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Hockey Notes

Freshman class already receiving high marks

By Kevin Paul Dupont
November 29, 2009

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In nine of the last 14 years, a forward has won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year. A forward also has finished runner-up in 10 of those 14 years.

Do we need further proof that nothing catches the eye quite like goal scorers?

That’s not to say that anyone can argue with the winners: Peter Forsberg (1995), Daniel Alfredsson (’96), Sergei Samsonov (’98), Chris Drury (’99), Scott Gomez (2000), Dany Heatley (’02), Alex Ovechkin (’06), Evgeni Malkin (’07), and Patrick Kane (’08).

All except Forsberg remain gainfully employed. Forsberg, Drury, Gomez, and Malkin have their names on the Stanley Cup. Ovechkin was MVP each of the last two seasons. Forsberg (’03) also has a Hart Trophy.

And this year, the winner easily could be a forward again, be it John Tavares (Islanders), former University of New Hampshire standout James van Riemsdyk (Flyers), or Ryan O’Reilly (Avalanche).

Overall, this is the best rookie class in recent memory, and unless one of the aforementioned forwards runs off with point production, a few defensemen (arguably a harder position to master) will make the voting very interesting.

The Rangers have Michael Del Zotto, who has been leading first-year defensemen in scoring from the start of the season. Jason Demers has been a seamless addition on the back line in San Jose, where most of the attention goes to star forwards Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Heatley.

And then there are two budding stars who one day could be Norris Trophy candidates: Tyler Myers in Buffalo and Victor Hedman in Tampa. Everyone had Hedman on the rookie radar because he was the No. 2 pick in the June draft, having played well in Sweden last season. Prior to getting a concussion, he was averaging more than 23 minutes a night for the Bolts and was every bit the solid addition projected by Central Scouting.

Myers, a towering 6 feet 8 inches, is getting almost 22 minutes a night on the Sabres blue line. For a big body, he is amazingly nimble, and coach Lindy Ruff encourages him to jump into the offense. He popped into the play a few times Nov. 20 when the Bruins visited HSBC Arena.

“A lot like [Zdeno ] Chara,’’ said former NHL general manager Harry Neale, who is now part of the Sabres broadcast team. “Very good on his feet, and with that long reach, he shuts down his side of the ice.’’

Of course, there aren’t a lot like Chara anywhere, so that comparison will bring a lot of attention to the Houston-born Myers (selected 12th overall in the 2008 draft).

As for goalies, a week ago there wasn’t one in the Calder hunt. But after six straight starts, and a stingy 2.02 goals-against average entering the weekend, the Bruins’ Tuukka Rask put himself squarely in the mix. But with Tim Thomas still the No. 1, Rask isn’t likely to get enough starts to be a serious contender.

Stranger things have happened, however. Remember, Bruins goalie Andrew Raycroft edged out Montreal’s Michael Ryder for the Calder in ’04. That was the season Felix Potvin was supposed to carry the load in net.

A TRAIL BLAZER
GM’s gay son wants story told
Brendan Burke, ex-Xaverian High player and son of Brian Burke, GM of the Leafs, spoke openly about being gay in a lengthy, poignant, and well-crafted piece last week by John Buccigross on ESPN.com.

The younger Burke, now the student manager on the Miami University (Ohio) hockey team, was clear and passionate with family members that he wanted his story told.

“Absolutely,’’ said his brother, Patrick, who is a scout for the Flyers. “He’s looking to be a trail blazer on the issue, and the response has been tremendous, all of it positive. People are talking about the subject of gays in pro sports, particularly hockey, and that’s what Brendan wanted.’’

Brian Burke, in his eloquent support of Brendan, told ESPN, “I wish this burden would fall on someone else’s shoulders, not Brendan’s. Pioneers are often misunderstood and mistrusted.

“But since he wishes to blaze this trail, I stand beside him with an ax. I simply could not be more proud of Brendan than I am, and I love him as much as I admire him.’’

