From dampened tracksuits to potentially disastrous predatory offer sheets that failed to account for a pretty important CBA article, Sportsnet reporter Chris Johnston has broken all kinds of colourful, interesting, and controversial stories in his career.
This month Johnston has got a new sort of challenge though: tour the country and host four live hockey-talk shows in four different cities in four nights. It’s called Puck Talks Live and it’s coming to Edmonton! The event will take place at your favourite watering hole (the Pint on Whyte Ave., duh) on Thursday, Sept. 17 and you can buy tickets here. Jason Gregor will be there. Struds will too. Wanye won’t be (or at least, not officially).
Anyway we caught up with Chris to talk about the coming of Connor McDavid, and the Puck Talks Live event.
OilersNation: Hey Chris, so what do you think are reasonable expectations for Connor McDavid in his rookie season with the Edmonton Oilers?
Chris Johnston: We’ve come across a funny barrier here when we talk about ‘realistic’. I mean, obviously he’s a very young man and he’s just coming into the league and he’ll have to adapt to things, but based on what we saw out of his junior career and how he compares with players like Sidney Crosby coming into the league, I certainly would expect that he can be a point per game player this season. And I would think that’s reasonable.
It may be tough for people to wrap their minds around that because I do acknowledge that there’s a learning curve there. But he’s a special player who should be held to special standards. That’s not to say that he’ll be a failure if he doesn’t get that many, but I think an 80 point season (or above) should be what he’s targeting and I think it’s very possible based on how his career has trended to this point.
ON: In terms of what you’ve seen of McDavid and how you think he’ll stack up in the pros? How do you think his speed will stack up versus the likes of Andrew Cogliano or Matt Duchene, and do you think he’ll be limited at all by a lack of speed or size?
CJ: The physicality is something he’ll have to adapt to although I think his speed and vision will allow him to avoid some of the contact that players without his skill set have to endure. He’s going to be one of the fastest players in the league, I have no doubt about that.
We already saw it in junior, it was sort of a men against boys kind of thing. When you watched him play there it was amazing how many teams just sort of backed up and let him wind up with that speed and really show how far above his competition he was there. I think that’ll be his biggest asset jumping into the NHL, it’s clear that he’s already performing at that level speed-wise.
There’s nothing about his skillset or the way he’s played that makes me think he won’t be an impact player in the NHL next season.
ON: Chris, what do you like about the Puck Talks format?
CJ: The best thing about it is that you never really know what’s going to happen. You don’t know what the questions will be, and obviously we involve the audience a lot and that’s made for some funny moments in the ones I’ve been part of so far.
To me what it does is that, pretty much everyone who is a serious hockey fan or who is involved in the industry in some way (whether it’s media or players or whatever) – we all have to deal with Twitter. Twitter has a lot of benefits but some of it is a little bit cynical, even hateful, whereas I find by actually getting together and having these events, you strip away some of that.
You have opportunities for actual discussion from people who come from different backgrounds – whether you get the pro-analytics crowd, or some more traditional reporters, or some former players as part of the panels. To me it allows for more free discussion about hockey. It’s a really authentic experience. It has kind of taken on a life of its own with the ones we’ve done in Toronto and now we’re taking it across the country.
ON: How did you get roped into accompanying Puck Talks on its first cross-Canada tour?
CJ: I guess I’m the first loser or something!
I’m not sure what happened there, actually. I did the second Puck Talks show that they did, and then I did the third and the fourth. It seemed to work well, and I got to meet the owner Kevin Kennedy. I guess he liked what I brought to the format, and he asked if I’d do it and I said yes. That was before I realized it was going on on four nights in four cities, kind of like a touring rock band.
Now that we’re getting close to it I’m getting pretty excited.
ON: What are you most looking forward to about the trip?
CJ: Being yelled at by different people in different cities!
What’s perfect about it to me is that it falls on the first week that training camp opens in each city. I think that for a lot of us we’re just getting beyond the summer cobwebs, but the excitement is going to be back in each of those markets. To be in Edmonton the day that the Oilers break camp with Connor McDavid, I think that there will be an energy in that show in particular. But everywhere we’re going, people will be naturally excited about what’s going on with their hockey team and it’s an opportunity to exchange ideas that evening, and drink some beers together, and celebrate our sport.
ON: What’s your favourite puck talks moment so far?
CJ: My favourite moment is probably Ken Campbell losing his mind in the last show. Ken might have had a few adult beverages before taking the stage, I’m not sure. He actually made some good points, but he made them quite passionately, including one point after which he dropped the mic as if he were some rapper who had made his point sufficiently or something.
— Ryan Dixon (@Dixononsports) February 26, 2015
That to me is what the whole thing is about. It’s about people who are excited about this thing and there’s room for some healthy debate about various topics, and you really don’t know, even when you put panels together, what side of people’s personality is going to come out when you put them on stage.
That was something that makes me chuckle months later, and at the time it was downright hilarious.
Chris and Puck Talks roll into Edmonton on Thursday, Sept. 17. Get your tickets here!
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