Bio: I grew up on a farm that was just across the highway in a small Saskatchewan town. There, I would religiously watch Hockey Night In Canada on CBC and Sports Desk on TSN late at night when my parents thought I was sleeping. When the newspaper showed up every day, I would grab the Sports section before anyone could get their hands on it. I enjoyed Tuesdays the most, when they printed the stats for the entire NHL.
I learned how to skate when I was probably about four, both at the local arena and the outdoor rinks my dad would make me. I started playing hockey shortly after and have been in love with the game ever since. I played all my minor hockey in my hometown, as well as on the senior men’s team while in high school.
I transitioned to recreational hockey when I got to college in Lethbridge, where I took broadcasting, as I had my heart set on being on TSN someday. I chased that dream for a few years working in small town Saskatchewan and northern Alberta doing news and sports and colour commentary for junior hockey, until I decided I wanted to live closer to home, which is when I settled in Medicine Hat.
I also realized I loved playing hockey more than I loved talking about it, so I make sure to play it as much as I can now. I had another stint playing senior hockey in Saskatchewan and I’m not sure if the highlight of my season was scoring a goal on former Boston Bruins goalie Paxton Schafer or going punch for punch with former minor league goon Brad Both.
Now I’m a washed-up beer league hockey player who has run my own recreational hockey team for several seasons — the Flying Pylons! I have also played baseball and boxed competitively over the years, and have remembered how much I love golf this summer with so many limitations on what a person can actually do.
I have a four-year-old son who means the world to me and I spend as much time as I can with him. I let him have the final say for me to pick Sidney Crosby with the first overall pick in the UFHL Redraft. He’s not really into hockey yet, but as he wanders around my condo and sees my multiple framed autographed jerseys and photos on the wall, he definitely knows I am.
I’ve played my fair share of fantasy hockey over the years and have won a decent amount of money through box pools and keeper leagues, so I figured I’d try my luck at this new fantasy concept after my college buddy Larry Fisher let me know about it, and I am excited to see how it goes.
QUESTION: True or false, your ol’ buddy Larry warned you about Brad Both? Just kidding, you held your own there and I believe that was the only time Both ever dropped the gloves in the Sask West Hockey League — he was the most feared player in the S-Dub and Jesse fought him. Speaking of tough guys, there are a couple among your favourite players from the past — and a couple names that warrant an explanation in Laich and Dorsett. Why are they among your favourites? What are some of your favourite memories for those players from the past?
ANSWER: I’m pretty sure Both fought a few other guys, he didn’t have to fight very often though. The guy had 438 penalty minutes the one year in the minors, so he knew what he was doing. He definitely landed more on me, but he broke a few bones in his hand in the process. Honestly, my sister told me not to fight him. 😂 I lined up against him when we were losing by 7 or 8 goals and coaxed him into scrapping. I had to give the fans something to cheer about!
Wendel Clark was such a gritty, put it all out there on the ice type of a player. He could beat you on the scoresheet and he could also back himself and his teammates up with his fists. He was such a fun player to watch growing up. I was honestly pretty upset when the Leafs shipped him off to the Nordiques for Sundin. I eventually got over it, as Sundin was such an offensive force during his time with the Leafs. Gilmour was also a gritty guy who could put up points, not much of a scrapper, but a great Leaf for sure. Tie Domi was one of the best goons to ever lace up the skates in my mind. I first watched him when he was with the Jets and my dad bought me a Domi Jets t-shirt after we watched him in Winnipeg when I was 8. He wasn’t the biggest guy, but he could sure toss them. When he became a Maple Leaf, I was ecstatic.
Brooks Laich and I have the same great-great grandfather, making us third cousins. Both his parents grew up in my hometown, he lived there until he was 7 months old before moving to Wawota. I knew his grandma quite well growing up and when I found out he was going to start playing in the WHL, I followed his career all the way through — the world juniors, the AHL years which included a Calder Cup win with the Hershey Bears after he got shipped to the Capitals’ system from the Senators in the Peter Bondra deal. I quite enjoyed his years with the Capitals, watching him battle in front of the net on the power play while Ovechkin would wind up with his trademark slapshot and Brooks would knock the occasional rebound in or set up the screen. I was beyond excited to see him play with the Maple Leafs and was equally disappointed when he got buried in the minors. I was proud of him for getting back in the league for a short stint with the Kings after the fact. I’ve only met him a couple of times, he’s a great guy and is definitely still a fitness junkie. These days he even has his own podcast called, “How Men Think” with Gavin DeGraw.
