BULLS RUN: DERBY DELIGHT FOR KLJESTAN
There was plenty of hype surrounding Sacha Kljestan the moment the midfielder signed with the Red Bulls on Jan. 28.
Having made 46 appearances for the US Men’s National Team — and with plenty of UEFA Champions League experience with Belgian powerhouse Anderlecht — Kljestan was supposed to be the playmaker the Red Bulls were in desperate need of. The team’s attack would be centered around Kljestan and his ability to combine with Bradley Wright-Phillips to strike fear in the hearts of defenses throughout Major League Soccer.
Now almost halfway through the season, things haven’t turned out exactly the way the Red Bulls and Kljestan planned. His offensive production has not been up to expectation and his early red card in the June 20 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps put his team behind the eight ball in the midst of a losing streak. Questions were being asked about Kljestan and whether or not he was the right fit for this team.
Sunday’s match against NYCFC may have gone a long way in answering those questions. After serving a one-match suspension, Kljestan returned to the starting lineup and put on a man-of-the-match performance, providing two assists in the Red Bulls’ 3-1 win over their newest rivals at Yankee Stadium.
“After [last game’s] red card, [Kljestan] took on a lot of responsibility and he felt like he let the club down,” coach Jesse Marsch said to the media during his post-match press conference.
“I told him that these things happen and that he’s going to have plenty of time to make it up to everybody. I think [Sunday], he wanted to make sure in a derby match that he’s going to step on the field and make a big imprint and I think he did.”
With the Red Bulls down 1-0 going into the second half, Kljestan put the team on his back and displayed the type of playmaking ability the team signed him for. His superb cross led to Wright-Phillips’ 47th-minute equalizer and his 52nd-minute free kick helped set up Chris Duvall’s game-winning goal.
After NYCFC’s opening blitz in the first 15 minutes of the game, Kljestan said he was able to grow into the match and take advantage of the opportunities the home side was giving him.
“We started kind of slow,” he said after the match. “I think [NYCFC] made it a point to be really hard on me. They got tired and I kept getting stronger. Fortunately, my teammates found with the ball in very good spaces and I could pick up a couple of assists.”
It was the type of game the Red Bulls had been longingly searching for from Kljestan. Will he be able to do it again? The team is hoping that he can and build momentum off of Sunday’s match.
“Sacha’s just rounding into form and we need him,” Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty said. “We need him to be our brain. We need him to make plays for us because that’s what we brought him in. He’s been steadily getting better every game and hopefully this is a game where his confidence just goes through the roof and that he can continue this form.”
A Look Ahead: vs. NY Cosmos (US Open Cup 5th Round)
The Red Bulls go from one New York derby to another, as they play host to the New York Cosmos Wednesday at Red Bull Arena. Live coverage on MSG+ begins at 7 PM.
The US Open Cup is the United States’ version of England’s famed FA Cup tournament. It’s the oldest competition in American soccer at 102-years-old. All three pro levels of American soccer and top amateur teams around the country are entered into the tournament, with a “one-and-done” format. Once you lose, you’re out of the Cup.
The Cosmos are not in Major League Soccer and are considered a “lower-league” side when it comes to the US Open Cup. It’s the first time the Cosmos will play at Red Bull Arena and, having already knocked off NYCFC in the previous round, the North American Soccer League side will be attempting to pull off a New York Derby double.
If you don’t know anything about the Cosmos, know this: They have in their disposal one of the top strikers of all time. Raul Gonzalez Blanco, better known as Raul, is one of the most decorated strikers in Spanish soccer history. A six-time La Liga winner with Real Madrid and three-time winner of the Champions League, Raul still poses a danger even at the age of 38.
Marsch has already stated that he will field his strongest team in Open Cup play and the Red Bulls will head into Wednesday’s contest not taking the Cosmos lightly.
“It’s going to big another big game Wednesday,” Kljestan said. “We know this is going to be a Cup Final for [the Cosmos] because they’re a lower-division team playing against a neighbor. “We also know that last year they knocked the Red Bulls out of the Open Cup, so we have to be prepared for a difficult game. Our mentality should shine through and we should win.”
Gift-Wrapping Up the Annual Draft
Carl Hagelin — gone.
Scott Gomez — gone.
Steve Bernier — gone.
What’s going on here?
House-cleaning in New Jersey, that’s what. Cap-spacing in New York, that’s the other what behind Hagelin’s departure.
The second day of the NHL Draft produced some surprises in both the Rangers‘ and Devils’ camps, not to mention one headline grabber from the Islanders.
Hagelin, a Seventh Avenue fan favorite for both his speed and timely goals, was dealt to Anaheim for 6-1, 212 pound lower priced left wing Emerson Etem and the 41st draft pick.
With that 41st selection, Glen Sather nabbed 6-3, 192 pound left wing Ryan Gropp who skated for Seattle in the Western Hockey League.
A rare product of Long Beach, California, the speedy Etem attracted attention during the playoffs with three goals and a plus-one for the Ducks in a dozen playoff games.
Sather — who previously had dealt super backup Cam Talbot to Edmonton — swiftly compensated by filling the crease with Antti Raanta who had shown major-league quality for the Blackhawks.
The Blueshirts dispatched forward Ryan Haggerty to Chicago, completing that exchange.
If Hagelin’s exit surprised many Rangers fans, Devils followers were doing double-takes when they learned that new general manager Ray Shero revealed that he would not try to re-sign Gomez and Bernier.
Ditto for defensemen Peter Harrold and Mark Fraser.
“It’s about our club getting younger,” explained Shero, “and a little different type team.”
Already stocked with veteran center Travis Zajac and improving pivot Adam Henrique, Shero asserted that he would give 2009 first-rounder Jacob Josefson a shot at being a regular third-line center.
As for Bernier — one of the brightest performers in the second half of the Devils’ season — the acquisition of right wing Kyle Palmieri from Anaheim made Steve less relevant to the Devils’ plans.
Shero also noted that 2012 first-round Stefan Matteau as well as KHL signee Sergey Kalinin will be given plenty of opportunities to make the big team.
With Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid, his one-two goaltending combo, Shero obtained more cease insurance with his 42nd pick,Mackenzie Blackwood.
A Thunder Bay, Ontario product, Blackwood, who played for Barrie in the Ontario (Junior) Hockey League, is regarded as the best of the draft-available North American puck-stoppers.
At 6-4, 205 pounds, Blackwood’s forte is puck-tracking. “He’s good at reading the play,” said one scout, “and getting into position.”
Another bird dog raved about the manner in which Mackenzie uses his size. “He’s so big and he fills the net — he almost looks like (the Florida Panthers) Roberto Luongo in there.”
The Gomez comeback saga has been particularly touching no matter how you view it.
He came to New Jersey’s camp last fall, starred in an exhibition game against the Islanders yet went un-signed until well into the season.
