The LA Kings started the 1998-99 season amid optimism for a breakout season. The backbone of that potential was what then-coach Larry Robinson called “one of the best defensive corps in the NHL.” While that may have been an overstatement, the fact remained that the Kings were deep at defense. A year later, Robinson is gone, as well as the deep defensive corps. Steve Duchesne was a bust, Garry Galley’s effort has been called into question, Doug Bodger has been told to seek employment elsewhere and promising young defenseman Aki Berg is no closer to signing with the club. Add to that the fact that Matthieu Biron, the club’s top pick last year, was sent to the Island in the Ziggy Pallfy trade, and we’re looking at some major depletion here… The Kings still have solid NHL defensemen in Rob Blake, Mattias Norstrom and an improving Sean O’Donnell, but still lack depth. Phillippe Boucher, Jaroslav Modry and Garry Galley round out the experienced defensemen on the NHL roster. The result is that one or two of the following players will need to make the club this season, and the other young defensemen in the system will need to mature quickly.
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The Washington Capitals may not have the best group of prospects in hockey anymore, but how can you blame them? The team has graduated some awful good talent in the past few years: Jan Bulis, Jaroslav Svejkowsky, Richard Zednik, and Brendan Witt. This past June, the Capital lost their top overall prospect in defensemen Nick Boynton to draft re-entry, however, the loss hasn’t been all that difficult to absorb, as the Capitals still have a very impressive group of prospects, especially on defense.
The Capitals were able to overcome the loss of Boynton when they were able to select five of the top thirty-seven players available in the 1999 draft. Drafting quality players like Kris Beech, Michal Sivek and Charlie Stephens certainly helped refresh the pool quickly, though none of the five players picked represent the defensive power they have.
The teams real quality though lies on the blueline. Prior to the 1999 draft, the group is so strong, and well rounded, that Washington decided not to over pay rookie 1997 first round pick, Nick Boynton. The two sides argued back and fourth before Washington gave up, trying to trade him just prior to the re-entry date. The ploy failed and Washington had to settle for a second round compensation pick.
Let’s look at Washington’s top six defensive prospects.
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Born: June 13, 1983
Hometown: Brampton, Ontario
Weight: 188 lbs
Although he’s only 16-years-old Jason Spezza already has one OHL season under his belt and most NHL scouts drooling. Spezza spent last season with the OHL’s Brampton Battalion as a 15-year-old underage player.
Spezza, a Brampton native, had a tremendous season in bantam with the Toronto Marlboros bantam team in 1997-98, which probably attributed to his playing in the OHL as an underage. Spezza posted 53 goals and 114 points in 54 games, which turns out to be just over 2 points per game. You have to admit, that is impressive.
Spezza had an impressive season with the Battalion in 1998-99 considering they were an expansion team and had such a bad season. Spezza finished the season with 22 goals and 71 points. That put him in third place in the rookie scoring race behind Sheldon Keefe (116 points) and Denis Shvidki (94 points). Both Keefe and Shvidki spent the season in Barrie, although Keefe spent a portion of the season playing with Toronto St. Mike’s.
Despite playing in the OHL as a 15-year-old Spezza was already catching the attention of NHL scouts. Spezza was eligible for last month’s OHL priority draft where, as expected, he was drafted 1st overall by the Missisauga IceDogs. Spezza was the first of seven straight 16-year-olds drafted in the first round.
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It’s been quite the off-season so far on the “Coast”. Here’s a look at the teams making the news:
Arkansas RiverBlades: The RiverBlades are readying for their inaugural season, and have named Geoff Ward as their first head coach.
Ward lead the Guelph Storm ( WHL ) to a 44-22-2 record last season.
The ‘Blades will not only be battling their ECHL opponents on the ice, they will be competing against the WPHL’s Arkansas Glaciercats off the ice. The teams will share home dates 11 times. The Riverblades will call the new Alltel Arena home.
Arkansas took Rob Weingartner ( Louisiana ) with their first pick in the Expansion draft, and Richard Keyes ( Columbus ) in the Dispersal draft.
Birmingham Bulls: Head Coach Dennis Desrosiers will not leave the Bulls to coach the Saginaw UHL club, as rumored. Desrosiers had an escape clause in his contract , but it passed with out event.
Signed: Kory Mullin will return for his forth season with the Bulls. Injuries hindered the offensive minded defenseman last year.
Mullin was signed by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1993.
Charlotte Checkers: Head coach Shawn Wheeler has been earning his off-season paycheck by signing his goaltending tandem, and putting several players in place weeks before training camp even starts!
Signed: Goaltenders Taras Lendzyk ( Charlotte ) and Jim Hrivnak Defensemen: Brooke Chateau ( Florida, Charlotte ), and Rocky Wesling ( Northern Michigan, 1994 Ducks draft pick) ) Forwards: Van Burgess and Mike Rucinski ( Florida, Charlotte ) Read more »
Troops host Barrie to open 1999-2000 campaign
The Battalion will kick off their second season on September 24 with a home game against the powerful Barrie Colts. The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds will come to the Bunker on September 30 and the next night will see Brampton’s first road game of the year, against Jason Spezza and the Mississauga IceDogs at the Hershey Centre.
Other notable dates on the schedule include:
October 1 – first inter-divisional game of the year, against the Erie Otters;
October 11 – Brampton will once again host the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors on Thanksgiving Monday (game time: 2:00 p.m.);
October 14 – Jason Spezza makes his first visit to the Bunker as a member of the Mississauga IceDogs;
October 22 and 24 – the team’s first road trip of the season, featuring games in Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie;
November 6 – the Battalion visit Maple Leaf Gardens to take on St. Mike’s;
November 26 – Brampton journeys to Ottawa for their first meeting of the season with the defending Memorial Cup champions;
December 5 – the team plays host to the Belleville Bulls, defending OHL Champions;
December 31 – Mississauga comes to the Bunker for their traditional New Year’s Eve clash (game time: 3:30 p.m.) with the Battalion. This will be the final OHL game of the century;
January 2 – Brampton plays its first game in the year 2000, at home against the Peterborough Petes;
January 6 – the Oshawa Generals visit the Bunker; Read more »
A lot of people know about the Soo Greyhounds and their history of having good teams and being able to win games at just the right time. What people don’t realize is the fact that a lot of very good players got started in Sault Ste Marie. Wayne Gretzky and Charlie Simmer are both prime examples. Also, there were some players that didn’t quite make it into the NHL but still had tremendous junior careers (Ralph Intranuovo). I’m here to take a look at some of those former players and talk about their careers in the Sault.
Let’s start with Wayne Gretzky. “The Great One” spent one season with the Greyhounds and it was a magnificent one. Gretzky played with the Greyhounds as a 16-year-old and led the team in scoring with 70 goals and 182 points (holds OHL record for most assists, 112, and points, 182, by an OHL rookie). He was also the 1st Greyhound player to have his jersey retired.
Wayne Groulx was probably the second best Greyhound player ever behind Gretzky. Groulx spent 4 seasons with the Greyhounds and led the team in scoring in all 4 seasons. Groulx sits tied for second with Dale McCourt on the OHL’s all-time list for career points (477), just 2 points behind Stan Drulia.
Charlie Simmer, who was a member of the Los Angeles Kings Triple Crown Line, spent some time in the Sault also. He was a fan-favorite and was depended on to score during his only year with the team (1973-74). He scored 45 goals and 99 points in his only season in a Greyhounds uniform.
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The Nashville Predators have a nice dilemma as training camp approaches — oo many defensemen battling for too few roster spots.
The Preds were unsuccessful in their efforts to bring Lance Pitlick to Nashville but it will hardly have a major effect on them. While they are still considering going after another free agent defenseman, the Predators have the luxury of having a system of defensemen waiting in the wings. Smart trades by General Manager David Poile and good drafts allowed Nashville to immediately become deep at defense. The Preds think enough of their young defensemen to allow veterans John Slaney, Jamie Heward and Rob Zettler to all move on.
The Preds should have one space open or perhaps two for the baby Preds. Six players are expected to challenge for the spot. Here’s a snapshot at each player and their odds of making the team:
Craig Millar- He’s technically not a prospect but he might as well be. He had problems staying up with Edmonton and the deep Nashville system wont make it any easier for him this time around. The Preds like his solid style of play and love his size. Still young and developing and has the best chance to join Kimmo Timonen as the young guns of the Preds defense corps. The seventh defenseman spot is his to lose.
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Who would have thought the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League would go from last place in 1997-1998, to being the 1998-1999 AHL Calder Cup champions. Against all odds the Bruins came together and were the winningest team this season breaking benchmark records in the process. With a championship under their belts, the players of the Providence Bruins enter this seasons training camp with more confidence in their abilities than ever before. The Bruins brass are confident in their youth and recently released veterans Ken Baumgartner and Dave Ellett to make room for the talented youngsters.
In the festive spirit of Ray Bourque’s 20th anniversary of being drafted, Defenseman Nick Boynton, was selected by the Boston Bruins with their first pick, 21st overall, from the Ottawa 67s of the Ontario Hockey League. The former CHL +/- Award winner, has exceptional vision and intelligence with and without the puck, and had the 2nd hardest shot among defensemen at the 1997 prospects skills competition (89.2 mph). The 6’2″, 210 lb. native of Etobicoke, Ontario finished last season with 11 goals and 48 assists for 59 points with 83 pim in 51 games. Boynton captained his Ottawa team to the Canadian Major Junior Hockey championship, the Memorial Cup, and was named the MVP in that tournament!
Matt Zultek Read more »
With all due respect to Mats Sundin, Sergei Berezin, Steve Thomas and Dimitri Yushkevich, the Toronto Maple Leafs MVP this past season was goaltender Curtis Joseph, hands down. Cujo helped to give the team the confidence to play an up-tempo, hard-skating offensive game, knowing that he would be back in the nets to bail the team out. Cujo did bail the team out on numerous occasions, as his greatest asset seemed to be the ability to come up with the “big save” when the Leafs needed it most. Curtis Joseph will be 32 heading into the 99-00 season, and should have several good seasons left.
However, there is little question that the Leafs need to develop a young goaltender for “beyond the Cujo years”. The Leafs retain the rights to three young goaltenders, Marc Robitaille, Francis Larivee and Jamie Hodson. Robitaille played the 98-99 season with St. John’s, after being signed by the Leafs as a free-agent out of Northeastern University. Larivee started out the season in St. John’s but his stock has fallen somewhat. Jamie Hodson just may the goaltender that the Leafs are “grooming” to be that future #1 guy.
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In every sport, there is one day that is both filled with anticipation and dread – Draft Day. This is the day that players hope that the major league teams will feel that they are good enough to join their organization.
For the NHL, the 1999 Entry Draft was held in the FleetCenter, home of the Boston Bruins. Otters Tim Connolly, Sean Dixon, Ryan Lee, Jason Baird and J.F. Perras were hoping that their names would be called at the Draft. There was no question that Connolly would be drafted, as he was slated to go high in the First Round. After that though, it was anybody’s guess when and where in the Draft the other Otters would go.
From Waterloo, Ontario, Sean Dixon is a second year defenseman for the Otters. While not an offensive defenseman, he has been a steady player on the blueline. In the two years with Erie, Sean has only scored 2 goals and 20 assists in 113 games. In spite of his lack of scoring, Sean’s play has been noticed. Twice he has played for the Ontario Under-17 Team at the 1997 and 1998 International Hockey Championships, held during the Christmas holidays in Kitchener, Ontario, where Team Ontario won gold medals. Dixon has also excelled off the ice, winning the 1997-98 Otters Scholastic Player of the Year, sharing it with fellow draftee, Tim Connolly.
Draft Day was a pretty exciting day for Sean, as it did live up to expectations. “Just to sit in the stands and stare down at all the NHL logos and personnel, and to know that you are a part of it, is a pretty amazing feeling in itself,” stated Dixon.
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