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Johansson on the shelf

Written By Kris Baker on Wednesday, October 1, 2014 | 10/01/2014

It has been a tough start to the year for Brynas goaltender Jonas Johansson. 

Following his August visit to Lake Placid and Quebec for the American and Canadian summer development camps, the goaltender fell in with a bacterial infection and missed the start of the regular season schedule. The month-long illness eventually dissipated, allowing Johansson to serve as backup to Bernhard Starkbaum for a pair of games last week.

Johansson's return to health would be short lived, however, as the illness has returned, forcing the talented goaltender out of action for an undetermined period. With 17-year old Felix Sandstrom also on the shelf due to illness, Brynas was forced to acquire the services of Joel Gistedt, a former second round pick by Phoenix (2007). We'll be watching the development closely, hoping that Johansson can overcome the early season setbacks as he eyes the starting role for Sweden at the 2015 World Junior Championship.

Brynas (sans Johansson) will battle MODO (Linus Ullmark, Gustav Possler, Victor Olofsson) on Wednesday.

***

Brycen Martin logged a plus-one rating and a pair of minor penalties (hooking, roughing) Tuesday as Swift Current was dropped a 5-3 decision at Prince George. The Broncos continue their early season road swing Wednesday in Kamloops.

On Sunday, Vaclav Karabacek picked up an assist as Gatineau downed Val-d'Or 7-2. The helper gives the budding Czech three points in as many games this season for the Olympiques, who return to action Wednesday versus Blainville-Boisbriand.
10/01/2014 | 0 comments | Read More

9/27 Recap: Olofsson gets winner

Written By Kris Baker on Saturday, September 27, 2014 | 9/27/2014

Victor Olofsson continued to prove his value despite a guarded workload Saturday, cashing a feed from his spot up high on the power play to thrust MODO to a 5-3 come-from-behind victory over Leksands IF.



The power play marker was Olofsson's third goal of the season and second game winner.

Olofsson made a stellar contribution despite seeing just 5:08 of ice.  He has yet to crack the 10:00 mark through four games in his role as the 13th forward (averaging 6:00/game), and with a clearly defined role as power play specialist, all four of points (3+1) this season come with the man advantage.

Gustav Possler netted a power play assist to give him points in three of his last four games, while Linus Ullmark stopped 25 of 28 shots to earn his first victory of the season. After surrendering three goals on 11 shots in the middle period, Ullmark rebounded well in the final 20 minutes to secure the win.



MODO gets back to work Wednesday when they visit Brynäs IF.

***

In the QMJHL, Vaclav Karabacek (-2) logged one shot on goal and was stopped in his shootout attempt as Gatineau was defeated by Rouyn-Noranda 3-2. The Olympiques continue their early season road trip Sunday at defending league champion Val-d'Or.

In WHL action, Brycen Martin finished with an even rating as Swift Current dropped a 5-2 decision to Brandon. The Broncos will next take a 15-hour bus ride for Tuesday's meeting at Prince George.

In the USHL, Christopher Brown (-1) recorded two shots on goal as Green Bay was hammered 8-2 by Chicago. The two clubs will meet again next Friday in Green Bay.
9/27/2014 | 0 comments | Read More

Draft stuff: McDavid warms up with three-point night

Jack Eichel was the talk of the town Thursday with his one-goal, one-assist effort to earn the Player of the Game Award at the 2014 CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game, but it didn't take long for the expected valedictorian of the 2015 draft class to get the spotlight back.

Connor McDavid showed his dominating offensive poise Friday en route to collecting a goal and two assists as Erie dealt Windsor a 5-2 defeat.

After showing tremendous hands his first goal of the year, McDavid followed up with a heady play that saw him shoulder a defender, race down the ice and make hard stop in the slot to find Nick Betz for the easy goal. He later earned his third point of the night with an assist off a clean faceoff win.


McDavid has a goal and three assists through his first two games of the year.

***

Also from Friday, Swedish standout Gustaf Franzen sent a laser beam top shelf for his first goal of the season in Kitchener's 4-3 win over Owen Sound. The crafty forward was chosen fourth overall by the Rangers in the 2014 CHL Import Draft.



In Sault Ste. Marie, Blake Speers kicked off his campaign with an assist and a goal before the game was five minutes old in the Hounds' 7-3 victory over Sarnia. The hometown Soo product connected for 19 goals and 40 points last season.



***

On Thursday, Lawson Crouse executed a wraparound for his first goal of the season in Kingston's 5-3 win over Peterborough. The 6-foot-3 power forward is hoping to be a top-15 pick coming off a 15-goal rookie season.


***

In the "good things come in small packages" department, 5-foot-6 import scorer Petrus Palmu has pocketed a goal in each of his first two North American contests.

On Wednesday, the diminutive Finn got on the board in Owen Sound's 6-1 throttling of Kitchener.



The Jokerit product followed up with another finish Friday as the Attack lost to the Rangers 4-3 in overtime.


Palmu made waves over the summer when he nabbed four goals and four assists in four games for Finland at the 2014 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup.
9/27/2014 | 0 comments | Read More

9/26 Recap: Bailey shines in return

Justin Bailey made his OHL return a success Friday, bagging a short-handed goal, an assist and the only mark in the shootout as Kitchener got past Owen Sound 4-3. The effort earned the Western New York product the game's number one star.

Getting to Kitchener in time from Buffalo proved to be a challenge, but anyone thinking that his legs would suffer after sitting in a Highway 401 traffic jam for two-and-a-half hours were quickly corrected, as the bigger, stronger winger rode the experience of his second NHL training camp to dominant shifts from start-to-finish.

Bailey tilted the game's momentum when he showed quick acceleration into an extra gear to score a beautiful short-handed goal with 1:24 remaining in the middle frame to tie the game 1-1.



As far as history repeating itself, Bailey scored in his first game back last season after spending time at the Sabres' training camp. As far as writing a new chapter, the goal was the first shorty of Bailey's 122-game OHL career.

Kitchener returns to action next Friday at London.

Elsewhere in the OHL, Brendan Lemieux put forth an excellent effort but skated away without a point as Barrie edged North Bay 5-4 in overtime. The feisty winger played his hard pressing style all game long, getting into the Troops faces while drawing both a cut on his nose and a key power play late.

Lemieux nearly got his stick on a puck for his first goal of the season with 2:40 left in regulation, but replays showed that Sabres training camp invitee Joesph Blandisi's shot went went through for his third of the night to tie the game 4-4.

The Colts are off until Thursday when they visit Windsor.

***

In Sweden, Gustav Possler picked up an assist on the game's opening tally as MODO was defeated by Frolunda 3-2. The play, which saw Possler instinctively get to a loose puck and make a quick feed to the front of the net, gives him three points through the season's first five games.



