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December 6, 2011
Pucks From The Past
Saskatoon Westerns, 1996-97

by Iain Fyffe

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The 1996 NHL Entry Draft features a fairly thin pool of talent at the top. Fictional Saskatoon Westerns GM Ardal Ekrub uses his Project-a-Tron system each year to objectively rank available draft prospects. For the first time since taking over the team in 1983, Ekrub finds not a single player with a projected peak GVT (PGVT+) of 11 or more. Andrei Zyuzin tops the rankings with a 10.8 PGVT+. Overall, the 1988 draft was weaker at the top, but 1996 is certainly unimpressive in this regard:

Draft	#1 Rank	#2 Rank	#3 Rank	#4 Rank	#5 Rank
1996	10.8	10.7	9.8	8.1	8.0
1995	11.7	11.3	11.0	9.8	9.6
1994	13.4	12.3	10.3	10.1	9.9
1993	30.0	17.8	13.9	12.4	10.3
1992	14.5	13.3	10.8	10.0	9.4
1991	28.7	13.4	13.4	13.3	12.9
1990	25.7	13.0	11.0	10.8	9.7
1989	17.1	12.4	8.5	8.2	8.2
1988	11.0	9.5	8.7	8.3	8.0
1987	17.1	12.4	8.5	8.2	8.2
1986	20.4	18.6	13.8	11.7	9.0
1985	30.0	14.0	13.0	12.3	8.9
1984	30.0	17.5	10.3	10.0	9.0
1983	11.6	11.2	11.2	10.3	9.1

The 1991 Entry Draft had an exceptional group at the top of the list, with six players who would rank first overall in 1996. The relative lack of projected superstars doesn't really affect Ekrub, of course. Generally speaking, a player with PGVT+ of 15 or more isn't going to be around when it comes time for the Sasktoon GM to make his first selection in a draft. The downside of having a team consistently at or near the top of the league standings is that you won't have an early draft pick unless you invest significant resources into trading for one. Still, Erkub has been able to select some of the best players available, as he sees them, because the other teams do not recognize the value he sees in them.

Top 30 Players Available at 1996 Entry Draft

Rank	Player			Pos	League	PGVT+	Drafted
1	Zyuzin, Andrei		D	Rus	10.8	2
2	Briere, Daniel		F	QMJHL	10.7	24
3	Sturm, Marco		F	Ger	9.8	21
4	Phillips, Chris		D	WHL	8.1	1
5	Nilson, Marcus		F	Swe	8.0	20
6	Garon, Mathieu		G	QMJHL	7.5	44
7	Rasmussen, Erik		F	WCHA	7.3	7
8	Holden, Josh		F	WHL	6.8	12
9	Robinson, Todd		F	WHL	6.7	-
10	Kratena, Ondrej		F	Cze	6.7	-
11	McLean, Brett		F	WHL	6.6	-
12	Reasoner, Marty		F	HE	6.5	14
13	Corvo, Joe		D	CCHA	6.5	-
14	Petrunin, Andrei	F	Rus	6.5	61
15	Straka, Jozef		F	Cze	6.5	122
16	Dumont, J-P		F	QMJHL	6.4	3
17	Hillier, Craig		G	OHL	6.3	23
18	Malov, Roman		F	Rus	6.3	187
19	Clark, Brett		D	HE	6.1	154
20	Larivee, Francois	G	QMJHL	5.8	50
21	Staal, Kim		F	Swe	5.8	92
22	Kane, Boyd		F	WHL	5.7	72
23	Zimakov, Sergei		D	Rus	5.6	58
24	Kvasha, Oleg		F	Rus	5.4	65
25	Forsander, Johan	F	Swe	5.4	108
26	Posmyk, Marek		D	Cze	5.3	36
27	Komarniski, Zenith	D	WHL	5.2	75
28	Mikhailov, Egor		F	Rus	5.2	-
29	Ciernik, Ivan		F	Svk	5.2	216
30	Sim, Jonathan		F	OHL	5.1	70

