West Coast Bias: Rising, falling stocks of under-24 players

Peter Chiarelli, Brian Burke and Doug Armstrong sit down with Darren Millard to discuss what it is like the put together a World Cup of Hockey team and how international rivalries will be renewed when the competition starts in Toronto.

For the men picking the roster of Team North America — the U-24 team at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey — it’s as much about watching who is playing well these days, as it is scouting players who are playing their way off the roster.

Calgary Flames defenceman Dougie Hamilton seemed a lock for the team, as was Winnipeg’s Jacob Trouba. But Hamilton has struggled mightily in Calgary, and Trouba’s game has also taken a step back in Winnipeg in his third pro season. Same with Cody Ceci, who has been only so-so this season in Ottawa.

The co-general managers are Chicago’s Stan Bowman and Edmonton’s Peter Chiarelli. They were likely counting on Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau as well, but he’s been very quiet so far with just one goal in his first 21 games. I would add that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ stock as a top centre on that team has slid. He has 16 points in his first 21 games though, and production like that should guarantee a spot on this club.

Connor McDavid is a lock for the team, and Jack Eichel isn’t far behind.

All of those struggling players will have a chance to play their way back into the plan, of course. Players like Trouba and Hamilton are valuable, because they’ve all played NHL playoff games. On a blue line that we think would include Seth Jones, Aaron Ekblad, Ryan Murray, Morgan Rielly and Trouba, that group of five has just 15 NHL playoff games between them.

“I envision games like the Olympics,” said Chiarelli this week. “High tempo, close games where you make a little mistake and you’re toast. One defenceman who has trended on to this list is St. Louis’s Colton Parayko, as well as Matt Dumba in Minnesota.”

At forward, “(Max) Domi and (Anthony) Duclair have jumped into the mix,” he said. “I didn’t know that Domi would have the impact that he’s had. He makes a lot of plays, he’s quick, has some grit. And he’s able to sustain it.

“I always knew, watching (Detroit’s Dylan) Larkin in the summer, that Larkin would be there. And he is there.”

If you’re wondering who is going to play goal for the U-24 team, you’d better go to theAHL.com and check the goalie stats. The two front-runners are John Gibson, who was expected to make his third start this season for Anaheim on Friday, and Connor Hellebuyck, who made his NHL debut for Winnipeg earlier in the day.

You can likely scratch Malcolm Subban off the list. He’s had hip issues and sports an .854 save percentage in Providence, Boston’s top farm club. One other name in net: Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray, who has a .931 percentage in Wilkes-Barre.

Chiarelli petitioned organizers to let him and Bowman grab a 25-year-old goalie, so they could have more NHL experience between the pipes. The answer was a resounding, “No.”

Speaking of goalies, Calgary finally got Joni Ortio through waivers, and he’s found a wide open net in AHL Stockton. Jon Gillies, considered the goalie of the future in Calgary, has been out with a lower body injury (suspected to be a hip problem) for a while now, and not long after they signed Kevin Poulin, he dislocated his knee cap in a shootout.

“Jon has been out for three and half weeks,” said Flames GM Brad Treliving, who wouldn’t identify the injury. “We’re hopeful this thing can resolve itself, but we’re sort of getting to that time.”

That time would be a need for surgery, and if it is a hip, that could mean an end to Gillies’ first pro season after just seven games. It’s not even December yet, and when Ortio makes his first start in Stockton, he’ll be the sixth netminder to play for the Baby Flames this season.

Ortio looked like he might be the next Miikka Kiprusoff last season. This year, like the Flames overall, he hasn’t recaptured that level of play.

“He played some terrific hockey, he won four games when we were going through a rough stretch last season,” Treliving said. “But, it’s a small sample size. In goalie years, he’s still a young guy (24 years old).”

The Flames called Ladislav Smid up from his conditioning stint in Stockton Friday. They traded goalie Laurent Brossoit to Edmonton for Smid, and now Smid for Brossoit, and today Brossoit is tearing it up in the AHL with a 2.07 GAA and a .937 save percentage.

Did you notice Devan Dubnyk’s save percentage has quietly settled down at .910 heading into the Jets game Friday? That’s well below the .936 he posted last season when Dubnyk re-established himself with the Minnesota Wild.

As a media guy, there isn’t a player in the league who is better to deal with than Kevin Bieksa. He’s available, plain spoken, intelligent, and can be very funny. He’s good people and good copy.

But in hockey, the good guys and the bad guys age at the same pace, and no matter how much you like a player or coach, the day will come when you end up having to question his level of play or coaching eventually. Bieksa is at that point in Anaheim this year. His play began to drop off last year in Vancouver, amid speculation he had an abdominal issue, and it has not returned to a level the Ducks are happy with yet this season.

“He’s a veteran guy that has to fight his way out of this,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We count on him to not make mistakes. We will go as far as guys like him take us.”

Boudreau is, ironically, in the same position. I can’t think of an NHL coach I’d like to spend time around more than the guy they call Gabby. But he’s got a consensus Stanley Cup contender in Anaheim, and at the quarter mark they are playing .435 hockey.

We’re not saying it’s all Boudreau’s fault in Anaheim, but we are saying that it may turn out to be his problem. I doubt GM Bob Murray is going to let his team miss the playoffs without making a coaching move.

I saw a Corey Hirsch tweet about hockey in Arizona where he feels — as do many — that the NHL will never find financial success as long as the Coyotes play out in Glendale. They would have a much better chance if they played in Scottsdale, he agreed, and that is no doubt true.

But here’s the hard part: Who would spend $300 million-plus on a franchise bleeding money, then spend another $500 million or more to build the new building in Scottsdale?

The way arena and stadium investments have gone in Glendale, I find it hard to believe that taxpayers would endorse public funding of a hockey arena. And the current ownership bought the club on the premise of playing out of Glendale. I am told that kind of investment is not in their plans.

So the theory becomes, as soon as the NHL can find someone to spend roughly $1 billion on hockey in Arizona, it will succeed. Hmmm…

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