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Weekend Impressions: NCAA prospects, Kirill the Acrobat, Capuano's tenure, Cooke

This picture has nothing to do with this post. But it's pretty.
This picture has nothing to do with this post. But it's pretty.

I caught up on a lot of college hockey this weekend and remembered I like when commenters here report what they see, whether of Islanders prospects in college or ones like Nino Niederreiter in the WHL. So here's a chance to solicit your thoughts and impressions on what you've seen beyond the big club lately.

After the jump, a few items on NCAA hockey, on Kirill Kabonov, on Jack Capuano's tenure ... oh, and some predictable fool who wears an "A" for the Penguins. Your thoughts on any of them are appreciated.

Kirill the Acrobat

Another fun interview with Kirill Kabonov, as shared by edavidmorris in yesterday's prospect update. Best line is one after my own heart:

My mom took me to acrobatics when I was young, to help me with coordination. I’m pretty good at jumping on a trampoline, I can do all the flips and things. Six years, i went to acrobatics. I went there, only to watch the girls there, but my mother said that I really liked it.

Michael Grabner, Finisher

I know Grabner's breakaway opportunities -- and misses -- are noticeable because they happen often and with speed, but I don't share the sense he has trouble finishing. He's not dynamite on breakaways -- no Bure type, surely, but who is? -- but I think people tend to focus on the misses because Granber is a get-you-out-of-your-seat player. His shooting percentage is at 15.2%, which is an above average figure for top-line forwards, particularly ones who don't benefit from lots of powerplay time. Hopefully he keeps getting better, including on breakaways. But I don't think there's a moment of wasted opportunity there.


Jack Capuano Extension Campaign

Brett Cyrgalis of the Post does the story [warning: really awful pop-up ads] on Jack Capuano that has to be done, although I still don't think the lack of news on Capuano's future means anything. In his management dealings and public statements, Garth Snow has always struck me as one who establishes principles and sticks to them for the same reason most people establish principles: You might need them later.

Whether in his careful public statements on pending contracts or his steadfast refusal to discuss former employees -- something that can annoy info-hungry fans, but which has a real business use -- Snow, as we know, plays things close to the vest.

Capuano is now 24-23-9 since taking over. To my eyes, unless there's some golden candidate waiting in the wings, I think he's done enough to return in this role next year, but I've not been in the camp leading for an announcement now. That's because I know I'd have played it the same way with a coach who I also liked having in Bridgeport: No matter how things go, let's wait until the end of the season to assess and announce.

If this season taught us anything, it's that circumstances can drive things up or down in a hurry. Even though things have worked out better than expected under Capuano, when you establish the interim tag in November and agree to reassess at the end of the season, you free everyone up from the whim of the winds. Plus, when you stick to that even when things have gone well enough for you to go against that to make a good news announcement, you preserve your ability to do the same in the future -- and people will know you mean it -- when decisions might not be as easy.


Isles in the NCAA

I'm not a scout and should never be trusted to act like one. But I do watch and play a lot of hockey, so I'll just share some thoughts on a few Islanders NCAA properties, and the attributes that made me think, "Okay, I see why the Isles drafted him."

This is based on North Dakota and Denver U. in the WCHA tourney this past weekend (which Jason Gregoire apparently missed because of injury), plus North Dakota's games the previous weekend (where Gregoire played). The NCAA bracket is now up and interestingly, Denver and North Dakota are again on a collision course in the Midwest region.

  • Gregoire, North Dakota: He's tough on the puck, uses his size pretty well and reads the play well. I haven't seen enough of his shooting to know much in that department. During the second of two games against Michigan Tech (two weekends ago) they noted he was on a 14-game point streak. That ND team is tough to judge though because it is stacked. Everyone looks good.
  • Brock Nelson, North Dakota: Honestly? Very impressive for a freshman. I see the good size -- with plenty of room to fill out yet -- a very tenacious forecheck and backcheck, pretty good along the boards, a decently heavy shot and passing that exhibits good vision. Defensively he anticipated the play well, which is never easy for younger players. Didn't appear strong on faceoffs yet. Again, too young and too soon to know how these attributes will translate in the pros (or even next year when he'll presumably get a much bigger role after several seniors leave), but for a freshman to be trusted and get good looks on a team as stacked as North Dakota is a good sign. I definitely see what Isles scouts liked in him.
  • Matt Donovan, Denver: Every time I've watched Denver I've tried not to let my Isles lens bias me, but once again he made me think he's Denver's most notable player outside of their goalie, who was fantastic in the double-OT loss to North Dakota. His read of the game in both zones is strong at that level. He skates smoothly, closing gaps with seeming ease.

