National Hockey League teams, in common with those in other professional leagues, gush over rookies taken in the annual amateur draft. The gush becomes an extravagant torrent when that player has also been stamped `can`t miss.`
Many years ago, Jean Beliveau had Montreal Canadiens` suits shaking so hard in anticipation of his arrival, you`d have thought they had palsy. One of the earliest in the television age was Boston legend Bobby Orr. Hockey Night in Canada broadcast annual progress reports on his Junior career, even to the point of hauling him into the studio and grilling him.
Orr was labeled special at age 14 and handled his burden with ease. Others have been less fortunate. Ottawa drafted Alexandre Daigle their second season and pronounced him the missing piece to the puzzle, their messiah, and all but guaranteed he`d score the Stanley Cup-winning goal, no doubt at the end of his first season.
Daigle never stood a chance. Management ineptitude, terrible team, a massive first contract, and a heavy lead anchor of fan expectation sank him in no time flat. Now after ten years of failure he is doing well in St. Paul where the Wild`s marquee player is Marion Gaborik.
Maxim Afinogenov in Buffalo may be struggling with the tag of `reminds me of Pavel Bure.` The Sabre is quick, but nothing like Pavel. First of all, Pavel could score. Afinogenov has 56 goals in 256 games; Bure three times scored more in a single season.
A couple of years ago a glaring spotlight was turned towards a lanky centre playing on a dreadful Junior team in the Ontario Hockey League. Mississauga Ice-Dogs were run by narrow-minded blow-hard Don Cherry. His star centre was Jason Spezza. Once again we heard drums beating, the regular check-ups, the interviews, and HNIC ratcheting up the hype.
A Spezza watch formed and crowds of spotty sports journalists debated furiously the merits of keeping him in the NHL or sending him to the minors. Ottawa opted for the latter yet the chatter never ceased. When he ricocheted between Ottawa and the bushes his first year speculation erupted each time he was back with the Senators that this time he`d stay.
He won a job this past September and has accumulated 21 points in 29 games. Last season he bagged 21 points in 33 games. His points/game has improved from 0.62 to 0.72.
The odds are, in my opinion, that Spezza will be taking heavy flak not too far down the road. Over-sold for the past four years, Spezza has undeniable ability and equally glaring shortcomings. On the plus side he sees the ice well, passes well, has a shot, and puts himself in good positions. His deficiencies are now equally obvious: his skating is only marginally better than that of the Sedin twins in Vancouver and his defensive play is nearly non-existent. Similar to the Sedins, he seldom hits anyone.
Spezza has kept his head handling pressure; he is poised beyond his years. His chances of becoming an above average skater are slim and he could end up a highly skilled centre with insufficient quickness, one who scores less than his `potential` appears to suggest. A player along the lines of Gerry Ehman, Pete Mahovlich, or Jason Arnott.