For the third consecutive year, the Westerns are able to draft the best goaltender available, according to the Project-a-Tron. Mathieu Garon follows Jose Theodore (1994) and Martin Biron (1995) to stock Saskatoon full to the brim with quality netminding prospects. It's a bit strange that Ekrub has been able to claim these players, since usually he is only able to select "best" players if they are significantly undervalued by other teams, and Quebecois goaltenders shouldn't fall into that category given the province's reputation of producing excellent puck-stoppers. The selection of Daniel Briere (the top forward available) with the 23rd pick makes more sense in this context, since he's small, and Quebecois forwards are often undervalued for their perceived "softness" and reliance on offense rather than defense, which of course is an unfair characterization and ignores the fact that offense counts just as much as defense in hockey.

But if we compare these fictional draft results to the real life ones, we find that the Westerns value these goaltenders only slightly more than other teams, and only ended up with them because of the way the picks happened to fall in each season. Theodore was actually drafted 44th by Montreal in 1994; in our imaginary world, he was taken 26th by Saskatoon. They took Biron 15th instead of his actual 16th in 1995, and Garon 36th instead of his actual 44th. If there had been one other higher-rated player available each time, they would have none of these goaltenders. This is another illustration of how much luck comes into play in the Entry Draft.

As it happens, though, Saskatoon should be set for goaltending when current duo of Felix Potvin and Stephane Fiset (also both Quebecois) run out of steam; it's likely that at least one of the three prospects will pan out into a solid NHL netminder. The team will have Theodore and Derek Wilkinson (who put in mediocre performances in professional hockey to date) in the AHL this season, with Biron and Frederic Henry (yet another Quebecois) due to arrive in 1997-98. This will force some sort of movement from Ekrub, either at the major- or minor-league level, to make room. He doesn't mind rotating three netminders in the minors, but four is just too many.

Saskatoon Westerns 1996 Entry Draft Picks

Pick	Player			Pos	League	PGVT+
23	Briere, Daniel		C	QMJHL	10.7
36	Garon, Mathieu		G	QMJHL	7.5
49	Corvo, Joe		D	CCHA	6.5
77	Clark, Brett		D	HE	6.1
105	Robinson, Todd		C	WHL	6.7
132	Kratena, Ondrej		LW	Cze	6.7
159	McLean, Brett		C	WHL	6.6
186	Malov, Roman		C	Rus	6.3
212	Mikhailov, Egor		LW	Rus	5.2
238	Bouchard, Marc		C	QMJHL	4.3

Donald Audette's history of injuries forces Ekrub to make a decision. He missed much of the season in 1995-96 and 1990-91, and close to half the 1992-93 season. Our GM knows this means the player is likely to get injured again in the future, and as such, allows Audette to depart as a free agent. He has enough forward prospects on hand, who do not have histories of injury, to feel satisfied with this decision.

With Theodore ready to go in the AHL, Scott Sharples is no longer needed, and is released along with Daniel Johansson, Stan Drulia, Dom Ducharme, Colin Miller, Niklas Andersson, Patrice Lefebvre, and Tommy Westlund. Several of these players probably deserve NHL jobs, but they're not going to get them in Saskatoon, which is loaded with talent up front.

