Friday October 9th, 2009

Coming into the season, the message of coach Todd McLellan to the San Jose Sharks was clear. Drop the sense of entitlement. If they wanted to get beyond their reputation as hockey's poster children for underachievement, his players were going to have to earn their ice time.

Holding the coach to his word, Benn Ferriero established himself as one of the hardest-working players in camp. Didn't matter that he was a relatively unknown free agent signing out of Boston College. Ferriero outscored the stars and outworked the touted prospects. While he watched out for the little things, it became impossible not to watch him. His team-leading five points in the preseason generated message board buzz but it was his consistent two-way effort that landed Ferriero a spot on the opening night roster.

In a high-energy debut in San Jose's 5-2 loss to Colorado -- a night in which he was recognized as the best player wearing teal by McLellan -- Ferriero illustrated why he could become a valuable part of the mix.

"He's the sort of player who makes an impression," GM Doug Wilson told "I consider him a hybrid of Torrey Mitchell and Joe Pavelski. He has great hockey sense and he's a very competitive kid."

The Sharks spotted Ferriero (another one of hockey's "you have to hear it to believe it" pronunciations: Ferry-o) while keeping an eye on 2007 first-round pick Nick Petrecki at BC. After the Coyotes' financial situation prevented them from signing their 2006 choice (196th overall), Wilson was convinced by his staff to scoop up the 22-year-old Ferriero just days before the team regrouped in San Jose.

"He came [to camp] kind of unheralded," Wilson said, "but he was one of the best guys on the ice from the beginning. There's a surprising maturity to his game. He earned his spot."

Though he was sent down to Worcester among the team's final cuts, Ferriero was recalled in time for the season opener against the Avs. When the team lost Pavelski -- he injured his leg while blocking a shot in the Oct. 3 game against Anaheim -- Ferriero's real value became apparent.

"We like his versatility," Wilson said. "He's smart enough to play with really good players and conscientious enough to play on the third or fourth line. He pays attention to detail and he knows what his responsibilities are. Those are qualities that don't come as part of the package with every rookie. It's still early in his development, but we're really think he's going to be a good player for us."

Ferriero's seen action on the top line with Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley and on both special teams. He started Thursday's win over the Blue Jackets skating on Patrick Marleau's wing which is where he's likely to stay until Pavelski's return later this month.

"At this point, he's making our scouts look pretty good," Wilson said.

Ferriero's not the only rookie that San Jose's bird dogs ought to highlight on their resumes. Wilson says it was the expectation of Jason Demers' ability to contribute this season, not a cap crunch, that led the team to trade power play stalwart Christian Ehrhoff to the Canucks over the summer. So far, it looks as though the 21-year-old defender is ready to deliver.

"Best way to describe him? I'd say he's just hockey rat," Wilson said of the 2008 seventh-rounder. "He came in with the attitude of 'I know I can play.' In that sense he's a lot like Ferriero. They don't say much but they both go out and play with a lot of confidence. He's a kid we trust in all situations. He'll kill penalties. He's on the power play with Dan Boyle. He has that great hockey sense that allows him to make good decisions on a consistent basis."

Though he's playing a depth role at even strength, Demers has made an instant impact on the power play. He's soaking up big minutes with the extra man, averaging more than four per game. When opposing penalty killers key on him as a potential weak link, as the Blue Jackets did Thursday night, he's shown poise beyond his years, finding seams for his passes and creating lanes with his positioning.

Wilson understands that Demers will be challenged to improve his game over the course of the season. With expectations for the Sharks running so high, the learning curve will be steep. But the GM is convinced he's up to the task.

"We've got a pretty veteran defense right now, but we have a rotation of four young D that we're high on with Demers, Petrecki, [Mike] Moore and [Derek] Joslin. They're at different stages of development but we think they're all NHL players. Demers just made this his time. We gave him an opportunity and he came in and took a spot. We knew if he faltered that there's lots of time between now and March 3 [the trade deadline] to address it. But we wanted to see what he could do and he's done nothing but impress us."

It's unlikely that the cash-strapped Atlanta Thrashers have any interest in Chris Chelios, but the team's management should be doing the Snoopy dance over the news that the unrestricted free agent will join their AHL affiliate in Chicago on Monday. The 47-year-old has yet to officially sign with the Wolves, but could work out a deal as early as next week, possibly as a player/coach...and in Chelios' mind, expect the emphasis to be on player. His arrival would siphon ice time from a solid group of blueliners-in-training, including Paul Postma, Arturs Kulda and Grant Lewis, but their chance to soak up some of the experience gained over a career that spans three decades will do nothing but expedite their development. No doubt he'll keep the turnstiles spinning as well. Though he last played for the Hawks in 1999, Chelios remains one of the most popular players in the area.

That explains why bringing in Chelios makes sense for the Wolves. How does this work for Chelly? Simple. This is his best chance to play the game he still loves at a competitive level. At this point, he probably recognizes the silent phone for what it is -- an indication that his NHL career is finished. Sure, there's always the chance that a rash of injuries may decimate some roster and this activity will allow him to stay primed for a quick return. But the truth is, he's done. He was pointless in 34 games last season and averaged less than eight minutes in just six playoff appearances. "He's still got the heart," one scout told early last season, "but guys' eyes are lighting up when they see him out there."

