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.
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.
I recently had a chance to interview Jere Kolari, a Finnish, Kuopio born player who is now chasing his dream in WHL playing for the Lethbrigde Hurricanes. Usually it’s players from Russia, Slovakia and Czech reb. who want to make the jump to North-American junior hockey. The Finns and Swedes have traditionally chosen to play in their own junior leagues. Jere made a bold move this past year and left hometown Kuopio. He was drafted in the 1st round of 1999 import draft. This year he’s been plagued with various injuries (concussion, knee) in the preseason.
Let’s hear what Jere has to say about this upcoming season and his future:
Question (by Zika): So tell us about yourself? Who are you?
Answer (by Jere Kolari): I’m Jere Kolari, born in the 11th of February 1982. I’m 6’1 tall and weigh 180 pounds. I play hockey as a centerman/winger and I shoot right handed.
Q: So when did you start playing hockey?
A: I was about 7 years old, the reason, was that all my friends played it and it was so fun.
Q: How would you describe yourself as a hockey player?
A: Well my strength is that I have a good shot and hockey sense, but obviously there’s still a lot of work I need to do on all areas to improve my game. I really should improve my skating.
Q: How has your hockey career been so far?
The strength of the Flyers farm system unquestionably lies in its goaltending prospects. The Flyers currently boast four fine young goaltending prospects: Brian Boucher, Jean-Marc Pelletier, Maxime Ouellet, and Antero Niittymäki. With the goalies in the Flyers system currently staggered between the NHL (Boucher), the AHL (Pelletier), the QMJHL (Ouellet), and the Finnish Elites (Niittymäki), the organization can afford to evaluate each player’s progress separately and, due to their staggered draft years, also have different time-tables for each player. But in the near future, perhaps as soon as the end of this season, the team may have to make a firm decision on whom among Boucher, Pelletier, Ouellet, and Niittymäki will ultimately be the team’s long-term starter of the future and which one(s) will be trade bait to fill in some of the other areas where the team needs both short-term and long-term help. In addition to the aforementioned goaltenders, the Flyers also have minor league veteran Neil Little, ECHL goalie Bujar Amidovsky, Färjestad BK (Swedish Elites) backup goaltender Per-Ragnar Bergqvist, and Medicine Hat Tigers goaltender Cam Ondrik in the system. None of the latter goalies is a serious NHL prospect, however (although Little still has a core of supporters in Philadelphia who believe that he deserves a shot as an NHL backup).
A quick review follows to update the recent happenings with each of the four top candidates:
Brian Boucher (Flyers) Read more»
After a topsy turvy week in the Carolina Hurricanes-David Tanabe relationship, the nineteen year old defenseman signs a multiyear contract with the NHL team. This past week saw David Tanabe play in preseason games for the Hurricanes. David Tanabe refuse an offer from the Hurricanes. David Tanabe take off for Kootenay of the WHL. And, finally, David Tanabe sign with the Hurricanes.
Last week Tanabe impressed the Hurricanes in preseason so much, they had a spot on the final 23-man roster reserved for him. He was going to be their much sought after offensive defenseman. Two days before the September 30 deadline for returning junior eligible players to their teams, the Hurricanes summoned Tanabe’s agent, Lewis Gross, to Tidewater Virginia to negotiate. The first round draft pick turned down the Hurricanes offer and was prepared to head off to Kootenay. According to Gross, the $500,000 signing bonus was inadequate, particularly when compared to Barret Jackman’s $1million signing bonus with the St. Louis Blues. Tanabe was selected sixteenth in the 1999 NHL draft. Jackman was selected seventeenth.