The Islanders fire sale has continued with the departure of their best player, Ziggy Palffy out west to the Kings. As upsetting as this move is the Isles did manage to land some quality young players, as well as a third top 10 pick in the upcoming draft. Olli Jokinen is one of the premier young talents in the league. He was eased into the Kings line up this season and was impressive despite his decieving stats. He was a superstar in the Finnish men’s league for two years as a 17 and 18 year old posting better than a point a game, and has also shined in international competition. His acquisition gives the Isles the 3rd (Jokinen), 4th (Luongo), and 5th (Brewer) overall picks from the talented 1997 draft.
Josh Green is a huge winger and was a dominant scorer at the junior level. He has put up solid numbers in the AHL and played 27 games with the Kings last season put only saw limited ice time. He has great size and potential and should be able to find his scoring touch in the NHL with some quality ice time. The Isles also acquired towering defenseman Matthieu Biron, the KIngs first round pick last year. Biron gets better every year and has shown signs of becoming an offensive presence to go along with his sound positional play and toughness. It would not be difficult to project a huge blueline for the Isladers with Kenny Jonsson (6-3 197), Eric Brewer, (6-4 201), Zdeno Chara (6-9 255), Biron (6-6 215), and Vladimir Chebaturkin (6-2 213).
It’s been about 2 weeks since the Avalanche lost to the Stars in a dramatic 7 game series. But altogether, this season has been anything but a disappointment. It’s been somewhat of a surprise, to say the least. In fact, the biggest surprise comes from rookie scoring leader, Milan Hejduk. Before the season began, this kid was an unknown. I recall looking at the Avalanche Top 20 prospect lists here at Hockey’s Future, and at other websites, and nowhere was Milan Hejduk to be seen. I remember watching training camp in Colorado Springs, and asking myself, “Who is that guy?” Hejduk is an emigma no longer. In fact, he was a key playoff component on Colorado’s first line with Fleury and Sakic. As soon as he was injured, the production of that line flopped. We can always play the ‘What If’ game, but we can all bet that the Avs chances of winning the Cup would have been significantly greater had Hejduk not been injured. We all knew what to expect from Chris Drury, and he broke those expectation too. He deserves the Calder. One of the unsung heroes of the season is Dan Smith, who was called up early in the season to fill in for Colorado’s shambled and injury plagued defense. He did a better job than a call-up should have to do, and that will earn him some good points in training camp next season.
Well, the emptiness that accompanied the abrupt end to a dream season for the Leafs is finally fading and it is just under 3 months from training camp. Hopefully, the Leafs will have had some time to heal, to work on their conditioning and their skills headed into the 99-00 season. Expectations will be much higher for this final four team coming into next season, so they had better be ready. The Leafs will not “sneak up” on anyone in 99-00 as they attempt to take the next step.
The playoff experience had to be invaluable for the young Leafs. Mats Sundin himself said that he learned more about hockey in the 17 playoff games than he did in his previous 8 years in the league.
The expansion draft comes up next Friday and the NHL entry draft is on Saturday. Pat Quinn has stated that the Leafs need to add some physical play to the forward positions without sacrificing skill. Mike Smith, who is still in limbo as to his status, stated that the Leafs probably wouldn’t be too active in the free agent sweepstakes this off-season (which begins July 1st) because the Leafs do not want to take away too much icetime from young, promising players such as Adam Mair and Tomas Kaberle. I don’t believe that they have come this far to part with much, if any, of the young core of the Leafs’ players. Young players who should continue to get better as the next few seasons wear on. President and current Leafs’ GM, Ken Dryden has stated the goal for the Toronto team is to consistently be among the top 5 teams in the NHL.
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The New Jersey Devils have had a great draft history over the past few years, putting the most players in the National Hockey League of any organization in the league. Almost 40 in the last 4 seasons. This kind of success must continue in order for the Devils to be competitive. Although the Devils first round pick is not until the 27th overall. The Devils have even with late picks, had tremendous success. I am sure that GM Lou Lamoriello will make this one no exception.
If there is one team in the NHL that is a testament to good drafting and player development, that team is the Buffalo Sabres. In addition to the Sabres’ appearance in this year’s Stanley Cup finals, their farm club the Rochester Americans made the 1999 Calder Cup finals in the AHL. The roster of both of these teams is dotted with Sabre draft picks, as well as young players acquired from other organizations.
The foundation for the current organizational success was built during the John Muckler era. Prior to Muckler’s stint as GM, the Sabres lacked a cohesive drafting philosophy, instead jumping from one drafting trend to another. The result of this haphazard approach to the draft was several lean years for the Sabre organization.
Once John Muckler assumed the GMs duties, however, the Sabre organization moved from chaos to cohesion, at least with respect to their drafting philosophy. The emphasis moved from the grab-bag approach of years past, to one that emphasized the drafting of bigger and feistier players (mostly Canadian) that possessed good skating ability. This approach landed current Sabres Curtis Brown, Wayne Primeau, Erik Rasmussen and Jay McKee. Darcy Regier has since taken over the duties as Sabres’ GM, and he appears to have taken the “If-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it” approach. Regier has taken only a slightly different tack in that the Sabres are drafting more Europeans than they had previously, but the emphasis on size, speed and character still remains.