Four years from now, when Andrew Ference's contract is expiring and he's entering the sunset of a successful NHL career, the Edmonton Oilers should have a desirable list of candidates to be their next captain as long as Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins pay attention the way John Tavares did on Long Island for the past two seasons.
Tavares noticed Edmonton coach Dallas Eakins' choice of Ference as captain over Hall, Eberle, Gagner and Nugent-Hopkins. He nods in approval because he understands what a few extra years can mean to a young player with the potential to be a superstar and the pressure to turn into a leader.
Tavares could have been named the Islanders captain two years ago, when he signed his six-year contract extension, but he wasn't ready for the responsibility. The Islanders instead stitched a "C" on Mark Streit's sweater and gave Tavares the "A".
"It just gave me more time," Tavares said. "There was still a lot of growth and maturity needed in my game and as a person."
The Oilers appear to be using a similar model for their leadership depth, choosing Ference, who joined the team only five months ago, over one of their budding stars.
"There were lots of guys that we were considering, but every time as soon as we got into the conversations, whether it was with coaches or players, we always went right back to the same guy and it was Andrew," Eakins said. "He's the right guy for this team, to carry the weight of that letter."
Three games into his captaincy and his fifth NHL season, Tavares is confident in talking about himself as the right guy for the Islanders. He shows how prepared he is for the captaincy every day.
"I've seen his personality really open up," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said.
His voice is louder and his words are heavier. He's still reserved, but he's no longer shy about addressing the team.
"He doesn't talk and say nothing," Capuano said. "When he speaks it's obviously got a lot of value and guys listen."
Tavares was living in Islanders assistant coach Doug Weight's guest house two years ago; now he's welcoming teammates into his home. Colin McDonald moved in with Tavares last season before he knew if he would stay with the Islanders. He still lives there today.
"Although I've always believed captain is just a letter on your shirt, you're not going to change who you are, there are going to be instances that you're going to be demanded to do more things, you're going to have to step up and not necessarily control the room but be part of the room, be part of the voice," Weight told NHL.com. "That wasn't Johnnie's complete comfort zone [two years ago].
"He needed to work on some things. I think the whole League knows he did."
Hall, Eberle, Gagner and Nugent-Hopkins do too. They're in their early-to-mid 20s, just starting out in the NHL.
Since Ference is signed through the 2016-17 season, they have time to turn themselves into complete players while helping the Oilers become a complete team. Tavares would be the first to tell them to use the time wisely. At least one of them will figure out why when the time comes for him to wear the "C".
"It really helped me understand what it takes to be in that captain role," Tavares said. "Talking with Mark [Streit] all the time, the coaching staff, watching him address the team, it really helped the transition because now I feel there is not much change, I just kind of grow into being captain."
Is Morrow the missing piece for St. Louis?
"They were major players and major factors on our team," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told NHL.com. "It hurt us a lot when they weren't there."
Hitchcock felt his team wasn't able to score enough to beat the Kings (10 goals in six games) because the forwards didn't stay in the high-traffic areas long enough to become consistently dangerous. He thinks Langenbrunner and Nichol could have found room in those hard, physical areas and other guys would have tried to do the same.
"When older players are still willing to do that it becomes contagious," Hitchcock said.
Brenden Morrow is still able to do that, which is why, according to Hitchcock, the Blues keyed in on him and gave him a one-year, $1.5 million contract after training camp began. They didn't re-sign Langenbrunner and Nichol during the summer because of salary cap reasons, but Morrow is an upgrade over both.
He has two points in two games while playing left wing on the second line.
"We watched [Morrow] play until he got hurt in the playoffs last season and we thought he was a really effective player in going into the hard areas to score," Hitchcock said. "Everybody was talking about how you need to score more, but our feeling was we need to hang around there more before you can score. He's a guy that hangs around in the hard areas and doesn't have a problem fighting for space."
An extended training camp in Dallas
Dallas Stars coach Lindy Ruff is trying to make the best of a quirk in the schedule that gives his team five full days between its second and third games of the season. The Stars beat the Washington Capitals on Saturday, but won't play again until Friday in Winnipeg, so Ruff is using the practice time as almost an extended training camp.
