Hockey World: McDavid already considered ‘a cut above superstar’ at age 16
Erie Otters centre could be the first ‘franchise-defining player’ since Crosby
EDMONTON - Let’s play the fantasy game.
Where would 16-year-old Connor McDavid, the centre from the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League who led the world under-18 hockey championship in scoring, go in this June’s NHL entry draft?
“First overall, if he was eligible,” said draft guru Craig Button, the former National Hockey League general manager who is working for TSN.
Yeah, ahead of 18-year-old Portland Winterhawks defenceman Seth Jones.
McDavid, who turned only 16 three months ago, isn’t eligible until the 2015 draft, two years from now. Watch the NHL teams trying to be bad then to get better odds in the draft lottery.
“McDavid is the first franchise-defining player since (Sidney) Crosby, in my opinion. He’s a cut above superstar for me. He’s got everything. Plays physical, his mind, his speed, he competes hard,” said Button. “At the world under-18, he was two years younger than the vast majority of players and was the best player there. Wait until he gets stronger. He’s not a physical force, but the rest of his game is exceptional.”
There’s no argument from Kevin Prendergast, who put together Canada’s gold-medal winning team at the championship, which was a test drive of the facilities at Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 Olympics. McDavid went there as the youngest player, but very quickly coach Don Hay of the Vancouver Giants fell in love with the kid.
Prendergast — a big Jones fan — feels McDavid would go first or second this June.
“I know (Nathan) MacKinnon and (Jonathan) Drouin are really good players in this draft, but this Connor kid does things you can’t teach players. He’s got some physical growing up to do … his legs have to get stronger, but from a hockey-sense perspective, he’s got everything. He doesn’t back down,” Prendergast said.
“I told Don Hay when we got there, ‘Look, Donny, this kid is special, but I’ll let you make the decision on what you want to do with him.’ Second practice, he made a play in a shootout and (Hay) said, ‘I think I’ve found my No. 1 centre.’
“Yeah, he’s in Crosby territory,” Prendergast continued. “He did things on the ice and, at the age of these kids, they’d be on the bench, jumping up and saying, ‘Can you believe that?’ Most teams would be saying, ‘Ah, that little so-and-so.’ Not this team. They loved him.
“When he won all the awards (top player, top scorer), he was too embarrassed for the last one. He said to (captain) Sam Reinhart, ‘Geez, I can’t go up again.’ Sam pushed him up there and said, ‘You’ve earned it.’ ”
Reinhart, the younger brother of Griffin and Max, is not eligible until the 2014 draft, but he did a great job tutoring Connor.
“Sam’s got lots of jam to him. He’d be a first-rounder this June, too,” said Prendergast.
How was the most intriguing player in the June draft, Russian forward Valeri Nichushkin, who got the overtime winner against Canada in the world under-20 championship semifinal? The six-foot-four forward could go in the top five, even if he’s signed for two more years and his contract was just sold to Dynamo Moscow.
“He wasn’t very good, but he’s a big, strong boy. It looked like he might have been out of gas. They finished Game 7 (of the Kontinental Hockey League playoffs) the night before and flew him into Sochi,” said Prendergast. “They played him on the off-wing, for whatever reason. He scored two NHL-type goals, powering to the net, but was nowhere near the same player who was in Ufa (in the world junior championship at Christmas). His old club team, Chelyabinsk, just sold him for a truckload of money. Ten million euros.”
Ex-Edmonton Oiler Igor Kravchuk was the Russian coach at the under-18s. Nichushkin has repeatedly told people he plans to stay in Russia for the two years left on his KHL contract. He wants to take the same career path as St. Louis Blues’ rookie Vladimir Tarasenko.
Sochi hockey facilities impressive
Everybody at the under-18 championship came away impressed by the two rinks which will be used for the Olympics at Sochi. They are 300 metres apart.
“One is like a really good junior building and the bigger one, while not as big as NHL rinks, is very nice. It’s built right on the water,” said Prendergast.
Shayba, which means puck in Russian, has 7,000 seats. It is portable and can be moved to another city after the Olympics. Bolshoy, which has 12,000 seats, cost $180 million to build.
Nill needs to find No. 1 centre for Stars
New Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill, who left the comfort of the Detroit Red Wings organization after years and years of entreaties from other NHL clubs, has two large items on his plate:
a) To decide on a head coach, and
b) To find a No. 1 centre, so the Stars can maybe move Jamie Benn back to the wing.
As a first-time general manager, the feeling is Nill will go for an experienced guy behind the bench like the fired Buffalo Sabres coach, Lindy Ruff, or Dave Tippett, whose Phoenix Coyotes’ contract is up at the end of June or perhaps Detroit Red Wings associate coach Tom Renney. Tippett, of course, coached the Stars for six years before he was let go in 2009 and Marc Crawford came in, then 41-year-old Glen Gulutzan, who is in limbo, became the head man.
