|Sarina Sting center Steven Stamkos, the projected top pick in the upcoming 2008 NHL Entry Draft, is one of only two 100-point scorers
from last season at this year's Draft Combine.
"I didn't know that fact," said Stamkos, who led Sarnia of the Ontario Hockey League with 105 points in 61 games in 2007-08.
"You're kidding me," chuckled Long, who totaled 100 points in 72 games with Kelowna of the Western Hockey League.
Perhaps players are beginning to realize that high draft rankings don't necessarily require astronomical offensive numbers. After all, defense wins championships and, as of Thursday, Detroit and Pittsburgh were still neck-and-neck for lowest goals-against average in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The fact only two of 107 skaters invited to the Combine had 100-point resumes was one of the hot topics around the corridors here at the Westin Bristol Place Toronto Airport Hotel.
"The way the game is today, you must be able to play at both ends or you're not going to find your way onto a roster," said Chris Edwards, who scouts the Ontario Hockey League for NHL Central Scouting. "You're hearing all the time now how coaches in the NHL want players to be responsible in their own end. It just filters down from the junior and midget levels to the NHL."
Edwards also points to one other area that likely has limited offensive production – better goaltending.
"The goalies are so much better now so you're not going to see guys getting 160 or 180 points," he said.
Stamkos also has seen a tremendous improvement between the pipes in recent years.
"I don't know if the league's getting more defensive or it's just the goalies getting a lot better," Stamkos said of the OHL. "The players are also getting a lot bigger and stronger, but for me, I try and see myself as a complete player anyway. I take pride at both ends and I think the scouts know that just from being at my games. It's not really anything I worry about, but I'm sure you could always improve on little things like that."
Stamkos, who patterns his game after Washington's Alex Ovechkin because of the way the Russian utilizes his speed and body to create plays, said the decline in scoring may be in direct correlation with the fact that today's future stars still are maturing.
"It's only the second or third year for many players within their current leagues and there weren't a lot of prospects coming up who put up a lot of points, especially at their young age," Stamkos said. "Some are actually in their first year of major junior and others are in their second or third with a late birthday, so it takes time to get comfortable at your level. If they repeated another year at the major junior level, they would probably put up those huge numbers."
Stamkos makes a good point. It was only one season ago that Long, who turns 19 on June 19, totaled just 11 goals and 28 points in 69 games and didn't make Central Scouting's final draft rankings. This season, after finishing second in the WHL with 69 assists and 100 points, it's highly unlikely Long will slip through the cracks when the 2008 NHL Entry Draft is staged June 20-21 in Ottawa. He's rated 62nd among North American skaters this spring.
"I do think the NHL is becoming more defensive, especially after watching the Memorial Cup and, now, the Stanley Cup Playoffs," Long said. "It really looks like the teams that are successful right now are defense-first and buy into the system. It's not like it used to be, where you'd have one or two defensive lines and two lines that just run and gun. Now it's a five-man unit. It might be a little tougher to put up numbers, I guess, but no matter how good you are or how fine a skill-set you have, it's always defense first."
|Kelowna Rockets center Colin Long says
the NHL is becoming more of a defensive
-oriented League with new systems that
coaches have implemented with success.
"I think the League is more offensive because of all the rule changes, but I also think this draft is more of a defensive draft," Doughty said. "Especially in that first round. There are a lot of good defenseman rated very high so it's definitely going to be a good draft, but weighted heavily on defense."
Following Stamkos, the next five highest rated players on Central Scouting's North American list are defensemen – including Zach Bogosian of Peterborough, Doughty, Tyler Myers and Luke Schenn of Kelowna and Alex Pietrangelo of Niagara.
Kirill Petrov, Central Scouting's second-rated European skater, certainly is no stranger to offensive fireworks. The 6-foot-3, 198-pound right wing was named top forward at the 2008 Under-18 World Championships after scoring five goals and seven points in six games for Russia.
"Each player has his own way of skating and the coach decides the role for that player," Petrov told NHL.com through an interpreter. "If the coach thinks a player is capable of scoring a lot, then he'll give him that chance and not hold anything back. But lots of players don't have that capability, so he's given a different role."
B.J. MacDonald, who scouts the WHL and British Columbia Hockey League for Central Scouting, doesn't feel the shortage of goal scorers is a sign of the times.
"There aren't many 100-point guys period, hence a shortage at the Combine," MacDonald said. "Gifted offensive players are at a premium and a lot of teams emphasize defense first, and as a result, creativity takes a back seat, which is very unfortunate. It's hard to be offensively creative and dangerous on a 25-second shift. Just ask (Wayne) Gretzky how many 25-second shifts he had – I can tell you, not many. But looking around the NHL this past season, it appears like the offensive flair has returned, so that's great news."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.