With so many new faces in Dallas, including Ruff and his assistants, the coach said his players are still asking questions about the various systems. He admitted they played with some nerves in their first two games. It led to some hesitation in their game.
"That really is the focus of this [time off], to try to come out of this being real sharp in different areas," Ruff told NHL.com. "The players still have questions. It's an opportunity to clean all of those up."
Perreault impressing Boudreau, but can he keep it up?
Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau likes what he's seen from center Mathieu Perreault, who has two goals and three points in three games after losing his job in Washington and getting traded for a fourth-round draft pick and a prospect. Boudreau, though, still needs to see if Perreault can keep it up. He has a good reason to wonder.
Boudreau had Perreault on his team when he was coaching in Washington. While he always felt Perreault was a strong player, he never felt comfortable giving him extended minutes or playing him regularly because of consistency issues.
"He would have two or three good games and then he'd go two or three bad games," Boudreau told NHL.com. "I think it came with youth and he was a little bit worried about sitting out every third or fourth game in Washington. He started in the minors and was called up."
Perreault won't have to worry about being in and out of the Ducks' lineup if he keeps doing what he's doing. Boudreau thinks his odds of finding that consistency are much better now than they were a few years ago. He thinks Perreault could be a steal for the Ducks.
"Now he's established himself as an NHL player, a full time NHL player, and he's still bringing the same energy every night to the game," Boudreau said. "Being 25 years old, he's not awestruck anymore. He's here as a professional. That's the biggest thing I've noticed, he's a real pro right now."
Lapierre's lead role
Maxim Lapierre was a part-time penalty-killer early in his career with the Montreal Canadiens and for the past two-plus seasons with the Vancouver Canucks. But Hitchcock is asking him to be the lead forward on the top PK unit. The early results suggest he's prepared for it.
The Blues are 11-for-11 on the PK and Lapierre is averaging four and a half minutes of shorthanded ice time per game.
"We're trying to get him and [Vladimir] Sobotka to be in our top group of penalty killers," Hitchcock told NHL.com. "We worked really hard in exhibition. We had them killing penalties in exhibition and obviously the first two regular season games. They have worked hard in becoming a tandem in killing penalties, which has helped us a lot."
The PK responsibility is in addition to Lapierre's role as the fourth-line center, but Hitchcock has bigger plans for his fourth line because of Lapierre.
"We're trying to nurture him along to where we're comfortable in playing our fourth line against other team's second and third lines," Hitchcock said. "He really helps us because he's an experienced player."
This and that
* With six games in the first two weeks of the season, Hitchcock doesn't see a reason to rest goalie Jaroslav Halak any time soon. He admitted he's concerned that backup goalie Brian Elliott might not be sharp if he has to go in, but Hitchcock said he doesn't care about getting two goalies going this early in the season.
"We need to get one guy going and get up to speed before we can even think about having two guys rolling in and out," he said. "We're going to need both guys, but just to give a guy a token game I don't think is going to make any difference."
If Halak plays well, Elliott won't get his first start until Oct. 18 at Winnipeg. It's the second-half of the Blues' first back-to-back of the season.
* Sunday night is throwback night at Honda Center in Anaheim. The Ducks will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the franchise's first win (4-3 over the Edmonton Oilers at "The Pond") when they host the Ottawa Senators. They are planning to bring back players who played in that game. Fourteen former players are confirmed, including Terry Yake, Stu Grimson, Guy Hebert, Troy Loney and Ron Tugnutt.
* Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates chose to go with Eric Fehr, who had never played center in his NHL career, over Perreault in training camp. That led to Perreault being traded to the Ducks. Boudreau, though, said if Perreault has a chip on his shoulder about how things ended for him in Washington, he's not letting anyone know about it.
"He's still in the excited phase," Boudreau said. "I guess we'll notice it when he plays Washington."
That's not until Dec. 23.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
|Back to top|