October 12, 2013

From NEHJ: Most likely to …

By Jesse Connolly

Canaan, N.H., native Ben Lovejoy gets our pick for best nickname: "Reverend Lovejoy." (All photos by Getty Images)
 

The start of the 2013-14 season is here, meaning it’s time to get you up to speed on what lies ahead for the local hometown heroes playing in the National Hockey League. We’ve decided to send them off into the new campaign the same way your high school yearbook editors sent you off into the real world. Here are our NHL New England superlatives (“most likely to succeed” kiss of death not included):

MOST LIKELY TO WIN A MAJOR AWARD

Jonathan Quick (Hamden, Conn.) | Los Angeles Kings

There’s no sense in starting with anyone other than the crown jewel of — no that’s not a Kings/royalty joke — this group. Quick got off to a slow start last season, but was in darn-near-unbeatable form down the stretch and even better in the playoffs. The 2012 Conn Smythe winner has been pegged by many as the frontrunner for this year’s Vezina Trophy. Count us among those who expect Quick to cement his status as the best goalie in the NHL this season.

MOST LIKELY TO PUT YOU THROUGH THE GLASS

Brian Boyle (Hingham, Mass.) | New York Rangers

Make no bones about it: Boyle is the last New Englander you want lining you up for a devastating check. The 6-foot-7, 244-pound center ranked in the top 15 league leaders in hits in each of the past three seasons. Hardly one-dimensional, the former BC captain can win a key faceoff, block your shot then drive your body into plexiglass with the force of a freight train, all in a single shift. The Blueshirts’ behemoth forward will be dishing out plenty of bruises on Broadway this season.

MOST LIKELY TO HAVE A BOUNCE-BACK YEAR

Chris Kreider (Boxford, Mass.) | New York Rangers

Kreider surprised many when he jumped right from college to an NHL team’s playoff lineup in 2012, scoring five times to help the Rangers reach the conference finals. But in his first full year of pro hockey, things went awry. He struggled to score in the AHL and couldn’t nail down consistent NHL ice time for no-nonsense coach John Tortorella (Melrose, Mass.), finishing with two goals in 23 games. New bench boss Alain Vigneault should be a breath of fresh air for Kreider as he aims to earn a top-six role for the Blueshirts.

BEST OLYMPIC MUGSHOT

Keith Yandle (Milton, Mass.) | Phoenix Coyotes

One of the game’s highest-scoring defensemen over the last four seasons, Yandle’s more than earned a shot to represent the United States at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. Like the rest of his countrymen, he was subjected to a wide-ranging photo shoot that yielded some silly results that the public’s gotten a kick out of. Here’s one of the Coyotes blueliner’s Team USA vanity shots, in which he seems to be saying, “Are you going to open that fine bottle of Chardonnay or am I going to have to do it?”

MOST MYSTERIOUS

Rick DiPietro (Winthrop, Mass.) | Free Agent

Since being banished to the AHL during the season then subsequently bought out, news about DiPietro has been virtually nonexistent, shy of word that his $5-plus million home on Long Island is on the market. The former BU Terrier’s agent says the perennially injured goaltender is working out and looking forward to an opportunity to play again. If he’s unable to catch on anywhere, collecting $1.5 million annually for the next 16 years doesn’t sound like the worst fate ever.

BEST NICKNAME

Ben Lovejoy (Canaan, N.H.) | Anaheim Ducks

Whether you’re a fan of “The Simpsons” or not, Lovejoy has one of the show’s integral secondary characters, Reverend Lovejoy, to thank for his cool nickname and accompanying Twitter handle (@RevLovejoy6). The skilled defenseman answered Anaheim’s prayers in February when he arrived via trade from Pittsburgh and helped stabilize their back end. The 29-year-old Dartmouth product will be counted on to repeat that feat in 2013-14 for a Ducks team looking to avenge a first-round playoff exit.

MOST DESERVING OF A BREAK

Bobby Butler (Marlboro, Mass.) | Florida Panthers

After an impressive rookie year in 2010-11 in Ottawa, Butler seemed poised to take on a starring role for the Senators. But the follow-up season didn’t go according to plan, leading to a buyout at year’s end. A hot start at his next stop in Albany during the lockout was followed by a lackluster showing with the Devils, being claimed off waivers by the Preds then traded to the Panthers this summer. Hopefully the hockey gods will show Butler some mercy and allow him to stick around the Sunshine State for a while.

BEST BOSTON ACCENT

Mike Mottau (Avon, Mass.) | Florida Panthers

If you’ve caught an interview with Mike Mottau throughout his 13-year pro career, it should be as clear as day that the veteran defenseman hails from the Boston area. The 2000 Hobey Baker Award winner is looking to get back to the NHL after a year in the American Hockey League, as he split 2012-13 playing for the Rampage and Marlies. Mottau joined Florida on a professional tryout and should get a good chance to represent the “South Shaw” with the upstart “Panthuhz.”

MOST RESILIENT

Hal Gill (Bolton, Mass.) | Philadelphia Flyers

Gill was a victim of the shrinking cap this summer, as the veteran of 1,102 games was bought out by Nashville. At 38, there’s no doubt that the former Bruins’ time in the NHL is winding down, but I don’t think it’s run out quite yet. The stay-at-home D-man spent September with the Flyers on a professional tryout. He had two assists and a plus-2 rating in his first two preseason games. If he sticks with the club, he should serve as a great source of wisdom for a team chock full of 20-somethings finding their way in the NHL.

MOST LIKELY TO HURT A FUTURE HALL OF FAMER’S FEELINGS

Cory Schneider (Marblehead, Mass.) | New Jersey Devils

At this point, Schneider must feel like he was put on this planet to face the challenge of supplanting a long-tenured, perennial All-Star goaltender ahead of him on the depth chart. After beating out Roberto Luongo in Vancouver to become the Canucks’ starter, only to be traded to New Jersey, the former BC Eagle is tasked with wrestling the No. 1 role away from arguably the greatest goaltender of all time, Martin Brodeur. The 41-year-old legend could finish his final NHL season with Schneider as the Devils’ new go-to goalie.

BEST BEARD

Brian Strait (Waltham, Mass.) | New York Islanders

It’s easy enough to root for the Islanders to make it back to the playoffs for a second straight season. They’re a young team and a ton of fun to watch. Another reason to hope postseason hockey returns to Long Island can be found on the face of Brian Strait. The Isles defenseman grew one seriously impressive playoff beard last spring, all in the span of six games. Look at that thing! One can only imagine how gloriously burly Strait would look if he could help the Isles make a deep run in 2014.

MOST LIKELY TO WIN THE CUP

Jimmy Hayes (Dorchester, Mass.), Ben Smith (Avon, Conn.) | Chicago Blackhawks

As members of the defending champions — who we’ve pegged as the most likely team to reign supreme in the NHL this season — we’ve got to go with Chicago’s duo of New England-born youngsters. Smith had a superb season in Rockford and got a chance to suit up in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden. Hayes saw action in 10 regular-season games for the Hawks after an impressive second pro season in the AHL. With a few noteworthy departures, the two are primed to take on bigger roles up front for the Hawks in 2013-14.

Twitter: @JesseNEHJ
Email: jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com