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Frank Seravalli

TSN Senior Hockey Reporter

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If this isn’t already the next golden age for Canada’s NHL franchises, it’s right around the corner.

Five of the seven Canadian clubs ranked inside the Top 10 of TSN Hockey’s second annual Core Four Under 24 rankings.

Play the role of an NHL general manager for one second: If you could select one core of four players or prospects under the age of 24 to build around and chase a Stanley Cup, which team would you pick?

That is the genesis of the exercise. The answer is the Toronto Maple Leafs, but a Canadian club occupies each of the top three spots, all of them staring down the country’s 24-year Stanley Cup drought.

Young players, particularly under the age of 21, are dominating the NHL in ways never before seen. Balancing that impact, along with projecting the future impact of prospects, with the opinion and input of NHL scouts, front offices and analytics staff, made the exercise a challenge.

The Core Four Under 24 offers a glimpse into the direction each core is heading. Some players aged out, now being older than 24 as of Oct. 1, 2017, while other franchises were able to completely overhaul their core with the help of the draft. Others were simply passed by.

Here are the rankings, with each player slotted according to perceived strength:

 

THE CORE FOUR

 

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1. Toronto Maple Leafs

 
Player Age 2017-18 GP G A PTS
1. Auston Matthews, C 20 Toronto 16 10 9 19
2. Morgan Rielly, LD 23 Toronto 19 3 13 16
3. William Nylander, RW 21 Toronto 19 3 10 13
4. Mitch Marner, RW 19 Toronto 19 2 11 13
 

Last Year: Second (+1)
Aged Out: None
Scoop: A potential perennial 50-goal scorer, an anchor and leader on the blueline and two crafty and quick wingers who can read and think the game as well as any young players. The Maple Leafs narrowly edged the team with TSN Hockey’s consensus preseason No. 1 player based on the completeness and depth of their entry. Plus, the gap between Matthews and McDavid – force of nature versus freak of nature – seems to be narrowing by the week.

 

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2. Edmonton Oilers

 
Player Age 2017-18 GP G A PTS
1. Connor McDavid, C 20 Edmonton 18 9 13 22
2. Leon Draisaitl, C/W 22 Edmonton 14 5 9 14
3. Darnell Nurse, LD  22 Edmonton 18 0 4 4
4. Jesse Puljujarvi, RW 19 Edmonton 3 1 0 1
 

Last Year: First (-1)
Aged Out: Oscar Klefbom
Scoop: There is no recency bias here. The Oilers may be off to a slow start, but McDavid has the same number of points this season as he did at the same juncture last season. He’s still the best player not named Sidney Crosby in the NHL – and certainly with Draisaitl forms the NHL’s most lethal scoring tandem. Edmonton doesn’t know what it’s getting yet out of Puljujarvi, and while Nurse has continued to progress this season, his game is also still a work in progress.

 

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3. Winnipeg Jets

 
Player Age 2017-18 GP G A PTS
1. Patrik Laine, RW 19 Winnipeg 17 9 4 13
2. Nikolaj Ehlers, LW 20 Winnipeg 17 8 4 12
3. Jacob Trouba, RD 23 Winnipeg 17 0 6 6
4. Kyle Connor, RW/LW 20 Winnipeg 12 4 4 8
 

Last Year: Third (NC)
Aged Out: Mark Scheifele
Scoop: Even without Scheifele, more than one NHL front office member made the case for the Jets to be ranked No. 1. After a sluggish start, Laine is lighting the lamp again, and Ehlers is living up to his $42 million contract extension. Meanwhile, Trouba is taking all the tough assignments and chewing up big minutes.

 

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4. Columbus Blue Jackets

 
Player Age 2017-18 GP G A PTS
1. Zach Werenski, LD 20 Columbus 19 5 6 11
2. Seth Jones, RD 23 Columbus 19 3 9 12
3. Alexander Wennberg, C 23 Columbus 18 1 8 9
4. Pierre-Luc Dubois, C 19 Columbus 19 2 2 4
 

Last Year: Seventh (+3)
Aged Out: Brandon Saad (also traded)
Scoop: Werenski and Jones are not only the two best defencemen under 24, but they may also be the best defensive pair in the NHL – the perfect complement of silky skating, smarts and skill. With Wennberg and Dubois, there simply wasn’t enough room for Josh Anderson and Sonny Milano.

