Victor Hedman on his Lightning advancing to the Eastern Conference Final
September 01 2020
The Tampa Bay Lightning‘s success as an offensive juggernaut has had other clubs trying to capture that same kind of success ever since they went all the way to the Cup Final in 2015. You can see that blueprint unfolding across the Eastern Conference.
That flare for goal-scoring only took them so far, however — and we all know how last year turned out. This year’s focus on bringing in steady veterans to complement the exciting core has paid off in the form of a Stanley Cup Final berth.
While former general manager Steve Yzerman’s fingerprints are all over this team, current GM Julien BriseBois didn’t simply inherit this club — as assistant GM throughout Yzerman’s tenure, he had a huge hand in every part of this roster. Now front and centre, we’re about to find out if his adjustments over this past year will result in a Stanley Cup for a club who’s been on the brink ever since that trip to the Final five years ago.
Forwards Mathieu Joseph (2015, fourth round, 120th overall), Mitchell Stephens (2012, second round, 33rd overall), and Alexander Volkov (2017, second round, 48th overall) were brought into the bubble in a depth capacity role, but when you look at the team’s top six (minus the sidelined Stamkos), none are first-rounders and all are a testament to the Lightning’s ability to draft and develop strong talent. Most are products of Yzerman’s draft board, but BriseBois should get plenty of credit here, too — while he inherited this team when Yzerman resigned in September 2018, he was part of Yzerman’s staff as assistant GM and oversaw the recruitment and development of so many of today’s stars who came through the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch.
Anthony Cirelli, Centre
Drafted: 2015, third round, 72nd overall
Cirelli, a success story for all other late bloomers to learn from, is yet another example of that mid-round draft success of Yzerman and the development chops of BriseBois. The RFA-to-be has got a nose for the net and is as clutch as they come.
Anthony Cirelli has scored:
– 2015 Memorial Cup overtime clinching goal
– 2017 OHL Championship overtime clinching goal
– 2020 Eastern Conference championship overtime clinching goal
—Lauren Kelly(@laurkelly24) September 18, 2020
Brayden Point, Centre
Drafted: 2014, third round, 79th overall
Looking at this roster, second- and third-round steals are this team’s bread and butter. Just imagine being a GM today and seeing Point still on the board in Round 3…
Andrei Vasilevskiy, Goalie
Drafted: 2012, first round, 19th overall
It took him just two seasons after getting drafted to get his first taste of the NHL, and two more after that to take over the starter’s job from former teammate — and now opponent — Ben Bishop.
Cedric Paquette, Centre
Drafted: 2012, fourth round, 101st overall
The fourth-round fourth-liner has been especially quiet this post-season. Feels like a contender for this year’s unlikely hero, no? It would seem fitting.
Nikita Kucherov, Right wing
Drafted: 2011, second round, 58th overall
Last year’s Hart Trophy winner is a steal in the second round. That he’s the No. 1 line’s lowest draft pick is a testament to Yzerman’s (and his scouting staff’s) draft-season chops.
Ondrej Palat, Left wing
Drafted: 2011, seventh round, 208th overall
Three picks later, and he would’ve been that year’s Mr. Irrelevant. Put alongside Point and Kucherov on Tampa’s lethal top line, he’s anything but.
(Fun fact: With Steven Stamkos sidelined, there are no first-round picks in the Lightning’s top six.)
Victor Hedman, Defence
Drafted: 2009, first round, 2nd overall
Brian Lawton’s tenure at the helm of Tampa Bay was short, but fortuitous in that it brought the club its No. 1 rearguard in Hedman.
Here’s a neat storyline for this Cup Final: Before Rick Bowness joined Dallas as an assistant (and then interim head coach), he was part of Jon Cooper’s staff in Tampa Bay. There, Bowness oversaw the club’s defence – which of course included Hedman, who achieved career-high stats across the board in his first season under Bowness, and credits the longtime bench boss with being able to get his game to the next level.
Victor Hedman on his Lightning advancing to the Eastern Conference Final
September 01 2020
Steven Stamkos, Centre
Drafted: 2008, first round, first overall
The captain is one of just two players on this roster, along with Alex Killorn, drafted by former GM Jay Feaster. Stamkos was Feaster’s parting gift to the franchise, as the longtime executive left his post on July 11, 2008 – just a few weeks after that year’s draft.
Including Hedman, he’s one of just three members of this year’s team not drafted by either Yzeman or BriseBois.
Alex Killorn, Left wing
Drafted: 2007, third round, 77th overall
He’s the longest-tenured Tampa teammate, as one of three players predating Yzerman and BriseBois’ time. His career is also a true testament to patience – six years passed between the forward getting the draft call and getting the call-up to the NHL, developing in the NCAA with Harvard and in the AHL under BriseBois’ guidance.
Last year’s first-round exit is what hockey nightmares are made of. This year’s trade targets — Coleman and Goodrow — show a focus on bringing in grit and depth. And while they weren’t the flashiest of deals, the Lightning’s place in the Stanley Cup Final shows they’re key parts of the puzzle.
Blake Coleman, Centre/Right wing
Acquired: Feb. 2020, from Devils
This deal, which saw forward prospect Nolan Foote and a first-round pick in either 2020 or 2021 sent to New Jersey in return, looked good at the deadline as Coleman was a strong candidate to head to a contending club. The deal looks even better now that the Lightning have gotten all the way to the Stanley Cup Final with the help of the gritty, skilled, depth forward who’s got another affordable year on his deal after this year.
Barclay Goodrow, Left wing
Acquired: Feb. 2020, from Sharks
Was it a bit surprising that Goodrow garnered a first-round pick? Yup. But if the depth forward can keep contributing en route to a Stanley Cup? Totally worth it.
Jan Rutta, Defence
Acquired: Jan. 2019, from Chicago
A depth piece on this roster, Rutta has appeared in just one game this post-season.
Ryan McDonagh, Defence
Acquired: Feb. 2018, from Rangers
Tampa Bay’s rental at the 2018 trade deadline gelled so well in his new Florida home, the former Rangers captain signed on long-term a few months later.
Carter Verhaeghe, Centre
Acquired: July 2017, from Islanders
Being traded from the Islanders to the Lightning in exchange for goalie Kristers Gudlevskis in 2017 was just one step in what has been a long journey to the NHL for the forward — a journey that took him from the ECHL to now the highest level of the NHL.
Mikhail Sergachev, Defence
Acquired: June 2017, from Canadiens
Trading an unhappy Jonathan Drouin for a recently-drafted defenceman full of potential feels like one of Yzerman’s biggest trade-floor wins from his days as GM.
Erik Cernak, Defence
Acquired: Feb. 2017, from Kings
The second-pairing rearguard was part of the return from L.A. when goaltender Bishop was rented out to the Kings at the deadline.
Braydon Coburn, Defence
Acquired: March 2015, from Philadelphia
Yzerman has been known for some strong trade market moves, but this one doesn’t look great in hindsight. Tampa paid a steep price for Coburn back in 2015, sending Radko Gudas and the Lightning’s first- and third-round picks to Philadelphia in exchange for the rearguard.
Picking up undersized, undrafted free agent forwards like Tyler Johnson (2011) and Yanni Gourde (2014) felt like Yzerman’s calling card.
Signing veterans to short-term, risk-free, rebound contracts to complement the club’s strong core might turn out to be that of BriseBois. Just like this year’s trade targets, BriseBois’ savvy, short-term deals to bring in veterans searching for a rebound have yielded strong results.
Zach Bogosian, Defence
Signed: Feb. 24, 2020 (one year, $1.3M)
A smart veteran signing after having his contract terminated by Buffalo, Bogosian’s strong play with Tampa Bay – his first playoff experience, no less – looks really good right now.
Kevin Shattenkirk, Defence
Signed: Aug. 2019 (one year, $1.75M)
Three years ago, Shattenkirk landed in New York on a four-year deal worth $6.65 million per season as one of the top UFAs on the market. After being bought out last August, Tampa Bay picked him up on a smart, mutually beneficial pact that has revived his career and paid off for the Lightning, too.
Pat Maroon, Left wing
Signed: Aug. 2019 (1 year, $900,000)
The big power forward and hometown hero with last year’s Blues is proof that every teams needs a little old-school on the roster.
Curtis McElhinney, Goalie
Signed: July 1, 2019 (two years, $2.6M)
He was one of the best stories out of Carolina’s Cinderella run in last year’s playoffs, and a strong insurance policy with Tampa this time around. Money well spent.
Scott Wedgewood, Goalie
Signed: July 1, 2019 (one year, 700,000)
The affordable depth option hasn’t played since signing with the club, but as we learn (and re-learn every playoffs), you can never have too much insurance in net.
Luke Schenn, Defence
Signed: July 1, 2019 (one year, $700,000)
Schenn is another example of players being picked up by Tampa Bay on low-cost, risk-free deals aimed at setting players up for a career revival. One of the first-round picks on this club (taken fifth overall by Toronto in 2008), Schenn is now an affordable depth forward with the Lightning and a complementary piece to this fast group.
Owen Power, a candidate to be chosen among the top 10 in the 2021 NHL Draft, was one of three players from the University of Michigan to earn an A rating on NHL Central Scouting’s preliminary players to watch list released Tuesday.
The list is a compilation of top prospects from all the major development leagues throughout North America and Europe. It will be updated throughout the season as scouts evaluate the players.
“At this point in the evaluation process and considering the lack of a summer scouting season, it’s much too early to identify a strength for the 2021 draft class other than to state that there are a number of good prospects at every position,” director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr said. “There is no Alexis Lafreniere-type prospect with a clear lead as a consensus No. 1.”
Lafreniere was selected by the New York Rangers with the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft and signed his three-year, entry-level contract Oct. 12. The forward was the projected top choice from start to finish last season while playing for Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“There are a number of prospects with a head start to compete for the top prospect based on past performance, but until we can get viewings to evaluate the entire draft class, the projection for No. 1 consideration is an open field,” Marr said.
The 31 players on the preliminary list with A ratings are considered potential first-round picks. Players with B ratings are considered possible second- or third-round choices, and those with C ratings are potential fourth-, fifth- or sixth-round selections.
Power (6-foot-6, 214 pounds), a defenseman who turns 18 on Nov. 22, became the second player for Chicago to win United States Hockey League Defenseman of the Year last season. The Mississauga, Ontario, native led USHL defensemen with 40 points (12 goals, 28 assists) in 45 games and tied for first with five power-play goals.
“He can put up points, and is very mobile for how big he is,” NHL Central Scouting senior manager David Gregory said. “He runs the power play, has elite hockey sense and is going to be a highly sought-after player.”
Power entered the USHL as a 15-year-old in 2018-19 and set a league record by scoring 11 goals as a 16-year-old defenseman.
Forwards Matthew Beniers (6-1, 174) and Kent Johnson (6-0, 166), who each will join Power at Michigan in the Big Ten this season, also received an A rating. A 24-game conference schedule is tentatively set to begin Nov. 13.
Beniers scored 41 points (18 goals, 23 assists) in 44 games for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program under-18 team last season.
“He’s a kid that’s been on the radar for a couple of years now with the program,” Marr said. “He has the skills and the smarts, but it’s his intangibles with his compete and how he gets things done and makes things happen that make him so appealing.”
Johnson, 18, scored 101 points (41 goals, 60 assists) in 52 games for Trail of the British Columbia Hockey League last season. He scored 147 points (61 goals, 86 assists) and averaged 1.31 points per game in 112 BCHL games.
“He’s an elite point producer,” Gregory said. “When you see a 17-year-old put up 100 points, that’s something special. He plays with pace and skill, is crafty with the puck and can snipe it as well. He’s going to score a lot of goals.”
Among the A-rated skaters considered likely to be selected in the first round are forwards Xavier Bourgault (6-0, 172) of Shawinigan and Zachary Bolduc (6-1, 175) of Rimouski in the QMJHL, and Dylan Guenther (6-0, 166) of Edmonton in the Western Hockey League; and defensemen Luke Hughes (6-2, 176) of the NTDP under-18 team, Brandt Clarke (6-1, 180) of Barrie (OHL) and Daniil Chayka (6-3, 187) of Guelph (OHL).
Hughes, the youngest of the three Hughes siblings (Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes and New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes) scored 28 points (seven goals, 21 assists) and three power-play goals in 48 games for the NTDP under-17 team last season. He has four assists in seven games for the under-18 team this season.
“Luke does things so quickly,” Gregory said. “You wouldn’t see him skate it up as much as Quinn, but he can do it and does. He can snap a pass, stretch a pass. He’s got this veteran’s poise as a young guy. It’s very tough to compare [Luke and Quinn Hughes] but you see some similarities like you did with Jack and Quinn. They have that quickness, that escape ability, that all three of them have.”
Bourgault has scored five points (three goals, two assists) in four games and Bolduc two goals in four games.
“He’s one of these dynamic offensive players that just come at you every game; he just pops,” Marr said of Bourgault. “Every time he’s on the ice, he’s a scoring threat when the puck is on his stick.”
The A-rated players to watch on the International side include center Aatu Raty (6-1, 177) of Karpat in Liiga and goalie Jesper Wallstedt (6-2, 214) of Lulea in the Swedish Hockey League.
Raty has no points and two shots on goal in 9:34 of ice time this season. Wallstedt is 1-1-2 with a 1.92 goals-against average and .929 save percentage in four games.