All things considered, it's not a bad option. Dropping a level keeps him on the ice and Chicago gives him a chance to play near his family. His parents are still in the area and his son, Jake, skates for the Chicago Steel of the USHL. Might not seem to some like the most dignified way to run out the clock on a Hall of Fame career, but you have to respect Chelios for his drive to compete at an age when most of us consider half an hour on the recumbent bike to be a decent workout.

The Bruins are taking some heat for the three-year, $12.25 million extension they gave to Milan Lucic this week. Understandable -- if you're a by-the-numbers type. The third-year winger, who would have been eligible for restricted free agency next summer, has just 25 goals and 70 points through 151 pro games. Not exactly the sort of production that justifies a hit of more than $4 million per, especially when more accomplished players like Dustin Brown ($3.175 million) and David Backes ($2.5 million) earn considerably less for flashier results. The numbers look even more skewed from the perspective that the team was forced to prematurely dump its leading goal scorer, Phil Kessel, due, in part, to a cap crunch.

The value of Lucic, though, extends far beyond offensive stats. He is, after all, that rare player who demonstrably puts butts in seats. To paraphrase the philosopher Linus Van Pelt: of all the Boston Bruins, he's the Boston Bruiniest. His rambunctious style of play hearkens back to the days when the B's were both big and bad. Always giving the impression he's left everything on the ice has made Lucic the face and soul of the franchise.

A longer term might have seasoned the cap hit enough to make it more palatable to some fans, but by limiting it to three years, the Bruins guarantee that Lucic will be handcuffed by restricted free agency when the next deal is negotiated. Doesn't mean the choice to pay that price was pain-free -- GM Peter Chiarelli still has a handful of potential FAs to satisfy with a smaller pile of cash, including Marc Savard, Mark Stuart, Tuukka Rask and Blake Wheeler -- but extending Lucic now was the smartest move he could have made.

There's going to be plenty of discussion this weekend about Kris Letang's bandaged finger and whether it almost ended up as the appetizer to Scott Hartnell's postgame meal, but the bigger issue from the donnybrook that capped off Pittsburgh's highly entertaining 5-4 win over the Flyers on Thursday should be Mike Richards' elbow-first assault on Marc-Andre Fleury. There's no video evidence that Hartnell chomped Letang's right ring finger at the bottom of a scrum as the Penguins defender claimed, but there's plenty to prove that Richards went all Bobby Boucher on Fleury in his crease as the clock wound down. Going hard to the net is every forward's responsibility, and it's one that Richards discharges better than most. But the goalie is entitled to some protection in his crease, and it was clear that Philly's captain made no effort to avoid contact. If there's a suspension that comes out of this fracas it is Richards, not Hartnell, who is likely to get slapped...

The most remarkable stat line of the season thus far: Sidney Crosby going 21 of 24 in the circle against the Flyers. After that machine-like performance, Crosby leads the league in faceoffs-won (56) and is fifth overall in winning percentage (64.4)...

The Bruins were bested just six times on home ice last season. This year, they've already dropped two of three. No shame in losing to Washington and Anaheim, but there's plenty of it to be shared when a team shows so little interest in competing. After both games, coach Claude Julien recognized fourth-liners Steve Begin, Byron Bitz and Shawn Thornton as his most effective unit (they had 12 of Boston's 34 shots against the Ducks). Good for the bangers, but a lousy sign for a team that's struggling early on to find the intensity that defined last season's success...

Nice to hear that a massively discounted ticket program will allow the Coyotes to fill Arena on Saturday night for what should be a rollicking home opener. The team, besieged by a turbulent summer, deserves a feel-good moment after an impressive 2-1 road trip to start the season. But the Coyotes won't stop the flow of red ink by selling $25 lower bowl and $15 upper bowl seats every night, so the ticket sales from the next 40 home dates will say a lot more about whether Phoenix is a viable option moving forward. As of this morning, still plenty of good seats available for next Thursday's game against the Blues...

Telling stat from the Rangers' 4-3 win over the Caps on Thursday night: Veteran defender Michal Rozsival played just 1:52 in the second period. Of course, that load was a backbreaker compared to the third period benching that followed. His center ice turnover led directly to Alexander Semin's first period go-ahead goal and Rozsival's lazy pokecheck sent Alexander Ovechkin in for a glorious chance just as time expired. Coach John Tortorella finally had enough after Rozsival was whistled for a lazy holding penalty in the second. Meanwhile, rookie blueliners Matt Gilroy and Michael Del Zotto continue to earn their ice. Gilroy was entrusted with a team-leading 9:02 in the third as the Rangers skated with just five D, and it was Del Zotto's crisp pass up the middle that sprang Marian Gaborik for the game-winner. You expect bumps along the way from rookie defenders as they learn how to play in this league. You can't afford them from a $5 million vet like Rozsival. Already in Tortorella's doghouse, you have to think his leash just got shorter...

Mark Parrish, last seen dragging a piano around the ice in Dallas, signed a professional tryout deal Thursday with the Norfolk Admirals of the AHL after failing to make an impression in Vancouver's camp. The 10-year-vet obviously hopes to stay front-of-mind in case a roster spot opens up somewhere in the NHL -- Norfolk's connection to Tampa Bay makes the Bolts a possibility -- but even his still-decent hands can't cover up his pair of flat tires.

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