The NFL’s injury problem is quickly turning into an epidemic, and there is no end in sight

You could see it on Tom Brady’s face last night. The frustration in his voice was obvious but he knew there was nothing he could do.

“I hate to see it, but it really is the only way defenders can hit now,” Brady said, according to WEEI. “I bet if you asked the players, they would really rather go high than low. I don’t think it’s dirty. I just think that is how football is played now.”

Brady was of course referring to the play that led to the injury of New England’s star tight end Rob Gronkowski. Gronk suffered what is now known to be a bone-bruise on his right knee after getting hit there late in the fourth quarter. The point that was made last night during Tom Brady’s postgame press conference may not have been something that was physically said, but was still clear as day; the NFL has an injury crisis on its hands, and there is no end in sight.

The NFL is caught in what is called a “Catch-22”. Merriam-webster.com defines a Catch-22 as “a problematic situation for which the only solution is denied by a circumstance inherent in the problem or by a rule”.

Here’s the situation:

Over the last decade or so the NFL has been fighting lawsuits from former players citing negligence in the case of concussion safety. Former players are claiming that the NFL knew the dangers involved with playing football and the risks of brain injury that come with playing, but did not disclose this information to the players. After the 2012-2013 season where there were over 160 players who sustained head injuries, the league banned players from lowering their heads to deliver a hit in the open field. Here’s the rule as described in a March 2013 article from the latimes.com:

“The rule imposes a 15-yard penalty if a runner or tackler initiates forcible contact by delivering a blow with the crown (top) of his helmet when both players are clearly outside the tackle box. The tackle box is defined as an area extending from offensive tackle to tackle and from three yards beyond the line of scrimmage back to the end zone behind the line of scrimmage. Incidental contact by the helmet of a runner or tackler is not a foul.”

This is where the Catch-22 comes in.

With the new rule, players had to fundamentally change the way they were tackling. Rather than launching themselves head first, they had to figure out a new way to tackle offensive players who had only been getting bigger, stronger and harder to take down. So instead of going high, players began to go low, specifically at the knees.

Football is a violent sport with the object being, as a defensive player, to cause as much physical punishment as possible. This puts the NFL in an impossible situation right now with regards to player safety given the limits that have been set on how defensive players can play. The quality of play this season, more so than any other in recent memory, has been significantly worse due to the number of injuries sustained by the league’s top players. Jamal Charles, Carlos Hyde, Dion Lewis, Arian Foster, Le’Veon Bell, Joe Flacco, Julian Edelman, Jimmy Graham, Steve Smith Sr., Jordy Nelson and Kelvin Benjamin are just a few of the best players who are out for the rest of the season due to a lower body injury.

This is not a problem that the NFL can simply sweep under its rug like they tried to do with concussions. Fans, the media, and even the players themselves are noticing the drop in quality due to injuries/rules related to injuries and fear that it could be what dooms the sport. The following is an excerpt from a PBS Frontline report from 2013:

“Ravens safety Bernard Pollard tells CBS Sports that the NFL’s renewed emphasis on player safety is threatening the league’s future.

“’Thirty years from now, I don’t think it will be in existence,’ said Pollard. ‘I could be wrong. It’s just my opinion, but I think with the direction things are going — where [NFL rules makers] want to lighten up, and they’re throwing flags and everything else — there’s going to come a point where fans are going to get fed up with it.’”

In an article written on espn.com last Friday, Kevin Seifert wrote, “more players have already been placed on injured reserve because of confirmed ACL tears (38) than in all of 2012 (32) or 2011 (25), according to ESPN Stats & Information.”

Fans are more than aware of the injury problem at this point. According to a New York Post report from Sept. 2015, “The [NFL’s] latest Spending & Saving Tracker said 74.7 million Americans plan to participate in fantasy football this year, spending $4.6 billion, company spokeswoman Jane Di Leo said.”

With that many fans playing fantasy football, and millions more watching and rooting for players and teams on top of that, fans know all too well how many star players have gone down due to injury this year.

While these injuries have hurt the quality of play, it hasn’t stopped people from watching. According to a bostonglobe.com report from early Nov. 2015:

“Midway through this season, the trends suggest that ratings and viewership numbers will trump even last year’s. Thursday Night Football is up 6 percent in viewership this year from the same date a year ago, averaging 17.6 million viewers, up from 16.7 million last year. Overall, CBS is averaging 18.5 million viewers for its NFL telecasts, which would be the highest for the AFC game package in 29 years. NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” continues to be a ratings behemoth, averaging 23.6 million viewers this season, making it the top-ranked program on television this fall. ESPN is averaging 13.2 million viewers for its “Monday Night Football” telecasts. So far this season, NFL games account for the top 10 and 19 of the top 20 programs on television this fall.”

The ratings have never been the NFL’s problem, as people are always going to watch football as long as it’s around. However, player safety has become a major issue in this league and more than just players are beginning to pay attention. In the same Frontline report, Days before Super Bowl XLVII (47), President Barack Obama told The New Republic that,

“I’m a big football fan, but I have to tell you if I had a son, I’d have to think long and hard before I let him play football. And I think that those of us who love the sport are going to have to wrestle with the fact that it will probably change gradually to try to reduce some of the violence. In some cases, that may make it a little bit less exciting, but it will be a whole lot better for the players, and those of us who are fans maybe won’t have to examine our consciences quite as much.”

With even the President saying that his concerns about the risk of sustaining an injury while playing football would be enough to keep his child from playing the sport, who is to say that millions of parents across America don’t share Obama’s sentiment?

It is time for the NFL to take a long and hard look at itself. The league needs to figure out how to protect its players, because what’s going on right now just ain’t cutting it. Maybe it starts at the youth level, where players first learn how to tackle. Maybe players are training too hard and wearing their bodies down. Or maybe players have just gotten plain old unlucky this year. Any of those are plausible reasons for why the NFL is going through this injury crisis. However one thing is certain, this is a problem that needs to be addressed and it isn’t going away any time soon.

 

Photo via baltimoreravens.about.com

Ride the running game, James

Watching Penn State play against Temple two weeks ago was not a fun time for anyone. It wasn’t fun for Head Coach James Franklin; it wasn’t fun for Offensive Coordinator John Donovan; it wasn’t fun for running backs Akeel Lynch or Saquon Barkley and it certainly wasn’t fun for quarterback Christian Hackenberg.

Christian Hackenberg was sacked 10 times and threw more picks (1) than he did touchdowns (0). Temple Running Back Jahad Thomas rushed the ball 29 times for 135 yards and two touchdowns. Penn State Running Back Akeel Lynch (Jr.) ran the ball 10 times for 78 yards, however most of that production came from a 42-yard touchdown run. And Running Back Saquon Barkley only got one carry during the entire game and ran it for one measly yard.

Clearly James Franklin had some changes to make going into week two when Penn State would face the University of Buffalo. And changes he would make.

Penn State went to the running game against Buffalo, handing off the ball 39 times while throwing it only 27 times. This is a stark difference from week one against Temple, when the Nittany Lions ran the ball only 28 times and threw the ball 25 times. Big difference, right?

The real difference in week two, however, was whom Penn State was handing the ball off to. While Lynch (19 rushes for 46 yards vs. Buffalo) came into the season as the lead back, it was Barkley who really impressed. The true freshman running back had 12 rushes for 115 yards and a touchdown and gave the Nittany Lions the spark they needed to win their first game of the season.

Fast forward to this past Saturday night.

