Saturday, November 18, 2006


Warren Young, or Lowell Macdonald?

...when a player [Brad Winchester] turns the corner like this (even at 25) you need to know if he's Warren Young or Lowell MacDonald. He may be Lowell MacDonald.

That's Lowetide fleshing out a thought about players who don't follow the standard development curve. Having watched parts of the Montreal and Detroit games, where Winchester looked frankly dominant at times, I've been thinking along those same lines, but with a different pair of examples.

MacDonald was a guy with 188 career NHL games and only one full season (21G as a 26-year-old) when improbably, at age 31, he ran off seasons of 34, 43, 27, & 30 goals. Young scored 40 goals as a 28/29 year old rookie on Mario Lemieux's right side; then got traded and only lasted another season and a half in the NHL. While it's tempting to attribute his entire breakout to Mario, it's also unfair -- you do not score 40 goals in an NHL season without playing good hockey, regardless of era or linemates. But, for whatever reason, he clearly couldn't sustain whatever he was doing right.

Anyway! The point of this post is not to expand on LT's history lesson, but to talk about Gary Roberts and Paul Kruse. Agewise, at least, they're more comparable to where Winchester is now.

Roberts was drafted 12th in the Lemieux year ('84). While his early career numbers actually resemble what you might expect, it never felt that way as a fan. He was a grinder and a fighter. Crisp threw him on the left side of Nieuwendyk and Loob for his size and grit. His 22-16-38 as a 22-year-old didn't seem like the start of better things to come, at all: mostly tap-ins to open nets off of nifty feeds from Loob, as I recall it (obviously, he was the 3rd (or 4th if Macinnis was on the ice) concern of opposing goalies and D).

But, damned if he didn't break out for 39 goals the next season, and he was full value for them. Dad's seats were in Row 7 on the blueline where the LW entered the attacking zone. I vividly recall Roberts zipping up the left side one BoA that season, and just nuking one over Fuhr's shoulder -- and me sitting there with a perfect view of it thinking, "Holy Shit -- this guy knows how to play now!" And he did -- his career has been plagued with injuries, but he has 414 career goals and was a legit All-Star for a decent stretch in the 90's.

Paul Kruse's development was a bit behind Roberts -- he didn't have the same stats or pedigree -- but he was the same type of player. Mostly out there for his grit and his fists, but could slam home a rebound or cross-ice feed when the opportunity presented itself. Then the 1995 playoffs started against the Sharks, and he looked like he had been possessed by the spirit of Gordie Howe, and I'm barely exaggerating. He went 4-2-6 in that series. I was sitting in the lower bowl behind the net in the G7 OT -- which I'm sure Kruse played half of -- and he was the best player on the ice. I said out loud to my buddy, "Cripes, if Gary Roberts recovers from his neck problems, we're going to have two of him." The only thing that wasn't completely devastating about the loss was that I could hardly wait to take Kruse in the last round of the fall hockey draft.

As it turns out of course, the mojo he had going for that seven games was there-and-gone. His NHL season high thereafter was 7 goals, and he played his last big-league game before he turned 30.

So who is Brad Winchester? When he's going great guns like this, do you Sell High because the reality is he's Paul Kruse? Or do you hold onto him, because the reality is he's becoming Gary Roberts? Everything, including how good he looks right now, suggests he could go either way.


Great post Matt. I usually only see Andy posting here, but I've only been passing by here recently.

Winchester though I don't see turning into a Gary Roberts, but one can always hope.

Do we need to add Georges Laraque to this discussion? The big man is on quite a tear:

Nov.14 vs. Minn - Wild up 2-0, Le GG fights Boogaard. Yotes soon tie the game, and soon thereafter, Georges gets a point on the 2-2 goal. Then in the third, he sets up the winner.

Nov.16 vs. Chi - Hawks leading 2-1, Laraque sets up the tying goal. Phoenix wins in OT.

Nov. 18 vs. LA - Kings leading 3-0 in the second. Le GG scores to get Phoenix on the board. 3rd period, Laraque sets up the tying goal. Well, LA has since scored to retaken the lead...but it's not over.

Georges has been a force lately, and his plus 5 rating the last three games has been directly attributable to his play (no goals in which he just happened to be on the ice; nothing peripheral).

I'm pointing this out for a couple reasons:
- great job Georges!
- we shouldn't get too carried away with Winchester's play lately. It's encouraging, but definitely early.

I barely remember Kruse, but I seem to recall Roberts and a couple of the other slower skaters on the Flames getting sent north for power skating lessons from
Audrey Blackwell (did I remember that name correctly?) sometime in the mid-80s. His career took off from there. Plus, he had uncommon courage. I think that's what separates the men from the boys.

Almost invariably to reach the NHL, a player has to dominate at a lower level. Its just the pyramid of players; There are 30 NHL teams and dozens of junior teams, and hundreds of elite bantam and midget teams, etc. Almost every NHLer almost by default has to be the best player on his team in age group hockey. Sometimes American players are slightly different because the darwinian nature of the sports lower levels doesn't apply as rigourously and exceptional athletes develop later on. If you look at GAry Roberts junior career he was a dominant successful star (I believe he was also a star lacrosse player), Paul Kruse was always a role player, someone who chipped in. Of course its impossible to predict a players future, but if I had to wager, I'd say that Brad doesn't break out to anything bigger. I think if it was in him, we would have seen it somewhere earlier in his career, at least a flash of it, even if its only for the players' inner sense of his hockey identity. (am I a scorer? am I a checker?).

Moment of honesty: right now I'm less optimistic about Wisbister being Gary Roberts than I am frightened of Pisani being Paul Kruse...

Good point Cosh. That is a concern. I think Fernando can turn it around though.

With this "thread" about guys breaking out, I gotta point out Georges again. Another two points tonight (1 PPG in 22 sec. of PP time; 1 EV assist). Here's hoping the PPG came with CFP draped all over him. :-) In any case, that's a four game point streak for Le GG (7 points in those 4). Wow. The tear continues!

- Rod

Doesn't everybody think the expectations for Pisani are a little unreasonable? You have to remember, Pisani's contract was based on his performance over the course of his Oil career, not his one playoff year.

Pisani's value is in being a speedy defensive player who makes smart decisions in both ends of the ice.

Besides, he's looked better offensively with Horcoff and Smyth the last couple games. I'm not worried.

Great post Matt.

I think it's ludicrous to suggest that Pisani's contract wasn't boosted substantially by the tear he went on in last year's playoffs.

I've been thinking in hindsight that #34 scored an awful lot of his goals on tip-ins and chances from within 10 feet. These types of goals seem more likely to be a factor of luck (or perhaps hustle, is anyone really going to bring out the clutch argument) than his goal in R1G6P3 or R4G5OT.

Basically, I wonder if Pisani is Smyth without the odds-defiance - where Ryan seems to be able to get "lucky" over and over again, Fernando has been unable to do so. Can anyone verify/deny?

Pisani's 28.6% shooting percentage from last year's playoffs nearly doubles his career average prior to last Spring.

I just think its ironic that Pisani's contract is going to make it difficult for the Oil to sign Smyth. Now, do I think Smyth is going to give the Oilers a hometown discount? Yah, I think he will, but if things, for whatever reason, go pear-shaped and things get said, or not said, negotiations could get difficult.

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