It was a subtle, but straight-forward statement made by then Leafs’ GM and current president, Ken Dryden. “If you look at the best teams in the NHL, like Dallas, they have a corps of defensemen who excel at moving the puck out of their own zone.” The transition game. Puck movement. Getting the puck out of the defensive zone from the defensemen to the forwards, who can then attack in waves.
NHL hockey in the 1990′s may have become known as the “era of the neutral zone trap”, but the transition game, largely fueled by defensemen who can move the puck, may be the strategy which reverses the “swing of the pendulum” as the league looks to add scoring back to its game. As Dryden astutely observed, the Dallas Stars did “do it right” as their transition game helped to lead them to a Stanley Cup victory. During the 1998-99 season, an improved transition game helped the Toronto Maple Leafs lead the league in scoring with 268 goals.
Three, young, NHL players, Bryan Berard, Daniil Markov and Tomas Kaberle provide the core of the Toronto Maple Leafs defense as the team heads into the new millenium. Three young “guns” upon which much is expected over the next 10 years in “blue and white”.
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The Calgary Flames have developed a habit in the past three seasons. This habit, of turning young, previously unheralded, inexperienced players into NHL regulars, is set to continue as the young club continues to mature its talent. Last season it was Clarke Wilm who surprised observers by sticking with the club for the entire season. Who will be this seasons’ Clarke Wilm?
In 1996/97 this trend started with defenceman Todd Simpson and winger Jarome Iginla both making the Flames, and playing in the entire 82 game schedule. Simpson was more of a surprise than Jarome Iginla. Iginla had already grabbed headlines twice during the previous season. First he was the compensation for Joe Nieuwendyk in a deal with the Dallas Stars. Secondly, he scored a goal in his first NHL game, in game 3 of that seasons unsuccessful playoff series against Chicago.
In 1997/98, Steve Begin and Derek Morris, both recent draft picks, started the season in Calgary, with only Morris managing to both survive and thrive in the NHL in his first attempt.
In 1998/99, Clake Wilm won his roster spot over players like Sergei Varlamov and Travis Brigley. Rico Fata and Martin St. Louis began the journey but both returned to junior and the minors respectively, leaving Wilm to carry the torch of the rookies forward. Wilm played consistently well all season long, showing an occasional offensive touch, but developing as a strong third line defensive forward, often playing in key situations and against the opponents best players.
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Part IV: The First Clarke Administration
Although Sinisalo, Lindbergh, and Eklund blossomed during Bob Clarke’s first tenure as the Flyers general manager, they were initially drafted and/or signed to the organization while Keith Allen was still the general manager and Clarke was an active player. This was also the case for the vast majority of key North American players from the Keenan/Clarke era Flyers; including draftees Ron Hextall, Brian Propp, Rick Tocchet, Ron Sutter, Peter Zezel, Derek Smith, Lindsay Carson, and enforcer Dave Brown; undrafted rookies such as Tim Kerr and Dave Poulin (signed after playing with the Division One Rögle club in Sweden); and key trade acquisitions such as Mark Howe, Brad McCrimmon, and Brad Marsh. Thus, it was actually Keith Allen, rather than Clarke, who was the primary architect of the Flyers success in the mid-1980s. Clarke’s main contributions to the strong teams of the mid-1980s were the hiring of Keenan and the trades that brought Murray Craven and Kjell Samuelsson to Philly. Read more »
Part III: Ilkka and the Pelles
By the time Miro Dvorak joined the Flyers from Czechoslovakia, the Flyers had already begun to reap their first dividends of European scouting, landing their first players from Scandinavia and Finland. (In hockey terms, “Scandinavian” scouting really means scouting in Sweden because Norway and Denmark (and Iceland) are minor hockey countries. Although often classified as such, Finland is not a Scandinavian country). The early history of Flyers efforts in Finland and Sweden Finland will be recounted separately.
The whole of Flyers history in regard to drafting and/or signing Finnish players remains rather limited even to this day. In the two decades since Swedes and Finns started to be selected regularly in the NHL draft, the Flyers have made only six total entry draft selections from Finland. Moreover, to date, only two Finns have ever worn a Flyers uniform in a regular season or playoff game. For over a decade, the entire history of Finnish Flyers could literally have been summed up in one name: Ilkka Sinisalo.
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The Blues gave some insight as to who they think are the top prospects in the organization. Fifteen players were selected to attend a camp designed to raise fitness awareness and inform the youngsters of the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Those in attendance included Daniel Corso, Brent Johnson, Jan Horacek, Reed Low, Maxim Linnik, Jame Pollock, Tyler Rennette, Didier Tremblay, Brad Twordik, Cody Rudkowsky, Matt Smith, Jamie Thompson, and Jason Widmer.
