The playoffs are almost upon us in major junior, while the NCAA conference tournaments are in full swing. Since some teams have already been eliminated, early signing season has begun too, with Brandon Montour leaving UMass for Anaheim and Ben Hutton ending his career in Maine to ink a deal with Vancouver. More are sure to come, but until then, here’s a look around the world of prospects.
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.
As soon as the Ontario League’s Plymouth Whalers announced that the team would be moving to Flint, Mich., over the summer, social media buzzed with the idea that the franchise would take on the name Flint Tropics from the Will Ferrell basketball comedy “Semi-Pro.”
Willie Mitchell laughs when he’s out in public with Aaron Ekblad and strangers ask if they’re brothers. Technically, the soon-to-be 38-year-old veteran could be the rookie’s father – but actually he’s just his teammate and landlord.
And if the Florida Panthers are going to make the playoffs, both rearguards will play a big role in the team’s success.
As much as we all like sports and the arenas they are played in, it has been pretty well established over the years that taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for creating such buildings, at least at the professional level. if Los Angeles doesn’t get an NFL team because a new stadium isn’t built, the good citizens of that metropolis can simply go see baseball, basketball, hockey, college football or go to museums, art galleries, movie premieres, and so on.
But what about small towns like Belleville?
Because we don’t have relegation in North America, the concept can be a little tough to understand. For example, imagine if the Buffalo Sabres had to play in the AHL next year. It wouldn’t work, because the Sabres own the Rochester Americans and they could just flip the rosters.
But for the sake of argument, imagine if a team from the ECHL – say, the Wheeling Nailers or Quad City Mallards – managed to work their way up to not only the AHL, but the NHL in the span of four seasons. That’s exactly what has happened in Sweden with Karlskrona HK, aka the Black Bugs.
I have learned not to doubt the Los Angeles Kings.
A few years back, I was at an Oshawa Generals game and a fan asked me if Andy Andreoff had any shot at getting drafted. Considering that Andreoff had already been passed over twice, I told him that anything was possible, but privately, Andreoff hadn’t really been on my radar.
Sure enough, the Kings picked up the gritty left winger in the third round that summer (the 2011 draft) and Andreoff has already played 13 games for the squad this season.
This past summer, I was standing with another reporter at the draft in Philadelphia, marvelling at the bizarre order in which the Kings were picking – taking certain kids way earlier than expected, leaving higher-rated kids to the end. But I’m not going to second-guess GM Dean Lombardi and his crew, which is headed by Mike Futa, VP of hockey operations and director of player personnel, and director of amateur scouting Mark Yanetti because they clearly know what they’re doing.
It was the trap game of all trap games. Toronto on a Monday night, with the blood rival Rangers waiting to play them at Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday. And for most of the tilt against the Maple Leafs, the Islanders looked like a team that assumed two points would be handed to them by the lowly opposition.
That of course did not happen and it took a deft Casey Cizikas deflection and a highlight-reel goal from captain John Tavares in overtime to shift the universe back into proper alignment. But the Islanders can pull the positives out of the great escape.
“We came back from a two-goal (deficit),” said trade deadline acquisition Tyler Kennedy. “It shows that guys have a lot of confidence in each other and it’s great to see.”
Defenseman Johnny Boychuk insists his boys didn’t look past the Leafs, but it did take some time to wrap their heads around what they were dealing with.
“We knew we weren’t playing our best,” he said. “But when we did in the third, good things happened and we kept rolling with it.”
Boychuk and Kennedy are going to be key players for New York down the stretch. Not just because of what they can do on the ice, but for the experiences they bring from the teams they played for in the past.
It’s getting down to crunch time in the prospect world, as the most wonderful time of year is upon us. College hockey has already entered the conference playoff stage while major junior is down to jockeying for berths in the post-season. The high schoolers in Minnesota are already finished and the story of the winners is pretty compelling. Meet the captain of that squad, plus nine other NHL prospects making noise in our weekly round-up.