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2020 NHL Draft prospect: Justin Barron slipped from can’t-miss status – Habs Eyes on the Prize

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At the start of the 2019-20 hockey season, it appeared that the title of top draft-eligible defenceman was going to be contested by two players in the Canadian Hockey League: Jamie Drysdale and Justin Barron. In Bob McKenzie’s pre-season draft rankings, published in September of 2019, NHL scouts had ranked Drysdale as the eighth-best prospect, and Barron the 10th.

Drysdale’s play in his draft year not only justified those initial projections, but exceeded them, He increased his goal and assist totals with the Erie Otters despite a shortened season, and showed he had room to grow and flesh out his skill set. Barron, on the other hand, was unable to strengthen his case.

Birthplace: Halifax, Nova Scotia
Date of birth: November 15, 2001
Shoots: Right
Position: Defenceman
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 198 lbs.
Draft-Year Team: Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)

The Haligonian was only able to play about half of the games for his hometown team, forced to the sidelines by a blood-clot issue. His point totals were actually a step down from what he’d produced in his draft-minus-one campaign.

Elite Prospects

With added scrutiny of his game in the last action before the NHL Draft, scouts began to question how much of an offensive impact he’d be able to have at the top level. A progression is expected for any player projected to go in the opening round, and especially one in the top 10, but with less of a supporting cast to work with, that leap never happened. That alone allowed several promising forwards to overtake him in the rankings as the year went on.

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There were still things to like about his offensive game. First and foremost, he’s a mobile blue-liner, so when he joins the rush he can just skate past recovering players to get to the net. He has a low shot from the point that can be easily tipped, and that’s how he got most of his points.

It clearly wasn’t an overly dangerous shot, as he had just four goals on the year. Part of that is some slow reactions when he has the puck, often taking too long to make his play and having the lanes close just as he’s ready to fire. The same is true of his playmaking, as he had trouble moving the puck quickly to teammates, or even finding them if they were open because of some pass-accuracy issues.

Rankings

Elite Prospects: #70
Future Considerations: #38
Hockey Prospect: #46
McKeen’s Hockey: #54
McKenzie/TSN: #25
NHL Central Scouting: #16 (North American skaters)

At the opposite end of the ice, his defensive play which has always served as the basis of his game remained intact. He denied forwards at the blue line, threw his body around, and used an active stick to stop plays in front of the net. There are few players in his class better at defending against forwards carrying the puck.

Mitch Brown’s Tracking Project

There are better defencemen at keeping tabs on players who don’t have possession, and that became more apparent this season. Some issues with awareness let players simply skate around him in his own zone, and not even his quickness could help him recover.

It didn’t help his case that two similar blue-liners — Kaiden Guhle and Braden Schneider — showed fewer weaknesses in their games. Both of those WHLers surpassed Barron this season. Jake Sanderson, a better skater than all of them, raced past all of those peers to currently slot around the 10th position Barron originally occupied to start the year.

In the not too distant past, just having great mobility would have been enough to earn a high selection. As the game transitioned from a tight-checking style to more of an offensive flow, the league needed defencemen who could keep up. Now that most players in the league can be classified as mobile, the next transition is in the speed of processing the game. There’s very little time to make decisions when an opponent can be on top of you in a split-second, so you need to make the right one in an instant. In the 2020 class, a handful of players proved they can do that better than Barron, and that has some scouts and analysts questioning just how valuable the Mooseheads defenceman’s game will be.

Originally projected as a top-four option with a good overall game, some concerns with consistency and his ability to keep up in the modern game peg Barron more as a third-pairing option. He could still be a significant part of an NHL team, but probably not be deployed against the top players in the league, and his drop in the rankings reflects that thinking. Bob McKenzie’s end-of-year survey of NHL scouts revealed that many still have him in quite high regard, so a first-round selection is far from out of the question, but there will need to be some significant improvements in Barron’s game to live up to that positioning.

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Six players who could have a significant impact on 2020 World Series – Sportsnet.ca

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In the brief time I was around Josh Donaldson, I managed to collect a few of “baseball-life” lessons that I squirrelled away in the back of a notebook as well as the back of the brain. Some of it was kind of rocket-sciency because, well, that’s how Josh talks hitting. He has a PhD in it: as in ‘Pretty Hard to Dispute.’ But there is one thing he told me after a loss in which he had grinded out – and I mean grinded – at bats in one of those stupid summer games where bugger-all is working for you.

“Fouled off some tough pitches,” I told him.

Because that’s a good thing, right? Battled like hell and didn’t give in etc., etc., etc. The honest tradesman grafting and grinding for every inch and then finally succumbing, secure in the knowledge he’d given it his all and that the baseball gods – with their sense of justice – would surely reward him on the morrow, that the game rewards those with a promise of a brighter tomo…

“Any idea how many of those I fouled off I would normally barrel up?” he said.

Translation: I was missing my pitch, you jackass.

OK, it’s not Camus – as in Albert Camus, the French philosopher name-checked by Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker in one of his recent post-season interviews – but it was a reminder that it’s always good to check your pre-conceived notions; that what you see when you watch a high-performance athlete isn’t always what they see.

So I thought of him (Donaldson, not Camus) as I watched the Los Angeles Dodgers foul off pitch after pitch after pitch in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series win over the Atlanta Braves — when they saw a simply stupid average of 4.6 pitches per plate appearance — and I started to question the accuracy of my sense that these Dodgers are less Hollywood and more hard-assed, that they’re something more than glamour boys. Resilient, as opposed to resplendent.

Watch every game of the 2020 World Series between the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers on Sportsnet and SN Now.

Nah. I’m giving in to the pre-conceived during this World Series. I just can’t get past the payroll thing. Yes, Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman cut his teeth with the Rays and developed a keen understanding of the use of analytics but it still seems a bone of contention in L.A. as it is accepted reality with the Tampa Bay Rays. It’s almost like a front: the Dodgers the spoiled rich kids fiddling with analytics because they have the money to clean up the mess made whenever the thing blows a gasket; the Rays the poor kids who need to squeeze out every single, tiny, advantage.

And the fact is you’d be hard-pressed to take many of the Rays position players over their Dodgers counterparts, especially the way they’re hitting now. Pitching? Yeah, we can argue that chiefly because the Rays have much less warped history around their pitching than do the Dodgers – you know, Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen and all that stuff. But let’s be real: baseball people have felt for years – years! – that the Dodgers were destined to win a World Series.

The Rays? Destined to re-locate, maybe.

So, yes, while it is true that this is a meeting between the teams in each league with the best records, albeit over 60 games, and it is true that’s only the fourth time it’s happened since the wild-card format was born in 1995, it is still the Dodgers vs. the Rays. I called this matchup on Baseball Central when the pandemic ended and, yeah, I’m sticking with my predicted outcome. I hope J.D. understands.

With the World Series set to begin Tuesday, these six players could have a significant impact on how the series unfolds…

JEFF BLAIR’S PICK: Rays in six games.

SIX TO WATCH

1. Randy Arozarena, LF, Rays
Without him the Rays wouldn’t be in the World Series because, well, nobody else has hit. N-o-b-o-d-y. Brandon Lowe, Yandy Diaz and Willy Adames have combined to slash .109/.268/.124 — in the entire month of October. Austin Meadows is 4-for-35 (114) and Rays TV analyst Orestes Destrade thinks COVID-19 and injuries have turned this into a write-off for him: he looks heavier and that might be impacting his bat speed.

Since the wild-card era started in 1995, only the 2019 Houston Astros and 2016 Cleveland Indians had a lower team average coming out of their league championship series. Both ended up losing the World Series. Oh: the Rays are also hitless in their last 14 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

All Arozarena has done is lead all players in post-season runs (14), hits (21) and extra-base hits (11). The Rays have scored a total of 57 runs — he has scored or driven in 21 of them. No wonder he was named most valuable player in the American League Championship Series. I see Clayton Kershaw hanging a curve… I see Arozarena killing it. He’s .383/.433/.855 in 60 plate appearances this month, so let’s not do the Dave Roberts thing and out-think the narrative.

