Ramblings: Kevan Miller; Paul Kariya; Prospects Report; Minnesota vs. Vancouver

Michael Clifford

2020-06-18

For those that haven't grabbed their copy of the 2020 Dobber Hockey Prospects Report, there's no time like the present! We have lots of time until the draft, which means lots of time to familiarize yourself with the names you'll need to know in the coming years, beyond the elite talents. This is also a great way to support what we do both on the Dobber Prospects sides of things. Head to the Dobber Shop to purchase your copy, download, and you're all set!

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I enjoyed this fun and fascinating interview with Paul Kariya over at The Athletic. He was probably the first player I ever looked up to as a kid and as I got older, he became an interesting enigma. His career slowed down with the concussions, and then he kind of went away from the spotlight. It's great to at least see him in and around the game of hockey again.

He talks about the need for kids to play multiple sports to help develop a variety of skills, and I could not agree more. Let's also not forget, though, that sports can be expensive and the financial side of things is the biggest hurdle for a lot of children. It would be nice to see some sort of national over-arching approach that could work all these concepts in together. Something for the movers of this world to think about.

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A bit of news on the injury front. Boston Bruins defenceman Kevan Miller had a media interview on Wednesday and he confirmed he's made progress on his kneecap injury that's keep him out all year. Now, it's small steps – tying shoes, climbing stairs – but it's progress. It sure seems this season is out of the question, though it's good news for his longer-term future.

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My recent Ramblings have begun to discuss the NHL's play-in rounds. Basically, it's a chance to reset here, recap how each team did through the year, how their key players performed, and what kind of injuries they may have to deal with at the moment. It's just been so long without hockey, and may be a couple months yet, that I think it's worth catching up on the past and leave a reference point for the future. We've already covered Chicago vs. Edmonton here and Nashville vs. Arizona here. Today we'll move along to Vancouver and Minnesota. Most stats from Natural Stat Trick or Dobber Tools.

 

Minnesota

I don't think much was expected of the Wild this year. The trades last year of Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund seemed to indicate the team hitting the reset button, hoping to load up enough young talent to make a run in a couple years with their veterans like Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, while also planning for beyond their tenure. I know I didn't have high expectations for them, given how unproven much of their young talent was.

The team performed fairly well this year, however. They had an incredibly poor start to the year, finishing the month of October 4-9-0. A lot of that was driven by percentages, though, as they were 23rd in save percentage and 26th by shooting percentage in that month. The team had their trademark defence in place, ranking mid-pack by shot attempts allowed and first by fewest expected goals, but the goaltending and scoring let them down.

Things have improved since October, though, as the team was ninth by points percentage after that poor start, higher than teams like Vegas and Toronto. Their expected goal share was fifth in the league on the back of continuing stellar team defence. The goaltending still hasn't come around, though, as it was 21st in the league in that span, though the shooting percentage at 5-on-5 literally led the league.

That's what makes Minnesota so dangerous in these playoffs. There's a good argument they're the best defensive team in the league. Great defensive teams don't need great goaltending, like Chicago or Winnipeg. If they get it, they're pretty much unstoppable, but even with average goaltending, they can be a top-10 team.

We'd be doing a disserve without mentioning Kevin Fiala's breakout. He led the team with 54 points in 64 games. That gave him 0.84 points per game, and Eric Staal was the only other regular Minnesota forward with over 0.7 points per game (0.71). What's even crazier is Fiala had one (1) point in October. He had 53 points in his next 56 games. He's a full-fledged top-line winger, and that's critical for Minnesota's offensive potency.

I'd be remiss to not discuss Minnesota's depth forward. Whatever the line combination, guys like Joel Eriksson-Ek, Jordan Greenway, Marcus Foligno, Ryan Hartman, and Luke Kunin brought great defensive ability to the team; out of the 10 best defensive lines in the league this year by expected goals against per 60 minutes, the Wild had two combinations in the top-10. They provided a true shutdown line, and that can come in handy for playoffs.

Minnesota's blue line is nothing to sneeze at, either. Jared Spurgeon remains one of the best overall defencemen in hockey, Jonas Brodin is a defensive stalwart, Ryan Suter continues to be both good and a senior voice in the locker room, while Matt Dumba had a tough year but obviously has more to give. If all four play as they're able, this is a fearsome foursome.

Minnesota doesn't really have any glaring weaknesses outside of their goaltending, and I think they're good enough defensively to not need elite goaltending, though it would be nice to have in a best-of-5.

 

Vancouver

On February 1st, Vancouver was among the top teams in the league by points percentage, coming it at 8th, just behind Colorado. The team then went on a 6-9-2 run until the league was suspended, pushing them down the standings. Now, the knee injury to Jacob Markstrom forced Thatcher Demko into the starting role, and the team went 3-5-0 afterwards. The good news is Markstrom should be ready for the postseason. (There was a good article at InGoal Magazine not long ago about Markstrom's Vezina candidacy.)

I brought up that article because Vancouver was a bad defensive team this year. In my opinion, not quite Winnipeg-bad, but close. In that stretch that saw them go 30-18-4, they were 23rd by shot attempts allowed at 5-on-5 and 28th by expected goals against. They also took the 10th-most penalties in the league, and nearly half of the more-penalized teams didn't make the playoffs (with almost 80 percent of the teams making it!). Markstrom had to do a lot of heavy lifting and leaning on Vezina-calibre goaltending is always going to be a problem.

Had Vancouver not made one specific trade, this would be a nightmare matchup for them. The reason being, as mentioned in the Minnesota section, the Wild have a great shutdown line. The addition of Tyler Toffoli, however, helps provide scoring to two lines, so even if the Elias Pettersson line is shutdown, the Bo Horvat line is still deadly, whether he's playing with Toffoli or Brock Boeser. With both Toffoli and Boeser on the right side, J.T. Miller having a career year on the left, Bo Horvat providing heavy minutes, and Elias Pettersson having season worthy of Hart Trophy consideration, the top-6 is absolutely lethal. The Wild will need more than one shutdown line to deal with the offensive onslaught, both at 5-on-5 and on the power play.

Vancouver's big problem is the blue line. Quinn Hughes was great, of that there is no doubt. But Alex Edler is not the guy he was five years ago, and he still has a hard time staying healthy, Chris Tanev didn't have a typical Tanev season (something like Jonas Brodin from the other team), and Tyler Myers is a replacement-level player eating more than 21 minutes a night. It may be enough for Minnesota, given the strengths on the rest of the roster, but it's likely going to prevent a deep run.

Along with Markstrom, Tanev should be recovered and just fine from his knee injury that he suffered just before the suspension. Farhan Lalji of TSN reported that Michael Ferland is fine to skate at the Jets' facility in Winnipeg when they're ready to open as part of Phase 2, as Ferland has recovered from his concussion. Josh Leivo, though, is having setbacks in his kneecap rehab. He may not be ready.

 

This is a contrast in styles and for that reason, I cannot wait for the matchup.

UPCOMING GAMES

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STARTING GOALIES

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HOT PLAYERS

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LINE COMBOS

  Frequency ANA Players
18.1% DAVID BACKES NICOLAS DESLAURIERS CARTER ROWNEY
16.9% ADAM HENRIQUE RICKARD RAKELL JAKOB SILFVERBERG
16% MAX JONES KIEFER SHERWOOD SAM STEEL

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