Wednesday, January 20, 2010
It was only one game but I have to state that I have a serious man-crush on Nino Neiderreiter. He and Skinner were the best two forwards for Team Orr. Nino had the first goal and Skinner picked up a goal and an assist. Nino plays an NHL game already. He is big, makes simple plays (dump in, cycle, etc.), has a heavy shot and had arguably the best back-check in the game. His line was great on the forecheck, causing problems all night for Team Cherry.
Seguin vs. Hall?
Hall picked up an assist and showed his NHL speed, hands and shot. He and Seguin both tried to stickhandle through everyone too often but Hall was more successful. While I haven't seen enough of Seguin, I will say that Hall will have to change his game if he wants to be an NHL All-Star. He has speed, hands and makes good plays, but he plays selfish and tries to toe-drag everyone. He will get crushed if/when he tries that in the NHL.
Seguin had a great first period when he was using his teammates, as he was backchecking, making good passes and showing great hockey IQ. But, the second and third period seemed like he wanted to score no matter what, which caused him to turn over the puck too many times. With that said, one game will not deter scouts and GMs from debating who is the better forward.
Fowler was easily the best defenseman. He skates like the wind and makes a great first pass. He reminds me of Jaybo. He isn't overly physical but does not get caught flat-footed and always makes the right play.
The Wild are currently 11th overall in the standings, which probably means the above mentioned players will be gone. But, as of late, the Wild have not been playing well. They are on a 3-game losing streak and host Detroit tomorrow night.
The Gophers had a great weekend as they took 3 points from the Sioux. Nick Leddy is very mobile, does not get beat defensively but lacks confidence in the offensive zone. He also has a weak shot, something that hopefully gets better as Leddy gets stronger. He is a freshman who has been the Gopher's best defenseman, which is no small feat.
Burns has been cleared to play. Russo and others have reported he might be in the lineup tomorrow night, or he may get a 1-2 game conditioning stint in Houston. Personally, I hope he takes the safest route back possible. I have always been a Brent Burns fan and he has all the tools to be a #1 defenseman. His return will be huge in deciding the fate of UFA Zidlicky and possibly Johnsson
Also, as all Wild fans know, Sykora was put on and cleared waivers. His time with the Wild was short as he was injured early on and could not earn a spot on the top two lines. If he is not traded or picked up on re-entry waivers, look for Sykora to say goodbye to the NHL and hello to Europe, as he has a clause in his contract that allows Minnesota and Sykora to agree to a transfer.
Since I have made my man-crush on Nino public, here is a link to his brilliant one-handed backhand goal in the CHL skills competition.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
The season is more than half-way done. The season started with a new coach, a new system, a new Captain and no Marian Gaborik. After an October that saw the Wild get off to a 3-9 start, general manager Chuck Fletcher traded the Wild’s 2011 2nd round draft pick, Craig Weller and prospect Alexander Fallstrom for gritty right-winger, Chuck Kobasew. Chuck Kobasew brought work-ethic, grit and speed to a team trying to re-define itself. The move for Kobasew, as well as obtaining Latendresse for Pouliot and claiming Andrew Ebbett of waivers, has shown Fletcher’s willingness to be active. These moves have not turned the Wild into contenders by any means but they have become a part of a new Wild that currently sits 20-20-3, 10 points out of a playoff spot. And, the Wild has done this with injuries to core pieces Brent Burns and Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
Here is my mid-season report on the current roster:
Andrew Brunette: He has been nothing short of fantastic. He and Koivu hold down the first line, which allows Bruno to maintain his office down low. He leads the Wild in goals (13 goals), is second in points (35) and has not missed a game the whole season. He is well respected in the locker room, provides experience and will most likely find himself staying with the Wild as he has one year left on his contract.
Guillaume Latendresse: He has been an injection of size and skill to the Wild. He has 7 goals and 1 assist in 18 games with the Wild. He is 22, a restricted free agent and has shown chemistry with Havlat on the second line. He will continue to grow as a player and would benefit from Fletcher and Richards finding a #2 center.
Martin Havlat: The big off-season acquisition, right? Havlat had a tough start to the season, even being benched a few times. But, as of late, he has been putting up almost a point-per-game. He brings a lot of creativity to a team that lacks it. He is more of a playmaker than a finisher; he needs a #2 center to finish his and Latendresse’s passes. I’m not worried about Havlat and am glad Fletcher signed him. As long as he doesn’t get injured, he is worth every penny. He is definitely a part of the future as he is signed through 14/15.
Derek Boogaard: We all know him. Many Wild fans love him. I understand the point of an enforcer but in today’s game, particularly the system that Richards has implemented, Boogaard is a liability. The left winger averages 6:49 minutes per game, has 2 assists and is -12 in 31 games. He hasn’t scored forever and not too many people will fight him. He will be a UFA at the end of the year but I would not be surprised to see him re-signed. The Wild have no one that can stand with most of the middle weights out there, let alone heavyweights. Matt Kassian has shown nothing in the AHL and I highly doubt John Scott will be returning. I would be happy but surprised to see him traded or let go.
Mikko Koivu: There isn’t much to say about this guy except he is the engine of the Minnesota Wild. He has earned the captaincy and run with it. He has 41 points in 43 games, is on pace for a career year and continues to play all three zones. He is the future of the Wild and is signed through next season.
Kyle Brodziak: He was brought in from Edmonton to be Richards’ go to guy for the PK, face-offs, etc. While he has been decent, both Koivu and Belanger have been superior in face-offs. Brodziak has good size and a decent shot but does not have top-6 skills. He was signed to a multi-year deal and is versatile so he won’t be going anywhere.
Eric Belanger: Eric Belanger is on pace for a career year, sitting at 9 goals and 13 assists, for 22 points in 42 games. He is in a contract year and is looking to stay with the Wild. He is fifth in the league in face-offs with a 58.9 winning percentage. He has been shuffled up and down the lineup but has been consistent. It will be interesting to see if he is moved near the deadline for his versatility, ability to win face-offs and experience. Unless the Wild can obtain a proven #2 center, I think Belanger is more valuable to the Wild than he is on the open market.
James Sheppard: It is now obvious that he was rushed into the NHL and a part of the previous regime’s failure to groom prospects. Sheppard has played center and the wing this year. He does look much better as a winger as he has size and is decent along the wall. The problem with Sheppard is that he doesn’t have the speed to be a great forechecker in Richards’ system and he doesn’t have the skill to play on the top 2 lines. He can’t be sent to the minors either because someone would claim him on waivers. I will say that his attitude appears to be much better than in recent years, which is a part of maturing and realizing that being a 1st round draft pick does not guarantee a long NHL career. Sheppard is still young and has some value but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Fletcher make a similar trade he did with Pouliot for Latendresse. If Sheppard finishes the season the way his first half went, Fletcher will be lucky to get anything for him.
Andrew Ebbett: He was claimed off waivers as a low-risk, medium-reward player. He had some success last year with the Ducks but was placed on waivers early on in the 09-10 season, only to be claimed by Chicago. After 10 games and only 1 goal, Chicago placed him on waivers again. Ebbett has some hockey sense, decent hands but is small. He has 3 goals in 16 games with the Wild. Richards tried him between Latendresse and Havlat but had no success. Ebbett is a UFA at the end of the season and I doubt he is re-signed by the Wild, unless he magically develops chemistry with Latendresse and Havlat because he is too small to play a checking role.
Miettinen: He has chemistry with Koivu and Brunette but is not the answer on the top line. He is an NHL player but not a 1st line RW. He does bring effort every night and is versatile but is not the future of the Wild. Kobasew, and I’d even argue Clutterbuck, can provide the same skills that Miettinen can, while also providing grit. If the Wild could get something for him, I would trade him. I doubt that there would be any takers for him considering he is signed through next year at 2.5 million.
Owen Nolan: Oh, how I wish he was 10 years younger. This guy is an absolute warrior, still going to the net hard game after game. He still has his soft hands and goal-scoring touch but age and injuries have slowed him down. He provides leadership and grit which will be sought at the trade deadline as Nolan is a UFA and doesn’t have much left in the tank. His old-school style of play and leadership will be missed by fans and fellow teammates.
Clutterbuck: His play doesn’t always show up on the scoresheet but his energy and physical play changes games. It is not uncommon for Richards to praise Clutterbuck after a Wild victory. The NHL’s reigning hit leader (leading again with 163)does not take a shift off. He also has a hell of a wrister. He is a RFA, is the Wild leader in jersey merchandise and a part of the Wild core.
Chuck Kobasew: He has brought energy and grit to a team that has turned from a 2-2-1 to a 2-1-2 system. He is currently injured but is re-signed through 10-11. He is versatile and young, which makes him a top 6/bottom 6 guy, something that every team needs.
Bouchard: He played one game but has been on the LTIR with a concussion ever since. It would be nice to see how Bouchard would play under Richards but no one knows if he will even return this season. Signed until 12/13, it is hard to say what the future holds for Butch. I hope for the Wild’s sake that he returns, transitions easily to a center and has instant chemistry between Latendresse and Havlat. If not, it will be a big contract weighing down the Wild for the near future.