Patrick Burke added, “Hey, it was all Brendan’s decision to go public. I guess you’d say he picked the fight, which is what my family likes to do.’’

ETC.
Hossa’s quick start brings Chicago hope
It was an impressive first night in the Blackhawks’ colors for Marian Hossa, who potted a pair of goals Wednesday in a 7-2 thumping of host San Jose, where the Sharks had been 7-0-2 this season. Hossa, after falling one victory shy of winning the Cup with Detroit in June, signed with Chicago July 1 for $62.8 million over 12 years. He then needed surgery to repair a lingering shoulder injury, making the signing somewhat suspect. But two goals (on only four shots) quickly removed any suspicion. Hossa’s insertion at right wing bumped Kane to the left side, and the two wingers are riding young stud Jonathan Toews as their pivot.

Eagle addition
Former Boston College defenseman Brett Peterson recently joined Chicago-based Acme World Sports, the Bill Zito-owned agency that counts Boston goalies Thomas and Rask on its lengthy client list. Peterson, Class of ’04 at The Heights, spent five years playing minor league hockey, calling it quits after stops in Flint (IHL), Phoenix (ECHL), and Grand Rapids (AHL) last season. Peterson, who went to Cushing Academy, will live in Boston and aid Zito in a number of areas, eventually including contract negotiations.

College boosters
Paul Kelly officially took office Tuesday as executive director of College Hockey Inc., the new Newton-based venture charged with lifting the profile (and revenue) of NCAA Division 1 hockey. Former Brown defenseman Kevin Lovitt joined Kelly for a press conference at Harvard, and is aboard CHI as Kelly’s righthand man. “I wouldn’t have taken the job if not for Paul, his credibility and integrity,’’ said Lovitt, a Warwick, R.I., native who graduated from Brown in 1981 and worked for Kelly at the NHL Players Association prior to Kelly being dismissed as executive director three months ago. College coaches Jack Parker (Boston University) and Ted Donato (Harvard) were on hand for the news conference. According to Parker, the college game has needed a strong advocate the last 3-4 years to compete against Canadian junior programs in wooing top talent. “Some of the propaganda coming out of those junior programs is unbelievable,’’ said Parker. “And it’s beyond belief what propaganda people will swallow if they think they can get to the NHL.’’ Parker said he tells recruits that he’ll bet the mortgage on his house that they won’t make it to the NHL, which is why they should come to college, play, and get their degrees. “And I’m right 95 percent of the time with that bet,’’ said Parker. “For all the Chris Drurys, Jack O’Callahans, Tony Amontes, and Keith Tkachuks who made it to the NHL, they entered school with a class that had six teammates now doing something else. And it’s worse for junior players; 95-98 percent of those kids don’t make it to the NHL.’’

Signs of life
The Canadiens are nestled a little too comfortably in the thick of the Eastern Conference also-rans, but top defenseman Andrei Markov is close to returning from the torn foot tendon he suffered opening night when he was slashed by goalie Carey Price’s skate. Les Glorieux also have seen Price’s stock rise considerably, after the sound booing he took from Habs fans at the end of the playoffs. Headed into weekend play, the 22-year-old Price had given up only 13 goals in his last six starts. Markov, who needed surgery to repair the tendon, figures he will be back in January, perhaps soon after New Year’s Day.

Goal is to shoot
Odd stat of the week: Just prior to Thanksgiving, the Leafs ranked No. 1 overall for shots per game (34.7). However, they ranked a lackluster 22d in goal scoring (2.54 per game). According to ex-Bruin Phil Kessel, the remedy for the latter is to do more of the former. Kessel to the Toronto Star: “Just keep shooting. They’re going to go in eventually.’’ The Leafs opened the week by being stymied by Islanders goalie Dwayne Roloson. The ex-UMass-Lowell standout turned back a career-high 58 Toronto shots in a 4-3 win. Kessel managed to put one of his 12 shots behind Roloson. Last year with the Bruins, Kessel popped in 36 of his 232 shots (15.5 success rate) in 70 games. Headed into the weekend, he was averaging 5.64 shots per game (vs. 3.31 last season) but his success rate had dipped to 9.68 percent (6 goals/62 shots).

On the Russian front
Onetime Bruins scout Nik Bobrov, who grew up in Russia, hopes one day to bring Russian junior teams or select squads to the US to play against Division 1 NCAA programs. “I think the need is there for both sides,’’ said Bobrov, “and I’m certain it would be mutually beneficial.’’ Bobrov believes that Red Army (CSKA) would be among a handful of Russian clubs eager to see their young stars match up against top US college players. “I’ve discussed it before with some of the colleges, some right here in Boston,’’ said Bobrov. “I know there’s interest here. But to make the trip worthwhile, from a cost perspective, we’d have to get a few colleges on board.’’

Painful dig
Lighting co-owner Oren Koules, pondering the dip in attendance this season, said in a recent Toronto Globe and Mail story that Tampa is a “different world’’ than some NHL cities. Koules: “It’s not like you can open the door, and you haven’t won in 37 years or whatever, and still sell out.’’ For those keeping track, the Bruins won their last Cup 37 years ago.

Finished off?
Miikka Kiprusoff has enough game and profile to pick his spots when it comes to out-of-NHL assignments. Great goalie. But Team Finland can’t be too happy with his approach toward the Olympics. Kiprusoff to the Calgary Herald: “If I’m not going to start for sure, I think I am going to take that time off and rest.’’ Let’s not forget, ahead of the 2006 Games, Kiprusoff said he had a sore hip, couldn’t consider Turin, but kept playing for the Flames. If he decides to hibernate for those two weeks in February, it could help Rask catch an assignment at Olympus. The Finns also could reach out to Antero Niittymaki (again) and/or Niklas Backstrom of the Wild. During the ’06 Games, Backstrom was still banging around Europe (specifically Finland), hoping an NHL club would give him a chance.

Loose pucks
According to Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli, Jordan Caron, Boston’s top draft pick in June, has looked good since rejoining Rimouski about a month ago (recent stats: 2-8 -10 in 13 games). “He played well recently against a Russian select team that played against the Quebec League,’’ said Chiarelli. “He should get strong consideration for the [Canadian] World Junior team.’’ Chiarelli also reports that Joe Colborne, the club’s top pick in the 2008 draft, looked good last weekend in Denver’s back-to-back games against North Dakota. “He’s making progress,’’ said Chiarelli. “He still has to improve on some fundamentals, such as always being strong on the puck.’’ . . . Look for the Bruins to send spare defenseman Johnny Boychuk back to Providence for a two-week conditioning stint. Longer than two weeks would necessitate Boychuk being placed on waivers, a move that would all but guarantee an NHL club claiming the 25-year-old prospect . . . The same afternoon that the Bruins could muster but one goal against the Devils, Chuck Kobasew connected for his second career hat trick in the Wild’s 5-3 win Friday over the Avalanche. The decision to wheel Kobasew to Minnesota made great sense, and the subsequent move to add Danny Paille has been a huge booster shot for Boston’s penalty-killing unit. But with Boston’s goal scoring down by over a goal per game, a hat trick by a former Bruin is cruel and unusual punishment . . . Three reasons Detroit’s power play last week ranked a lowly 28th overall: injuries to Niklas Kronwall, Johan Franzen, and Valterri Filppula . . . Drury made it back to the Ranger lineup and picked up an assist Wednesday after missing nearly three weeks with his third concussion over 11 years. The assist put his output to 2-5 -7 in 18 games. “I didn’t exactly have much of a touch,’’ said Drury. The concussion and his low numbers could make it difficult for Drury to make his third US Olympic squad.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com.

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