It began as a possibility months ago, but now it is a reality. Switzerland’s ZSC Lions have announced that American center Auston Matthews will play for the Zurich-based squad in 2015-16, becoming the first high-end North American prospect ever to play in Europe during his NHL draft season.
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.
Thanks to summer world junior camps, prospects have been in the spotlight this week and for some, that meant reinforcing decisions on where they will play next season. Calgary’s Brandon Hickey says he’s going back to Boston University, Leafs pick Jeremy Bracco confirmed his commitment to Boston College and Zach Werenski is indeed headed back to Michigan. And speaking of Werenski, he’s part of our first mailbag question this week. As always, if you have a draft or prospect-related question, hit me up on Twitter at @THNRyanKennedy, using the hashtag #thnfutures with your question.
Let’s get to it.
Which of the first round 2015 defensemen has the biggest upside? And who is closest to being in the lineup?
– Tomas Djupsjobacka (@tdjupsjo)
In terms of upside, I’d go with either Carolina’s Noah Hanifin or Columbus’ Zach Werenski. Both have great size and skating ability, plus they can play in all situations. If you had asked me right after the draft who was closest to being in the lineup, I would have said Philadelphia’s Ivan Provorov, since he has the hockey IQ and physical edge to compete right away. But then Carolina signed Hanifin to his entry-level deal, ending his Boston College career after one stellar campaign. Perhaps he goes to the AHL this season, but given Carolina’s lack of depth on the back end, Hanifin may end up being the answer to both questions (Provorov also has more competition in Philly).
Very curious about your opinion on Sean Day’s development in Mississauga
– Alex Sloan (@Alex_Sloan)
Funny how that question became a flashpoint this week, what with Day missing the cut for Canada’s under-18 Ivan Hlinka squad. But I can also expand on the defenseman’s trajectory here. I think Day has been good so far in Mississauga, but this will be a huge year for him – and not just because he’s up for the draft. Conditioning was reportedly a factor in his national team cut, so that should be a priority. The Steelheads are also growing around him, so I need to see good offensive numbers, but also improvement in his own end. With his natural physical gifts, Day has great potential as an NHLer, if he can harness it and become a student of the game.
Which five NHL teams do you feel are in the best position when it comes to prospects and which five are in the worst position?
– Keenan Clarry (@KeenanClarry)
Here’s my best:
Edmonton – The high end of Connor McDavid and Darnell Nurse vaults the Oilers to the top since McDavid is such a sure thing. I’m also a big William Lagesson fan.
Buffalo – Jack Eichel is the Sabres’ McDavid equivalent, plus you have Sam Reinhart, Justin Bailey and some nice long-term catches in Will Borgen and Christopher Brown.
Winnipeg – The deepest pool. Nikolaj Ehlers, Josh Morrissey, Nic Petan, Connor Hellebuyck, Eric Comrie, Kyle Connor, Erik Foley…it’s almost unfair at this point.
Arizona – Another great assembly with Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Dylan Strome, Christian Dvorak, Max Letunov, Brendan Perlini and Nick Merkley,
Anaheim – Already a great team, the Ducks have reinforcements ready in Nick Ritchie, Nic Kerdiles, Shea Theodore and Kevin Roy, plus longer-term gems such as Julius Nattinen and Jacob Larsson.
And my worst, with the caveat that some of these teams are in a win-now window and have therefore sacrificed prospects:
San Jose – Timo Meier and Nikolay Goldobin are solid, but not much depth behind them.
Pittsburgh – Derrick Pouliot used to be surrounded; now he’s one of the last elite prospects in the pipeline.
New Jersey – Pavel Zacha will help, but there isn’t much more scoring coming otherwise.
Toronto – Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen and Scott Harrington have all really helped the Leafs’ outlook recently in this category, but they were thin before.
New York Rangers – Just don’t have the critical mass of prospects since they’re in their Stanley Cup window right now. Adam Tambellini and Pavel Buchnevich are good, though.
It’s been three years since he was drafted, but what can we expect from Scott Laughton?
– Vincent Mongrain (@vincentM10)
If the Flyers move out Vincent Lecavalier, Laughton is in a great position to make an impact on Philadelphia’s third line – which may not sound impressive for a first-rounder, but it’s a good role because Laughton can handle the responsibility. With Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier ahead of him, Laughton won’t be getting the big assignments in the early parts of his career anyway, but he can be a solid contributor and a two-way player.
I have no doubt that when the person or group that came up with the Shawinigan Cataractes’ new marketing campaign saw their finished product, they were proud. The images involve three players, including new captain and New York Islanders first-rounder Anthony Beauvillier, in eye-grabbing, passion-stirring dress. But there’s a pretty big issue with how those passions have been stirred:
The World Cup of Hockey is still a year away, but Team USA now has its management in place. Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi will serve as GM of the squad, with Philadelphia Flyers president Paul Holmgren as assistant GM, Calgary Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke as senior advisor and USA Hockey assistant executive director Jim Johansson as director of hockey operations.
In Lombardi, the Americans have a proven winner.
The way Red Deer finished the 2014-15 campaign – a five-game, first-round loss to Medicine Hat – you’d be forgiven for wondering how they would turn things around in time to be tough hosts of the Memorial Cup this year. But in a flash of activity, GM and coach Brent Sutter has begun to shake the foundations.
Sean Day is one of the more fascinating prospects available for the 2016 NHL draft. A Canadian who didn’t live in the country until he was drafted by the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads, Day was the first player to be granted “exceptional status” by Hockey Canada who did not go on to be drafted first overall in the OHL. Now, he has been cut by the Canadian national team’s under-18 squad, which will compete in the Ivan Hlinka summer tournament in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
And some hockey folks are raising some interesting points about the defenseman.
A Hot List in the middle of summer? Why not? There’s plenty of prospects on the ice right now, what with Canada hosting teams in Calgary and Team USA defending home ice in Lake Placid. From world junior prep to Ivan Hlinka tryouts for Canada’s under-18s, there are some important viewings going on right now for the international squads, so let’s take a look at some of the kids who are standing out so far. Players are listed with their presumed 2015-16 squads.
Matthew Tkachuk, LW – London Knights (OHL)
The exciting thing about Tkachuk is that his star will continue to rise as he continues to grow. Already 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, Tkachuk showed off his numerous skills in USA White’s 10-4 destruction of Sweden. In fact, Tkachuk had a hat trick in the game.
“I consider myself a power forward and I mix in some skill, too,” Tkachuk said. “My best attribute is my hockey IQ. I use that to get me where I want to be, get to pucks and get around the net, where I am most of the time.”
The son of former NHL great Keith Tkachuk, Matthew has a big hockey family. Jimmy and Kevin Hayes are cousins, while Casey Fitzgerald, his teammate last year with the U.S. National Team Development Program, is a second cousin. Playing for the NTDP seemed like the best career move.
“I just knew it was the best decision for me,” he said. “Seeing all the guys who have moved forward to the NHL – Patrick Kane, Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson, Ryan Kesler – all those good players went there.”
Tkachuk was almost headed to Notre Dame for this season, but signed on with the powerhouse Knights, instead. He’ll go from riding shotgun with top 2016 prospect Auston Matthews at the NTDP to playing with a bevy of huge talents in London such as Christian Dvorak and Mitch Marner. This will be a big development year and Tkachuk already has a role model picked out.
“I watch a lot of James van Riemsdyk,” he said. “I try to play exactly like he does. I’m a pretty big guy, I like to be around the net and I try to mix in some skill.”
Tkachuk wants to work on his quickness, but with such a fast mind, he’s already a handful for opponents. Draft eligible in 2016.
Mitch Marner, RW – London Knights (OHL)
The patience with the puck and the vision to find his man are two aspects of Marner’s game that are so fun to watch – unless you’re an opposing team. The Knights star displayed that in Canada’s 4-1 world junior camp win over Russia on Monday and there’s no reason to suspect the points machine will slow down anytime soon. Drafted fourth overall by Toronto in 2015.
Mikko Rantanen, RW – TPS Turku (Fin.)
Thanks to an out clause in his Finnish contract, Rantanen could come to North America this season and I think he has a shot at the NHL. USA Blue found that out the hard way in Lake Placid as the big, gifted winger thrashed the Yanks for three assists in a 10-3 stomping on Monday. Drafted 10th overall by Colorado in 2015.
Dante Fabbro, D – Penticton Vees (BCHL)
One of two Vees to watch this season alongside center Tyson Jost, Fabbro is a smart, skilled blueliner who doesn’t mind jumping in the rush. His rocket shot netted him a goal for Canada Red in his second under-18 camp game and he had an assist in the other. Fabbro is currently looking at NCAA options. Draft eligible in 2016.
Pierre-Luc Dubois, RW – Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL)
The talented winger would have been a great candidate for the list thanks to his overtime winner for Canada White’s second win over Canada Red at the under-18 camp, but there’s more to Dubois. The 6-foot-1, 180-pounder goes to the net, protects the puck and has great playmaking vision. Draft eligible in 2016.
Brock Boeser, RW – University of North Dakota (NCHC)
As I’ve been telling anyone who listens, scoring in the USHL is tough and Boeser was one of the best with Waterloo. Thanks to his hard shot, Sweden learned that the hard way in Lake Placid as the UND recruit threw up a hat trick in a 10-4 devastation of the Tre Kroner. Drafted 23rd overall by Vancouver in 2015.
Carter Hart, G – Everett Silvertips (WHL)
Though Hart doesn’t have ideal NHL size at six-feet tall, the netminder makes up for it with his athleticism and great post-to-post movement. A breakout underage star for the Tips last season, he’s been solid for Canada Red’s under-18 squad so far. Draft eligible in 2016.
Sonny Milano, LW – Flint Firebirds (OHL)
One of the most experienced players at Team USA’s camp, Milano makes his name by dazzling in the offensive zone. Those sick hands and quick feet helped him notch two goals in USA White’s 5-2 win over Finland. Drafted 16th overall by Columbus in 2014.
Julius Nattinen, C – JYP (Fin.)
A big, talented pivot who impressed scouts last season by adding some nice bite to his game, Nattinen had two goals in Finland’s 10-3 bombing of USA Blue. He’ll take on a bigger role with JYP’s top squad in 2015-16, where his puck control skills will be welcome. Drafted 59th overall by Anaheim in 2015.
Rasmus Asplund, C – Farjestad (SHL)
Asplund began to turn heads last season and has brought up comparisons to Henrik Zetterberg thanks to his all-around game. Though he is playing wing for Sweden in Lake Placid, Asplund is good on faceoffs and is dangerous on both special teams. He has two goals and three points through two games. Draft eligible in 2016.
1. Hawks win the Stanley Cup – June 15, 2015
Thanks to the (literally) tireless efforts of Conn Smythe winner Duncan Keith, the Chicago Blackhawks claimed their third Stanley Cup in six seasons, dusting off the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games.
Keith, who played an otherworldly average of 31 minutes per game in the post-season, scored the game-winning goal by following up his own rebound on Bolts goalie Ben Bishop. Patrick Kane, who always seems to come through in big contests, added the dagger on a beauty feed from Brad Richards.
In terms of sentiment, it was hard to beat captain Jonathan Toews passing the Cup off to Kimmo Timonen, whose career and life almost ended in the summer due to blood clots. Instead, the Finnish D-man ended his career a champion.