2. Mookie Betts, RF, Dodgers
Ooh, going out on a limb here, right? The guy who signed a 12-year, $365-million contract extension after his market-rattling trade from the Boston Red Sox has made shining defensive play after shining defensive play in right field and has a chance to – in his first year – write himself all over the franchise’s first World Series win since 1989.

It’s true that Betts’ offence in the post-season hasn’t matched that defensive excellence. He hit .269 in the NLCS and has been more consistent than exceptional – just kind of there compared to, say, Corey Seager. But he knows the Rays from his time in the AL East with the Boston Red Sox: he’s 7-for-23 with a home run against Blake Snell and 6-for-20 against Charlie Morton and 3-for-9 against Tyler Glasnow.

He’s won a World Series before and knows none of the sphincter-tightening fear of a Dodgers player in the post-season.

3. Ji-Man Choi, 1B, Rays
Look: I could just go Glasnow or Snell or Anderson or Franklin as Rays to watch and pretty much be done with it. Pitching, pitching, pitching. But, I don’t know: Choi seems to be having so much damned fun whenever the camera finds him, or at least always seems to be wearing some sort of bemused, confused or enthused facial expression.

He actually had a decent ALCS and his proficiency around first base is an important part of the tight defence that is a Rays calling card. He is the ultimate whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts player. And unlike some of his teammates he can handle velocity, especially from right-handers which will come in handy against Walker Buehler, Brusdar Graterol, Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May — hell, maybe even Joe Kelly.

The Rays will need somebody other than Arozarena and it just kind of feels it might be Choi. Hope so.

4. Kike Hernandez, IF-OF, Dodgers
He might not be needed. He might hit .071 as he did in six games against the Milwaukee Brewers in the 2018 NLCS, when he struck out in half his 16 plate appearances. Or he’ll hit a homer. Or two.

Because, of Hernandez’s 24 post-season hits over 52 post-season games, one-third have been homers, and given the fact that the Dodgers have enough depth on their roster to play the matchup game you can see Hernandez lying in wait for Jose Alvarado or Aaron Loup or maybe even a Ryan Yarbrough cameo out of the bullpen. He’s like an add-on run lying in the bushes. Waiting. Shh… nothing to see here.

5. Julio Urias, LHP, Dodgers
See, here’s the thing about Dave Roberts: playing pin the tail on the relief pitcher isn’t really his strength, whereas for his Rays managerial counterpart, Kevin Cash, it’s the way he’s always done things. I mean, the Rays didn’t have a starter with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. Or a reliever for that matter. So Cash is quite comfortable playing the long game using short relievers and his pitchers have bought into it because, well, they have no choice.

I have to think watching Urias toss three perfect innings of scoreless relief in Game 7, hitting 96 m.p.h., needing just 10 pitches to get his first three outs and then surviving a 10-pitch battle with Freddie Freeman in the eighth innings, left Roberts feeling all sorts of giddy. Four days earlier, Urias made the start in Game 4 and threw 101 pitches. Unlike the division and championship series, there are off-days baked into the World Series schedule – between games two and three and five and six – so Roberts might be less tempted to tap into Urias or Dustin May.

But the way this is setting up, with Kenley Jansen having pitched just well enough to put himself in position to break Dodgers hearts again? I can see Urias’ schedule getting hectic.

This season, Dan picks an issue, trend, news item or story from around MLB, and digs in on it with a guest. And he does it five times a week for about 15 minutes a day. Enough time to inform and entertain, but also get fans back to all the sports going on.

6. Ryan Yarbrough, LHP, Rays
The Dodgers had difficulty handling slop-tossing lefties this season – their OPS on soft pitches from southpaws was 17th in the Majors – and, well, they’re going to see a lot of 81 m.p.h. from Yarbrough, who doesn’t light up the gun like the Rays other starters but is in fact the embodiment of what they do: he can start, come on following an opener as a ‘bulk’ starter, or just relieve.

Plus? He’s dull as spit, his pitching velocity matched by opponents’ exit velocity – 82.6 m.p.h. this season, second slowest in the Majors among pitchers who yielded 50 batted balls. He loves his cutter and why not? He gets soft contact and lots of swings and misses.

If this series goes six or seven games my guess is we’re going to see him a great deal. Bring a pillow. Deal with it. As the hashtag says, #RaysUp.

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Murray leads as Cardinals cruise past Cowboys – TSN

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Maybe Kyler Murray will lose a game on the home field of the Dallas Cowboys one of these days.

It wasn’t going to be on a night when the Arizona quarterback watched the star running back of his hometown team have another night of fumble-itis.

Murray accounted for three touchdowns in his first game back home as a pro, Ezekiel Elliott set up the visiting team’s first two TDs with fumbles and the Cardinals beat the Dallas Cowboys 38-10 on Monday night.

The speedy quarterback who won three high school championships and a Big 12 title at the home of the Cowboys improved to 7-0 as a starter at AT&T Stadium, throwing for two scores despite a rough start through the air and rushing for 74 yards and a TD.

“That’s not easy when that’s what everyone has been talking about all week,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “He’s probably had this one circled on his calendar since it came out. But I thought he handled himself well.”

It was the “Monday Night Football” debut for Murray, a star in high school football-obsessed Texas while playing in the Dallas suburbs, and Kingsbury, who also had a happy first trip to his native Texas as an NFL coach.

“It was fun, brought back a lot of memories,” Murray said. “Felt like I’ve been playing there every Sunday honestly. It’s comfortable, felt good.”

Fired after six seasons at Texas Tech in 2018 without any winning records in Big 12 games, Kingsbury was hired by Arizona soon after and has the Cardinals (4-2) tied for second place in the tough NFC West. Arizona is above .500 this late in the season for the first time since 2015, its most recent playoff year.

Andy Dalton had the rest of Dallas’ four turnovers with two interceptions in his first start for the Cowboys in place of injured star Dak Prescott, just down the road from where he had a standout career at TCU.

The nine-year starter in Cincinnati led a come-from-behind victory over the New York Giants in Week 5 after the gruesome-looking compound fracture of Prescott’s right ankle. There wasn’t anything resembling a rally this time.

While the Dallas offence didn’t look anything close to the NFL-leading unit it was with Prescott — and lost the fourth of its five projected starting offensive linemen in four-time All-Pro Zack Martin (first-quarter concussion) — Elliott’s miscues led to the fifth straight game in which the Cowboys have trailed by at least two touchdowns.

The Cowboys (2-4) overcame two of those deficits, which is why they were guaranteed to stay in first place in the woeful NFC East no matter what happened in the last of three straight home games — and a third straight road game for Arizona.

“The record, it is what it is right now, the division is what it is right now, but it’s still early,” Dalton said. “There’s a lot of football left to be played, and for us, we’ve got to improve as a football team.”

Elliott was benched briefly after the two-time rushing champion lost a second fumble in the same game for the first time in his career. He has five fumbles (four lost) already this season — one shy of his career high for an entire season as the NFL’s worst turnover margin dropped to minus-12 with four giveaways and no takeaways.

Murray was playing in the $1.2 billion stadium with the retractable roof and giant video board for the first time since leading Oklahoma over rival Texas there in the Big 12 championship game.

While the 2018 Heisman Trophy winner misfired on eight of his first 11 passes and finished 9 of 24 for 188 yards, Murray hit Christian Kirk in stride on an 80-yard touchdown for a 21-0 lead in the second quarter.

“It wasn’t as good as it should have been,” said Murray, who tied Jim Hart’s 1968 franchise season record for QBs with his sixth rushing TD. “Wasn’t as accurate as I should have been. Wasn’t up to par for my standards, so I’ve got to be better.”

Kirk opened the scoring on a 6-yard jet sweep that counted as a pass after the first fumble from Elliott. Kenyan Drake scored from the 1 after the second Elliott miscue, while Murray added a 1-yard TD run.

With the game out of hand in the final two minutes, Drake broke free for a 69-yard touchdown run, giving him 164 yards.

CAPTAIN KIRK

A former Texas A&M standout, Kirk came in with two 100-yard games and five touchdowns in three wins over Arkansas at the home of the Cowboys. Both of his catches in this game were for scores.

“When the bright lights come on, the cream of the crop rises,” Kirk said. “It’s something about big moments, the level of play always elevates. It’s just rising to the occasion.”

INJURIES

Martin was briefly injured and returned, then went out for good after taking a knee to the helmet. Second-year player Connor McGovern took his spot, leaving left guard Connor Williams as the only preseason starter still in the lineup.

PANDEMIC CROWD

The Cowboys have had fans at all four home games, with the biggest so far (barely) at 25,174 against the Cardinals. While it was the most coronavirus-friendly setting so far with the retractable roof open for the first time, TV shots showed plenty of fans without masks over their noses. Dallas is filling about 31% of the 80,000-seat stadium. The state allows up to 50%.

UP NEXT

Cardinals: Seattle at home Sunday to start a stretch of three straight home games that is also scheduled to include the bye, meaning Arizona won’t be on the road for a month barring COVID-19 changes.

Cowboys: Washington on Sunday in the first of two consecutive road games against NFC East opponents.

___

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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U.S., Britain call out Russian hacking spree, cyberattacks against Olympics – CNBC

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U.S. Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division John Demers speaks at a news conference at the Department of Justice, in Washington, U.S., October 19, 2020.
Andrew Harnik | Reuters

Britain and the United States on Monday condemned what they said were a litany of malicious cyberattacks orchestrated by Russian military intelligence, including attempts to disrupt next year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

British and U.S. officials said the attacks were conducted by Unit 74455 of Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency, also known as the Main Centre for Special Technologies.

In an indictment unsealed on Monday, the U.S. Justice Department said six members of the unit had played key roles in attacks on targets ranging from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to the 2017 French elections. The charges covered four years of malicious cyber activity, from 2015 to 2019.

British officials said the GRU hackers had also conducted “cyber reconnaissance” operations against organisers of the 2020 Tokyo Games, which were originally scheduled to be held this year but postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The officials declined to give specific details about the attacks or whether they were successful, but said they had targeted Games organisers, logistics suppliers and sponsors.

Justice Department Assistant Attorney General John Demers declined to discuss the more recent attacks against the 2020 Games.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “The GRU’s actions against the Olympic and Paralympic Games are cynical and reckless. We condemn them in the strongest possible terms.”

FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich said: “The FBI has repeatedly warned that Russia is a highly capable cyber adversary, and the information revealed in this indictment illustrates how pervasive and destructive Russia’s cyber activities truly are.”

A poster showing six wanted Russian military intelligence officers is displayed before a news conference at the Department of Justice, on October 19, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Andrew Harnik | Getty Images

Russia was banned from the world’s top sporting events for four years in December over widespread doping offences, including the Tokyo Games which were originally scheduled for this year but postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The attacks on the 2020 Games are the latest in a string of hacking attempts against international sporting organisations that Western officials and cybersecurity experts say have been orchestrated by Russia since its doping scandal erupted five years ago. Moscow has repeatedly denied the allegations.

Britain and the United States said on Monday the hackers were involved in other attacks, such as the hack of the 2018 Winter Olympics opening ceremony in South Korea, which compromised hundreds of computers, took down Internet access and disrupted broadcast feeds.

The attack in South Korea had previously been linked to Russia by cybersecurity researchers but was made to look like the work of Chinese or North Korean hackers, Britain’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

“The attacks on the 2020 Summer Games are the latest in a campaign of Russian malicious activity against the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” it said.

“The UK is confirming for the first time today the extent of GRU targeting of the 2018 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Pyeongchang, Republic of Korea.”

Other offensive cyber operations allegedly conducted by the GRU officers since 2015, according to the Justice Department, included the global cyberattack known as NotPetya.

In 2017, destructive NotPetya malware spread globally out of Ukraine, infecting and locking up thousands of computers belonging to major corporations. Experts say NotPetya caused upwards of $1 billion in losses. At the time, companies publicly affected by NotPetya included FedEx Corporation and pharmaceutical giant Merck.

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