Young now, but Hall-worthy in no time

Updated: April 5, 2006, 12:57 PM ET
By John Buccigross | Special to ESPN.com

First Period -- Fame, I'm Gonna Live Forever

I was asked in an e-mail this past week, "Who are your Top 10 players under 30 that have a shot at the Hall of Fame?"

I am grateful when you in Hockey Nation provide a cool column idea. There are certainly more than 10, but here are my top under-30 players, in no particular order, who I think will one day be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

1. Joe Thornton
Thornton is still just 26 years old. He already has more than 500 career points. Because he is basically a 6-foot-4, 223-pound version of Adam Oates, he will play for a long time and should be relatively injury-free. Thornton should be very productive for another 10 seasons, projecting him to approximately 400 goals and close to 1,000 assists by the time he is 36 (and 65 assists per season for 10 seasons will have him knocking at 1,000). Only 10 players in NHL history have 1,000 career assists, and Thornton is almost certain to be at that 450 goal/1000 assist level by the time he hangs it up. Oates retired with 341 goals and 1,079 assists. If Thornton stays hungry, he could reach the 500-1,200 range.

SHOT OF THE WEEK
Every week, we will present an NHL photo and I'll provide a caption. E-mail me your suggestions (include your name and hometown/state) and next week we will use the best ones and provide a new photo.

LAST WEEK:
The Atlanta Thrashers hold their 1st Annual Sidney Crosby Human Bobblehead Night.

Your submissions:
Referees hirewhinish translator, and can now communicate with Sidney Crosby.
-- David London, Ventura, Calif.

"Mommy, that man has as many teeth as I do!"
Mike Disney, Philly

"Ha, I'm on 'Shot of the Week' 30 years quicker than the clown last week!"
Bill Hiner, O'Fallon, Mo.

"Koharski! You suck!"
-- Thomas Wolf, Tucson, Ariz.

"Wow,by the time the Thrashersmake the playoffs, I'll be old enough to legally celebrate!"
-- Sharon, Roswell, Ga.

"Just a little to the left; yup, that looks good. Alright boys, go ahead, she's fixed."
-- Patrick T. Cavanagh, South Salem, N.Y.

"What do you mean I can't play? I'm already as big as Ray Ferraro."
-- Chad C., Rockford, Mich.

The great-great-grandfather of the Leafs' next Stanley Cup coach.
-- Rich M, Toronto

THIS WEEK:

Real deal or no deal?

2. Ilya Kovalchuk
Ilya Kovalchuk, 22, has a chance to reach 500 career goals. Before he turns 30. He should sniff close to 50 goals a season for the rest of his 20s. The only danger for Kovalchuk is that he plays a physical game, so he and could be susceptible to a major knee or shoulder injury. He won't skate like he does now when he's 32, but he likely will still have that killer release. I still think Kovalchuk has the best release in the NHL. Another challenge for Kovalchuk is staying physically fit as he ages. Will he embrace a disciplined diet and workout routine as he grows older? If he does, "The King" should be looking at 600-700 career goals.

3. Marian Hossa
Hossa's nickname should be "Rock." You can pencil him in for 80 games, 35-plus goals, 45-plus assists, double-digit power-play goals, shorthanded goals (five this season), more back-checking in a week than Kovalchuk does in a year, no dumb penalties and a calm clubhouse presence. Hossa just turned 27 and probably has seven really good seasons left. If he continues to average his 80-game, 35-45-80 line for the next seven seasons, he'll be at 1,100 games and 1,038 points at age 34. He could easily play a couple more seasons and reach the 500-600-1,000 level, and considering his two-way play, that puts him in the Hall of Fame.

4. Dion Phaneuf
I am obviously bullish on 20-year-old Dion Phaneuf. I'm having a very hard time trying to find a player comparable to him on defense. When you combine his skating with his shot, open-ice hitting, fighting ability, maturity (in this culture of youthful Real World buffoonery) and his respect for the game, you have a player who is a truly unique talent. A player who will end up with more Norris Trophies than there are Spice Girls. I may have a man crush on Phaneuf the hockey player. Is that so wrong?

5. Roberto Luongo
Every season he has been in the NHL, Luongo's win total has increased. Unlike Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur, Luongo entered the NHL on a rancid team. "Gigli" bad. For the second straight season, he will see around 2,500 shots! As his team improves, you can pencil him in for 35-40 wins in each of the next 8-10 seasons. He should retire in that 400-500 victory range.

6. Brad Richards
A complete player. Durable, smart and productive. Over 50 percent on faceoffs. This is his fifth NHL season and he has missed just two games. Two! A calm player who comes up big, as his Conn Smythe Trophy shows. Richards, who turns 26 in May, has yet to have a decrease in points from a previous season. Classy player who stays out of the penalty box. If I were the Lightning, I would trade Vincent Lecavalier to Montreal or Colorado and sign Richards long term. Actually, I would trade Martin St. Louis first, but the package for Lecavalier could be a better deal for the Lightning.

7. Alexander Ovechkin
He'll have 10 NHL seasons under his belt by the time he's 30. It's difficult to imagine him not averaging right around 50 goals for his first NHL decade, putting him around 500 before he enters his 30s. There should be an NHL season or three where he sniffs 70 goals, which could offset a year of injury. And injury is a concern. With the way he plays, a major knee injury or concussion from hitting the end boards is possible. He has that Rocket Richard quality of turning into a caged animal from the blue line in. He appears to have plenty of humility and drive. His fitness level is beyond Kovalchuk's, a reason why he could outshine his countryman when it is all said and done. Having each other to push will be great for both of their careers and great for us.

8. Sidney Crosby
To be 10th in NHL scoring as an 18-year-old on a bad team with an organization teetering on extinction is truly amazing. No rookie has had to be his team's best player, be used as commodity to get a new arena built and save a franchise. Sid is 34-51-85 right now. Last July, I was a lonely voice in a shopping mall music store projecting Crosby at 38-63-101 for his rookie season. Well Sidney, I need four goals and 12 assists in the last eight games for you to make me look good. A season with a healthy Mario Lemieux and Zigmund Palffy would probably have had him at around 100 points. Crosby still has a shot, anyway, remarkable for someone so young who has been asked to carry so much. His vision and sturdy core should give him a relatively long career. As his team improves and he becomes a man, Crosby will have a couple of seasons like 60-100-160.

9. Rick Nash
Nash should be the face of Columbus for the next 20 years. He's on pace to score 420 NHL goals in his first 1,000 NHL games. But that number should be higher considering he'll gain more experience and his team should improve over the next decade. His lengthy frame should give him long-term production. If he plays to age 35, we should be talking about 550-600 goals. He turns 22 in June. I'm more intrigued about Nash off the ice. Right now, he has that reality-show look of his generation, so it's hard to judge what goes through his head. If he plays his cards right, he could own Columbus during his playing career and beyond. Live year-round in Columbus, work in the community, align yourself with a couple major corporations, build a rink near your house, dress for success, golf with bigwigs to raise money for kids who want to play hockey but who can't afford it. What John Elway is to Denver, Rick Nash could be to Columbus.

10. Eric Staal
This was obviously the toughest pick. Jarome Iginla? Pavel Datsyuk? Marian Gaborik? Henrik Zetterberg? Zdeno Chara? Lecavalier? Gagne? Jason Spezza? And I'm sure you will e-mail me with more. Who doesn't love Iginla? But he turns 29 in July and will finish this season with around 285 goals in 708 NHL games. Ovechkin will have 285 goals when he is 25. I know Iginla does a lot, but scoring goals is his most important function. Seven more seasons of 30 goals gets him right around 500 goals, and that would certainly get him in since he is a better person than player. OK, I have may talked myself into it. And the others certainly have a chance. But, I was asked for 10 and these are my 10.

Why Staal? Well, primarily because I think he will have a career that looks eerily similar to Mike Modano. At this time next season, Modano will be a 500-700-1,200, two-way guy. I can see Staal being that kind of player. Remember, Modano scored more than 38 goals just one time in his career. In 1993-94, he had 50 goals. Why? 18 power-play goals. He's never had more power-play goals before or since. How many power-play goals does Staal have this season as I type this? 18. Staal may never have this many power-play goals again and therefore might be having the scoring season of his career. Or he could be this good. Either way, if he does end up being Modano, that will be good enough for the Hall. If he is better, get ready for some Stanley Cups, Raleigh.

Second Period -- "B" The Ball

Jeff Gorton enters his 14th season in the Boston Bruins organization and his first in his current position as the club's interim general manager.

Prior to being named interim GM after Mike O'Connell's firing, Gorton served as the club's assistant general manger for six seasons. He had overseen the scouting department, handled research for contract negotiations and arbitration, and scouted both amateur and pro prospects.

While the promotion is certainly something to be excited about, neither Jeff Gorton nor any GM will ever succeed in Boston as long as Harry Sinden has the owner's ear. I've always liked Sinden. He obviously loves hockey and loves Boston. He is a big sports fan. Still, the Bruins have never won a Stanley Cup with him in charge. He coached the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup with Bobby Orr, left the team and returned as GM in October 1972. He's been president for 17 seasons. He's been the man for 33 years with no Stanley Cups. And the Bruins' recent playoff record has been abysmal.

