In his post-season comments, Kyle Dubas mentioned that he did the exit interviews with Marlies players about NHL contracts and made sure they all understood there were jobs. to defend at the next training camp. On the face of it, it’s kind of a normal remark we get every year from the general manager who wants his prospects to work hard over the summer and come to camp ready to compete. This season, there might be some reality in the part of available roster spots.
Say “go back” three times in the mirror and Brandon Pridham appears, shaking his head sadly. The will be be regular players on the Maple Leafs roster who are traded or unsigned. There will be a very small number of open positions on the roster for anyone whose achieved cap is less than $1 million. There will be more slots available to recall players with tasty low cap achievements below the emergency exception amount who are also exempt from the waiver.
It’s entirely possible to run through the list of prospects and get some opinions as early as late May on who can and can’t win the big Maple Leafs training camp tournament for that fourth-line position and maybe- to be the seventh defender. But here at PPP, we carefully plan our disputes over the outlook, and no tantalizing comment from a chief executive who would likely prefer that no one write about the salary cap again will derail us from that schedule.
Three other people, who don’t seem to understand the importance of our offseason structure, have written their opinions on the outlook, and finally I can learn how it’s done.
The first article is a feature on Sportsnet by Jason Bukala, a scout. Article two is Kevin McGran at the Star. Item three is Chris Johnston at Star affiliate (I refuse to use the word vertical) Northstar Bets.
The first step in writing about prospects is absolutely to start with a photo of Nick Robertson. It’s wise because, outside of the weird world of this blog (and a few other hotbeds of weirdness like MLHS or TLN), no one knows who the hell the other prospects are. They know next to nothing about Robertson other than he hit the NHL briefly this year and didn’t leave a mark.
That’s a problem writing about the Leafs. Their lack of first-round picks in general and the inferior quality of those they’ve had lately has made it difficult for casual (normal) fans to educate the prospect pool. But none of these articles start with Robertson, so that’s the first lesson: you can’t take gullibility too far, just because people have heard of him, you can’t claim he’s impressed with these last time.
The three articles set the scene with Dubas’ comments, then profile a list of players. Bukala takes a broader look at the prospects, and his article doesn’t directly answer the question implicit in Dubas’ comments: who will be in the squad this coming season?
It also relies heavily on screenshots or images of text which makes the article hard to read, and in my opinion going a little overboard by using sites like HockeyDB and CapFriendly to inform an article. Reduces typing, however.
Bukala starts with a guy who, as of now, won’t be in contention for the Leafs next year. He names Matt Knies the Leafs’ number one prospect, and now I’m going to give some T25 opinions and say I agree with that. No questions in my mind.
Bukala is also a firm believer in Ryan Tverberg’s shooting percentage and is pretty pessimistic about almost everyone, which is always the starting point with prospects – pessimism, not falling into shooting percentage. If you think they’re all dreamy, you have a lot of corrections to make.
It becomes clear when Pontus Holmberg is down his list with this attached paragraph, that Bukala uses point and time based analysis extensively on the Marlies for some of the older players rather than the more scouting based approach. which he adopts with more recent selections:
Pontus Holmberg (FWD)
He bounced this year between Vaxjo in the SHL (Sweden), the Swedish Olympic team and the Marlies. His element is offense, but he’s more of a playmaker than a shooter. Pontus has a somewhat unusual stride. His first three steps out of the gate are solid, but he doesn’t have a long push into the open ice, so he’s faster than fast. It will be interesting to see how his game translates to North America at the highest level. He has scored four points in his six games for the Marlies this season.
Provide: 4th line striker
And yet, for all of that, I agree with his predictions, and here comes the second step in writing about the outlook: you have to have a firm opinion. You can’t be tasteless, you have to decide. Be bold! Take a stand! And to hell with the reality that you usually talk about guys in the junior leagues to years in the NHL, and all you know is their points and how they look on a few highlight videos. Don’t mess around, though. If you’re not sure, make sure you look sure.
That’s why I rarely read prospect reports on a site like Sportsnet where the goal is to reduce a complex and very interesting (to me) topic to a cheap guessing game. All of the context that I love in discussions with prospects is missing here. Understanding the teams and leagues they play in, delving into player development and age, and what skills will take a player who is one of the top six power-play players in a league to the fourth line of the NHL.