I grew up playing hockey against both Derek Dorsett’s older brothers Chad and Mike as they all grew up about an hour away from my hometown. Derek was a little younger but I played against him a few times as he’d play up on Mike’s team sometimes. I’m pretty sure he got his toughness from fighting with his older brothers. 😂 He was actually playing for the Kindersley Klippers of the SJHL when I was working for the radio station there, then later in the WHL with the Medicine Hat Tigers. I remember seeing him at a local drinking establishment in Medicine Hat while he was with the Tigers and he knew exactly who I was and chatted with me about the senior men’s hockey league I was playing in. He’s a great down-to-earth guy who, despite his size, could really hold his own in a scrap.
There are a couple other guys I forgot to mention — one is Stefan Meyer, who only got into 20 NHL games with the Panthers and Flames combined, but he’s another guy that I grew up playing against and would hang out with when we were teenagers. The other is Mark Pederson, who played in the ’90s for the Canadiens, Flyers, Sharks and Red Wings. Pederson was my aunt’s brother-in-law at the time. He’s still coaching with the Esjberg Energy over in Denmark.
QUESTION: You couldn’t go wrong with Crosby as the first overall pick in the UFHL Redraft. On name value alone, he was the obvious pick, but Sid should have at least a few good years left in him — and maybe another Golden Goal at the 2022 Olympics. Did you give serious consideration to any other options for first overall? Or was that a fairly easy decision once Crosby entered the player pool?
ANSWER: I gave some consideration to Elias Pettersson and Artemi Panarin. I’m not as sold on Pettersson reaching elite status as most are — even though he’s significantly younger, I felt a known franchise player like Crosby on a cap-friendly contract long term was too good to pass up. Panarin is a guy that I am more fond of — having owned him for his rookie year in another fantasy league — but I didn’t like the optics of building around his contract as much as Crosby’s. I have followed Crosby’s career since he was a 14-year-old tearing up Midget AAA, so I would have a hard time passing up on one of the best players in the game and probably to ever play. Even if I haven’t been a huge fan of his when he plays the Leafs or Capitals. What honestly sold it for me was when I put pictures of Pettersson, Panarin and Crosby up on my computer and asked my four-year-old who to pick. I was leaning toward Crosby and when he picked him as well, I was sold on it.
QUESTION: You got a half-dozen quality veterans in the mid-to-late rounds: Jakub Voracek in the ninth round (97th overall), Logan Couture in the 10th (120th), Eric Staal in the 11th (121st), David Krejci in the 14th (168th), Duncan Keith in the 17th (193rd) and Jason Spezza in the 20th (240th). Some of them may be on their last legs, but were you shocked by how late they went in general? I mean, they still have that name value going for them too. The funniest one, for me, was seeing you select Brad Hunt in the 16th round, just ahead of sure-fire Hall-of-Famer Duncan Keith. Those were back-to-back picks, but perhaps you should have announced Keith first in hindsight? That had to feel as wrong as it sounded, not? And how hard was it to take Krejci as a Bruin — being a Leafs fan?
ANSWER: I was a little surprised to see the amount of quality veterans still around. It seems like some GMs were more willing to bank on future potential than current, which is fair. I figured if I have Crosby on a value contract, I might as well build a team around him that can be competitive from the start. I was completely sure I wanted to pick Hunt in that spot. The guy is making below the current league minimum at $700,000 next year and had 10 power-play points. He’s not a household name but, at that point in the draft, he holds some pretty good value as far as special-teams production. With the cap scenario, I wasn’t completely sure if picking Keith would leave me with enough room to fill out my roster. I already had a pretty solid defence core put together, so I was kind of thinking I should have grabbed another forward, but I couldn’t resist picking Keith at that spot. It was a case of having back-to-back picks and not really caring who I picked first or second — knowing I would be getting both guys there.
Taking Krejci as a Leafs fan wasn’t exactly giving me warm fuzzies or anything, but when it’s the best player available, I put aside dislike for teams. I’m not much of a Senators fan either but felt that Chris Tierney was a solid guy to pick as he should continue to have a big role there. I have drafted Carey Price and Brad Marchand before in other fantasy leagues because they were good value or the best option. You can’t be a complete homer and win fantasy — it just doesn’t work!
QUESTION: The player pool for the UFHL Redraft was lacking in Leafs, but you still managed to get a few: Zach Hyman in the eighth round (96th), Mikko Lehtonen in the 13th (145th) as a highly touted European signing, and the aforementioned Spezza in the 20th (240th), plus former Leafs prospect Carl Grundstrom in the 21st (241st). Are you happy with that haul? Do you have high hopes for Lehtonen? Do you like seeing Hyman on the Brutes’ top line, flanking Crosby and Voracek? Are you already setting your sights on more Leafs — maybe a bigger name like Marner?
ANSWER: I’m happy with the Leafs I got, for sure. I can see Lehtonen cracking the Leafs and possibly even getting the kind of ice-time and power-play time that Nikita Zaitsev got in his first season with the Leafs when he put up solid point totals. I think Hyman is an underrated player, he’s gritty and goes into the corners, and his point totals have continued to improve over the years as well. I’m fine with him as one of my top forwards. If the price is right for a Marner trade and it fits into my salary cap, I definitely wouldn’t be opposed to exploring a deal for him — but if it doesn’t work, I am alright with that too.
QUESTION: You certainly went with a defence-first draft strategy — loading up on good young blueliners just entering the prime of their careers, taking five in a row from the third round through the seventh round: Samuel Girard (25th), Jakob Chychrun (48th), Damon Severson (49th), Will Butcher (72nd) and Vince Dunn (73rd). Those first two are just 22 years old and Severson is the elder among them, turning 26 in August. That is an impressive defence corps all in all — rounded out by Keith, Hunt and Lehtonen. Did you have that planned heading into the redraft — thinking defence wins championships — or did it just play out that way on the fly? It worked out well, considering the forwards you landed late, eh? Any regrets from the redraft?
ANSWER: I was looking to have some cost certainty and four of those five guys already had decent contracts with good term and had put up solid offensive numbers relatively early in their careers. I feel good offensive defencemen on decent contracts hold higher trade value than forwards, not that I plan on moving them. I just looked at where I had players ranked and I was a bigger fan of the defencemen than the forwards at every point I drafted them and it just kind of went that way. I had intended on picking forwards and defencemen fairly equally, but best option available won out. You can never go wrong with a solid D-core.
I liked the fact there were still solid forward options available later in the draft. Staal, Couture and Krejci are solid offensive players still and their contracts are fairly reasonable. I like my roster and don’t really have regrets. I wish Vince Dunn had an extension already though, which may have allowed me to take on one more bigger contract a little later on. I really wanted to leave a buffer to not end up in cap trouble once him and the other free agents I have re-sign.
QUESTION: Next season is still a few months away — when your Brutes will officially make their UFHL debut — but there is plenty of excitement surrounding the Brutes coming out of the recent prospect auctions. You also managed to put together a scouting staff for the Open Market and came away with quite a haul from that opening-day draft. Are you planning to transfer most those prospects to the Brutes’ protected list or are your scouts entertaining offers from other franchises and contemplating the potential of auctioning some of those prospects? Do you have any untouchables among your prospect pool that is now 36 deep — counting Ryan Suzuki as a trade acquisition? Any favourites among those eight Leafs’ prospects: Semyon Der-Arguchintsev and Nick Abruzzese from the Already Drafted Auction as well as Timothy Liljegren, Adam Brooks, Filip Hallander, Joseph Woll, Joseph Duszak and Egor Korshkov from the Open Market Draft? Any other Leafs you wish you would have or could have landed? Nick Robertson is the name that comes to mind …
ANSWER: I saw an opportunity to add people I knew that were close to me to form a scouting group to create a prospect pool for myself after seeing how much was being spent on prospects at the auction. I knew there was some fairly decent leftovers, so I made sure to ask family members, my girlfriend and my co-worker to become members of my scouting team and got them signed up, then worked on getting the master list. I will merge everything and find someone to be the main active member who will be my head of scouting for the agency which I will find a name for. I will take input from the other members, but of course like to have my own input into which prospects I like.
