Rosen's NHL Notebook (Jan. 12, 2012)
Now that the confusion that lasted all of 10 seconds over why Nicklas Lidstrom and Teemu Selanne weren't among the All-Star Game selections has subsided — "I think it's a young guy's turn," Selanne told Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register regarding his decision to skip the Ottawa event later this month — and we've given up our dream of a Lidstrom and Erik Karlsson defensive pairing, we're looking at the rosters and praising the NHL for quality consideration in making sure each of the 30 teams was represented either in the Jan. 29 All-Star Game or, in the case of 12 select rookies, the skills competition the day before.
Not every single fan or fan base will be pleased, obviously. The need to include captivating though underperforming players such as Alexander Ovechkin (minus-8 rating, not among the league's top 45 scorers) outweighs the demand for a player like Florida's Kris Versteeg (39 points, plus-11 rating in 41 games) or New Jersey's Patrick Elias (42 games, 40 points), both of whom have made strong cases for inclusion. We'd also have gone with Patrick Sharp instead of Patrick Kane when considering the Blackhawks, but again, this is only retrospective nitpicking.
Instead, we're excited that the fans in Ottawa and fans tuning in from the Eastern Time Zone will have an opportunity to have a good look at emerging power forward Jamie Benn. He's the reigning first star of the week and a dynamic scorer on pace for 84 points who identifies with a character-driven, physical Dallas Stars team amongst the tougher teams in the league to play against. He'll appear in his first All-Star Game.
While chatting with reporters at the team's morning skate in Los Angeles Thursday, Benn described the honor of being selected, as well as the appreciation for his favorite player of all-time, fellow British Columbian Joe Sakic.
"I wanted to be like him. I just wanted to have a good shot like him," Benn said to DallasStars.com of the 13-time All-Star. "I was always in the garage practicing my wristshot, and I kind of tried to dress like him, too. He was my favorite player."
It was also great to see fourth-year netminder Brian Elliot receive his due recognition. Elliot's previous low in goals against average was a 2.57 mark posted with Ottawa in 2008-09, and he ranks second in GAA (1.62), save percentage (.940), and shutouts (five). He's offered the type of competition needed for Jaroslav Halak to work out the early kinks of a slow start while developing into one of the league's top goaltending tandems.
Speaking of All-Star goaltenders, Jonathan Quick is posting Vezina Trophy-type numbers and recently turned in the best first half by any goaltender in Los Angeles Kings history.
All of these players, along with the remainder listed here will be chosen to one of two teams by as yet unnamed team captains during the All-Star Player Fantasy Draft, televised live on January 26 at 8 p.m. ET. Here's to hoping all the Senators and Maple Leafs are split into opposite teams, and that Daniel Alfredsson and Dion Phaneuf — players balloted into the game by fan voting — are standing behind opposite podiums to select players.
The NHL Central Scouting Midterm Rankings were released Wednesday. Forward Nail Yakupov of the Sarnia Sting topped the North American skaters list and appears to be the one player named before the others. But it does not appear that this draft contains a head-and-shoulders No. 1 prospect like previous first-overall selections Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby or Steven Stamkos.
Yakupov earned a silver medal with Russia at the World Junior Championships but sustained a knee injury in the 1-0 overtime loss to Sweden in the championship game. He averaged over two points per game for Sarnia and is expected to miss four weeks of OHL action, as reported by Dave Paul of the Sarnia Observer.
The 5-foot-10, 189-pound 18-year-old has an October birthday, making him eligible for the 2012 draft, and as a right wing has drawn a reputation as a developing version of Pavel Bure.
"He's a dynamic player who plays with offensive energy … he wants the puck and he loves to score," NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr told NHL.com. "But what he's learning now is how to play the game without the puck; he's not an individual player and he has a pretty good sense of responsibility."
Fellow Russian and QMJHL-based forward Mikhail Grigorenko ranks second amongst North American skaters and has a surprising skating ability for someone with a six-foot-three frame. Center Filip Forsberg, at 17 the youngest player on Sweden's gold medal-winning World Junior squad, ranks first amongst all European-based skaters.
