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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.