March 2013


With the 2013 NHL Trade Deadline less than two weeks away, business has started to pick up around Madison Square Garden. Yes, there are trade rumors involving all the usual targets (Dan Boyle, Ryan Clowe, Brenden Morrow) and possible trade chips – including rumors of the Blueshirts entertaining offers for Marian Gaborik. However, the biggest intrigue is who will be pulling the trigger on any potential deals.

As Glen Sather undergoes and recuperates from prostate surgery, Assistant GM Jeff Gorton represented the team at the General Manager’s meetings in Toronto. While Sather will still have the final say on any deal, Gorton is probably the person who will do the heavy lifting and the dirty work in any trade the Rangers make – and that might not be such a bad thing.

Gorton, in his brief term as interim GM of the Bruins in 2006, helped lay the groundwork for Boston’s Stanley Cup victory. During his tenure, he engineered the trade that brought Tuuka Rask from Toronto (in exchange for Andrew Raycroft), signed Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard as free agents, and drafted the likes of Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand.

Whether it is Sather or Gorton leading the trade brigade, the one thing the Rangers have to be mindful of is the $6 million cut the NHL’s salary cap takes next season. While navigating the decrease in the salary cap, the team has to address the RFA status of Carl Hagelin, Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan after this season.

As if that weren’t daunting enough, the Blueshirts have to keep one eye open for the contracts that come up after 2014-2015.

Ryan Callaghan, Marian Gaborik, Dan Girardi, and Henrik Lundqvist are UFA and Michael Del Zotto and Chris Kreider are RFA – and that still doesn’t take into account the loss of UFA depth players like Martin Biron, Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman.

As the Rangers stare down the April 3 deadline, the main goal would be to add players who are set to be UFAs at the end of the season – thus limiting the Rangers cap concern to just the final weeks of the regular season. For the Rangers to take on any contracts beyond this season would require them to move a player still under contract beyond this season. That could be a factor in the Rangers gauging interest in Gaborik – someone who might be out of the Rangers cap range when he is a free agent.

With that said, there is still a way for teams to “work around” possible salary implications when discussing trades. Craig Custance of ESPN pointed out that the new CBA allows teams to absorb parts of contracts in trades.

SNY’s Adam Rotter wrote that Custance pointed out that only one trade this year has involved a team absorbing salary as part of a trade – the deal that ssaw Toronto send Matthew Lombardi back to Phoenix.

Rotter spoke with Gorton and the Assistant GM said that the Rangers are doing their due diligence in terms of researching the ins and outs.

“If there’s a money concern on one team and the other team has the ability to keep it, it’s significant,” Gorton told Rotter. “As we move forward it’s going to play a big role in player deals.”

The biggest problem in terms of trying to handicap who the Rangers would target is the fact that the NHL Lockout turned the NHL season from a marathon into a sprint. As a result, as of March 22, the last place team in the Eastern Conference is only eight points out of the 8th spot and only six points separates the 8th and 15th place teams in the Western Conference.

The Florida Panthers might be the only team that could consider themselves out of the playoff hunt for the very same reason that could prevent them from being very active at the trade deadline – injuries. Possible trade targets Kris Versteeg and Stephen Weiss (an UFA at the end of the year) are out for the season. Mike Weaver and Jose Theodore are out anywhere from 4-6 weeks and Ed Jovanoski was placed on Injured Reserve on St. Patrick’s Day.

However, after polishing off Carolina and the Rangers in back-to-back games, maybe the Panthers playoff chances aren’t so dead after all.

It very well could be with an eye towards the deadline that the Rangers recalled Chris Kreider. It is a good strategy for the Blueshirts to give Kreider another look before committing time, resources, and salary cap space in any trade for a scoring forward.

Coach John Tortorella, at least at the start, is teaming Kreider up with fellow rookie J.T. Miller with Brian Boyle as the center between the two former first round draft picks. While Boyle will not be able to keep up with the speedy Kreider, he does provide some defensive insurance for him (and Miller too).

In an ideal world, Kreider should be getting top six forward minutes but taking a regular shift on the third line helps to ease him back into the regular rotation – especially if Torts can find some time for him on the struggling power play.

With that said, I will have no problem with Tortorella moving Jeff Halpern or Taylor Pyatt up to the third line if the Rangers are trying to protect a one-goal lead in the final 7-10 minutes of the third period.

However, the coach has to be willing to live with some of the growing pains you go through when you play a rookie whose main asset is his offensive ability. Tortorella can’t be benching him for making a regular “mistake” because if that were the case then Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards would be getting a lot of pine time.

