Saturday, March 21, 2015

Sharks running out of time to make playoffs

MONTREAL -- For the first time since 2002-03, the math does not look very good for the San Jose Sharks.

That might be why coach Todd McLellan is happy to ignore the math.

The Sharks fell eight points behind the Winnipeg Jets for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference on Saturday with 10 games left to play. San Jose's 2-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens ended minutes after the Jets finished beating the Washington Capitals 3-0 at home. In that short span of time, the Sharks' streak of 10 straight seasons in the playoffs came that much closer to ending.

"I'm not very good at math so I'm not doing it," McLellan said. "We've got to play a game in Ottawa [on Monday], so somebody else who knows how to add and subtract can do that for you. I'm not."

When the Sharks began this seven-game road trip in Winnipeg on March 17, they were five points out of a playoff spot with 13 games left. Five days and three games later, the deficit has increased by three points and the number of games left to overcome it has gone down by the same number.

By the time the trip ends against at the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 29, the Sharks' chances of extending that playoff streak may be mathematically impossible.

"We need to almost win out to get into the playoffs," Sharks forward Logan Couture said prior to the game against the Canadiens.

After the game, the word "almost" was gone.

"Yeah, we really do," Couture said when asked if the Sharks need to win their 10 remaining games. "We're not going to quit. We're going to compete to the very end and see what happens. I truly believe that. We're going to lay it on the line every night. We still believe that every night we can win in this locker room, and we've got to go out and work as hard as we possibly can to try to."

Couture had the best chance to at least get the Sharks to overtime Saturday, but his shot with 91 seconds remaining in regulation hit the knob on the stick of Canadiens goalie Carey Price as he lunged from post to post. That was the difference between a vital point in the standings, with a shot at two points, and nothing. It could prove to be the difference between the playoffs and an early end to a trying season.

"[Price] gets over, he's beat," Sharks forward Joe Pavelski said. "That's the way it's gone."

The very idea of needing a 10-game winning streak to finish the season and extend a streak of 10 straight seasons in the playoffs can be daunting to think about, especially coming off a loss that the Sharks felt would have ended differently were it not for Price.

"We want to win," Pavelski said. "I don't know. There's 10 [games] left, we'll see what happens. We've got to win the next one. I don't know what you want me to say there."

There is indeed very little left to say for the Sharks.

So much has been said about this team since it lost in the first round of the playoffs last spring after taking a 3-0 series lead against the Los Angeles Kings. Talk of a rebuild that never really came, of the status of franchise pillars Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau that remains unchanged, of the team captaincy, and on and on.

So no one can blame Pavelski or anyone on the Sharks for not knowing what to say. All they can now do is win, and hope.

"Obviously it didn't go our way, but our guys are competing," McLellan said. "They're battling. They're doing the right things to give ourselves a chance to win. It's all we can ask of them right now. Moral victories get us nothing. We get a little growth maybe out of that as a team. But we're beyond growth right now, it's about wins. The sentimental part of the game means nothing."

Friday, March 20, 2015

Kings prospect Miller continuing breakout season

Colin Miller hasn't yet finished his second season with the Manchester Monarchs, but he's already written himself into the American Hockey League history book.

During the AHL All-Star event in Utica, N.Y., the 22-year-old defenseman fired a 105.5 mph shot during the AHL All-Star Skills Competition, the hardest shot in the event's 20-year history.

"I had never done anything like that before so I was really kind of going into the whole thing blind and just trying to really not embarrass myself too much," Miller said. "I was happy when I hit the net and had a really good time at the entire event."

After being passed over in the 2011 NHL Draft, Miller was selected by the Los Angeles Kings in the fifth round (No. 151) in the 2012 draft. He returned to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League for one final season in 2012-13.

He had 20 goals and 55 points in 55 games and earned the Mickey Renaud Captain's Trophy, given to the OHL team captain who best exemplifies leadership on and off the ice.

Los Angeles Kings prospect Colin Miller has enjoyed a breakout season with the AHL's Manchester Monarchs, scoring 16 goals and 43 points in 56 games played. (Photo: Fred Kfoury)

"He sees the ice really well, he makes good plays, [and] he's a good passer," Monarchs coach Mike Stothers said. "You can't help but notice how well he skates. He's very efficient at getting around the ice. He's kind of like a hovercraft. We thought we knew how quick he was, but we didn't realize until the All-Star Game when he did the fastest-skater event. That was amazing."

