Wright persevered through missed season to be best player in 2022 Draft

MONTREAL, QC – Shane Wright has the confidence to succeed and the perseverance to thrive at any level of hockey.

He’s really had no other choice to this point in his career.

A month after Hockey Canada granted him exceptional-player status in March 2019 at age 15, he was chosen No. 1 by Kingston in the Ontario Hockey League priority draft (regular draft age is 16). He was named rookie of the year in the Canadian Hockey League after he had 66 points (39 goals, 27 assists) in 58 games in 2019-20.

He was proving to be everything everyone expected. And then the OHL canceled its 2020-21 season due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

“It was just a lot of off-ice training, working out in my garage, the gym, trying to maintain my body as best as possible with weights, medicine balls, and I skated on rollerblades or wherever we could find ice,” Wright said. “I mean, you can do all the skating you want but it’s really tough to simulate a game-like scenario and that’s something I missed a lot, something I definitely missed doing for sure.”

He wasn’t alone. But for a player of his status, a lost season was a missed opportunity to solidify his standing as the best the 2022 NHL Draft class had to offer.

To his credit, Wright did all he could this season to answer questions regarding his chances of developing into an NHL franchise player. He was eighth in the OHL with 94 points (32 goals, 62 assists) in 63 games, including 51 points (17 goals, 34 assists) in his final 32 games. He then had 14 points (three goals, 11 assists) in 11 OHL playoff games, including the overtime series-clinching goal in the first round against Oshawa.

The 18-year-old has established himself as a leading option to be the No. 1 pick in the draft.

Wright (6-foot, 199 pounds) was No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting’s ranking of North American skaters from start to finish. He did so despite missing more than 13 months of competitive hockey. His last organized games prior to this OHL season was the 2021 IIHF World Under-18 Championship when he was second among all players with 14 points (nine goals, five assists) in five games while serving as captain for first-place Canada.

JT Compher Listed as Top Five Breakout Players in 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs

DENVER, CO – The Stanley Cup playoffs are always full of excitement and surprises, and as the best players tend to lead their teams deep into playoffs, the supporting cast and unexpected players are the ones who help push the team to the next level. We are going to look at five players who had breakout performances during these playoffs and how their careers can only go up from here.

JT Compher

Even though J.T. Compher hasn’t had a huge jump in points per game from the regular season, he was able to step up in a big way when Nazem Kadri was injured and even before that. He played just nine minutes in Game 6 versus the St. Louis Blues but scored two goals. He followed that performance up with a two-goal game in the first meeting between the Colorado Avalanche and the Edmonton Oilers playing just under 13 minutes.

Compher’s goals came at timely moments and he did so in the bottom-six, but when Kadri missed some games, he easily stepped into his spot and provided the Avalanche with a solid second-line replacement, almost as if nothing had changed. Seeing as how stacked the Avalanche are and the impact some of the top players have had, Compher’s contributions may be overlooked, but shouldn’t be. The team may need him to be their second-line center moving forward as they will likely lose Kadri to free agency in the offseason.

J.T. Compher has Become the Avalanche’s Secret Weapon

DENVER, CO – As Nazem Kadri slammed into the boards thanks to a blind-side hit from Edmonton Oilers forward Evander Kane in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final, the shockwave of his absence hit the Colorado Avalanche like a neutron bomb.

Or, at least, it should have.

Sure, the Avalanche were in the midst of dismantling an overmatched Oilers squad when Kadri went down. They likely would have beaten them anyway. But regardless of the matchup, losing a top-six center who scored at a 110-point pace in the regular season at a crucial moment in a do-or-die Cup run would be a sucker punch from which very few teams can recover nonetheless.

Lightning’s Pierre-Edouard Bellemare hopes to make most of return to Stanley Cup final

TAMPA BAY, FL – Pierre-Edouard Bellemare had his choice of teams when it came time to decide where he wanted to continue his career last offseason.

Coming off a second-round playoff ouster following a Presidents’ Trophy-winning season with the Avalanche, the veteran forward heard from multiple teams interested in signing him.

Compher comes up big for Avalanche in Game 3 of Western Final

EDMONTON, AB – It should have been one of the great celebrations of J.T. Compher‘s NHL career.

Had he actually witnessed the puck cross the goal line, it likely would have been.

