Jonathan Willis

Recent Posts

The Best Blue Line In Hockey?

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One year ago, the San Jose Sharks entered regular season action with some questions surrounding their defensive corps.  The club had made an offer sheet to Blackhawks’ defender Niklas Hjalmarsson that was ultimately matched by the cap space-strapped ‘Hawks, and the failure of that route wasn’t followed up with other action.

As a result, the Sharks ended up going with a hybrid approach, both asking Dan Boyle to shoulder a tremendous load and employing a by-committee style rotation with the rest of their defensemen.  That approach worked to a large degree, but unfortunately the team’s blue-liners were something of a weakness on an otherwise outstanding roster.

This season, San Jose has opted to bolster their defensive unit with some very strong additions.  Right now, they will arguably ice the best blue line in hockey.

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Redoing The 2010 Draft

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One of the toughest assignments in hockey is amateur scouting.  These men are asked to look at a variety of players, most around the age of 17, playing in leagues of differing quality, and then project their NHL careers.  Forwards, defensemen and goaltenders need to be sifted through and ranked, and heaven help it if the team’s first pick doesn’t perform as expected.

If NHL scouting staffs got a do-over on last year’s draft, with an extra year of information on hand, how would they change things?  Which players would rise, and which players would fall?  That’s what we will consider this morning, as we rearrange the first round of the 2010 Draft.

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Matt Carle had a truly remarkable season in 2010-11.

Superficially, what he did may not seem that extraordinary.  After all, his plus-30 is a good number, but four Flyers defensemen were in double-digits in plus/minus and Carle was a plus-19 last year.  Forty points represents impressive output, but Carle managed 35 the year before and 42 in 2006-07.

The most interesting thing about Carle’s season is where his points came from.

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MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 27:  Olivier Roy of the Edmonton Oilers poses for a portrait during the 2009 NHL Entry Draft at the Bell Centre on June 27, 2009 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The Edmonton Oilers are a team that can look back at a history full of accomplishment.  The dynasty Oilers of the mid-80’s rewrote the NHL record books and won five Stanley Cups.

One thing the Oilers haven’t done well is develop goaltenders.  After drafting Andy Moog and Grant Fuhr in 1980 and 1981, the development pipeline has been bare.  Give or take the odd overage Euro or cup of coffee North American, the Oilers haven’t drafted and developed a quality goaltender since.

So it comes as a bit of a shock to see a system with a young starter and a group of quality prospects behind him.

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When three of the four major North American sports leagues opt to pursue a given path, it is perhaps inevitable that the lone holdout goes with the flow.  So, it shouldn’t come as a shock that the NHL has opted to follow the consensus and adopt an official social media policy that restricts when players can use sites like Twitter and Facebook.

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The Los Angeles Kings locked up defenseman Jack Johnson to a long-term contract midway through last season, with news breaking after Johnson’s three assist outing versus Columbus on January 8.  The timing was interesting in that it represented a 50/50 break in Johnson’s season – that game against the Blue Jackets was the 41st of 82 games Johnson would play in 2010-11.

How did Johnson perform after the contract extension?

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He was a fifth round draft pick in 2006 – and that wasn’t even his first year of draft eligibility.  He’s played just a single NHL game, posting an unimpressive 3.60 GAA and 0.880 SV% over 50 minutes in the major leagues.  Just the season before last, he split time between the ECHL and AHL.  He’s already 25 years old.

“He” is Mark Dekanich, and he has a unique opportunity this season to go from total unknown to NHL starter.

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