Lots of stuff after the jump: looking at a top draft candidate that the Oilers organization has spent little time on publicly, the performance of some of the prospects in the minor league system, Mark Messier’s name being floated as a potential head coach in New York, and a bunch of other stuff.
1. Is Elias Lindholm a legitimate draft target for Edmonton? One name that doesn’t seem to be getting much play publicly from various people employed by the Oilers’ organization is Elias Lindholm. Lindholm’s numbers in Sweden are spectacular – with an NHL equivalency of 40 points over an 82 game season this year, he’s above where Markus Naslund and Nicklas Backstrom were at the same age and not far behind Henrik Sedin. Listed at 6’, 181 pounds, he’s not anyone’s idea of a huge centre but if the organization is looking for a guy who can be an impact player at that position Lindholm is a real possibility. The question now is whether the lack of reference to him by people like Craig MacTavish and Stu MacGregor is out of a desire to mask intent or simply out of a lack of interest.
2. Is there trade interest in Toni Rajala? Toni Rajala has had a fantastic year in Oklahoma City, and the pint-sized Finn has established himself as a player of interest from an NHL perspective. The trouble is the Oilers aren’t exactly screaming for this particular player-type, so that opportunity might need to come somewhere else. Based on Oklahoma head coach Todd Nelson’s comments in a recent Oilers Now interview, there is interest:
He’s a guy that a lot of scouts, just from talking to people, talking to scouts they’re very excited about this guy. He’s definitely on the radar of other teams right now. He’s a guy that I fell if he keeps on developing, he can play up there. For what he lacks in size he makes up with his creativity, he’s very smart, he’s faster than people think because he skates so smooth he kind of catches players off guard because he’s so smooth and so effortless with the way he skates, guys get surprised by it. Also he has a cannon for a shot, you wouldn’t think that but he can really rip the puck. All those things together, that’s what makes him very effective plus he sees the ice extremely well.
3. Colten Teubert is still in free-fall. A year ago, Colten Teubert played 24 games in the NHL. Now, with his AHL club on a deep playoff run he can’t even get into the lineup – he hasn’t played since May 1. In the same interview reference above, Nelson said that his game had taken a step backwards and that he had “guys that are quite frankly just playing better.” Nelson also referenced his need to make better plays under pressure, something he mentioned in another interview earlier in the month. It’s a recurring theme, and the longer Teubert sits the more likely it is that the Oilers opt to move him out in the summer (either by trade or simply by not re-signing him) – particularly with general manager Craig MacTavish emphasizing the need for mobile defencemen with puck skills at the NHL level.
4. Tyler Pitlick is showing signs of life. Another disappointing prospect, Tyler Pitlick, has been getting good reviews of late. David Staples has been very impressed with his performance while Lowetide has him trending upward in the post-season. Nelson’s on the same page, saying Pitlick’s playing his best hockey.
The trouble is that all of this sounds pretty familiar. Last year, after a terrible season, Pitlick turned it on in the playoffs. His 13GP – 2G – 5A – 7PTS run then looks a lot like his 11GP – 2G – 4A – 6PTS run right now. He followed it up with a regular season performance that couldn’t even reach the incredibly low standard set by his rookie year.
It’s certainly a good thing that Pitlick’s performance has improved, but right now the bulk of his professional performance says he isn’t much of a prospect. In 130 career AHL games, Pitlick has 46 points; that’s one more than Toni Rajala managed in an abbreviated rookie campaign this year. As it stands, there’s just no evidence that Pitlick can score enough to survive even in an NHL depth role.
5. A cycling fourth line? One of the NHL traditions that I’ve never really understood is employing a fourth line that crashes and bangs and doesn’t really worry about playing hockey too much. I don’t get it because they almost always match up against the same line on the other team, so it isn’t like they’re wearing down the top players on the opposition bench, and when they do take an odd shift against quality opponents they invariably spend the whole shift desperately running around their own zone trying not to get scored on.
That’s why the likely parts of the Oilers’ fourth line for next season intrigue me. Craig MacTavish says Ryan Smyth will be back, so he’s likely getting one job, and Teemu Hartikainen (who would need to clear waivers to go to the AHL) is a good bet for another. Those are two great ingredients in a fourth line built on cycling the puck. A cycling fourth line doesn’t get scored on very often, grinds down the opposition physically, and makes for a great matchup against a crash and bang opposition depth line that isn’t really worried about playing the game: not only might they score a little, but it’s hard for the opposition to land big hits on the forecheck when the line they’re playing is bent on shuffling the puck around the offensive zone.
6. Mark Messier in New York? The New York Rangers fired head coach John Tortorella yesterday, and Darren Dreger floated an interesting name as a potential replacement afterward: Mark Messier.