Saskatoon Westerns 1996-97 Reserve List

Pos	Name			Age	Acquired
G	Biron, Martin (k)	19	Draft, 1995 (15)
G	Fiset, Stephane (k)	26	Draft, 1988 (24)
G	Garon, Mathieu		18	Draft, 1996 (36)
G	Henry, Frederic (k)	19	Draft, 1995 (162)
G	Potvin, Felix (k)	25	Draft, 1989 (61)
G	Theodore, Jose (k)	20	Draft, 1994 (26)
G	Wilkinson, Derek (k)	22	Draft, 1992 (119)
D	Boyle, Dan		20	Draft, 1995 (216)
D	Brown, Jeff (k)		30	Draft, 1984 (30)
D	Clark, Brett		19	Draft, 1996 (77)
D	Corvo, Joe		19	Draft, 1996 (49)
D	Dahl, Kevin (k)		27	Trade, 1991
D	Guren, Miroslav (k)	19	Draft, 1995 (52)
D	Julien, Stephane (k)	22	Draft, 1992 (239)
D	Kaberle, Frantisek (k)	22	Draft, 1992 (191)
D	Keller, Aaron (k)	21	Draft, 1993 (155)
D	Mironov, Boris (k)	24	Draft, 1991 (197)
D	Musial, David		20	Draft, 1995 (56)
D	Numminen, Teppo (k)	28	Draft, 1986 (15)
D	Salo, Sami (k)		22	Draft, 1993 (51)
D	Smith, Ryan (k)		22	Draft, 1992 (143)
D	Snell, Chris (k)	25	Draft, 1990 (249)
D	Van Impe, Darren (k)	23	Draft, 1991 (104)
D	Yushkevich, Dmitri (k)	24	Draft, 1990 (45)
D	Zhitnik, Alexei (k)	23	Draft, 1991 (65)
D	Zidlicky, Marek		19	Draft, 1995 (108)
D	Zubov, Sergei (k)	25	Draft, 1990 (81)
C	Bouchard, Marc		18	Draft, 1996 (238)
C	Bowler, Bill (k)	21	Draft, 1993 (285)
C	Briere, Daniel		18	Draft, 1996 (23)
C	Brylin, Sergei (k)	22	Draft, 1992 (30)
C	Delisle, Xavier		19	Draft, 1995 (243)
C	Firth, Jason (k)	25	Draft, 1990 (186)
C	Lapointe, Claude (k)	27	Draft, 1988 (229)
C	Larouche, Steve (k)	25	Draft, 1989 (40)
C	Malov, Roman		18	Draft, 1996 (186)
C	Manning, Blair		21	Draft, 1994 (156)
C	Marchant, Todd (k)	23	Draft, 1992 (215)
C	McLean, Brett		18	Draft, 1996 (159)
C	Nieuwendyk, Joe (k)	30	Draft, 1985 (9)
C	Norris, Warren		21	Draft, 1994 (104)
C	Perreault, Yanic (k)	25	Draft, 1990 (102)
C	Perrin, Eric		21	Draft, 1994 (78)
C	Robinson, Todd		18	Draft, 1996 (105)
C	Savard, Marc		19	Draft, 1995 (27)
C	Straka, Martin (k)	24	Draft, 1991 (219)
C	Zhamnov, Alexei (k)	25	Draft, 1990 (60)
LW	Demitra, Pavol (k)	22	Draft, 1993 (77)
LW	Horak, Roman (k)	26	Draft, 1988 (19)
LW	Kallio, Tommi		19	Draft, 1995 (72)
LW	Kozlov, Vyacheslav (k)	24	Draft, 1990 (18)
LW	Kratna, Ondrej		19	Draft, 1996 (132)
LW	Miettinen, Tommi	20	Draft, 1994 (182)
LW	Mikahilov, Egor		18	Draft, 1996 (212)
LW	Recchi, Mark (k)	28	Draft, 1987 (142)
LW	Shalamai, Sergei	20	Draft, 1994 (130)
LW	Soderberg, Anders	20	Draft, 1995 (135)
LW	Whitney, Ray (k)	24	Draft, 1991 (21)
RW	Bednar, Jaroslav	19	Draft, 1995 (80)
RW	Blazek, Tomas		21	Draft, 1993 (129)
RW	Brousseau, Paul (k)	23	Draft, 1992 (23)
RW	Caloun, Jan (k)		23	Draft, 1991 (87)
RW	Cherbaev, Alexander	23	Draft, 1991 (109)
RW	Dackell, Andreas (k)	23	Draft, 1992 (167)
RW	Fleury, Theoren (k)	28	Draft, 1986 (204)
RW	Gendron, Martin (k)	22	Draft, 1992 (71)
RW	Hassinen, Jani		21	Draft, 1994 (234)
RW	Kapanen, Sami (k)	23	Draft, 1992 (46)
RW	Lehtinen, Jere (k)	23	Draft, 1991 (131)
RW	Petrov, Oleg (k)	25	Draft, 1990 (57)
RW	Prochazka, Martin	24	Draft, 1990 (144)
RW	St. Louis, Martin	21	Draft, 1994 (52)
RW	Tuomainen, Marko	24	Draft, 1991 (175)
RW	Varvio, Jarkko (k)	24	Draft, 1991 (153)
RW	Vasiljevs, Herbert	20	Draft, 1995 (189)
RW	Vujtek, Vladimir (k)	24	Draft, 1990 (207)
RW	Vyborny, David (k)	21	Draft, 1993 (25)

Players on Reserve List (Maximum 80): 77
Players Under Contract (Maximum 50): 47

The Westerns turn in their worst regular season since 1987-88, though they still finish fifth overall in the league. Fortunately, the defensive deficiencies of the blue line corps in 1995-96 proved to be a fluke, as Sergei Zubov and Teppo Numminen produce the two best defensive GVT figures among team skaters. Unfortunately, offense is down teamwide, as Saskatoon is outscored by three other teams. There has been a great deal of player turnover in recent seasons, so Ekrub hopes this reflects an adjustment period, or perhaps just a period of unfavorable variation in performance.

With Jeff Brown out of the lineup for all but one game, Teppo Numminen is named an alternate captain. Captain Joe Nieuwendyk returns to form, which is a relief to his GM.

Saskatoon Westerns 1996-97 NHL Season Results

GP	W	L	T	GF	GA	Pts	Finish
82	42	29	11	268	229	95	2nd place, Central; 5th overall

Player			Num	Age	Pos	GP	OGVT	DGVT	GVT
Recchi, Mark (A)	8	28	RW	82	11.7	1.7	13.4
Zubov, Sergei		46	25	D	78	6.5	6.7	13.2
Zhamnov, Alexei		23	25	C	74	7.8	3.9	11.7
Lehtinen, Jere		20	23	RW	63	6.6	5.0	11.6
Kozlov, Vyacheslav	16	24	LW	75	6.5	4.0	10.5
Fleury, Theoren		14	28	RW	81	7.1	3.2	10.3
Potvin, Felix		31	25	G	53	0.0	9.8	9.8
Nieuwendyk, Joe (C)	25	30	C	66	8.3	1.4	9.7
Marchant, Todd		39	23	C	79	4.4	4.2	8.6
Mironov, Boris		4	24	D	55	5.3	2.8	8.1
Numminen, Teppo (A)	27	28	D	82	1.4	5.8	7.2
Zhitnik, Alexei		44	23	D	80	4.0	2.3	6.3
Perreault, Yanic	49	25	C	41	3.5	2.5	6.0
Demitra, Pavol		38	22	LW	72	4.8	0.9	5.7
Kapanen, Sami		42	23	RW	45	2.8	2.0	4.8
Fiset, Stephane		35	26	G	29	0.0	4.1	4.1
Salo, Sami		5	22	D	70	1.3	2.5	3.8
Lapointe, Claude	17	27	C	82	0.9	2.4	3.3
Straka, Martin		56	24	LW	55	1.0	1.8	2.8
Van Impe, Darren	48	23	D	36	1.1	1.0	2.1
Whitney, Ray		13	24	LW	64	1.7	0.4	2.1
Dackell, Andreas	12	23	RW	40	0.4	1.4	1.8
Caloun, Jan		11	23	RW	36	1.6	0.0	1.6
Snell, Chris		6	25	D	16	0.9	0.2	1.1
Bowler, Bill		9	21	LW	20	0.4	0.1	0.5
Vyborny, David		19	21	RW	6	0.2	0.1	0.3
Kaberle, Frantisek	7	22	D	6	0.0	0.1	0.1
Brown, Jeff		28	30	D	1	0.0	0.0	0.0
Brylin, Sergei		47	22	C	3	-0.2	0.0	-0.2
Yushkevich, Dmitri	2	24	D	74	-0.3	-0.4	-0.7
Total						82	90.7	69.9	160.6

Playoffs, First Round

Saskatoon's offense returns to life in the first round of the playoffs, as they score 27 goals in defeating the Phoenix Coyotes in six games (3-8, 9-2, 1-4, 3-2, 7-3, 4-2). They also allow 21 goals, of course, a rate which can't continue if the team hopes to go deep into the playoffs.

