No, it wasn't another Roberto Luongo miracle. And the Sedins didn't cycle the Nucks to glory. In fact, the only thing the Sedins are cycling right now are golf balls. Instead, it's the Vancouver Giants who will be playing for the Cup - the Memorial Cup, that is - thanks to a dominant 8-1 win last night. How does the final match break down? Will it be Medicine "Can't escape the legend of Kelly Hrudey" Hat or the Giants? Also this week, prospect signings are fast furious. Get it all here!
8-1. That's how the Vancouver Giants got to play for the CHL championship. While the squad had a reserved spot in the final four as the host city, the Giants played like had no such advantage throughout the playoffs. Last night against the Plymouth Whalers was no exception. Still, despite two first-period strikes by Wacey Rabbit (Bos '05) and Michal Repik ('07) on nine shots, a blowout didn't look like it was in the making. Team Canada hero Cody Franson (Nas '05) got the Giants on the board yet again early in the second, causing Plymouth to exchange keeper Michal Neuvirth (Was '06) for backup Jeremy Smith ('07). Ironically, that was just the beginning of their trouble. Smith coughed up five more goals- which included another from Repik and two in 38 seconds by J.D. Watt (Cgy '05).
Watt, Repik and enforcer Milan Lucic (Bos '06) all picked up three points in the rout, with Repik deservedly earning first star.
Who's the favorite for Sunday's big game? Well, Vancouver's roster looks better on paper, featuring Repik, Watt, Rabbit, Franson, Brendan Mikkelson (Ana '05), Kendall McArdle (Col '05), Jon Blum ('07), Tyson Sexsmith ('07) and A.J. Thelen (Min '04). However, the Tigers play team-perfect defense, and actually shut the Giants out earlier in the Finals 1-0.
Despite that, I have to go with Vancouver. Had they struggled against Plymouth, I might have chosen differently. But the Giants, like the Sens, are on a roll and look unstoppable.
Speaking of unstoppable, that's the only way to describe the signing of prospects this week. Every day has seen a name or two or three finalize a deal with an NHL team:
-Patrik Hersley D (Los Angeles)
A 2005 fifth round selection, Hersley enters an organization starved for regulars. And at 6'3, 209 lbs, he'll get every opportunity to show he belongs. But Hersley is more than size. A rapidly improving offensive player, he forced the hand Malmö IF Redhawks after opening the season with four points in two U20 games. He was then a PPG player in Division 1, prompting the team to make him a SEL regular. He hit a wall there, but at only 20 years old, there's a good chance he lights it up again soon. Hersley has the potential to net 15 goals and 45 points in the NHL.
-Alexander Sulzer D (2 years, Nashville)
Not all that important from a fantasy prospective, the 23 year-old German product is just another warm body that can fill in on the bottom pairing. Sulzer was named the Best Defenseman at the 2004 Division WJCs after scoring nine points in five games, but never tallied more than 18 in the DEL. At most, the 6'1, 191 lbs rearguard will hit 20-25 points in the NHL.
-Kirill Starkov C (3 years, Columbus)
Now take note of this one. A dazzling stickhandler, Starkov looks to be a big piece in the Columbus organization, and a strong first year in North America with the WHL's Red Deer Rebels convinced the team to bump him up. At 6'0, 200 lbs, Starkov has the size to take a beating and still work his magic at the pro level. Look for him to put up big numbers in the AHL in 2007-08.
-Vladimir Sobotka C (3 years, Boston)
A player I hyped relentlessly in 2005 after he made it to the Czech elite league at age 17, Sobotka is another puck wizard that has plenty of fantasy value. Playing full-time with Slavia Praha the past two seasons, the 5'10 pivot has been stuck behind some deep rosters. Right now was the time for the 20 year-old to come over and take the next step. He'll start out in the AHL, produce a small bit, and begin to turn heads by 2008-09.
-Janne Niskala D (Nashville)
Now this could be a hell of a pickup. A dominant offensive defenseman in the SEL at age 25, Niskala registered an outstanding 49 points and +25 this past season with Färjestads BK. Eerily similar to the situation surrounding Kimmo Timonen's entry to the NHL- he was 23 when the Preds brought him over- this latest find will nevertheless have to fight for ice-time with Weber, Klein, Suter, Franson and many more.
-Teemu Laakso D (3 years, Nashville)
Anddddd here's another one. While more expected- Laakso is an '05 draft pick that the team has wanted over for quite some time- the 20 year-old will also find a logjam ahead of him in Nashville. The team may even be in Waterloo-Kitchener by the time there's a spot open for him! Nevertheless, the prototypical Finnish powerplay QB has the potential to provide a booming shot and a lot of points from the second pairing.
-Nikolai Kulemin LW (Toronto)
The Leafs will have to wait for their next big star to come on over, but it'll be worth it. The 21 year-old has improve by leaps and bounds since being drafted last year, becoming an RSL highlight reel machine and household name. No longer an awkward, gangly skater, Kulemin is instead a posied, deadly scorer that will have plenty of success in the NHL.
-Maxim Kondratiev D (Anaheim)
You thought he was a thing of the past. But with the trade of Shane O'Brien to Tampa for a first rounder at the deadline, the Ducks wanted to add another vicious rearguard with offensive potential. Last seen as a part of the trade that sent Mathieu Schneider to Detroit and Sean Avery to LA, the 24 year-old was a beast in the RSL this season, scoring 20 points and a whopping 144 PIM. He'll likely get closer to 200 or 220 along with a similar offensive output in the NHL.
-Jari Viuhkola C (New Jersey)
Hot off the presses, the Devils added yet another obscure name today that won't be obscure when the season actually starts. Primarily a defensive specialist, the 27 year-old nevertheless posted 38 assists in just 37 SM-Liiga games. A fixture on the Finnish national team for his clutch scoring ability, New Jersey vastly upgrades on Erik Rasmussen and Jim Dowd, who are free agents in July. Look for 35 points out of Viuhkola this season.