Should Kreider play up to, or near, his 2012 playoff performance then the Rangers will have added scoring without giving up anything. That would free the team up to shop for some depth forwards (who would be much cheaper than trying to find an offensive player). They could look to bring in a defensively responsible third line center who would give them more offense, and in turn, allow them to drop Boyle to the fourth line – thus strengthening both of those lines.

The Rangers could also channel their assets into upgrading their defense corps – especially given the uncertain return of Marc Staal. Even if Staal were to return, the Rangers could still use an upgrade and a better sixth defenseman. In this case, the team could look to bring in a defensive d-man who would add a physical presence or they could in the complete opposite direction and look for an offensive d-man to help the power play. Given Tortorella’s preference to shorten the defense rotation, the Blueshirts could get by with a power play specialist as their sixth defenseman.

Following the Florida game, the coach appeared to let it be known that an offensive d-man is high on his priority list.

“We still need someone to take over the power play and run it,” Tortorella said. “I don’t think that’s happened and I’m not sure it ever will.”

I have to respectfully disagree with Torts on this one. After the lockout, the Rangers had a Top 10 power play that was run by Michal Rozsival. The problem with the current team is not the players, it is the way the power play is being run. Constant over-passing, shots that are wide of the net and no forwards crowding the crease are not going to change even if Bobby Orr in his prime were running the power play.

With Staal’s health and availability a big question, I believe the Rangers bigger need is a defenseman who can try to help replace Staal’s play in the defensive zone.

The Rangers have had scouts following the San Jose Sharks who have a pair of defensemen who fits both of the Rangers needs. Doug Murray (UFA this year) would fill the bill of a big physical defensive blueliner.

Dan Boyle (UFA at the end of 2013-2014) would give the Rangers the offensive threat/power play QB the coach wants. The problem with Boyle is that he does have a limited no-trade clause where he can block eight teams.

The main concern with Boyle is trying to fit his $6.7 million contract under next year’s budget while trying to replace Gaborik at forward both this year and next. The Rangers could inquire about Ryan Clowe (UFA this year). According to the CapGeek Trade Calculator, a Gaborik for Boyle and Clowe deal would be “Cap compliant” for both sides. However, there would be two problems.

First off, the Rangers would definitely have to kick in a prospect and/or draft pick to even off the deal. The second problem, and possibly the biggest roadblock, is that Clowe is having a horrendous season to the tune of zero goals and nine assists in 25 games this season. While Clowe fits Tortorella’s style of play, his subpar skating would be a big hit to take while losing Gaborik.

In mid-February, I put together a list of UFA players who might be available. In the month or so since I put together that list, the topsy-turvy nature of the shortened NHL season has seen a team like Columbus (Vinny Prospal anyone) shoot into the thick of the playoff hunt.

In my first draft, this was the place where I talked about how a Rangers winning streak heading into the trade deadline would play into their favor in terms of giving them better bargaining power. Given the fiasco that was the loss to the Panthers, any leverage the Rangers might have taken advantage of was lost.

Failure to accumulate points puts the Rangers in the tenable position of having to decide whether or not they are willing to mortgage the future for a playoff run this year. The team has been able to resist the urge in the past, but expectations were much different coming into this season than they have been in a long time.

It is those lofty expectations that would prevent the Rangers from being sellers at the deadline. Cablevision can ill afford to have the Blueshirts miss the playoffs after raising ticket prices again as the Garden looks ahead to finishing its extensive remodeling.

Putting fishnagles aside, if that is even possible, the Rangers can’t run the risk of missing the playoffs because they don’t even have their first round draft pick – an even bigger loss now that the NHL finally decided to allow all 14 non-playoff teams to have a shot at the first overall pick in the NHL Draft Lottery. As slim as the Rangers chances would be, it would be their luck to finally end up at the top of the Draft only to watch Columbus use that pick.

That might not mean that much to the average fan, but I bet it means an awful lot to the image-conscience New York Rangers and owner James Dolan

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When people think of the “Ides of March”, there thoughts go to the assassination of Julius Caesar and of reading William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar as the title character is warned “beware the Ides of March”.

For me, the “Ides of March” represents the day of the final game of the Iona College Hockey Team. On March 15, 2003, my alma mater’s hockey program came to an end in a heart-wrenching loss to Mercyhurst in the MAAC Quarterfinals.