When then-Devils boss Lou Lamoriello restored Scott’s hockey life, Gomez’s enthusiasm spread through the dressing room. Plus, he finished third overall in team scoring.
Now Scotty is looking for a job again.
“I know I can play,” Gomez told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. “I got better as the year went on.”
And so he did. But Shero is running the hockey show in New Jersey and not Lamoriello who quite possibly would have re-signed Gomer.
Bernier also was a Devils mainstay and an equally positive personality. But this is Shero’s team and anyone who doubts that just has to review his moves.
If any postscript is needed in the surprise department, the Islanders pulled it off on the 172nd pick.
Garth Snow chose Andong Song who most recently starred for the Lawrenceville (New Jersey) School.
A native of Beijing, Song became the first Chinese-born player ever selected in the NHL draft.
“Hopefully,” Song enthused, “I can get people to rally behind me. Not focus on myself but do something good for Chinese hockey.”
Hey, sometime down the line Andong Song may so something good for Islanders hockey as well!
NHL Draft Round One: Who Got Hot, Who Got Chilled By the Draft?
Apart from the obvious — and I’ll get to that in seconds — the biggest local news coming out of Friday night’s Draft in Sunrise, Florida has to be Garth Snow‘s sleight of hand.
The Islanders General Manager entered the fray without a first-round pick and when the dust had cleared he wound up with not one but two first-rounders at 16th and 28th overall.
That’s not all because his choices — center Mathew Barzal and left wing Anthony Beauvillier — are a study in contrasts.
The ice game’s bible, The Hockey News, rated Barzal, who skated for the Seattle Thunderbirds, as high as tenth.
Although Beauvillier was plucked 28th, The Hockey News listed him twenty notches lower. Then again, The Hockey News has been wrong before.
Nobody expects the top two picks to be wrong choices; not by a long shot nor a slap shot. Details later because The Maven cannot overlook the marquee men.
Jack Eichel is hot stuff and Buffalo’s got him in the first round with the second overall pick.
In Edmonton Connor (First Overall But Not Necessarily The Best) McDavid is now Cannor McSavior; or so the Oilers hope.
Everyone but some migrant polar bear in the Arctic Circle knew that this was the way the headliners would be launched. But nobody was too sure about all the trades.
Tim Murray, Buffalo’s major domo in charge of transforming the Sabres from abject losers to enthused playoff contenders, didn’t stop with his super-Eichel move.
Murray completed a wise deal, bolstering his goaltending and offense by sending his 21st overall first round Draft pick to Ottawa for goalie Robin Lehner and forward David Legwand.
Nor did Murray put on the brakes. He sped forward in a deal with Colorado, obtaining center Ryan O’Reilly and left wing Jamie McGinn.
To do so, Tim unloaded defenseman Nikita Zadorov, center Mikhail Grigorenko, left wing JT Compher and Buffalo’s second round pick (31st overall) in the current draft.
Beyond the Sabres — and looking ahead — the Devils had more than a passing interest in hockey’s annual beatification of beef.
That’s especially true for Ray Shero, New Jersey’s spanking new general manager, who selected sixth overall.
The debate was over his choice; would he surprise and go for a defender or do as expected and find a favorite forward?
True to the odds, Ray opted for Czech center Pavel Zacha who has drawn raves from several sources including Chris Edwards of NHL Central Scouting.
“Zacha has high-end skill,” reported Edwards. “He’s an excellent competitor who plays a physical and excellent two-way game. He’s solid on his skates and has the ability to separate guys from the puck.”
At 6-3, 214 pounds, Zacha is the second Czech drafted by New Jersey in the first round. The first, Petr Sykora, drafted 18th overall in 1994, enjoyed a long and successful NHL career.
Looking backward, scouts have compared Zacha with former Devil Bobby Holik, who starred on New Jersey’s first Cup-winning team in 1995.
Another avid Devils-watcher, Noam Kogen, sees Pavel as a new version of Joe Nieuwendyk while The Hockey News predicts that the Brno-born prodigy could very well wind up on the wing.
“Zacha,” observed Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News, “has a combination of size and skill that makes him intriguing.”
It’s worth noting that Pavel has been mentored by ex-Ranger Petr Nedved, one of the smartest players to come down the pike. Or this from another scout:
“Zacha looks like a pro since he’s a big power forward with skill. He’s all-round solid and sure does compete.”
Shero also obtained forward Kyle Palmieri from Anaheim. Ray sent his pick at 41 and a selection next year. Born in Smithtown, Long Island, Palmieri grew up in New Jersey. He’s a solid offensive pick-up, no doubt about it.
Barzal wound up an Islanders pick after Snow dealt defense prospect — but not one of The Maven’s favorites — Griffin Reinhart to the Edmonton Oilers.
How good can Barzal be? One scout waxed delightfully about the Coquitlan, British Columbia native who stands 6-0, 183 pounds:
“Mathew is the best prospect in the West. He’s really smart and poised with the puck; I call him ‘a thinker.’ He’s strong on his feet which is deceptive because he’s not the biggest guy.”
Another bird dog was equally impressed: “Barzal sees the ice really well and has the ability to control the puck down low thanks to his elite skating.”
In an era where smaller players such as Tyler Johnson and Mats Zuccarello have succeeded, big-time, it’s surprising that the 5-10, 181 pound Beauvillier appears to be a victim of scouting size prejudice.
Many observers who have watched the French-Canadian who starred for Shawinigan believe he’ll be a pleasant surprise.
“He has so much drive,” opined one scout. “He plays at a high pace and has a really good skill set. He comes to play in every game and blocks shots.”
Snow, no doubt, also had this in mind when he took the gamble on Beauvillier:
“You would pay to see Anthony play,” concluded another scout.
And that explains why Snow and the Islanders may have pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the 2015 Entry Draft.
The Knicks Fix: Take the Risk in Porzingis, Keep Him Around For the Reward
You’re mad, but you aren’t quite sure why you’re mad. You’re also confused because while you may have booed the Knicks decision to select Latvian big man Kris Porzingis with the 4th overall pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft, some of the loudest critics of the franchise over the last decade came away praising the work of Phil Jackson and his staff.
“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” ESPN draft guru Chad Ford tweeted during the draft. “Kris Porzingis and Jerian Grant? I’m loving the Knicks draft.”
Grant, who was selected at 19th overall by the Wizards, who flipped him to the Hawks, who traded him to the Knicks in exchange for Tim Hardaway Jr. (got all that?), is a nice pick up. A big guard who can get to the rim and also shoot the three, Grant is a four-year player from Notre Dame who comes with maturity and a high basketball IQ.
But Porzingis … he’s just … well …
And what about that little kid, the Knicks fan, who was seen crying as he tried to take a selfie when Porzingis was announced?
Just look at him! He’s tall. He’s skinny.
I mean, just keep Vince Carter far away from this dude.
He probably has NO IDEA what he’s getting himself into.
“They’re booing me because they don’t know me,” Porzingis told MSG Network’s Tina Cervasio moments after he was selected.
“Or maybe,” he then added, “they don’t want a European on their team.
Maybe he gets it more than you think.
Pay close attention now, because here’s what you need to know about this kid, beyond the basketball court. He’s not your typical European prospect. This is very evident in a very candid remark he made in an interview with Yahoo! Sports earlier this month: “They’ll say, ‘This guy is a bust’. He’ll be Tskitishvili, this Georgian guy. Bargnani, Darko…That’s why I am talking, because I want the fear to go away with me. I want people to get to know me. I don’t want to be the mystery man from Europe.”
“Some fans – they don’t want a European on their team. People have opinions, but maybe they’ve never seen me play. There’s nothing I can say, only I can go out and prove myself.”
He actually named names. And how about the fact that all three of them once played for the Knicks?
Phil Jackson admitted the “risk-reward was the greatest for this guy,” but added he based his decision not on popularity but on “What do I do best for this franchise?” He called Porzingis “an eye-opening athlete and a player” and said “his upside is terrific.”
This was not just the opinion of Jackson. Many GMs were intrigued by Porzingis. Many draft experts who attended his workout in Las Vegas salivated at his potential. He’s 7-foot-1 in his stocking feet at the age of 19. There is room to grow, especially on that spindly frame. He weighs about 220 pounds, which is a waif by NBA standards, but keep in mind that Pau Gasol entered the NBA at almost the same exact size.
Man strength comes in your 20s.
But let’s not get into the debate about Porzingis’ potential. With the right environment and development, it’s clear his skill set is favorable to being a talented NBA player in the future. What we need to focus on here — and no one is — involves the Knicks history with the draft and their decisions.
And it has nothing to do with Frederic Weis.
If Porzingis is somewhat of a project, if he is going to need time to grow, then let him have that time. Let him reach that potential in a Knicks uniform, which we so rarely get to see anymore from this team’s draft picks.
Consider this: Since Patrick Ewing was selected No. 1 overall in 1985, the Knicks have made 25 first round picks going into this year’s draft. Guess how many, after Ewing, stayed with the Knicks beyond their first five seasons?
That would be Charlie Ward, who spent 10 seasons with the team after he was selected 26th overall in 1994.
Porzingis is the eighth Top-10 pick the Knicks have made since 1985. Of those eight picks, only Ewing became a franchise player. The seven other picks — Kenny Walker, Nene, Michael Sweetney, Channing Frye, Danilo Gallinari and Jordan Hill — remained with the team for an average of just two years.
None of them became NBA All-Stars.
So if there’s anything that the Knicks must learn from as they make Porzingis their most important draft pick in three decades, it’s to learn from their history. Invest in your decision, develop the player and have the patience to allow him to grow into his potential.
And when he does, make sure he’s still wearing a Knicks uniform.
The Knicks Fix: In D’Angelo Russell, the Ghost of Steph Curry?
I remember how abruptly the conversation with Dell Curry ended that night during the 2009 NBA Draft. We had been in contact for weeks leading up to the draft, discussing the mutual admiration between his son, Steph, and the Knicks.
But once the Golden State Warriors announced their pick, the Knicks were as forgotten as my last text.
Going into that night, the Knicks were, as Steph said himself, “the best fit.” He spoke openly about his preference to land at the Knicks pick, at 8th overall, and play in Mike D’Antoni’s offense. Even his agent, Jeff Austin, made it clear to other teams, including the Warriors, that Curry’s focus was on New York.
We know what happens next. The Warriors, undaunted, took Curry at No. 7, just one pick before the Knicks were on the clock. Donnie Walsh, then president of the Knicks, was devastated.
“If they were one spot higher,” Austin told Harvey Araton recently, “where would they be now?”
Six years later, the Warriors are the world champions and Curry is the MVP. The Knicks are back in the lottery and are eyeing another Curry-like scenario in D’Angelo Russell.
“I think I can definitely thrive there,” the 19-year-old from Ohio State told ESPN.com.
Russell, a 6-foot-5 lefty with uncanny court vision, would be considered a prototypical guard in the Triangle Offense. There is plenty about his game to love and forecast all-star potential. Knicks team president Phil Jackson even cost himself a hefty fine for saying Russell is a “great-looking kid, great prospect” after watching him play in college.
Russell has met with the Knicks a few times and twice has worked out for the team. More than just on-court scouting, Jackson and Derek Fisher have put Russell — like most of the prospects — through a Chalk Talk session that lasts as long as a half an hour. In these sessions, the players are given a brief tutorial of the fundamentals of the Triangle Offense and asked for input.
Remember, Jackson said early last season he is looking for “learners.”
Count Russell in among them.
“I asked them what’s one thing I can do to separate myself and they gave me some great knowledge on that,” he said in the interview with ESPN.com. “They’ve seen the greatest of the greats come through this league, so they know what it takes.”
All of this would lead to a foregone conclusion on draft night if only the Knicks dropped just one spot in the lottery, to No. 3, instead of two spots, to No. 4. With the Timberwolves all but locked in on Karl Anthony Towns at No. 1 and the Lakers seemingly prepared to snare Jahlil Okafor at No. 2, the wild card remains the third overall pick, which is held by the Philadelphia 76ers.
Does anyone really know what Sam Hinkie and the Sixers will do? History suggests they will do the unconventional. The last two years they drafted a player who was injured and would miss their rookie season (Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid). With those two big men in the fold, one would think the Sixers, after trading away another former lottery pick, Michael Carter-Williams, are in the market for a guard.
But wait, the latest information on Embiid says his foot injury has not healed properly and he may require surgery. The Sixers are facing the prospect of him missing the start of the season. And another lottery pick, Dario Saric, is reportedly staying in Europe for at least two more seasons.
Would that motivate the Sixers to try another talented big man, Latvian Kristaps Porzingis, in this year’s draft? Porzingis, who is 7-feet tall with a huge wingspan and rare athleticism and perimeter talent, has been among the buzz in the Top-5 throughout the predraft process.
He is, however, considered a long-term project that has huge potential. The Sixers have made their fans wait for several years now through a long rebuild. The conventional move would be to take Russell at No. 3, but there are whispers they are strongly considering taking Porzingis.
There are also whispers that Russell has given the Sixers the cold shoulder. He even cancelled a recently workout, but it was rescheduled. Russell has since dismissed any talk that he doesn’t want to be drafted by Philadelphia.
But with the Knicks sitting at No. 4, just one pick away, it is clear Russell has a preference.
That’s what will make draft night once again an arduous night for the Knicks war room, not to mention their fans. Will the words of Jeff Austin, the agent of Steph Curry, echo again?
“If they were one spot higher….”
If Russell is gone, who would the Knicks then take? Here are a few alternatives:
If the Sixers take Russell, he will be available. Porzingis is 19 years old and already measuring at 7-foot-1 with a 7-foot-6 wingspan. The issue is he’s just 230 pounds, which suggests he won’t be able to handle the physicality of the NBA game right away. ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla told me he has a lot of Dirk Nowitzki in his game, but also admitted he has “bust potential.” The Knicks went to Las Vegas to watch him work out and reportedly invited him in for a workout Monday.
Another 19 year old with some mystery. He’s 6-foot-5 with a 6-foot-9 wingspan and great athleticism, but he spent the winter playing in China after a transcript issue — no fault of his own — led to eligibility issues at SMU. He played just 12 games as a pro in China due to an injury and is mostly living off a reputation as one of the top high school recruits from 2014 and YouTube videos. The Knicks have met with him several times and had him in for a workout and a similar video/skull session that Russell and others have endured. There does not seem to be a great deal of enthusiasm around him, however, from any of the Top-5 teams.
Athletic, tough and talented with the exact kind of character you love to add to your locker room. The only question with Winslow involves his size: He measured 6-foot-6 ½ and 222 pounds at the NBA Draft Combine, which means he is a wing player in the NBA. In college, he played mostly power forward. Does he have enough of a perimeter game to thrive on the wing at the NBA level?
Defensively versatile big man who has Tyson Chandler potential, but that means he’s just as limited as Chandler on offense. Aside from lobs and the occasional put-back, you’re not going to get much out of him at that end of the floor. But on defense he has the ability to guard all five positions and fill a lot of holes that can help improve your five-man play dramatically. The question is: Do you take a defensive specialist in the Top-5 or do you trade down a few spots where he is projected to land?
Trading down out of the four-spot is an option both Jackson and Steve Mills have acknowledged. There are several teams looking to make a move up in the draft and the Knicks could try to land a veteran player in a swap of picks. Along with Cauley-Stein, the Knicks could move down the order and still come away with the likes of a Frank Kamensky, Trey Liles or even Kevon Looney, whom all have the skill set to fit in the Triangle philosophy.
The Knicks, of course, prefer to stay at four and make a pick. But only if their best option is still on the board.
The Knicks Fix: Carrying the Weight of the Wait
Eventually, the math has to change.
Phil Jackson has been using addition by subtraction formulas over the first year of his tenure, right up to Thursday’s NBA Trade Deadline. And while some hopeful fans were left disappointed when the Knicks weren’t involved in anything substantial before the deadline — where over a dozen players dealt in a frenzy during the final minutes — one thing we can assure is this: the Knicks won’t be wallflowers from this point on.
Fact is, they can’t be. In 29 games, this season will be over. Come July 1, only four players will remain under contract. Jackson has no choice but to begin the rebuild after spending the second half of his first season dismantling the roster.
First things first: the final stages of demolition.
Jackson granted a request from Amar’e Stoudemire for a buyout of the remainder of his expiring contract so he could sign with a playoff team. Stoudemire reunited with his friends Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton in Dallas, where he will bolster their bench. Jackson said Amar’e “wanted to play for a contender, we felt it was the right thing to do.”
Amar’e knew, with an expiring contract and a game that didn’t fit the style of play now employed by Jackson and Derek Fisher, he wasn’t part of the future here. Amar’e said last week that “Father Time is ticking” and he wanted to take advantage of good health when he could to make a run at a championship. In an ultra-competitive Western Conference, does he help put the Mavericks over the top?
Some quick useless stats: Amar’e and Carmelo Anthony were teammates for 311 regular season games. They appeared together just 56.9% of those games (177) and were on the court together for 20.2 minutes per game over their time as teammates. The helped the team produce 41.9 points per game when on the court together and were a grand total of -89 in 177 games while on the court together.
By comparison, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were teammates for 312 regular season games in Miami and appeared together in 76.6% of the games (239) and were on the court together for 26.9 minutes per game. They helped the team produce 61.5 points per game while on the court together and were +1,633 in those 239 games on the court together.
TRADE WITH ROCKETS
Jackson traded veteran Pablo Prigioni to the Rockets for combo guard Alexey Shved and a pair of future second round picks. Shved, an enigmatic player who came into the league with a little bit of hype, will get a chance to play some minutes in the Triangle Offense, which could showcase his skill set. He will be a restricted free agent at season’s end.
Prigioni, a class act in every sense of the word, has one more partially guaranteed year left on his deal. Kevin McHale can only hope that Patrick Beverley takes the time to watch Prigioni’s crafty defense and gain some knowledge from the veteran Argentine. If he does, it may become impossible to simply inbound the basketball against the Rockets.
Most importantly, in this trade the Knicks added a few picks to their coffers. One is in the 2017 draft, in which they now own a first and a second, and the other is in the 2019 draft, which gives them a first round pick plus two seconds that year.
Carmelo Anthony will be out for the rest of the season after undergoing knee surgery. We knew this was coming, but the surprise came when Jackson revealed that the recovery time would be 4 to 6 months. All along, Melo was telling us he was told it was an 8-week recovery period. Regardless, he is expected to be back on the court well before training camp opens, but, of course, that’s barring any setbacks or complications.
Worst-case scenario takes him to late August, which leaves a good six weeks before training camp opens the first week of October. That’s not a great deal of time to get himself into game shape, but he does have camp/preseason to get there in time for the start of the season. Barring any fitness setbacks, of course (hamstrings, for instance).
Best-case would be late June, which gives him more time to ramp himself up to training camp speed. Obviously the big question is the variable that comes with all knee surgery: finding another issue (mainly: cartilage damage). The team did not report any other issues with the surgery, which the team announced was successfully performed on Thursday.
So unless complications outside of the patellar tendon are revealed, this is NOT the same situation as Dwyane Wade, Danny Granger or Amar’e Stoudemire, who each recently had debridement procedures that also involved cartilage damage. To this point, as Melo said, it has been strictly a tendon issue.
The fact that Melo waited until after he played in the 2015 NBA All-Star Game last weekend was a major bone of contention among the media and fans. Jackson said he met with Melo back in January when the team was in London and they discussed the plan. Melo made the case that being in the All-Star Game was important to him and Jackson said he granted Melo’s request to delay surgery until then.
What no one has asked Melo is if he would have done this if the game was anywhere other than Madison Square Garden.
What was asked was if the Knicks were in contention for a playoff spot, would he have played through it until the end of the season? Jackson quickly said no.
“I think probably not,” he said, “because the limitation of playing and inability to play and limited time and practices he’s had to sit out, would really hamper the team going forward.”
Here is something else to consider: Whether he had the surgery in December or February, Melo would still have to endure a slow return to speed come training camp because of the time off. It’s not as if you would see him shaking off the rust in summer league (too risky), so like any player returning from surgery and an extended period off the court, the first few weeks of camp would be a re-acclimation process.
Jackson said Melo is expected to have a pretty standard recovery process, which means he will be ready for training camp. Still, when pressed about whether he could have insisted Melo skip the All-Star Game and have the surgery sooner, Jackson dismissed the thought.
“No, we did not,” he said. “This is his choice. He has to make the choice. He has to feel comfortable with it.”
We’ll know in September.
OK, now to what’s next…
NBA DRAFT LOTTERY
The first most important date in Knicks future is May 19, 2015. That’s when the NBA Draft Lottery will be held. That day could be a tone-setter for the rest of the offseason. The Knicks (10-43) would right now hold the first position in the lottery, which yields a 25% chance of winning.
From that result comes the NBA Draft on June 25, right here in New York. It will be the first addition of many for this offseason and could be the most critical. All eyes are on the top prospects in college basketball, from Duke center Jahlil Okafor, to Kentucky big man Karl Anthony-Towns and Ohio State guard DeAngelo Russell. There’s also Emmanuel Mudiay, a 19-year-old guard who is playing in China after he was declared ineligible to play at SMU.
Jackson said he will personally be in attendance to watch certain players and mentioned an interest in taking audience at conference tournaments rather than early NCAA rounds, because in conference play there is a greater familiarity in scouting and preparing for opponents, and there is a greater intensity in the atmosphere. He suggested that you get a better sense of a player’s character in that environment.
REMAINDER OF THE SEASON
OK, but before we even get to talking about college prospects or the lottery drawing, there are still 29 games to be played and it’s a job Derek Fisher says he is taking seriously, though with an understanding that the objectives have changed, somewhat. Still, Fisher says there is a culture change in progress.
“As we still strive to be competitive this season, we’re obviously going to be in a position where we should have a pretty good pick and we’ll have an opportunity to draft a really good player,” Fisher said. “But that player needs to be brought into an increasingly stabilized environment. So my job is to steer that ship in the right direction so whatever player we’re fortunate enough to have join us, he’s coming into a situation that’s moving in the right direction.”
With that in mind, Fisher told me he doesn’t plan to just turn the minutes over to the young players, such as Tim Hardaway Jr. and Cleanthony Early. He will still dole out minutes based on merit, preparation and effort.
As for the intriguing Thanasis Antetokounmpo, it’s still not certain when — or even if — we will see him in an NBA uniform this season. The Knicks do have a roster spot open after Stoudemire’s departure, but Jackson said he and his staff are “contemplating” what to do with the raw, but athletically gifted player.
One issue Jackson mentioned was that Antetokounmpo has been playing mostly wing in the D-League, while, at 6’5”, he will be playing exclusively in the backcourt at the NBA level and, therefore, needs more development in that area.
Free Agency, of course, is the main event this summer. The Knicks will have potentially as much as $30 million to spend on players to build up the roster. One possible target, however, may be lost in Goran Dragic, who was traded to the Miami Heat before the deadline.
Dragic has a player option for next season that he is expected to decline to become a free agent. The Heat now have the upper hand to sign him because, by trading for him — at the steep price of two first round picks — they own his Bird Rights and therefore can offer him the most years and money.
The Knicks were reportedly in on conversations with the Suns to acquire Dragic, but were not prepared to surrender any more draft picks, especially not for a player who could walk at the end of the year.
One last thought on Dragic: the day before the trade deadline, he reportedly listed the Heat, Lakers and Knicks as his preferred destinations. That’s curious to me because hadn’t we heard all weekend that New York was not a destination of choice for free agents and no one wanted to play here?
Jackson heard that noise as well.
“Wow. I guess that question was asked a lot this weekend, because I seem to see that question running back and forth. Why wouldn’t it be? …,” he said. “As far as arenas and fans to play in front of, I can’t imagine not wanting to play in New York because of the fans, the arena, the participation the fans have in basketball and their desire for a team. It’s just a fact of the way this game is structured in this city that people know the game, like the game and pay attention to it.”
In a few short months, he — and all of us — will find out just who wants to be part of it.
Assessing The Value Of Cam Talbot
Editors Note: article was updated following the Rangers trade of Cam Talbot to Edmonton for three draft picks
One of the things that fans struggle with is player value. They tend to overvalue the players they have become emotionally attached to while undervaluing the assets of others. So expectations become a stark contrast to reality. This type of emotional investment is what fuels the sports machine.
This is the type of atmosphere that surrounds the Cam Talbot trade. The pre-trade hype machine raised fan expectation to first round heights, when in reality the negotiating space for Rangers GM Glen Sather was likely starting from the second round. With the Rangers investing in Henrik Lundqvist through the 2020-21 season, the time to make a deal is now. If Talbot recorded another season like the one he just had (21-9-4, .926 SV%, 2.21 GAA), the Rangers would still appear hesitant to hand him the starter role and he’d command a raise as a backup. With unrestricted free agent (UFA) status approaching next summer, the Rangers’ asking price on the trade market for Talbot would not have increased much because other general managers don’t like to pay for goaltending.
Goalies are undervalued assets by other general managers. Since the lockout, the returns on goaltending has been minimal and consists mostly of a draft pick or goalie-for-goalie swaps (Ryan Miller fit into both as he was traded for Jaroslav Halak and a combination of draft picks). Roberto Luongo has been traded a couple of times, but even those returns were essentially a worn/broken Todd Bertuzzi or fading prospects with Jacob Markstrom and Shawn Matthias the return.
Focusing on only goaltender deals that involved draft picks, I charted them vs. a goaltender’s minutes played. The only goaltender with the same limited amount of NHL experience as Talbot that returned a first round pick was Semyon Varlamov. It was a very high return, but at the time of the deal Varlamov was only 23-years-old and just approaching his peak seasons. The Colorado Avalanche overpaid, but did so acquiring a goaltender who they would control for his prime. The other first rounders were paid out for Dwayne Roloson, Cory Schneider, Robin Lehner yesterday and the Toronto Maple Leafs crazed for Vesa Toskala. The general return on a player like Talbot is a second to third rounder.
The Edmonton Oilers were unlikely to unload a first-rounder ith their regular involvment in the NHL Lottery process. Missing on a goaltender with the 25th pick is a much different sell than doing so with a lottery pick. Historically, teams don’t like to give up first round picks for goaltenders.
The question becomes should they?
It is difficult to expect anybody to give up a high price for a goaltender who has never had the run as a full-time starter and through his 27 age season has faced only 1,600 shots. The sample size to assess is still open to being poisoned through luck or being placed behind a strong team and a save percentage inflating system.
I like Edmonton’s approach to finding a goaltender. They have made some low-cost gambles when they brought Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasthfor for third-rounders. It isn’t the worst way to attempt to acquire goaltending when the league wide assessment is still so poorly exectued. We only need to look at the action from the first two days of the NHL Draft to see how widely different goaltenders are evaluated through the Lehner/Lack/Talbot market.
