Kuznetsov, Rundblad, and Erixon Drawing High Praise in Hockey Circles

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Evgeny Kuznetsov’s breakout performance at the World Junior Championships has broken the ice and made the 18-year-old forward a noteable prospect in hockey’s near future. He took shifts at center in that tournament, and it’s a testament to his talent that he made it look like he had played there all his life. Kuznetsov has racked up 26 points so far this season with his KHL Traktor club, as the developing youngster continues to turn heads and foreshadow a promising professional career ahead.

Check out Evgeny Kuznetsov’s stats here

At only 20 years old, David Rundblad is playing in his 3rd full season with Swedish Elite club Skelleftea HC, where the young defensemen has produced an influential 34 points in 43 games thus far. On top of this season’s success, Rundblad’s noticeably powerful stride and creative puck skills has made the offensive defensemen a widely-regarded propsect, whom we are likely to see raise several eyebrows in the near future.

Click here to see David Rundblad’s stats

The son of retired NHL veteran Jan Erixon, the 19 year old Tim Erixon is jumpstarting his professional hockey career with promising potential. The youngster was regarded as the most impressive defensemen at the World Junior Championship, and continues to excel along with Rundblad this season with Swedish Elite club Skelleftea HC. Keep an eye out for the smart, skilled 2-way defensemen as he carries on the established family name in fashion.

Click here to see Tim Erixon’s stats

Radulov Thriving in KHL

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Alex Radulov has had star written all over him since he was chosen 15th overall in the first round of the 2004 NHL draft. It’s no surprise that the 24 year winger old has continued to exceed promising expectations this season with his KHL Salavat Yulaev club, where in 50 games has compiled a league-leading total of 72 points (19 goals, 53 assists).
Radulov has proved himself to be a prominent offensive threat in the highly competetive KHL, and we hope to see the young Russian forward continue his reign in a potential NHL comeback in the near future.

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Pekka Rinne named NHL’s 3rd Star of the Month for January

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne was named the NHL’s 3rd Star of the Month for January, his first such honor after having been Rookie of the Month in February 2009. Boston’s Patrice Bergeron was named 1st Star, and Keith Yandle of the Phoenix Coyotes was 2nd.

Pekka racked up a .945 save percentage in 11 games over the course of the month, sporting an 8-3 record and helping to left the Preds up through the Western Conference standings.

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Patient approach works for Florida Panthers’ Dadonov

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Like DeBoer, even Dadonov was a little surprised by the honor. Dadonov, 21, got word he would be going to Raleigh a few hours before he played in just his 19th NHL game.

“I don’t know much about this, this is the first time they told me about it,’’ Dadonov said soon after word broke that he was selected. When asked about the format, it was obvious he hadn’t put much thought into it. Why should he?

“I was kind of surprised,’’ DeBoer said. “He’d only played in 14 games this season. But what a great honor for him. Next to the Stanley Cup playoffs, this is one of the biggest things in the NHL, and he gets to be part of that. It’s great for him.’’

Dadonov will not be playing in Sunday’s All-Star Game as no Florida player was selected for that honor. Dadonov is filling the NHL mandate that each franchise be represented in some way, and he’ll take part in Saturday’s SuperSkills competition with the rest of the All-Star participants.

This is only the second time in franchise history and first time since 1998 that the Panthers had no player in the All-Star Game.

With the changed format – the game will not be the traditional Eastern vs. Western Conference – the NHL felt it didn’t really need to stick by the unwritten rule that each team have someone playing. Florida had Booth, Bryan McCabe and Vokoun on the electronic ballot. The three got minimal support, however, and received the fewest votes at their respective positions.

That’s no concern to Dadonov, a skilled winger who will get to show off his moves in Saturday’s skills competition.

Dadonov has been impressive at times since being called up from the minors Dec. 7, and his strong play made veteran forward Steven Reinprecht expendable. When the Panthers started getting some forwards back off the injured list last month, instead of sending Dadonov back to their AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., they waived Reinprecht and told Dadonov he could stick around.

Through 23 games, Dadonov, a native of Chelyabinsk, Russia, has four goals and seven assists.

“I think I have much more confidence now that I’ve gotten some points. I think I can play here,’’ Dadonov said recently.

DeBoer would like to see Dadonov keep going hard and not let things like the Raleigh trip swell his head. If Dadonov was to “pull off the gas” for an extensive period of time, he could find himself back in the minors.

“Good things will happen if he keeps doing what he’s been doing,’’ DeBoer said. “As a coach, I want him to remember his day-to-day obligations and not get too wrapped up in the All-Star thing. He hasn’t played that many games. He has to understand that this invitation doesn’t mean he’s arrived just yet. He’s still a very young player. If it was up to me, would I be sending him? No. But good for him. This can be a good experience for him if he keeps it in perspective.’’

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Hammer Time – Anton Volchenkov Lays Big Hit

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

Anton Volchenkov of the New Jersey Devils lays a big hit on Jan Mursak of the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena on January 26, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan.

Vancouver Prospect Sergei Shirokov Ready For Sunday’s AHL All-Star Classic

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Only his second season playing professional hockey in North America, Vancouver Canucks prospect Sergei Shirokov has become accustomed to playing in the American Hockey League All-Star. Last winter Shirokov participated in the Ducks Unlimited AHL All Star Competition and scored two goals for the Planet USA AHL All-Stars. This year, Shirokov will again look to light the lamps during the 2011 AHL All-Star Classic presented by Capital BlueCross, to be held January 30-31 at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

The elusive forward has appeared in 37 games with the Manitoba Moose this season where he has accumulated 33 points (16g & 17a) along with 24 penalty minutes. He leads his team in both points and goals and this year broke Manitoba’s franchise point streak record.

Dadonov Set To Dangle at NHL All-Star SuperSkills Competition Tomorrow

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Evgeny Dadonov is all set to show off his bag of tricks in this weekend’s 2011 NHL All-Star Weekend that will take place in Raleigh, NC. Dadonov is one of 12 rookies who will participate in the SuperSkills competition that will take place this Saturday, Jan. 29 at the RBC Center.

The Florida Panthers’ youngster has shown tremendous potential since his NHL debut earlier this season, in which his nifty puck skills and dynamic shiftiness have made the rookie a dangerous scoring threat on the wing. His 11 points in the 23 NHL games he’s played in thus far prove that the 21-year old dangler from Chelyabinsk, Russia has quite the promising future ahead of him.

Look out for the speedy puck-handler this weekend in what’s going to be a thrilling showcase of talent.

Hall of Famer Brian Leetch Discusses Sidney Crosby’s Concussion

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Sidney Crosby is officially out of Sunday’s All-Star game due to a concussion, and Brian Leetch hopes Crosby won’t have to deal with this type of injury in the future.

Hall of Famer Brian Leetch Discusses Peter Forsberg’s Return To The NHL

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Peter Forsberg is attempting a return to the NHL nearly three years after last playing with the Avalanche, and Brian Leetch says he’s looking forward to seeing Forsberg on the ice.

Blueshirt Banter Exclusive: Q&A With Brian Leetch

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Courtesy of Jim, last night I was able to partake in a Q&A with Brian Leetch and Don Mattingly at the Gotham Comedy Club in Manhattan. When Jim came to me (and Joe, who was unable to make it due to the weather), I jumped at the opportunity to cover this event for the Banter. Meeting my childhood idol (and Donnie Baseball) was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.

The session was longer than I expected it to be, about an hour and a half, and consisted of a few members of the blog-o-sphere, and some fans who were provided tickets. As far as I know, I was the only Rangers blogger there, and was seated next to Mike Miller of Bronx Goblin. I arrived around 6pm, and enjoyed free hors d’oeuvres and drinks until Brian and Donnie came to the stage at 6:45. While we waited, Russ Salzberg (Channel 9) and Matt Yallof (MLB Network) came to each table and spoke to us.

Brian came to the stage first, and got a nice ovation from the few dozen people in attendance (it was a small event). Donnie joined him a bit later, because he had arrived late due to the weather. After a brief introduction, in which Russ mentioned Brian came in from Boston (met with a ton of boos) and a few questions from Russ, the Ranger and Yankee icons took questions from the audience. If you follow me on Twitter, I tweeted as much as I could, but I missed a few things. After the jump, has all of the questions directed towards Leetch. I bolded the questions I asked.

Q: How did you wind up in Boston after you retired?

Leetch: The Rangers traded me (he and the audience laughed).

Q: What do you miss most about playing the game?

Leetch: The team aspect, and being with the guys through the good and the bad.

Q: What did you do with the Cup after 1994?

Leetch: As a team, we took it to Yankee Stadium, and to the Yankees locker room. We were able to watch the Kangaroo Court while we were there. For the first few weeks, we also took the Cup out wherever we went…(pause)…the Cup is the only trophy you can drink from.

Q: What was your take on the Messier guarantee?

Leetch: I was driving with him to the morning skate. I took out the paper and read the back page, put it down, looked at Mess and said ‘h boy’. Mess looked at me and said ‘Yea, look what I got us in to”.

Q: Who was the fiercest competitor you ever played against?

Leetch: Scott Stevens.

Me: Why no playoff beard ever?

Leetch: It itched the heck out of me. And Mess said that all we needed to do was win, so I was thrilled I didn’t have to grow it. Only a few of us actually had one in 94.

Q: How did you feel about being traded to Toronto? (This was inevitably going to be asked)

Leetch: I was devastated about the trade, I thought I was going to be a Ranger for life. I got the call on my birthday (lots of boos there), flew to Boston to get my stuff, and then flew to Toronto. I wish I knew that I was going to be traded, and that the organization’s mindset about having me there for life had changed. The pain hasn’t gone away.

Q: After the lockout, were you invited back? Are there any harsh feelings towards the organization?

Leetch: The Rangers weren’t interested in bringing me back the season after the lockout. There are no hard feelings there, it’s a part of the game. For the 06-07 season, Tom Renney called me up and said that there would be a place for me on the roster, to help teach the kids. I wasn’t sure if it was the right move at that point in my career.

Q: What was your best moment with Mike Keenan?

Leetch: This is funny because it just happened. It was this year at Wayne Gretzky’s youth fantasy camp. Mike was there and I spoke to him as a friend. It was really weird seeing that side of him, and I was shocked at the personality difference.

Q: What’s your take on steroids? (This was a question towards Donnie, but Leetch answered as well)

Leetch: I’m glad I was never put in a position to be offered steroids. I don’t know what I would have done if any of the guys I looked up to offered me steroids. Luckily, they were never involved either.

Me: You have a reputation of being one of the most respected and clean defensemen in the NHL. If you could spear one person, who would it have been? (This one got a ton of laughs from everyone, including Leetch)

Leetch: I can say this now because I’m friends with him…Claude Lemieux. I owe him a couple.

Q: What was it like when the Rangers traded Mike Gartner?

Leetch: The trade was shocking, but all we could do was welcome in the new guys. Keenan wanted Noonan, and Messier was the main guy helping the locker room stick together.

Q: What away arena was the most fun you had playing at?

Leetch: I loved playing in Chicago, Boston, and Buffalo because at that time, the rinks were smaller. The teams were trained to play dump and chase and get in on you right away. The fans are right on you. It’s a great atmosphere. Chicago fans are nuts (in a good way), they are so passionate.

Q: What were some pranks the team would play?

Leetch: We used to fly commercial in the early days, so the young kids would have to sit in the middle seats. Sometimes I would wake up, and my tie would be cut, and there would be shaving cream on my head. The best though was when someone took Chris Nilan’s loafer and gave it to a young kid to hide. He got mad and walked off the plane with one shoe on. When word got out it was John Vanbiesbrouck, Nilan went to a fish market, and bought a whole fish. He cut it open, and put it in Beezer’s seat in his car. He cut a hole in his seat, and stuffed the fish there. After two days, his car reeked, and no one knew why. Beezer kept getting his car detailed, and the smell wouldn’t go away. After two weeks, Nilan walked out to Beezer’s car, took the fish out, and said ‘Don’t you ever *** with my stuff ever again”.

Q: Which current Rangers player best exemplifies your game? What do you think of the current Rangers defense?

Leetch: I love watching Michael Del Zotto. He had a great year last year. He is going through a rough patch this season, but he will eventually get his game back. He is going to be a star. I think Ken Gernander, who played for the Rangers for a while, has been doing a great job with the young kids in Hartford, getting them ready to play in the NHL.

After that, the Q&A session ended, and we all lined up to take pictures (by table) with Brian and Donnie. Luckily for me, I was at a table with a Yankee blogger, so I stood next to Brian, while Mike stood next to Donnie. I thanked both of them, shook their hands. Leetch seemed to recognize my voice and said it was nice talking with you, nice questions. We each then received an autographed bat, signed by Donnie, and an autographed copy of 100 Ranger Greats, signed by Brian. It was a great night. Again, thanks Jim for the opportunity.

Side note: I was next in line to ask a question, and I was going to ask Donnie who was easier to play for, Mr. Steinbrenner or Mr. Burns. Kudos to anyone who gets the reference.

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