Ryan Kennedy

Ryan Kennedy is the associate senior writer and draft/prospect expert at The Hockey News. He has been with the publication since 2005 and in that span, Don Cherry, Lil Jon and The Rock have all called his house. He lives in Toronto with his wife and kids where he listens to loud music and collects NCAA pennants.

NHL Prospect Hot List: Sanheim stands tall for Canada

Ryan Kennedy
Travis-Sanheim

With his NHL debut in Calgary, Johnny Gaudreau officially exhausted his eligibility on The Hot List. But it was a great run for the speedy ball of talent, starting as a member of the United States League’s Dubuque Fighting Saints. In fact, thanks to his three years at Boston College, Gaudreau is likely the most frequent name ever to appear on the list (John Gibson is a likely second). But back to the present: Here are some of the new players we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.

Travis Sanheim, D – Calgary Hitmen (WHL)

Currently over in Finland with Team Canada’s under-18 team, Sanheim has made a remarkable jump up the draft rankings this season. This was his first season with the Hitmen, as he spent last year in midget, building up his game and his strength.

“I could get more ice time and play every role,” Sanheim said. “I could go to the gym more, get stronger and prepare for this year to not only make the team, but make a difference on the team. And I think I did that, I jumped into a pretty key role.”

A ninth-rounder in the bantam draft, Sanheim ended this season with a very respectable 29 points and a plus-25 rating in 67 games. But he started off slow, with just three points through 21 games. Once he adjusted to life in the ‘Dub,’ things picked up. He also got more opportunities when captain Jaynen Rissling went down with an injury in December. Another defenseman who has helped Sanheim is fellow draft prospect Ben Thomas. The two formed a pairing in Calgary and also skated together as Canada took off for the under-18s.

“We actually play a very similar game,” Sanheim said. “We like to move the puck. Obviously we just have to watch when one guy jumps up, the other has to stay back. A couple times we got caught during the season, but luckily we didn’t get scored on.”

Sanheim is already 6-foot-3 and 189 pounds and has great mobility. Growing up along the Saskatchewan border on the Trans-Canada Highway, the kid comes from the definition of a small town in Elkhorn, Manitoba.

“It has a population of about 500,” he said. “Not very big. But you know everybody in the community, so it’s pretty cool.”

Come draft time this summer, the whole hockey world will learn about Sanheim – if they haven’t already. Draft eligible in 2014.

Jacob de la Rose, LW – Leksand (SHL)

The talented and gritty Swedish winger just signed his entry-level contract with Montreal, meaning speculation has run rampant that his next destination will be major junior. Right now de la Rose’s rights are held by Windsor and he would be a huge addition to the Ontario League team, especially since Josh Ho-Sang will start next season with a 15-game suspension. Drafted 34th overall by Montreal in 2013.

Cole Cassels, C – Oshawa Generals (OHL)

No doubt the Vancouver Canucks need some help from the next generation and luckily for them, Cassels is rounding into form. The son of former NHLer Andrew Cassels is a 200-foot player who has also been racking up the points for the Gens, with 13 through eight playoff games. Drafted 85th overall by Vancouver in 2013.

Connor Hurley, C – Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)

A mid-season addition via trade from Muskegon, Hurley has not only put up numbers for the Gamblers, but he has also been the perfect linemate and motivator for draft-eligible whiz kid Nick Schmaltz. Now in a tough first-round playoff series with Indiana, the Notre Dame commit scorched the Ice for four points in a Game 2 win. Drafted 38th overall by Buffalo in 2013.

Juho Lammikko, RW – Assat Pori (Fin.)

A big, powerful winger who can really move, Lammikko has a great battle level to him and the nearly 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame is undeniably intriguing. He put up 42 points in 37 games for the Assat junior team, while also seeing 20 games of duty up with the men in the Liiga. Draft eligible in 2014.