The termination of the hockey program is the reason why the 2004-2005 NHL Lockout, and our current brush with Lockout #2, did not bother me as it did the majority of New York Rangers fans. I knew that eventually the Rangers, and the NHL, would be back. The same could not be said of the Ice Gaels.

On that night in Erie, Pennsylvania I witnessed an incredible scene – one that occurred after the game. As I made my way through the Iona locker room, it was the Iona players consoling me rather than me consoling them. I know as a journalist one is supposed to remain neutral and remove themselves from a rooting interest – something I strove very hard to do as part of my duties as the Iona College game recapper for US College Hockey Online.

However, on that fateful day my emotions as a fan won out I tried to talk to Coach Frank Bretti and his players that night. Instead of me helping them through their tough time, they were helping me. If you ever met those players you would understand why my feelings as a fan came through – while they were good hockey players, they were even better guys. That goes for pretty much every player I encountered while covering the Iona hockey team.

In tribute to the 10th anniversary of the final game of the Ice Gaels, I offer this reprinted article of that final game. It is not from the recap I did for USCHO. Instead, it is from the expanded recap I did for Ranger Ramblings – back in the days when the column was part of Allsports.com’s Ranger Fan Central.

While I do not miss the crazy bus rides with Coach USA – and there were some real doozies – I do miss the good times and great people associated with the Iona College Hockey program. As I sit and write this prologue, I can’t help but tear up and wonder what might have been had the Iona College program continued. Archrival Quinnipiac left the successor to the MAAC (Atlantic Hockey) for ECAC and this year become the #1 team in the country. I often wonder, if Quinnipiac, why not Iona?

What started as a club team in 1967 ended on March 15, 2003 as the Iona College hockey program came to an end with its 5-4 loss at Mercyhurst. With the victory, the Lakers advance to their fourth consecutive MAAC Semifinals in as many years. Mercyhurst (20-12-2) will play Bentley in the 5:00 p.m. game on March 21, 2003.

The end of an era came at 9:23 p.m. as the final seconds ticked off the clock. The hockey team embodied Iona’s motto of “fight the good fight”. It would have been easy for lesser athletes to fold at the prospect of overcoming a three-goal deficit with only 20 minutes left to play in their Iona careers. What the Iona Administration never realized, nor accounted for, was the heart and backbone of their players given the circumstances of the past week – especially given the fact the Administration told the players one of the reasons for dropping the hockey program was over a concern over how competitive the team could be.

One week ago Iona (11-22-2) visited Fairfield as the Stags played their final Division I hockey game. Little did the Gaels know seven days later they would be facing the same situation.

Iona coach Frank Bretti explained how he learned about the beginning of the end of the hockey program during the Friday afternoon press conference at the Mercyhurst Ice Center.

“I was basically called in. I was left a message that evening before [that] I had to meet with the president and our AD. I was called and told that they wanted to meet with the team at nine o’clock. When I got that message I had a feeling that they weren’t going to be wishing us good luck at Mercyhurst to be honest with you,” Bretti recounted. “It was pretty much told to me pretty quickly that there were some issues and some reallocations of money and we basically fell victim to it.”

Mind you, these events all took place just four days before the Gaels would play their MAAC playoff game.

Iona captain Mark Hallam described his teammates feelings as they headed into the Mercyhurst game.

“There are some people [in the Iona Administration] that we would like to prove wrong. We haven’t had much success here [at Mercyhurst] in the past and we were able to battle back that game and get an overtime win. I think that could be one of the big turning points in our season so far. From there we were able to develop some confidence and into the second half there I think we went on a little run here at the end, 7-4-1 or something like that,” the native of Medicine Hat, Alberta stated.

“We feel like we’re playing good hockey right now, we have a lot of confidence and outside of some bad news this week, we feel like we have a job to do this weekend and we just have to get it done.

In that press conference, Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin summed up the sentiments of the Iona faithful.

“It’s a sad day for Iona. It’s a sad day for the MAAC, and it’s a sad day for college hockey,” he said. “I thought we’d lose some teams. [But] if you told me it would be Iona, I wouldn’t believe it. Hearing the news about Iona is numbing to me. I think Iona is making a terrible mistake. I question the timing of the decision [and announcement].”

Despite the unusual circumstances surrounding the Iona program, Gotkin and his team realized there was still a job to get done.

“It’s clearly a distraction for us, but we’re preparing for a very good [Iona] team that beat us here. We’re going to have to be very good to be successful,” Gotkin said during the press conference.