MODO goaltender Linus Ullmark made 25 saves to remain without a victory in three season starts. Victor Olofsson continued in his role as the 13th forward, recording a minus-one rating in 2:39 of work.

MODO will get right back to work Saturday with a tilt against Leksands.

***

In the WHL, Brycen Martin (-2) posted an assist as Swift Current was dumped by Edmonton 5-1. The helper gives Martin points in each of his first two games since returning from Buffalo. The Broncos remain on home ice Saturday when they host Brandon.
9/27/2014 | 0 comments | Read More

Karabacek starts with helpers

Written By Kris Baker on Friday, September 26, 2014 | 9/26/2014

Vaclav Karabacek notched two assists Thursday including one on the game winning goal as Gatineau edged Cape Breton 5-4 in overtime. Talented 2015 draft prospect Evgeny Svechnikov posted three helpers for the Screaming Eagles in defeat to earn the game's No. 3 star. Les Olympiques will look to continue their winning ways Sunday when they take on Rouyn-Noranda.

In the OHL, Eric Cornel (-3) was held without a point as Peterborough opened the season with 5-3 loss to Kingston. The Petes were without the services of star winger Nick Ritchie, who remains at training camp with the NHL's Anaheim Ducks. The Petes get back to work Thursday versus Belleville.
9/26/2014 | 0 comments | Read More

9/20 Recap: Olofsson gets another

Written By Kris Baker on Saturday, September 20, 2014 | 9/20/2014

Victor Olofsson scored his second goal of the young season Saturday as MODO earned their second-straight victory with a 4-1 decision over HV 71. The power play marker, which went down as the game winner, gives Olofsson two goals and three points in four games for MODO, all while averaging just 7:04 of work per night. All of Olofsson's points have come with the man advantage.


Top line winger Gustav Possler was held without a shot on goal. Linus Ullmark served as backup for the second game in a row.

Next up for MODO is a Friday meeting with Frolunda.

In the WHL, Brycen Martin (+3) picked up an assist in his season debut as the Swift Current Broncos skated to a 5-2 triumph at Moose Jaw. Swift Current continues the schedule Friday versus defending league champion Edmonton.
9/20/2014 | 0 comments | Read More

9/18 Recap: Possler on the board

Written By Kris Baker on Thursday, September 18, 2014 | 9/18/2014

Gustav Possler scored his first goal of the year Thursday and added an assist as MODO throttled Farjestads BK 6-2. Possler logged 19:55 of time on the top forward line for MODO, who broke through for their first victory of the season in their third try. The marker was Possler's first since Oct. 10, 2013. His 2013-14 campaign was cut short due to knee surgery.


Victor Oloffson notched an assist and four shots on goal in 5:36 of work for MODO. Olofsson has been lining up as the 13th forward this season, along the way morphing into a role as a power play specialist. Just like his opening day goal, Olofsson’s helper came with the man advantage.

Goaltender Linus Ullmark was given the day off.

MODO goes for their first two-game winning streak of the year Saturday when they host HV 71.
9/18/2014 | 0 comments | Read More

Traverse City notebook

Written By Kris Baker on Wednesday, September 17, 2014 | 9/17/2014

Hockey can be a pretty crazy game.

The final standings for the 2014 NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City have the Buffalo Sabres in last place out of the eight team field. A year removed from appearing in the championship game, and three seasons from winning it all, the Sabres prospects were out-scored by a 17-6 margin in the event's four contests to skate away without a victory (0-3-1).

I realize that's not "crazy".

What's nuts, though, is when a team absolutely dominates five-on-five play and loses a game 6-1, like the Sabres did in Thursday's tourney opener versus Carolina.

What's crazy is a team with several skilled goal scorers out-shooting their opponents by a 134-100 margin, averaging 33.5 shots on goal per outing, only to bag a handful of markers.

We see this often in developmental hockey -- sometimes skill players do so many things well but just can't finish enough plays. Sometimes you dominate possession, but your goaltending falls short of expectations. That was a theme for this past week of hockey.

When you understand the root of the numbers, things make a little more sense.

The Sabres had trouble gaining regular space, especially in that box in the middle of the ice (where, of course, all of the goals are scored). Passing accuracy was inconsistent. There wasn't a ton of jam around the net, and thus secondary opportunities were few and far between. Popping off shots and establishing a good base for your Corsi is a start, but improving the quality of your chances will surely lead to better results.

And again, the opposition's goaltending was a hair sharper than Buffalo's. Invitee Francois Brassard posted the best Sabres' best performance of the week in the OT loss to the Rangers, but there were times when Alex Nedeljkovic (CAR), MacKenzie Skapski (NYR), and Niklas Lundstrom (STL) seemingly had horseshoes tucked away. Nedeljkovic was especially strong for the Hurricanes from start to finish.

There are positives to take away despite what the standings say. Lessons were learned, and like true professionals, these young men must always keep their highs low and their lows high, especially as they prepare for the main portion of training camp.

***.

Overarching thoughts when looking at the group as a whole:

- It's a fresh slate for everyone. Tim Murray draft picks are mixing with those from the old general manager. It's hard to get a read on what the new decision-makers think of some of the holdover prospects, so we got to hit the reboot button this week with a lot of these guys. Those who consistently competed and looked they were ready to go each shift were appreciated.

- Details, details, details. Proper positioning leads to cleaner zone exits (and eventually entries). Keeping sticks down defensively makes things more difficult for the opposition. Crisper stops/starts when the play reverses leads to more effective backchecks. The team made progress with these details, and when they executed they won the possession time.

- Part of the Sabres focus moving forward should involve creating more chaos in front of the opposing goal. Too many cleans looks for the goaltender. If there was one area where the team missed the speedy Nicholas Baptiste, this may have been it.

- The power play puck movement improved as the tournament played on. They needed to find more open lanes, and of course, shoot the puck even more than they did. The penalty killing also improved after a really poor performance to open the tourney. Some chasing led to some coverage issues early on, but they maintained a tighter box for the balance (for the most part).

***

A few notes on the players:

Sam Reinhart was credited with just one assist, but his numbers are not at all indicative of his impact. If you want to read box scores and pass judgment, go right ahead. You'd be missing some important details, though. His sense and patience, quick zone exits, faceoff proficiency, and smart defensive stick complement a package of vision and passing accuracy that is perhaps unrivaled in the entire Sabres organization. I'm curious to see how he melds into the up-tempo pace when the veterans arrive, but it seems that he's well equipped for the need to make quicker decisions as the level of competition increases. He's currently listed at 6-foot-1, 192 pounds, and he'll continue to have a target on his back.

