NHL GMs and scouts are always looking for hidden gems when they make make they sojourns across icy highways and jump snow banks to enter into rural ice rinks in Canada and the U.S.
The stars are already on the radar of most GMs and scouts at the NHL level. Those players, like Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, identified themselves as future franchise players long ago.
The hidden gems generally reveal themselves organically to the gallery gods who book trips to watch the "A" and "B' listers play.
One such hidden gem is humongous Boston University goaltender Matthew O'Connor.
O'Connor has become the beneficiary of being the right guy in the right place at the right time.
You see, O'Connor happens to be the starting goaltender for the Beanpot champion Boston University Terriers men's hockey team.
What makes O'Connor so special, you ask?
He's 6'5" tall and weighs 200 lbs. He's very athletic. He has superior technique and skills.
The Toronto native is 23 years old and will earn his bachelor's degree from BU this summer.
He's presently 17-3-4 this season with a .929 save percentage and a 2.10 GAA.
The bonus with O'Connor is that he is an undrafted free agent. Meaning, he can sign with any NHL team that he chooses to.
TSN's Darren Dreger reported on Tuesday that as many as 14 NHL teams, including Tim Murray and the Buffalo Sabres, are very interested in the behemoth puck stopper.
Sources tell TSN that as of Monday, 14 NHL clubs have expressed interest in signing the 23-year-old college free agent and as many as five teams are promising NHL playing time this season if O'Connor chooses to sign at the end of his college season.
Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary are all believed to be interested in signing O'Connor.
Murray may have the upper hand over other NHL teams in negotiations with O'Connor and his agent. Murray has a dramatic need to add a starting goaltender. There have been reports that O'Connor is interesting in signing with an NHL team that will allow him to play right away this season rather than reporting to an AHL affiliate. Murray has a soon-to-be-open crease. The NHL trade deadline is Monday March 2 and Murray said earlier this week that he hasn't gotten any trade calls on his starting goalie Michal Neuvirth. I'm told that Anaheim, San Jose and Montreal are interested in Neuvirth. We will see about that in the days to come. Murray also said that he isn't planning to speak to Neuvirth's representatives until after the 3pm trade deadline comes on Monday. In other words, if an NHL team wants to make a trade for the pending UFA goalie, Murray's phone is on and he's ready to talk turkey.
Losing Neuvirth would not be a bad thing for the Sabres. Murray can leverage the asset and get a player and a second rounder for him. He's not going to let his pending UFAs skate away without getting maximum compensation for them. The Sabres have two towering goalie prospects in Sweden right now in Linus Ullmark and Jhonas Johanssen. They are not ready to make a leap to the NHL right now. It begs the question:
Is O'Connor ready to play under the bright lights and high pressure of the NHL? Well, there's only one way to find out, isn't there? What's the harm in signing this hidden gem to a contract and then letting him play of the string of the final 22 games for Buffalo this season? Their goal is to finish 30th overall, not make the playoffs.
As I have reported in this space earlier this month, Murray is reportedly interested in Providence ruins goalie Malcolm Subban. Reports out of Beantown say that Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli is not interested in trading his future #1 goalie for Sabres power forward Chris Stewart. So then, why doesn't Murray trade Stewart to Boston in exchange for forward two prospects in Ryan Spooner and Brian Ferlin, or Alex Khokhlachev. They would be two useful bricks in the rebuilding of Buffalo's roster. Murray coukld then hand the keys to the crease to O'Connor for the rest of the season and beyond.
Murray has said from day one at his introductory press conference that he loves big goalies.
O'Connor is a big dude who can play at a high competency level.
Sounds like a match made in hockey heaven.
What's more, Murray can trump enemy GMs by promising O'Connor the opportunity to start the final 20 games of Buffalo's regular season. Money won't be an object either. Sabres fans should pray that O'Connor and his BU Terriers get eliminated from contention from the NCAA hockey playoffs. Embrace the Terriers tank! The sooner the Terriers get eliminated the sooner O'Connor can report to Buffalo. Does Jack Eichel have anything left to prove in the NCAA? Will an early exit from the postseason tarnish Eichel's reputation and NHL draft selection? NO. Eichel is ready for the NHL now. He will be the #2 overall pick in the draft regardless of his team's postseason performances.
Murray would be wise trade Neuvirth to a contending team TODAY and then sign O'Connor to a contract to begin playing immediately in Buffalo. Think of it kind of the same way that Darcy Regier did to land D Chad Ruhwedel a few years back. Ruhwedel was a free agent in 2012-13 and Regier won the bidding war to sign the U Mass-Lowell product. Buffalo played him in seven games during their stretch run and he has been in AHL Rochester ever since.