You Can Quote Me
"There is no more passionate owner in sports than Bill Wirtz and the Wirtz family. ... This is just going to be a question of getting back on track. They were a little unlucky, and they have acknowledged they made some mistakes."

-- Gary Bettman on the state of the Chicago Blackhawks

It's time for the Bruins to give a young person like Gorton the chance to run the team without Sinden down the hall. It would be easier for everyone if Sinden stepped down and took on a role as consultant or advisor. It looks like the Bruins will pick around sixth in June's NHL draft. A nice high draft for a fresh start.

Question from Buccigross: Is this your dream job?

Answer from Gorton: I would have to say being the GM of the B's would qualify as my dream job.

Q: I'm always amazed at how many sports teams appear to not have a plan. I look at a guy like Brian Burke in Anaheim and I say, "That guy has a plan." Whether you like his philosophy or not, he has a vision and plan and he proactively and aggressively executes it. What is your plan? What is your vision for a successful hockey team?

A: I'm a little hesitant to talk about my plan considering the interim tag, but it's safe to say we would be a faster, more aggressive team that is built through the draft and complemented with character and leadership in free agency.

Q: What has your role been the last few years for the Bruins?

A: My role the last few years has been centered on scouting and overseeing our minor-league team in Providence.

Q: Assess the Bruins' depth of young talent that has been drafted the last few years and your expectation of that talent.

A: We have a lot of good, young players on our team now, including Bergeron, Boyes, Toivonen, Raycroft, Stuart, Jurcina and Alberts, etc., and players like Sturm and Brad Stuart who have emerged as very good players in this league. But we need to add to it and keep young talent coming in to be able to compete every year in the salary cap era.

Third Period -- Time After (Over)Time

Barry Melrose often jokes that Al Pacino told him to never be a name-dropper. But, a couple of years ago Barry someone ran into Cyndi Lauper's husband, who told him that he and his son were big "NHL 2Night" fans. Writing the title to the third period reminded me of that. Let's move on.

First, I've been getting a few e-mails, enough to report the following to clarify any confusion some of you may be experiencing: THERE WILL BE NO SHOOTOUTS DURING THE STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS. Teams will play until someone scores. And there will be no 4-on-4.

Also, what about the shootout? I was always a big proponent of it and still am. My biggest argument was that it could be great TV, and it is. It is actually a lot better radio, which is something I never saw coming. The shootout hasn't really affected the standings all that much, and it made a cult hero out of Jussi Jokinen.

The new stick-measuring fiasco that was implemented after the Olympic break needs to go. It is bad television and makes referees look like petty meter maids handing out $30 parking tickets on city sidewalks, busy sidewalks. Don't get me started about parking. But, in short, human beings should never have to pay for parking under any circumstances.

There also has been talk about expanding to five shooters. I've got to tell you, I like it the way it is. The pressure is on right away and every shot is a big one. The only change I would make is to play 10 minutes of 4-on-4. There is a small part of my brain that concludes that some day in the future, 4-on-4 will be the way to go for the entire game. Remember, the game was once 6-on-6. Ten minutes of overtime would be incredibly exciting and would reduce the number of shootouts, keeping them rare and special events. It would give the NHL a good look on what a longer stretch of 4-on-4 would look like.

The Mother of All Mailbags

John,

I went to the greatest hockey school of them all, North Dakota, back in the mid and late '90s, when they started to regain their national prominence. I hated hockey when I started there, but it has now become my favorite sport to watch after learning the rules and being able to understand the game better. Why hasn't ESPN started doing more hockey coverage? I can't figure out why they don't put the scores on the bottom line or show highlights of any games except for the Beanpot or the NCAA Tournament.

Brad
Henderson, N.C.

I feel you, Brad. ESPNU is launching a "SportsCenter U" daily news show in August. I know many of you don't have ESPNU yet, but for those of you who do, I imagine, and hope, it would cover college hockey extensively.


John,

I guess that I am somewhat of an outcast, too. I am a huge Florida Gators fan, but since they don't have a hockey team, I root for the locals from Wisconsin. I was at the Gators basketball game on Friday in Minneapolis, and then went to all three regional hockey games in Green Bay, passing up an opportunity to see the Gators reach the Final Four in basketball. But as we all know, or at least hockey fans should know, Wisconsin and Cornell played one of the greatest NCAA games ever, and I was not disappointed for a second that I chose hockey over basketball!

Scott
Green Bay, Wisc.


