Dishonor for Connor, jump-start the rebuild, a Franchise Player. These are the type of things thrown around when discussing the potential impact of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft's upper-echelon talent. While the draft lottery means that 14 different teams have a shot at landing the top pick, all the talk this year has been about tanking in order to guarantee either the Canadian or American phenom at the top of everyone's charts. It probably started after the first person to look over the Buffalo Sabres' roster in late September did a non-ironic spit-take and sent a sympathy gift basket to Ted Nolan; then the Oilers decided that yes, they were the Oilers; and even the Hurricanes made some efforts to display their utter dearth of talent before an ill-timed (that is, any time during this season) stretch of winning hockey put them out of realistic reach of the NHL cellar. As we all know, the worst team in hockey this year will be guaranteed one of the top two picks, and even an injury sustained in a foolish fight hasn't slowed the raving about Connor McDavid's Mario-like potential for turning around even the worst team imaginable.*
*We thought this was actually the literal 2014-2015 Buffalo Sabres, but the good ol' Stars proved that even the worst team imaginable is still capable of being used by cruel Fate when she wishes to deal a soul-crushing blow upon an unsuspecting hockey team.
Something often obscured in draft talk--and especially first-round debates--is that the players are just as susceptible to the whims of cruel Fate as our collective hockey team and its fan base has been more than we care to remember this year. Nothing is automatic, and even the most lauded of prospects is going to hang up his skates someday, whether that's after some subpar junior seasons or a storied career. As even Modano and Brodeur discovered, that time usually comes sooner than any player really thinks it will.
Not a complete shift, but hang with me. The Stars have been exceptionally careful with Valeri Nichushkin. During his first season, the team placed him with an American family to expedite his acclimation to the language and culture of a new country; the coaches rationed both his starts and his ice time to make sure he didn't get too worn down as the season went on. This year, a slow start didn't cause too much panic, and an eventual decision to give Val the John Klingberg treatment (which is much safer, thankfully, than lower-body procedures used to be) was seen as brutally sad, but still just a temporary setback in the story of Valeri Nichushkin's career. Players are people, and it turns out the younger ones sometimes take a different path after their selection than the acquiring team had envisioned for them. Nowadays, most teams not located in Edmonton--whose handling of Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse this year is clearly the result of a poker game gone wrong between Craig MacTavish and Tim Murray--take a long view with their prospects, less concerned about years one and two, and much more concerned with where that 18-year-old will be by the time he's able to legally drink in Columbus, Ohio. Development, development, development.
Things can go wrong even with the most patient of plans, of course; the Stars are cognizant of just how unfortunately frequent first-round disappointments can be. What happens, then, after a highly touted player ends up off the path to the NHL? Some choose to find a lesser league that will pay them to keep playing, knowing that they have all but abandoned hope of returning to the league they dreamed of during their childhood while they spend their youth making ends meet in a foreign country. Once in a blue moon, you'll hear about an old player who, through a set of circumstances few could have foreseen, finally makes it to the NHL, even if it's just for a game or two. Rob Zepp was this year's version of that story, and while it's wonderful when that happens, the reality is that there are many, many NHL draftees who wind up out of hockey before they ever see an NHL bench.
There was one such story in particular I really enjoyed hearing about last night. Via Hometown Hockey, here's a short SportsNet piece from last night on former Montreal first-round pick Terry Ryan, who has found what it means to discover life after hockey, even when the game is as brutally disappointing as it could possibly be.
This game is wonderful. We love watching it, some of us have loved playing it, and I certainly love writing about it way more than I probably should. That same game is made up of people who have to deal with the disappointment that it dishes out on an intimate and critically important level for them. We can joke about it to help ease the pain, but for most of these guys, it's been their life for years already by the time they hear their name called. To go from that high point to the nadir of a career ended almost as soon as it began is a pain deeper than many of our careers will ever hold. Terry Ryan's ability to find joy and fulfillment apart from hockey is every bit as beautiful (and infinitely more meaningful) than the most impressive goal we will see this year.
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Did you know Kyle Okposo is a huge Harry Potter nerd? His words, not mine. I love those books, too, Kyle.
The Stars decided to win their first overtime game of the year against the defending Eastern Conference champions on the second night of a road trip double-deuce after losing to the "NHL team" in Buffalo the night prior. This season has clearly gone full banana sandwich.
Hey, remember when recaps were fun to read? We have one of those again! [Stars]
Brett Ritchie will get his goals if he keeps playing hard down low. This is a common hockey aphorism, but that does seem like it's probably the best place to employ Ritchie's skillset. He definitely looked a little out of sorts against New York, though. [DMN]
Tyler Seguin will score goals because he is getting chances to score goals, Lindy Ruff says. [DMN]
Los Angeles lost Alec Martinez to concussion-like symptoms for what they hope is a relatively short time. If any bubble team ends up overpaying for help on the blue line, the Kings seem like the most likely candidate. [LA Kings Insider]
The Evander Kane saga seems to be on hold for the time being, but the talk continues. Here's one post that tries to compare the Kane/Byfuglien thing to bullying--which it both is and isn't--while also mentioning the alleged Subban/Cole hearsay from 2013. In case you don't remember, Erik Cole very clearly said he and Subban were on good terms. The Kane piece has some good points, but let's please let old refuted rumors die their natural death. [Arctic Ice Hockey]
Alex Ovechkin isn't surrendering the goal-scoring lead without a fight. He potted a scorching wrister last night from way too close to keep pace with Rick Nash for the NHL lead. If you've never seen an Ovie wrist shot in person, there is nothing like it. [NHL Video]
Henrik Lundqvist was at risk of a stroke had he continued to play with what has been diagnosed as a sprained blood vessel. [NHL]
For all of you that enjoy the NHL Ties Twitter account, here is a great piece on the husband-and-wife team behind the strangely fascinating hockey broadcast fashion critique. It's touching, humorous and altogether wonderful. Great read here. [ESPN]
Here is a purported list of the top ten worst free agent signings this year. There are two former Stars on here, but no current ones. I also don't really agree with a few of these names. Like, at all. [TSN]
If you have an opportunity to see Red Army, make sure you do so. Here's an interview Ken Campbell of the Hockey News did with the legendary Slava Fetisov in which Campbell appears to have seriously ticked off the former Soviet hockey icon. [THN]
Finally, the Blackhawks downed the Blues last night in what may have been a playoff preview. Marian Hossa had two goals, but Vladimir Tarasenko had the big highlight of the game with this ankle-breaking breakaway move on Corey Crawford: