Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

The humble hockey fan’s guide to using prospects wisely

I was going to call this entry “Use ‘Em or Lose ‘Em” to express my thoughts on the Blue Jackets and Islanders not using Ryan Johansen and Nino Niederreiter properly. But then Ryan went and scored two goals in one game, and Nino got more ice time, and both have crossed the 10-game threshold. Since the likelihood of them being returned to Portland at this point is less than zero, I decided instead to offer my own fan-friendly tips for making the most of one’s prized draft possessions. Call it the ABCs of using prospects wisely.

D for Development: In Portland, Ryan and Nino succeeded not just because they were naturally gifted, but also because the Winterhawks focus on player development. Each season, a rotating set of players wear the A to build their leadership experience alongside everything else. Nino and Ryan did so while they were here. True, such privileges do not abound in the NHL, but surely NHL teams can take a few moments here and there to jot down a few notes about how they would like to progress their rookie talent from serving the other half of a player’s multiple penalties to becoming scoring sensations. Here are a few suggestions to get them started:

1) Put player in roommate situation where he will learn important skills like cooking, cleaning, laundry, packing properly for long road trips, proper nutrition, sleep and of course, honing his skills on Xbox and improving his golf game. Thanks to Jordan Eberle, for example, Taylor Hall now knows how to do his own laundry. Or, if you’re Sean Couturier, you already know how to do the laundry, and you help the Briere family do theirs (check out the last episode of 24/7 to see him demonstrate his fluff and fold skills).

2) Put player on proper line with skilled players who can show him the ropes. I’d rather hoped that Columbus would roll out a line that had the names Umberger, Johansen and Nash in it. Yes, I know that with Jeff Carter blowing into town, that’s not gonna happen, but a girl can dream.

3) Teach player how to answer all media questions with well-rehearsed clichés, during which they look at the reporter and not the floor. 

4) Give player proper ice time. I’m not saying they don’t have to pay dues like every other rookie, but let’s face it, along with good linemates, TOI is the most basic necessity for any player to make plays, score and succeed. If you had the good sense to draft a player in the top five, you should have the good sense to use him wisely.  From the day they set foot on our ice, Ryan and Nino rarely left it. During their two seasons here, they collectively racked up almost 400 points, including playoffs. I rest my case.

P for Preparation: Among Bear Bryant’s many famous quotes is the one about how it isn’t the will to win that matters, because everyone has that, it’s the will to prepare to win that matters. Taking on a rookie prospect requires careful preparation, planning and thought. You can’t just throw them into rush hour without directions. This past summer, the Toronto Maple Leafs assigned a sports psychologist to help Brad Ross spend more time on the breakaway and out of the box (well, ok, I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea). Brett Ponich spent much of his off season time in Portland, training and ultimately, getting ready for the NHL. It paid off, and he is now playing for the Peoria Rivermen and building up the skills he’ll need to graduate to the roster of the St. Louis Blues.

S for Snacks: Obviously, regular feedings on nutritious foods impacts a hockey player’s fat-to-muscle ratio, energy and performance. In Nino’s case, I hear he likes Mountain Dew and is rarely without a beloved Swiss chocolate bar: the true breakfast of champions. Or you can take this tip from Ryan, which I learned the first time I met him; no turkey sandwiches for a game day meal. Apparently, it slows you down…must be the tryptophan. Perhaps if you see him around Columbus you can ask him what he’s nibbling before games these days. And tell him Samantha and Portland said hi.

W for Welcome: One thing we pride ourselves on here in the Rose City is that we treat the Winterhawks like one of our own. They do live, play, go to school and bowl in our community, after all. It’s only right that we make them feel welcome. Portland only has the privilege of being the home of the NHL’s future for a short time. If your hometown team plays its cards right, you will have the privilege for much longer. For the fans in Columbus and Uniondale, I’m sure you’ll soon see that it’s easy to welcome Ryan and Nino into your hearts and minds. They are very special and there’s no one quite like either of them in the league or anywhere else. They are a class act and they genuinely like meeting fans and being part of their adopted home. That being said, the number one way to make the most of your prospects is to make them one of your own. It’s not in a playbook, a rulebook or the collective bargaining agreement. But after living in a junior hockey town for the better part of 10 years, I can guarantee you it works every time. 

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About Above the Glass

Welcome to Above the Glass, a definitive anti-expert’s guide to hockey. I started blogging in 2009 as part of an effort to learn all 87 rules in the NHL Rulebook in 107 days before the 2010 Olympics, 30 years after I discovered the sport. You can peruse the archival results here. Growing up in Arizona, I didn’t even know hockey existed until February 22, 1980, when the USA played Russia in the Olympics. And just like that, the game of the century changed my life. I still don’t quite understand the icing rule or which faceoff circle goes with what offense, but I do know that every aspect of hockey has something to teach us about life. That’s what you’ll find here, along with my unadulterated passion for the game.

I live in Portland, Oregon, home of the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. I invite anyone who wants to know more about hockey in the Rose City to visit here, where I blog exclusively about the Winterhawks. I’ll post an occasional musing about the Hawks, the WHL and junior hockey here as well.

Follow me on Twitter: @AbovetheGlass

Email: samantha@kuklaskorner.com