When Ken Hitchcock was between coaching gigs, he was in the mix to go back to Dallas, where he won a Stanley Cup in 1999, but then-GM Joe Nieuwendyk opted for his farm-team coach Gulutzan. It was a young team, he’s a young coach.
One thing is for sure with Nill. He’ll keep assistant coach Curt Fraser, who he hired to coach the Red Wings’ American Hockey League farm club in Grand Rapids, Mich. Nill, who ran Detroit’s draft team, will also keep Les Jackson, who has the same with the Stars. They have a long scouting history.
As for the No. 1 centre, Nill might send out a fax to the other teams saying winger Loui Eriksson is available. The Stars have an array of young wingers in the pipeline or already in Dallas — Reilly Smith, Brett Ritchie, Matt Fraser and Matej Stransky.
Eriksson, only 27, would catch everybody’s eye. Would David Krjeci be available in Boston if Tyler Seguin went to centre? Or maybe the Stars would offer a sixth- or seventh-round draft pick to Philadelphia for Daniel Briere, who the Flyers might buy out after the season ends. Briere might not be a No. 1, but he’s a solid NHL centre.
No suspense in NHL draft’s early picks
I wonder if the Colorado Avalanche will announce they’re taking Jones with the No. 1 pick weeks before the draft, like the Tampa Bay Lightning did with Steve Stamkos in 2008, so they can ramp up the advertising campaigns and get the billboards out. The Lightning had a “Seen Stamkos” website up before the draft.
I don’t see a lot of suspense in the first four names called on June 30 in Newark, N.J.
Jones, who learned to play the game in Denver, goes first; then the Florida Panthers take centre Nathan MacKinnon, knowing they’re probably losing centre Stephen Weiss to unrestricted free-agent status; Tampa goes third and takes winger Jonathan Droun, a reasonable junior facsimile of Patrick Kane, and plays him eventually with their No. 1 centre, Stamkos; and the Nashville Predators, desperate for a centre, goes for Finland’s Aleksander Barkov at No. 4, giving them two building blocks after acquiring Swedish winger Filip Forsberg, for Martin Erat at the trade deadline.
After that, it’s the Carolina Hurricanes, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers.
The Hurricanes need defencemen and go for Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds’ Darnell Nurse or Nikita Zadorov of the London Knights. The Flames need a centre, so Sean Monahan of the Ottawa 67’s is definitely in their sights.
The Oilers have three options. They can try hard to move into the top four to get Barkov, who might just be the most ready of the draft picks outside of Jones, although he’s out with a shoulder injury right now; they take the six-foot-five, 230-pound Zadorov at No. 7, if he’s there, or Monahan, but it’s a reach to have him still available at seven.
“Sky’s the limit with Zadorov,” said London GM Mark Hunter, who sees some of his old Montreal Canadiens’ teammate Larry Robinson in the Russian blue-liner.
The Oilers could also trade the No. 7 pick and move further back to take either Edmonton Oil Kings centre/winger Curtis Lazar or six-foot-five Quebec Major Junior Hockey League centre Frederik Gauthier, who scored the winning goal for Canada at the world under-18 championship.
Kulchisky receives Oilers alumni award
Former Oilers equipment man Lyle (Sparky) Kulchisky, who works tirelessly with the inner-city kids at the McCauley outdoor rink, was given the Oilers alumni’s highest honour, the Bill Hunter Memorial Award, at the association’s final get-together Friday.
“Sparky’s a father figure for a lot of these kids,” said Al Hamilton, whose Oil Kings associate coach/son Steve is also very involved in the inner-city project.
Low owns golf course in rural Manitoba
Ex-Oilers coach Ron Low is also heading up a charity hockey tournament in September for Edmonton’s homeless.
Low, the only NHL goalie to ever be head coach of two teams (the Oilers and New York Rangers), was last seen as an Ottawa Senators assistant coach, then he had a job in the oilpatch. He’s retired now and owns a golf course in Manitoba.
“Up in Dauphin. Patty Falloon and Theo (Fleury) are involved, too,” said Low, 62, who played junior hockey there.
Low last wore goalie pads in 1990, and has no interest in playing in the charity event.
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Curtis Lazar of the Edmonton Oil Kings hip-checks Portland Winterhawks defenceman Seth Jones into the boards during Saturday’s Western Hockey League playoff game at the Rose Garden. The Winterhawks won 3-0 to tie the best-of-seven championship final at 1-1.
Photograph by: Doug Beghtel, Doug Beghtel