Jason Spezza is a name you are going to hear an awful lot of over the next two years. For those of you who don’t know who he is, he a 6′ 3″, 200 lb centre with the Mississauga Ice Dogs. He was born on June 13, 1983 and this right handed shot is the early favorite to go first overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.
Spezza spent last year playing for the Brampton Battalion, as a 15 year old, under an OHL rule which allows underage players to play for their home town. All he did was lead the team in scoring; In 67 games he scored 22 times, added 49 assists for 71 points. He was then picked first overall by the Ice Dogs in the OHL draft.
The thing that hits you right away when you watch Spezza is his poise with the puck. He has the puck on his stick more times in one game than most other 16 year olds have in a month. He is most definitely the heart of the Ice Dog offence. The player most likely to benefit the most from Spezza’s passes this year is Chad Wiseman, who has lined up on left wing beside Spezza in the early going, and he should vastly improve on his 11 goal performance of last year.
Name: Jeff Kugel
Born: February 7, 1980
Hometown: Roseville, Michigan
Position: Left Wing
Weight: 246 lbs
When Jeff Kugel was slapped with a lifetime ban by OHL commissioner David Branch last winter there were a lot of people that thought that he would never play hockey again. He jumped off the bench, sucker punched one player and chased another. When you look at the situation you must say that it was very serious.
Some people thought that a 25 game suspension was long enough and others thought that a lifetime ban was the perfect punishment. OHL Commissioner David Branch, who is also the CHL president, handed Kugel a lifetime ban as many of you know. Last summer Branch decided that Kugel had learned his lesson and re-instated him into the league.
A couple of weeks ago Kugel was attending the New York Rangers training camp. He apparently got into a couple of dandy fights. When Kugel joined his teammates at the Windsor Spitfires training camp he received word that he had been put on waivers by the team. It didn’t take long for him to create interest from other teams as there were a few teams that wanted him in their lineup.
You can use two words to describe the future of the New York Islanders, Tim Connolly. Coming off a strong training camp the 1999 Islanders first round pick (5th overall) was signed to a three-year deal at the signing deadline.
Connolly at Training Camp
There was speculation by both members of the media and fans that Connolly would not be kept with the team for the season and he would be sent down to his Junior team before he lost his junior eligibility. Butch Goring, Head Coach of the NY Islanders said “He (Connolly) was signed with the intention of him being an Islander all season. I expect rookie mistakes from him, but he has a tremendous up side and expect that he will become a great hockey player.”
His first NHL regular season game was on October 2, 1999 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He had 16 shifts and 15:15 of playing time. . Connolly won eleven of fifteen faceoffs. That’s a whopping 73%. He showed that he is able to handle the puck like a veteran and can skate with the best of players. Although he only took one shot during the game, his future is bright.
Connolly said, “It feels great to make the team. This is what I have been waiting for my whole life, and to do it while I am eighteen years old, it is exciting to be here.
He has a long future in the NHL. Could he be the next “Great One”? Only time will tell. He didn’t set the world on fire with his performance in Tampa. Nevertheless, he has the attitude and skills to take him far in the NHL.
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.