Nicolas Aube-Kubel, RW – Val-d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL)

Fast, talented and smart, Aube-Kubel isn’t the No. 1 threat on the Foreurs – that would be Anthony Mantha – but the youngster already has two game-winners in the playoffs. Overall, Aube-Kubel has six points in 10 games as Val-d’Or girds for a semifinal showdown with Halifax. Draft eligible in 2014.

Kyle Wood, D – North Bay Battalion (OHL)

Wood is an interesting player to keep on your radar. He mostly played Jr. A last season, then missed a good chunk of this campaign due to a knee injury. But he’s 6-foot-5, 229 pounds and brings a nice offensive dimension to his game along with good hockey sense. Wood’s seven points in 13 playoff games ties him for tops among North Bay D-men. Draft eligible in 2014.

Tristan Jarry, G – Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)

Jarry did give up four goals in one game to Brandon, but otherwise he’s been solid for the Oil Kings, who meet the winner of Kootenay and Medicine Hat in the conference final. The netminder has excellent natural ability and leads the WHL with a 1.78 goals-against average, plus a stifling .933 save percentage. Drafted 44th overall by Pittsburgh in 2013.

Simon Kindschi, D – Davos (Swi.)

Kindschi is the type of no-nonsense, reliable defenseman that doesn’t necessarily get a lot of press, but often plays an integral role in his team’s success. At 6-foot-3 and 216 pounds, he’ll be a lot to get around on the Swiss blueline at the under-18s. Draft eligible in 2014.

Anders Bjork, C – U.S. NTDP (USHL)

A finesse player with lots of offensive skill, Bjork was the driving force behind Team USA’s 9-1 exhibition hammerfest over Germany. The Notre Dame commit had two goals and two helpers and looks ready to carry over that success once the under-18s begin in earnest. Draft eligible in 2014.

 

Playoff preparation with Crosby, Malkin, Duchene and MacKinnon

Ryan Kennedy
MacKinnon-Crosby

Trainer Andy O’Brien has a murderers’ row of clients and every summer he puts them through their paces. Sidney Crosby, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon are all on his roster and he makes sure his guys are ready for the season.

But now it’s playoff time, where the grind of 82 games – plus an Olympics-induced compressed schedule – gives way to the even harder road to the Stanley Cup. I caught up with O’Brien last week at the Gatorade High Performance Hockey Summit in Toronto to get a sense of how some of the NHL’s best are positioned for the playoffs.

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

Crosby locked up the Art Ross Trophy with 104 points in 80 games, so he’s been healthy. But he also played in the Olympics for Canada, winning gold and therefore playing until the final game of the tourney. Here’s O’Brien’s take on The Kid:

“It’s a real difficult season because it was a condensed schedule. For the players who actually had to go over to Sochi, they put a lot of stress on their nervous system and immune system by just going over there, then playing until the final game and going back to that condensed schedule. He’s really been preparing by making smart decisions on how to recover and working with the staff in Pittsburgh to make sure his body is fresh and ready. That’s the key in the playoffs. He’s learning every year from different playoff scenarios and it’s really just about managing energy. He’s done a phenomenal job of that this year.”

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John Scott gets drilled by Isles rookie, then has a laugh

Ryan Kennedy
John-Scott-Buf

John Scott is one of the most intimidating figures in the NHL, but that didn’t stop Justin Johnson from having a memorable debut by tagging the Sabres enforcer.

Johnson, a 32-year-old rookie for the Islanders, gave up seven inches and 50 pounds to the gigantic Scott, but popped off the Buffalo brawler’s helmet like a wine cork with a devastating left.

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Teemu Selanne takes one final lap – and brings Jiggy with him

Ryan Kennedy
Selanne-Giguere

Warning! The following video will make your eyes a little misty. Teemu Selanne ended his regular-season career last night as the Ducks beat Colorado 3-2 in a shootout, but the real fireworks came after the final buzzer when the Finnish Flash was named as all three stars in the game.