 

THE NEXT FIVE

 

5. Tampa Bay Lightning

 
Player Age 2017-18 GP G A PTS
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, G 23 Tampa Bay 15 13-1-0 2.32 .930
2. Mikhail Sergachev, LD 19 Tampa Bay 18 4 8 12
3. Brayden Point, C 21 Tampa Bay 18 7 10 17
4. Cal Foote, RD 18 Kelowna (WHL) 20 5 12 17
 

Last Year: Fifth (NC)
Aged Out: Nikita Kucherov
Scoop: Vasilevskiy is the youngest starting goaltender in the NHL. Point is already inside the Top 50 in points. And Sergachev, rapidly trending toward a top-two defenceman, may turn out to be Steve Yzerman’s best acquisition yet.

 

6. Boston Bruins

 
Player Age 2017-18 GP G A PTS
1. David Pastrnak, RW 21 Boston 17 10 7 17
2. Charlie McAvoy, RD 19 Boston 17 1 7 8
3. Brandon Carlo, RD 20 Boston 17 0 4 4
4. Anders Bjork, LW 21 Boston 16 3 6 9
 

Last Year: 14th (+8)
Aged Out: None
Scoop: Since 2010, Pastrnak is one of only three players (McDavid and Steven Stamkos) with a 70-point season under his belt before his 21st birthday. McAvoy is an elite talent. But what’s equally impressive about Boston’s entry is the group that didn’t make the cut in Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen and Trent Frederic.

 

7. Arizona Coyotes

 
Player Age 2017-18 GP G A PTS
1. Clayton Keller, C 19 Arizona 20 11 6 17
2. Max Domi, LW 22 Arizona 20 1 9 10
3. Christian Dvorak, C 21 Arizona 20 2 8 10
4. Jakob Chychrun, LD 19 Arizona        
 

Last Year: 15th (+8)
Aged Out: None
Scoop: If – and it is a big if – Calder Trophy front-runner Clayton Keller turns out to be Patrick Kane lite, the argument could be made to push the Coyotes even higher. Remember, it is Keller – not Kane or Matthews or Phil Kessel – who holds the U.S. National Development Team scoring record. The future is bright in the desert, as hard as it may be to believe now, with Brendan Perlini, Dylan Strome and Christian Fischer also still growing.

 

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8. Calgary Flames

 
Player Age 2017-18 GP G A PTS
1. Sean Monahan, C 23 Calgary 18 8 8 16
2. Matthew Tkachuk, LW 19 Calgary 18 4 9 13
3. Adam Fox, RD 19 Harvard (NCAA) 5 0 6 6
4. Mark Jankowski, C 23 Calgary 10 3 1 4
 

Last Year: Fourth (-4)
Aged Out: Johnny Gaudreau, Dougie Hamilton
Scoop: Monahan and Tkachuk are “money in the bank” players – you know what you’re getting out of them. Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Filip Forsberg are the only Core Four players with more points than Monahan over the last three seasons. Sam Bennett, still trying to find his game, didn’t make the cut while Juuso Valimaki and Tyler Parsons fell just short of the list.

 

9. New Jersey Devils

 
Player Age 2017-18 GP G A PTS
1. Nico Hischier, C 18 New Jersey 17 3 11 14
2. Will Butcher, LD 22 New Jersey 17 0 13 13
3. Jesper Bratt, LW 19 New Jersey 17 5 8 13
4. Damon Severson, RD 23 New Jersey 16 2 4 6
 

Last Year: 27th (+18)
Aged Out: None
Scoop: No team soared higher than the Devils, who are officially out of purgatory now, as one of two teams to add three new core players year-over-year. Hischier has lived up to every expectation as the No. 1 pick, and Bratt and Butcher have been nothing short of revelations as two diamond-in-the-rough finds.