The top defensive pair of Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe were absolute workhorses the entire way. In the eyes of many, Ristolainen was the Sabres top player, and for good reason. Following an off-season that saw him "trim the baby fat", the Sabres captain took charge of the team with sound defensive play, good timing on his checks, and a team-high 17 SOG. After a Monday effort in which he felt like he could have executed better, Ristolainen hit the gym for close to 45 minutes before calling it a workday. This guy gets it.

For McCabe, it was a slightly different story. Dinged up following the first game, the rookie defender forged ahead like a warrior, but not without mixed results with his own zone coverage. He was engaged physically and gained leverage in the corners, but it seemed like the rhythm of accepting passes and his overall feel with the puck didn't truly come around until the final game. As a result, he was able to punch a few more pucks low. Like his partner Ristolainen, McCabe was often pressing in an effort to take chances up-ice when trailing on the scoreboard (and also in the 3x3 portion of the OT vs. NYR). Kudos to he and Ristolainen for logging what had to be 30 minutes in all situations during the Monday game versus Dallas. Again, it needs to be noted that McCabe was not 100% healthy for the final three games.

Joel Armia was more of a presence, consistently exhibiting scoring line skill level and using his size to protect pucks and win battles. He paced the forwards with 14 shots on goal. Snakebitten like the rest of the bunch, Armia led the forwards with 14 SOG and showed improved consistency in terms of his effort. Wearing an "A", Armia's work was even rewarded with some PK duty. He didn't try to do much too much himself while still allowing his one-on-one skillset to drive his game. Armia will continue to focus on getting to the middle of the ice moving forward, and that process definitely needs to happen more quickly. If a team gives him the center lane, he needs to take it with authority.

After having perhaps the Sabres greatest scoring chances in each of the first three games, it was really good to see Justin Bailey get the PP slumpbuster in Tuesday's final versus St. Louis. When the team looked softer when competing for second chances, Bailey was able to jam home his own rebound. The WNY product played with great determination throughout the tournament. He looks faster and stronger, and his play was rewarded with key minutes, especially during overtime of the game versus the Rangers. He was leading the team in SOG through the first two games, and I thought he took nice job applying pressure. If his play from Traverse City carries over into Kitchener, Bailey getting 40 goals could be reasonable.

Jordan Samuels-Thomas showed encouraging signs to firm up his status on the power forward depth chart. A powerful skater with an excellent net presence, JST was perhaps the most consistent when attacking the crease with the puck. He also proved strong in the corners using his big frame to maintain possession. He started the tournament with Reinhart and Armia, earning PP and PK minutes a long the way. A checking line role can be earned once he gets more experience with the Sabres/Amerks defensive expectations.

It took William Carrier a game to settle in on the line with Reinhart/Armia, but I think he ended the tourney on a good note. Like the others, mistakes were made, but he plays the game the right way at even strength with a mix of skill and grit.  His one assist (not officially captured) came when he made a nice play to the middle of the ice before kicking the puck to Brady Austin for a wrist shot goal.

Austin, by the way, did a nice job stepping into bigger minutes as the tourney played out. It was subtle, but I thought he was very good in the final game. He can always afford to be more physical, but his safe, mobile game is always welcome as he eases his way into his professional career. He used his body to squeeze guys out along the boards. I'd prefer to see even more of that once he gets comfortable with the elevated pace of the pros.

One of the reasons that Austin earned additional time was the game three effort by Nikita Zadorov. Despite some costly penalties that were converted by the opposition, I liked Zadorov in the first and last games. He had some urgency to his game, and it resulted in him using his size to skate the puck deep. I often say that once you're drafted, it doesn't matter where you were taken, but you just can't get benched in a prospect tourney as a first-round NHL pick like he did against the Stars. Luckily, there was a bounceback in the final game versus St. Louis that could get him moving in the right direction heading into main camp.

2014 draft pick Brycen Martin didn't make any jaws drop, but he looked like a safe defenseman who can make a good pass out of the zone. Classic case of a rearguard who excels when things are kept simple. He had a few nice plays using his body to meet the rush and others where he got his stick into lanes to bust up the transition game.

Fellow newcomers Branden Lemieux, Vaclav Karabacek and Eric Cornel spent most of the week together on a forward line, with the first two complementing each other very well down the wings.

Lemieux regularly applied puck pressure and played with emotion. When Reinhart was bulled over from behind in the opener, Lemieux was first on the scene to protect and defend the top forward. Staying focused on his next shift will be a key, but he got the other teams chirping, which means he was doing his job.

Karabacek used speed to gain the zone and didn't back down when challenged. In the Dallas game where the coaching staff was unhappy with the overall effort, Karabacek was one of a few playing hard in an attempt to make something happen. Good hands and an active defensive stick make him one of the surprises of the week.

Cornel had a solid opening night effort, with the rest of the tournament supplying some teaching moments. He has a great sense for the offensive game. Adding strength, speed and experience should make him a compelling prospect to watch over the next two seasons. I can see him excelling as a winger when all three come together.

Playing in his third Traverse City event, Dan Catenacci progressively became more effective. He created with speed and was solid on the PK. He's yet to find a regular home with his time still split between center and wing. His puck skill comes in handy down the side, while his speed out of the zone and improved defensive understanding serves well down the middle. One moment in the opener where he should have shot the puck as opposed to making the extras pass sticks out to me, but like Karabacek, he was another player who upped the ante late in the Dallas game when the rest of the team was appeared flat.

Justin Kea was consistent in his role as a fourth-line checker. His line got the puck deep and achieved decent zone time. Kea worked the boards, was his normal physical self, and looked to spark his team with two fights. He notched a goal and an assist to share the team lead in points with Ristolainen and Lemieux. KEa is what he is - he knows his role and started to put the work in this week before sitting out the finale.

Colin Jacobs played just one game before getting dinged up, and it may have been the best game I've seen him play since turning pro. Finished his hits, did a great job supporting his defensemen, and again showed skill at the faceoff circle. I felt that the team missed his element in the final two contests.

Andrey Makarov needed to be better. At times he killed plays by directing the puck properly, but his rebound control could have been better and some of the Ryan Miller high-glove blues were apparent in his two-and-a-half games worth of work. We've seen this before from Makarov - he runs hot and cold - but when he's good (hot), he's great.

As far as invitees go, Joseph Blandisi and Francois Brassard stood out from the pack. Blandisi battled for chances, scored a goal by simply shooting the puck, and even earned a PK shift in the finale. Brassard displayed excellent technique and composure en route to a 33-save performance in a 2-1 loss to the Rangers before allowing three goals on 12 shots in 20 minutes versus Dallas. Brassard no doubt kept the Sabres in the Saturday's game.

Right there with them was Ryan MacKinnon, who played guarded minutes through two games but made some nice hustle plays and generally looked a responsible all-around player who can shore up AHL depth for a team in need.

Jack Rodewald showed flashes as a hard-driving checker. Blazing speed really isn't his thing, but Rodewald has that heavy style that you can see competing as an AHL checker at some point. He just may have scored what should have been the tying goal in the third period Tuesday versus Dallas thanks to a smart play by Samuels-Thomas, but the ECHL officiating crew didn't think it went in (I'm almost positive it did).

Michael Joly showed some offensive skill in a limited role. There's a mix of energy and hands to him, and he combined with Rodewald for two chances in the final contest. He nearly earned the potential game-winner in the third period versus the Rangers when he rang one off the crossbar off a nice cross-ice feed from Karabcek.

Jared Walsh looks like a solid mobile defender for the junior level who has a solid foundation to build from. He wasn't extremely noticeable in guarded minutes, but the experience should really serve him well for his season in Mississauga.

I'm probably forgetting a few things, but that's what I saw.

And by the way, congrats to the Columbus Blue Jackets for winning their third tourney title. They've got a good group of forwards over there.
9/17/2014 | 8 comments | Read More

9/13 Recap: Ullmark pulled as MODO stumbles

Written By Kris Baker on Monday, September 15, 2014 | 9/15/2014

The rough start to the season continued Saturday for MODO as Linus Ullmark allowed five goals on 21 shots before exiting the game midway through the second period in a 6-2 loss to Skelleftea AIK. The reigning Honken Trophy winner as the SHL's Goalie of the Year, Ullmark was left hanging by his defenders on several opportunities before being replaced by Adam Reideborn. The 21-year old backstop sits with a 5.37 GAA and .805 save% heading into Thursday's game at Farjestads BK.

Gustav Possler recorded three shots on goal through 17:50 of work while Victor Olofsson (-1) was blanked as MODO's 13th forward.
9/15/2014 | 0 comments | Read More

9/11 Recap: Olofsson scores as MODO opens with loss

Written By Kris Baker on Thursday, September 11, 2014 | 9/11/2014

Victor Olofsson scored his first career SHL goal Thursday as MODO opened the 2014-15 season with a 3-1 loss to Örebro HK . Minutes before connecting for his power play marker, Olofsson was stopped on a penalty shot attempt after being interfered with on a partial breakaway. Olofsson, who was listed as the 13th forward, logged 9:16 of work in the opening day loss.



Reigning Honken Trophy winner Linus Ullmark started in goal for MODO, making 17 saves in the losing effort. Skating on MODO's top offensive unit, Gustav Possler (-1) recorded three shots on goal through 20:49 of action his first action since last fall.

MODO will shoot for their first win Saturday when they visit Skelleftea AIK.

Elsewhere in the SHL, Jonas Johansson did not dress (illness) as Brynäs IF kicked off the campaign with 4-0 loss to Frölunda HC. Johansson will likely remain on the shelf when Brynäs gets back at it on Saturday against Leksands IF.
9/11/2014 | 0 comments | Read More

Sizing up the Traverse City competition

Written By Kris Baker on Monday, September 8, 2014 | 9/08/2014

The 2014 NHL Prospects Tournament takes place Sept. 12-16.
With the Sabres releasing their official roster for the 2014 NHL Prospects Tournament beginning
Friday in Traverse City, Mich., it's time to take a look at the other seven clubs who will be battling for the coveted title.

CAROLINA

High-end defenseman Haydn Fleury (2014, 7th overall) headlines the Hurricanes' squad coming to Traverse City. The second rearguard off the board this past June, Fleury was named Best Defenseman at the 2014 IIHF Under-18 World Championship and could use the tournament as a springboard into NHL duty come October.

Up front, Sergey Tolchinsky is back for more a year after leading the entire tournament with five goals and eight points as a free agent invite. He was signed to a contract following the electrifying performance, and promptly headed back to Sault Ste. Marie to post 31 goals and 91 points in 66 OHL tilts.

The Hurricanes round out the forward ranks with second-round picks Phil Di Giuseppe (2012, 38th overall), Brock McGinn (2012, 47th overall) and Victor Rask (2011, 42nd overall). The trio will play for the AHL's Charlotte Checkers this season.

In goal, Alex Nedeljkovic (2014, 37th overall) has done nothing but prove himself as a quality workhorse with the OHL's Plymouth Whalers. The Parma, OH native looked excellent for Team USA at April's U18 Worlds, and could continue his coming out party with a solid Traverse City showing before heading back to junior. He'll likely split time with fellow Oshawa Generals product Daniel Altshuller, who is making his second Traverse City appearance.

CAR full roster


***

DALLAS

An NHL team on the cusp of big things, the Stars will bring a well-balanced group of prospects into Traverse City.

Radek Faksa, the player chosen between Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons at the 2012 draft and a center who spent time with both Justin Bailey (Kitchener) and Nick Baptiste (Sudbury) last season, will likely man their top offensive unit. Among his potential wingers is Brett Ritchie, a bull forward who collected 22 goals in 2013-14 as an AHL rookie, and 2013 first round pick Jason Dickinson. Dickinson piled up 78 points last season for the OHL champion Guelph Storm.

Other forward notables include 2014 Memorial Cup champion Brett Pollock of the Edmonton Oil Kings, and Ludwig Karlsson, the player who arrived with Jason Spezza in the big summer deal with Ottawa.

On the back end, 2014 first-rounder Julius Honka will look at to set the offensive pace with his puck moving skill. Experienced Europeans Ludvig Bystrom (2012, 43rd overall) and Esa Lindell (2012, 74th overall) are also expected to log big minutes for the Stars.

Properties of the Niagara IceDogs, goaltender Brent Moran and defenseman Aaron Haydon are also listed by the Stars. The pair will play in Buffalo on Oct. 22 when their club squares off with the Erie Otters.

DAL full roster


***

NEW YORK RANGERS

The Rangers released their 24-man roster in mid-August, headlined by free agent acquisition Kevin Hayes, a skilled 6-foot-5 scorer out of Boston College, and QMJHL goal-scoring machine Anthony Duclair. The duo combined for 77 marks last season, with Duclair hitting the 50 milestone in 59 games with the Quebec Remparts.

After Hayes and Duclair, one of the more intriguing Rangers prospects could be Adam Tambellini (2013, 65th overall). The 19-year old forward jumped ship from the University of North Dakota last season to become a member of the WHL's Calgary Hitmen. Tambellini, the son of former Oilers GM Steve, could very well earn himself an NHL contract with a strong fall performance.

Also of note are 2014 draft picks Keegan Iverson and Brandon Halverson, who earlier this summer attended the U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp. For the goaltender Halverson, a Traverse City native, the tournament serves as a nice homecoming of sorts. He'll likely share minutes with MacKenzie Skapski (2013, 170th overall), who a few years back served as backup to Nathan Lieuwen in Kootenay.

After a good showing at their summer development camp, former Sabres prospect Logan Nelson will skate for the Rangers. Nelson logged a goal and an assist in four games with the Sabres at the 2013 event.

NYR full roster


***

COLUMBUS

A talented group of forwards will lead the Blue Jackets into Traverse City with their sights set on challenging Detroit for the top spot in the Gordie Howe Division.

The offensive pace will be set by first round picks Sonny Milano (2014, 16th overall), Alexander Wennberg (2013, 14th overall), Kerby Rychel (2013, 19th overall) and Marko Dano (2013, 27th overall), while plenty of artillery will be provided by Oliver Bjorkstrand, a 2013 third-rounder who lit 50 lamps in 69 games last season with the WHL's Portland Winterhawks.

A teammate of Brycen Martin in Swift Current, Dillon Heatherington (2013, 50th overall) headlines Columbus' list of defenders. Heatherington recently competed at Canada's National Junior Team Summer Development Camp and has a good shot to play for host Canada at the 2015 World Junior tourney.

A pair of Swedish goaltenders, Oskar Dansk and Anton Forsberg, will share time holding down the Columbus fort. Last season, Dansk played ahead of current Sabres prospect Jonas Johansson at the 2014 World Junior tourney while Forsberg ended the year as the backup to Linus Ullmark with MODO.

Eden, NY native Kevin Ryan will be one six invitees making the trip. Last season, the 24-year old defenseman finished off a four-year career at Niagara University with five goals and 12 points in 39 contests.

CBJ full roster


***

DETROIT

Traverse City Dead Wings no more, the storied Detroit Red Wings broke through last September for their first championship in their 15-year history of hosting the NHL Prospects Tournament. With a repeat in mind, the club will bring 11 players from last year's entry to play in front of the home fans at Centre Ice Arena.

Leading the way for the Red Wings will be Anthony Mantha, a prolific junior scorer who racked up 81 goals in 81 combined regular-season and playoff games last season, Ryan Sproul, a defenseman named to the 2013-14 AHL All-Rookie team, and Martin Frk, the team’s top pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Mantha is the only first round pick on the Wings' roster, however all three played a key role in the Red Wings' run to the 2013 tourney title.

Other players of note include Zach Nastasiuk (2013, 48th overall), Dominic Turgeon, son of former Sabres first overall pick Pierre, and the pesky Tyler Bertuzzi, who played last season with the OHL Champion Guelph Storm.

The defending champs have also listed seven free agent invites, including once regarded 2014 draft prospects Blake Clarke and Brandon Robinson.

The song remains the same in goal for the Red Wings, with Jared Coreau and Jake Patterson returning for the second-straight year. Coreau made 23 saves versus the Sabres in the 2013 championship game.

DET full roster


***

MINNESOTA

Defensemen Matthew Dumba (2012, 7th overall) and Gustav Olofsson (2013, 46th overall), and lanky winger Tyler Graovac (2011, 196th overall) lead a group of Wild rookie campers that includes a tournament-high nine free agent invitees and four others that were signed to free agent contracts in 2013-14. Just 12 of the 25 players on the Minnesota roster were actually drafted by Chuck Fletcher's staff.

While they are light on drafted players, teams shouldn't sleep on the Wild's four free agent signings. Brady Brassart (Calgary - WHL) and Zack Mitchell (Guelph - OHL) combined for 168 points last season with their respective junior teams. Guillaume Gelinas emerged as one of the CHL's most dangerous offensive rearguards in Val-d'Or's run to the Memorial Cup final, while Swedish project Christian Folin was one of the most sought-after college free agents before making his NHL debut last April.

One of the more interesting players to watch will be Pavel Jenys. Taken in the seventh round in June, the slick Czech has arrived in Sudbury to play this season alongside Nick Baptiste. The Wolves are expecting big things, so a strong Traverse City experience can only help him get into a groove (and help Baptiste along the way).

Also among the Wild hopefuls is former Owen Sound Attack forward Kurtis Gabriel, whose "Sledgehammer" nickname ranks as a favorite in recent junior hockey happenings.

Johan Gustafsson, who backstopped Sweden to a gold medal at the 2012 World Junior Championship, is one of three netminders set to appear for the Wild.

MIN full roster


***

ST. LOUIS

Blues prospects participating in the tournament include talented 2014 draft picks Robby Fabbri (21st overall) and Ivan Barbashev (33rd overall). Both stood out among their peers at Canada's National Junior Team Summer Development Camp, and both should be expected to supply plenty of offense despite being two of the younger players on the St. Louis roster.

Sam Reinhart's linemate last season in Kootenay, Jaedon Descheneau (2014, 124th overall), will also suit up for the Blues.

Defensively, Minnesota-born Tommy Vannelli (2013, 47th overall) and hard-hitting Finn Jani Hakanpaa (2010, 104th overall) will lead the Blues' fleet of seven. A spectator at last year's event, former NHL great Chris Chelios will get to watch his son Jake skate on the St. Louis blue line.

Former Owen Sound standout Jordan Binnington (2011, 88th overall) and Niklas Lundstrom (2011, 132nd overall) will man the crease for the Blues before being dispatched to the AHL affiliate in Chicago.

Full roster
9/08/2014 | 4 comments | Read More

A Dozen Questions Entering 2014-15

Written By Kris Baker on Saturday, September 6, 2014 | 9/06/2014

It's that time again.

Before we know it, the 2014-15 schedule will be in full gear. The buzz surrounding the future Sabres has hit its peak, and with that comes many compelling questions on the eve of what should be an exciting season of sticks and pucks. Here are 12 of them:

Will Sam Reinhart stay in the NHL all year?

Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images
From the moment he was selected with the second overall pick in June, Reinhart has been rightfully targeted for immediate NHL duty.

After all, the last eight drafts have seen Aleksander Barkov (2013), Gabriel Landeskog (2011), Tyler Seguin (2010), Viktor Hedman (2009), Drew Doughty (2008) and Jordan Staal (2006) make the jump from the No. 2 spot. As far as those who stayed back, Ryan Murray (2012) remained in the WHL due to the lockout while James Van Riemsdyk (2007) went off to college.

Answer: Tough one here. Reinhart is mentally mature, but he could obviously afford to get physically stronger. Little is gained by rushing "kids" into the league, but his skills and two-way smarts as a 19-year old (November birth date) are good enough to stick in the NHL. The added vet presence could only help the transition for a kid with future captain material. We need to see how camp and preseason go, but the nine-game NHL tryout is a foregone conclusion, and something tells me he'll be around longer.

Can Linus Ullmark repeat as the Honken Trophy winner?

Ullmark was one of European hockey's greatest revelations last season as a 20-year old, posting a 2.08 GAA and league-best .931 save% to earn the award as the SHL's top netminder. The performance helped get Ullmark an entry-level deal, but he'll remain with MODO for the final year of his European contract before coming to North America for 2015-16.

Answer: If his development camp performance was any indication, all signs point to Ullmark again being at the top of the class among SHL netminders. His numbers will be challenged by vets like Bernard Starkbaum (BIF), David Rautio (LHF), Oscar Alsenfelt (LIF), Fredrik Petterson-Wentzel (FBK) and former Sabre Mikael Tellqvist (DIF), but there is no reason why Ullmark can't maintain a 2.00 GAA and a .925 save% to defend his title as Sweden's top dog.

Will a Sabres prospect score 50 goals?

It has been 14 seasons since Jason Pominville snatched 57 goals in his final year of juniors with Shawinigan. Luke Adam came close with 49 for Cape Breton in 2009-10, but other than that no other Sabres prospect has seriously approached the milestone.

Answer: Even if Reinhart returns to Kootenay, it's hard to see him connecting for 50 given how he'd miss nearly a month at the World Juniors. The same holds true for Nick Baptiste, who hit the 45-goal mark in 2013-14 in 66 games (.682 goals/game). In realty, the number 50 is less important than it is seeing one of these players get to .75 goals/game like Nathan Gerbe did in 2007-08 (.814).

Will Gustav Possler return to form? 

A season ago, Possler stormed out of the gates for MODO with eight goals in his first 11 games, including a run of seven straight outings with a marker. Scoring line duty was cemented as MODO's co-leading scorer, but then a November knee injury lingered into December, ultimately resulting in surgery and effectively ending an impressive rookie campaign.

Answer: The rehabilitation process extended into summer, but all signs point to a complete recovery. Possler has skated with no issues thus far in preseason action on MODO's top line. He hasn't scored in the exhibition schedule, but it's expected that he'll restore his game to a high level by December. Netting 20 goals is possible (he'd be MODO's first since 2011-12) pending a clean run through the 55-game schedule, but coming up just shy (say 17) seems a little more reasonable.

Who will be the starting goalie in Rochester?

Last season was a wild ride in the Amerks crease. Matt Hackett was penciled in for the lion's share of starts, only to surrender the top gig to Nathan Lieuwen in January. When both shuttled up to Buffalo in the dizzying post-Miller frenzy, Andrey Makarov rose from the ECHL to guide the Amerks into the playoffs with seven-straight wins.

Answer: What a great situation for Amerks fans. With Hackett out until mid-year, Makarov could get an early competitive edge with a solid Traverse City showing, but let's be clear - this is Lieuwen's job to lose. Chadd Cassidy will need both goalies to be sharp to be successful, and it's possible that both will get their fair share of starts with Lieuwen, at the very least, garnering the better end of a 60/40 split.

Who will score more goals - Hudson Fasching or JT Compher?

The B1G counterparts are coming off impressive freshman seasons. Compher scored 11 times in 35 games (.31 goals per game) for Michigan to help earn the honor of Big Ten Freshman of the Year. A few states to the west, Fasching piled up 14 goals in 40 tilts (.35) to capture Minnesota's Freshman of the Year award.

Answer: This will be a fun little competition to monitor this season. Compher is a little more creative and will generally possess the puck more. Fasching works equally hard for his chances with a propensity to hit the net front for tips and second chance put-backs. We're taking Compher in this race, thinking that both that will reach the 18-goal barrier while hoping that one or both can cash 20.

Can Joel Armia pick up where he left off?

After an up-and-down regular season, Armia caught fire in his first North American playoff series. The light seemingly went on with the games having more meaning, as Armia played big en route to more than doubling his per-game output with six points (3+3) in the Amerks' five-game loss to Chicago. At one point, he even dropped the gloves. The performance gave Sabres management confidence moving forward, so expectations will be high in 2014-15 as Armia looks to prove that he's an NHL level player.

Answer: Thinking that Armia can produce a point per game could be a stretch, but upping his shots on goal should lead to more lamps being lit. He scored just seven times in 54 regular season games a year ago, but I'm setting a benchmark of 10 goals at the 20-game mark to really judge his progress. A hot start could have him well-positioned for a late fall recall.

Will Justin Bailey earn an entry-level contract?

News flash: the Sabres currently enjoy a luxurious prospect stable jammed with quality forward talent. Bailey is right in the middle of it all with his combination of size and scoring skill, but it's clear that the WNY native will need to stand out from the competition with a big year in Kitchener to maintain his position in the pipeline.

Answer: You always want to impress your new bosses. Bailey put in the summer work, and it's easy to think that a bigger, stronger forward should be able to reach new heights, especially coming off a 2013-14 season that saw him capture Kitchener's MVP award. The USA camp snub is behind him. This year is all about scoring 35 goals and targeting AHL duty a year from now. He can do it.

Will Nikita Zadorov be a full-time NHLer?

We all know the drill by now. In order for a player to be AHL eligible, he must turn 20 years old on or before Dec. 31 of the season being played. Zadorov doesn't turn 20 until next April, so he either needs to make the Sabres NHL roster or be dispatched back to London of the OHL. Playing in Rochester is not an option until the completion of his junior season. So...

Answer: If you ask London coach Dale Hunter, he'll tell you that the Sabres have Zadorov pegged for an NHL roster spot.

Not so fast!

If he earns it, great. The additions of Josh Gorges, Andrej Meszaros and Andre Benoit, though, suggest that Tim Murray is leery of having too much youth on the back end, especially if Rasmus Ristolainen stays in the NHL (as I believe he should/will). Jake McCabe, Mark Pysyk and Chad Ruhwedel (20, 22 and 24 respectively) are also knocking at the door. Slow cooking a defensive prospect is never a bad thing, so it's fair to think Zadorov waits his turn for one more year regardless of his projected dominance at the junior level.

What do you want to see from Mikhail Grigorenko this year?

It's time to get the Sabres and the talented Russian on the same page. He was in the NHL at 18, then sent back to junior. He was again in the NHL at 19, but again was sent back to junior. He didn't want to play in the QMJHL, tried to get a deal to play in Finland, and eventually took his medicine and reported to his junior club before finishing his year with Rochester. So now what?

Answer: Right or wrong, both sides have been understandably frustrated with the other. The slate is now clean, though, and it's time to rightfully earn big league time. If Grigorenko can pay his AHL dues by carrying his bags, producing points and being an all-around good solider like he hinted at in his summer interviews, well, everything should take care of itself. His season-ending stint in Rochester showed a committed defensive player who couldn't quite capitalize on his chances. This year, a hungry playmaker with his head screwed on straight should come out and own it every shift. Mathematically, how about 60 points with ~70 percent of his take coming at even strength?

How many Sabres prospects will play in the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship?

An NHL club having a few of its draft picks playing in the annual U20 tournament is usually par for the course. The Sabres have been no different in recent years, sending three (2014), four (2013), two (2012), two (2011) and one (2010) to the last five events.

Answer:
"The Sabres could have NINE guys at the WJC"

If the stars align, the 2015 WJC could resemble Sabres Development Camp 2.0 with as many as NINE future Sabres battling for medals. At the very least, expect a minimum of six.

Compher, Fasching, Baptiste, Jonas Johansson, Vaclav Karabacek and Victor Olofsson are essentially locks to represent their countries. Aforementioned NHL bubble players Reinhart and Zadorov are mild possibilities to get the best of both pro and World Junior worlds, while Anthony Florentino should get off to a good start in Providence and crack the USA roster as the seventh defender (even if USA decides to bring in 2015 draft stud Noah Hanifin, who was not on the NJEC roster).

Is there a "surprise" breakout player on the way that we're not thinking of?

Every year, there is a player that exceeds expectations and shoots up the prospect rankings. Baptiste, Fasching, Possler and Ullmark come to mind as recent examples of spiked trajectories. With a loaded stable on tap, some new candidates are set to emerge.

Answer: While I expect 2014 classmates Karabacek and Eric Cornel to elevate their play as "standouts", the dark horse in the bunch is Max Willman. We rarely talk about perennial underdog Brown University, an Ivy League school that hasn't had a winning record in ECAC play since 2003-04. Willman will be one of two NHL draft picks on the Bears roster, and like Harvard's Sean Malone a season ago, has the offensive goods to approach the 20-point line to get his name on the All-Ivy awards list at the close of his freshman season.
9/06/2014 | 5 comments | Read More

Roster set for All-American Prospects Game

Written By Kris Baker on Wednesday, August 27, 2014 | 8/27/2014

The 42-man roster for the 2014 CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game was announced Wednesday, headlined by potential top-five 2015 draft picks Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin. The third annual event will be played Sept. 25 at First Niagara Center in Buffalo.

Set to attend Boston University in the fall as a true freshman, Eichel is worth the price of admission alone. The all-around super-talent recently rang up a goal and seven assists in two international contests at the National Junior Evaluation Camp, and is expected to be selected among the top two when the 2015 draft takes place next June in Florida.

Hanifin, who was surprisingly left off the NJEC roster, recently accelerated his studies to attend Boston College this year as a 17-year old freshman. The rangy, all-situations defender will likely duke it out with Swedish sensation Oliver Kylington to be the first defenseman picked in the 2015 draft.

Other potential first-rounders include National Team Development Program products Jordan Greenway, Zach Werenski and Colin White, Kyle Connor (Youngstown – USHL) and Paul Bittner (Portland – WHL). Like Eichel, Greenway will attend Boston University in 2015. Like Hanifin, White is set to attend Boston College after one more season with NTDP. Werenski will play at the University of Michigan this season as a 17-year old freshman, while Connor is set to join him in Ann Arbor in 2015.

Defenseman Brandon Carlo (Tri City – WHL), who recently survived the initial wave of cuts at the NJEC, will participate. Other notables include Thomas Novak (Waterloo – USHL), a Michigan commit who recently paced the Americans with five goals and 11 points in five games at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup, and defenseman Caleb Jones, the brother of current Nashville Predators defenseman, Seth.

Youngstown native Joseph Cecconi of the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks is the only Western New York product selected to play. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound defender has committed to play at the University of Michigan. 

With sons of former Sabres being among draft hopefuls in recent years, it should be noted the 2014 AAPG will see Chase Pearson participate. Pearson’s father Scott played 41 games with the Sabres in the mid-1990’s.

The Sabres have used the game as a scouting ground in the past, with J.T. Compher, Hudson Fasching, Cal Petersen and Sean Malone all having played at the 2012 event held in Buffalo. Justin Bailey was also tabbed for action but missed the game due to an upper body injury.


8/27/2014 | 0 comments | Read More

Summer Notes: Traverse, 2015 draft and other stuff

Written By Kris Baker on Tuesday, August 19, 2014 | 8/19/2014

Some news and notes as I squeeze out every ounce of summer (OK, and study for my upcoming FFB drafts) before beginning another fun year of sticks and pucks....

We'll be wheels up for Traverse City on Thursday, Sept. 11. The following day, the Sabres will begin

divisional play at the NHL Prospects Tournament against Carolina. The official roster release is likely a couple of weeks away, but we can still speculate on what it might look like.

Roster rules have always been a bit ambiguous, but teams have generally been able to play each game using four players with at least one year of professional experience. College and Junior A players do not participate in training camp (and thus will not be available), while the Sabres' Swedish quartet of Linus Ullmark, Jonas Johansson, Gustav Possler and Victor Olofsson will be in season with their SHL clubs.

Rasmus Ristolainen will enter the second year of his pro career, but was on the Sabres' NHL roster for too many games last season. This is the same reason that Mikhail Grigorenko was deemed ineligible for the 2013 tourney.

F

Lemieux - Reinhart - Baptiste
Carrier - Catenacci# - Armia#
Karabacek - Cornell - Bailey
Samuels-Thomas - Kea - (invite - see below)

D

Zadorov - Austin
Martin - McCabe#
Prophet^ (?) - (invite - see below)
(note: these are all LHD)

G
Makarov#
Brassard*

* training camp invitee
# "veteran" spot
^ D-Camp invitee -- not confirmed for Traverse City

*Note: there are up to four other rumored camp invitees likely to be suiting up for the Sabres - Michael Joly (RW - Rimouski), Jayden Hart (F - Prince Albert), Colton Bobyk (D - Spokane)Jared Walsh (D - Mississauga). They will be slotted once confirmed.

Armia, Catenacci, McCabe and Makarov make for a solid "vet" grouping. A few more invites are needed, but that's my best guess at the framework.

***

The New York Rangers released their 23-man Traverse City roster last week, headlined by former QMJHL goal-scoring machine Anthony Duclair. After a good showing at their summer development camp, former Sabres prospect Logan Nelson will skate for the Rangers. Nelson logged a goal and an assist in four games with the Sabres at the 2013 event.

We'll have more thoughts soon on how the other rosters shape up...

***

Believe it or not, training camps have already opened in the SHL and QMJHL with a few Sabres prospects taking the ice.

Vaclav Karabacek missed development camp and the Czech's recent trip to the American and Canadian summer evaluation camps with an ankle injury, but seems healed and good to go moving forward. The left wing prospect, chosen by the Sabres in the second round of June's draft, has been skating in Gatineau in preparation for what should be a big season with the Olympiques.