Lakers captain Adam Rivers addressed what his team needed to do to survive and advance in the MAAC playoffs.

“It’ll come down to a game of little things,” the senior from Belleville, Ontario said. “We’ve got to stick to our game plan – control the neutral zone, no turnovers, tight defense, that sort of thing.”

Hallam agreed with his counterparts’ assessment when it came to following the game plan. “We have to bring our ‘A’ game in all three zones. We have to play strong defensively, can’t make mistakes in the neutral zone, and [we] have to finish in the offensive zone.”

While there was an obvious extra-added emotional level to the game, Bretti was quick to point out that his team could not run on emotion alone.

“I think it does on the mental side of it. The reality of it is, as I tell our guys through the course of the year, different coaches have different methods of motivating people. Whether it’s through quotes and this and that, the bottom line is that you have to be physically and mentally prepared,” Bretti explained.

“We’re definitely up against the most formidable opponent in the league and it’s going to take a lot more than emotion to win this game. There’s no doubt that there’s going to be a little bit of extra energy in everybody in the lineup for us when it’s all said and done.

When the Gaels arrived at the rink, they were met with some unexpected well wishes from former Iona players and friends of the hockey program. Assistant coach Rob Haberbusch put out a call and the Gaels’ faithful responded – letting the hockey team know many people were still rooting for them. Haberbusch put up the notes of encouragement on the wall in the hallway leading to the Iona locker room.

The Lakers opened the scoring in the opening minutes of the game as Dave Borelli scored the first of his two goals at 2:26 with David Wrigley and Adam Rivers assisting on the freshman’s goal.

“I came out of the corner and the puck just came loose and I popped it into the empty net,” the Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario native explained.

The Gaels would take the lead midway through the first period as they cashed in on a pair of play chances just over two minutes apart.

With Jamie King in the penalty box for Hooking, Hallam evened the score at 8:54 on a set up from Jamie Carroll and Ryan Swanson as he slipped home his 11th goal of the season beating Andy Franck between the pads. The point was Hallam’s 100th of his career as he became the 32nd Gael (and fourth in their Division I history) to hit the century mark.

The Gaels took the lead a little more than two minutes later with Marty Rychley serving a Tripping penalty. Tim Krueckl put Iona ahead at 11:12 as he scored his 11th of the season, and fourth in three games against Mercyhurst, on assists from Hallam and Jamie Carroll.

The Gaels CHecK Line of Carroll, Hallam and Krueckl finished up with 21 goals and 31 assists in their last 13 games, serving notice they would have been one of the most potent lines in the MAAC next season – if there had been a next season for Iona.

The Gaels good fortunes did not last long as Borelli scored again just 24 seconds later as he beat Ian Vigier from the high slot for his seventh of the season and third against Iona in as many games.

In victory, Borelli was quick to praise the Gaels. “We have to give a lot of credit to Iona. They came out and played hard. It was an emotional game from the beginning,” the freshman center related. “Everybody on our team came out and played 60 minutes and that is what it takes to win in the playoffs.”

Mercyhurst took the lead for good with less than five minutes as they converted off a set play on a faceoff in the Iona zone as Wrigley tipped home Mike Muldoon’s centering pass at 15:04. Borelli received the secondary assist on Wrigley’s 14th of the season and third against Iona.

Franck made a pair of dazzling saves in the final minute to keep Iona from tying the game. He stopped Hallam, who had a defender on his back, on a partial breakaway with 50 seconds left in the first period, and Franck later made a sprawling save on Ryan Manitowich in the slot with 21 seconds remaining. Franck’s late period heroics were just a preview of what he would do in the third period.

“Franck has been outstanding for the last two months,” Borelli said explaining the workload the freshman has carried after junior Matt Cifelli left school in January.

“He’s had his down games, but the last month he’s been playing great for us. He’s been playing awesome for us and we need that just like we need everyone else to step up.”

The Lakers extended their lead to three, as their power play stepped up and converted on a pair of consecutive power play opportunities.

With Aaron Kakepetum whistled off the ice for a Delay of Game penalty, T.J. Kemp extended the lead to 4-2 as he slid down from his left point position to deflect home Rich Hansen’s cross-ice pass at 9:58. Adam Tackaberry, returning to the lineup after missing the last 10 games, also assisted on Kemp’s 10th goal.

Mercyhurst struck again on the power play as they scored six seconds after Brent Williams’ Holding penalty man. Peter Rynshoven one-timed Hansen’s pass into the net for his 10th goal at 12:02.