 

THE WILD CARD

 

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10. Vancouver Canucks

 
Player Age 2017-18 GP G A PTS
1. Bo Horvat, C 22 Vancouver 18 7 7 14
2. Brock Boeser, RW 20 Vancouver 15 5 10 15
3. Elias Pettersson, C 19 Vaxjo (SHL) 16 6 12 18
4. Thatcher Demko, G 21 Utica (AHL) 7 4-2-1 1.85 .939
 

Last Year: 21st (+11)
Aged Out: Ben Hutton
Scoop: The Canucks are the true wild card of the Core Four, because unlike the other teams in the Top 10, half of their entry is based on projection. But with Pettersson lighting up the Swedish Hockey League and a potential No. 1 netminder in Demko, we’ll take that bet. They’d join Boeser, who is already a point-per-game player and a natural born leader at centre in Horvat ready to take over for the Sedins. 

 

THE BEST OF THE REST

 

11. Florida Panthers

 
Player Age 2017-18 GP G A PTS
1. Aleksander Barkov, C 22 Florida 17 6 13 19
2. Aaron Ekblad, RD 21 Florida 17 3 5 8
3. Mike Matheson, LD 23 Florida 16 0 3 3
4. Henrik Borgstrom, C 20 Denver (NCAA) 9 11 6 17
 

Last Year: Sixth (-5)
Aged Out: Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck
Scoop: Barkov is building off of one of the best seasons no one talked about last year, when he collected 52 points in 61 games for the Panthers. Injuries haven’t helped, but Barkov is already on the NHL’s most complete centres.

 

12. Philadelphia Flyers

 
Player Age 2017-18 GP G A PTS
1. Ivan Provorov, LD 20 Philadelphia 18 2 6 8
2. Nolan Patrick, C 19 Philadelphia 9 1 2 3
3. Travis Konecny, RW 20 Philadelphia 18 2 5 7
4. Travis Sanheim, LD 21 Philadelphia 15 0 2 2
 

Last Year: 10th (-2)
Aged Out: Sean Couturier, Shayne Gostisbehere
Scoop: When it’s all said and done, it will be interesting to see which defenceman had the better career between Provorov and Werenski, the seventh and eighth overall picks in 2015. Provorov hasn’t gotten the fanfare, but he is nipping at Werenski’s heels. He’s already the Flyers’ No. 1 defenceman, playing nearly 25 minutes a night, but more importantly he is closing in on being a true No. 1 league-wide.

 

13. Pittsburgh Penguins

 
Player Age 2017-18 GP G A PTS
1. Matt Murray, G 23 Pittsburgh 15 10-4-0 2.98 .903
2. Jake Guentzel, LW 23 Pittsburgh 20 5 5 10
2. Olli Maatta, LD 23 Pittsburgh 20 2 8 10
4. Daniel Sprong, RW 20 W-Barre/Scranton (AHL) 13 9 5 14
 

Last Year: 16th (+3)
Aged Out: None
Scoop: There are five Stanley Cup rings between Pittsburgh’s Core Four - and Murray, Guentzel and Maatta weren’t just along for the ride. They were helping drive the bus. 

 

14. Buffalo Sabres

 
Player Age 2017-18 GP G A PTS
1. Jack Eichel, C 19 Buffalo 18 5 11 16
2. Rasmus Ristolainen, RD 23 Buffalo 13 0 5 5
3. Alex Nylander, RW 19 Rochester (AHL)        
4. Sam Reinhart, RW 22 Buffalo 18 3 5 8
 

Last Year: Eighth (-6)
Aged Out: None
Scoop: Any core with the talent and hate for losing like Eichel has is one to build around. But if the Sabres have proven anything, it’s that he doesn’t have enough help around him. A healthy Alex Nylander would be a fine start.

 

15. Nashville Predators

 
Player Age 2017-18 GP G A PTS
1. Filip Forsberg, LW 23 Nashville 17 9 8 17
2. Eeli Tolvanen, RW 18 Helsinki (KHL) 27 14 11 25
3. Dante Fabbro, RD 19 Boston U (NCAA) 12 3 3 6
4. Kevin Fiala, LW 21 Nashville 16 1 8 9
 

Last Year: 20th (+5)
Aged Out: Viktor Arvidsson
Scoop: No player, not Vladimir Tarasenko nor Artemi Panarin, has done what Tolvanen is doing in the KHL as an 18-year-old for Jokerit season with 1.04 points per game. With Forsberg, Fiala, Fabbro and then Colton Sissons and Juuse Saros already making dents in the NHL, the Predators are well covered at all positions.