Reingning SHL Goalie of the Year Linus Ullmark (MODO) kicked off his preseason Thursday with a 31-save victory over Skelleftea. Victor Olofsson was also in action while fellow MODO sniper Gustav Possler is skating with the team but did not play.

***

If you weren't following along on Twitter or at Sabres.com, it should be noted that a gaggle of Sabres prospects posted excellent performances recently at the Canadian and American World Junior camps.

JT Compher emerged as a leading candidate to captain Team USA with his blend of work ethic and skill. He was a difference maker all week before his camp was cut short with a hand injury. Compher was noticeable at both ends of the ice, very effective on the penalty kill and made countless "heads up" plays when he had the puck, especially from behind the net. Consider him a lock for the team.

A returnee from USA's 2014 edition, Hudson Fasching didn't score in the international portion of the NJEC but played a steady and heavy two-way style that is sure to get him back on this winter's roster. Fashing's versatile skill set offers the USA staff a hard-working element, be it on the second line or the fourth.

The surprise of the week was defenseman Anthony Florentino, who survived the initial round of cuts to keep his name in play as a potential bottom-pair defender. Florentino was physical and active in following the play deep, limiting his mistakes while displaying a sharp and decisive passing game. Even if he doesn't crack the final roster in December, the experience should boost Florentino to greater heights as a Providence College sophomore.

Sean Malone and Connor Hurley each did their thing in split scrimmages but did not make it past the wave of cuts.

For Sweden, Jonas Johansson was excellent in his first outing but was overpowered in his second start by the condensed USA roster en route to allowing six goals on 22 shots. Victor Olofsson scored one goal all week, but showed his ability to make smart plays with the puck. It is expected that both players will be on Sweden's final roster in December, with Johansson lined up as the starting netminder and Olofsson being a checking line forward.

In Quebec, both Sam Reinhart and Nick Baptiste put forth strong efforts as the team-building process began for Team Canada. Both Sabres prospects were effective at both ends of the rink while getting quality minutes on both sides of the special teams coin. Reinhart was especially consistent with his offense, while Baptiste's rapid acceleration and knack for getting to the goal mouth earned high praise for the Canadian brass.

If Reinhart isn't in the NHL, he's a no-brainer for World Junior duty. Based on his body of work over the last calendar year, Baptiste looks like a safe bet as well.

***

Connor McDavid (CAN) and Jack Eichel (USA). You may have heard of them when it comes to chatting up the 2015 NHL draft. Expected to go 1-2 next June, the duo recently showed well at World Junior development camps, especially Eichel with his impressive eight points in two games versus Sweden and Finland. It'll be a fun debate all year long on both sides of the border.

In reality, though, there are plenty of other names that folks will be dropping over the next 10 months. A few of them recently earned a gold medal as Canada captured the title at the 2014 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup - a tournament which marks the unofficial start of the scouting season.

After leading all OHL rookies with 26 goals and 70 points a season ago, Ottawa's Travis Konecny is poised to follow in the footsteps of former 67's star Sean Monahan as a top-10 NHL draft pick. Averaged sized with above-average speed, Konecny has the requisite offensive tools to approach the 100-point mark in his draft season. Fantastic finishing skill and an energetic work ethic helped the London, Ont. product to five goals and one assist in five games at the Hlinka.



London Knights forward Mitchell Marner eased his way through the lineup in his rookie OHL season, eventually working his way into a key role by the time the playoffs rolled around. He can dance with the puck in tight, and is more than capable of putting it in the back of the net. Marner, Canada's co-leader in points at the Hlinka (5gp 2-5-7), will again play a major role in the Knights' quest for four consecutive Memorial Cup appearances.



A bit of a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins clone, Mathew Barzal has been hyped as a natural playmaking talent since his early teens. Now in his draft year, look for Barzal to be among the CHL's leading assist men while playing a poised two-way style. He generates offense every time he's on the ice, as evidenced by his 54 points as a WHL rookie, and seven points (2+5) in five Hlinka contests to tie Marner for the team lead.



Canada's leading goal man at the Hlinka with six in the tourney's five tilts, Lawson Crouse of the Kingston Frontenacs continued to prove himself as a future NHL power forward. He's physical with good speed and hands, and he isn't afraid to drop the mitts (he logged five scraps last season including the playoffs). Expected to be a top-15 pick in 2015, it's clear that teams looking for the pro package of size and skill will be keeping close tabs on the former Elgin-Middlesex Chief in 2014-15.



Rounding out Canada's top-five scorers at the Hlinka was Dylan Strome, a 6-foot-2 centerman from the OHL's Erie Otters. The brother of New York Islanders forward Ryan, Strome's game is marked by excellent speed, great hands and supreme vision. He matched Konecny with five goals and an assist in the five-game Hlinka run, and it's fair to think that the hits will keep coming when he and McDavid lead the Otters' attack in 2014-15.

***

From the "not at the Hlinka but a stud 2015 draft prospect regardless" category is Daniel Sprong, a speedy goal scorer from the QMJHL's Charlottetown Islanders. Sprong potted 30 goals last season as a 16-year old in the Q, and could be aiming for the 50 plateau in due time. We'll be getting into all of these guys as the year plays out, so for now, check out this 2013-14 sampler that showcases the Dutch-born forward's tantalizing ability.



***

Finland's roster for the NJEC wasn't as loaded as years past, but one player that stood out all week was 2015 draft eligible Aleksi Saarela. Currently projected to go somewhere in the middle of the first round, Saarela doesn't have the bone-rattling frame, nor did he score in games versus Sweden and the USA, but showed excellent quickness and smarts while generating several prime opportunities throughout the week. Saarela, 17, will play this season in Liiga for Joel Armia's former club, Assat Pori.

***

And to think that, aside from mentioning Eichel, we've yet to touch on the American crop yet. It's too early to say if it can rival the 2010 class, which saw 11 American-born players taken in the first round, but it's a solid group regardless.

Noah Hanifin (Boston College), Colin White (USA U18) and Kyle Connor (Youngstown) could join Eichel as high picks. Paul Bittner (Portland), Jordan Greenway (USA U18), Brandon Carlo (Tri City), Zack Werenski (Michigan) and Thomas Novak (Waterloo) are some others that could go in the first round. Novak recently led the Americans to a third-place finish at the Hlinka with five goals and 11 points in the tourney's five games.

All are expected to participate at the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game Sept. 25 at First Niagara Center.

And while discussing American prospects, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention 16-year old Auston Mathews, who looks set to crack the USA roster for this winter's IIHF World Junior Championship.

The 6-foot-1, 202 pound Arizona native tore it up at the U18s in April (5+2) and continued to set the tone at the NJEC with four assists in three games. He's not eligible for the draft until 2016, but his rifle from between the circles and size around the edge already has scouts talking about his high NHL ceiling.
8/19/2014 | 1 comments | Read More