A few playoff and non-playoff items to please your hockey palette on a lovely spring day in May:
• A number of hockey observers insist the real barometer for judging players for the 2010 Olympic teams should be the NHL playoffs and not the World Championship. They reason that since the Olympic tournament will be played on North American-sized ice instead of the 200-by-100 foot surface usually used in international play, the World Championship won’t give as accurate an indication as it might have otherwise.
Which is good news for Eric Staal and not-so-good news for Steven Stamkos. Going by this year’s playoffs, there might not be a player in the NHL who has increased his standing for the 2010 Canadian Olympic team more than the Canes’ Staal.
The way Staal has played in the playoffs so far, it’s almost unfathomable to see him not be a part of Canada’s team in 2010. In fact, combine his play with Joe Thornton’s effort in the playoffs and it’s conceivable Staal may have knocked Thornton off the Canadian roster.
He may have also knocked Sidney Crosby to the wing – not because he has been better than Crosby in the playoffs, but because Crosby would adapt to a move to left wing more easily than anyone else who is qualified to play center for Canada.
Stamkos, meanwhile, has been very good for Canada at the World Championship. Going into Monday’s games, he leads the tournament in goals with six and has proved he can be a top-level offensive contributor when he has good players around him.
But 2010 would still be a stretch for Stamkos. Here’s hoping the NHL continues to participate in the Olympics beyond Vancouver. If that’s the case, Stamkos will be a shoo-in for 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
As it stands right now, it would be difficult to see anyone unseating Staal, Vincent Lecavalier, Ryan Getzlaf and Mike Richards as the four centers on the team. That could put Crosby to the left side ahead of Simon Gagne, Dany Heatley and Brenden Morrow.
On defense, the playoffs have also put Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook directly on the map and, unless he picks up his level of play in a big way early next season, might have put Dion Phaneuf on the sidelines. Keith and Seabrook have been tremendous for the Chicago Blackhawks and will likely join a group that includes Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Shea Weber, Robyn Regehr and Braydon Coburn as the top candidates for the Canadian team.
Another player who has used this year’s playoffs to move up for Olympic consideration is Cam Ward, who outplayed Martin Brodeur in the first round and is exhibiting his Conn Smythe-winning form from three years ago. A trio of Roberto Luongo, Brodeur and Ward is looking very good at the moment.
• One of the more interesting names to be called out at the Ontario League’s draft Saturday – actually, they do it all online, so technically his name wasn’t called out – was John Moore, a defenseman taken 23rd overall by the Kitchener Rangers.
Moore will almost certainly be a top-20 selection at the NHL draft in June, largely because he has NHL-skating ability at the age of 18.
“It’s frightening,” one NHL scout said of Moore’s skating ability in the upcoming THN Draft Preview. “Honestly, it’s exciting just to watch him skate.”
The only problem is Moore has already committed to Colorado College for next season and is still undecided where he will play in 2009-10. But you have to think the OHL’s Rangers would not have wasted their second-round pick on a player, particularly one whom they may only have for one season, if they didn’t have a pretty good idea they could land the player.
Moore has met with the Rangers several times already and told the local newspaper he could definitely see himself playing there next season. Rangers coach-GM Steve Spott was college roommates with Steve Poapst, Moore’s current coach with the Chicago Steel of the United States League.
A lot will depend on which NHL team drafts Moore in June and what its plans are for him. If the team highly recommends he play major junior in an effort to fast track himself to the NHL, you can count on Moore playing in Kitchener next season.
• Another U.S.-born skater with a big decision to make is Chris Kreider, a player who has wonderful skating ability and who will be another first round pick in June.
The only trouble is Kreider is currently playing at Andover Academy in New England and still has another year before he can play U.S. college hockey. Kreider has committed to Boston College, but can’t play there until the 2010-11 season.
The level of play in the New England prep league is not very good and it has become difficult for scouts to determine whether Kreider dominates because he’s so good or the level of play is so weak. Whichever team drafts Kreider will almost certainly urge him to move up to a more competitive rung.
And that’s where the Quebec League could come in. Kreider’s rights belong to the QMJHL and there’s little doubt a team in that league will pick Kreider and try to convince him to enhance his pro possibilities by playing there.
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Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
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