900 games is a lot, but Hartnell isn't satisfied

usa-hartnell-slide.jpg

900 games is a lot, but Hartnell isn't satisfied

DALLAS -- Not many hockey players can say this, but Scott Hartnell can.

His first two NHL games were in Tokyo, Japan. They counted in the standings, too.

“I don’t think many people even know that,” Hartnell said. “We started against Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr and those [Pittsburgh] guys in Japan, which was really cool.”

Come Saturday, that will have happened 900 career NHL games ago when Hartnell takes the ice against the Stars.

“It’s amazing how time flies,” Hartnell said. “It’s been an unbelievable journey. A lot of great stories, a lot of great times. We live a great life to play this game we love.”

Quick, what comes to mind first among memories?

Because Hartnell was from Regina, Saskatchewan, the first time he went to Edmonton, he had to pony up with tickets. Twenty-five for his relatives and friends.

“That was a neat trip to Edmonton,” he recalled.

What next?

“Signing in Philadelphia was a treat and this great organization,” he replied without hesitation. “The whole Stanley Cup run in 2010. Coming back against Boston. That was definitely in my top five, for sure.”

Hartnell knew this milestone was approaching. He saw it in the media notes. He’s spent 13 years in the NHL -- seven with the Flyers.

“It’s gone very quickly,” he said. “We just finished up in Nashville where it all started for me. That brought back memories. Six or seven years, I was there. I’ve been in Philly longer than I had been in Nashville.”

It would have been cool to have played No. 900 in Music City. Or even at the Wells Fargo Center, but oftentimes milestones such as these occur on the road.

“I look back and remember I was sick one game at age 18,” he said. “A healthy scratch once at 21. Couple injuries here and there. It is what it is.

“Kimmo [Timonen] played his 1,000th last year on his birthday. I don’t think that has ever happened.”

Indeed, Timonen’s milestone came on March 18 in Tampa Bay.

“We started a long way ago,” Timonen said. “In 2000 … we became friends right away and roommates. We’re really tight buddies right now.”

Look around the NHL and you see the Sedin twins playing together for one team only. You see Patrik Elias and Marty Brodeur in New Jersey and you have Hartnell and Timonen, not with one club but two.

“I don’t think there is a couple who played on two different teams,” Timonen said. “I’m happy to see him get 900.”

Hartnell and Timonen came to the Flyers in an offseason trade in 2007. Hartnell has spent all 900 games playing with Timonen.

“That doesn’t happen very often,” Hartnell said. “He’s my best friend. This could be his last year. We talk about being on the road and seeing cool cities and when will ever go back to Nashville and play them again.

“It’s a pretty cool milestone for me, obviously. A thousand games would be even more special. I’ve played a lot of games in this league trying to win a Stanley Cup and we haven’t been able to do that. Games are fun, but it counts when you get into the playoffs and play for the Cup.”

Incidentally, he has another milestone coming up, as well. Hartnell needs four points for 500 in his career.

At 31, he openly admits that he realizes that the only thing that matters at this stage of his career is winning a Cup.

Which is why Game 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals still lingers like a bad dream that won’t ever go away.

Patrick Kane’s short-side goal clinched the Cup for the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime.

“That game is still crushing to me,” Hartnell said, trying to laugh it off when you know inside he was crying.

He’s not the first immensely popular Flyer to feel that pain.

In 2004, when Ken Hitchcock’s Flyers lost Game 7 at Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Finals, Jeremy Roenick, banged up and concussed, wobbled out of the trainer’s room and sobbed.

“We came so close and I’ll probably never get another chance,” Roenick said at the time.

It was devastating. Roenick was right. He never got another shot.

Hartnell wonders whether 2010 will be as close as he ever gets.

“You walk the hallways of Detroit and see those Stanley Cup teams and how great this team has been since the NHL started,” Hartnell said, referring to the outside walls in the bowels of Joe Louis Arena where the dressing rooms are.

Detroit’s Cup years and players' names are painted on the walls.

“To have your name up on a wall and be remembered forever is pretty neat,” Hartnell said. “The money is great, the fame, and everything that comes along with hockey, but if you don’t win a Stanley Cup, there is something missing from the whole deal.

“I’ve come to realize that in the last few years. The Cup is what it is all about. It’s not about scoring goals. It’s about winning it. That’s the bottom line.”

One thing saddens Hartnell. Timonen has talked of this being his last year in the league.

“We’re trying to make this a great year for him,” Hartnell said. “And obviously, a great year would be to win the Cup. We’ve got a lot of work to do and games to win between now and then.”

Ron Hextall, Flyers know what they have in Nolan Patrick

Ron Hextall, Flyers know what they have in Nolan Patrick

CHICAGO — Ron Hextall had no idea which way New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero was leaning.