Miller completed his lap in at 13.805 seconds, becoming just the second AHL player to win the fastest-skater and hardest-shot events. The performance helped lead the Stothers-coached Eastern Conference All-Stars to a 15-11 skills-competition victory.

Now a month from the conclusion of the AHL regular season, Miller has up 16 goals and 43 points in 56 games, and his nine power-play goals are first on a Monarchs team that leads the AHL in power-play efficiency.

Stothers is in his first season as Manchester coach. While a coaching change often can throw off a player's established routine, Manchester leads the AHL with 84 points.

"[Stothers] has been great for our team," Miller said. "He's good at letting us know if we're not doing something right; he's very good. I have a lot of respect for him and I've liked him a lot this year."

Miller was called upon to carry much of the load while in the OHL, and Stothers recognizes that the surrounding core of players in Manchester this season has been helpful in letting Miller develop into the complete player the Kings will need him to be.

"I think the Kings' system of the team as opposed to the individuals has helped out," Stothers said. "He's another year older, more mature, and I think he's gotten a lot more comfortable with the league. There's an awful lot of upside to Colin's game. And I think right now we're just scratching the surface with him. I think there's a real potential to be a dominating player in the NHL."

The relationship between the Kings and Monarchs has been an integral part of the Kings' success, with future Stanley Cup winners Jonathan Quick, Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin, Tanner Pearson, and Tyler Toffoli all developing in Manchester.

Miller hopes to keep that connection open.

"I think I had that big transition my first year, and then this year I've been a lot more confident with the puck and a lot more comfortable in situations that I maybe wasn't so comfortable with last year," Miller said.

That comfort with the level of hockey the AHL provides has shone through in Miller's game this season. His 43 points almost triples his offensive output from last season; he's second among AHL defenders in points, goals (16), and power-play goals (nine), and is fourth in power-play points (20). He has 11 multi-point games, including three in November.

Miller has been paired with NHL veteran Jeff Schultz for the majority of the season, and though their styles of play differ, Stothers and Miller agree the two feed well off of each other on the ice because they balance each other's game.

"When you're comfortable and confident in your pairing and partners, it makes a world of difference," Stothers said. "That's the beauty of the American Hockey League. Before you go up to the NHL you have to learn your craft here. “It's a process and it takes some time. Some guys find that comfort level like [Miller] has and they just take off. I think that's where his natural abilities kind of separate him from maybe some of the other players around the league."

Defensemen by nature usually need a little more time to develop into responsible, two-way players. For Miller, those tiny adjustments, whether in practice or between shifts of a game, are all part of the process.

"You're obviously trying to get better in every area and improve on things that maybe you didn't like the game before," he said. "I think all areas I'm trying to grow, and every day just get better."

For more news, scores, and stats from around the American Hockey League, follow @TheAHL on Twitter and visit

No Bull Moments: Senators' Turris, Wings' Nyquist

Barrie improving his defensive game for Avalanche

DENVER -- Like most young defensemen, Tyson Barrie struggles at times in his end. But he's improved so much since the beginning of the season that Colorado Avalanche coach Patrick Roy no longer considers him to be a defensive liability.

"It can be tough," Barrie said. "Earlier, I was having some problems with it. It's something you work on, watching video and working with the coaches. The offensive instincts, you don't want to mess with those too much. You learn, try not to be reckless. It's something I'll need to focus on my whole career."

Tyson Barrie

Defense - COL

GOALS: 11 | ASST: 35 | PTS: 46

SOG: 123 | +/-: 5

Barrie, 23, has the offensive part down. A fluid skater and puck-handler, he has five goals and 10 assists in his past 14 games and is among the NHL's top-scoring defensemen with 11 goals and 35 assists (46 points) in 68 games.

"I think he knows he's a pretty special player," defense partner Nate Guenin said. "He won't talk about it, but he has that confidence that all the great players have. It's going to be fun to see him take his game to the next level."

Barrie, whose father, Len Barrie, played seven NHL seasons, was a third-round pick (No. 64) in the 2009 NHL Draft. Tyson played parts of five seasons with the Kelowna Rockets in the Western Hockey League, where in 2009-10 he was named Defenseman of the Year.

He made his NHL debut in 2011-12, shuttling between Colorado and the Lake Erie Monsters of the American Hockey League his first two seasons before blossoming last season following a brief trip back to the minors.

"We thought he was struggling," Roy said. "When he came back, he was totally different. He was playing with a lot of confidence."

