Could Conn Smythe come to town?

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - SCOTT RADLEY

Think back eight or nine years and you’ll re­call that so much of the dis­cus­sion around one of that spring’s top draft prospects was whether or not he was too small to be im­pact­ful in the NHL.

Freel­ton’s Ryan El­lis had won a world un­der-17 gold medal, a world un­der-18 gold medal, two Memo­rial Cup rings, had made three vis­its to the world ju­niors which brought him a gold and two sil­ver medals, he had a mon­ster of a shot from the point and world-class hockey IQ. At five-foot-nine or so, the only thing he didn’t have in his hockey tool belt was mas­sive size. Re­mem­ber those con­cerns? You do? Well, you can for­get them now. Any lin­ger­ing doubts about his abil­ity to be a star at the high­est level have com­pletely dis­solved in these Stan­ley Cup play­offs.

Af­ter eight games against Chicago and now St. Louis, the 26-yearold has a team-lead­ing nine points and goes into Fri­day’s game rid­ing a seven-game points streak.

As we ap­proach the mid­way point of the play­offs, the Nashville Preda­tors’ de­fence­man with the Gan­dalf beard is one of the clear favourites for the Conn Smythe Tro­phy as post-sea­son MVP. If his team can ad­vance to the fi­nal and win the Cup — which doesn’t look like a huge stretch at this point — he’d be right in the mix for the rare honour. This has never hap­pened be­fore to some­one from here.

The clos­est we’ve ever had to a win­ner of this award was Ken Dry­den who was born in Hamil­ton and won in 1971. But he moved away as a tot al­most be­fore they could is­sue his birth cer­tifi­cate so re­ally, we’re still wait­ing.

El­lis be­ing in con­sid­er­a­tion for such an award would be a tremen­dous pos­i­tive jolt to the lo­cal hockey community all by it­self. But there’s more. Be­cause an­other guy who’s al­ready be­ing men­tioned in early Conn Smythe dis­cus­sions also calls Hamil­ton home.

That would be Ed­mon­ton goalie Cam Tal­bot.

While there were never any con­cerns about his size — he’s six-foot­three and 200 pounds — all the other doubts and ques­tions El­lis faced as he worked his way to­ward star­dom were mir­rored by the 29-yearold An­caster res­i­dent who grew up in Cale­do­nia. Never drafted into the OHL, never drafted into the NHL, barely scouted by U.S. col­lege teams, he was the af­ter­thought of all af­ter­thoughts just a few years ago.

Yet to­day, the Ed­mon­ton Jour­nal, the Na­tional Post, the­hock­ey­writ­ers.com and other pub­li­ca­tions are ar­gu­ing that he’s at least the Oil­ers’ co-MVP with Con­nor McDavid and maybe should be con­sid­ered the choice. Not just writ­ers and broad­cast­ers, ei­ther.

“I’m so im­pressed by Cam Tal­bot,” some guy named Wayne Gret­zky told Sport­snet the other day.

“For him to have the year he had, he’s sort of the un­sung cap­tain of the hockey club, so to speak.”

Praise doesn’t come much higher than that.

The Great One is un­sur­pris­ingly cor­rect. In these play­offs, Tal­bot’s been the best guy in orange most nights. Take him out of Ed­mon­ton’s net and they’re prob­a­bly golf­ing right now.

Elim­i­nate a few con­tro­ver­sial goals that prob­a­bly shouldn’t have counted — Twit­ter loudly sug­gests there were three of those on Wed­nes­day night alone — and the Oil­ers are a win away from elim­i­nat­ing one of the favourites af­ter elim­i­nat­ing last year’s Cup fi­nal­ists.

They’re not the only guys be­ing talked about for the Conn Smythe, of course. There have been other ter­rific per­for­mances this spring. Ot­tawa’s Erik Karls­son is in the mix for sure, as are New York’s Hen­rik Lundqvist, Nashville’s Pekka Rinne and Pitts­burgh’s Marc-An­dré Fleury.

What makes this all so unique is that any dis­cus­sion about ma­jor NHL awards hardly ever in­cludes any­one from Hamil­ton.

Harry How­ell fa­mously won the Nor­ris Tro­phy as best de­fence­man in 1967. Burling­ton’s Gaye Ste­wart won the Calder Tro­phy as rookie of the year in 1943. Don Ed­wards shared the Vez­ina Tro­phy as best goalie in 1980. And Dry­den — in­clude him or not — won a few baubles over the years. But that’s it. Our list is short. Too short. We’re still a long way from home. A few more star­ring weeks by El­lis or Tal­bot though and we could be adding one more name to it.

sradley@thespec.com 905-526-2440 | @radley­atthes­pec Spec­ta­tor colum­nist Scott Radley hosts The Scott Radley Show week­nights from 7 to 9 on 900CHML.

MARK HUMPHREY, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Harry Zol­nier­czyk (26) hugs de­fence­man Ryan El­lis af­ter El­lis scored against St. Louis in Game 4.

CODIE MCLACH­LAN, GETTY IMAGES

Cam Tal­bot makes a save against Nick Ritchie of the Ana­heim Ducks.

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