Players present from this years draft class were Barret Jackman and Chad Starling. The three day mini-camp focused on weight training, speed development, dietary programs, media relations orientation, and drug and alcohol awareness. This off-ice program is something the Blues believe is a good investment. So many players are drafted and then are expected to develop into professional athletes without any direction or support from the organizations that own their rights. Larry Pleau implemented this plan a year ago and only good things have resulted. Top players not in camp were Christian Backman, Ladislav Nagy, and Andrei Podkonicky
The 1998-99 hockey season was filled with ups and downs for Peter Ferraro. From being signed as a free agent by the Boston Bruins during the offseason, to making the starting line-up with the Bruins, to fighting through a string of injuries over a four month period, to being reassigned to Providence in the American Hockey League in early March, to leading Providence to the Calder Cup Championship and winning the Jack Butterfield Trophy as Playoff Most Valuable Player. Peter showed drive and determination to overcome the hard times and he ended the season on a very positive note.
Ferraro signed on with the Boston Bruins as a free agent on July 21, 1998. After spending the better part of three seasons (1995-96 through 1997-98) shuffling between the NHL and AHL, that road taking him from the New York Rangers to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and back to the Rangers organization, the stage was set for Peter to prove that he belonged in the ‘big show’.
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Sergei Berezin was drafted 256th overall in the 1994 NHL entry draft. Daniil Markov went to the Leafs 223rd overall in the 1995 draft. Tomas Kaberle was drafted 204th overall in the ’96 draft. The Maple Leafs have exhibited a tendency to find, develop and give an opportunity to talented players, no matter what round they are drafted. All 3 of the aforementioned players are part of the core of young players on the team as the Leafs enter the millenium season. Assistant GM and head of the NHL entry draft for the Leafs, Anders Hedberg, has become known for discovering the “diamonds in the rough” in these late rounds.
Morgan Warren, a right-winger out of the Moncton Wildcats franchise in the QMJHL, was drafted by the Leafs in the 5th round, 126th overall in the 1998 NHL entry draft. “Morgan has just not had many breaks go his way for us in his first two years”, states Frantz Bergevin-Jean, Moncton’s director of communications and assistant coach. “He has a high skill level, but you simply wouldn’t know it from the stats sheet,” he adds.
The 6-2, 190 lb. winger, born in Summerside, I.P.E., has the size, skills and skating ability to be an impact offensive forward. “We feel he could be a 40-goal scorer in our league in 99-00″, says Bergevin-Jean “as he has that type of ability. He reminds us of a young Mike Modano with his speed, creativity with the puck and his sniping ability, but every time he would get things going the last two years, something (usually injuries) would seem to slow him down”, he adds.
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Part II: Early Inroads in Europe
While it is true that the Flyers early relations with players and officials in the major European hockey countries were often strained and sometimes downright hostile, the organization also has a parallel history of being surprisingly progressive in recognizing that the European continent had a lot to offer the NHL.
Often lost amidst the recounting of the bitter rivalry with the Soviets during the 1970s is the fact that Fred Shero, the Broad Street Bullies era coach of the Flyers, was a dedicated student of Russian hockey. Even during the days when the Iron Curtain was firmly in place, Shero was able to travel to Russia during the offseason to study the Soviet style of play and meet with Tarasov. Shero and Tarasov developed a strong admiration for one another and spent a good deal of time together, comparing notes on their respective hockey philosophies. Shero borrowed ideas on practice methods and game tactics from the Soviets and adapted them to be useful in an NHL setting. For example, Shero brought back from Moscow a three man passing drill which simultaneously utilized three pucks, rather than one.
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“He has a way of working along the boards in tight spaces, turning his body every which way to get a hand, an arm, his stick, free from the defenseman and to the puck to obtain possession.” “Mirko’s uncanny ability to come up with the puck in tight quarters have earned him the nickname, ‘Slinky’, ” states Frantz Bergevin-Jean, Moncton’s Director of Communications and assistant coach. “He is just super off the puck, working it free along the boards to help to start a scoring chance”. “He never hestitates to do the dirty work in the corners or in front of the net”, he adds.
Born in Montreal, but also a citizen of Switzerland, Mirko has made a name for himself as a tough, 2-way forward for the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL the last 2 seasons. He was named the team’s rookie of the year in the 97-98 season after scoring 10 goals and 15 assists for 25 pts. in 54 games. He followed that up with 21 goals and 33 assists for 54 pts. in 69 games in 98-99. He added an assist in 4 playoff games against Rimouski. “We are looking forward to a big year from Mirko in 99-00″, says Bergevin-Jean, “He will have a bigger role on the team as an 18 yr. old, particularly as a leader this seaon”, he adds. “He will undoubtedly play on one of our top two lines this year”, he says.
Mirko slowly rose the ladder this past year as he was ranked 84th by CSB at their mid-term ranking and ended up the 67th-ranked North American skater by the end of the season. He played for Team Orr in the annual prospects games and had an assist.
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Although often portrayed as an organization that turns its back on the European talent pool in the top rounds of the NHL draft and is less patient with young European players in the organization than with North American prospects, the Philadelphia Flyers actually have one of the more complex histories in regard to tapping in to the European talent pool. For a quarter century, the Flyers have had a love-hate relationship with the hockey countries on the other side of the Atlantic. While the Flyers carried open enmity toward the former Soviet hockey machine for a longer period of time than with many other NHL teams, the organization showed itself to be progressive-thinking in other regards, both in Russia and throughout the rest of hockey-playing Europe.
Part I. The Roots of Antagonism and the Winds of Change Read more »