Shopping for men in middle

GM looking for size, skill to beef up corps of centremen


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It is the latest Stanley Cup blueprint, just recently drawn up by the Los Angeles Kings and authored by GM Dean Lombardi, Darryl Sutter and Co.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/06/2012 (3890 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It is the latest Stanley Cup blueprint, just recently drawn up by the Los Angeles Kings and authored by GM Dean Lombardi, Darryl Sutter and Co.

And while a championship foundation is almost always built from the net out, one thing is clear when studying the Kings’ depth chart:

When it comes to the centre position, bigger is best. Check that… bigger AND SKILLED is best.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVE Forward Alexander Burmistrov gets some instruction from head coach Claude Noel. Burmistrov’s problem is inconsistency.

The Kings’ No. 1 middle man is Anze Kopitar, whose enormous skills seemed unappreciated throughout much of the National Hockey League until a coming-out party on the national stage that is the playoffs. Kopitar, the 24-year-old Slovenian, is 6-foot-3, 227 pounds, finished the regular season with 76 points and was even more dominant in their cup run.

L.A.’s second line is centred by Mike Richards, the Kenora, Ont., product who plays bigger than his 5-foot-11, 195-pound frame and has averaged 65 points over the past five years. The third line has veteran Jarrett Stoll (6-foot-1, 210) in the middle.

It’s that size and talent that jumps out as we set up Part 4 of our series analyzing the Winnipeg Jets’ organizational depth chart in the days leading up to next week’s draft in Pittsburgh. In short, the Kings have in abundance what the Jets desperately crave: star power and size down the middle.

When Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said at the end of the season he wanted his team to improve its overall size, it’s no secret he was targeting the team’s centre-ice position.

The Jets’ top line is centred by Bryan Little, generously listed at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds and coming off a decent season in which he finished with 24 goals and 22 assists. Alex Burmistrov, the flashy 20-year-old Russian is 6-foot-1, 180 pounds with oodles of still-untapped upside, notched 13 goals and added 15 assists in his second season. Jim Slater (6-foot, 200) anchors the third line, and the Jets pay Nik Antropov more than $4 million to centre the fourth unit.

Those four players combined for 65 goals this year — five more than Tampa’s Steven Stamkos, also a centre, scored this season for the Lightning. As well, Little, as the Jets’ top-scoring middle man, ranked 41st among players listed as centres by the NHL.

It’s no secret the Jets were trying to address those size and skill concerns in last June’s draft with the selection of Mark Scheifele, listed at 6-foot-3, 182 pounds and still growing, and will likely continue to address that need next week in Pittsburgh, just like every other organization.

“You’re always trying to get skill and you’re always trying to improve the top end of your lineup,” Cheveldayoff said. “If you can do that, then everybody slots in accordingly. If you have players who can push into your top six of your forward positions, be it at forward or centre, then you’re certainly excited about those opportunities.

“You’re always hoping players can develop past their ceilings. Here’s an example: I remember when Bryan Little turned pro. He played for me with the Chicago Wolves and it took some time, but he’s blossomed into a player who can contribute offensively and is good defensively. He’s proven he can be a very good National Hockey League player regardless of size.

“Of course, if you have an opportunity to get a guy who has top-six skill AND has some size, then that’s a double bonus.”


CENTRE: what’s in the Jets’ system


BRYAN LITTLE: Solid player — he has averaged more than 20 goals the past four seasons — who would be an ideal No. 2 centre for most NHL teams. FYI: Age: 24. 2011-12 numbers: 74 GP, 24G, 22A. Contract: One year left on current deal at $2,383,333 before becoming a restricted free agent.

ALEX BURMISTROV: Showed flashes, but that can disappear, and the inconsistency has frustrated Jets brass. He didn’t register a point in his last 11 games and scored eight of his 13 goals in a 28-game stretch from Oct. 19-Dec. 23. FYI: Age: 20. 2011-12 numbers: 76 GP, 13G, 15A. Contract: One year remaining on entry-level contract at $1,500,000.