Down three and watching their season and Iona careers slipping away, the Gaels dug in deep and decided they would not go gently into that good night.

During the second intermission, Bretti tried to get his team to forget about the emotional events of the past few days and concentrate on the task at hand.

“I’ve always believed in these guys. At the end of the second period, we talked about needing to settle down a little bit. We felt we were going to continue to get [scoring] opportunities,” he explained. “It was just going to come down to being able to finish a few of them. We were able to give it a fight until the end.”

Actually, Iona thought they had cut the lead to two with 58 seconds left in the second period, but referee Jeff Fulton ruled the puck did not cross the goal line and while bothering to check with the goal judge – even though it appeared, from the press box, that the puck had skittered completely over the goal line. An ensuing 10-minute misconduct penalty costs the Gaels the services of Chad Van Diemen – the team’s second highest scoring defenseman.

At one point early in the third period, the Gaels had Van Diemen, Ryan Swanson (Holding minor) and Trevor McCall (Roughing minor and a 10-minute misconduct) in the penalty box. Bretti was forced use freshman center Andrew McShea on defense with half his blueliners in the penalty box.

The Gaels finally cut the lead to two at 6:30 of the third period when Neil Clark tipped home Kakepetum’s shot from the point. Brent Williams drew the secondary assist on Clark’s third goal.

Five minutes later it was Williams firing home his 13th of the season and breathing life back into the Iona hockey program. Williams hustled off the Iona bench to keep the puck in at the right point. The sophomore skated into the high slot and beat Franck high to the glove side. Kelly Bararuk and Clark drew the assists on the goal as their forechecking paved the way for the goal.

Iona had the Lakers back on their heels as they threw everything at Mercyhurst – including the proverbial kitchen sink. The eighth-seeded Gaels had the number one seeded Lakers content just to ice the puck to relieve the pressure.

The Gaels nearly tied the game with two and a half minutes left, but Franck’s toe save of a Manitowich redirection in front proved to be the best, and most important, of Franck’s 43 saves.

“Andy Franck won us this hockey game. There is no question in my mind,” Gotkin said. “The games [is] 5-2 and we come out and have four or five chances. If one of them goes in, I think we win the game going away. They didn’t go in and I think there was some magic in Iona’s situation. The next thing we know, it’s 5-4 and we are hanging on by our thumbnails.”

Gotkin was quick to offer his support and praise of the Gaels in defeat.

“I’d like to tip my hat to Frank Bretti, his assistants, and most importantly, his players. They really played great and showed a lot of heart. I am proud to have had the chance to coach against them the last four or five years. I have no doubt all these people will land on their feet,” said Gotkin.

“We had to try and overcome everything in a three day period and had to play the most formidable opponent in the league on the road,” an emotionally drained Bretti said. “I am proud of my guys. They gave it everything they had. We took the game to the last few seconds. My guys showed a lot of class going it the third period.”

What part did the emotional level play in the game?

“It’s really so hard to pinpoint how emotion affected the shifts and certain instances in the game. The bottom line tonight is it has been a difficult four days for us,” Bretti said. “We were doing everything we could to keep our focus. What was difficult for us to deal with was coming into this playoff series. We felt very good about how we were playing and then somebody brings you in ….”

A week before, following the Gaels win in Fairfield University’s final hockey game, Haberbusch spoke about his alma mater’s decision to eliminate its hockey program. With a couple of minor adjustments, the words he used in relating the fate of the Stags fits the Gaels and bears repeating.

“I feel very bad for these [25] kids on the team and the coaches that were brought here under the guise there was a long-term commitment to them and their goals. It is very devastating to the alumni base as well,” Haberbusch said.

”There are [36] years of [hockey] tradition here. Countless people have been through here and put in a great deal of hard work, dedication and commitment into this program. To see it taken away with the snap of a finger is very hard to swallow [and] that something so many people worked so hard to build isn’t going to be there anymore.”

For two years I have tried to be as impartial and neutral as possible in covering Iona College for U.S. College Hockey Online and USA College Hockey Magazine – despite the fact that Iona College is my alma mater and full-time employer.

Given the circumstances of the past week, I feel the need to thank all of the players and coaches who I have covered the past two years and rooted for during the past five seasons. Listening to the players after the game and in taking to the parents of Jamie Carroll and Andrew McShea, it was apparent, that parents and players alike thought of Iona as much more than the next place to play hockey. It was a home to them.

Jaymie Harrington spoke of being a “nomad” when it came to playing in as many six cities before coming to Iona. He thought he finally had a chance to hang his hat in one place for four years.