Selanne passed out three sticks to fans in the crowd and soaked in a wondrous ovation before being congratulated on an incredible career by the officials and then the Avalanche players. But Selanne had one more great moment left for the night, grabbing former Anaheim goalie J-S Giguere – who also looks to be retiring from Colorado – and taking him for one more spin around the ice:

Giguere, of course, has his own history with the Ducks.

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Wild WHL game includes multiple suckerpunches and a KO

Nic-Petan

The Portland Winterhawks have dominated the Western League for years now and are back in the conference final thanks to a five-game series win over Victoria. But that last victory over the Royals was a brutal one, with several dirty plays marring the game.

To start, you have Florida Panthers pick Steven Hodges rabbit punching Pittsburgh Penguins blue-chipper Derrick Pouliot while Pouliot is fighting defenseman Joe Hicketts. Pouliot then KOs Hicketts, a small but feisty prospect for the 2014 draft.

But that wasn’t the end of it!

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Avs have been lucky, but they’re also good

Semyon-Varlamov-COL2

Colorado did the unthinkable last night – no, not beating Vancouver; that was very thinkable. What the Avs did do was pass the St. Louis Blues for first place in the Central Division. These are the same Avs whom we predicted would not even make the playoffs in our summer Yearbook and if you look at the advanced stats, shouldn’t be in the playoff picture right now.

On one level the Avs have been lucky – but you have to be good to be lucky and Colorado is good. Coach Patrick Roy – a Jack Adams candidate in his rookie year, to be sure – admitted as such last night. As noted by NHL.com reporter Kevin Woodley, Roy was well aware how poorly the Avalanche has fared in puck possession metrics. Colorado ranks 25th in the league when it comes to Corsi, the measure of all shots directed towards the opponent’s net (including blocked and missed attempts) versus those against. But as Roy pointed out, they’ve also got Semyon Varlamov, one of the best goaltenders in the NHL and that’s how they have managed to stay on top. Sure, the Avs have been playing with fire, but they’ve locked up a good post-season slot and didn’t get burned. And the playoffs are all about having a hot goaltender, so for now, no harm no foul.

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Czech teen Pavel Zacha hopes to follow Tomas Hertl

Ryan Kennedy
Pavel-Zacha

The Czech Republic has churned out quality, but far less quantity in recent years when it comes to prospects. Jakub Voracek, Radek Faksa and of course Tomas Hertl have kept the nation relevant, but when only a handful of native are taken in the NHL draft each season, it’s a problem. Good showings at international tournaments helps and that’s where Pavel Zacha comes in. Already 6-foot-3 and 201 pounds, the talented left winger just turned 17 this week, but he has already played on a team with Petr Nedved in his country’s top league, gotten his feet wet at the world juniors and learned more English than some Czech NHLers. Now he has his sites set on a good showing at the world under-18s in Finland next week.

“We have a very good team,” Zacha said. “We played good at the Ivan Hlinka tournament in the summer and I hope we can get a medal this time.”

Eligible for the loaded 2015 draft, Zacha is shaping up to be the first top-10 pick from the Czech Republic since Voracek went seventh to Columbus in 2007. “He’s a big, strong, powerful winger,” said one NHL scout. “Really good skater, too. He’s fast and he shoots the puck.”

While the race to get Zacha over to North American shores will be a feverish one when the CHL Import Draft determines major junior destinations for Euros in the summer, Zacha signed a three-year contract with Liberec this season, so his path will most likely mirror that of Hertl, who came over to San Jose this season as more or less a finished product from the Slavia Prague squad. “Everybody says it’s the best way in the Czech Republic,” he said. “I like Hertl because he did the same.”

Zacha spent the majority of his season with Liberec’s main club after dominating at the junior level and also spending time loaned out to a second-tier men’s club. He tallied eight points in 38 games for Liberec and saw action in three playoff games. It was quite the intro to the next level of hockey for the teen.