 

16. Carolina Hurricanes

 
Player Age 2017-18 GP G A PTS
1. Jaccob Slavin, D 23 Carolina 16 2 3 5
2. Sebastian Aho, C/LW 20 Carolina 16 1 10 11
3. Brett Pesce, RD 23 Carolina 13 0 1 1
4. Tuevo Teravainen, C/LW 23 Carolina 16 6 7 13
 

Last Year: 12th (-4)
Aged Out: Victor Rask
Scoop: Where would a second Carolina core of Elias Lindholm, Noah Hanifin, Martin Necas and Janne Kuokkanen rank? Lindholm plays the most minutes among Carolina forwards, Hanifin is still learning on the job and Necas and Kuokkanen are can’t-miss prospects. Meanwhile, Aho is quietly tied for 10th among second year post-draft players in goals (25) with Patrick Kane and Jack Eichel.

 

17. New York Rangers

 
Player Age 2017-18 GP G A PTS
1. Igor Shestyorkin, G 21 St. Petersburg (KHL) 19 15-1-3 1.55 .941
2. Brady Skjei, LD 23 NY Rangers 19 2 3 5
3. Pavel Buchnevich, RW 22 NY Rangers 19 8 8 16
4. Lias Andersson, C/W 19 Frolunda (SHL) 13 3 3 6
 

Last Year: 11th (-6)
Aged Out: Mika Zibanejad, J.T. Miller, Jimmy Vesey
Scoop: Shestyorkin is the heir apparent to King Henrik Lundqvist’s Manhattan throne and he’ll be pushing for it before Hank’s contract is up in 2021. The 2014 fourth-round pick has a .939 save percentage in his last 63 KHL games for St. Petersburg, including five playoff starts.

 

18. Colorado Avalanche

 
Player Age 2017-18 GP G A PTS
1. Nathan MacKinnon, C 22 Colorado 16 5 10 15
2. Mikko Rantanen, RW 21 Colorado 16 5 8 13
3. Cale Makar, LD 19 UMass-Amherst (NCAA) 11 1 5 6
4. Tyson Jost, C 19 Colorado 6 1 1 2
 

Last Year: 17th (-1)
Aged Out: None
Scoop: There isn’t much to not like about the Avalanche core, not with Makar and Jost on the way to being true impact players. Joe Sakic has made the Avs’ picks count and he added first, second and third-round picks for Duchene, as well as Samuel Girard and Vladislav Kamenev.

 

19. Anaheim Ducks

 
Player Age 2017-18 GP G A PTS
1. Hampus Lindholm, LD 23 Anaheim 10 3 2 5
2. Brandon Montour, RD 23 Anaheim 18 5 4 9
3. Sam Steel, C 19 Regina (WHL) 16 5 14 19
4. Nick Ritchie, LW 21 Anaheim 15 2 4 6
 

Last Year: Ninth (-10)
Aged Out: John Gibson, Rickard Rakell
Scoop: No organization fell further in the Core Four rankings than Anaheim year-over-year, but graduating Gibson and Rakell will leave a mark. The problem is that when Lindholm and Montour age out next season, it gets thin in a hurry for the Ducks after Steel and Jacob Larsson.

 

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20. Montreal Canadiens

 
Player Age 2017-18 GP G A PTS
1. Jonathan Drouin, C 22 Montreal 18 3 9 12
2. Alex Galchenyuk, LW 23 Montreal 19 4 3 7
3. Artturi Lehkonen, LW 22 Montreal 18 2 3 5
4. Victor Mete, LD 19 Montreal 19 0 3 3
 

Last Year: 13th (-7)
Aged Out: None
Scoop: Drouin is tied for the team lead in points, which is no small feat given the expectations thrust upon him in the Montreal mecca. The Habs still seem to have no idea what they’re getting from Galchenyuk on a nightly basis. Mete stunned many with his jump to the NHL, but the ceiling doesn’t appear to be all that high for him and Lehkonen.