Barrie had 13 goals and 25 assists in 64 games and helped the Avalanche finish a surprising first in the Central Division. But his season ended in Game 3 of the Western Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Minnesota Wild when he sustained a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee on a hit by Matt Cooke. His absence hurt the Avalanche, who lost the series in seven games.

Barrie acknowledged he worried how the knee would respond once he recovered. At 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, he needs his skating, speed and agility to be effective.

"I was a little nervous," he said. "I did a lot of rehab and it didn't hold me back at all. I went back on the ice and it felt pretty good. Skating is one of my strong suits. I'm not a big guy, so I try to move and get out of the way of the guys trying to hit me. The knee hasn't affected that at all."

Like the Avalanche, Barrie started slowly this season. He had eight points (one goal, seven assists) in the first 14 games but was minus-8 when the Avalanche opened 3-6-5. Colorado has gone 30-20-6 since then, and Barrie is a plus-5.

"Defensively, early in the season, we were not comfortable to play him against the top two lines," Roy said. "Recently, he's playing really well defensively. I think if you have a good mix when to go and not to go, that will save some energy and allow him to play better defensively."

It's been a disappointing season for the Avalanche, who have won 11 of their past 15 games but are in danger of missing the playoffs.

"Our team has had some ups and downs, but we're playing pretty good right now," Barrie said. "We still have a chance. I'm trying to do my part, be consistent bringing some offense from the back end, jumping into the play and helping the forwards out."

The Avalanche have a stable of skilled forwards and an exceptional goalie, Semyon Varlamov, but the offense slipped this season and defense remains an Achilles' heel. Colorado is building it around Barrie and Erik Johnson, who was having his best season until he injured his knee and had surgery Jan. 26. Prospects Chris Bigras, Mason Geertsen and Duncan Siemens are expected to help upgrade the defense in the not-too-distant future.

Sixteen-year NHL veteran Brad Stuart, 35, has been a mentor to Barrie and Johnson, a role he plans to continue; he's signed through 2016-17.

"When you're a young defenseman, I think it's the toughest position to become an everyday player, maybe besides a goaltender," Stuart said. "I definitely try to help guys, but as a veteran your biggest contribution is going out every night and putting it on the line. It doesn't always have to be anything you say.

"A player like Tyson, he has great offensive instincts and I've seen him take a more conscious approach to playing defense. That's what's going to take him to the next level."

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Goalie Darling delivers to power surging Blackhawks

His Chicago Blackhawks facing the second of a back-to-back set against the top team in the NHL, coach Joel Quenneville decided to start rookie goalie Scott Darling over Corey Crawford against the New York Rangers on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. Crawford is 6-0-1 with a 1.13 goals-against average and .964 save percentage in his past seven games but also made 38 saves Tuesday in a win against the New York Islanders at United Center.

Scott Darling

Goalie - CHI

RECORD: 7-3-0

GAA: 1.96 | SVP: .936

Starting his first game in three weeks, Darling vindicated Quenneville's decision with 25 saves in a 1-0 win against the Rangers to give Chicago its fourth straight victory for the first time since winning eight straight in late November-early December.

Darling is 7-3-0 with a 1.96 GAA, .936 save percentage and his first NHL shutout.

"I'm just thrilled; it's an amazing stage to [get a shutout] at Madison Square Garden," Darling said. "It feels great to just get back in the net and do my job. This is one of the most famous arenas in the world against one of the most iconic jerseys there is. An 'Original Six' matchup on the NBC Sports Network; you really can't ask for much more."

Darling's finest moment came with 7:22 remaining in the first period. Rangers forward Rick Nash stole the puck from Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook in Chicago's end of the ice and moved in alone on Darling. A couple of Nash dekes and a failed poke check put Darling on his back, but the 6-foot-6 Darling was able to stretch out and make the save with his left pad and keep the game scoreless.

Darling also made 10 saves in the third period to support forward Brad Richards' goal at 7:19 that gave the Blackhawks the victory.

"It was an impressive performance [by Darling]," Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. "He's a big goalie and there's not a lot to shoot at. He's aggressive and for a guy who hasn't played very much he was confident in his ability. That rubs off on everybody, so he was big part of the win."

The Blackhawks (43-21-6, 92 points) are 6-0-1 in the past seven games, two points behind the second-place Nashville Predators and three from the first-place St. Louis Blues in the Central Division.

Unmasked: Remarkable journey for Rangers' Skapski

VANCOUVER -- Mackenzie Skapski had just won his first NHL start, but there was something the rookie goalie for the New York Rangers needed to do before the celebrations could start in earnest.