“It was hard in the beginning,” he said. “But I played with Petr Nedved and he told me good things about how to play and really supported me.”

And Nedved isn’t the first elder statesman to lend Zacha a hand. The youngster has trained in the summer before with former No. 1 overall pick Patrik Stefan in Los Angeles and will likely head to Montreal this summer for a camp arranged by agent Allan Walsh’s Octagon firm. The big houses and ocean vistas of L.A. were certainly awe-inspiring for the product of land-locked Brno in the Czech Republic, but those trips also helped him learn English – on top of movie trailers and Hollywood comedies. Growing up as a multi-sport athlete, Zacha also played tennis and soccer, but his size and skill made him a phenom on the ice. He’s been ahead of the development curve for years back home and even though he played sparingly at the world juniors in Sweden, it did open his eyes. “It was great for me, seeing players like Jonathan Drouin,” he said. “For me it was a very good tournament.”

Zacha wants to work on the mental side of his game and a great acid test will be the under-18s. In a pool with Denmark, Switzerland, Finland and Team USA, the Czechs should at least make the quarterfinal, especially with first-round 2014 draft prospects Jakub Vrana and David Pastrnak in the lineup.

If Zacha can build his resume from there, next season will be filled with opportunities and a chance to add his name to a prospect list that already features Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Noah Hanifin and Oliver Kylington. And that would be great for the visibility of both Zacha and his home country.

Anaheim’s awesome John Gibson problem

Ryan Kennedy
John-Gibson-Ana

With a 5-2 win over the rival San Jose Sharks last night, Anaheim tied a franchise record for home wins (28, with one game to play) and set team-bests for points in a season (112) and goals scored (257). The Ducks clinched the Pacific Division, giving them the luxury of not playing another California team in the first round of the playoffs: San Jose and Los Angeles now have to beat each other to a pulp for four-to-seven games before even thinking about an extended post-season run.

So the Ducks have that going for them. But there’s one little fly in the ointment and it comes in net. Simply put, rookie John Gibson has been outstanding in his first two NHL starts, while starter Jonas Hiller has been ice-cold lately. Gibson notched a shutout in his debut over Vancouver, then stopped 36 against San Jose, one of the most potent teams in the NHL. The Ducks have two games remaining in the regular season; a back-to-back weekender with Los Angeles on Saturday and Colorado Sunday afternoon. Most likely, Gibson and Hiller split those games.

And as small as the sample size is on Gibson, he has an incredible track record despite his age: MVP of the 2013 world juniors, where he led Team USA to gold; then a bronze medal at the world championships that same year, where he wrested the crease away from Ben Bishop. In both tourneys his save percentage was .951 or better.

But the Ducks can’t really go with Gibson over Hiller, can they? This is a team with serious Stanley Cup aspirations and even Patrick Roy had played a full season with Montreal before leading the Habs to glory in 1986. Hiller himself hasn’t exactly been a dog in the post-season either; last year’s first-round loss to Detroit was more about a lack of goal-scoring.

On the other hand, Anaheim’s first-round opponent (most likely Minnesota or Dallas) would have absolutely no book on Gibson and that can really throw a team off. The playoffs are often about riding a hot goaltender and Gibson has already proven himself to be a pressure performer at the age of 20.

Coach Bruce Boudreau admitted to reporters last night that he wasn’t sure what he was going to do at this point and it’s certainly not an easy situation. Keep Hiller on the bench with a ball cap on for too long and you risk losing your incumbent No. 1 netminder, an Olympian whose only crime was going cold at a time when a rookie got hot. How would Hiller respond to that lack of confidence shown in his ability to rebound? Then what happens if Gibson’s magic wears off after a few playoff games? The Ducks have a good enough team to get past the first round, but they’ll need a tip-top goalie to thwart either L.A. or San Jose in the second.

Some would say having too many good goaltenders is a great problem to have, but make no mistake; it’s still a problem.