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.
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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The Nashville Predators have a nice dilemma as training camp approaches — oo many defensemen battling for too few roster spots.
The Preds were unsuccessful in their efforts to bring Lance Pitlick to Nashville but it will hardly have a major effect on them. While they are still considering going after another free agent defenseman, the Predators have the luxury of having a system of defensemen waiting in the wings. Smart trades by General Manager David Poile and good drafts allowed Nashville to immediately become deep at defense. The Preds think enough of their young defensemen to allow veterans John Slaney, Jamie Heward and Rob Zettler to all move on.
The Preds should have one space open or perhaps two for the baby Preds. Six players are expected to challenge for the spot. Here’s a snapshot at each player and their odds of making the team:
Craig Millar- He’s technically not a prospect but he might as well be. He had problems staying up with Edmonton and the deep Nashville system wont make it any easier for him this time around. The Preds like his solid style of play and love his size. Still young and developing and has the best chance to join Kimmo Timonen as the young guns of the Preds defense corps. The seventh defenseman spot is his to lose.
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.
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.”