Dear John,

I loved your "Own Little Island" piece. I totally identify. I have lived in California all of my 28-year life. I really discovered hockey in 1988, when The Great One arrived in L.A. At 10 years old, I was transformed into a complete hockey fanatic. As you can imagine, finding hockey equipment in California in the late '80s was pretty tough. My first hockey stick was a golf putter. My poor little brother had to use a football helmet as a goalie mask (we found out they don't protect the eyes and nose too well).

Growing up, most kids at my school idolized Joe Montana, Will Clark or Michael Jordan. I had to explain who my idols were (Gretzky, Coffey and McSorley).

Now, once or twice a week, two of my roller-hockey buddies and I drive 2½ hours to the nearest ice rink so we can play "real" hockey. Sometimes, we'll get home from a game at 2 a.m. on a weeknight. Living in California, I can't count the number of times I've had to explain, "No, not the Sacramento Kings, the L.A. Kings," or "Fighting is legal because..." or "Icing is when..."

Around the Super Bowl, when people ask me, "Are you gonna watch the game?" ... I always ask "Which one?"

So, this is me waving, from my little island, to you on yours.

Patrick Fisher
San Luis Obispo, Calif.

That is one of my favorite e-mails of the year.


John,

This is for the e-mails regarding parents asking how old to start kids at skating. Just because you start your kid at 2 years old doesn't mean he'll turn into a Crosby. I didn't learn to skate until 14 and didn't play until 15. I was a three-time letter winner in high school and now play Division III college hockey.

Joe Sakic didn't start playing hockey until 15. Slash didn't learn guitar until 16. Most guys I know that have 10-plus years skating and hockey experience on me quit playing because they learned to skate when they were 2 years old and got sick of playing because it reminded them of their parents ragging on them for so many years. Ninety percent of it is the will to play from the heart of the kid, 10 percent is the will to drive to the rink from the wallet of the parent.

Joe
Wisconsin

As I've stated before, the primary reasons for starting your child in hockey at a young age are (1) physical fitness for the kid; and (2) something to share with your child that doesn't involve a television. I already miss driving to practices and games with my boys just talking and singing along with the CD player.


Dear JB,

Is Jaromir Jagr the league MVP?

Wade
Fargo, N.D.

Yep.


John,

The larger rinks have ruined the way the game is televised because the cameras are so far removed from the ice. Think about the games at the old arenas (the Garden, the Forum, the Olympia, Chicago Stadium, etc.); they had a balcony level whose front row was above the glass, not the third mezzanine. That meant that the cameras were literally above the ice. Take a look at coverage now. What you see is about 10 rows of seats and the back side of the near boards and then the ice surface. That makes it real difficult to see the puck at all.

Doug Ackerman

We talked about that here for many years, Doug. Hockey games and concerts are better in small venues. Hopefully, some day, there will be cameras the size of mice that we can put all around the top of the glass. Twenty-five to 50 years from now, televised hockey will look space age compared to now. Why? Because I just thought of putting a series of small cameras all around the top of the ice and I'm a complete moron. Imagine what an incredibly intelligent, creative and driven person will come up with.


Hello Mr. Buccigross,

On April 8, I will be playing the biggest hockey game of my life, the Pennsylvania High School State Championship. My team has had an undefeated season so far at 25-0-0 and are looking to extend our win streak to 26. As a man with obvious great taste in music, I was wondering what music you recommend to listen to before in order to get myself prepared; or any other advice you can give me would be greatly appreciated (for example how to keep my nerves down).

Thanks,
Jon Wilen
Mt. Lebanon Blue Devils

Considering your circumstances, I would recommend a mix of Pearl Jam songs. I find Pearl Jam to combine a soulful, desperate, intense approach. A contemplative rage that is perfect for your preparation. Pearl Jam will usher you to a state championship.

April 8 is not the biggest game of your life, Jon. It will be the best game of your life. You will be faster and stronger than you've ever been. Your concentration level will be higher than it's ever been. You will do well because you care. Your eyes will be wide open all game. Yes, you will feel nauseous every day, including April 8. But, when the puck drops you will play with a contemplative rage. You will be alert, in control, fast and strong. The person who thinks calmly and clearly in stressful situations is the person who completes the task. In stressful situations, people either freeze, panic or calmly walk through the door. Visualize what you want to happen. See the game play out. Leave everything on the ice. Calmly walk through the door. And you'll be a champion.


John,

I have a hard time watching a game without your "NHL 2Night" player nicknames popping into my head. When the play-by-play announcer says a certain player's name, like Pavlov's dog, I mentally repeat the nickname. Sick, I know. The ones that torment me the most are:

Funky Jan Hrinda
Dancing Anson Carter
How many pucks could a Konowalchuk chuck if a Konowalchuk could chuck Pucks?

