Coach Andy Murray has the Kings playing a hard-working brand of hockey that seems to allow each individual the chance to excel in a specific area, thus allowing the team to prosper. Many of the young Kings have shown flashes in the first two games. Here is a quick rundown of some early impressions:
Frantisek Kaberle- This young defenseman has been a pleasant surprise. While Jere Karalahti’s Visa problems have kept him in Europe, Kaberle has taken advantage of the situation and provided the Kings with an offensive defenseman without sacrificing the other end of the ice. Kaberle is smooth with the puck and makes good passes. He never seems to be in a hurry to dump the puck, instead he waits the extra second to find the open man. His defense is not stellar, but he has combined with Garry Galley to provide a solid tandem that is talented with the puck.
Aki Berg- Aki Berg has returned as a physical player who is alot smarter with the puck than he used to be. Berg is paired with Sean O’Donnell who is an adventure every time he has the puck, including a direct pass to Pavel Demitra on Monday for a goal. Berg has shown a little more offense, but the teeth of his game is in the corners where he has made it a point to punish opposing players. Aki seems to still be adjusting to the NHL game after the year off, but clearly has potential to be a top defenseman.
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With the departure of Tim Taylor, who signed a four-year, $5.8 million deal with the Rangers in July as an unrestricted free agent, Coach Pat Burns had an interesting training camp finding a new combination to match the gritty play of last season’s checking-line. Fighting for Taylor’s checking line position were Sean Pronger, Joel Prpic, Andre Savage, Shawn Bates and Mikko Eloranta. Entering his first professional season…Drafted by the Bruins as their ninth pick, 247th overall, in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft…Eloranta siezed the opportunity and will center Rob DiMaio and Scandinavian counterpart P.J. Axelsson. “Mikko is a solid, two-way player, a forward with skill and grit,” said Bruins Vice President of Hockey Operations and Assistant General Manager Mike O’Connell. “He’s a versatile forward in that he can play left wing or center and he was used in all situations with his club in Finland.”
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You can use two words to describe the future of the New York Islanders, Tim Connolly. Coming off a strong training camp the 1999 Islanders first round pick (5th overall) was signed to a three-year deal at the signing deadline.
Connolly at Training Camp
There was speculation by both members of the media and fans that Connolly would not be kept with the team for the season and he would be sent down to his Junior team before he lost his junior eligibility. Butch Goring, Head Coach of the NY Islanders said “He (Connolly) was signed with the intention of him being an Islander all season. I expect rookie mistakes from him, but he has a tremendous up side and expect that he will become a great hockey player.”
His first NHL regular season game was on October 2, 1999 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He had 16 shifts and 15:15 of playing time. . Connolly won eleven of fifteen faceoffs. That’s a whopping 73%. He showed that he is able to handle the puck like a veteran and can skate with the best of players. Although he only took one shot during the game, his future is bright.
Connolly said, “It feels great to make the team. This is what I have been waiting for my whole life, and to do it while I am eighteen years old, it is exciting to be here.
He has a long future in the NHL. Could he be the next “Great One”? Only time will tell. He didn’t set the world on fire with his performance in Tampa. Nevertheless, he has the attitude and skills to take him far in the NHL.
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Name: Jeff Kugel
Born: February 7, 1980
Hometown: Roseville, Michigan
Position: Left Wing
Weight: 246 lbs
When Jeff Kugel was slapped with a lifetime ban by OHL commissioner David Branch last winter there were a lot of people that thought that he would never play hockey again. He jumped off the bench, sucker punched one player and chased another. When you look at the situation you must say that it was very serious.
Some people thought that a 25 game suspension was long enough and others thought that a lifetime ban was the perfect punishment. OHL Commissioner David Branch, who is also the CHL president, handed Kugel a lifetime ban as many of you know. Last summer Branch decided that Kugel had learned his lesson and re-instated him into the league.
A couple of weeks ago Kugel was attending the New York Rangers training camp. He apparently got into a couple of dandy fights. When Kugel joined his teammates at the Windsor Spitfires training camp he received word that he had been put on waivers by the team. It didn’t take long for him to create interest from other teams as there were a few teams that wanted him in their lineup.
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Jason Spezza is a name you are going to hear an awful lot of over the next two years. For those of you who don’t know who he is, he a 6′ 3″, 200 lb centre with the Mississauga Ice Dogs. He was born on June 13, 1983 and this right handed shot is the early favorite to go first overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.
Spezza spent last year playing for the Brampton Battalion, as a 15 year old, under an OHL rule which allows underage players to play for their home town. All he did was lead the team in scoring; In 67 games he scored 22 times, added 49 assists for 71 points. He was then picked first overall by the Ice Dogs in the OHL draft.
The thing that hits you right away when you watch Spezza is his poise with the puck. He has the puck on his stick more times in one game than most other 16 year olds have in a month. He is most definitely the heart of the Ice Dog offence. The player most likely to benefit the most from Spezza’s passes this year is Chad Wiseman, who has lined up on left wing beside Spezza in the early going, and he should vastly improve on his 11 goal performance of last year.
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Important players like Per Svartvadet, Hans Jonsson and Frantisek Kaberle have all left MoDo for North America and the NHL. Last season’s best goalie in SHL, Petter Ronnqvist did not want so sign a new contract and chose to play in Europe. But MoDo has signed some interesting players. Andreas Pihl is a big defender (102-kg) and he might fill some of the empty space after Jonsson in the defense. Canadian Joel Bouchard is a rushing defender and will be an important part in MoDos Power Play. But the most interesting rookie in MoDo and SHL this season is winger Mattias Weinhandl. Weinhandl played in the lower divisions last season and 11 out of 12 clubs in the SHL wanted his name on a contract, but he chose MoDo. He was born in 1980, just like the Sedins and was drafted in the middle of the third round by the Islanders.
MoDo has combined a new, very interesting line this season. Mattias Weinhandl has joined the Sedins and they have played great together. Weinhandl fits in superbly. He is an aggressive and very skilled player. He is also a right-shooter, and with that combination it makes him a perfect fit with the twins. Weinhandl is pure goalscorer, in my opinion, MoDos best since Markus Naslund. “The Sedin line” has begun the season very well and will be a big attraction during the winter. The line has actually played together earlier in their careers. The first time they played together was in the WJC’s last Christmas.
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Many NHL teams struggle to convince their European prospects to come and play junior or minor league hockey in North America, but three Nashville Predators prospects are making a strong case for that traditional path to the NHL. Jonas Andersson, Martin Erat and Konstantin Panov have had explosive starts to the 1999-2000 season in the CHL and their success in the North American game may put them years ahead of their European counterparts who choose to stay home and develop.
Andersson, a 6’2″ 189-pound Swedish winger, was a surprise second round draft pick this summer, but the Predators were convinced that he was an excellent prospect. Perhaps the biggest factor in his selection was his pre-draft interview with general manager David Poile, in which he expressed his dedication to an NHL career and his willingness to play junior hockey in North America. After an oustanding rookie camp, Nashville assigned Andersson to the North Bay Centennials of the OHL, where he is already tied for the league lead in rookie scoring and is the top offensive player on his team. Through the first two weekends of the season, Andersson has five goals, four assists and nine points in just five games.
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Perhaps more than any other team in the NHL, the San Jose Sharks will rely on youth to shoulder the load, and take them into, and hopefully far into, the playoffs. As with any team, there are key players on the Sharks who need to maintain their level of play. Players such as Vincent Damphousse who will be relied upon to maintain his scoring presence that he showed at the end of last year. Gary Suter who will be relied upon to lead the defensive core, and hopefully make a complete recovery from elbow problems last year. And of course, Mike Vernon who will be relied upon in goal along with Steve Shields, and most likely, be the main man come playoff time.
From there, the Sharks have a list of about 7 players long, who will take on just as important roles, all of whom under 25 years of age. Mike Rathje at 25 years old, Niklas Sundstrom at 24, Jeff Friesen and Alex Korolyuk both 23, Marco Sturm 21, Patrick Marleau 20, and Brad Stuart at only 19 years of age. You could throw Scott Hannan, 20, into the mix as well, as he’ll most likely be in the lineup before the season ends.
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With the Junior Hockey season finally upon us we can again begin to follow the Montreal Canadiens’ junior prospects. The entry draft not only gave us a few more players to follow, but also gave us one less player to follow, as Gregor Baumgartner re-entered the 99 draft when Montreal failed to sign him to a contract prior to the imposed deadline.
The old faces include Francois Beauchemin, a hard-nosed defenseman who was Montreal’s 3rd choice in the 98 draft, and is currently playing with Acadie-Bathurst in the QMJHL; Eric Chouinard, a tall finesse player who was the Habs’ 1st choice in the 98 draft, and is currently playing for Quebec in the QMJHL; And Michael Ryder, a natural scorer who was the Habs’ 8th choice in the 98 draft, and is currently playing with Hull in the QMJHL.
Missing faces include Jason Ward, an intensity driven winger who was the Habs’ 1st choice in the 97 draft, and is no longer of junior age. Ward is currently playing with Quebec, Montreal’s AHL affiliate. The final missing face is Mike Ribeiro, the CHL’s leading scorer last season and the Habs’ 2nd choice in the 98 draft. Ribeiro made the Canadiens’ roster out of training camp. He played in the opening game against Toronto with mixed results. He looked good on the power play setting up two of his teammates for good scoring opportunities. But was often moved easily off the puck by the bigger and stronger Maple Leaf players.
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The New York Rangers revamped line-up featuring Theo Fleury, Valeri Kamensky, Kirk McLean, Stephane Quintal, Sylvain Lefebrve and Mike York to name a few took the ice after an emotional tribute to Wayne Gretzky in Edmonton. The Rangers started early to show their speed and looked like a much better club than those of the past two years…however the Power Play Problem continues. After the first two games, the Blue Shirts were 0-12 (0 for 6 in each game) albeit a couple were less than 30 second powerplays coach Muckler and General Manager begin to wonder what it will take for this preseason awesome Power Play to translate into regular season goals.
The first game featured a Rangers high speed attack against Sweden`s Tommy Salo. Salo played superbly allowing only a goal to red hot Tim Taylor. Mike Richter was equal to the task, thwarting Ryan Smyth and the Oilers attack under Doug Weight and company. The standouts in games one and two were Mike Richter(51-48svs),Tim Taylor(1goal) and Mike York(1goal). Other noteables included Darren Langdon who had his first scoring attempt of the season stopped by Tommy Salo and his first scrap as he fought the behemoth Georges Laraque to a draw.
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