Playoffs, Second Round

Divisional rival Detroit is up next in the second round. The Westerns tighten up their defensive game and knock out the Red Wings in only five games (2-1, 5-3, 0-1, 5-2, 3-2).

Playoffs, Third Round

The 1996 Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, who eliminated the Westerns on their way to the title the season before, are Saskatoon's conference final opponent. Six games are all the three-time champions need to deny the Avalanche their chance to repeat (1-3, 4-2, 2-1, 1-5, 2-1, 8-2).

Playoffs, Final Round

The Saskatoon Westerns have appeared in three Stanley Cup Finals series prior to 1997; each series has gone seven games, and each series has been won by the Westerns. Against the Philadelphia Flyers this season, the trend continues. Up three games to two, Saskatoon loses game six but manages a 2-1 win in the deciding game to take their fourth league title in seven seasons (3-5, 5-2, 2-3, 2-0, 8-3, 4-6, 2-1). Mark Recchi earns the Conn Smythe Trophy for leading the champions in goals, assists, and points.

1997 Stanley Cup Champion Saskatoon Westerns

Player			Num	Age	Pos	GP	G	A	Pts
Recchi, Mark (A)	8	28	RW	24	10	15	25
Fleury, Theoren		14	28	RW	23	6	14	20
Nieuwendyk, Joe (C)	25	30	C	21	8	11	19
Kozlov, Vyacheslav	16	24	LW	24	9	7	16
Demitra, Pavol		38	22	LW	24	4	12	16
Kapanen, Sami		42	23	RW	22	5	9	14
Zubov, Sergei		46	25	D	24	4	9	13
Whitney, Ray		13	24	LW	22	7	6	13
Mironov, Boris		4	24	D	24	1	12	13
Lehtinen, Jere		20	23	RW	19	5	7	12
Numminen, Teppo (A)	27	28	D	20	5	6	11
Perreault, Yanic	49	25	C	12	3	7	10
Van Impe, Darren	48	23	D	22	3	5	8
Marchant, Todd		39	23	C	24	4	4	8
Straka, Martin		56	24	LW	23	4	2	6
Lapointe, Claude	17	27	C	23	2	3	5
Bowler, Bill		9	21	C	13	1	3	4
Zhitnik, Alexei		44	23	D	24	1	3	4
Zhamnov, Alexei		23	25	C	6	2	1	3
Salo, Sami		5	22	D	22	1	2	3
Dackell, Andreas	12	23	RW	7	1	0	1
Yushkevich, Dmitri	2	24	D	7	0	1	1
Caloun, Jan		11	23	RW	1	0	0	0
Snell, Chris		6	25	D	1	0	0	0
Total						24	86	139	225

Player			Num	Age	Pos	GP	MIN	GAA	SO
Potvin, Felix		31	25	G	23	1370	2.45	1
Fiset, Stephane		35	26	G	2	93	4.52	0
Total						24	1463	2.62	1

Saskatoon Westerns Season Results Through 1996-97

Season		GP	W	L	T	GF	GA	Pts	Pct
1983-84		80	32	39	9	314	324	73	.456
1984-85		80	34	36	10	311	313	78	.488
1985-86		80	40	32	8	321	309	88	.550
1986-87		80	40	32	8	328	297	88	.550
1987-88		80	41	31	8	345	307	90	.563
1988-89		80	45	26	9	365	297	99	.619
1989-90		80	45	27	8	344	277	98	.613
1990-91		80	47	23	10	341	257	104	.650
1991-92		80	45	25	10	339	269	100	.625
1992-93		84	53	23	8	382	268	115	.685
1993-94		84	53	21	10	360	253	116	.690
1994-95		48	34	9	5	185	124	71	.740
1995-96		82	47	26	9	315	250	103	.628
1996-97		82	42	29	11	268	229	95	.579
Total		1018	556	350	112	4250	3255	1223	.601

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