his wheels at the current time are vastly overrated. A player that by no means is overrated is one of my favourites in the show, Val'dor Foreur alumni Marco Scandella.
While I have internal concerns with Bruce taking over the coaching reigns, I for one am subscribing to the theory that Boudreau may end up having a positive impact on Marco. Marco's repertoire is clearly is his resistive, thwarting nature that amounts to a shut down role. Scandella, from what I recall in junior, particularly in his World Junior tenure is that he's got more tricks up his sleeve regarding offensive efficiency. At the very least he has a cannon for a shot and one can hope that BB will provide Scandella at least partial power play to showcase the aforementioned cannon. Creativity breeds confidence as this unequivocally applies to the game of Marco as he's often timid on the ice and like I stated, the expectation is that Boudreau will implore some of that persuasive teaching when rectifying his game, Some will suggest he's already there but no question that he has the potential to reach definitive top two status.

The question we must ask ourselves is whether or not the 2014-2015 second half Devan Dubnyk was an aberration or was what he accomplished then not sustainable for some will classify as a journeyman goaltender. When he came on board to the Edmonton Oilers, and earlier I spent time spilling over the porous Oiler rebuild he was supposed to be the general which in turn would've prevented the need to acquire Cam Talbot years later. To take yon through the journey of Dubnyk's now lengthy career, his premier with Edmonton was for a lack of a better word disastrous. I harken back to post game interviews  he conducted with Gene Principe while a member of the Oilers and it wasn't difficult to ascertain that you were looking at a goalie who was lost. It's probable he entered te National Hockey League with a high level of confidence after an unforgettable junior career with the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League but what happened to him sadly rubs off on a plethora of young goaltenders. Point blank, the Oilers were a baaad hockey club which is translation for a terrible landing spot for a goaltender, I know not all of you reading are familiar with the inner dealings of the WHL but a great comparable when comparing the early struggles of Devan was that of Calvin Pickard. Pickard entered his WHL career as a can't miss prospect and by dragging along that label unfair expectations were stapled alongside him but what casual fans can't fathom is that you can be the globe's best netminder but when playing in front of a mitigated disaster, you have to tamper expectations, but most can't. To be fair in this assessment,100% of the blame can't go towards the Oilers in Devan's failed development, I'm no goalie guru but technically there were some glaring deficiencies that made you cringe. He stayed in the upright position too long thus was susceptible to the greasy rebounds. After moving on to Nashville and Montreal for a cup of coffee, he finally found a comfortable fit in Arizona.His statistics were phenomenal in the second half of 2014-2015 but not without some luck. If it wasn't for  an unfortunate Mike Smith injury, I can certainly conjur up a scenario where he's still rotting away as the back up in the desert. No one ever claimed luck wasn't a tiny part of the equation and injury opened up significant playing time which he took and ran with. A .916 save percentage led to the playoff bound Minnesota Wild acquiring his services and that's where we currently stand. I've talked up Dubnyk pretty good here but the one thing that needs serious improvement is his playoff numbers if in fact the Wild find themselves in that position again which I'm not convinced they will. When comparing last year's save percentage in the regular season to his in the playoffs there's a drastic difference, Dropping down from .918 to ,877 is simply not good enough and he needs to do  a muuuuch better job buckling down and becoming the most trusted goaltender in the state of MInnesota since Julie "The Cat" Gaffney.

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