A night game at home, plus being the first conference matchup of the season made this game important enough as it is. The fact that Rutgers suspended so many of its players and its head coach put this game into must-win territory.

While Rutgers was severely undermanned, Penn State still needed to execute its game plan and carry over the positives from the game against Buffalo in order to earn its second win of the season.

James Franklin must have realized what he had in running back Saquon Barkley after his performance against Buffalo, as he fed the true freshman the ball 21 times for 195 yards and two touchdowns. Barkley, who initially had committed to Rutgers, changed his mind and picked Penn State as his home once James Franklin arrived in Happy Valley. Franklin is probably thanking the old gods and the new that Barkley picked the Nittany Lions over the Scarlet Knights, as the running back has run for over 300 yards in the last two games. Junior running back Akeel Lynch also ran the ball 10 times for 120 yards, which included a 75-yard touchdown run.

Clearly James Franklin has two very capable and explosive running backs, along with a talented yet struggling quarterback Christian Hackenberg (who hasn’t been sacked in two weeks by the way) and a dominant defense. These are the keys to Penn State’s two game winning streak.

Unlike against Temple, Hackenberg has had time in the pocket to throw and has only turned the ball over once, the running backs have rushed for 530 yards and the defense has only allowed 17 points.

This is how Penn State is going to win games. Run the ball. Don’t turn the ball over. Play good defense. Penn State is paying defensive coordinator Bob Shoop almost a million dollars a year to keep this defense as dominant as possible. A year and three games into his contract and he is keeping his end of the deal. Now its time for Franklin and Donovan to earn their contracts. Run the ball James. Run it.

New Season, Same Result For Nittany Lions

It has been over 250 days since James Franklin led the Penn State Nittany Lions to victory over Boston College in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.

In front of a sold out crowd that was essentially a home game for the Nittany Lions, Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg was brilliant, going 34-of-50 for 371 yards and four TDs in a 31-30 overtime victory.

After the game Franklin addressed the remaining Penn State fans in the stands yelling, “You want to talk about culture? Look around, this is culture!” The crowd ate it up, exploding in a We Are Penn State chant.

It was an inspiring and powerful statement from the first year head coach, who was brought in to further improve upon the work that Bill O’Brien started the previous two seasons to turn this program around.

For the first time in three years, Penn State football looked like it was going in a positive direction.

Fast-forward to today and that feeling of positivity is all but extinguished.

Penn State fell to the Temple Owls for the first time in 74 years this past Saturday, losing 27-10. After the game the frustration amongst players, coaches and fans was palpable.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do, I don’t need to tell you guys that. Its obvious to everybody,” said Franklin to the media after the game.

“We just need to [watch] the film, learn from it and were going to get ready for Buffalo,” a dejected Christian Hackenberg explained to the media after the loss. “I think we all need to look in the mirror and see what we can do better.”

Despite all of the heat that Franklin and Hackenberg will take leading up to Penn State’s home opener against Buffalo, neither deserve as much criticism as the Nittany Lion’s Offensive Coordinator John Donovan.

Donovan lacked creativity in his play calling and failed to make adjustments time and time again throughout Saturdays beat down.

The most glaring example of Donovan’s lack of creativity came at the end of the third quarter. With a 1:28 left, Hackenberg completed a short pass to the right side to Chris Godwin for eight yards. On second down Donovan dialed up the same playcall. This time however, Temple’s Sharif Finch easily recognized the play and picked off Hackenberg’s throw (which was going to the same spot). A play later, Temple scored and took a 17-10 lead, which they never gave up.

Donovan and Hackenberg’s miscues during that sequence were a microcosm of Penn State’s offense since Donovan took over the play calling last season.

In the fourteen games that Donovan has called the plays for Penn State, very little has changed. The wide receivers run short to intermediate routes that often make little sense given the situation and the run game has been non-existent (Don’t get me started on the endless screen passes either).

Don’t mistake this criticism as an angry Penn State fan using his blog to voice his dissatisfaction with how the team is playing. No, these are real concerns that people all over the country are agreeing upon.

And while Donovan been a disaster, James Franklin and the rest of his staff haven’t inspired confidence in their abilities either. Everyone knows how great a recruiter Franklin has been since he arrived at Penn State, but he has continuously failed to make in-game adjustments that ultimately cost his team the game.

Take this past weekend against Temple for example. After dominating the first quarter and taking a 10-0 lead, Temple’s head coach and former Nittany Lion, Matt Rhule, adjusted his defensive game plan. Rhule realized what everyone in the world already knew: Penn State can’t run the ball or protect the Quarterback, so drop everyone into coverage and dare them to move the ball down field. Franklin had no counter adjustment, and the offense fizzled for the rest of the game.

And then there is the offensive line. Christian Hackenberg was sacked 10 times on Saturday. To put that in perspective, he was sacked 44 times all of last season and after one game he is almost a quarter of the way there to surpassing that total.

This was supposed to be a group that would only improve after last season’s catastrophe. Instead, the offensive line took a step back in game one of the 2015 season. Hackenberg was constantly under duress in the pocket and while he is definitely responsible for some of the sacks that he took, he never had enough time in the pocket to allow his receivers to get down field and was sacked over and over again.

And that’s the heart of Penn States problem. They have a pocket passing Quarterback who excels throwing the ball down the field and utilizing his tight ends, and yet he only attempted two deep balls and targeted his tight ends only once.

Many believe that Christian Hackenberg can be the first overall pick in next year’s NFL draft. Unfortunately for him, he is playing in an offensive system that is not conducive to success given his skillset. And unless James Franklin, John Donovan and the offensive line figure it out not only will Hack not be a first round pick, but Penn State will struggle to reach the six win mark necessary to qualify for a bowl game.

After an offseason full of promise, 2015 has started off with more of the same from last year for James Franklin and Penn State. Its not too late for Franklin to make the necessary adjustments to put this team on the winning path, but he better start soon or else it will be more than just Donovan’s job that the fans and former players start calling for.

The Search For Hatred

I want to dive into the NBA offseason real quick. First off, pretty much every TV analyst said this past draft could have been one of the craziest in NBA history (it wasn’t). However, it set the stage for a very lucrative beginning to free agency. Anyways, the fucking Lakers. I’m a Sixers fan, so you can assume I’ve hated the Lakers my whole life. Everyone does, but being a Sixers fan, history tell us to hate the Lakers. I was almost five years old during the 2001 finals and to be honest I remember very little of the Lakers demolishing the Sixers. Knowing about it should be enough to build that hatred, right? But dammit, I didn’t hate them (enough). There was always the “Oh, the Lakers? They get everything, so fuck them,” mindset. But for me there was never a concrete source of this hatred towards them. Enter the 2015 NBA draft and the following period of free agency.

The beginning of the draft was easy to predict. Karl Anthony-Towns was the consensus number one pick. His polished defensive game and potential on offense to go along with his high basketball IQ was too much to pass up for any team. And then there was Jah. Jahlil Okafor was the best prospect going into this past college season, and this kid was is a godddamn house. His post presence is unbelievable, he can move more the average giant, has great passing vision, and he had the second highest field goal percentage in the country last year, probably the biggest “sure-thing” of the draft. The Lakers need a big man, I mean their best center is Robert Sacre; boom, easy Jah to the Lakers at two. The Sixers get the playmaking guard that we need, put that with the Noel/Embiid combo, put some players around that, and eventually bring us to the Promised Land. That was how almost every mock draft was set up…until draft day. SPOILER ALERT: the Lakers don’t take the consensus #2 pick; they don’t take the franchise big man that they needed. The Lakers instead take the guard to play with (stand next to) Kobe and opted to gamble in free agency.