Would Shero take Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier with his No. 1 pick?

"I asked Ray 10 minutes before he picked and he wouldn't tell me," Hextall said. "I give him credit. That is what he should have done … I didn't have an expectation one way or the other."

Shero wanted a dynamic player to put bodies in the stands at Prudential Center. He chose Hischier.

That made it easy for Hextall at No. 2 to select Patrick (see story).

If rumors were true that Shero was scared off by Patrick's several injuries this past season at Brandon, well, the Flyers weren't.

"What I believe, we gather a lot of information," Hextall said. "There's some stuff out there you want to prove wrong and we did. We're comfortable with the injury part of it. He is a really good young man."

Patrick is a two-way player and a natural center. The Flyers have seven centers right now (see story), including Patrick, who is expected to play now. 

Hextall said he doesn't envision switching Patrick to the wing.

"I would rather have too many centers rather than five wingers on each side and no one to go in the middle," Hextall said.

Interesting that German Rubtsov, last year's top pick for the Flyers, has already been converted to a left winger since coming to North America to play junior.

Will Patrick be a No. 1 center as scouts project?

"Nolan has to answer that," Hextall said. "We see a kid with a big body, extremely high hockey sense, really good skill set. You get drafted today? The work starts now and Nolan has to put the work in.

"This is another level … this is the National Hockey League. In September, he comes to camp. He needs a big summer."

Ron Hextall on Flyers' logjam of centers: 'Someone has to play the wing'

Ron Hextall on Flyers' logjam of centers: 'Someone has to play the wing'

CHICAGO – The Flyers already have a familiar problem coming out of this NHL draft and heading training camp next fall: they’re too deep at center.
 
Friday night, they added three centers and traded another.
 
Brayden Schenn was sent to St. Louis for the Blues’ 27th pick in the first round, plus a conditional 2018 first-round pick and veteran utility center Jori Lehtera (see story).
 
General manager Ron Hextall wanted to trade back into the first round late and he did so by tabbing Morgan Frost at No. 27 with that Blues’ pick.
 
NHL Central Scouting had Frost ranked 31st among North American skaters. He is a 6-0, 170-pound forward from Aurora, Ontario.
 
He has raw speed and skill, but scouts say other parts of his game will need time to fill out. Frost had 20 goals and 62 points for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL this past season.
 
Friday’s other first-round pick, Nolan Patrick, is a natural centerman. Patrick is expected to play in the NHL this season. So right now, the Flyers’ centers are Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Valtteri Filppula, Mike Vecchione, plus Patrick and now Lehtera.
 
Lehtera had 30 goals and 100 points in 218 games with the Blues. He was both a first- and second-line center for the Blues this past season despite weak numbers — seven goals and 22 points in 64 games.
 
He is a decent playmaker and two-way player, who has centered Alex Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko.
 
“He is utility guy with a well-rounded game and can play in the middle,” Hextall said. “We like the player. Gives coach more options.”
 
Best option: Lehtera can move to left wing if needed.
 
“Someone has to play the wing,” Hextall said. “He can play the wing. Our scouts have seen him play the wing, but he plays center most games. I am assuming he prefers center like most of them. Someone has to play wing.”
 
Schenn had improved every year he was with the Flyers, but too much of his scoring is on the power play and not five-on-five. He had 109 goals and 246 points in 424 career games for the Flyers.
 
This deal seems strange unless you consider the Flyers got another first-round pick (Frost) and a top-10 protected, conditional first-rounder next year. The Blues have the option to defer the 2018 first-rounder to 2019 but if they do so, the Flyers will also receive the Blues' 2020 third-round pick.
 
“It was a combination,” Hextall said of the advantages’ from the Flyers side. “It was one of those [trades] that came out of nowhere. Not like we were shopping Brayden.
 
“This deal came along and we really like the draft next year. We like the late pick this year and Jori. It made sense and we got a couple more young players.”
 
Young players like Frost, whom the Flyers are excited about.
 
“Our whole staff really liked the guy,” Hextall said. “He’s an extremely intelligent player, his No. 1 asset. Really smart. Reads the ice well. He has a very deft touch moving the puck.
 
“Good two-way player who showed up good in the testing. We believe he is a kid with a lot of upside. Good speed, but he dissects the game better than most players.”
 
Frost’s father Andy was the longtime former Toronto Maple Leafs PA announcer.
 
“I talked to them a couple times,” Frost said. “I’d say I had a bit of a gut feeling. I wasn’t too sure, but they took me and I’m super happy about it.
 
“I think first and foremost I’m a playmaker. I think I’m a high-skilled player that likes to use his vision and hockey sense to create plays. I’m working on becoming more of a two-way forward. That’s more of the player I want to become.”