Hi Puck Daddy readers. Thanks for dropping by. There's an hilarious video of Alex Ovechkin's commercial for a local car dealer in the post above this one, if you wanted some more entertainment.
Welcome to the first in probably no other installments of Q&A with Maali! You ask a question, and if I can't answer in 20 words or less, I'll make a post about it! Before we get into the meat of the post, I want to preface it with saying: I AM NOT AN EXPERT. I am not a scout. But I have known many, many, many London Knights, and I have seen some succeed, and I have seen a lot more burn out. And I will also accept the possibility that I am talking out of my ass, so feel free to make corrections where necessary, but keep in mind, this is my personal opinion, not an absolute. With that in mind..........
Today's question comes from the handsome and charming Wayne in AL:
And why exactly would Johnny Tavares be a bad fit in Atlanta?
To me, the only way he'd be a bad fit is if he couldn't speak English...
And the only way he'd be a BETTER fit is if he were black...
YES! PK Subban would be AWESOME here! Maybe, haha. That's another analysis for another day, BUT I am glad you asked! As it were, I'm something of an expert on the subject of the London Knights, and that is tied in with part of the answer here. But let's start with Atlanta's issues.
You know, I know, and the 11teen season ticket holders know that DW trades away all the great prospects we get our hands on. Braydon Coburn, I'm looking at you! You go, Braydon Coburn!
The ones that don't get traded away aren't given the proper development, particularly because this team seems to be lacking in specialized coaching, and while I don't KNOW this for certain, I would be willing to bet that they don't provide the young rookies with non-/teammate mentors/life-coaches as a lot of other teams tend to do to help the youngsters adjust to life in the NHL. Additionally, considering that Tavares was fast tracked into the OHL (I have a fascinating senior thesis on the topic of fast tracking highly-skilled but too-young players vs mental maturity in context of the pressures of professional hockey, with Alexander Daigle as one of the example cases, if anyone is interested), there will definitely need to be a highly cushioned transitional period into the NHL, especially coming out of London.
"But, Maali... he was just TRADED to London," you're likely saying. "He's only been there for 40-some odd games! He spent the bulk of his OHL career in Oshawa, which is a far cry from London!" True. Very true. But let's consider a few things. JT's from Oakville, 51 miles from Oshawa. I wouldn't go so far as to call him a precious flower like Sam Gagner is, but his family was never far. And having grown up with Sam Gagner (and Steve Mason and Stefan Legein) in Oakville, being in London has put him back under the watchful eye of Mom #2, Jo-Anne Gagner. Point being, he's always been surrounded by family, whether it be blood, or selected.
To date, Sergei Kostitsyn, Rick Nash, Pat Kane, and Corey Perry are really the only former Knights that have truly lived up to their billing. Nasher mostly because he went to a team in its infancy that was still struggling to find its identity, and they were able to hang the identity on Rick, and build a solid team around his style of play. I have no idea about Pat Kane because I don't ever watch the Hawks and know nothing about their organisation. CoPe was lucky enough to go to a team with a great coach that does an excellent job of knowing when to be the coach, and knowing when to be a friend. And Sergei went onto a team with his brother, and they played on the same line. Someone made a point in comments, what about Dino Cicarelli, Sam Gagner, Jason Allison? Frankly, with the exception of Corey Perry, who I'd kind of forgotten about, because it's not like he's setting the NHL on fire, at least not to the point where he's a household name the way JT is projected to be, none of those names really scream LIVED UP TO THE HYPE. Sam Gagner is still struggling to find his identity on the Oilers, and hopefully he will in time, because he's a great player. But even in his sophomore season, he hasn't quite made that CHL-to-NHL jump as well as other, lesser-known players. The spotlight is a heavy cross to bear for some, and often it's easier to just get to play your fucking game and get the job done, than to have every single mistake you made criticised by every media outlet covering the sport.
Between the way the Hunters run their organisation, and JT's near constant-proximity to family of one manner or another, it does not bode well to go from that type of lifestyle, into what is nothing more than corporate tax write-off (until the Thrashers are sold to an ownership group who gives a fuck) where players are treated as, at best, a commodity. In that situation, the likelihood of not making the M/J-to-NHL jump successfully increases exponentially. I think Rob Schremp (love you sweetie!) is the best example of how a ridiculously great player drafted into the wrong team can result in the steady decline in both attitude and production.
That's not to say Rob was on the level JT is, even though he was an amazing player in Juniors, but it is a perfect example of how a team demanding and expecting perfection can easily ruin a fragile player. JT is a lot tougher, mentally and physically, and he has a lot of the same scrutiny on him as did Sidney Crosby prior to his draft. Going from a world wherein he's the Big Big Fish in the medium sized pond (top news story every night, adoration for him loud and clear, and he's not just enjoyed, but appreciated, encouraged and rewarded) to an enormous ocean of disinterest and ambivalence, will likely result in slower progression into and adjustment to the league, and a slower, and more difficult, acclimation to the utter lack of interest shown in the team by ownership and management, by the media, the city, the NHL on the whole, and in direct correlation, the fans. Not to knock the few die-hard fans Atlanta does have, but I don't think anyone will be soon forgetting either Dan Boyle's extremely public refusal to come to Atlanta, nor sea of empty seats seen by everyone who watches Thrashers home games.
You wanted another example? Sure. How about Kari Lehtonen? Kari was the Sidney Crosby of SM:L when he was drafted and came to North America. Thanks to the critically sharp eye and sharper tongue of Bob Hartley, he is still struggling to live up to the hype that accompanied him being the highest-drafted European goaltender since Olie Kolzig.
Still not convinced? See: Steven Stamkos.
And now that I've written the longest essay since university, I hope everyone came away with something to think about. But just in case you didn't: If a highly touted prospect doesn't pan out in a market that no one cares about - does anyone notice?
All that said, the way the team is trending, they'll climb out of the basement into mediocrity, and be lucky to get one ball in the lottery tumbler. So perhaps this has all been moot. But you asked, I answered, and if I'm wrong, I'm wrong. But it's not too too often I'm wrong. That was cocky wasn't it? Aah well, is what it is.