“[Wallstedt] was always a difference-maker,” Marr said. “He’s got the skills and attributes with his athleticism, reflexes, and mental toughness. Just like Iaroslav Askarov (chosen No. 11 by the Nashville Predators in the 2020 draft) had his following prior to the 2020 draft, Wallstedt does as well this season.”
Photos courtesy of Chicago Steel / USHL and Daryl Marshke / USA Hockey’s NTDP
Then Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash decided to take the ball from his ace after he gave up his second hit of the game. Unfortunately, that pitching change provided the spark the Dodgers needed as they would score two runs including one off a wild pitch to take the lead in Game 6.
Many took to social media to question Cash’s decision to pull Snell after just 73 pitches.
73 pitches… I’m hella mad for him
— Taijuan Walker (@tai_walker) October 28, 2020
I would have kept @snellzilla4
— Steven Stamkos (@RealStamkos91) October 28, 2020
Now the Dodgers are just one victory away from slaying their past playoff demons and finally capturing that elusive title.
Will the Dodgers close it out or will the Rays force a Game 7? Tune in to Sportsnet or SN Now at 8 p.m. ET to find out. In the meantime, here’s what to watch for prior to first pitch.
Watch every game of the 2020 World Series between the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers on Sportsnet and SN Now.
The last time Tony Gonsolin started in this series, he lasted just 1.1 innings in what ended up as a bullpen day for the Dodgers in Game 2.
Manager Dave Roberts claims things will be different in Game 6, declaring Gonsolin a “starter” as opposed to an “opener.” Roberts did couch it a little, though.
“I’m going to watch him pitch and then we’ll see what we do after that,” Roberts told reporters Monday. “… I want to go as long as he possibly can, that’d be great.”
Considering Roberts pulled Clayton Kershaw after 85 pitches in Game 5 when he appeared to be cruising, it’s hard to imagine the 25-year-old Gonsolin having a long leash. The bullpen is fully rested after Monday’s off day, giving Roberts his full complement of weapons.
Game 2 didn’t go so well for Roberts as he watched a number of decisions backfire en route to a 6-4 Rays victory. Now the ever-unconventional manager has another chance to flex his strategic muscles and deliver the franchise’s first title since 1988.
Los Angeles was aggressive from the opening pitch over the weekend, striking for at least one first-inning run in each of the past three games. It will be crucial for Snell to come out of the gate and put a zero on the board to prevent his opponents from building any quick momentum.
Snell was able to limit the Dodgers to two runs over 4.2 innings in Game 2 while striking out nine, but those numbers don’t tell the full story. The left-hander walked four batters and gave up plenty of hard contact. Five of the seven balls put in play against him came off Dodger bats at 95 m.p.h. or harder.
The 2018 Cy Young winner will need to be extra careful this time around, as it’ll be the Dodgers’ second look at him in six days.
If the Dodgers do indeed take care of business in Game 6, three players stand out for World Series MVP honours, each with a different storyline attached.
The rejuvenated young star: Corey Seager
It wasn’t too long ago that Seager was considered one of the game’s rising superstars. His 2018 season was limited to just 26 games due to Tommy John surgery but his 2020 campaign has put him back in the mix with baseball’s elite.
His regular season was phenomenal — he posted a .943 OPS — and he’s been even better in the playoffs. After winning NLCS MVP, he’s still raking in the World Series with a .471/.609/.842 slash line. If not for the bizarre Rays win in Game 4, Seager would likely have already earned his second MVP trophy of the post-season. The race is Seager’s to lose at this point.
The franchise icon: Justin Turner
Turner has set a number of franchise records during this playoff run and stands as the Dodgers’ post-season leader in games played, hits, walks, RBIs and home runs. He’s been a hit machine during this World Series, as evidenced by his .364/.391/.818 batting line.
An 0-for-4 Game 6 from Seager and another big performance from Turner could easily tip the scales in the third baseman’s favour. He’s a free agent at the end of the year and winning World Series MVP in what could be his final game in a Dodger uniform would be extremely poetic.
The late-bloomer who became a hero: Max Muncy
Muncy was released by the Oakland Athletics at the end of spring training in 2017, prompting the Dodgers to sign him as a minor-league free agent. He’s become a star at the MLB level since his promotion in 2018 and finds himself entrenched in the heart of one of baseball’s best lineups.
Like Seager and Turner, Muncy has been on fire during the World Series, slashing .389/.522/.611. If he provides a clutch hit or two in Game 6 to clinch the title, it would be easy to make the case he deserves MVP.
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