UND HOCKEY: Change of scenery works for Drew Stafford
The Buffalo Sabres were tumbling to their third consecutive last-place finish and the NHL's worst record for a second straight season. Drew Stafford's production wasn't where he wanted it to be. But a trading-deadline move to the Winnipeg Jets re...
The Buffalo Sabres were tumbling to their third consecutive last-place finish and the NHL’s worst record for a second straight season.
Drew Stafford’s production wasn’t where he wanted it to be.
But a trading-deadline move to the Winnipeg Jets revitalized the former UND standout and may give the right winger’s career a second wind.
Stafford’s big finish to the season earned him a two-year, $8.7 million deal with the Jets, his preferred landing spot in free agency.
“He’s excited about what we have in front of us,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said. “He’s a different type of player than we’ve had within our group. He’s the type of player that can play a top-six position and excel at a top-six position with skilled players. It was very evident when he was brought into the group, you could see the way he played, the way he thought the game, the way he worked the puck and fought in the corners.
“He scored some big goals for us, some timely goals. I thought he played really well for us in the playoffs as a forward that had experience and had some leadership qualities. He’s a very good complement to the type of forwards we have.”
Stafford finished the season by leading the Jets to their first playoff berth since the return to Winnipeg, tallying nine goals and 19 points in 26 games. During his 50 games with Buffalo, he had the same number of goals and only five more points.
His point-per-game average with the Jets was his highest since the 2010-11 season, when he racked up 31 goals and 52 points for Buffalo’s last playoff team.
Stafford said it was an easy choice to return to the Jets, who gave him an opportunity to play a key role on a scoring line and on the power play. The change of scenery worked for Stafford, who had only played with Buffalo’s organization since leaving UND nine years ago.
Chris VandeVelde, who also inked a free-agent deal with the Philadelphia Flyers this week, experienced the same success with an organizational change.
In Year 2 with the Flyers, VandeVelde established himself as an effective every-day NHL player.
After playing a total of 28 NHL games during his three years with the Edmonton Oilers, VandeVelde has played in 90 in the last two seasons with the Flyers. He only spent one game in the American Hockey League last season.
Despite playing limited minutes, VandeVelde scored nine goals and had 15 points for Philadelphia. That’s why the former Moorhead High player said he would have wanted to stay with the Flyers even if Dave Hakstol hadn’t been named head coach.
But as fate would have it, VandeVelde will now be playing in his preferred organization with the coach who helped him develop from an in-and-out-of-the-lineup player as a freshman to an alternate captain and a dominant forward as a senior.
Who else may benefit from a change of scenery?
Former UND captain Chris Porter is an unrestricted free agent with the St. Louis Blues. And although he played well enough to earn a one-way contract (same pay if he’s in the NHL or minor leagues), his career could get a jump-start if he lands with the right team.
Porter is a terrific skater who can play a game with physicality. He’s a good penalty killer and he always arrives to the rink in shape and ready to go.
He once was Hakstol’s captain at UND and it wouldn’t be shocking if the Flyers had some interest in the winger.
Hits for UND opponents
Two of UND’s 2015-16 opponents took hits Wednesday.
Colorado College’s top player, defenseman Jaccob Slavin, signed with the Carolina Hurricanes after two strong seasons with the Tigers. With Slavin’s signing, Colorado College will have to replace four of its six defensemen from last season.
The National Collegiate Hockey Conference figures to be talented and deep again next year. Without Slavin, the Tigers will surely be picked to finish last in the standings for a second straight year.
Meanwhile, the University of Wisconsin, which won just four games last season and visits Grand Forks in November, lost its standout goalie recruit.
Brian Posick from the Wisconsin radio network reported that Luke Opilka will not play for the Badgers. He’s expected to go to the Ontario Hockey League instead.
Wisconsin graduated both goalies from last season’s team, including former Hobey Baker Award finalist Joel Rumpel.