To be fair, it’s the Lakers, they can attract anyone in free agency right? They have one of the best players of all time, one of the most famous franchises in all of sports, a shitload of hardware and it’s L.A. With LaMarcus Aldridge most likely leaving Portland and Kevin Love opting out of his contract with the Cavs, there were two big name big men to help fill the Lakers hole and someone was destined to sign. First, Aldridge. LaMarcus is finally getting to the point where he realizes that Portland probably isn’t the place to win a championship. Yes Lillard is a stud and the two of them with the supporting cast they’ve assembled make up a consistent playoff roster. But Robin Lopez, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews are gone and it’s not the team to get through the current Western Division and win a title. So you’d think: L.A. has a need for a big man, L.A. needs a home, their initials are the same so sign the fucking paper. But no, Aldridge was underwhelmed by the Lakers presentation and ruled them out and eventually signed with the Spurs. While K. Love never actually met with the Lakers, there was some serious speculation about the possibility of a homecoming. I mean he’s from Santa Monica and played at UCLA. When Love re-signed with the Cavs you couldn’t be surprised. He said he wanted to win, and Cleveland, NOT LOS ANGELES, is the place to do that right now. (Funny right?) I need to point out that all of this secretly made me happy to see the Lakers squirming around free agency finally unable to attract who they need.

So through the most exciting and wild part of free agency, the Lakers are left without a big man. Greg Monroe went to the Bucks, Deandre went to Dallas and then back to the Clips, and a slew of other not as big name signings occurred. With Boogie Cousins so close over in Sacramento, and clearly not happy with his situation there, you’d think the Lakers would be able to make some kind of push for him (but it doesn’t seem like that’ll ever happen). To put it lightly, the Lakers struck out. They bet on themselves by drafting D’Angelo and trying to get a big man in free agency but their attempts at wooing the top big men prospects failed.

Roy Hibbert, encouraged by Larry Bird to enter free agency, decided to sign back with the Pacers and will cost them about $15.5 mil this year. Here come the (purple and) golden child of the NBA, the Los Angeles Lakers. When their pitch of “we play in L.A.” “we have 16 championships” “we have Kobe” no longer working on free agents as it has for their entire history, and when winning and rosters seem to be all the more important than traditions and location, it all but looked like the Lakers might finally be in for the long haul on the rebuilding train, waiting to get a franchise big man to fill in the hole they left wide open. Payback for not making the easy, obvious selection of Jahlil Okafor second overall, but instead stealing D’Ang right from under the city who desperately needs a basketball hero; Philadelphia. Nope, the two teams are finalizing talks that would send Hibbert to Los Angeles. You can’t really get mad (in a basketball sense) at the Pacers for this deal because they unload Hibbert’s contract and don’t have to deal with him anymore. Now, while Hibbert isn’t the dominating player he was when the Pacers made their run at the Heat, he’s still a 7-footer capable of taking up space and impacting a game. The fact that a team can make a risky draft pick, then strike out in free agency to prove it was probably the wrong pick, then get bailed out makes me upset. The fact that it was the Lakers makes me furious. It’s about time the Lakers suck.

The worst part about all of this is I think it has a chance to work. I love D’Ang. I went to the game up at State College when OSU came to town just to see him play. As I sat there watching him play, my buzz slowly but surely fading, I thought 2 things: 1. No way I’m staying past halftime, and 2. I want this kid on the Sixers. Luckily there were two surefire big man prospects and two teams that needed big men in front of us, so D’Angelo would surely fall to the Sixers, right? Nope. Sadly the Sixers got the number three overall pick, so once again it was out of our hands and we got fucked, something us Sixers fans have become all to accustomed to. Its brutal to think that D’Angelo should have fallen to us; not could have, should have. But he didn’t, and he is such a Los Angeles player. While I’m not quite sure what that means, he looks right at home in a Lakers uniform. L.A. was clearly the place that he wanted to end up, but shouldn’t have ended up. So, after being a Sixers fan my whole life, it has taken until now, but I finally have that source of my own personal Laker hatred. And I know, every time I see D’Angelo Russell in Lakers purple and gold I will think of what could’ve and should’ve been. One last thing, if that hate is inside you too, let it burn, and let it burn knowing that fans of every of NBA franchise are with you.

Finally, @Lakers, I fucking hate you.

Addressing The Stupidity Problem In Professional Sports

If you stop and think about it and really break it down, professional athletes get paid every day to do the same thing that four year olds do on day-to-day basis: play games. Yes I obviously know it’s not that simple, calm down. But just think about it. At its most basic level, a professional sports league is a group of teams playing a game. LeBron is playing the exact same game that a 12-year-old kid from New York City plays after school each day. The only difference; LeBron gets paid millions of dollars to do so.

Now for an athlete to get paid in the first place, they have to sign a contract that was offered to them. In every job that requires you to sign a contract, all you have to do in order to stay employed and get paid is to follow any rules that your contract includes. That’s it. Really, that’s all you have to do. Just follow the rules and you’ll live happily ever after.

For professional athletes is a pretty fucking sweet deal they are getting. This is how I imagine a conversation between a player and a GM after the player signs a fat extension: “Boss, are you telling me all I have to do is follow these rules and I can make millions of dollars?” Yes, that is EXACTLY what they’re telling you. The GM wouldn’t even respond. He would just shake his head yes and that’s it. That’s how simple it is. Have you ever wished you could have a set of step-by-step directions that tells you how to make millions of dollars? That’s what these pro athletes are getting here. On top of everything, these rules also happen to be unbelievably simple to follow. Things like “Don’t get arrested” and “Don’t do drugs” top the list. Seems easy enough, right?

Now that we have established how easy it is for professional athletes to be and stay successful, we can talk about how dumb some of these players are when it comes to following these rules. And I say ‘dumb’ because honestly it’s the nicest way I can possibly put it when talking about some of these guys. For example, this past weekend the NFL was in the news for its players being really dumb. The news broke last Thursday on July 2 when the NFL handed out a multitude of suspensions, including some of the top players in the league at their positions. Antonio Gates, Sheldon Richardson and Rolando McClain were all suspended for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. (Remember the “Don’t do Drugs” rule? Yup I was thinking the same thing don’t worry.)

To be fair, pro-athletes have been doing dumb shit for decades. Honestly a lot of the stuff people would consider dumb these days weren’t considered to be so back in the day. For example, Wade Boggs claims that he drank 100 beers the same day they had a game. Dock Ellis throwing a no-hitter while tripping on LSD is another example. To put those things in perspective, Pablo Sandoval was benched being on his phone during a game, and a few years ago the Boston Red Sox got a lot of heat for drinking beer and eating fried chicken in the clubhouse during a game. Really? People got upset over that? WADE BOGGS DRANK 100 BEERS THE DAY OF A GAME AND NO ONE BATTED AN EYE. I can understand funny stories like this. I honestly don’t even mind Sandoval using his phone mid-game. What I do mind is players doing things to get them suspended or hurt for multiple games that were ultimately avoidable/preventable.

For example this past weekend Jason Pierre-Paul decided that, as a professional football player, it was a great idea to buy a truckload of fireworks and personally set them off. That really wouldn’t have been that bad of an idea as it was the Fourth of July and people tend to set fireworks off that night…except for the fact that he’s a fucking professional football player and fireworks are dangerous as shit. As everyone is well aware of by now, one of those fireworks went off in his hand, causing severe burns and potential nerve damage in his fingers. The man was just franchise tagged by the New York Giants and there was a long-term contract extension offer for over $60 million on the table as well. Well, after fucking up his hand, the contract extension offer was pulled and JPP’s long-term future with the Giants is up in the air.