An issue is the lack of understanding of the NHL middle class and how far that middle is from the top of the class where Lundqvist and Carey Price reside. You don’t need elite goaltending to win the Stanley Cup anymore and middle class guys like Devan Dubnyk can look horrific when exposed or heroic when their flaws are covered.
So if you don’t draft a goaltender, the best way to acquire one is to poach one from an organization that has an excess and is forced into undervaluing them because it is senseless to pay two guys starters money. When one guy shows signs of being paid, he becomes available.
Two recent examples are Cory Schneider and Ben Scrivens who were stuck behind monster contracts to Roberto Luongo and Jonathan Quick. Comparing their age 26/27 seasons against Talbot showed that Talbot is flirting with the upper class of Schneider through his 1,600-shot sample.
I went into my scouting process expecting Talbot to have been propped up by backup minutes and a strong defense, but I was pleasantly surprised by the way he manages his depth and tracks the puck. One of the biggest red flags I have for a goaltender is the way he reads the play and drops or guesses on plays. It generally shows up in their clean save percentage. When a goaltender can set and see a shot, the Osgood line (average goaltender) is .950. Talbot is well above that at .954, which is important because goaltenders face 85% or more of these shots during a season. His sky high save percentage is the result of his 70%-plus success rate on plays across the royal road and close to 80% success rate on tipped shots and rebound opportunities. These numbers will drop as even elite guys like Carey Price and Lundqvist have never been able to maintain this type of success long term.
For a player with Talbot’s lack of experience, I found him tracking pre-shot movement very well and rarely chasing or getting caught behind the play. These are all encouraging signs of a solid middle class guy who you can win with in the NHL with a nice sample of elite success that is worth the gamble for. The Oilers paid the historical market cost and for them it is a worthwhile risk.
So while fans were pushing for a first round pick the actual return is prefectly in line with the goaltending market. Glen Sather’s hands were tied with Talbot’s UFA status approaching and their commitment to Lundqvist. And while Lehner did fetch a 1st, there was a history between Sabres GM Tim Murry with the Senators which likely had an impact on his willingness to pay a premium.
The Rangers were never going to have more leverage than they currently did and came close to maxing out their return.
Pre-Draft Analysis for Rangers, Devils, Islanders & Sabres
The annual NHL Entry Draft is set to begin in Sunrise, Florida on Friday night and who will win it just about everybody knows.
Edmonton will crow about its good-luck first pick Connor McDavid while Buffalo can rightfully brag that Jack Eichel might even be better.
In terms of our four New York-New Jersey teams, Buffalo leads with aggregate picks at eight while the Devils follow with six and the Rangers and Islanders are tied with a total of five each.
Meanwhile, the “Who’s Better — McDavid vs. Eichel” continues into the night.
Some experts such as hockey TV producer Tim Rappleye wax ecstatic over the Sabres’ man.
“Eichel was the youngest player at the World Championships,” says Rappleye, “averaging a point a game for Team USA against some of the NHL’s best.”
“His storybook OT buzzer-beater over Slovakia propelled USA to a Cinderella bronze medal. And he got better each night.”
So what happens after the Eichel second overall pick? Nobody really knows because this much-debated 2015 player exchange has been called “a crap shoot.”
Bill Torrey originated that immortal remark when he was the Islanders rookie general manager in 1972 and plucked right wing Billy Harris as first overall.
Cliff Fletcher, boss of the Atlanta Flames, went second and chose Jacques Richard.
Torrey won the crapshoot. Richard was a skating disaster. A serviceable scorer, Harris’ value rose historically after he was part of the 1980 deal in which he was traded to Los Angeles in the exchange that brought Butch Goring to the Island.
Plus four Stanley Cups for Torrey, coach Al Arbour and a cast of Hall of Famers led by another top draft pick, Denis Potvin.
The draft sure does produce champs. Chicago corralled its current captain Jonathan Toews third overall in 2006 and a year later nabbed Patrick Kane with the first selection.
Each already has three Cup rings.
For the Rangers, Islanders, Devils and Sabres, the current draft presents a chance for each club to fortify its future in a variety of ways.
What makes this draft so intriguing is the array of talent following the marquee magicians, McDavid and Eichel. And with the sixth overall pick, the Devils might find a gem to brighten their offensive picture.
In addition to the sixth overall spot, GM Ray Shero has two second round selections (36 and 41) as well as a third (67) fourth (97) and sixth-rounder (157).
As for his sixth overall pick, Shero oozes hope. “Any time you pick in the first round,” he asserts, “you have a chance to get an impact player.”
Among the lower-down, long-shot picks an interesting possibility is Freeport, Long Island native Jeremy Bracco.
His size is reminiscent of Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson. Scouts describe him as an elusive skater with blazing speed. Bracco is regarded as the top draft prospect from the New York-New Jersey area.
After Eichel, Buffalo gets the 21st pick as well as two more in the second round (31 and 51). Plus, one each in the fourth (92) fifth (122) sixth (152) and seventh round at 182.
Some scouts have called this draft the deepest in almost a quarter-century and that’s good for the Rangers and Islanders.
And unless Glen Sather engineers a deal, his Blueshirts’ first selection will come late (59) in the second round. Then they’ll pick again with one selection in the third (89) fourth (119) and sixth (179) rounds.
Meanwhile, Garth Snow‘s patience will be tried since his Isles won’t pick — barring a deal — until the third round when he’ll have two selections — 72 and 82. Snow will be at it again in rounds four (112) and six (172) as well as one pick in round seven — 202.
The following are The Maven’s thoughts about our quartet of teams and their draft ambitions:
The Sabres need scoring and that makes Eichel THE man. More important Sabres GM Tim Murray must persuade Jack the Prodigy to join the club this fall. After all, procrastination is the thief of time.
No less than an offense-boost, Buffalo also must emphatically bolster its goaltending foundation. Right down to the acquisition of Chad Johnson from the Islanders this past season, netminding became the bête noir of the club.
In terms of goaltending draft prospects the first name that emerges as a possibility is Mackenzie Blackwood of Barrie. CentralScouting.com likes him enough to have placed the 6’4, 215-pounder at the top of North American goalie prospects.
If another team nabs Blackwood before the Sabres do, there’s an appetizing alternate out of Quebec. In this age of oversized goalie, Callum Booth stands 6’3 and is placed second among the North American puck-stoppers.
Any Buffalo goalie will require more defense than was provided last season. If available, Jakub Zboril is worth a look. He starred on the St. John’s (QMJHL) blue line and is regarded as one sure NHLer in a year or two.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
The new, New Jersey hockey era has dawned with Shero inheriting Lou Lamoriello’s baton. And while Ray’s focus is on bolstering the attack, he’ll opt for a defenseman if that player is “the best available at that selection.”
According to the Devils director of scouting David Conte, a few very gifted backliners might inspire his group to advise Shero to bypass a forward on their sixth pick.