Petr Sykora: Brought in to provide goal-scoring, Sykora does not look like he will again reach the 20-goal plateau, something that has not happened since 97-98 when he scored 18. Part of this is due to him being injured for most of the year, as he has only played 12 games, scoring 2 goals. The other part is he hasn’t shown any chemistry with anyone outside of Havlat, but Havlat has been proving his worth when playing with Latendresse. He will be a UFA at the end of the year and, unless he turns it around, probably won’t be sought after come trade deadline.
Brent Burns: Another Wild player who has had 2 serious concussions in the past year. He has all of the tools to be a #1 defensman. The problem is consistency and injuries. If he can come back injury free, it will help Fletcher determine what will become of Zidlicky or Johnsson, perhaps both. If he can play 20+ minutes, play the powerplay, then I’d say Zidlicky is expendable as Burns has the right-handed shot and Johnsson provides a much more all-around game than Zids does.
Greg Zanon: Mr. Reliable #2. He isn’t as good as a skater as Schultz is, nor does he have as good of a first pass (and I wouldn’t even say Schultz has a great first pass), he does block shots, plays hard every night and is worth every penny for a #5/6 defenseman. He is signed through 11/12, provides leadership and experience. We knew what we were getting with Zanon and he is a guy every team needs.
Marek Zidlicky: He is having another solid year by offensive standards, with 3 goals and 22 assists through 43 games. He ranks third on the team in ice time with 23:27 minutes per game. He is 32 and a UFA at the end of the season. The problem with Zidlicky is he will be valued at the trade deadline but if Burns cannot return, the Wild do not have someone that can be an offensive threat from the blue line, especially someone with a right-handed shot. The only prospect that appears to have offensive potential from the blue line is Noreau in Houston, but he is small and unproven.
Kim Johnsson: Many Wild fans, myself included, feel he has been overpaid the past four seasons. However, he is the best all-around defenseman the Wild have. His skating ability is top-notch, he makes great outlet passes and leads the team in ice time at 23:35 per game. He, like Zidlicky, will be sought after come trade deadline as he is a UFA. But, again, Fletcher will have to evaluate where Burns is healthwise, how much Johnsson will be looking for if he were to re-sign with the Wild, and whether he could get a high pick(s) or a young prospect at the deadline. In my opinion, Zidlicky is more expendable but if Johnsson is looking for $4+ million a year, I’d consider trading him.
Shane Hnidy: He has been average at best. He is slow, makes poor reads and hasn’t brought the grit I expected. He can’t be faulted for lack of effort but he is old and there has to be better #6/7 options out there. I would much rather have Clayton Stoner on the team than Hnidy or Scott.
John Scott: His role has diminished with the play of Clayton Stoner. Richards has tried playing him at forward but he isn’t as feared as Boogaard and offers nothing more offensively/defensively. He is a UFA at the end of the season and I wouldn’t be surprised if he is put on waivers and sent to the minors before all is said and done.
Clayton Stoner: Since the Wild have drafted him, I have been waiting for him to make the NHL. Maybe it is because he is from the same town as Willie Mitchell but I have always heard he is big and brings a physical element to whatever team he plays on. Well, he has only had 8 games thus far but he has been mobile, responsible defensively, and even has shown some touch, earning 2 assists. He is a RFA but will be re-signed as he is only 24 and cheap. The only thing hindering Stoner is that he has had a history of injuries.
Niklas Backstrom: He has been arguably the best Wild player not named Koivu. He has continued his poise in the crease, even early on when the Wild were giving up numerous odd-man rushes. He is the Wild’s goalie through 12/13.
Josh Harding: He has had a rough year thus far. I have always felt Harding has the athleticism to be a starter in the NHL but he needs to play. But it is hard for Richards to justify playing him when Backstrom has given Richards no reason to. And when Harding has gotten starts, he hasn’t played at the level needed to earn more starts, or raised eyebrows of other teams’ scouts. He is not getting younger but is a RFA and will continue to be shopped by Fletcher.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
The NHL Network did a terrific job covering this tournament. From the play-by-play to the color commentator, it was just great work. Also, Dean Blais and the coaching staff did a terrific job. Every USA player that was interviewed mentioned the coaching staff and how close-knit the team was!
Marco Scandella had a solid game overall. He was shaky in the third period, turning the puck over twice in his own zone. But, overall, he played great defense, had a few hits and had a really nice shot on goal. Since the gamesheet isn't completed yet, I can't confirm whether he was on the ice for any of USA's goals. I didn't notice him, though, so that is a good sign.
Wild fans should be excited about him. He's big, has a heck of a shot, makes good passes and is physical. He did look tentative at times but that will come with confidence and more experience.
