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Bluelines: Five Players on the Brink of Stardom

Stan Fischler and friends look at five players set for a breakout, who could surprise in the Pacific Division, the upcoming goalie battles between the Islanders and Rangers and so much more.
Dylan Cozens

THE WEEKLY TELESCOPE -- 5 GUYS ON BRINK OF STARDOM

Who's on the brink of stardom? Five -- count 'em five!

Every season has its surprises. Last year a few heretofore obscure players proved they were of NHL caliber. My Sleetbird of the South, Alan (Don't Call Me A Snowbird) Greenberg, offers five breakout prospects. To wit:

1. Mason Marchment – Acquired by Florida two seasons back in a ho-hum trade, Marchment put up just two goals in his first full season with the Cats. For an encore, he registered 18 markers in an injury and Covid-shortened 54 games. Along the way he tied a Panthers’ record with a six-point game. With the Cats strapped for cap space Marchment earned himself a four-year, $18 million deal in Dallas. If he stays healthy, look for big things this year.

2. Jake Oettinger – He started last season in the AHL as the Stars’ third-string goalie behind Braden Holtby and Anton Khudobin. Within a month he became the number one pipes player, ending the season with a respectable 2.53 GAA. He shined in the pressure-packed playoffs with a 1.81 GAA and .954 save percentage. He attracted the attention of the hockey world with his spectacular 64-save performance in the Stars’ Game 7 overtime loss to Calgary in the opening round. There's a Vezina in this guy's future.

3. Jack Roslovic – He bounced around the minors and hung in as a bottom-sixer with Winnipeg before coming to his hometown Blue Jackets as a thrown-in to the Patrik Laine acquisition. Never known as a breakout scorer, he managed a career-best 22 goals last season, after going without a goal in the first 15 games. Roslovic saw his ice time increase when Boone Jenner was injured. This upcoming season he is a sure bet for top six duties and looks to another career campaign. A pure Columbus guy to boot.

4. Dylan Cozens – Buffalo’s seventh overall pick in 2019 struggled in his rookie season but showed stretches of brilliance last year. His 13 goals were not overwhelming and his second-half scoring slump -- while the Sabres were on a winning roll -- was disheartening but it was not for lack of opportunities. With Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart gone, Cozens saw a lot of top six minutes. Sabres’ coach Don Granato has been patient with Cozens, preferring to work on fundamentals as the 21-year-old develops. With a little bit of tweaking of his shooting quickness and accuracy he'll easily be a 20-goal scorer this season.

5. Alexis Lafreniere – As the Rangers number one overall draft pick in 2020, Lafreniere "should" have been a star as a rookie; or at least that's what some impaient Rangers fans believed. Okay, so it didn’t happen. The then 18-year-old wasn’t ready to play with men and definitely had a confidence drain. The pro-Alexis camp believes that he needed the not-so-sparkling past to find his game. Okay, Big Al, now's the time to show us!

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BIG QUESTION: WHICH IS THE 'SURPRISE' PACIFIC TEAM?

Well-positioned geographically in Seattle. Glenn (No Doubt In Me) Dreyfuss stunningly pick Vegas as the "Surprise Team." in a totally negative way. Listen up as he explains why:

Bear in mind that such "genius-oriented" outfits as The Athletic dreamingly pick the nightly Knights as No. 9 to win the Stanley Cup; not to mention to be a darkhorse Cup contender. (That makes that sports sheet more "Letic" than "Ath.")

Then again with a roster than includes Jack Eichel, Wild Bill Karlsson, Alex Pietrangelo and a further cast of pseudo-stars, there should be optimism in Sin City. Since some of the most reliable publications forecast big things for Vegas, I respectfully disagree. I contend that they'll miss the postseason.

They're without Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner as well as the scoring of Max Pacioretty and Evgenii Dadonov.

My prediction runs in this order: Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver -- with L.A. grabbing the Wild Card. (Any disagreements? See me in April.)

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THE CLOSEST THING TO A HOBEY BAKER IN THE NHL

Hobey Baker has been unanimously acknowledged as the greatest American-born hockey player, pre-NHL. That explains why he's in the Hall of Fame and that there's such a coveted prize as the Hobey Baker Award.

Apart from that, Baker was the epitome of good sportsmanship in a totally different, non-professional, pre-NHL era. The question is simply this: Are there any Hobey Baker types in the NHL today? Answer: Of course. 

My national columnist Sean (Higher And Higher) McCaffrey deeply researched the subject and -- as you'll see -- brings a strong perspective to the Hobey question. Take it away, Young Maven:

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, was one of the most tremendous American hockey players who ever lived, Princeton proud Hobey Baker, who plied his wares during the early years of the twentieth century. Today, the Pennsylvania-born Baker is most known for the "Hobey Baker Award," which is the collegiate equivalent of the NHL's Hart Trophy.

