P.A. Parenteau of the New York Islanders definitely took a long and circuitous path to the National Hockey League.
Drafted in the ninth round (264th overall) by the Anaheim Ducks in 2001, Parenteau told us on Hockey Night in Canada Radio that he never ever attended the draft and was surprised to get a call from an Anaheim executive welcoming him to the team. He then had two strong years with Chicoutimi and Sherbrooke in the Quebec Junior Hockey League where his improved play and vastly improved offensive statistics earned him a first NHL contract not normally given to a ninth-round "project."
Even then it wasn't smooth sailing for Parenteau. He had a long journey through the American Hockey League and a brief stop with the New York Rangers (22 games) and an even shorter one with Chicago (five games) before he signed on as a free agent with the New York Islanders in the summer of 2010. He finally "arrived" in the NHL enjoying his first full NHL season at the age of 27 and regained his scoring touch from junior hockey with 20 goals. Last Monday, now in his second year with the Islanders and a year older at 28, Parenteau recorded his first multi-goal game in the NHL with two goals in a 3-0 win over the Washington Capitals.
Parenteau told us on HNIC Radio that his self-confidence never wavered, something that a young player often loses as his NHL dream eludes him. Parenteau also appreciates the confidence that former Islander coach Scott Gordon (now a Leaf assistant coach) and current coach Jack Capuano have shown in him.
Hosting the Milton Sports Celebrity Dinner last Tuesday was another reminder about how there are many different routes to the NHL. Coaching my eight-year-old son in hockey I see many kids and parents who invest in all year training to hopefully enhance their chances of making it to the NHL.
Curtis Joseph was one of the celebrities at the Milton Dinner. He recounted the story about how he didn't start to play organized hockey until he was 11 years old. He was adopted and lived in Keswick, Ontario. A relative his age was registered for house league hockey in the Keswick area as a goaltender. When his family suddenly had to move, Joseph's parents thought they should have Joseph play since the registration was already paid for. So that year as a "rookie" 11-year-old, Joseph enjoyed his first season as goaltender for the "Green Team" in the house league in the Keswick area.
Too much exposure, too soon?
I have always believed that it isn't necessarily a good thing to be on the radar and in the public spotlight as a burgeoning hockey phenom at a young age. For every 14-year-old Sidney Crosby, there is a comparable Dan Cleary story. Crosby lived up to the billing and hype while Clear couldn't, but did an excellent job reinventing himself as a more complete journeyman type player to earn a a job and stay with the Detroit Red Wings.
A few years ago that spotlight was on young Sean Couturier as he began his junior hockey career in Quebec with Drummondville. Ask any hockey "expert" at that time who they would project as the first overall pick in the 2011 draft and Couturier was the overwhelming consensus pick.
Often what I see happen is that the player in the spotlight, Couturier in this case, gets so scrutinized that fans and scouts hone in on the negatives and weaknesses while other players emerge from under the radar and become a pleasant surprise. Couturier sat and watched at the 2011 draft as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins went first overall to Edmonton and six other names were called before his. What would have been viewed as a disappointment a few years earlier, turned into a blessing for both Couturier and the team drafting him.
The Philadelphia Flyers had just traded Jeff Carter to the Columbus Bluejackets for Jakub Voracek and the eighth overall pick. They couldn't believe their good fortune that Couturier was available and he got to begin his career with one of the best NHL teams, similar to what Tyler Seguin did a year earlier with Boston. The Flyers have been able to thrive even without Carter and Mike Richards in their lineup and Couturier's accelerated rise as a top six NHL forward has helped the cause.
Hall not first to fall
The Taylor Hall injury in Edmonton's pre-game skate on Tuesday has moved to the forefront the simmering controversy of whether it should be mandatory for players to wear their helmets (and visors if applicable) during the pre-game skate. Hall was cut for 30 stitches and was fortunate it wasn't more catastrophic.
Edmonton head coach Tom Renney later reiterated an edict that all Edmonton players will be expected to wear their helmet during the pre-game skate and that in Hall's case, he kidded that "he should wear his helmet even when he is just walking down the street."
On Dec. 10, 2003, Father Les Costello died of his injuries from a fall a few days earlier. Costello was one of the founding members of the Flying Fathers, a group of priests who barnstormed the country with their style of good calibre hockey and fun to raise money for charities. Costello wasn't wearing his helmet during a pre-game skate and, like Hall, tripped on a puck and his head hit the ice. He always wore his helmet during games.
Not only is Henrik Lundquvist the mid-season pick by most media and fans as the Vezina Trophy winner, his backup, Martin Biron, would likely win the award as top backup if such an award existed. Biron barely misses a beat when he fills in for Lundqvist. Biron did have runs as a starting goaltending early in his career with the Buffalo Sabres and Philadelphia Flyers, but now seems content in his second season backing Lundqvist up with the New York Rangers.
Quite often it is hard to gauge how a backup goaltender will do if they earn the No. 1 position. I have seen so many goaltenders thrive as a backup, then stumble as a starter. I think the two best suited backup goaltenders to excel as starting goaltenders are the two from last year's Stanley Cup Final.
While Tuukka Rask (24 years old) seems committed to stay the course in Boston and take over from 37-year-old Tim Thomas in the next year or two, I don't believe that Vancouver can stay the course with that kind of plan. Roberto Luongo is five years younger than Thomas and has that long term contract. Add the expected and well deserved future salary increases for Cory Schneider (25 years old) and that will dramatically increase their salary cap hit.
I see the Canucks trying to make a deal with Schneider this offseason along the lines of what the Washington Capitals did when they were able to secure high draft picks from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Semyon Varlamov.
One good Habs move
The Montreal Canadiens have had no shortage of controversy this season. One of their "quieter" moves has been really good. That is expanding the role of a very well respected and competent NHL executive in adding assistant coaching duties to Larry Carriere while he retains his front office job. Carriere had been a long time executive in the Buffalo organization and did a capable and underrated job as their interim general manager for a brief period in the early 1990's.
A man with great hockey perspective and people skills, I have to admit that Carriere's skating looked a bit on the shaky side as I watched the former NHL defenceman help coach a Montreal morning skate last week. Everything else about him joining the coaching staff behind the bench is anything but shaky!
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