How about a list of your favorite nicknames from "NHL 2Night" and a cure for my affliction?

John Metzger

Evgeni "Turn you head and" Nabokov
Keith Carney "circus folk, nomads you know, smell like cabbage, small hands."


Hi John,

I'm the only guy I know living in the S.F. Bay area without an iPod. I pride myself in showing up at the local monthly DIY DJ show here (the Indie Circus) and being the only person carrying CDs. Anyway, I just thought I'd share my list of discs that have failed to escape my CD player over the past several months (and if you choose to share with others, that's up to you). Enjoy!

Devendra Banhart "Cripple Crow"
Sufjan Stevens "Seven Swans" (home) and/or "Greetings from Michigan" (car)
Spoon "Gimme Fiction"
Ladytron "Witching Hour"
Boards of Canada "The Campfire Headphase"

That last one sounds like a good hockey band name, if I've ever heard one!

Take care,
Jason C, San Francisco
Go Red Wings!

John,

Is it me or is Mike Modano related to Jon Heder?

Dave Stevens
Connecticut

Jon Heder
Heder

Mike Modano
Modano

 

 

 

  Are you gonna eat your tots?


Dude,

Your comment about Plato cheering for the Wings reminded me of a paper I wrote years ago in an intro to philosophy course. I compared Plato's "Republic" to the '72 Soviet team and John Stewart Mill's "On Liberty" to the '72 Canada team. Contrasting the two philosophies ended up being almost as much of a nail-biter as the ultimate series was. I ended up getting an "A" and it was one of the more fun papers I got to write while at school.

Thanks for reminding me of it.
Greg Albert
Ulsan, South Korea


Dear John,

I enjoy your column every week, but I've never e-mailed you before. This week, I felt compelled to respond to Erin from BU who commented on the lack of BC fans at the Hockey East Championship. First of all, Erin is half right. For whatever reason, BC fans don't make the effort as much as us "true sports fans" would hope. No one is more upset by lack of fans at some hockey games than me. However, I need to side with the rest of my school this time. I had tickets for the HE Final, but I didn't go because our Top 10 basketball team was also playing that night in the NCAA tourney. Five of my friends and I sat in my room with two TVs watching both games. Perhaps if the BU students had more than one Top 10 team (in a major sport) to watch, they would find themselves staying at home with two or three TVs in each room, as well.

Maybe next year Erin,
Go Eagles,
Nick
BC 2008


Hey John,

I'll be honest and say that I don't follow college hockey well at all, but I do know that Holy Cross beating Minnesota is quite the upset. And I completely agree with the idea of hoping it never becomes mainstream.

As far as feeling like an outcast, I grew up listening to punk (old MxPx, Blink 182) and got into hardcore (Minor Threat, Black Flag, etc.) in high school. So I can relate with feeling "out of step." When Blink blew up, it made me so angry, and I hated them for a while. Then, I turned 16 (I'm now a junior in college) and realized that their old records were still awesome and them being huge didn't change that.

I'm from Philadelphia, and here, Flyers fans are passionate, but we are few in the grand scheme of it all. As much as I hate feeling like no one cares about the team that is part of my lifeblood, I'd rather have it as such than have everyone "love" them halfheartedly. It's a great feeling going to a game and knowing that the people there actually care. People go to Phillies and Sixers games because they're fun and they have money to burn. When I'm at a Flyers game, I feel like I'm with 19,000-plus family members and I never want that to change.

Here's one for you ... what Ian Mackaye was to early '80s Washington D.C. hard-core, so the Philadelphia Flyers are to me.

Orange and Black pride.
Jordan "Gordo" Leahy
Philadelphia


Mr. B.,

Greetings from Kuwait, as a lifelong Red Wing fan and an even greater Stevie Y fan, I would like to thank you for the kind tribute that you had in your last column. Being born and raised in Detroit and playing and following hockey since the age of 5, he has been the only player for me to follow. To me he is and will always be "The Captain." Just like Gordie is "Mr. Hockey," and Gretzky is "Simply the Best," Stevie is "The Captain."

I could think of no better way for him to go out on top then with another trip around the "Joe" with the best trophy in sports. That and 700 goals would be a great end to his fantastic career. I will always look at No. 19 in awe, and the day that No. 19 goes to the rafters at the "Joe" will be the saddest day in my hockey life. Go Wings!

Michael Thibideau
Al-Jalail ASP Kuwait

John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.

John Buccigross | email

SportsCenter anchor
John Buccigross joined ESPN as an anchor in October 1996. He currently can be seen as an anchor on "SportsCenter." Buccigross frequently contributes to ESPN.com during the season.

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