Those are the attributes I've noticed in 3-5 games anyway. Of course the rule of prospects is that they all look good for one reason or another. It's whether they still look that way when they face NHL competition that matters. By odds, most of them do not. But we can hope.

Speaking of hope, Niederreiter's Portland team wrapped up the regular season in first place, and he finished with 41 goals and 70 points in 55 games.


Finally, the headline league-wide...

Matt Cooke Reaffirms his Toolish Nature with Remarkable Speed

I'm pretty tired of discussing discipline and the apparent double-standards we see -- not that they aren't legit topics, just that they're so frustrating they start to make me nauseous. But it's hard to avoid when you have this yesterday afternoon, from the most dignified, righteous and clean team in the league:

So all we heard when Trevor Gillies hit Cal Clutterbuck (1.5 seconds after Clutterbuck boarded Justin DiBendetto from behind, mind you) was that Gillies obviously didn't learn his lesson and needed to have the book thrown at him. Seems 10 games was "the book" by NHL standards (which is ironic, since Gillies' crimes against Pittsburgh were far worse than the hit on Clutterbuck). The Isles were chided for even employing such a low-skill hockey player as Gillies, who unlike Matt Cooke, isn't "a real hockey player" (whatever that means). And remember: We were told it's "irrelevant" to bring up Cooke in the conversations about the Islanders gooning it up.

But of course as mikb and many sane readers noted at the time, the only reason the Isles now employ an enforcer is because of "real hockey players" like Cooke who lack real sense and take advantage of the NHL's impotent disciplinary system to dole out concussions to young Islanders via dirty hits and cheap shots. Lay a dirty hit, you might get away with it or you might get a slap on the wrist. Retaliate deliberately and you'll be made an example of. So...who do you want carrying out justice that the NHL won't -- a player you need at 5-on-5, or a Gillies?

The biggest indictment of the NHL is Cooke's reasoning for playing "on the edge" (the common euphemism for "I take risks with other people's health in the interests of my own bank account"), as he told Sports Illustrated this season:

"The biggest thing for me is that on the ice, there's a persona," Cooke says. "It's what it is because that's what's made me successful. But that has nothing to do with who I am."

It's what makes him successful. And we've seen this line of reasoning from him before. Which tells me once again, Cooke still has a job in hockey because the NHL decision-makers aren't doing theirs.

Then there's his GM, who is employed by selectively conscientious objector Mario Lemieux. In that article GM Ray Shero is quoted saying this:

"Is he a dirty player? Yeah, he's a dirty player. [Former defenseman] Ulf Samuelsson was a dirty player. But there's value in that. Is there value in injuring players and getting suspended? No. But there are football players in the Hall of Fame who were dirty. There are brushback pitchers in the Hall of Fame."

You know when you're being compared to Ulf (who, shockingly, was also known to turtle when challenged for his knee-on-knee hits), you're doing something shady that only some segments of the hockey world can stomach. (I can't speak to the dissonance between the Penguins' "rethink my participation" owner and their "yeah, there's value to a dirty player" GM.)

Take away the dirty players, and I doubt you'll have to worry about poor-skating enforcers looking for vengeance and crossing the line in the process. (Why, even the 30th-place Islanders of 2008-09 rarely saw fit to employ one! Go figure.)

Dan Bylsma's comments on the matter could be seen as right and proper, but watching them with visuals they struck me as just a guy who knew his team was stuck in a pretzel of its own making, so he did his best to sound consistent without actually calling out his player for doing exactly what his organization had made a point to criticize when a player from any other team does it.

If he were being truly forthright, he might use the words he used back in February: "What happened [there] wasn't hockey." As it stands, the Penguins players were reported to, almost to a man, say they "didn't see" what happened. Andrew Ference weeps.

Still, maybe the most powerful artifact of Cooke's dirty hit Sunday afternoon was that it may have cost his team the game, as the score was tied 1-1 in the third period at the time. (Chris Kunitz scored a shorthanded goal first to make it 2-1, but then the Rangers got two powerplay goals.)

Hey, whatever incentive you need.