Let’s not forget Messier had extensive talks with the Oilers about coaching a year or so ago. He shouldn’t be discounted as a NYR candidate.
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) May 29, 2013
Personally, the idea of hiring Messier for a head coaching position (he also talked to the Oilers about coming in as coach before Pat Quinn was hired) is repellant. It’s not that I have trouble with an NHL team hiring a former NHL star; I have trouble with an NHL team hiring a guy who hasn’t had some experience coaching a team full-time beforehand. Colorado hiring Patrick Roy may or may not work out, but at least Roy has years of experience coaching a junior team to lean on besides his NHL career. Messier does not, and if he really wants to coach NHL hockey a year or two as an assistant is probably a better place to start.
7. 2013 Draft prospect Nicholas Baptiste is on the rise. One of the guys I’m watching for at the draft this year is Nick Baptiste. The right-shooting right wing climbed 44 spots on Central Scouting’s rankings, from 105th overall among North American skaters on the mid-terms to 61st overall on the final rankings. He has solid size (6’2”, 200 pounds), skates well and has some offensive tools. His numbers this season aren’t spectacular (48 points in 66 games in the OHL) but he has a late birthdate (August 4, 1995, making him one of the younger players in his draft class) and was dramatically better in the second half of the year – he picked up 19 points in his first 33 games and then 29 in the final 33. Also, as a prospect who has familiarity with shoulder injury, he seems a natural fit for Edmonton.
8. Also climbing fast: Jake Guentzel. The USHL rookie of the year moved from 114th in the midterm rankings to 80th, and it isn’t all that hard to figure out why. After recording 30 points in the first 39 games of the year, Guentzel went on a brilliant run, scoring 43 points in his final 21 games. Hockey sense gets a lot of praise; here’s how his head coach, Brett Larson, put it:
He’s smart enough to know when he needs to attack and he’s smart enough to know when he needs to create opportunities for his teammates. It’s instinct. You can’t teach that. All those top end guys have that. He reads the game and anticipates.
The down side with Guentzel is size – he’s listed at 5’9”, 153 pounds. Still, with that kind of offensive talent he might end up being a nice steal late in the draft for somebody. He’s also going the U.S. college route, bound for the University of Nebraska-Omaha when he’s finished in the USHL, meaning that he has time to fill out. He’s an ideal ‘draft and follow’ sort of selection.
9. Maxim Lapierre has yet to speak with the Canucks.
Don Meehan just confirmed no talks with #Canucks about Maxim Lapierre who is a u-f-a.
— News1130 Sports (@News1130Sports) May 29, 2013
Lots of Oilers fans don’t like Lapierre, and I can certainly understand why. With that said, he checks a lot of boxes on the Oilers’ presumed want list: he’s relatively big (6’2”, 207 pounds), in his prime (just turned 28), wins faceoffs (50.6% last year, 52.1% in 2011-12), plays aggressively (led Vancouver with 116 hits in 48 games) and kills penalties (1:38 per game on the PK). More than that, in Vancouver he was trusted with heavy defensive zone responsibilities (toughest zone start on the team) and he has a pretty decent history of scoring in a fourth line role in previous years.
If the team thinks they can calm him down on the ice – he takes as many penalties as he draws, and thus needs to be more disciplined – he’d be a great fit for the Oilers.
10. Random connections. Barons coach Todd Nelson, like most coaches, has an agent – he’s represented by the Gil Scott Sports Management group, headed by Unionville, Ontario’s Gil Scott. Interestingly, Barons’ general manager Bill Scott’s father is also Gil Scott of Unionville, Ontario. Gil Scott is better known in football than hockey, but he represents a number of high-level coaches and managers, including Bruins’ GM Peter Chiarelli.
Don’t forget that it’s not too late to play StreakCred – the new playoff pool game from the Nation Network. You can win a trip for 2 to Oktoberfest in Germany among the awesome prizes up for grabs. Now it’s only $10 and a portion of the proceeds go to Edmonton Charities. Sign up here.
Recently around the Nation Network
Yesterday, Vancouver re-upped Tom Sestito on a two-year contract. From the Canucks Army take:
There isn’t all that much to say about Tom Sestito’s Canucks tenure so far. He didn’t play that often, and got buried pretty handily when he did by the underlying data (though at least some of that is the result of his starting constantly in the defensive zone). Sestito fought five times with the Canucks last season, amassing a 1-3-1 record in the face punching competition (according to hockeyfights.com). On the positive side of the ledger at least Sestito did well to limit the minor penalties he took, and wasn’t a complete liability at five-on-five.
Click the link above to read the whole piece, or feel free check out some of my other pieces here: