Ramblings: Drouin, Nedeljkovic, Boston College & more (Jan.24)

David McDonald

2016-01-24

Rambling about the Drouin saga; Canes' Nedeljkovic soars; how stacked is Boston College? And more…

 

If you caught Steve Yzerman being interviewed about Jonathan Drouin this week, you could see the fire in his eyes.

Trade requests are nothing new in the world of the NHL. Not even for young players. The Eric Lindros saga comes to mind, despite the fact Lindros had never played an NHL game. His refusal to sign a contract was a de facto trade demand.

Make no mistake – Drouin is no Lindros. Drouin has never been seen as a franchise player, or generational talent like Lindros was. What is similar though, is that each one of these players adopted a scorched earth policy…  and that means there is no going back. No mending of fences, or burying the hatchet. When Drouin walks back into Amalie Arena, it’s unlikely a video tribute will be waiting.

And with that, the real pressure now falls to the office of the Tampa Bay GM. This situation is a double-edged sword for Yzerman as he approaches the trade deadline, and one that will test his mettle. On the one hand, he has a prime trade chip that he can utilize to acquire an impact asset approaching the playoffs. This could potentially be leveraged as a means to dump unwanted salary. I'm sure Tampa wouldn't mind divesting itself of Matt Carle and his 5.5M$ cap hit for the next two seasons.

On the other hand, is he likely to get fair value back for a former third overall pick?

Look at a similar case in 2011 with another third overall pick, Kyle Turris. When Turris allegedly made exorbitant salary demands at the age of 21, the pressure was on for GM Don Maloney to convert his disgruntled young player into suitable assets. Particularly at a time where the talk in Phoenix revolved heavily around relocation, a Turris sideshow was the last thing the organization needed. Under the pressure from that deal, Maloney made a deal that sent Turris to the Ottawa Senators. The return? David Rundblad, and a second-round pick.

Turris has become a quality offensive pivot for the Senators, including a pair of 20-goal seasons. Rundblad bounced around the NHL & the AHL as a member of four NHL clubs before signing this season with the Zurich Lions of the Swiss 'A' League. The second-round pick was advantageous, as it was a part of the trade that acquired Antoine Vermette from the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Fair value for a former third overall pick though? Hardly.

While Yzerman is a respected and shrewd hockey man, in no small part due to Ken Holland's tutelage, he must tread lightly. With Stamkos a real threat to leave via free agency this July, and with key players to re-sign, he must resist the impulse 'just make this go away'. He must get fair value, cannot allow the situation to fester, and must simultaneously maintain an image of control.

No easy task.

**********

Amid the flurry of trades that was seen at the OHL trade deadline, what may be the most impactful overall was one that took place nearly a month earlier.

On December 5th, the Niagara Ice Dogs acquired goaltender and Carolina Hurricanes prospect Alex Nedeljkovic (CAR), along with defenseman Josh Wesley, from the Flint Firebirds. Nedeljkovic, the starting goaltender for the bronze medal winning US squad at the World Juniors, represented a significant upgrade in net for Niagara. In seven games since joining the Ice Dogs, Nedeljkovic has been nothing short of sensational. Posting five wins with a 1.41 GAA and a .949 save percentage, Nedeljkovic is a stud going into the stretch of the season.

Adding a top-tier goaltender may be the final piece that Niagara needs to contend with the top dogs in the OHL this season. Already boasting the likes of forwards Josh Ho-Sang (NYI), Brendan Perlini (ARI), and Graham Knott (CHI) to go with defensemen Vince Dunn (STL) and Blake Siebenaler (CBJ), the Ice Dogs are stacked. Winning four of their past six, they are looking to make waves.

It must be noted that to speak highly of Nedeljkovic though, is not to speak poorly of the Ice Dogs goaltending previous to the trade. Backup Stephen Dhillon (2016) is draft eligible this season, and has performed admirably in his first full OHL season. Though he is raw, and needs to work on many aspects of his game (positioning and rebound control being the obvious), he should expect to hear his name called in Buffalo this June.

**********

The discussion about the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL these days tends to gravitate naturally towards names such as Alexander Nylander, or Michael "The Mississauga Missile" McLeod. This is hardly without merit – both Nylander and McLeod have been absolutely excellent in their draft eligible season.

However, if one were to go back in time 24 months and ask who we would be talking about, only one name would come to mind… and that name would be Sean Day. People are talking about him to be sure, but for all the wrong reasons. As the fourth player to be granted "Exceptional Player Status" by Hockey Canada, in the wake of John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, and Connor McDavid (all eventual first overall NHL selections), much was expected of Day. Sadly, little of that has materialized.

Day's play has been inconsistent at best. He has been a healthy scratch on an OHL roster in his draft year. To watch him play, his decision-making leaves much to be desired. There are times where he seems to be unsure of what to do when the puck touches his stick. His ability to read the game is, for lack of a better term, mediocre at best.

And this raises the question of the Exceptional Player Status overall… at least in his case, as Aaron Ekblad seemed to do just fine. Watching Sean Day leading up to the OHL draft, he was clearly a man-child. At 6-3 and with remarkable speed and skating, Day dominated his opponents strictly on his physical gifts. His skating was unparalleled to any other player in the OHL draft. Period.  It was clear he could be an absolutely remarkable player, and was exceptional.

While that's well and good, one can't help but think the extra year in Minor-Midget would have allowed him to learn the game more. Perhaps that extra split second to consider his next move would have let him to take a step forward in reading the play. Simply speaking, as a fourth overall pick and an Exceptional Player, Day has been a disappointment.

All may not be lost though.

At this point, Day is likely to hear his name called on Day Two, rather than Day One, of this year’s NHL Entry Draft. Most assume he will find himself picked somewhere between the middle of the second and third rounds. Teams are certain to take a flyer on a kid with this kind of size/speed combination.

And from there, any club drafting him must proceed with caution. If there was ever a candidate to spend his full tenure in the OHL, including his over-ager year, Sean Day may be it. Allowing him to learn the game at his own pace, rather than become a product of an arbitrary label and resulting hype, will be critical. Listening to him talk about his situation, Day acknowledges he hasn't played to expectation. In that voice, though, is a willingness to improve. A humility… and in that humility lie hope.

If Day can swallow the idea of being an over-ager despite the chatter about him, some of that vast potential may yet be realized.

**********

If you love amateur hockey, cross February 1st off your calendar.

Get wings. Buy beer. You're about to be in a really good mood. Why, you ask? Because February 1st marks the beginning of the 64th Annual Beanpot Tournament… and if you want to see a glimpse of the future, catch all the Boston College games you can.

While there are four teams involved in the tournament, I don't see any team that is as even remotely as stacked with talent as the Eagles. High-end prospects like Colin White (OTT), Alex Tuch (MIN), Ian McCoshen (FLA), Steve Santini (NJD) are peppered through the line-up on a squad that boasts a great deal of firepower.

All that being said, Vancouver Canucks fans may have the most to be happy about as they can lay claim to the man between the pipes.

Boasting a 1.74 GAA and a .936 save percentage, to go along with a run of six shutouts in seven games, Thatcher Demko represents the Canucks first homegrown top-tier goaltender since Cory Schneider (ironically from Boston College as well – don't trade this one.) Everything about Demko screams stud, and Vancouver fans should be very excited at the idea of seeing him join the organization next year. Pushing for the back-up role with Jacob Markstrom may not be such a stretch.

While no win is ever guaranteed, the Eagles should put on a display this year.

 

 

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