Skapski, 20, called home to share the moment with his parents. It was a conversation that left Skapski's father, Denis, a wreck.

"He was pretty happy when I talked to him and then my mom told me later that he got pretty emotional afterward," Skapski said, noting the uncharacteristic display of emotion from his dad had other family members asking what was wrong. "I've never seen him like that personally. My mom said the only other time she's seen him like that was my bus accident."

Unexpected apprenticeship with Rangers benefits Skapski's game

Mackenzie Skapski has embraced his opportunity with the Rangers, using it to further refine on his craft.

The chance to work more regularly with goaltending coach Benoit Allaire has been a game-changer. Skapski credits Allaire for the strides he has taken between the pipes, and between the ears, since being drafted.

Allaire visits the Rangers' AHL affiliate twice a month, and after getting Skapski to use his 6-foot-3 frame more effectively by not hunching over as much as he did during his final season of junior hockey, the focus is switching to stressing more conservative positioning and efficient movement patterns. Allaire has helped Skapski manage his game and his expectations when it slips.

"His biggest emphasis this year was, ‘You've gotten to this point, you need to play to your strengths,'" Skapski said. "As soon as you start tweaking your game after a bad game or a bad performance, that's when you get in trouble because now you are thinking of different things instead of pounding out what you are good at. But the quicker I can stay in my bubble and say, 'Hey I don't need to change anything in my game, let's move onto the next game, stay within my mindset and my play,' it gives me a really good chance to play well the next time. … When I was going through bus accident I was in that bubble."

Skapski knows there will be more work to do when Lundqvist returns and he goes back to the AHL. But he also believes he'll be better for the experience of getting to face shots from Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis and work every day with Allaire; for the opportunity to remind the hockey world what kind of goalie he was destined to be before the accident.

"Not only has it put me back on the map as a legitimate prospect in the goaltending world, but it gives me a confidence boost that I've played in the NHL," Skapski said. "It's given me that much more fight to actually grab a hold of a position."

-- Kevin Woodley

The emotion which poured out of Denis Skapski after Skapski's win against the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 20 was about a lot more than the joy of seeing his son win his first NHL game. It was about everything overcome in the five years since the last time the son made his father cry.

When Mackenzie was 15, the bus carrying his youth team to a tournament in rural British Columbia hit ice and rolled. Mackenzie was seriously hurt in the accident and was airlifted to Vancouver. Soon after, surgeons had to cut a three-inch square through the back of his Mackenzie's skull after additional scans revealed bleeding that was putting pressure near his brain.

"A neurosurgeon came in and said, ‘We have to go in right now. If we don't he will get sick really quickly and he will stop breathing,'" Denis said. "We had the fear of him not surviving."

During surgery, doctors discovered a vein which was severed in the accident. The vein was cauterized and two dissolvable plates were inserted in Mackenzie's face.

"It wasn't in the brain, but on the outside, thank God," said Denis, who was a gritty defenseman for three seasons of NCAA hockey with the University of Alabama-Huntsville and one in the ECHL. "But it was bleeding significantly and starting to press on his brain."

Given all that, it's easy to understand the emotions Denis went through when his son called after he made 24 saves in a 3-1 win against the Sabres. For Denis Skapski it was more about the journey after the injury.

"For me it's the resilience and all he had to overcome, stuff that would make most quit," Denis said. "There were times it was hard watching him play because early on he wasn't the same goalie. And how the hell could he be the same? And then to take advantage of that opportunity [with New York] is so remarkable in my mind as a symbolic marker of his resilience and character."

That character was tested frequently after the accident.

Skapski lost more than 20 pounds in the hospital and had to wait three months to get back on skates. By the time he was ready to resume playing, he had lost more than half a year during a critical point in his development. It cost him the chance to make the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League as a 16 year old, and later a shot at being selected in his first year of eligibility for the NHL Draft.

"The accident wreaked havoc with where he was in his development," Denis said. "He really had to go start at the beginning again."

On the surface Mackenzie seemed to handle it well, but it wasn't always easy.

"I was delayed a year," he said. "There was a lot of bitterness."

It took almost three years, until the midway point of his second full season in the WHL, for Skapski to get back to being the goaltender he was before the bus accident. The Rangers selected him in the sixth round of the 2013 NHL Draft (No. 170) and signed him to an entry-level contract in June 2014.

It's been a whirlwind ever since.