Instead, the Colorado Avalanche forward had no idea that his snap shot had snuck through the legs of Edmonton Oilers goalie Mike Smith with 7:18 remaining in the third period for what would prove to be the winning goal in a 4-2 victory at Rogers Place on Saturday.

“Shot five-hole and I didn’t see it go in,” the 27-year-old said. “I thought it was in his pads the way he was moving.”

As the Oilers crowd let out a collective groan, Compher finally took another look. That’s when the reality set in. The puck was in the net.

“It took me a second to get there,” he said. “It was nice to see when I finally did see it in the net.”

Not only for him, but for the entire Avalanche team. The goal, after all, lifted Colorado to a 3-0 lead in the Western Conference Final heading into Game 4 on Monday (8 p.m. ET; TNT, CBC, SN, TVAS).

While Compher proved to be the hero of Game 3, his importance for the Avalanche moving forward certainly gained traction after Nazem Kadri sustained an undisclosed injury at 1:06 of the first period.

With the Oilers leading 1-0 on a goal by captain Connor McDavid 38 seconds into the game, Kadri was hit from behind on a dangerous play by forward Evander Kane and was down on the ice for several minutes before being helped off with the aid of a trainer. Kane was assessed a major penalty for boarding on the play.

Having lost his second-line center, Avalanche coach Jared Bednar responded by moving Compher into Kadri’s spot between Artturi Lehkonen and Mikko Rantanen.

He might be there for a while, given the severity of Kadri’s injury.

Bednar announced after the game that Kadri will be out for the remainder of the series, if not longer. The Avalanche did not reveal the extent of the injury, but there is no doubt it is serious given the coach’s diagnosis.

Time for Compher to step up. On this night, he did.

“You lose a guy of ‘Naz’s’ stature and the role that he plays, someone has to step up, if not multiple guys,” Bednar said. “And I thought J.T. has been playing some really good hockey lately, finding a way to get on the score sheet.

Five unrestricted free agents who’ve boosted their values in the 2022 playoffs

NEW YORK, NY – Players share a common priority during the Stanley Cup playoffs: winning a Stanley Cup. But they have plenty of secondary goals during postseason runs, especially the unrestricted free agents, who can use these high-stakes games to give their contract values extra pushes under national spotlight.

Which pending UFAs have increased their contract values the most during the 2022 playoffs? The list doesn’t have to include stars coming off career years such as Johnny Gaudreau and Nazem Kadri. Those two arguably launched their values so high before the playoffs that they didn’t have much higher to go. Instead, we’ll look at a few names that opened the postseason with a bit less fanfare but may have climbed into higher income brackets with their efforts.

Andrew Copp, RW, Rangers

Copp was a consistently useful member of the Winnipeg Jets’ top-nine forward group, capable of bouncing all around, playing multiple positions and killing penalties. He even got some long run on their top line this season. But did anyone expect Copp to be a true front-line winger from the moment he joined the New York Rangers in a trade-deadline deal? He didn’t just deepen the forward corps – he elevated it, instantly lighting it up with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome. Including 16 regular-season games and 16 playoff games, Copp has produced 14 goals and 31 points in 32 games. Copp and the Rangers already started working on an extension in April. Re-signing him would further justify the price New York paid to get him from the Jets, as reaching the Eastern Conference final meant Winnipeg received a 2022 first-round pick instead of a second-round pick. Keeping Copp could mean an AAV north of $5 million on a long-term deal and could price Strome out of New York, but Copp has been more than worth it.

Smith not taking run in Stanley Cup Playoffs with Oilers for granted

EDMONTON, AB – Mike Smith was smiling ear to ear at Ball Arena on the eve of the start of the Western Conference Final.

The Edmonton Oilers goalie, who turned 40 in March, will start Game 1 of the best-of-7 series against the Colorado Avalanche here on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; TNT, CBC, SN, TVAS). It’s Smith’s first trip to the conference final since 2012, when he played for the Arizona Coyotes. They lost that series to the Los Angeles Kings in five games.

To get another chance at reaching the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in his career is obviously motivating.

“You realize as you get older, your chances to make a push and make a run for the Stanley Cup is getting narrower and narrower,” Smith said Monday. “It’s something that we’ve talked about as a group, that your opportunities to get to the conference finals don’t come around every day. So, it’s something that you want to take advantage of when you get here and prepare yourself to try and get to the ultimate spot, and that’s in the (Cup) Final. And it’ll take everyone pulling on the same rope and giving it our best shot to get there.”

