The first game seven of the second-round culminated on Tuesday evening in Missouri. And I'll be frank, it was almost exclusively the Blues dictating play and Ben Bishop accepting the pepper with a spicy smile.
Vince Dunn got things going in the first frame with a seeing-eye wrister from the point to beat Bishop up high. With the way Big Ben was seeing the puck tonight, it was the type of goal the Blues needed.
— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) May 8, 2019
Mats Zuccarello knotted things at one 150 seconds later when a bad bounce off the official's skate led to a clear chance in the slot.
— SiriusXM NHL Network Radio (@SiriusXMNHL) May 8, 2019
That's the way things stayed through regulation with Dallas being outshot 41-17. Bishop was a man possessed and fully kept the Stars in this one – especially in the back forty minutes where the Blues outshot Dallas 31-4! We went all the way until 14:10 of the second overtime before the local kid, Pat Maroon finished it off.
Robert Thomas' shot hits the post, then Ben Bishop, then Pat Maroon bangs it home. pic.twitter.com/k0iBFweULS
— Cristiano Simonetta (@CMS_74_) May 8, 2019
Despite more money and term on the table from other suitors, Maroon signed with the Blues to be closer to his son and family. Boy is he happy with that decision right now.
Robert Thomas chipped in with two helpers – including the primary assist on the 2OT winner. I'm a big fan of this kid and expect him to take a nice step forward next season.
Finally, props to Bishop. He made 52 stops on the night and posted a .933 save percentage in 13 playoff games. He was their MVP.
Charlie McAvoy has been suspended for one game following his head shot on Josh Anderson in game six against Columbus. This is the defender's first offence. He'll sit out game one of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Hurricanes.
Charlie McAvoy gets two minutes for an illegal check to the head on Josh Anderson.
DOPS will also take a look at that. pic.twitter.com/nhuuiHGhXL
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) May 7, 2019
Looking for some more prospect intel as we near the NHL Entry Draft? Consider checking out Prospect Central – a new show/podcast that I'm co-hosting on Sportsnet650. The first two episodes are out where myself, Ryan Biech, and Satiar Shah break down the top 31 prospects from my most recent draft rankings
You can download the episodes under the Canucks Central heading on iTunes and other podcast providers and hear us live on Saturdays from 4-5pm PST on Sportsnet650.
As always, the Stanley Cup playoffs can act as a focal point for GMs when they draft their squads in the fall. Players who shone brightly in the spring are often selected early in the fall. This is a natural path for many owners to follow – recency bias or not, the player was at their best when the games were at their most difficult. Logic indicates that should bode well during regular season play as well.
However, as entertaining as the playoffs can be, they can also lead us astray if we don’t keep our feet firmly planted on the ground. Take, for instance, Evgeny Kuznetsov. After a career-high 83 points in 79 games in 2017-18, the then 25-year-old led the playoffs in scoring with 32 points in 24 games. Many predicted an improvement in 2018-19 with the potential for triple-digits. On average, he was drafted as a top-10 centre and firmly in the second-round across most platforms. However, his 72 points in 76 games were the 28th most for all centres and 49th overall.
Now, Kuz has and is an impactful offensive player. Taking a chance on him early is not a black mark on your fantasy resume. But, those who really bit big after Reilly Smith scored 22 points in 20 playoff games last spring were left much more distraught. Sure, that VGK top line was dynamite all 2017-18 and equally fun in the playoffs. But Smith was selected as high as the fourth round and was, on average, the 11th right-winger off the board in drafts last fall.
His 53 points in 2018-19 barely cracked the top-100 and were the 22nd most by a right-winger. That’s a swing a few people will want back.
Through (nearly) two rounds of action this post-season, we see a few surprising players near the top of the heap. Jaccob Slavin, Warren Foegele, Roope Hintz being the most interesting. Let’s see how their production this spring has fared and what we can (reasonably) expect from them next season.
Long considered one the most underrated all-around players in the league, Slavin is making a name for himself on the national scene with a team-leading 11 points in as many post-season games this spring. They’ve all come via the assist variety with eight coming at even-strength, one on the penalty kill, and two on the man-advantage. It’s promising that the majority of the production is coming at even-strength even while he’s been seeing nearly 2:15 of power-play action per contest.
However, that level of deployment is new for the 25-year-old. Previous to this post-season, his career high average of 5v4 TOI is the 1:48 he recorded this past regular season. That enabled him to a career-high seven PPPs. His main role, however, is the penalty kill. Slavin is the team’s top penalty-killing defender and saw 50 percent of the team’s 4v5 ice this past season – a career-low. In the post-season, he’s seeing around 60% of the PK time.
Penalty-killing time, especially a big chunk, is like fantasy kryptonite. That won’t be changing for Slavin any time soon. The Canes boast several highly skilled offensive backs and struggle to find enough ice to go around for all of them. Slavin will find it difficult to pry any further positive deployment moving forward. This is a player who has played at around a 30-point pace the last four seasons and should be expected to continue to do so moving forward.
Not to be confused with McLovin, the Canes rookie has been having a splendid post-season with those Jerks in Carolina. His five goals and nine points trail only Slavin and are equal to proven studs like Sebastian Aho, and Ryan O’Reilly. Foegele has been one of the best bang-for-buck offensive players in the playoffs. His 3.3 points-per-60 is ninth for players with at least seven games played and are fourth among players who have yet to clean out their lockers for the summer.
The trouble is, he’s not contributing in a sustainable manner. The 23-year-old has made a habit of finishing plays the last few seasons. He’s done so by converting on a high-percentage of his shots on net. In 2017-18 he scored 28 goals on 160 shots – a 17.5 percent conversion rate, but on just 2.2 shots per game. This season with the Canes, he scored 10 goals on 106 shots – a 9.4 percent clip. Not bad for a rook.
Tie game. Warren Foegele swoops down the wing and snipes it by Lehner. Great pass from Wallmark. pic.twitter.com/Y8bb3WnCMk
— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) April 28, 2019
However, in the spring, he’s converted five goals on just 16 shots – a 31.3 percent rate. Despite seeing a two-minute per game uptick in all situations and an additional 90 seconds of power-play time per contest in the post-season, Foegele has witnessed his shot volume only marginally increase from 1.38 shots-per-game to 1.45. And let's not kid ourselves, no one is living in the 30-percent conversion range.
Age-related improvement is certainly to be expected with a player like Foegele. And while I appreciate his ability to convert on a high percentage of his chances, until he finds a way to put far more shots on net, it’ll be difficult to expect legitimate production.
The other issue that may encourage people to buy-in on Foegele is his rise up the depth chart this spring. Thanks to injuries and his hot play, the former OHL Playoff MVP found himself beside Aho on the top line to conclude the second-round sweep of the Islanders. However, envisioning a scenario where Foegele finds prolonged top-six time on the left side next season is difficult. Nino Niederreiter is about a safe a second-line winger as there is. Then there’s Andrei Svechnikov. The former second-overall selection will be like a racehorse itching to get out of the gate next season and has a vastly superior ceiling compared to the Foegele.
I expect he’ll be saddled with third line minutes at even-strength and deployment on the team’s second power-play unit. That doesn’t scream breakout to me.
It appears that the Stars have finally found their second line centre.
The 2015 draft has been building up momentum to be considered one of the best crops in NHL history. Obviously, the top of the heap features Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Mitch Marner, Mikko Rantanen… I could go on and on. But the second round is chalked full of impactful players as well. Aho is a genuine superstar. Rasmus Andersson has top-pairing right-shot D written all over him. Vince Dunn plays a prominent role on the Blues’ blueline. And Hintz is proving worthy of being mentioned right alongside those guys.
The 22-year-old began the 2018-19 season in the American League – his second campaign in North America. After 21 games and 22 points, he was up with the big club for good. During his 58 regular season contests with the Stars, the 6’3 pivot scored nine goals on 99 shots while seeing 1:46 of power play time per contest. However, that PPTOI doubled from about a minute to over two minutes in the final quarter.
His production was muted but he was also deployed in a myriad of ways. Sure his most common regular season linemates were Tyler Seguin and Alex Radulov, but that only accounted for 22 percent of his even-strength shifts. The other 78 percent were a mishmash of Brett Ritchies, Blake Comeaus, and Devin Shores.
The post-season has been different. Hintz has been effectively locked into that second line centre gig and has had a rotation of Radulov, Jamie Benn, Mats Zuccarello, or Jason Dickinson. He’s also found himself on the top power-play unit – and that’s the type of juice you want to see. The results have been pleasant.
Five goals, eight points and 25 shots on goal in 12 playoff contests. He’s witnessed his average time on ice jump to 15:28 heading into game 7 against the Blues. He also wins more faceoffs than he loses, while adding over a hit and block per contest. Another reason to like Hintz is where and how he converts his chances.
As you see from his shot map, the majority of his chances come from the home plate area around the net. As expected, the majority of his goals also come from that location. This indicates that he is not afraid to fight into the dangerous scoring areas at even-strength while making a home in the net front/bumper spot zone on the man-advantage.
The power forward also boast great speed as displayed here with a minute left in regulation tonight. He came oh so close to ending this one before the extra time was needed.
Heading into his age-23 season, the breakout may not occur right away in 2019-20, but the writing is on the wall. The Stars have long been searching for a competent centre to allow the team to split up the loaded top line in an effort to spread their offence around. That will leave Hintz with some talented wingers to play with
This is my first time writing since the very sudden and heartbreaking loss of Jason Botchford a week ago. Botch meant a great deal to me. We had interacted privately over Twitter for a few years but it wasn't until last June at the Entry Draft in Dallas where our friendship really blossomed. There are too many memories to share from that week (and few that would be acceptable for print) but I'll forever hold them close to my heart.
Jason was always there to bounce ideas off of, to formulate strategy, and to offer advice. He was a mentor for my writing and a role model for how to interact with regular fans. There is a massive hole in the Vancouver market that will never be filled. Botch was one-of-a-kind. And this is not simply the case of lionizing a person after they're gone. He truly was a genuine, relatable, intelligent and helpful person. His writing spoke for itself, but the manner in which he propped up younger writers was what made him a cut above.
I am heartbroken for his wife and three young children. Many people are experiencing pain from this loss, but none more than his family. If you're able, please consider contributing to the GoFundMe page to help.
Follow me on Twitter @Hockey_Robinson
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