Anyway, this is the first time I’ve heard someone say that Pontus Holmberg’s element is offense. He would also be very close, if not at the top of my list of guys who could really make the NHL this year.
Overall, Bukala’s item is different from the usual SN fare. It has more information and covers many players that most fans have probably never heard of. Most people will read his blurb on Tverberg without a doubt. But I wonder how the article reads to people for whom these names are all new. It’s worth your time no matter where you are on the weird scale, mainly because while it’s playing the guessing game, it’s pretty darn good at it.
McGran’s article takes you down the Marlies list and ignores everyone else, so it’s a more blunt and straightforward version of Dubas’ story suggestion. It’s in the Star, a newspaper with a wider readership than Sportsnet, and its focus is broad and superficial. Those of us on the very odd end of the spectrum of potential observers won’t get anything out of it because it’s not for us.
The step – whatever I do now – in writing about leads is understanding what your audience doesn’t know. This is short, as are newspaper articles, and gives you an overview of the names you need to know on the opening day of boot camp. Ms. Normal Fan may feel a vague sense of familiarity with a guy named Pontus next September if she reads this now.
When you write something like this you have to include Curtis Douglas because then you can tell how tall he is which is interesting – he’s as outlier in hockey as Mike Koster (none of these articles are about Mike) . But if you’re interested in Douglas, check out the scout quoted in article three. They’ll tell you why he keeps getting played on the Marlies when most Marlies fans have decided they hate him. Bukala doesn’t mention Douglas and Alex Steeves is the only undrafted player he covers, the biggest flaw in his approach given how many free agents the Leafs have on hand.
Article three is from Northstar Bets, where it’s all about betting, odds and gambling, and they sell you the bets with journalism. It’s a topsy-turvy world, and not just in the color palette. This is also where the good things about this subject lie. Alas.
Johnston starts with the same quote from Dubas and builds on the popular view of Tampa as a team that gets prospects right. The +1 doesn’t matter step in writing about prospects is to go with a truism that many people believe without treating it critically. Your point is that you and the reader know if you know Ross Colton. The intended audience for this article is bettors with a more nuanced understanding of the NHL and Leafs than the general Star reader.
Johnston proves he’s the man to go to for a fuller understanding of the game starting with a surprising pick in Denis Malgin. If I had to write my own article, this is where I would start before moving to Holmberg. Malgin’s rights still belong to the Leafs, a fact not understood by many who only take screenshots from CapFriendly or don’t know what the reserve roster is. Johnston speaks to a larger segment of the weird spectrum just by mentioning this option.
It also captures something fundamental in what Dubas had to say. Dubas was not talking about Mikhail Abramov or Roni Hirvonen. He was talking about guys who can hang out for a few minutes right now, meet Sheldon Keefe’s blank stare on the bench, and probably get sent off the next day where they have to actually improve on the Marlies, not depressed.
If I can digress for a second from what I would really write about all of this, the Tampa example is one of the prospects that isn’t being pushed aside so quickly. There are two categories of Leafs players: those who make mistakes and those who don’t. It’s an old-school workout, and it has a lot of validity, but the Leafs’ list of rejected depths who can fill a position on a worse team is a list of players who would be absolutely fine in a fourth line. role on a team that didn’t need to have Kyle Clifford, Wayne Simmonds and Jason Spezza for some pretty specious and sentimental reasons, even when they weren’t playing. You won’t see that kind of critical engagement with the Tampa truism, because why would you? It’s too deep for bettors who want to feel smarter, without having their core beliefs challenged.
Johnston recognizes the skills that will bring players to the Leafs: PK, shot blocking, forechecking, and he’s realistic about what level of offensive skill will be enough. He won’t tell you Joey Duszak is a lock because he gets points in the AHL. His article is the best for telling you who to watch out for if you already know who all those guys are – or if you want to look like you do at the bar on Saturday night.
There’s only one step in writing a lead article, and that’s to know your audience. That’s why we spend a month and a half in the hottest part of the summer writing about thirty articles about these guys. It’s your fault, not mine.
Place your bets, however:
Who will win the training camp war for the Leafs’ lowest job?
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