The LA Kings started the 1998-99 season amid optimism for a breakout season. The backbone of that potential was what then-coach Larry Robinson called “one of the best defensive corps in the NHL.” While that may have been an overstatement, the fact remained that the Kings were deep at defense. A year later, Robinson is gone, as well as the deep defensive corps. Steve Duchesne was a bust, Garry Galley’s effort has been called into question, Doug Bodger has been told to seek employment elsewhere and promising young defenseman Aki Berg is no closer to signing with the club. Add to that the fact that Matthieu Biron, the club’s top pick last year, was sent to the Island in the Ziggy Pallfy trade, and we’re looking at some major depletion here… The Kings still have solid NHL defensemen in Rob Blake, Mattias Norstrom and an improving Sean O’Donnell, but still lack depth. Phillippe Boucher, Jaroslav Modry and Garry Galley round out the experienced defensemen on the NHL roster. The result is that one or two of the following players will need to make the club this season, and the other young defensemen in the system will need to mature quickly.
It’s been quite the off-season so far on the “Coast”. Here’s a look at the teams making the news:
Arkansas RiverBlades: The RiverBlades are readying for their inaugural season, and have named Geoff Ward as their first head coach.
Ward lead the Guelph Storm ( WHL ) to a 44-22-2 record last season.
The ‘Blades will not only be battling their ECHL opponents on the ice, they will be competing against the WPHL’s Arkansas Glaciercats off the ice. The teams will share home dates 11 times. The Riverblades will call the new Alltel Arena home.
Arkansas took Rob Weingartner ( Louisiana ) with their first pick in the Expansion draft, and Richard Keyes ( Columbus ) in the Dispersal draft.
Birmingham Bulls: Head Coach Dennis Desrosiers will not leave the Bulls to coach the Saginaw UHL club, as rumored. Desrosiers had an escape clause in his contract , but it passed with out event.
Signed: Kory Mullin will return for his forth season with the Bulls. Injuries hindered the offensive minded defenseman last year.
Mullin was signed by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1993.
Charlotte Checkers: Head coach Shawn Wheeler has been earning his off-season paycheck by signing his goaltending tandem, and putting several players in place weeks before training camp even starts!
Signed: Goaltenders Taras Lendzyk ( Charlotte ) and Jim Hrivnak Defensemen: Brooke Chateau ( Florida, Charlotte ), and Rocky Wesling ( Northern Michigan, 1994 Ducks draft pick) ) Forwards: Van Burgess and Mike Rucinski ( Florida, Charlotte ) Read more»
Born: June 13, 1983
Hometown: Brampton, Ontario
Weight: 188 lbs
Although he’s only 16-years-old Jason Spezza already has one OHL season under his belt and most NHL scouts drooling. Spezza spent last season with the OHL’s Brampton Battalion as a 15-year-old underage player.
Spezza, a Brampton native, had a tremendous season in bantam with the Toronto Marlboros bantam team in 1997-98, which probably attributed to his playing in the OHL as an underage. Spezza posted 53 goals and 114 points in 54 games, which turns out to be just over 2 points per game. You have to admit, that is impressive.
Spezza had an impressive season with the Battalion in 1998-99 considering they were an expansion team and had such a bad season. Spezza finished the season with 22 goals and 71 points. That put him in third place in the rookie scoring race behind Sheldon Keefe (116 points) and Denis Shvidki (94 points). Both Keefe and Shvidki spent the season in Barrie, although Keefe spent a portion of the season playing with Toronto St. Mike’s.
Despite playing in the OHL as a 15-year-old Spezza was already catching the attention of NHL scouts. Spezza was eligible for last month’s OHL priority draft where, as expected, he was drafted 1st overall by the Missisauga IceDogs. Spezza was the first of seven straight 16-year-olds drafted in the first round.
The Washington Capitals may not have the best group of prospects in hockey anymore, but how can you blame them? The team has graduated some awful good talent in the past few years: Jan Bulis, Jaroslav Svejkowsky, Richard Zednik, and Brendan Witt. This past June, the Capital lost their top overall prospect in defensemen Nick Boynton to draft re-entry, however, the loss hasn’t been all that difficult to absorb, as the Capitals still have a very impressive group of prospects, especially on defense.
The Capitals were able to overcome the loss of Boynton when they were able to select five of the top thirty-seven players available in the 1999 draft. Drafting quality players like Kris Beech, Michal Sivek and Charlie Stephens certainly helped refresh the pool quickly, though none of the five players picked represent the defensive power they have.
The teams real quality though lies on the blueline. Prior to the 1999 draft, the group is so strong, and well rounded, that Washington decided not to over pay rookie 1997 first round pick, Nick Boynton. The two sides argued back and fourth before Washington gave up, trying to trade him just prior to the re-entry date. The ploy failed and Washington had to settle for a second round compensation pick.
Let’s look at Washington’s top six defensive prospects.
Troops host Barrie to open 1999-2000 campaign
The Battalion will kick off their second season on September 24 with a home game against the powerful Barrie Colts. The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds will come to the Bunker on September 30 and the next night will see Brampton’s first road game of the year, against Jason Spezza and the Mississauga IceDogs at the Hershey Centre.
Other notable dates on the schedule include:
October 1 – first inter-divisional game of the year, against the Erie Otters;
October 11 – Brampton will once again host the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors on Thanksgiving Monday (game time: 2:00 p.m.);
October 14 – Jason Spezza makes his first visit to the Bunker as a member of the Mississauga IceDogs;
October 22 and 24 – the team’s first road trip of the season, featuring games in Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie;
November 6 – the Battalion visit Maple Leaf Gardens to take on St. Mike’s;
November 26 – Brampton journeys to Ottawa for their first meeting of the season with the defending Memorial Cup champions;
December 5 – the team plays host to the Belleville Bulls, defending OHL Champions;
December 31 – Mississauga comes to the Bunker for their traditional New Year’s Eve clash (game time: 3:30 p.m.) with the Battalion. This will be the final OHL game of the century;
January 2 – Brampton plays its first game in the year 2000, at home against the Peterborough Petes;
January 6 – the Oshawa Generals visit the Bunker; Read more»