JIM SLATER: Does a lot of unappreciated things for the Jets, such as taking key faceoffs. FYI: Age: 29. 2011-12 numbers: 78 GP, 13G, 8A. Contract: Signed a three-year deal on Wednesday. Earned $1.1 million last year.

NIK ANTROPOV: On those nights when he was emotionally and physically engaged, he was solid. There just weren’t enough of those nights. His point totals have dropped in the last three years from 67 to 41 to 35, and that’s a lot of dough tied up in a guy who finished the year on the fourth line. FYI: Age: 32. 2011-12 numbers: 69 GP, 15G, 20A. Contract: One year left at $4.75 million (cap hit: $4.06 million).


Top prospect


MARK SCHEIFELE: No prospect is under the microscope more than the likable first-round pick from a year ago. Led the Jets in scoring during the pre-season with 4G, 4A in five games, but was sent back to junior after seven NHL games. Decent numbers in Barrie (63 points in 47 games and played for Canada at the WJHC, but so many, perhaps unfairly, expected more. Developed the defensive side of his game and consistency in the second half, said Colts head coach Dale Hawerchuk. Wants to put on more pounds and improve his skating this summer to give himself a real shot to crack the Jets’ opening-day roster and stick.


On the Rock/ In the minors

PATRICE CORMIER: The one piece remaining from the Atlanta Thrashers’ trade of Ilya Kovalchuk to the New Jersey Devils had a solid season in St. John’s (17G, 14A in 54 games). He’s got some size (6-2, 205) and is a solid faceoff man who will push for work in Winnipeg.

AARON GAGNON: He’s 26 now and had 14 goals in 60 games on the Rock, but has a lot of bodies ahead of him at centre on the depth chart.

ERIC O’DELL: A point-per-game player in junior, O’Dell had 22 points in 39 games in his first year as a pro in St. John’s.

BROCK TROTTER: The Brandon product has been a very productive, opportunistic AHL player.

GARTH MURRAY: Turns 30 in September. Veteran guy who hasn’t played an NHL game since 2008-09.

MARCO ROSA: Now 30. Has had injury woes the last two years (playing 82 games combined).


In the system


DAULTAN LEVEILLE, MICHIGAN STATE (NCAA): Not much talk about the Thrashers’ first-round pick in 2008. (The Kings’ fabulous young D-man Vyacheslav Voynov was taken three picks later and future star Travis Hamonic of St. Malo went 24 picks later to the Islanders.) Had three goals, six assists in 21 games with the Spartans.

TANNER LANE, OMAHA (USHL): Thrashers’ sixth-round pick in 2010 had 12G, 20A in 48 games in Omaha.


The NHL’S best

By comparison, a look at some the NHL’s top centres (ranked by 2011-12 scoring):

1. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh: 75 GP, 50G, 59A

2. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay: 82 GP, 60G, 37A

3. Jason Spezza, Ottawa: 80 GP, 34G, 50A

4. John Tavares, New York Islanders: 82 GP, 31G, 50A

5. Henrik Sedin, Vancouver: 82 GP, 14G, 67A

Other notable centres: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh; Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit; Eric Staal, Carolina; Joe Thornton, San Jose; Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles; Brad Richards, New York Rangers


Five centres (not Jets) who become unrestricted free agents on July 1:

1. Olli Jokinen, Calgary: 23G, 38A — His days as a point-per-game forward are gone, but he can still be effective.

2. Chris Kelly, Boston: A third-/fourth-line guy who has hit double digits in the goal department for seven straight years.

3. Jason Arnott, St. Louis: 17G, 17A. Suitors are buying leadership — he’s 37 now — and some goals

4. Daymond Langkow, Phoenix: 11G, 19A. Best years in the rear-view mirror; now 35.

5. Paul Gaustad, Nashville: 7G, 14A. A bidding war for a 6-foot-5 defensive centre who is good in the circle? Twitter: @WFPEdTait

This is the fourth of a five-part series. Tomorrow: Part 5 — Goaltenders

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