I haven’t thought too much about which prospects will be kept and which ones will move as of yet. I’d say most have a price — either monetarily or asset-wise — that I wouldn’t be able to refuse. There has been some interest in a few, but I am not sure if I want to move them as of yet. Mainly goalies seem to be the hot commodity.
Liljegren is definitely my favourite prospect I have, as a young offensive right-shot D-man who put up decent numbers for the Marlies this past season. I think he’ll slot in nicely on my defence when others have either become too expensive to keep or retired. Depending on his development, I might have to move a D-man out to get Liljegren on my active roster — time will tell.
There isn’t a Leafs’ prospect that I don’t like of the ones that I have. After I saw how much Ian Scott would cost, I had definitely turned my attention to Joseph Woll. I did have lots of interest in Nick Robertson, but the bidding got to a point where I couldn’t justify the spend. And after the Red Army spent that much on Robertson, they didn’t want to really part with him as easily as it made sense for me, which is understandable — he’ll likely be good.
I was bidding on all the Leafs available and just couldn’t quite justify the prices to myself. I also know the other guy bidding on a few of them was a Leafs’ fan, so I tried not to be too greedy.
Zach Hyman-Sidney Crosby-Jakub Voracek
Logan Couture-Eric Staal-David Krejci
Carl Grundstrom-Chris Tierney-Jason Spezza
Travis Boyd-Teddy Blueger-Michael Amadio
Duncan Keith-Damon Severson
Samuel Girard-Jakob Chychrun
Will Butcher-Vince Dunn
Extra Skaters: Emil Bemstrom (F), Brad Hunt (D), Mikko Lehtonen (D)
Protected List (7): Filip Chlapik (F), Ryan Suzuki (F), Nick Abruzzese (F), Semyon Der-Arguchintsev (F), John Leonard (F), Marc Michaelis (F), Mikhail Berdin (G)
Affiliated Prospects (30): Adam Brooks (F), Egor Korshkov (F), Joel L’Esperance (F), Ryan MacInnis (F), Maxim Letunov (F), Gage Quinney (F), Filip Hallander (F), Aliaksei Protas (F), Nathan Legare (F), Michal Teply (F), Adam Ruzicka (F), Garrett Pilon (F), MacKenzie Entwistle (F), Brayden Burke (F), Ross Colton (F), Nolan Stevens (F), Steven Lorentz (F), Daniel Audette (F), Felix Robert (F), Valtteri Puustinen (F), Julius Nattinen (F), Timothy Liljegren (D), Kyle Capobianco (D), Joey Keane (D), Joseph Duszak (D), Johannes Kinnvall (D), Dan Vladar (G), Olivier Rodrigue (G), Joseph Woll (G), Olof Lindbom (G)
The first thing that stands out about the Brutes — besides Sidney Crosby — is that impressive D-core. Sam Girard took a big step in the playoffs — albeit overshadowed by Cale Makar — so look for Girard to be more of an offensive contributor from the back end for both Colorado and the Brutes next season.
That cost-controlled blue line is the Brutes’ biggest strength, but those top-six forwards are also going to be a force to be reckoned with and Philipp Grubauer is a quality starting goaltender. This roster could contend right out of the gate — it is built to win now, with that veteran presence up front — but those affiliated scouts did well in stocking the cupboard for the future. The defensive depth throughout the Brutes’ organization could allow Jesse to trade from a position of strength at some point — especially if Mikko Lehtonen and Timothy Liljegren both earn roles with Toronto next season.
The forward prospects aren’t as heralded and there may not be any front-liners among them, but the Brutes should get a handful of players from that bunch to bolster their bottom six and eventually replace some of their aging stars. The Brutes will be getting deeper in the years to come thanks to their initial scouting strategy and the agency that they are forming. There is a lot of potential on that front — both as a feeder system and as a revenue generator.
The Brutes were also wise to add goaltending depth for the future, grabbing a handful of promising prospects between the pipes — one of whom will likely replace Pheonix Copley as Grubauer’s backup.
All in all, the Brutes are a well-built organization from the top down — starting with Crosby, who still has some good years left in him. The Brutes weren’t the biggest spenders in the prospect auctions, but they could emerge as one of the biggest beneficiaries if this roster plays up to its potential next season.
You know the Brutes won’t be a pushover and won’t back down — just ask Brad Both!
You can't be a complete homer and win fantasy — it just doesn't work!
— Jesse G.
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