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!
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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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Detroit’s scouting staff waited more than five hours at their draft table watching as other teams selected their future players. Having traded their previous picks throughout the 1998-1999 season , Detroit broke ( in fact smashed ) an NHL draft record by not making a selection until the 120th overall pick. Rumors had the Wings attempting to get back into the first round but nothing ever came of those. Clubs knew the talent level in this draft was high and with the salary structure way out off kilter, other teams were not listening to many offers.
In the end the Red Wings stated that they wanted to find one NHL player in this draft if possible. Judging by earlier drafts, this was an imposing task to say the least. Looking back at drafts as early as 1983, players taken 120th overall or later had less than 10% chance of ever playing in the NHL as a regular. In fact, only about 8 players a year on average ever make it more than a year or two if taken after the 120th pick. For Detroit to find one of these “diamonds in the ruff “, the scouting staff had better done their homework.
Traditionally, the Detroit Red Wings draft what they consider to be safer players. They look for skaters that have great character and maybe less upside. The 1999 draft was a bit different however. Jim Nill, Detroit’s head scout said, “We went for the home run…. we were looking for the next Pavol Demitra.”
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The Rangers are a team known more for using their “big bucks” rather then their “brain trust”, but times seemed to have changed at the 1999 NHL draft as the Rangers decided they were going to try and swing for the fences. After acquiring Pavel Brendl with the fourth selection many people thought the Rangers were done, but they were just warming up. After completing the deal with Calgary GM AL Coates the night before, the Rangers nabbed a kid whom they had been watching since early November, Moose Jaw Warriors forward Jamie Lundmark. Though the price was heavy the Rangers might just be able to look back and say they got the steal of the draft for the second year in a row.
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Imagine yourself back on that little league field with your new team. Or on the ice for the first time with your midget team. The coach’s are watching, instructing, teaching. Your heart has been pounding from the moment you woke up that morning, anticipating the excitement, the competition that awaits you. The unknown: Will you make the grade?
Now imagine yourself going halfway around the world possibly to a country where you speak precious little of their native language. You are accustomed to being a “big fish” and you are now thrust into the “big pond” with other big fish. It is your first touch with an NHL franchise, YOUR NHL franchise, and you are wondering: Will I make the grade?
The Toronto Maple Leafs entrust a big part of their future to a very capable man, Chris MacDonald. “My role is a little difficult to define”, says the very personable man, who is also Queens University’ hockey coach. “I can best explain it as coordinating the Toronto Maple Leafs’ prospects’ adjustment to the NHL. Not only on the hockey level, but acclimating them to the city, to the organization, to each other.” He works hand-in-hand with Leafs’ assistant GM Anders Hedberg, creating a “comfort zone” to players who largely represent the future of the franchise.
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Dallas Stars prospect Jeff McKercher played with the Peterbourgh Petes of the OHL last season. During that time he had one goal, seven assists, and 22 PIMs in 65 regular season games. He also sported an impressive plus/minus rating of +32 during this same time period.
Although known for these examples of steady play and solid defense, McKercher is little known.
Please briefly describe your style of play for the readers not already familiar with you.
“I am a defensive defenseman who reads the ice well. I like to make the quick, first pass out of the defensive zone. I take pride in my work in penalty-killing situations.”
What do you feel that you could add to the Dallas defensive ranks in the future?
“I will strive to be a defensive defenseman with the Stars and hope that I will be a regular on the penalty-kill. I try to pattern myself after the play of Craig Ludwig.”
Do you see yourself ever becoming more of an offensive-minded player in the future?
“I would like to think that I might become a little bit more offensive to complement my defensive style. My skating is strong so hopefully with experience this part of my game will develop. I usually have been paired with an offensive defenseman and my job has been to stay back and hold the fort.”
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The Soo Greyhounds 1998-99 season was a very successful one. They won 10 straight games and improved their point total from 1997-98 by 23 points. The 1999-2000 season looks to be a good one as the Greyhounds have 16 returning players. At the draft the Greyhounds also added 19-year-old left-winger Brent Theobald. He was acquired in a trade with the Missisauga IceDogs at the draft.
The Greyhounds are in a good position because most of the teams in the division are losing a lot of players. The Plymouth Whalers for example are possibly losing the likes of Harold Druken, Adam Colagiacomo, Paul Mara and Robert Holsinger.
In goal the Greyhounds are in very good shape because Jake McCracken is definitely coming back and Jason Flick may be back as one of the Greyhounds three overages. McCracken will be looking to bounce back from an off-year where he didn’t play his best hockey. Flick, if he does come back will be looking to repeat his tremendous performance from last season. Remember though, it’s not a guarantee that he is coming back.
The defensemen on last season’s club were pretty good. The problem is two of last year’s defensemen (Dan Passero and Rob Mulick) are candidates for the three overage spots on this year’s team. However, they did have five other strong defensemen.
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One great thing about watching Junior Major hockey is seeing the future stars of hockey. Ever since he was drafted by the Erie Otters in 1997, forward Tim Connolly was touted as a high draft choice in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft and being a future star of the NHL.
On June 26th at the FleetCenter in Boston, the first part of the above statement came true. The New York Islanders, who had the 5th selection overall, selected Connolly. While it is quite an achievement for a player to be selected in the first round, Tim had two other noticeable achievements with his selection by the Islanders. Tim was the first player selected from the CHL, and the OHL, and was the first North American born player selected in the draft. A native of Baldwinsville, NY, Connolly stated that, “It is a great honor to be the first North American player selected in the draft”.
Connolly has been a standout player for the Otters the past two years. Tim has dazzled Erie fans, OHL fans and OHL opponents with his superb skating and puck-handling skills. During the 97-98 year with Erie, where he won the Otters Rookie of the Year, Tim scored 30 goals and 32 assists for 62 points. During the 98-99 season, Connolly scored 34 goals and 34 assists for 68, in spite of playing 13 fewer games. In a February game against the Windsor Spitfires, Connolly suffered a broken leg, which ended his play for the remainder of the 98-99 season. In spite of this injury, Connolly still finished as the leading scorer for the Otters.
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Most Islander fans cant even pronounce most of the Islanders late round picks this yera yet alone know much about their games. Team management is thrilled with their draft believing that they stole a few very good players and may have gotten some keepers that fell through the cracks. One of these players is right winger Juraj Kulnik. “Not many times can you get a guy this skilled in the fourth round,” said Isles scout Mario Saraceno. “He’s a goal-scorer and that’s how he will make it in the NHL.” Kolnik, who is Slovakian, notched 42 goals and 84 points in 62 games with the Rimouski Oceanic. The Slovakian sniper’s hot hand didn’t stop there as he netted nine more tallies in 11 playoff games. Not a bad rookie year. And according to Saraceno, Kolnik has his sights set on 60 next year. “He has tremendous hands,” said Saraceno. “He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but his ability to get open and avoid being checked makes up for that.” The Slovakian is fluent in English and should have no problem fitting in with the Islander locker room in the near future as countrymen Zdeno Chara and 1999 first-rounders Branislav Mezei and Kristian Kudroc will be there. Besides his goal-scoring talent, there’s a lot to like about the 5-11, 182-pound Kolnik, according to Saraceno. “He’s a hard worker and plays in traffic,” he said. “He kills penalties and has a pretty good skating stride. There’s of course some room for improvement in his overall game. The desire is there, however, and I think we got a keeper that fell through the cracks.”
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