Nothing in the world pisses me off more than hearing stories like the one about JPP and his fucking fireworks or guys like Josh Hamilton who recently mixed up his cocaine and Vitamin-C (he probably thought they were the same thing). They have one job: Don’t do anything stupid. I mean goddamn, if I had the talent that JPP or Hamilton have, I would make it my priority in life to NOT fuck up. If the Giants walked up to me and said, “You’re really great at football so were going to pay you $60 million a year to tackle whoever is holding the football. All you have to do in order to earn that money is continue to produce on the field and don’t do anything stupid off the field.” Come on, man. If you give me $1 million and tell me its all mine as long as I don’t do anything stupid for a year, you can bet your ass I’m swimming in cash a year later.

It’s pathetic that so many of these grown men continuously fuck up time and time again. I’m sure Justin Pierre-Paul is a great guy and all, but when you start drawing comparisons to Plaxico Burress you need to stop whatever you’re currently doing and start doing the exact opposite. JPP is lucky that he didn’t lose a finger or two, and while he didn’t shoot himself like Plax did, it’s still an all-time bonehead move to blow up your hand with fireworks. Bottom line is, if you’re a professional athlete stop doing stupid shit. Hey pro-athletes, FYI: there are hundreds of guys grinding every day to make it big, and they would gladly take your place if you continue to be stupid. So, stop being stupid so we, the fans, don’t have to watch scrubs come in and replace your sorry asses.

The Key to Making Gains is Not Talking About it

Listen, I get it. I really do. You work out your chest on Monday, do a beach workout on Friday, and probably take creatine every day in between. You have your pump up playlist on Spotify, and probably just bought the new Beats By Dre Bluetooth Power Beats to workout in.

The gym is a magical place. Its made Jen Selter famous, caused me to lose my baby fat, and allowed players like Bonds and McGuire to hit home runs on a swing the average player would pop out to right field with. But actually, it’s a place where anyone can run off some steam, get an early pump in, or just feel good about his or herself.

The word associated with the gym I hear most often is “gains”. The definition of “gains” is essentially the results one wants to see from hitting the gym. Whether it’s gaining weight, losing a pant size, increasing a vertical, or squatting a certain amount, there is always something one needs to improve on.

Honestly, I wish everyone worked out. I enjoy walking into the Penn State gyms and seeing a multitude of beautiful girls on every elliptical and across every ab-mat. The spring break countdown is cool; the social aspect of it doesn’t disappoint, and it’s also a healthy way to spend an hour of a day you’re most likely going to drink away after 9 pm.

I’ve been around the block when it comes to working out. I’ve had trainers, taken classes, worked out on my own, not worked out, etc. Through all my years of working out I’ve really only been able to come to one conclusion about making gains. Yes, everyone has different body types, different goals, and different reasons for going to the gym….However..

The key to making gains at the gym is NOT talking about your gains. I promise you, it will work out better for you in the long run. Yeah, who doesn’t love the occasional snap story at the gym, or the 6 AM rise and grind workout? I’ve been there, you’ve been there, let’s face it: We love other people knowing we’re working out while they’re most likely smothering their faces with bagels and buffalo chicken.

Buuut…you want to make actual gains? Keep the gym talk to yourself. I would love to hear about your 5 team 20 dollar parlay that won you a bottle of Goose at Saloon, or your fantasy football player who had 3 touchdowns. I would love to hear about the girl you bagged the other night, or the reason you bogeyed the last hole instead of birdying it. Just don’t walk into the room telling everyone how much you squatted last Tuesday.

We celebrated America’s birthday this past weekend…and now it’s time to celebrate chest day at your local gym.

Major League Drugs

Athletes around the world are on display for millions of people to see every day and are viewed as role models and even heroes to some. However the fact of the matter is that they are still people just like any of us and need outlets from the stresses of everyday life, like recreational drug use. There is already so much speculation about drug use in professional sports. People all over the world have their opinions and many believe that these professional athletes are using drugs outside of the public eye.

What athletes specifically am I referring to? Just about any athlete. I know what you’re thinking; recreational drug use only pertains to leagues like the NFL and the NBA. Yes, there have been numerous drug busts, arrests and rehab check-ins in both of these leagues, but it doesn’t take much research to find drug use in other sports. As a matter of fact, it only takes a few words typed into google: Drug use in (insert sport here). There are numerous accounts across the board of pro athletes using illegal drugs, from pro golfer Dustin Johnson and Josh Hamilton of the MLB to Sam Hurd of the NFL and Gilbert Arenas of the NBA. And these four examples barely scrape the surface of the actual number of athletes using drugs.

So why not regulate it and make it open to the public?  I propose a world in which athletes are allowed to use one drug of choice throughout their careers. This drug of choice will be worked into an athlete’s contract and that player will be regularly tested to see that only that drug, or nothing, shows up. With regards to the type of drug, an athlete can pretty much choose any drug as long as it isn’t performance enhancing. Then, like any other job, as long as the athlete isn’t getting high while at work then there should be no problem.

This brings about the question: what drugs will athletes choose?

Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks would most definitely choose POT! Melo’s style of play is very smooth and he is extremely relaxed on the court while seemingly not giving a fuck about defense. There will finally be a legitimate excuse for the lack of defensive effort and that excuse is POT!

Josh Hamilton and Chris Anderson (aka the Birdman) are going to have a field day with this policy, but also an extremely hard time choosing just one drug, as they are both “jacks of all drugs”.

Sam Hurd, widely known among his peers as both a marijuana and cocaine connoisseur, will probably have to flip a coin to choose between the two. (When this policy is finally implemented, Hurd will have plenty of time to flip a coin in prison).

On a more serious note, I believe this allowance of one illegal substance per player would help solve the problem of drugs in sports. Many athletes right now are using drugs and are able to hide from the public eye beneath a cloud of speculation. However, with this information available to the public there will be nowhere to hide. An athlete will either have to face the shame that comes with being held to a higher standard and using drugs, or just stop doing the drugs. I believe many athletes will choose the latter. Half the fun of doing drugs is knowing that you’re doing something illegal. Overall, this rule change will help clean up the reputations of various sports.