 

21. New York Islanders

 
Player Age 2017-18 GP G A PTS
1. Mathew Barzal, C 20 NY Islanders 17 3 11 14
2. Ilya Sorokin, G 22 CSKA Moscow (KHL) 19 12-5-2 1.78 .916
3. Anthony Beauvillier, C/LW 20 NY Islanders 13 2 2 4
4. Josh Ho-Sang, RW 21 NY Islanders 7 1 4 5
 

Last Year: 25th (+4)
Aged Out: Ryan Strome (also traded)
Scoop: Watch Barzal on a nightly basis and it’s not a stretch to say he has that rare bring-you-out-of-your-seat ability. He is shifty on his skates and he’s tough to defend, making him look like a star in the making. Sorokin could also be the Islanders’ long-awaited answer in net.

 

22. Minnesota Wild

 
Player Age 2017-18 GP G A PTS
1. Kirill Kaprizov, LW 20 CSKA Moscow (KHL) 24 13 15 28
2. Luke Kunin, C/RW 19 Minnesota 14 2 2 4
3. Joel Eriksson Ek, C 20 Minnesota 17 1 2 3
4. Matt Dumba, RD 23 Minnesota 17 0 7 7
 

Last Year: 18th (-4)
Aged Out: Jonas Brodin
Scoop: Kaprizov could well be a lower-case Nikita Kucherov for the Wild. He is one of just nine KHL players averaging better than a point per game this season ¬– as a 20-year-old. U.S. World Junior star Jordan Greenway, who didn’t make the cut, is also a top-notch prospect.

 

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23. Ottawa Senators

 
Player Age 2017-18 GP G A PTS
1. Thomas Chabot, LD 20 Belleville (AHL) 10 2 3 5
2. Logan Brown, C 19 Windsor (OHL) 8 8 7 15
3. Colin White, C 20 Belleville (AHL) 6 1 2 3
4. Cody Ceci, RD 23 Ottawa 16 2 1 3
 

Last Year: 23rd (NC)
Aged Out: None
Scoop: The big win for Pierre Dorion in acquiring Matt Duchene is that he was able to keep all of his top five prospects ¬– Chabot, Brown, White, Filip Chlapik and Christian Jaros – in the organization. The bet is Chabot will be making a dent on the Sens’ blueline before the end of the season.

 

24. Vegas Golden Knights

 
Player Age 2017-18 GP G A PTS
1. Shea Theodore, LD 22 Vegas 3 0 1 1
2. Cody Glass, C 18 Portland (WHL) 18 10 20 30
3. Nick Suzuki, C/RW 18 Owen Sound (OHL) 18 10 21 31
4. Erik Brannstrom, LD 18 HV71 Jonkoping (SHL) 18 0 4 4
 

Last Year: NR
Aged Out: None
Scoop: The Golden Knights are one of two teams with just one current NHL player in their core, but that is to be expected for a first-year expansion entry. Smooth skating Shea Theodore is a solid pillar to build a defence around and GM George McPhee and Co. did well with first-round picks Glass (No. 6 overall), Suzuki (13) and Brannstrom (15).

 

25. Detroit Red Wings

 
Player Age 2017-18 GP G A PTS
1. Dylan Larkin, C/LW 21 Detroit 19 3 15 18
2. Anthony Mantha, RW 23 Detroit 19 10 9 19
3. Andreas Athanasiou, C 23 Detroit 9 4 2 6
4. Michael Rasmussen, C 18 Tri-City (WHL) 14 7 10 17
 

Last Year: 22nd (-3)
Aged Out: None
Scoop: It took until he was 23, but Mantha is showing this season why the Red Wings bet on him in the first round in 2013. He is tied for sixth in the NHL in goals, already approaching last season’s high of 17, while Larkin is rebounding to look more like the impact rookie we saw in 2015-16.

 

26. St. Louis Blues

 
Player Age 2017-18 GP G A PTS
1. Jordan Kyrou, C 19 Sarnia (OHL) 18 17 25 40
2. Robby Fabbri, C/LW 21 St. Louis        
3. Tage Thompson, C/LW 20 San Antonio (AHL) 11 4 2 6
4. Robert Thomas, C 18 London (OHL) 16 15 10 25
 

Last Year: 19th (-7)
Aged Out: Colton Parayko
Scoop: Take your pick of centres to one day suit up for the Blues: Kyrou, Thompson or Thomas. It’s an embarrassment of riches down the middle for Doug Armstrong.

 

27. Chicago Blackhawks

 
Player Age 2017-18 GP G A PTS
1. Nick Schmaltz, C 21 Chicago 15 3 7 10
2. Alex DeBrincat, RW 19 Chicago 19 7 5 12
3. Ryan Hartman, RW 23 Chicago 18 4 6 10
4. Dylan Sikura, C 22 Northeastern (NCAA) 8 6 8 14
 

Last Year: 28th (+1)
Aged Out: None
Scoop: DeBrincat is putting the puck in the net with the Blackhawks just like he did for the Erie Otters in the OHL. Hartman is a 20-goal scorer. Schmaltz has been a better winger than centre. But will any of those three players be real difference makers for the Hawks?

 

28. Dallas Stars

 
Player Age 2017-18 GP G A PTS
1. Miro Heiskanen, LD 18 Helsinki (SM Liiga) 11 7 4 11
2. Esa Lindell, LD 23 Dallas 18 4 3 7
3. Radek Faksa, C 23 Dallas 17 3 4 7
4. Riley Tufte, LW 19 Minnesota-Duluth (NCAA) 12 5 3 8
 

Last Year: 29th (+1)
Aged Out: None
Scoop: Heiskanen is the diamond find of Jim Nill’s expedition across Europe for a No. 1 defenceman. The 2017 third overall pick is incubating nicely in the Finnish Elite League, already a point-per-game defenceman amongst men.

 

29. Los Angeles Kings

 
Player Age 2017-18 GP G A PTS
1. Adrian Kempe, LW 21 Los Angeles 17 7 4 11
2. Kale Clague, RD 19 Brandon (WHL) 17 10 21 31
3. Gabe Vilardi, C/RW 18 Los Angeles        
4. Jaret Anderson-Dolan, C 18 Spokane (WHL) 18 8 13 21
 

Last Year: 30th (+1)
Aged Out: None
Scoop: After finishing as last season’s Final Four, 11th overall pick Vilardi and second rounder Anderson-Dolan certainly helped restock the Kings’ barren prospect cupboard. Kempe is blossoming at the NHL level and Clague has the highest points-per-game average (1.82) among CHL defencemen.

 

30. Washington Capitals

 
Player Age 2017-18 GP G A PTS
1. Andre Burakovsky, RW 22 Washington 9 1 3 4
2. Ilya Samsonov, G 20 Magnitogorsk (KHL) 16 6-5-1 2.77 .912
3. Jakub Vrana, RW 21 Washington 19 4 3 7
4. Tom Wilson, RW 23 Washington 15 2 3 5
 

Last Year: 24th (-6)
Aged Out: None
Scoop: The Capitals are one of six teams to keep last year’s Core completely intact. But that’s not necessarily a good thing, with none of Washington’s four tracking to be truly elite talent in the NHL.

 

THE FINAL FOUR

 

31. San Jose Sharks

 
Player Age 2017-18 GP G A PTS
1. Timo Meier, RW 20 San Jose 15 1 2 3
2. Tomas Hertl, C 24 San Jose 16 3 7 10
3. Josh Norris, C 18 Michigan (NCAA) 10 2 5 7
4. Kevin Labanc, RW 21 San Jose 14 3 4 7
 

Last Year: 26th (-5)
Aged Out: None
Scoop: It’s getting late early for Meier, the ninth-overall pick in 2015, who hasn’t proven to be an impact player in 49 NHL games. In fact, Hertl is San Jose’s only hit among the Sharks’ four first-round picks since 2011, a trend Norris is hoping to reverse.
 
Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli