The Random 17

According to a non-scientific Google search, 17 is the most random number. It’s also my old hockey number so I’m going to title this weekly blog entry “The Random 17.” There’s also a nickname for 17 in British bingo, but that’s Dancing Queen. Never been much of an Abba fan, so forget that.

I’ve always been a big fan of Elliot Friedman’s “30 Things,” and imitation is the highest form of flattery, so here we go – 17 random thoughts on the Lightning and sports in general.

1. Big ups to Jon Cooper and the Lightning for their 3-1 start, especially the consistent effort and speed shown against big boys Washington and Pittsburgh. With their wins over those two clubs this week, Tampa Bay announced their presence as a legitimate Cup contender. But not so fast… the key now will be for the Lightning to play with the same intensity against the Calgarys and Floridas of the world when Hockey Earth isn’t watching. The contrast between the Lightning in front of the Zimmerman seats in Sunrise and the Lightning vs Ovechrosby is like night and day. Or Hedman vs. Sustr. Huge difference in effectiveness.

2. I couldn’t be happier for “Slate-Orr” Koekkoek getting his first two NHL goals against the Pens. That wasn’t just Slater’s rebuilt shoulder smashing against the glass in celebration, it was months and months and months of patience and frustration to get to this point. I saw where kudos were given to Koekkoek being given a handful of third period shifts Thursday, but this is the same player who played good and effective minutes in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Pens a full season and playoffs ago. One bad camp and he delayed his NHL permanence by a full year. Hopefully he can stay in the lineup because the Lightning need his outlets and overall skating ability – which is second only to Hedman in the organization.

3. Koekkoek’s minutes against the flightless birds came at the expense of Mikhail Sergachev, who got about five minutes – or slightly more than Koekkoek got vs Washington for being credited for changing out Vasy’s water bottles during commercial breaks. While he can, I don’t think it’s a good idea to send Sergachev back to OHL Windsor after 9, 17, or 30 games. He’s in that tweener area of too good for juniors and not quite able to play solid NHL minutes just yet – and the AHL isn’t an option. I’d love to see a rule change where players drafted out of the CHL can be assigned to the AHL if they hit 41 NHL games in one season. If he hits the rookie wall he could go to Syracuse and we don’t get the Brett Connolly results. I’d like to see TB learn from Koekkoek’s path here and get Sergachev NHL games and strategic minutes. I love him paired with Stralman, but pick and choose which teams he gets the most minutes against (slow teams) and keep playing him on PP2.

4. Sergachev will constantly be compared to Jonathan Drouin, but that should stop. This isn’t an even comparison and probably won’t be for three years or so. Speaking of Drouin, how soon before Habs Nation turns on him because the team isn’t scoring? It may already be happening, but if you’ve watched Montreal play this year 1) I’m sorry and 2) He’s still creating chances. Pacioretty is a fine linemate for Drouin, but Gallagher? And that team has no secondary scoring whatsoever. I always wanted Drouin to be played like he was valued for his offense and now he’s got it. Give it time, Drouin haters. He’s still going to be a PPGer – and he may have to be this year to stay in Montreal’s good graces. It depends on which way the cold wind blows, however.

5. Brayden Point is the biggest story in Tampa Bay this year and it’s not even close – and if you could choose one player to be the story, it’d be either him or a rejuvenated Tyler Johnson. The Lightning – now without Drouin on the second line – desperately need a second scoring line threat. Point, who’s playing with the same confidence he had in Moose Jaw, is driving that line and creating chances. I’m trying not to think about how his next contract is going to fit in with all the others from the past two years while still leaving room for Kucherov, so I won’t. We asked who would step up as a creator in Drouin’s absence and so far it’s Point. God bless the PPG line (credit to whomever I saw on Twitter using that). If the second line is clicking this goes from a 2-1 hockey team to one that's comfortably in the playoffs. It makes that big of a difference. Feel free to join the point party, Yanni. Someone kill a goat for Mr. Gourde to get him off the schnide and some luck on his side. He’ll have that spot for as long as it takes for one of the youngin’s in Syracuse to earn the chance at it.

6. Speaking of Syracuse, not the best start for the (other) boys in blue (I still love those orange jerseys). I would have guessed the Lightning would have started struggling to score more than Syracuse, but it’s the opposite. The Crunch need their Brayden Point to step up, and quickly. The team is better than they’re showing. The rookie learning curve for Cirelli, Joseph, Stephens, Yan, etc. needs to be accelerated. No time to wait. You can’t win a playoff spot in October, but you can lose one (or lose position).

7. With the new AHL rookies starting their professional careers, junior forward prospects have to pick up the slack from one of the best offensive seasons for Lightning junior prospects maybe ever (or at least since Keefe and Richards in 99-00). Boris Katchouk is leading the charge with two overtime winners last week and 13 points in eight games. That was leading the OHL until Andrei Svechnikov (Barrie) overtook him Thursday night. Svechnikov’s linemate, TB prospect Alexey Lipanov, had a goal and two assists in that game and has 13 points, too. Svechnikov leads with 14. The pipeline keeps reloading and Brett Howden hasn’t even gotten going yet. We also haven’t seen much from Taylor Raddysh, who finished second in the OHL scoring race last year to Erie linemate Alex DeBrincat, who’s currently with the Blackhawks and scored his first NHL goal the other night. Raddysh had 42 goals last year but only has one so far this year.