Defensemen dominate the North American skaters, accounting for seven of the top 10 overall rankings. Five of those players are based in the Western Hockey League, a circuit with the reputation of regularly producing sturdy defensive standouts. Ryan Murray, the third-ranked North American skater, has drawn comparisons to a young Scott Niedermayer, and not just because he wears No. 27 for the Everett Silvertips.
"He's really a player without any weaknesses," Nick Patterson of the Everett Herald said about Murray by phone Thursday. "He's a tremendous skater, he's willing to play physical, but most importantly, he's about as intelligent of a player that I've seen come through here. He understands his role. He can do a lot more offensively if he wanted to, but he understands his main priority is his own end."
Slick-skating Morgan Rielly of Moose Jaw, hard-hitter Mathew Dumba of Red Deer and versatile blueliners Griffin Reinhart of Edmonton and Derrick Pouliot of Portland round out the WHL-based defensemen in the top 10 of North American skaters.
Continuing the trend from recent years, Major Junior-aligned players dominated the lists of North American-based skaters and goaltenders. Of the 210 North American skaters listed, 120 were based in the Canadian Hockey Leagues, including each player in the top eight. Eight of the top 10 goaltenders listed are based in the CHL. Jacob Trouba, 17, of the U-18 U.S. National Development Team is the highest player eligible to play for an NCAA school and ranks ninth among North Americans; he committed to the University of Michigan in September.
The NHL Draft will be held June 22-23 at the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
NEXT NASHVILLE STUD DEFENSEMAN?
Winners of five of their last six games and preparing for a home game against Colorado, the Nashville Predators learned Thursday that defensemen Shea Weber and Ryan Suter were named to the All-Star Game, deserved honors for a pair that has combined for 55 points on the back end. With expiring contracts and lucrative pay raises on the horizon, their future with an organization currently managing the league's lowest payroll is murky, especially considering Pekka Rinne's $49 million contract extension in November.
If the Predators end up losing one of the defensemen — or both — they've also received a glimpse of one of the players vying to develop into a potentially vacated role.
Ryan Ellis, 21, who at one time shared a locker room with Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique and Cam Fowler while winning back-to-back Memorial Cups with the Windsor Spitfires, made his NHL debut the day after Christmas and is likely in the league to stay. The 5-10, 179-pound offensive defenseman sat out a 4-1 loss to Dallas last week before returning with back-to-back one-goal, one-assist games, giving him four points and a plus-two rating in his first six games in the NHL.
"I'm starting to feel a little more comfortable each game, but I'm just trying to take it game by game and make simple plays and get the pucks up to the forwards and just kind of move the pucks along, and try not to make too many mistakes and try to chip in offensively," Ellis said to E.J. Hradek and Ken Daneyko on Cisco NHL Live Wednesday.
"I think each game I get a little more confident, and I think that's a big part of the game today."
The fleet-skating defenseman adds more playmaking abilities and a hard shot from the blueline to a power play that ranks second in the league with a 22.2% success rate. Former first-round pick Jonathon Blum was re-assigned to Milwaukee last week for the second time this season, but still remains a cornerpiece of the Predators' future plans.
They're still miles and miles of development away from being compared to the world-class duo of Weber and Suter, but those looking for an idea of Nashville's blueline makeup in the near future would be wise to keep their eyes on Ellis, and eventually, Blum.
GAME OF THE WEEKEND
Los Angeles Kings at Calgary Flames
Saturday, Jan. 14, 10 p.m. ET
In a matchup between branches of the Sutter Family Tree, Los Angeles Kings new bench boss Darryl guides a team that earned points in nine of its first 10 games with him at the helm up against his brother, Brent, whose aging Flames are fighting for direction but will no doubt be energized to face their former coach and General Manager. Darryl Sutter guided a Flames team that missed the playoffs in 2002-03 to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2003-04 and has drawn more compliments for his honest, stern though encouraging coaching style than for his tenure as GM in Calgary, which ended when he resigned in December, 2010. Considering the Flames' need to infuse youth in their lineup, with the prospect-deep Kings looking to add offense before the trading deadline, might we see Jarome Iginla in an L.A. jersey by this time next month? Well, probably not. But it does make some sense.