“A defenseman is really in play,” Conte admitted. “How do you say no to a guy who is projected to be Drew Doughty? There are some very good defensemen involved in these top picks and I’m sure the teams ahead of us are thinking that, too.”
Conte is thinking about Noah Hanifin of Boston College who could go as high as the third pick right after McDavid and Eichel. Should that happen, New Jersey would have an excellent opportunity to grab the projected next-best. And that would be the Russian blue liner, Ivan Provorov who has starred for the junior Brandon sextet.
Some say that Provorov, who enjoyed a super WHL rookie season, is better than Hanifin although the latter is believed to have a more offensive upside.
Should Shero go with the flow and stick with the plan to pluck a forward, any of the following would be an appetizing choice — on the assumption that someone picking between three and five doesn’t get to him first.
DYLAN STROME: He centered Connor McDavid’s line in Erie and he performed admirably, with 129 points. Kid brother of the Isles’ Ryan Strome, the lad draws raves but will not necessarily go third.
MITCH MARNER: The Devils could use a right wing and this London Knights prize has drawn comparisons to Patrick Kane and Claude Giroux. That may be a long-range stretch but, hey, you never know.
PAVEL ZACHA: He’s described as pro-ready, boasting both size and skill. On the minus side, he missed a good part of last season in Sarnia due to a suspension as well as injuries.
LAWSON CROUSE: What Crouse lacks in overwhelming skill, he manages to compensate for in size and strength. He stands 6’4, 212 pounds and that translates into two words — power forward.
As for lower picks, here are some possibilities:
VINCE DUNN: Here we have an offensive defenseman who can move the puck. At some point he could be projected as sharing the blue line with Andy Greene.
MACKENZIE BLACKWOOD: Sure, Cory Schneider is the goaltender of the present and near future but, long range, New Jersey could use some crease insurance. Blackwood is big, quick and has been compared to Roberto Luongo.
ERIK FOLEY: The center had 27 goals and 27 assists in his first USHL season at Cedar Rapids. He’s a fast skater with a quick shot. Some scouts believe he’s good enough to be picked in the first round.
TOM NOVAK: A top scorer in the USHL, Novak is a playmaker whose specialty is the power-play. The Devils could use his passing skills but size and skating are possible debits.
The Devils have a pick in the third and fourth rounds and they should target forwards. With that in mind, keep an eye in later rounds on forwards Mitchell Stevens (Saginaw, OHL) who’s fast and competitive. Also, Michael Spacek, a quick Czech (Pardubice) with good hands and Gabriel Gagne (Victoriaville, QMJHL), a tall winger with a solid, all-round game.
NEW YORK RANGERS
President’s Trophy winners and one win shy of the Stanley Cup Final, the Rangers do not need much more than their present core. Their first pick arrives in the second round at 59. In round three, they choose at 89 with further selections down below.
What will they seek? As games five and seven of the Eastern Conference Final proved, the offensive machine could use another accurate gunner or two.
Despite the effective contributions of Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, Jesper Fast and J.T. Miller, the Blueshirts couldn’t deliver key goals when needed against Tampa Bay. Lightning shutouts in their last two MSG games underlined the point.
One solution might be in the organization. Danny Kristo, Oscar Lindberg and Pavel Buchnevich are all forwards in the system who could help the big club down the line.
With Ryan McDonagh anchoring the well-rounded defense, and Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes, the Rangers have the potential to ice the best blue line corps in the NHL. Still, looking for another defenseman-of-the-future could lead Glen Sather to check out one prospect:
NICOLAS MELOCHE: He is a tall, hard-working defenseman who has an edge to his game. With Baie-Comeau in the QMJHL he had 34 points in 44 games. The Hockey News targets this big, physical specimen at 54 but that puts him in easy range of the Blueshirts’ pick at 59.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
The Islanders first pick is in the third round at 72 and 82. And while there likely are some diamonds in the haystack, careful digging will be necessary by head scout Trent Klatt and his crew
For starters, Klatt operates in a good position since the big club has a core of young forwards but they may add more. Their blue-line is stocked but could use one more not-too-old veteran in the free agent Johnny Oduya category; that’s assuming that Chicago fails to re-sign the Cup-hero defenseman.
In goal, the Isles are secure with vet Jaroslav Halak and there’s a bevy of prospects well in the background. The trick is that — at the moment at least — there’s no sure back-up unless Snow opts to return Michal Neuvirth for another season. Otherwise, they could look to Mikko Koskinen or Kevin Poulin; not to mention a large cache of free agent net minders.
Poulin only played in one NHL game this year but could be a back-up in the future, while Koskinen is developing his game in Europe.
If none of these potentials pan out, the Isles have Ilya Sorkin and Eamon McAdam to turn to within the organization.
Snow has done a masterful job crafting his team and, despite the lateness of his picks, some beauties may be found.
Finally, one name that keeps coming up has an NHL ring to it:
ADAM MUSIL: He’s ex-NHLer Bobby Holik’s nephew and plays like his uncle. He’s a big power forward with a decent set of skills who put up solid numbers with the Red Deer Rebels.
Make no mistake, whatever their choices, the Islanders have become a team that’s ready to contend and move past the first playoff round.
What’s most fascinating about this annual player market is that it tends to becloud the excitement that soon follows. That would be the free agent frenzy and an inevitable spate of trades.
In other words, the hockey season never really ends.
BULLS RUN: MARSCH USES OPEN CUP TO TRY AND TURN THINGS AROUND
Jesse Marsch decided it was time to right the ship.
The Red Bulls head coach used Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup match against the Atlanta Silverbacks as a way to jump-start his struggling team. After three straight defeats in league play, the Red Bulls halted their slide with a convincing 3-0 home win.
It’s not normal practice for a Major League Soccer club to field a strong starting lineup in the early stages of the U.S. Open Cup. The Open Cup – technically considered the equivalent to England’s FA Cup – has never been treated with the same type of respect the FA Cup gets. But with the Red Bulls in the midst of a losing streak and with a big league match upcoming against the Vancouver Whitecaps Saturday (MSG 6:30 PM), Marsch circled the Open Cup match as a way to build momentum.
“You look at the selection and say ‘yeah, that is our first group,'” Marsch said in his postgame press conference. “But whoever is on the field for this game, we are going to put forth our best effort because that’s who we are as a team. We are taking this tournament seriously and we want to win this U.S. Open Cup tournament.”
The win over the Silverbacks reversed a couple of troubling trends for the Red Bulls. New York kept a clean sheet for the first time since its May 15 0-0 draw with FC Dallas and got a goal from Bradley Wright-Phillips for the first time since the English striker scored twice back on May 10 in the 2-1 win over NYCFC.
“I think it’s no secret we’ve struggled these last couple of week in the league for results,” Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty said to the media. “The game against Houston was probably our poorest performance to date and we wanted to get that bad taste out of our mouths.”
While the win will give the Red Bulls much-needed confidence, the result was somewhat marred by the injury Lloyd Sam suffered during the match. Sam had to be substituted after a strong sliding challenge from a Silverback defender caused an ankle-and-groin injury that leaves the winger’s status in doubt for Saturday’s home contest vs. Vancouver. Injuries are a risk a coach takes when fielding a strong squad in a Cup match, but it’s one that Marsch isn’t regretting.
“If you take the field ever being afraid of getting injuries, then you are going to put yourself in a position to get injuries and you are never going to compete for anything,” Marsch said. “This is part of our world; we think that Lloyd will be fine. We think it is a minor injury, but we will continue to address it day-to-day here as we go. We are hopeful that he will be able to recover and hopefully be ready for Saturday.”
A LOOK AHEAD VS. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS
The Red Bulls return to MSG Network Saturday, as they take on the Vancouver Whitecaps at Red Bull Arena.
Since coming into Major League Soccer in 2011, the Whitecaps have never finished above fifth place in the Western Conference, but things are different this season. Coached by former Red Bull Karl Robinson, the Whitecaps are in second place in the West with an 8-6-2 record and 26 points.
Nine of the 18 goals scored this season by Vancouver have come from two players: Octavio Rivero, a striker from Uruguay and team captain Pedro Morales, a gifted playmaking midfielder. Rivero has tallied six times in 2015 after being signed in the offseason from the Chilean Primera Division side O’Higgins. He was the MLS Player of the Month in March and his 6-foot-2 frame will be used to wreak havoc against the Red Bulls defense.
Morales has scored three times season and found the back of the net last year against the Red Bulls in a 4-1 win for the Whitecaps in Vancouver. He’ll occupy the “No. 10” position in the Whitecaps’ 4-2-3-1 formation and it’ll be up to the Red Bulls’ holding midfielders to shut the Chilean down.
The good news for the Red Bulls is that they’ll have both Ronald Zubar and Matt Miazga available. Zubar is fully recovered from injury and scored Tuesday, while Miazga returned from US Under-21 duty this week. Marsch remained coy Wednesday when asked about who he’ll start at center back, but it’s a selection headache he welcomes.
“It’ll be great to have [Zubar and Miazga] back,” he said. “It puts me in a situation where I have to make a tough decision because I have three first-choice center backs on our roster.”
Looking Ahead to the 2015 NHL Draft & the Needs of the Rangers, Devils & Islanders
The Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup victory and the Lightning’s valiant attempt to wrest the Silver Mug from the Windy City skaters produced some of the hottest hockey in memory.
Now that Jonathan Toews & Co. have had their names engraved on Lord Stanley’s gift to the game, it’s time for us to chill out.
That is chill out over the annual Entry Draft. It opens on June 26 and concludes the following day at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida.
As far as our three metro area teams are concerned, each has particular needs. Significantly, the New Jersey Devils are the only of the trio to have a first round selection.
Picking sixth, behind Edmonton, Buffalo, Arizona, Toronto and Carolina, Devils new general manager Ray Shero will zero in on what his club egregiously is lacking — a sniper.
Both the Rangers and Islanders have no first-round picks which means the local focus will be on Shero’s initial selection as New Jersey’s new hockey boss.
Ray allows what everyone in the NHL universe, from Vancouver to Newark, knows, he needs scoring punch.
We also know who he will not get but there are other attractive choices down the line especially since New Jersey has the sixth pick.
After the two automatic selections — Connor McDavid to Edmonton and Jack Eichel to Buffalo — the next projected available forwards are as follows:
* DYLAN STROME: Center on McDavid’s Eric Otters, he’s the kid brother of the Islanders Ryan Strome. And with Garth Snow‘s pick so distant there’s no way the Brooklynites will get him. Nor the Rangers, also exempt from the first round. Dylan figures to be nabbed somewhere between the third and sixth pick; giving New Jersey an outside chance to call his name. There’s a lot to like about Strome, especially his playmaking ability and rocket shot.
* MITCH MARNER: The London Knights right wing is projected by The Hockey News Draft Preview to go fifth. But that’s close enough to sixth for Shero to have a shot at the Markham, Ontario product. The best thing about this Lighthorse Harry is that his size and style have him being compared to a young Claude Giroux or Patrick Kane; take your pick. Then again, the better news is that Mitch plays big and is still growing. And better than that, the The International Scouting Services list him in sixth position and that has to have Shero smiling.
* PAVEL ZACHA: On the assumption that Strome and Marner are plucked ahead of the sixth pick, the next best forward for New Jersey would be this Czech-born center who’s playing his Major Junior hockey in Sarnia, Ontario. At 6-3, 214 pounds, Zacha is a power forward ranked seventh by The Hockey News but tenth by International Scouting Services. “He looks like a pro,” said one scout. “He’s got skill and competes.”
* LAWSON CROUSE: A towering (6-4,212) left wing who skated for Kingston this past season, the London, Ontario product has possibilities for New Jersey. While The Hockey News ranks him in eighth place, International Scouting Services notched Crouse fourth. “Lawson is big and powerful,” said one scout. “A power forward like him is hard to find.”
Since the Blueshirts do not make their first selection until the 59th overall pick, and Islanders the 72nd, their situations demand that later options be considered. Two interesting forwards might lure either Glen Sather or Garth Snow to make them a pick, if available:
* JEREMY BRACCO: The right wing from Freeport, Long Island came out of the U.S. National Development Program and could be a third round steal, if he’s still around. While he’s only 5-9 172 pounds, Bracco is slick and skilled. One scout said he has “high-end hockey sense.”
* ADAM MUSIL: If you remember Bobby Holik of Devils, Rangers and Flames fame, then project this center as a latter-day Holik. At 6-3, 207 pounds, he has the tools to be a second line pivot on an NHL club in a few years. His hands and aggressive nature make him a well-rounded prospect.
Looking ahead, each one of the local general managers might be inclined to stock up on a goaltending draftee. The two best prospects are not high on the list but as Cam Talbot — among others — has demonstrated, a low ranking could bring high results. Try this pair of puck-stoppers on for size:
* ILYA SAMSONOV: Aggressive between the pipes, this 6-3, 201 pound Russian enjoyed a short stint in the KHL but mostly played on the Junior level in his home country. One scouting report notes: “He’s big, very focused, quick and technically very solid.” While 38th on The Hockey News list, International Scouting Services considers Samsonov the best goalie available in the Draft.
* MACKENZIE BLACKWOOD: Marc Staal must know this fellow from his hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario. Playing his Junior hockey in Barrie, Ontario, Blackwood is an excellent physical specimen at 6-4, 205 pounds with above-average athletic ability. “He’s good at reading the play and getting into position,” says one scouting report. Another bird dog said his game is reminiscent of Roberto Luongo’s between the pipes. The Hockey News rated him directly behind Samsonov in 39th position.