8. Howden is playing in the shadow of the best story in Lightning prospect land so far, Oleg Sosunov. The 6-8 Russian has four goals in seven games. He didn’t score at all the last two seasons in Russia, but there he was coming out of the penalty box Thursday and roofing a wrister onto the top shelf where Babushka hides the cookies. Sosunov, who was created in a lab with DNA taken from Zdeno Chara’s discarded gum and a strand of Bobby Orr’s thinning hair, is second in the WHL in goals among defenseman. He’s too stubborn to realize that first-year North American players – especially defensemen – aren’t supposed to be this successful this early. Big ups to Lightning scout Kari Kettunen for this project prospect, and for the Lightning for giving him a clearer development path. Well done, all.

9. The NCAA prospects got into action last week and Vermont’s Ross Colton, who’s expected to be among the better college players this year, had four goals in his first two games (one hat trick). No truth to the rumor he’s perfected his wrist shot by pinging pucks off the Martin St. Louis and Eric Perrin banners in Vermont’s barn.

10. Johnathan MacLeod was a scratch for Boston University last weekend after playing in the Terriers' opener. The former second rounder has been an occasional healthy scratch the last two years (sophomore, junior), but it was thought he’d be in the lineup more regularly as a senior. It’s a decision year on MacLeod and the Lightning may pass on the former second rounder, especially with Sosunov (another stay-at-homer – supposedly) and Cernak already signed.

11. Big stay-at-homer Andrej Sustr has been serving popcorn for the Lightning since Game 1 when he wore the goat horns for at least two Panther goals. The Lightning ended up winning, but Sustr kneels more than the 49ers when he’s in his own zone. Use the reach to disrupt the pass and don’t settle for being second goalie. He could find himself Nesteroved this year, especially if Koekkoek keeps up the good work. Sustr is on a one-year deal. He is okay on the PK, but if Dotchin, Stralman, and Girardi are all as good or better on the right side of the PK, that could be the end of the former UNO free agent signing who was once considered a bonus first or second rounder.

12. We’ve always been fans of Joshua Thomas Brown from his time as JT Brownov on a Syracuse line with Kucherov and Namestnikov. Personally, I have zero issue if he raised a fist during the national anthem. And don’t @ me. I’m not interested in a discussion about this. I appreciated his statement about it, which wasn’t necessary. He doesn’t have to explain himself to anyone. We move on, and now I’m just concerned if he can be an impact player in his role on the fourth line. He’s one that has to find a way back into the lineup then make the coaching staff’s decision for them to keep him in. He was such a good scorer at Duluth, it’s a shame he hasn’t been able to bring that into the NHL. He’s got a good release, but no confidence in his shot.

13. Speaking of Vladdy, I’ve given up hope thinking he’d be a line driver as we thought he might be when he was drafted in the first round out of London. But, boy, does he play the complementary role well with talented linemates. Anyone can play that role and get a couple points here and there, but he excels as a complementary player. Like Alex Killorn.

14. What’s gotten into Killorn this year? Doesn’t he know he’s supposed to be a north-south grinder with occasional good hands? He looked like a bigger, funnier version of Drouin against Pittsburgh, sneezing assists all game. This is the year he hits 20 goals. But he may hit 40 assists if he keeps this show going. Like the team, now we watch for consistency. So far, so good. It’s easy to pick on players when they struggle, but I’ll be quick to point out the solid play thus far of Alexander Joseph Killorn. It’s Deerfield Academy all over again.

15. Look for Budaj to get a start or few coming up. Cooper has ridden the Vasilevskiy train a lot this year, but don’t forget how important they felt it was to pace Ben Bishop with Vasy last year to keep Bishop fresh for the end of the year. I expect that mindset to come into play here soon when the schedule lightens up a bit.

16. The Lightning will wear their original jerseys in warmups coming up, and I can’t wait to see it. I hope the paintbrush numbers that play-by-play folks couldn’t read are there, too. And the victory stripes. And the two different fonts on the front like it was designed by a hockey guy on a napkin. It was? Oh. Okay. I wish they’d have it as their alternate. I’ll have to break out my Dan Cloutier 39 jersey that night. Still wondering how I ended up with that. I haven’t gotten a personalized jersey since. I still wear my Drouin “shirsey” out of spite, though.

17. Is it okay to be tired of the Ackerman Jewelers commercials already? I’d rather see the bloody-kneed marathon runner try to finish that race 164 times again this year. Still wondering why the trash guys helped him up but didn’t help him to his car. Or did he have a ride? Where were they? At least he wasn’t trying to be funny dressed up in a costume, though. Looking at you, Mr. Ackerman. Speaking of the tv broadcast this year, I like the new graphics Fox is using this year for the score bar. Simple, clear, modern. They’ve already adjusted and moved shots up to the score bar, which was a wise move. I wish they could adjust the Ackerman commercial.

That’s all for this week.