The 2015 Mets Are the Most Mets Team of All-Time

The New York Mets have won four games in a row. As I typed that sentence I couldn’t help but laugh and think to myself, “This team just will not go away.” One would think that a four game winning streak following a seven game losing streak is a sign of a turnaround. A signal that the team can handle adversity, overcome it and thrive in its aftermath. And, you know, that very well could be what is going on here with the Mets. But I’m just really, really skeptical.
Since starting off the season 13-3 and going on that tease of an 11 game win streak, the Amazins have gone 27-34. It has been a rollercoaster of a season so far to say the least and, despite everything, the Mets currently sit 2.5 games out of first place in the NL East. All of this has led me to believe that the 2015 Mets are the most Mets team in the history of the Mets.
Just think about it. The team comes into this season with playoff aspirations, takes a series from a stacked Nationals team right out of the gate and then drops two of three from the fresh off a fire-sale Braves. The Mets then go on an 11 game win streak, but lose their captain and best player David Wright to injury (who is still out) in the process. The team then goes on a 27-34 stretch, which included a seven game losing streak followed by a four game winning streak and sent Travis d’Arnaud (twice) and Daniel Murphy to the DL in the process. Oh and our Gold Glove center fielder is playing through an elbow injury and our one offseason acquisition (Michael Cuddyer) has, pardon my French, played like a steaming pile of horse shit. Have you ever seen a stretch of play that varied, inconsistent and injury riddled? I definitely haven’t. However, this team just continues to stay relevant and keep you interested, yesterday’s game(s) being the perfect example of this.
If you were around to watch the Mets play yesterday, you were treated with almost two games worth of baseball. The Mets finished up Saturday’s rain shortened game, starting in the 7th inning and finishing in the 13th, after Lucas Duda won the game with a failed fielders choice to home plate. Then the real show began. Steven Matz, the highly touted pitching prospect that has been dominating AAA ball all season long, was finally called up. And boy did he live up to the hype.
Watching Matz was like something out of a movie. The 24-year-old southpaw started out his major league career by throwing the ball to the backstop, followed by letting up a leadoff homerun to Brandon Phillips four pitches later. After a rocky start, Matz settled down and retired the rest of the batters the next two innings. In the bottom of the second with the young lefty at the plate, Matz sent a ball to deep center for two-run double. It didn’t end there though. Matz singled in the bottom of the fifth and hit a two-run single in the bottom of the sixth. You almost forget that he’s still a pitcher who threw 7.2 innings while giving up five hits, two runs, three walks and six K’s. What. A. Debut. Its almost like the Mets’ pitchers are hitting better than our batters this season…Oh wait that’s exactly what it is.
One of the story lines coming into the game was that Matz, originally from Long Island, grew up a Mets fan and was finally living his dream and pitching for his favorite big league team. I get chills just thinking about what he must’ve felt after the game. Can you imagine putting on a show like that in your MLB debut for the team you grew up rooting for? Unreal.
So, last night was just another example of how up and down team this team is. Some days the team hits. Most days they don’t. And almost every day it pitches well. That’s what the 2015 Mets are right now and we’re all going to have to deal with it until Sandy Alderson grows some balls and trades for a veteran bat that can turn this fringe playoff team into a possible contender. Yes, I said contender. With this pitching, any team has the ability to be a contender. Its all going to depend on what Sandy does from now to the All-Star break to improve the lineup, and knowing these Mets, it’s going to be hell of a ride till then.

Making Sense of the Knicks Draft Picks

Don’t let the headline deceive you; I still don’t know how I’m going to make sense of last night, and I’m the one writing this article. The only lottery pick that went as everyone expected was the first one, when Karl-Anthony Towns went to the Minnesota Timberwolves, joining two former first overall picks in Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins. But I’m not here to talk about Towns or the Wolves or how Flip Saunders has acquired the past three #1 overall picks in the last 12 months.
I’m here to talk about the Knicks and honestly I’ve been stalling all day, trying to put this article off because I was still in shock from last night. You know that feeling you get when you watch Game of Thrones and then everyone dies in one episode? Yeah, that’s what I felt like after hearing “With the fourth pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, the New York Knicks select (Adam Silver Pauses for dramatic effect, knowing the words he’s about to utter would start a riot in the stands) Kristaps Porzingis, Cent…” I actually don’t remember anything after that point. I’m 99% sure I blacked out. It was inconceivable to me that Phil Jackson just drafted a 19-year-old, 7’1” Latvian project that won’t contribute next season. I, along with every Knicks fan actually at the Barclays Center, was letting blind rage consume my thoughts. Maybe it was the tease that was Okafor dropping to the Sixers, or that I think Emmanuel Mudiay is going to be the next Russell Westbrook. I just didn’t know. The picture to your left, which is of me, perfectly sums up how I felt immediately after the Knicks drafted Kristaps Porzingis. Yes, it was that kind of night.

My reaction to Porzingis being drafted by the Knicks

It has been almost 20 hours since the Draft started and I’ve had some time to sleep off the shock and think about the Knicks moves rationally and with a clear conscience. And, being perfectly honest, I actually love what the Knicks did last night. It’s not like me to completely flip my opinion on a class the day after the draft, but just hear me out. (I’m only breaking down the first round picks because who cares about the second round).
Kristaps Porzingis is at least almost a head taller than every other prospect in this draft, which I didn’t realize until I saw this picture:

Porzingis being tall

Porzingis being tall

Like holy fuck. This guy is only 19?? I mean I’ve suffered through 20 years of following four losing teams (Mets, Jets, Knicks, and Rangers, I don’t need your pity either), and I still take shit for going to Penn State (still hearing Sandusky jokes and I wasn’t even at the school when it happened). But if waiting two years for this Latvian gigantor to develop into Dirk 2.0 is what it’s going to take for me to see a team I root for win a title, then show me the dotted line. Porzingis can shoot from anywhere on the floor, is a decent shot blocker, and based off of the comments he’s made since being drafted, he is hungry. That right there is what sold me on this guy. This is an excerpt from Adrian Wojnarowski’s June 16 profile of Porzingis.

“The biggest thing for me – the thing that I think most about – is that you can get into the gym whenever you want here,” Porzingis told Yahoo Sports over dinner recently. “They give you a card, or a key, and in the middle of the night, if you want to work out, you just go to the gym and get your work in – and I think that’s amazing.
“In Europe, you don’t have that option. You can’t get your work in on a Sunday, because nobody is there. I think that’s one of the coolest things. This year, I didn’t have a place to play. I’ve got to talk to the GM, to talk one of the people who work in the arena to open the door for me. People don’t want to do extra work at the arena.”
So Porzingis laid awake in his bedroom in Sevilla, Spain, and thought to himself, “‘when I’m sleeping, someone else is working out.’ I’d think that I better get in my work the next day, because I’m already behind.”

The guy is HUNGRY. As Herb Brooks once said, “The legs feed the wolf, gentlemen.” Yes, historically, European players have not panned out unless your name is Dirk, Pau, or Marc. However if there is going to be a fourth great European player in the history of the NBA, Porzingis certainly has the mindset and drive to get to that point.

The Knicks entered yesterday’s draft with only one pick in total. Many felt that the Knicks needed to trade into the second round to help add depth to the roster, myself included. Well, Phil Jackson decided to one-up us and move into the first round instead. Jackson traded Tim Hardaway Jr. to the Washington Wizards straight up for the 19th pick in the NBA draft. And you thought Phil was delusional (still up in the air). The Knicks went out and drafted Jerian Grant, who in my humble opinion is an absolute beast. I picked his Notre Dame to make the National Championship game and followed the team religiously throughout the tournament and let me tell you, Grant can flat out BALL. What the Knicks got in Grant is a 6’5” point guard that can defend 1-3 and score from anywhere on the court. He’s very athletic and is a highly intelligent basketball player. Being at Notre Dame and staying until he graduated, he is much more mature than most players in this draft (22 years old), having played under Mike Brey for all four years (Side Note: The first four picks are all 19 years old). Grant brings an explosive mindset to the point-guard position in New York, who will create a nice 1-2 punch with last season’s breakout player for the Knicks, Langston Galloway.
I honestly was really upset with how the draft went in the moments following Porzingis’ selection, but I wont let 20 years of negativity and losing bring me down. I’m doing my best to look at the bright side of things and hopefully the rest of you Knick fans can do the same. And in all honesty, we were all mad (or still are) last night because Phil didn’t draft someone who can win now for us. And with reports of Melo being unhappy with how the draft went coming out, I can see how people are livid. However, if Melo really were THAT concerned with winning now, he would have left New York for Chicago or Houston last off-season. Instead he resigned and is holding the Knicks’ salary cap hostage. If he cared about winning he would have taken a discount so the team could sign respectable role players. Carmelo Anthony actually came out today and said he was pissed that Phil Jackson didn’t pick a player that would help the team win now. News flash Carmelo, NO ONE WOULD HELP THIS TEAM WIN NOW. Not one player in this draft would make this team a contender. Jalen Rose’s team needs for the Knicks last night was “Everything”. That, my friends, is when you know your team is shit. Hopefully this draft was the first step in the right direction for the Knicks, as their selections certainly have the potential to live up to their expectations. Then again, who knows? It’s the Knicks, what isn’t going to go wrong?