Smith is 8-3 with a 2.70 goals-against average, .927 save percentage and two shutouts in 12 starts this postseason. He is 19-20 with a 2.44 GAA, .930 save percentage and six shutouts in 41 career Stanley Cup Playoff games (39 starts).

Smith said it was a “rocky year” leading into the playoffs. He sustained a lower-body injury against the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 19 and didn’t play again until Dec. 29. But even when he was injured, Oilers general manager Ken Holland said he knew Smith could get them to the postseason.

“When he plays, he’s played at a high level for us. He brings swagger, he brings confidence to our group,” Holland said. “I think he’s the best puck-handling goaltender of his era. He helps our defense big time, and it was just a matter of getting him healthy and getting him into playing regularly, practicing regularly. The second half of the year, he did that.”

Smith was strong down the stretch; he had back-to-back shutouts, 4-0 wins against the Nashville Predators on April 14 and Vegas Golden Knights on April 16, becoming the sixth goalie at age 40 or older to do so, joining Dominik Hasek (twice), Johnny Bower (twice), Martin Brodeur, Dwayne Roloson and George Hainsworth.

Smith signed with the Oilers as a free agent on July 1, 2019. He is in the first of the two-year, $4.4 million contract ($2.2 million average annual value) he signed to remain with them on July 24, 2021. Smith is 299-263-78 with a 2.70 GAA, .912 save percentage and 44 shutouts in 670 NHL games (645 starts) with the Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning, Coyotes, Calgary Flames and Oilers. He’s getting another chance to get to the Cup Final, and his teammates said they believe he can help get them there.

“We have lots of confidence in ‘Smitty,'” Edmonton captain Connor McDavid said. “He’s 40 years old, but he brings so much energy and so much passion to the game. He battles so hard in there, it makes you want to play hard for him, in front of him, for sure.”

JT Compher scores twice, Avalanche beat Blues 3-2 to Win Series

ST. LOUIS, MO – Colorado coach Jared Bednar had been looking for a little extra aggressiveness from veteran center Darren Helm.

Bednar got his wish on Friday night.

Helm scored with 5.6 seconds left and Darcy Kuemper stopped 18 shots as the Avalanche finished off their second-round series with a 3-2 win over the St. Louis Blues in Game 6 on Friday night.

“We wanted him to be assertive and not so safe,” Bednar said.

J.T. Compher scored twice for Colorado, which advanced to the Western Conference finals for first time since 2002. The Avalanche had been eliminated in the second round each of the past three years.

Colorado opens the series against Edmonton on Tuesday night in Denver.

Why Edmonton Oilers goalie Mike Smith is the most fascinating player in the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs

EDMONTON, AB – Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith is an agent of chaos. He’s the most exhilarating player in the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs, according to Edmonton-area cardiologists.

His teammate, Connor McDavid, is the playoffs’ most exciting and entertaining player. To watch him play is to watch poetry in motion. To watch Smith play is to watch the embodiment of a Reddit comment, where every third word is capitalized and misspelled.

In “The Matrix,” savior proxy Neo and his nemesis Agent Smith existed as the result of the machines’ equations trying to balance themselves. In essence, the Oilers’ Aged Smith balances McJesus’ algorithm. Hockey needs Smith’s struggles with the basic laws of gravity to revel in how McDavid defies them. Hockey needs Smith surrendering goals as an enticement for McDavid to score more of them.

Yet hockey needs those few timely, undeniably clutch saves from Smith to deliver victory to the Oilers, to ensure that McDavid’s ethereal performances aren’t wasted.

“The word that’s used most often by the Oilers is ‘battle,'” said Allan “Lowetide” Mitchell, a blogger turned radio host in Edmonton. “He’s never completely out of a play. But there are times when he’s never completely in a play, either.”

Smith is 40 years old and in his 16th NHL season. His long hair and scraggly playoff beard make him look like a 1990s alt-rocker on a 2022 reunion tour. There’s a gangly weariness to his comportment, which is to say that he carries himself like someone who has seen nearly 21,000 shots at his goal between the regular season and the playoffs in his career. His goaltending style is less technical refinement than “by any means necessary to save pucks.”

“He plays intensely deep in his net and comes way, way out to play the puck,” said Cat Silverman, a goaltending analyst who covered Smith as a journalist during his time with the Arizona Coyotes. “When he’s feeling it, he’s unstoppable, because he has such a command. So few other goalies can replicate it.