Michal Neuvirth has become Buffalo's #1 since the Jhonas Enroth trade on February 11. In six starts since the trade, Neuvirth has posted a .952 save percentage and has been lights out. Sabres fans wanting to guarantee a 30th place finish in the standings are getting very uneasy right now as Neuvirth continues to play well. Sabres fans are shouting the name of Anders Lindback from the rooftops. The fans want to see the lesser goalie play to insure the better odds of selecting Connor McDavid first overall should they win the NHL draft lottery in April.
Murray should start making trades today with Zemgus Girgensons, Josh Gorges, and Pat Kaleta injured long term. He should say goodbye to his pending UFAs in Neuvirth, Stewart, Mitchell, Strachan, Benoit, Meszaros and say hello to O'Connor.
If the Sabres finish 30th overall and lose the NHL Lottery, they would still get to pick O'Connor's teammate Jack Eichel second overall in the NHL draft.
I'm old enough to remember watching Hall of Famer Gilbert Perreault bedazzle the entire sold out crowds at Memorial Auditorium. "Bert" had a flare for the dramatic and he made the ridiculous look sublime. All I remember were his gorgeous end to end rushes that resulted in picture perfect goals. Those were the days when Gilbert would create a handful of such magical moments inside each and every game where I would turn to the guy or leady seated next to or behind me and ask :
"Did you see that?".
On Wednesday night inside Erie Insurance Arena, I witnessed one of those rare, magical, jaw-hit-the-floor moments types of moments when Connor McDavid channeled his inner Gilbert Perrreault. Talk about chillsworthy! McDavid took a puck 200 feet through and around Guelph Storm players who are pretty good in their own right. Its like teh kid has a cape on his back and he can fly away and over danger.
Would you look at this work of art?
I am fortunate to have been in the building to watch the kid take his scoring game to another level on Wednesday night. It felt like 1975 all over again for me.
McDavid had never scored a hat trick, nor scored four goals in a game, nor collected 6 points in a junior game until Wednesday night. I witnessed history.
McDavid scored our goals and added two assists in the 8-4 drubbing of the Storm.
McDavid is a rare breed of cat who will be a star in the NHL for the next 15 seasons.
McDavid is truly a generational player. Tim Murray and the Sabres better not screw up their opportunity to draft McDavid first overall in the June NHL Draft. This kid is special.
ts a night off on the Sabres beat. I'm in Erie to watch Connor McDavid and his Otters against the Guelph Storm.
Connor McDavid's assault on the Ontario Hockey League continues tonight. McDavid scored four goals and added an assist. That was the first hat trick of McDavid's illustrious career.
Dylan Strome had four assists and Nick Baptiste had a goal and 3 assists.
McDavid has extended his team record consecutive games scoring streak to 22 games with his 6 point night (4G,2A).
McDavid now has his sights set on the Erie Otters team points scoring record of 128 points set last season by Connor Brown (Toronto Marlies).
In 37 games played, McDavid has scored 36 goals and added 62 assists. He's +47.
He's scoring at a 2.6 points per game pace. McDavid missed 20 games in November and December when he sat out with a broken bone in his hand and participated in Team Canada's gold medal winning experience at the IIHF Worrld Junior Hockey Championships in Montreal and Toronto.
In 68 games played last season, Brown scored 45 goals and added 83 assists for the Otters. He was +44 and scored at a 1.88 points per game clip.
McDavid now needs 34 points to tie Brown's team scoring record in his remaining 11 games.
McDavid has shown the uncanny ability to score goals and collect assists in large bunches this season as he did last Saturday night when he dropped five points points on the Peterborough Petes.
It will be all the more remarkable if McDavid breaks Brown's record considering he misses 35% of his team's games this season.
Now that the Pittsburgh Penguins, Winnipeg Jets, and Minnesota Wild have addressed their forward needs with trades, keep an eye on the Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruins.
All three teams had been scouting Buffalo's Chris Stewart for some time.
The Pens traded for Maple Leafs versatile forward/PKer Daniel Winnick on Wednesday afternoon. The Jets acquired top seven forward forward Jiri Tlusty from Carolina on Wednesday. The Wild acquired depth forward Sean Bergenheim from the Panthers on Tuesday.
Today, the Chris Stewart to Boston trade rumors just won't die down. The two teams have been linked in trade talks since December. Stewart is still the centerpiece of a trade. I've been told that the Bruins also admire Torrey Mitchell's puck possession and penalty killing abilities.
The Bruins would be wise to strike now before both pending UFAs are snapped up on Monday's trade deadline day.
The Sabres are said to be zeroed in on two Providence Bruins: goalie Malcolm Subban (6'2" 200 lbs.) and forward Brian Ferlin (6'2" 210 lbs.).