Skapski went into training camp unsure if he'd start his pro career or return to junior. The Rangers sent him to Greenville (ECHL) to start the season, and he earned a promotion to Hartford of the American Hockey League by the end of October.

"It's been absolutely crazy," Skapski said. "I walked into camp and really had no idea what was going to happen with me. You look at where most 20-year-old goalies are and they're either in junior or they're in the [ECHL] playing games."

Skapski made another leap after Rangers star Henrik Lundqvist was hit in the neck by a shot and diagnosed with a vascular injury. Skapski was called up by the Rangers on Feb. 4.

"That was biggest surprise and excitement, the call to your parents saying you have just been called up to the NHL," Skapski said. "They got really excited about that; probably more so than my first start."

His parents flew to New York to be at Madison Square Garden for that Feb. 4 game to watch him as the backup to Cam Talbot against the Boston Bruins. They were back home in Abbotsford, British Columbia, when he got his first start in Buffalo three weeks later. They were also home watching on TV when he started in Buffalo on March 14 and made 20 saves to become the second-youngest goalie in Rangers history to post a shutout.

Denis Skapski can only shake his head at the name of the only goalie to accomplish the feat at a younger age: Dan Blackburn, who like Skapski played for Kootenay in the WHL. It's one of several ties to the Rangers that leave Denis a bit bewildered.

It includes Mackenzie being born hours after the Rangers beat the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Final.

"It was kind of like he let us watch the game and then it was, ‘OK, I am ready to come out now,'" Denis said with a laugh.

When MacKenzie was 5, he watched his first WHL game.

"I look back and see a 5-year-old kid that couldn't take his eyes off Dan Blackburn," Denis said. "He was mesmerized. It sounds crazy but when I think about the correlations they kind of boggle my mind; like, is it really supposed to be this scripted? I'm probably getting a little goofy but it seems too much to be coincidental. You feel like some things are just meant to be for some people."

Skapski knows his time with the Rangers is coming to an end. Lundqvist is healed from his injury and back on the ice practicing. He hopes to be game-ready in a week.

Before he departs, however, Skapski has one more piece of family business to finish. He flew his grandmothers to New York, where he has jerseys waiting for them, to watch what might be his final game at Madison Square Garden. It won't matter that Skapski will take the pregame warm-up and then most likely spend the rest of the game watching Talbot.

The grandmothers know what Skapski overcame to get on the ice at Madison Square Garden, and the person he has become during that journey. The kind who phones home before celebrating his first NHL win, knowing only his family could appreciate the real significance of his accomplishment.

Top prospect Marner not letting size hold him back

London Knights forward Mitchell Marner said he believes anything's possible if you're willing to put in the work.

Even for a 5-foot-11, 155-pound right-shot center who might mistakenly be overlooked at the 2015 NHL Draft because of his size.

London's Marner establishing records

When London Knights center Mitchell Marner scored a goal and one assist in a 4-1 victory against the Saginaw Spirit on Feb. 16, he became the 46th player in team history to reach 100 points in a season.

Marner, No. 7 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of the top North American skaters eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft, is the third youngest London player to reach the 100 point mark. He joins Sam Gagner in 2006-07 and Jason Allison in 1992-93.

Marner, who turns 18 on May 5, is also the first 17-year-old to reach 100 points since 2011 when Ryan Strome of the Niagara IceDogs and Nail Yakupov of the Sarnia Sting reached the century mark. Marner currently leads the Ontario Hockey League with 124 points on 44 goals and 80 assists in 62 games.

London Knights' all-time 100-point seasons since 2000

Bold names indicate OHL scoring leaders

2008-09: John Tavares 104 points (58 goals, 46 assists) 56 games

2006-07: Patrick Kane 145 points (62 goals, 83 assists) 58 games

2006-07: Sergei Kostitsyn 131 points (40 goals, 91 assists) 59 games

2006-07: Sam Gagner 118 points (35 goals, 83 assists) 53 games

2005-06: Rob Schremp 145 points (57 goals, 88 assists) 57 games

2005-06: David Bolland 130 points (57 goals, 73 assists) 59 games

2005-06: Dylan Hunter 117 points (32 goals, 85 assists) 62 games

2004-05: Corey Perry 130 points (47 goals, 83 assists) 60 games

2004-05: Dylan Hunter 104 points (31 goals, 73 assists) 67 games

2003-04: Corey Perry 113 points (40 goals, 73 assists) 66 games

-- Mike G. Morreale

"The NHL right now is at a point where size doesn't matter; it's all about the skill and passion," Marner said. "I think if you go out there and show that you're willing to go every shift, willing to prove a point and prove that you can hold your own, that skills are more important than the size."