East Coast Egos 2015 NHL Mock Draft

I’m a believer that this year’s NHL draft is one of the deeper ones in recent memory. It might not compare to the vaunted 2003 crop, but word around the league is that there are upwards of 50 players that have first round grades on individual team boards. Obviously this makes mocking the draft tough, but I’ll give it the old college try here with my first ever mock draft on East Coast Egos.

  1. Edmonton Oilers – Connor McDavid C Erie (OHL)

Just a formality at this point, Connor McDavid is worth the hype and then some. It all starts with his skating. McDavid will step into the league and immediately be up there with the likes of Matt Duchene and Carl Hagelin as one of the fastest guys in the league. What makes McDavid so special though is his ability to combine that speed with his elite hockey sense and make plays without slowing down. McDavid is in my opinion the best prospect to come into the NHL since Crosby, and I’d put him a step above where Crosby was as a prospect due to his previously mentioned skating ability. McDavid will step into the lineup and being propelling Edmonton back to the glory days.

  1. Buffalo Sabres – Jack Eichel C Boston University (NCAA)

Also no suspense here as Eichel is the consensus #2 player in this draft. Eichel put an assault on the college hockey ranks this year that was unseen by a draft eligible player since Paul Kariya in 1993. Eichel combines size, skating, and puck skills into a rarely seen package. His puck handling in tight areas is impressive especially for a player of his size, and he packs a punch with his shot in space. You would like to see him engage a little more physically, but that’s nit picking as he is a very good defensive forward as well. Eichel is NHL ready, and Buffalo will hand the keys to the franchise to the “best American since Modanao.”

  1. Arizona Coyotes – Dylan Strome C Erie (OHL)

The draft really starts at pick 3, where Don Maloney has been adamant about weighing his options and even taking calls from teams trying to move up. This pick is a tossup between Noah Hanifin, Mitch Marner, and Dylan Strome. If you poll around the league, Hanifin would get the nod as the #3 player in this draft. However, Arizona has a real dearth of talent down the middle, and the best place to fix that is the NHL Draft. Dylan Strome is an intriguing prospect, as a cerebral 6-3 center with fantastic puck skills. The biggest knock on Strome is his average skating, but it’s an area that he’s improved since entering the OHL. When he’s on his game, Strome just makes plays happen. If Arizona takes him here, they hope he fills out his frame and become the #1 center they’ve truly lacked over the years.

  1. Toronto Maple Leafs – Mitch Marner C/RW London (OHL)

Back in 2013, Mark Hunter was the GM of the London Knights when they took a chance on a 5’7” scrawny 16 year old at the end of round 1 of the OHL Priority Selection. That small kid would progress into the current version of Mitch Marner we see, the dynamic offensive threat drawing comparisons to Patrick Kane. Why does this matter? Mark Hunter is now with the Maple Leafs and with the firing of their head amateur scout, he’s now tasked with running the draft this year. This shouldn’t take away from Marner though, as he is a dynamic talent more than worthy of the top 5 selection. Combining speed with puck skills always makes for a dangerous player at the junior level, but when you combine it with hockey IQ you get an NHL prospect. I believe Marner projects best as a winger making plays off the walls on the rush, but I wouldn’t rule out trying him at center. Marner and William Nylander could become a dynamic 1-2 punch for Mike Babcock’s Maple Leafs down the line.

  1. Carolina Hurricanes – Noah Hanifin D Boston College (NCAA)

If the left handed Hanifin is on the board at 5, Carolina GM Ron Francis should sprint up to the podium to make the pick. Hanifin accelerated in order to enter college this year as a 17 year old freshman. He took up a spot on BC’s top pairing and never looked back. Hanifin is a rare breed, a dynamic skater in a large developing frame. He has the upside and the skills to develop into the coveted true two-way defenseman in the mold of Duncan Keith. Like most young players, he needs to get physically stronger to handle the rigors of the NHL and you would also like to see him engage a little more during puck battles. If it all goes right, Carolina could have one of the NHL’s top duos in a Hanifin-Justin Faulk pairing down the line.

  1. New Jersey Devils – Mathew Barzal C Seattle (WHL)

New Jersey enters this draft at a crossroads, with what’s left of their glory days core on the brink of retirement mixed with a new coach, a new GM, and a crop of younger players pushing their way up the organizational depth chart. Enter Mathew Barzal. It’s not long ago that Barzal was considered the consensus #2 player behind Connor McDavid in this 2015 draft class. He was incredibly hyped as the #1 pick in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft and has lived up to it… when healthy. That has been the knock on Barzal thus far in his career, as an injury wiped out a chunk of his draft season. His stock trended back upwards with his performance at the U18s, where he showed off his vision and creativity on Canada’s top line. Barzal does hold #1 center upside and is a 200 foot player, something always valued by the Devils brass. He makes a lot of sense here as the Devils move into a new era.

  1. Philadelphia Flyers – Lawson Crouse LW Kingston (OHL)

The popular whipping boy among armchair GMs this season appears to be Crouse. We’ll start with the bad – Crouse’s production in his draft eligible season left a lot to be desired. He struggled to create for himself offensively, especially with teammates Sam Bennett and Spencer Watson missing portions of the year. On the bright side, Crouse’s game is so much more complex and advanced than being a scorer. Bringing a 6-4 200+ pound frame, Crouse is a punishing player in the corners and on the walls. He’s a coach’s dream, as he can play in any situation, from up one with a minute left in the game to down a pair of goals going on the power play. The Flyers have stated they’d prefer a forward this year with all things being equal, and Crouse is the type of player that seems as if he was born to wear orange and black.

  1. Columbus Blue Jackets – Ivan Provorov D Brandon (WHL)

What an incredible rise for Provorov, going from a known but not super highly touted defenseman in the USHL to challenging for the top defenseman available in the 2015 draft. Provorov’s hockey IQ is incredible, as he is so calm and so poised on the ice. He rarely gets caught out of position or makes mistakes, which is why his stock has rose so high. He’s a kid in that Oliver Ekman-Larsson mold, a guy that can skate, QB your PP, and anchor you PK. Jarmo Kekalainen would be thrilled to add the arguably pro ready prospect to the fold.

  1. San Jose Sharks – Pavel Zacha C Sarnia (OHL)

The Joe Thronton-Patrick Marleau era in San Jose is well on its way to an inevitable disastrous end, and it’s time for San Jose to begin stockpiling young forwards with top 6 potential. Zacha is going to be a controversial player in the draft. He came across the pond to play in the OHL this year after a public battle between his former agent and the Sarnia Sting over his selection in the CHL Import Draft. Zacha then came over and had issues staying healthy, limiting his impact on a young Sarnia team. When in the lineup, Zacha is a big mobile center that plays mean, but borderline dirty. The puck comes off his stick hard when he shoots, and he uses his size and strength to power his way to the net. His commitment to the defensive side of the puck needs improvement. San Jose did well with their last Czech first rounder, Mr. Hertl, and will attempt to strike gold again as the revamp their forward corps.

