CRACKS OF DON: Imagine the 'Cat' on a line with McDavid and Draisaitl? Who would stop the Oil?

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Everybody is guilty of draft-day mistakes, but former Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli made a doozy almost five years ago that’s being felt now more than ever.

It’s quite possible Connor McDavid also had a hand in this particular crime by committing an error of omission. He was still a teenager, but as the franchise pick one year earlier, he was a kid with some clout.

This isn’t to criticize Chiarelli for selecting Jesse Puljujarvi with the fourth overall choice in 2016, even when players such as Matthew Tkachuk, Mikhail Sergachev, Charlie McAvoy and Jakob Chychrun were still on the board.

Puljujarvi was a good prospect. It’s just taken him five years to prove it.

Where Chiarelli messed up was with his second-round pick, 32nd overall.

Where McDavid blew it was not convincing him to take his former Erie Otters linemate.

The Oilers wound up with Tyler Benson, a 6-foot, 190-pound left winger from the Vancouver Giants.


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Falling seven slots further — passing Buffalo, Columbus, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Tampa and Florida for a second time — was 5-foot-7, 165-pound Alex DeBrincat.

Benson scored nine goals in his draft year.

DeBrincat scored 51, and just to prove he didn’t need McDavid to succeed, scored 65 the next season in leading the Otters to the OHL championship.

Benson still could turn out to be a decent player. He has shown some progress over the last four seasons with the Bakersfield Condors.

Meanwhile, only Auston Matthews (40) and McDavid (33) have more than the 32 goals DeBrincat scored with the Blackhawks this season.

If not for the pandemic shortening the schedule, the Farmington Hills, Mich., native surely would have matched the 41 he had two seasons ago.

Not bad for a guy who’s still seven months from his 24th birthday.

“The ‘Cat’ always reminded me of Paul Kariya with his style of hustle, attitude and desire to prove folks wrong due to his lack of size,” said long-time NHL executive Roy Mlakar, who was the Otters president from 2015-2018. “Difference is, (DeBrincat) was a better scorer … He strives for consistency and never disappoints. He has a knack for scoring the big goals that matter.

“I always believed in Alex. From Day 1.”

Too many NHL teams didn’t share that belief.

They were focused on DeBrincat’s height and weight more than the skills that will make him one of the NHL’s top scorers for the next decade or more.

It would be a stunning finish to the season, but the Oilers have a chance to win it all in 2021. They have lost only four more games and have 10 fewer points than Vegas, the No. 1 team in the league. They have a good coach, who now has been behind their bench for two seasons, in Dave Tippett. They have a solid defence led by Darnell Nurse and Tyson Barrie. They have a 39-year-old goalie who is having the season of a lifetime in Mike Smith.


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And of course, they have the NHL’s two most prolific offensive players.

But imagine if they also had DeBrincat to throw on the ice with Leon Draisaitl and McDavid, or to give them an extremely dangerous second line?

Not only would they be very difficult to stop, but in terms of firepower, at least, they would be starting to look a little like the Oilers of the 1980s.


Patrick Kane was hampered by an injury this season. “I’ve got one little issue I’ve been dealing with,” the 32-year-old Blackhawks star said Tuesday. “I’m trying to figure that out and hopefully it’s nothing too serious. Hopefully I’ll just get it fixed and not have to worry about it next year.” Kane had 66 points in 56 games and will finish among the top seven in league scoring. What would he have done if he was healthy? … Among the 14 starters the Bruins had in the press box Tuesday for their meaningless season finale against the Capitals were their top six forwards and top four defencemen. Curtis Lazar centred the No. 1 line … Alex Ovechkin, who had missed seven of Washington’s previous eight games, did suit up and used the night for a playoff tuneup. The two teams open the playoffs Saturday in what could be the best series of the first round.


Didn’t notice any of the Blue Jackets even hint of a problem with outgoing coach John Tortorella. Columbus will replace him with a different voice, but not somebody better at the job. Torts will re-emerge. Somewhere … Don’t blame Nick Paul for being Ottawa’s Masterton nominee. He didn’t vote. “Because a guy played a few years in the minors and is finally in the NHL, that’s perseverance?” said one coach who’s also a fan of the way Paul plays the game. “That’s called progression of being a pro.” … Oh, and another reason, barely worth mentioning, that Ottawa is an impossible landing spot for Jack Eichel — the $10 million he’s scheduled to make for the next five seasons.


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You realize that Andrew Cassels has been retired from the NHL for 15 seasons, after a career that spanned 1,015 games with the Habs, Whalers, Flames, Canucks, Blue Jackets and Capitals. What makes you feel old is not so much that you covered Cassels when he was the captain and star of the Ottawa 67’s, but that you now find the combination of French toast and ketchup unappealing. It looked good when Cassels sat across from you and devoured it at an all-night greasy spoon following a number of beers on his last night as a junior hockey player … Chris Snell either turns 50 today or July 12, depending on or Either way, Snell was a standout defenceman with the 67’s who was drafted (seventh round, 1991) by the Sabres and finally broke into the NHL for two games with the Maple Leafs in a season he had 22 goals and 96 points in 75 games with their AHL affiliate in St. John’s. The following season, he played 32 games (scoring two goals and seven assists) with a Los Angeles Kings team led by Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri and Rick Tocchet.


Exactly 25 years ago, the St. Louis Blues authored what became known as the “Monday Night Miracle” when, staring elimination in the face, they rallied from a 5-2 deficit with less than 10 minutes remaining to beat the Flames 6-5 in overtime of Game 6 in their conference final. Calgary won Game 7 by a 2-1 score on goals from Al MacInnis and Colin Patterson and a 17-save performance of Mike Vernon … Exactly eight years ago the Detroit Red Wings became the first team in NHL history to win 14 Game 7s when, led by a goal and assist from Henrik Zetterberg, they defeated the Ducks 3-2 in the conference quarterfinal at Honda Center. It also marked the first of four straight seasons in which the Ducks season ends with a Game 7 loss on home ice … The Red Wings have since been surpassed for most Game 7 victories (and most Game 7s played in) by the Bruins, who have emerged victorious in 15 of 28 (.536 winning percentage) … Among the players and ex-players blowing out candles on a birthday cake today are Johnny Bucyk (86), Bernie Federko (65), Dave Christian (62), Warren Rychel (54), Antti Raanta (32), Colton Parayko (28), Sonny Milano (25) and Samuel Girard (23).

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