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.
BUFFALO – The fourth annual All-American Prospects Game took place Thursday night, pitting the top 2016 NHL draft hopefuls from the USA against each other in a very entertaining showcase game. Consensus No. 1 prospect Auston Matthews was not there (he’s kinda busy in Switzerland right now), but since this will be a great draft for Americans, a lot of talent was on hand.
And though these all-star games can be fluky, the elite kids rose to the occasion. Jeremy Roenick, who coached one squad, saw Matthew Tkachuk and Luke Kunin catch fire, while Derek Plante, the other bench boss, had Max Jones and William Knierim to rely on.
It was a tough game for goalies (these contests usually are) and OHL London’s Tyler Parsons actually left five minutes in with a collarbone injury after catching a puck high – he had forgotten his neck protector, acccording to Roenick. Team Plante won the game 6-4. Here’s a look at the big names and the kids who stood out for me.
The United States League begins action on Friday and it will be an interesting year for the junior circuit. While the top NHL draft prospects will mostly come from USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (which plays a modified USHL schedule), there are a lot of NHL draft picks that will play for the other teams in the league as they hone their games for the NCAA. This will be a key development year for many of those raw kids taken in the middle of the draft.
Below you will find projected rankings for the teams, based off surveys I conducted scouts and writers who follow the USHL. You will also find a player or two to follow on each squad, with their NCAA commitment and NHL rights status included. Let’s get to it.
The Western League celebrates its 50th season this year, with Moose Jaw and Regina kicking off the festivities Thursday night. Full action gets going the next day and it will be interesting to see how things shake out in the ‘Dub.’ For starters, the Brandon Wheat Kings are the best team by consensus, even with New York Islanders pick Ryan Pilon stepping away from hockey just months after he was drafted.
Nevertheless, based on the experts out West that I surveyed, this is Brandon’s year. Below you’ll find my league rankings, plus a couple NHL prospects to watch from each franchise.
The London Knights have been a powerhouse for years now and while GM Mark Hunter is now part of the Toronto Maple Leafs brass, there’s no reason to believe the OHL franchise will take a step back. In fact, thanks to a demonic recruiting summer and the return of some of the league’s top offensive lights, London is poised to dominate after an uncharacteristically short playoff run last year.
Who will be chasing the Knights? Below you’ll find my rankings, based off surveys of OHL experts. You will also find players to watch for each franchise. Two teams have moved since last season: Belleville is now Hamilton, while Plymouth is now Flint. Let’s take a gander, shall we?
For hardcore followers of THN, you may notice that several of us are in the tank for the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals when it comes to jerseys. The most recent two have been outstanding and the Nashville Predators affiliate now has a fun add-on: for the team’s games on Nov. 27 and 28, the Admirals will be wearing special Star Wars-themed sweaters. Check out the goodness:
Defenseman Jakob Chychrun brings size, speed, toughness and a cracking shot to the ice and really; you can’t ask for much more in a prospect. That’s why the Sarnia Sting sophomore will be the top 2016 draft hopeful to watch in North America this season and by far the most coveted defenseman.
Team USA has named former NHL coach John Tortorella as bench boss for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey in Toronto and if history is any indicator, we know he has a strategy for shutting down the Sedin Twins (rimshot).
But seriously, ‘Torts’ will be in charge of a very potent lineup and now the question is whether he’s the right man for the job.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are in a really nice spot right now. Last season, they went through an injury crisis of biblical proportions, but this year brings a clean page. An already solid forwards corps got even more difficult to play against with the acquisition of erstwhile Chicago Blackhawks left winger Brandon Saad, while more talent is pushing up from below.
Under GM Jarmo Kekalainen, the Jackets have done a great job of drafting and a big cohort appears to be ready for prime time. But is there space on a squad that could do some serious damage in the playoffs this season?