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Jim Cerny's Rink Rap


September 28, 2009 4:24 PM

Monday Musings on Crosby, Kadri, and Canucks


Time to share a few thoughts and news tidbits as we close in on the start of the 2009-10 National Hockey League season.

First off, there doesn't seem to be any panic in Pittsburgh even though captain Sidney Crosby has missed several practices, as well as yesterday's pre-season tilt against the Red Wings, because of a sore groin. Sid the Kid skated on his own both Saturday and Sunday, and is confident he will be able to play in the season opener on Friday night against the Rangers.

Of course, the Pens will raise their 2009 Stanley Cup Championship banner that night, so I am sure that Crosby will do whatever it takes---within logical reason, of course---to be on the ice on Friday.

Crosby told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that his lone objective is to be ready to go by 7:30 Friday evening. "That's the goal. That's my focus now. I'll do all the things I have to, to make sure that, come Game One, I'm ready to go."

Pens GM Ray Shero told Craig Custance at the Sporting News that, "There's no reason to think that he won't be ready  for Friday."

As an aside, it amazes me how much Crosby has accomplished already in his career. He just turned 22 years old, has already appeared in two Cup Finals, served as captain of a Stanley Cup champion, produced three 100+ point seasons out of four NHL campaigns, totaled 397 points in only 290 regular season games, and has notched 63 points in 49 post-season contests.

Yet, amazingly, he is often overshadowed by his own teammate Evgeni Malkin and Caps superstar Alex Ovechkin.

Incredible.

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Nazem Kadri, who was selected in the first round---7th overall---by the Maple Leafs in June's NHL Entry Draft, is being returned to his major junior team, the London Knights, despite very impressive play in training camp and during pre-season action.

The temptation to keep Kadri---a personable and talented 18 year-old from Ontario---surely had to be there for the Leafs hierarchy, especially after he tallied three goals and two assists over six pre-season games.

Toronto head coach Ron Wilson told the Toronto Star, "Nazem is going to be a superstar in this league. We honestly believe that, but we want  him to go back to the OHL and absolutely dominate there."

That is sound long-term thinking on the Leafs part. Kadri needs to build himself up physically, first and foremost, for the daily grind of playing against grown men at the NHL level night-in and night-out. Wilson also wants him to develop the mentality of being the go-to player, as well as grow as a leader. These are all things Kadri will be able to do at London and for the Canadian Junior Team.

While Kadri did not make the varsity, it appears that fellow rookie Viktor Stalberg has. The 23 year-old, who led the Leafs with six goals in the pre-season, apparently has done enough to win a spot on the Opening Night roster, according to Wilson.

"In my mind's eye, Stalberg will be in the starting lineup Thursday night (against the Montreal Canadiens)," stated Wilson.

As for Tyler Bozek, the other heralded rookie in Leafs camp, he survived the latest round of cuts, though that has not guaranteed him a final roster spot just yet. Bozek, who is also 23, has played well, showing flashes of being a very competant two-way center in the NHL. Wilson and GM Brian Burke just have to decide if he needs a bit more seasoning. Their final decision should come by midweek.

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Had the chance to watch the Canucks-Flames pre-season contest on Saturday night, and came away with a couple of observations.

First off, what a fun finish to this one. A 1-1 tight-defensive affair that all of a sudden opened up in the final minutes of regulation and throughout overtime. Roberto Luongo scrambling to make several saves in a wild battle by his crease, and Miikka Kiprusoff staring down several Vancouver scoring chances. Then during the shootout, Luongo and Kiprusoff made it look too easy stopping round after round of shooters. Finally, Calgary's Olli Jokinen skated in and cranked a hard slap shot from fifteen feet away at Luongo, who made the save, and then angrily stared down Jokinen as he skated away. Ryan Kesler returned the favor for the Canucks by slapping one up high and off the shoulder of Kiprusoff, who, like Luongo, was not amused. Fun stuff, that should help continue to fuel the regular season rivalry between these two teams.

Oh yeah Mason Raymond---keep an eye on him this season---eventually won it for the Canucks.

My second observation is that Vancouver---and not the Blackhaws, the popular choice---could be the team to come out of the Western Conference in late May, early June. And I am not discounting top teams like the Sharks or Ducks, and certainly not underestimating the Red Wings, either, but this Canucks squad has the pieces to put together a nice, long run.

Pre-season records and statistics, by and large, mean nothing. But Vancouver was unbeaten in regulation---posting a 7-0-2 mark---during the exhibition schedule. And they averaged well more than three goals per game, while surrendering only 20 goals in nine contests.

If Luongo can remain healhty---which he was not a year ago---this could be a special season for the Canucks. They have a nice blend of veterans and young players still coming into their own. And I love the addition of a real pro, a real proven winner, in Mikael Samuelsson.

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