Marner has not only made a believer out of a lot of scouts, but a former teammate now starring in the NHL.

"He has tremendous offensive talent; I've been keeping tabs on him to see how he's doing," Vancouver Canucks center and former Knights forward Bo Horvat said. "His offensive skill and shiftiness, ability to make plays, are what stood out to me when I played with him [in 2013-14]. He's having a heck of a year and hopefully some team will get lucky and pick him up."

Marner has been given more minutes playing with equally talented skaters and has raised his game in his second season with the Knights. He's the first player in franchise history to reach 100 points in a season since John Tavares (2008-09), who began that season with the Oshawa Generals before his trade to the Knights and finished with 104 points in 56 games.

Marner became the fastest 17-year-old to score 40 goals in one season for the Knights, setting the mark in 52 games.

Tavares is the last of six London players to capture the Eddie Powers Memorial Trophy as OHL scoring champion following Patrick Kane in 2007, Rob Schremp in 2006, Corey Perry in 2005, Jason Allison in 1994, and Dave Simpson in 1982.

"I think coach [Dale] Hunter has really put some confidence in me and when they did that it really kind raised my game, and that's why I'm playing so well," Marner said. "When you get those extra minutes you want to do the best you can with them and I feel I'm doing the best with it right now. It's not just me but the linemates I'm with."

Marner has been alongside Arizona Coyotes prospects Christian Dvorak and Max Domi much of the season. He missed three games after sustaining an arm injury following an illegal check to the back by Oshawa defenseman Will Petschenig in the third period on Jan. 25.

Marner, who leads the Ontario Hockey League with 124 points (44 goals, 80 assists), also has 15 power-play goals, two shorthanded goals, and a plus-37 rating. What makes Marner's point total even more impressive is the fact he had just one goal and four points in the opening 10 games of the season before going on a 16-game point streak (21 goals, 44 points).

"He put pressure on himself early on, just like any good player would," London assistant coach Dylan Hunter said. "He wants to be able to be the best all the time and I think coming into his draft year he had high expectations for himself. He had a tendency to want the puck too much and we told him he needed to play between the dots on offense and stay underneath the puck, not hold onto it for too long.

"Guys have to be able to listen and let it sink in and after those 10 games he began to relax and started playing what was expected of him and what he's going to be in the NHL, a player who can bring that puck up the ice and spring guys for 2-on-1's and breakaways by using that speed."

Size didn't keep Marner from earning a No. 7 ranking on NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of the top North American players eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft.

"I think to make it as a smaller player you need to work those intangibles," Hunter said. "A lot of those smaller guys you see throughout the years in the NHL are fast but to make it consistently at the next level it's being able to change your game up and not just being one dimensional. That's something Mitch has worked on hard. He wants to keep you guessing as a defender and get those greasy goals in front; it's something he does consistently and one reason why he's had success."

Marner said his goal at the start of the season was to finish with at least 90 points, a total he reached on Jan. 17. Now he said he hopes to continue his solid play and take his game to another level. Some scouts have compared his style to that of Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane or Edmonton Oilers forward Jordan Eberle. Marner has 57 goals, 183 points and a plus-75 rating in 126 career OHL games.

"We used to joke around and say that the way Kane sees guys on the ice resembles a video game because he knows where each of the players on the ice will be going," Hunter said. "That's what Mitch has. A tendency to never get hit. He makes plays when you feel there's no way he should be able to make them and I can see that comparison between Mitch and Kane. Especially with their skating ability and lateral movement."

Marner was a product of the Don Mills Flyers AAA program where he had 41 goals and 86 points in 55 games in 2012-13 before being selected by the Knights in the first round (No. 19) of the 2013 OHL priority selection draft. The native of Thornhill, Ontario, was also recruited by the University of Michigan but in the end decided to play in the Canadian Hockey League.

"I was speechless seeing the rink in London for the first time; seeing how the fans reacted to the Knights and since day one I wanted to be a part of that," Marner said.

Marner didn't waste any time making his mark as a rookie in 2013-14, s 13 goals and 59 points on the way to earning runner-up for OHL Rookie of the Year. The season felt incomplete for Marner and his teammates, however, after losing to the eventual OHL champion Guelph Storm in the Western Conference semifinals.