While contemporary hockey fans may be familiar with the Baker award, few are aware of this amazing personality's career. It was Hobey who brought a fresh form of sportsmanship to old-time hockey. Baker's name was often featured on arena marquees while he created hockey interest among American fans; not to mention Canadians as well.

Once, upon seeing Baker play, Hall of Famers Lester Patrick and Fred "Cyclone" Taylor, were awed by Hobey's total mastery of The Game, not to mention his professionalism off the ice as well. It was Baker who introduced the post-game handshake tradition. Hobey would never disrespect an opponent nor would he play the showboat. Following every game, he'd enter the opposition's locker room and shake every player's hand no matter how tough the game. 

While the hockey world dramatically has changed over the last century, modern players on every level can learn from the example set by Baker. Many contemporary players including Patrice Bergeron, Kyle Connor, Jaccob Slavin, Nathan MacKinnon, Adam Fox and Ryan O'Reilly, just to name a few, are model citizens in the Hobey Baker tradition.

Hockey players delivered a tough game in those pre-historic years and they still do today. After all, anti-heroes are as much a part of the NHL script as Hollywood's Lex Luther to Superman. Baker's initiating the handshake -- the ultimate sign of respect between hero and foe -- will always remain in hockey.

After all, Hobey Baker's accent on sportsmanship continues to be reflected by the NHL's Lady Byng Trophy and Bill Masterton Award; not to mention many individual aspects of good sportsmanship today that would make Hobey Baker proud.

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DIDJA KNOW? During the Original Six Era only one NHL player -- Jack Crawford -- regularly wore a helmet. 

He was an excellent defenseman for the Boston Bruins (1937-1949) who played a clean, tough game along the lines of a latter-day Beantown backliner, Bill Quackenbush.

So, why did this rugged warrior, Crawford, wear a head protector? Was it because of injury or fear of being wounded in the fray?

According to a Boston Globe story it was because he was bald. The yarn appeared on February 8, 1938, written by Gerry Moore. It carried the following headline; NEW BRUIN BALD -- CRAWFORD ONLY 21 LOST HAIR IN ODD MISHAP. This helmeted Crawford view held for years. Then again, why else would the Globe even headline the piece. However, Bruins historian Jeff Miclash writes me that Moore "started the myth" and in 1946, two more Boston writers "carried it forward." Jeff argues that baldness was not the helmet reason and that Crawford had a healthy head of hair. Jeff says that Crawford's helmet was protection against a repeat of a concussion Crawford had once suffered. (The choices are yours.)

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I'M JUST SAYIN'

* The Carey Price situation just makes me plain sad.

* And when a reliable source such as The Athletic's Arpon Basu says it's "more likely that Price's playing days are over," you have to believe that it could be true.

* When I first read that Tim Stutzle's deal with Ottawa goes for eight years worth $66.8 million, I thought it was optometrist time at the old corral.

* But Ray Ferraro has a good answer. "What are the options? If you thought it, management has, too."

* Ray's conclusion: "The Senators have to place their bets on their best!"

* Reader -- and goalie student -- Richard Clontz writes that Glenn Hall was not the only "Butterfly" goalie in Ye Olde Days." Clontz adds Roger Crozier and Tony Esposito to the list.

* Adds Richard: "Jacques Plante cautioned against the 'Butterfly' except under certain types of screened shots." And for those who were strictly stand-up types, my favorites were Al Rollins, Terry Sawchuk and -- in the minors -- Claude Evans

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Yay Boo

YAYS AND BOOS:

YAY TO THE TORONTO SUN'S STEVE SIMMONS for securing a long, exclusive and revealing interview with 1972 Summit Series producer Alan Eagleson.

BOO TO DARRYL SUTTER: Stop the alibi, Jolly Farmer; name a captain and get it over with already. If the Rangers could do it, you could too.

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'DUELING BANJOS' REMIND ME OF DUELING GOALIES

(In our last issue, Sean McCaffrey wrote a "Who's Better?" comparison pitting Andre Vasilevskiy vs. Igor Shesterkin. (Andy won by half a goalie pad.)

After reading the piece, our young whippersnapper of a critic, Ariel Fischler, took exception to Major McCaffrey's monologue. (Hint: Ariel's objection is not over-ruled.) Here's grandson Ariel's view:

My Dad likes to play a recording of the exciting tune, "Dueling Banjos."

Whenever I hear it, I'm reminded of hockey and, especially, goaltenders.