The Wild were beaten tonight 4-1 in Chicago. Latendresse had the lone goal and was very noticeable in the second period. He had a breakaway which Huet made a nice save on, and also setup Brodziak twice. If Havlat and Latendresse had a legitimate center, Latendresse would have picked up a few points. As has been the Wild's problems for some time, they need to obtain a #2 center.
That's it for now!
Sunday, January 3, 2010
Scandella got two points, including the game-winner (short-handed!), which earned him the player of the game. Scandella was great, shutting down Nino Niederreiter and making smart, simple passes. He might have some added pressure now as his partner, Travis Hamonic, was injured late in the game by a nasty hit from behind. Scandella and Hamonic have been Canada's shut-down pairing.
Scandella currently sits with 1 goal, 2 assist, for 3 points total in 5 games. He is also +6 for the tournament.
Nino Niederreiter was fairly quiet, although he did find himself picking up a secondary assist on the Swiss' only goal. It is hard to judge his talent since he doesn't have a supporting cast but he did look slow against the Canadians. With that said, he has had a very good tournament for a 17 year old and definitely increased his stock for the 2010 draft.
The USA beat Sweden 4-2. Sweden controlled the play most of the game but Allen outplayed Markstrom.
Hopefully, the same USA team that played the first 40 minutes against Canada on New Years Eve shows up for a full 60 minutes on Tuesday. Either way, it will be an exciting game.
Saturday, January 2, 2010
A guy that is projected to go mid-1st round at this point is Nino Niederreiter. He scored the tying goal with under a minute left in regulation, then put the shot on net that was tipped to beat Russia. He has 8 points in 5 games. He plays for Portland Winterhawks of the WHL and has 23 goals, 18 assists, for 41 points total. He's 6'1, 203. I've only seen his WJC performances; he's physical, smart, has good hands and a strong shot. He played the PK today and was one of the few Swiss that could handle the Russians.
USA beat Finland 6-2. The score was 4-2 until the last minute so it is a poor reflection of the game. USA had a very good first period, skating all over Finland. But, as soon as the 2nd period started, USA began making poor outlet passes and started to try too many fancy plays.
Eero Elo had the first goal for Finland. He came down the right side, took a low wrist shot, got the rebound and roofed it. He had a couple shots on net but still lacked good positioning and decisions with the puck. It appears he knows how to go north-south and shoot the puck when hes near the net, but breaking out, forechecking and awareness are all problems.
Tomorrow, Switzerland will play Canada, followed by USA vs. Sweden
The Wild lost 5-3 in a fast-paced game. Jamie Langenbrunner scored a hatty.
The Gophers beat Bowling Green 3-1 but continued to look lazy.
Thursday, December 31, 2009
Eero Elo had a poor game, going -2 with 4 shots on net. His poor outlet pass into the middle of his own zone led to the Sweden's second goal.
Overall, Elo is a big body that is definitely a project. He doesn't have anything above average and showed poor awareness on the forecheck, as well as breaking out of his own zone. The only thing noticeable was his ability to attack the net. I will see more of him when he plays team USA on Saturday.
Canada beat USA 5-4 in a shootout. It was just a great game to watch. The USA let go of a 4-2 lead and outplayed Canada for 45 minutes. As far as Scandella is concerned, he was one of Canada's better defensemen, getting an assist on Canada's goal by making a nice outlet pass to Brayden Schenn. Scandella played physical along the wall and only made one bad pass the whole game. Scandella had a few shots on net and appears to be gaining confidence as the tournament progresses.
Happy New Year!
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
The Wild have a few players in the tournament with Marco Scandella playing for Canada, as well as Jere Sallinen and Eero Elo for Finland. Since I have not been able to catch Finland play, I can't comment on his play. As far as Marco Scandella is concerned, this is a great experience for him. He hasn't played near the level that Pietrangelo, Ellis or Hamonic have but he has been making safe plays, playing physical and unloading a cannon on the powerplay (only late in the game considering Canada has smoked everyone thus far). Scandella gives guys problems with his poke-check and size but he does have problems when the puck is in close to his feet. He does appear nervous when he doesn't have time and space, but I think that is because he is growing into his body and maturing mentally. Remember, it was Cuma that was expected to be a shoe-in for team Canada the past two years. But, last years injury has taken a toll on young Cuma and it appears Cuma has to overcome a confidence issue.
With the above said, I will say that probable 1st overall pick Taylor Hall has been unbelievable. He had a hat trick tonight and was also dishing the puck beautifully. I am really glad the Wild have turned their season around but after watching Hall, my subconscious tells me having a chance at Hall would be a wet dream. The guy is big, has tons of speed, hustles and has great hands. He will be in the NHL next year and will be as effective as Tavares/Stamkos.
I can't wait until New Years Eve! The U.S. team will play Canada so now I/we can get to see a more competetive game. See you in a few!