Marner finished with three goals, nine points and a plus-3 rating in nine playoff games last season. He'll be counted on even more this year.

"When we look at guys in the draft we want top-end talent that can also make someone else better on your line," Hunter said. "Will that player complement another player and can you change your game to make it work? He knows that sometimes he isn't needed as a top scorer but as a defender and he'll do whatever you want to win the game."

What makes Marner so dynamic is his ability to generate plays for himself and teammates with that great speed and playmaking ability. He said that knowing his opponent and their tendencies is an important part of his preparation each game.

"I just like to have my head up at all times and know who's around me, know the guys I'm playing against," he said. "That's the best part about it. Once you know who you're playing against, you kind of have a feel what they will do and how you can go about working around that.

"I like to tell my linemates that if the guy likes to step up a lot, just come near me and I'm just going to take that hit and give it to you."


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Fantasy top 60 'D': Zidlicky on fire for Red Wings

Every Wednesday during the season, fantasy hockey correspondent Brian Metzer will provide you with in-depth defensemen analysis. From updated weekly top 60 rankings to trending players and more, Metzer will be your go-to guy for fantasy blue line advice all season long.

The Detroit Red Wings had been in the market for a right-handed shooting defenseman dating back to last season. It was a hot topic as the team was breaking down and cleaning their lockers out after being eliminated by the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"Right-shot defensemen are at a premium in the League, and I mean ones that can play on the point on the power play and get points," general manager Ken Holland told Ansar Khan of at the time.

"We'd like to get a right-handed shot defenseman. Can we make it happen? We'll find out."

It took a while, but they did make it happen prior to the NHL Trade Deadline when they sent a conditional third-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft to the New Jersey Devils for Marek Zidlicky.

They kicked the tires on a few other options, but it is tough to think anyone would have fit in better than Zidlicky since he arrived in town. He has three goals, four assists, five power-play points, 11 shots on goal and a game-winning-goal in seven games with the Red Wings.

The 38-year-old has been everything Holland was looking for.

He's logged 16 or more minutes of ice time in every game with the Red Wings, with a high-water mark of 22:15 against the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 12. He's been the power-play quarterback Holland hoped he would be, averaging 2:40 per game and going over three minutes with the extra man on four occasions thus far.

It is worth noting the Red Wings have scored a power-play goal in each game since Zidlicky joined the team, which speaks to the impact he has had. He has been great throughout his short tenure in Detroit, but his finest game might have been his most recent.

The Red Wings defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-1 at Consol Energy Center on Sunday and Zidlicky was a key contributor. He spent 17:37 on the ice, 3:16 of which came with the extra man. He had one goal and two assists and was noticeable almost every time he came over the boards.

Marek Zidlicky


GOALS: 7 | ASST: 23 | PTS: 30

SOG: 114 | +/-: -4

Some critics of Zidlicky seemed to think he was slowing down a bit this season in New Jersey, but he managed 23 points in 63 games. That production was off of the level he produced last season when he put up 12 goals and 42 points in 81 games, but the Devils took a step back from being the team they were a season ago.

Zidlicky has long been an underrated source of production for his NHL teams and fantasy owners as he put up a career high 53 points as a rookie, has six times broken the 40-point plateau and eight times broken the 30-point plateau.

He has always been a wiz on the power play, rolling up 211 of his 397 career points on the power play, which is good for 53 percent of his total production. That fact, combined with his total package of 5-on-5 ability and knack for playing with skilled players should help him and the Red Wings to a great deal of success down the stretch.

It was the rare situation of an already good team plugging a hole with an absolutely perfect fit. Zidlicky can also have the effect on your fantasy team, as he is owned in 47 percent of Yahoo Standard Leagues and might be available on the waiver wire in yours.

Dustin Byfuglien


GOALS: 15 | ASST: 27 | PTS: 42

SOG: 196 | +/-: 6


Dustin Byfuglien , Winnipeg Jets

Byfuglien is close to returning to the Jets lineup, but it hasn't happened yet. He took part in the game day skate Tuesday, but wasn't a participant in their 5-2 victory against the San Jose Sharks. He could be back by Thursday when the Jets face the St. Louis Blues, but that hasn't been confirmed. Take a look at the waiver wire in your league in case someone might have dropped him. His ownership has fallen to 87 percent since he's been out of the lineup and he will be returning in time to make a significant impact during the stretch drive and fantasy playoffs.