And, specifically, that eternal rivalry, Islanders vs. Rangers.

Forget about McCaffrey's Vasilevskiy Vs. Shesterkin. Good try, Sean, but you should have spotlighted the real rivalry -- Ilya Sorokin vs. Igor Shesterkin because that's the perfect storm of goalie-vs.-goalie. It's imperative that you take into account the teams. Bolts vs. Blueshirts is okay. Nassaumen vs. Seventh Avenue Skaters is much more compelling.

That's what a rivalry is all about.

I'm a Rangers fan -- like Sean -- but fair is fair and right now Sorokin has to be right up there with his Russian comrade. As I see it, Sorokin is the new Tsar of Long Island nets. Even NHL.com at least half-agrees with me. Columnist William Douglas looks ahead and offers this:

"All eyes will be on Sorokin in three years. He's on the path to becoming one of the NHL's elite goalies."

I say that Ilya is right there now and was even there back home in Russia. He backstopped his former KHL team to two Gagarin Cup Championships. He also took the Isles to the Conference finals in 2020-21 and fell one goal short of making the finals vs Montreal. Although the Isles didn’t make the playoffs last year, Sorokin was superb with 26 Wins in 52 Games and a 2.40 GAA- .925 save percentage. He is also tied for the franchise shutout record with 10 so far. 

Igor Shesterkin, Born in Moscow Russia, is the new King (or Caesar as Rags fans call him) of the pipes in Manhattan. In his last KHL season, Igor also picked up a Gagarin Cup. Once the young star got his first start for the Blueshirts he immediately took the league by storm; winning the Vezina Trophy in his second year. He also spearheaded the underdog Rangers all the way to the Conference final where the Blueshirts were beaten by the Bolts. During the regular season, Igor had 36 wins in 53 games, with a 2.07 GAA- .935 save percentage, and six shutouts. This rivalry could be similar to the 1978-79 Islanders-Rangers semifinal playoff series when iconic goalkeepers Billy Smith and John Davidson faced each other. The Rangers won that tourney in six games. That. however, is ancient history. This new Cross-County Goalie Battle looks like a keen, upcoming melodrama.

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WHO SAID IT? "It will never get off the ground?" (ANSWER BELOW)

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INTERESTING HOCKEY PEOPLE -- DEBBIE ELICKSEN; LIVING HER DREAM

Debbie Elicksen of Calgary is an arresting character who never has received the acclaim she deserves as a pioneering hockey person.

After an uncertain start in the hockey journalism business, Ms. Elicksen has since written 17 books -- seven exclusively hockey -- with "another in the wings."

She has met her challenges with vim, vigor and vitality, despite the burden of being a Boston Bruins fan. (Hey, you can't have everything.) In this exclusive interview, Debbie addresses the following topics about her saga:

Getting Into Hockey Journalism: I didn't start paying attention until I was eleven. I saw the Boston Bruins play their way to a Stanley Cup in 1970 and was hooked -- becoming a lifelong Bruins fan. Stan Fischler got me into reporting hockey on a regular basis. However, I would not have shown up on his radar had it not been for my mother. 

During the Oilers dream years of the early 80s, Stan pissed off the locals by saying something disparaging about The Great One. Edmonton exploded on him in multi-page letters to the editor of the Edmonton Journal. At the time I was pen pals with Stan's intern, Sharon Eberson Axelrod, and my Mom insisted I send her the clippings. She showed it to Stan; he contacted me, and the rest is history.

Challenges Of Being A Rare Women in the Flames And Other Dressing Rooms: Edmonton was first. It took a few games to gather up nerves to go into the room. On my first one-on-one assignment, I wasn't ready and waited an eternity for the player to come outside the dressing room. After that I knew I had to bite the bullet and just go in. The Oilers were fantastic, really. They treated me the same as my male counterparts. I love them for that. I was actually used to being the only female in almost every situation. I even chose other side jobs that were male-dominated. So it got easier. But in Calgary, when women started to appear, we became instant friends, and we still talk and meet up periodically. 

Players Who Were Nice And Some Who Were Not So Nice: Most of the NHL players were great to work with. I had some favorites and shared laughs and many convos with such as Roman Hamrlik, Patrice Brisebois, Ian Laperriere, James Patrick, Jarome Iginla, Dwayne Roloson, and a few more. I got to know a lot of them because of the types of books I wrote, which went a bit deeper than game clips. There were only really two players I had no use for but I won't mention their names. Sportsticker had assigned me to get clips from them once and they were jerks about it, so I never went to them again, even when they were looking for reporters.

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ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? National Hockey League President Clarence Campbell in 1971 when it was reported that the World Hockey Association was being formed to compete with the NHL.

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