  1. Colorado Avalanche – Zach Werenski D Michigan (NCAA)

Noah Hanifin’s defensive partner with the NTDP followed his friends lead and joined the NCAA as a 17 year old freshman last year. Like the aforementioned Hanifin, Werenski also stepped into the top pair as a freshman and was his team’s best defender all year. Werenski is mobile and his game tilts more towards the offensive side of the puck at this point. The knock on him among scouts is he seems a little too passive if not disinterested at times, leading to mental mistakes and turnovers. He’ll need to improve on his intensity and attention to detail, and Colorado would be wise to slow cook him. They currently have the worst defensive corps in the NHL, and adding a talent like Werenski to the prospect pool is a step in the right direction to correct that.

  1. Florida Panthers – Mikko Rantanen RW TPS (Finland)

Rantanen becomes the first European based prospect off the board as the host team nabs him at #11. Rantanen’s biggest strength is his shot coupled with his puck protection skills. Rantanen is an animal in the cycle came, and if you give him space to shoot you’re going to pay, as he might have the best shot in the class. The problem with him is he is almost unselfish to a fault, playing as more as a facilitator instead of utilizing his rocket of a wrister. The Panthers are lacking size and skill on the wings and it’s not farfetched to imagine Rantanen developing chemistry with his fellow countryman Aleksander Barkov down the line.

  1. Dallas Stars – Kyle Connor C/LW Youngstown (USHL)

The Stars prospect pool currently lacks offensive fire power and creativity. Kyle Connor is a step towards correcting this shortcoming. Connor tore up the USHL again this year, taking home the league’s MVP award. His blazing speed pops out at you, as he was too fast for a large chunk of defenders in the league. He’s ticketed to head to the University of Michigan next year, and will need to pack some weight on a very light 170 pound frame. With development and a gain of functional strength, Connor could find himself firmly entrenched on a top line in Texas in the future.

  1. Los Angeles Kings – Travis Konecny C/RW Ottawa (OHL)

It’s rare to see a team with a roster like Los Angeles possesses picking this high, but it gives them the advantage of truly going with the best player available. In this case it would likely be Travis Konecny on their board. Coming into the OHL with much fanfare as the 1st overall pick in the 2013 OHL Priority Selection, Konecny lived up to expectations… when healthy. Injuries were the only thing to slow down the undersized Konecny during the season, as he was very productive when healthy. The one thing Konecny shows in spades is heart, as he will skate through a wall if it meant winning the game. Los Angeles would tab him here and give him plenty of time to add muscle to his frame.

  1. Boston Bruins – Timo Meier RW Halifax (QMJHL)

It wouldn’t surprise me if Meier went as high as the top 10, but I’ll put a disclaimer on here by saying I believe he is vastly overrated. We’ll start with the good, as Meier worked his tail off to go from an afterthought on the Jonathan Drouin train last season to a top scorer playing with Nikolaj Ehlers on the Mooseheads top line. Meier projects as a complimentary player, combining high hockey IQ with a hard accurate shot. The questions come with his foot speed, although improved dramatically from the season before, it’s still borderline average for the NHL level. Boston is one of those teams that doesn’t play at an extremely fast pace, and will likely go BPA here. Meier could find a niche as a Chris Kunitz type of maybe Bergeron or Krejci’s wing down the line.

  1. Calgary Flames – Nick Merkley C/RW Kelowna (WHL)

The WHL draft eligible scoring leader comes off the board here to Calgary. Playing for the WHL champs, Merkley was an impact player on the first line all year, and he produced whether playing with Rourke Chartier or Leon Draitsaitl down the middle. Merkley is opportunistic, combing hands and creativity with a nose for the net. He’s especially dangerous on the power player when given space. Merkley has the offensive skillset for the NHL, but he needs to get stronger and commit to the defensive side of the game. Calgary has young talent coming up the pipe, so they can take a flier on Merkley and hope his talent and production translates to a top 6 contributor.

  1. Edmonton Oilers – Thomas Chabot D Saint John (QMJHL)

Let’s call this the first “shocker” of the draft, as Edmonton by passes the likes of Jakob Zboril and Yevgeni Svechnikov to select the smooth skating Chabot. The first thing that sticks out when watching Chabot is his skating ability, as he is fluid and mobile in all 4 directions. He makes a crisp first pass out of the zone and knows when to jump into the play off the rush. You’d like to see him be more physical, but he’s positionally sound in his own zone and has an active stick. Chabot has been a riser throughout the year, to the point where I have him as the top defenseman behind the big 3 of Hanifin, Provorov, and Werenski. In this mock the Oilers agree with me, and add Chabot to a rising defensive prospect pool.

  1. Winnipeg Jets – Yevgeni Svechnikov RW Cape Brenton (QMJHL)

Winnipeg adds to a burgeoning prospect pool with the addition of the big Russian Svechnikov. Svechnikov combines a large frame with soft hands and a quick release. He was incredibly productive in the Q this year, carrying his team at time. The problems came with consistency, as there were some games where it seemed like Svechnikov missed the bus and didn’t show up. When he’s on though, he’s a strong possession forward and a load to handle. Winnipeg would be smart not to rush him, letting him grow into his body and hope he develops a mean streak to add to his offensive gifts.

  1. Ottawa Senators – Oliver Kylington D Farjestad (Sweden)

Let’s set the scene. It’s the 2008 NHL Draft and the hometown Senators step up to the podium and take an undersized, smooth skating Swedish defenseman with the 15th overall selection. Draft pundits questioned the pick, calling it a reach. The player selected at 15? His name is Erik Karlsson. The thinking behind this pick is stepping up to the plate and swinging for another grand slam. No player has a larger range in this draft than Kylington. The Swedish defenseman is a top 5 skater in this draft and was once regarded as a top 10 pick. Then this year happened. Kylington had a nightmare year, performing horribly on the international stage and having questions come out about his hockey sense and character. He was a turnover machine and looked flat out lost at times. It was a strange turn for a kid who came over at 17 years old last winter and didn’t look out of place in an exhibition against the best the AHL had to offer. In Ottawa, there’s no rush. The Senators will have the option to bring him over to North America next season and get him acclimated to the physicality and pace of the NHL team under the guidance of the player development staff.

  1. Detroit Red Wings – Joel Eriksson Ek C Farjestad (SHL)

Every year Detroit is expected to take the best Swede available, and this year it’s Joel Eriksson Ek, the hardworking sniper out of Sweden. I haven’t seen him much this year, but he’s said to have a quick release, great vision, and a strong work ethic. His weaknesses come on the defensive side, as his game tilts more towards offense at this point in his career. Detroit goes back to the well and will slowly bring Erikkson Ek along.

  1. Minnesota Wild – Jeremy Roy D Sherbrooke (QMJHL)

Minnesota adds some more mobility on the back end with the addition of Jeremy Roy. Coming into the QMJHL loaded with a ton of hype behind him, Roy has developed nicely into a responsible two way defenseman. Roy is very hockey smart, rarely being caught out of position and making smart crisp passes to spring his forwards. He could stand to improve his quickness and foot speed, but it shouldn’t be a problem at the NHL level. Roy doesn’t stick out as elite in any particular area, but his top 4 upside warrants a selection here. Minnesota continues to build up their back end with this selection.