Trevor Aubie spoke of working in a local mill back home in western Canada before being given a chance by Coach Bretti to play hockey and get an education.

The bottom line is there are similar stories for each of the 25 members of the hockey team. While the names, faces and hometowns might change, the moral of the story is still the same

Each of these players made Iona a better place because of their presence on campus. Their absence leaves a void that will not easily be replaced – if it can be replaced at all.

They all deserved a better fate.

In the 10 years that have gone by since that final game, the Iona College Hockey program saw, by my count, nine players go on to play professional hockey in various North American leagues (AHL, ECHL, CHL, UHL and IHL) as well as playing overseas in Europe.

In fact, as I write this in March 2013, two Gaels are still playing professional hockey – Nathan Lutz and Ian Vigier. The others who played professional hockey include Jamie Carroll, Ryan Carter, Neil Clark, Tim Krueckl, Ryan Manitowich, Chris Martini, and Dan McGuire.

In addition, Iona coaches have found their way behind benches of other teams. Former player and assistant coach Mike Warde is an assistant coach at Army. Rob Haberbusch, who suffered the cruel fate of watching both Fairfield and Iona shutter their hockey programs, is the head coach at Hamilton College. Frank Bretti is the coach of the NY Apple Core program in the EJHL as he now prepares players for collegiate aspirations. Pat Lyons would eventually go from player, to assistant coach to eventual former Athletic Director at Iona and current AD at Seton Hall.

Other former Gaels have gotten into the off-ice world of hockey. Adam Bouchard spent two seasons as an assistant coach with Framingham State College. Jayme Harrington is currently the head coach at Franklin Pierce College. Mike Fraser is a scout with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL.

If I missed anyone in those honors, I apologize for the omission. This addendum was meat to celebrate the Iona College Hockey program and, as John Greenleaf Whittier wrote, wonder “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: “It might have been!’”

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The newest New York Ranger, Josh Nicholls, might owe Shane McColgan a thank you and root beer as a result of signing with the Blueshirts. The 6-foot-2 and 186 pound forward is a teammate of McColgan’s with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades and you can bet the Blueshirts dialed into Nicholls this season while tracking McColgan’s progress.

Nicholls, who can play Center and RW, was originally a 2010 seventh round draft pick (#182) of the Toronto Maple Leafs. When he did not sign with Toronto, Nicholls was eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft but went undrafted.

As per Bob McKenzie of TSN, Nicholls signed an entry level contract (with a cap hit of $925,000) and will remain with the Blades until their season is over.

Nicholls was on the radar prior to the 2010 NHL Draft. NHL’s Central Scouting ranked him as their 93rd North American skater. McKeen’s ranked him at number 129 in their rankings of the Top 150 players. International Scouting Service ranked him at #199 and had the following write-up on him:

• Good linear skater but edge work needs improvement
• Two way player
• Leadership qualities
• Puck handling skills are decent
• Good stick around net in offensive zone
• Good positioning in d-zone
• Plays PK

Nicholls, who will be 21 on April 17, is playing his fifth season with the Blades – starting his WHL career as a 16-year-old.

The Tsawwassen, BC native has shown solid development as his WHL has progressed. After posting nine goals and 16 assists in 63 games in his rookie season, Nicholls’ numbers have steadily increased – as seen here:

• 18 goals and 30 assists in 71 games in 2008-2009
• 34 goals and 53 assists in 71 games in 2010-2011
• 30 goals and 38 assists in 56 games in 2011-2012
• 41 goals and 32 assists in 65 games (and counting) in 2012-2013

Hockey’s Future offers up the following Scouting Report on him:

“An interesting combination of size and speed, Nicholls is a two-way forward who displays some offensive upside. He is able to line-up both at center and on the right-wing. Very thin at the moment being only 186lbs and 6’2 so weight will be a priority over the next two seasons. Not a physical force, but forechecks well. He has developed into a well-rounded forward over the last few seasons; dangerous in all areas of the ice.”

“A long-term project with intriguing upside, Nicholls will spend the 2012-13 season in the WHL where he will continue maturing. Nicholls will continue his prominent offensive role with Saskatoon this season.”

“Projection: Versatile two-way forward with size.”

On his SNY Blog, Adam Rotter wrote that Nicholls scored a highlight goal reminiscent of Marek Malik’s shootout game-winning goal in November 2006. The main difference is that Nicholls’ goal was during the regular course of the game.

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