Ever hear of a guy named Marian Voda? Yeah, me neither. But you’re going to start hearing his name soon, we predict.
In all my years of covering hockey, the one area in which I have never seen a player improve significantly over a single off-season is skating. Guys have made baby steps over a summer, and after a couple of years we’ve seen their stride get noticeably better. But the quick, tangible improvement in Leon Draisaitl’s first three steps — between the end of last season and the beginning of this one — is something this reporter has never seen.
“It’s the work I put in during the summer,” said Draisaitl, who had a four-assist night in 18:00 of ice time against the New York Rangers Friday. “I had a new trainer, and he’s unbelievable with me.”
That trainer’s name is Marian Voda, a Slovak who worked for Draisaitl’s father Peter when Draisaitl Sr. was coach of Hradec Kralove in the Czech Elite League (he was fired recently). Voda has trained many Czech and Slovak players, including Martin Havlat, Draisaitl says. But watching Draisaitl pull away from above-average NHL skaters this season — where he was unable to a year ago — will have Voda’s phone ringing this spring, we’re guessing.
“Best trainer I’ve ever worked with,” said Draisaitl, who in only 20 games has flown past all other 2014 drafts with 9-17-26. “I still think I can get faster. I know I can put on another gear, another step. But the most important thing for me was that first couple of steps. I needed those.
“I can feel it. I have more times to make plays, use my creativity. I am giving myself more room.”
When it comes to gruesome injuries, hockey players are as tough mentally as they are physically. The guys who take the hit tend to recover faster than many other sports’ athletes — see Max Domi on Friday night — and the players who witness the gruesome event are accustomed to hitting the erase button and moving on.
“I haven’t seen that much blood, that quickly, on the ice ever,” defenceman Matt Bartkowski told Iain MacIntyre of the Vancouver Sun.
Watch the video and see if you don’t cringe at the thought of how much this would have hurt:
Hamhuis had initial surgery Friday morning to repair “multiple” fractures, Canuck general manager Jim Benning said, but it won’t be his last. Hamhuis, who turns 33 on Sunday, was also concussed. His head coach Willie Desjardins figured the defenceman Hamhuis would miss two months “minimum.” That sounds pretty open-ended.
“It’s a great game, we love the game, and we love how hard it plays. But you forget how vicious the game is sometimes,” Desjardins said. “Dan said two games before that, [a shot] went right by his visor. He said he didn’t see it — he heard it go by. That happens on a regular basis, and it’s probably surprising that more guys don’t get hit.”
Meanwhile, those two home wins for the Canucks this past week over the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers came in the nick of time. Vancouver had lost five in a row before grabbing those four points, and now they head out for six straight away from Rogers Arena. When the Canucks get back, it’s four straight against Pacific opponents.
BACKS TO UTICAS
By the way, what happened to Vancouver winger Ronalds Kenins? The Latvian arrived on the scene last season as a hard-charging, pain-in-the-rump-to-play-against winger. He also chipped in 12 points in 30 games, and looked like a guy who could put some sandpaper into Vancouver’s sometimes less-than-abrasive lineup.
This season? He’s played just two NHL games and was farmed out again on Thursday. Kenins is beginning to look like a minor league player who had a good few weeks in 2014-15, but can’t sustain a game at the NHL level. Too bad. We liked the kid.
BOOK IT, DANO
The Chicago Blackhawks sent Marko Dano down again on Friday. It seems the Austrian winger who looked so good playing relatively meaningless hockey down the stretch for the Columbus Blue Jackets last season has not been able to reincarnate that game with a Blackhawks team in the throes of the toughest Division in the game.
Chicago needs some consistency out of Dano, and he’d better hurry. Because the book on Joel Quenneville is, once you fall out of favour or become a player he feels he can’t trust, you’re dead to the Blackhawks coach.
Here’s one from @SNstats that shows you how coaches are beginning to make a dent in the freewheeling three-on-three that is NHL overtime. As of Dec. 8, here are the percentage of games that ended in overtime this season, by month:
October: 69.7 per cent
November: 67.3 per cent
December: 52.6 per cent
Some don’t like the new format, but I love it. Lets face it: they’re all gimmicks — three-on-three, four-on-four, the shootout… I’ll take the gimmick that ends the game the fastest.
Stan Bowman and Peter Chiarelli, the co-GMs of Team North America at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, must be breathing a little easier as both John Gibson and Connor Hellebuyck begin to shine with the Anaheim Ducks and Winnipeg Jets, respectively.
When the concept of the U-24 team was announced, it looked like team management would be choosing its goalies from among a crop of AHLers. Today, we’re about 30 games into the season and these two guys have eight wins between them, with saves percentages of .939 or better.
Hellebuyck in particular looks like he could take the net for as long a he can keep it in Winnipeg — maybe even right through the rest of the season. He’s 4-0 on a team that has been searching for the answer in goal for a long time. Just having one goalie with a half-season as an NHL No. 1 — let alone two if Gibson also keeps his job in Anaheim — would be huge for the Todd McLellan-coached team next fall.
As if the Pacific Division needs another minus, now Logan Couture is back on the shelf “indefinitely” after missing 23 games with broken fibula suffered in a practice back in October. In just his second game back on Wednesday, Couture suffered an arterial tear in his thigh, requiring surgery.
The San Jose Sharks figured to have a hard time scoring enough with Couture in the lineup. Even in the Pacific, the NHL’s weakest Division, they’ll have a hard time keeping up if this keeps perhaps their best player out for another extended period.