  1. Ottawa Senators – Collin White C USNTDP (USHL)

The NTDP is on the board, as the Senators use the recently acquired pick to select the big pivot Collin White. White’s two-way game is incredibly mature for an 18 year old. His hockey sense has him labeled as a future shut down center with offensive abilities, even drawing Patrice Bergeron comparisons. That’s lofty praise, but it’s not unwarranted. White will take the NCAA route and head to Boston College next year, and Ottawa will keep a close eye on a kid who probably should’ve been off the board long before this selection.

  1. Washington Capitals – Dennis Guryanov RW Togliatti (MHL)

Back to back Russians here as Washington brings in the high skilled Guryanov. Guryanov is a big skilled winger with quick hands and a solid burst of speed. He’s a flashy player, and possesses a natural goal scoring touch. He needs a ton of work on the defensive side of the puck, as he quite frankly doesn’t show any effort at time. Washington has a history of taking high skilled forward prospects in the opening round, and selecting Guryanov would add to that trend.

  1. Vancouver Canucks – Jakub Zboril Saint John (QMJHL)

Vancouver’s prospect line is weak on the back end, and the fall of the Czech Zboril stops here. Zboril is a compact stay at home defenseman with above average mobility. He’s not the biggest guy, but he can be very physical. Nobody in the Q looked forward to having to play Saint John with Zboril manning the blue line this year. He needs to be more consistent like most young defenseman, and Vancouver has the time to wait on him. He would immediately become the top defenseman in the Canucks pipeline.

  1. Toronto Maple Leafs – Zach Senyshyn RW Soo (OHL)

Toronto goes off the board and grabs the speedy Senyshyn towards the end of round 1. Senyshyn is a sleeper candidate for the end of the first round, as he was buried in the bottom 6 of a loaded Soo roster for most of the year. The first thing that pops out when you watch Senyshyn is his speed. An incredible North-South skater, Senyshyn gets one step on a defender and he’s gone. He shows strong instincts on both ends of the ice, and can handle the puck and shoot at his top speed. He needs to improve his compete level and play a little more physically in order to reach his full potential. Senyshyn is a boom or bust pick, as the OHL contingent in Toronto rolls the dice at 24.

  1. Winnipeg Jets – Brock Boeser RW Waterloo (USHL)

One of the risers on the year, Boeser had a breakout year in the USHL. A good sized forward with a hard shot, Boeser was a two-way force at the USHL level. He combines very good hockey sense with a high compete level, at points outworking his opponents to create chances for himself and his team. He needs to find another gear with his stride and play more physical to succeed at the NHL level. Winnipeg continues to add forwards to the pipeline.

  1. Montreal Canadiens – Daniel Sprong RW Charlottetown (QMJHL)

On talent alone, Sprong should be long gone by the top half of the first round. However, character concerns drop Sprong in a similar fashion to Josh Ho-Sang last year. The thinking here is Montreal should know more about Sprong than any other team, being as he is right in their backyard. On the ice, Sprong is a highlight waiting to him, combining speed with soft hands and a rocket shot. When he was on his game, he was flat out unstoppable at time. He does have work to do, as he’s inconsistent and doesn’t always compete on the defensive side of the puck. Montreal swings for the fences on this pick.

  1. Anaheim Ducks –Jeremy Bracco RW USNTDP (USHL)

Anaheim has a deep prospect base and the ability to swing for the fences here, going with the undersized Bracco. Opinions on Bracco vary depending on who you ask. His fans see an extremely smart and creative winger that competes on the defensive side on the puck. His critics see an undersized kid with an attitude problem. Bracco will always be a wildcard due to his size, but having organizational depth like Anaheim allows them to take a shot with this pick.

  1. Tampa Bay Lightning – Jake DeBrusk LW Swift Current (WHL)

The 40 goal scorer heads down to the Eastern Conference Champs. DeBrusk is a scoring machine, popping 42 goals in the WHL this year. DeBrusk is an explosive skater with a scorer’s touch in tight. He has excellent hockey IQ, and while his defensive play isn’t exceptional, it’s solid at this point in his development. DeBrusk needs to add some strength to his frame, and Tampa’s loaded organization will allow him the time to do that. He has potential to play in the top 6 down the road.

  1. Philadelphia Flyers –Ilya Samsonov G Magnitogorsk (MHL)

There’s been talk of the Flyers taking a goalie early, and Samsonov being here this late should give the team a lot to think about. Samsonov has all the physical tools to be an NHL starter. He’s big and fast, and was fantastic at the U18s this year. He’s going to need some time, but with Steve Mason holding down the crease for the big league club, the Flyers organization can afford to be patient with the young Russian.

  1. Arizona Coyotes – Paul Bittner LW Portland (WHL)

The power forward Bittner ends the first round and heads to the desert. Bittner is a load, coming in at 6-4 and over 200 pounds. He has a hard shot, and he powers his way up and down the ice with good speed for a big man. You would like to see better defensive zone play with a kid of his physical gifts, but that can be taught. Arizona needs forwards now, but rushing Bittner could be a disaster. He’s going to need another year in Portland and a year or two to add strength and round out his game. There’s upside to be a coveted goal scoring power forward here.

Still Available

Brandon Carlo D Tri-City (WHL)

Carlo is a tall stay-at-home defenseman with above average mobility. He uses his long reach in the defensive zone to stop opponents in their tracks. The questions come on the offensive side, and there’s a more likely chance than not that it never comes around. Worst case, he can become a bottom 6 defensive defenseman, and there’s no shame in that. He could very well sneak into the latter half of round 1.

Jansen Harkins C Prince George (WHL)

Harkins is a no frills two-way forward out of the WHL. It’s very likely a team does nab Harkins in round 1, but the way this mock draft worked out he ended up falling out. Harkins plays a mature game, very responsible and smart in his own end while showing smarts on all 200 feet of the ice. Expect him to go early in the 2nd if he falls out of round 1.

Noah Juulsen D Everett (WHL)

The smooth skating Juulsen was a riser on the season. His skating pops when you watch him, as his stride is smooth and explosive. He also brings a heavy shot and physicality to the backend. However, he is still raw. His frame is very thin right now, and he needs to cut down on the mental mistakes. He has top 4 potential if he fills out.

Gabriel Carlsson D Linkopoeng (SHL)

There’s no flash in Carlsson’s game, as he’s a shutdown defenseman in the mold of Niklas Hjalmarsson. I didn’t catch Carlsson much this year, and when I did I thought he was inconsistent. He’s strong, mobile, and very smart. I don’t think the offense will ever come, but I expect him to man a bottom pair for somebody’s team down the line.

Jack Roslovic C/RW USNTP (USHL)

Roslovic really got his name out there as first round candidate after his U18 performance. A North-South type of player, Roslovic is a hard worker and a consistent performer. He’s versatile, as you can trust him in your top 6 or your bottom 6 and expect him to contribute. Headed to Miami (OH) next season, Roslovic will be one of the top freshman in college hockey next season.

Mitchell Stevens C Saginaw (OHL)

Playing on a young Saginaw team, Stephens was inconsistent as he didn’t have much to work with in terms of teammates. He really shined at the CHL Top Prospects game as well as the U18s when playing with more skilled linemate. Stephens hockey sense is excellent. He’s a couple steps ahead of everyone else on the ice. He plays a strong two-way game, and has the ability to play on your PP or your PK. He needs to get faster and stronger, and could be an intriguing option for a team at the bottom of round 1.