Kimmo Timonen , Chicago Blackhawks

When we wrote about the possibility of Timonen being traded to a contender, we called picking him up a low-risk, high-reward move for fantasy owners. Unfortunately it hasn't paid off as anticipated. Since joining the Blackhawks, he has appeared in five games and registered zero points, three shots on goal and four hits. He has seen his minutes per game slip from a high mark of 17:29 to 9:21 and 12:07 respectively in his past two games. He admitted recently that conditioning has been a problem. He may yet round into form for the Blackhawks, but it seems that he will serve of little value to fantasy owners before their seasons end.

Brayden McNabb


GOALS: 1 | ASST: 22 | PTS: 23

SOG: 64 | +/-: 9


Brayden McNabb , Los Angeles Kings

McNabb was a third-round draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres in 2009 and could be considered a bit of a late bloomer, but he is starting to come into his own with the Kings. He has five assists, a plus-4 rating, eight hits and seven shots on goal over his past five games. He is skating over 15 minutes per night and has 23 points (one goal), 45 penalty minutes, 161 hits, 47 blocked shots, five power-play points, 64 shots on goal and a plus-9 rating. He could be a very nice depth add and is owned in eight percent of Yahoo Standard Leagues.


These rankings are based on expectations for the season ahead. Value is quantified by defense pairings, overall upside and past performance in standard Yahoo categories (goals, assists, plus-minus, penalty minutes, power-play points and shots on goal). NOTE: Players with D/RW eligibility in Yahoo leagues (Dustin Byfuglien , Brent Burns ) have been ranked as defensemen.

1P.K. Subban, MTL (+2) 31Marek Zidlicky, DET (+7)
2Erik Karlsson, OTT (+2) 32Zdeno Chara, BOS (-1)
3Kris Letang, PIT (-2) 33Jake Muzzin, LAK (SAME)
4Brent Burns, D/RW, SJS (-2) 34Mike Green, WSH (-2)
5Roman Josi, NSH (+2) 35James Wisniewski, ANA (+1)
6Victor Hedman, TBL (+2) 36Aaron Ekblad, FLA (-2)
7Shea Weber, NSH (-2) 37Dion Phaneuf, TOR (+2)
8John Carlson, WSH (-2) 38Anton Stralman, TBL (-1)
9Duncan Keith, CHI (SAME)39Kris Russell, CGY (+2)
10Andrei Markov, MTL (SAME)40Damon Severson, NJD (+2)
11Tyson Barrie, COL (+3) 41Hampus Lindholm, ANA (+4)
12Keith Yandle, NYR (-1) 42Jacob Trouba, WPG (+1)
13Mark Streit, PHI (SAME)43Andrej Sekera, LAK (+3)
14TJ Brodie, CGY (SAME)44Jason Garrison, TBL (+3)
15Alex Pietrangelo, STL (+4) 45Tobias Enstrom, WPG (-1)
16Dennis Wideman, CGY (+4) 46Seth Jones, NSH (+2)
17Oliver Ekman-Larsson, ARI (-5) 47Justin Schultz, EDM (+2)
18Drew Doughty, LAK (-2) 48Kimmo Timonen, CHI (-8)
19Niklas Kronwall, DET (-2) 49Jack Johnson, CBJ (+2)
20Cam Fowler, ANA (+3) 50Travis Hamonic, NYI (+2)
21Johnny Boychuk, NYI (-3) 51Tyler Myers, WPG (+3)
22Justin Faulk, CAR (+2) 52Adam Larsson, NJD (NEW)
23Ryan McDonagh, NYR (-2) 53Lubomir Visnovsky, NYI (SAME)
24Cody Franson, NSH (-2) 54Marc-Edouard Vlasic, SJS (+1)
25Brent Seabrook, CHI (+2) 55Brian Campbell, FLA (+1)
26Dougie Hamilton, BOS (+2) 56Danny DeKeyser, DET (+1)
27Alex Goligoski, DAL (+2) 57Jared Spurgeon, MIN (+1)
28Ryan Suter, MIN (-3) 58Ryan Ellis, NSH (+1)
29John Klingberg, DAL (-3) 59Andy Greene, NJD (+1)
30Torey Krug, BOS (SAME)60Christian Ehrhoff, PIT (NR - IR)

Key injuries: Dustin Byfuglien (D/RW), Mark Giordano, Kevin Shattenkirk, Erik Johnson, Sami Vatanen, Nick Leddy, Kevin Klein, Kevin Bieksa, Trevor Daley, Michael Del Zotto, Olli Maatta

*NR - IR : Not ranked last week because of injury