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.

Niskanen’s brutal elbow on Skinner is grounds for suspension

Ryan Kennedy
Jeff Skinner (Gerry Thomas/NHL via Getty Images)

As if the pre-season hadn’t been horrid enough for the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Raleigh squad already lost Jordan Staal to a long-term injury when he broke his leg in an exhibition game and now there’s concern over 2011 Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner, who was walloped by Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen in the opening minutes of the Canes’ final tune-up. Here’s the play in question:

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Power ranking: The top 25 teams in college hockey

Ryan Kennedy
Can Minnesota win it all? (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

On Friday, I revealed my top 50 players to watch for in the NCAA this season. To complete the puzzle, I have now ranked the top 25 teams. More than any other circuit, college hockey has a strange duality. You have schools with rosters filled with NHL prospects, usually in their late teens or early 20s, and then there are other squads made up of 23 players who are 23 years old and have come together for one amazing season.

Some of the following teams had multiple entries on my top 50 players list, while others had none at all (and frankly didn’t come close). But they all have a shot at the national championship, so let’s give them their due.

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The 50 NCAA players you need to know this season

Ryan Kennedy
Vancouver pick Thatcher Demko (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)

It’s gonna be a great year for college hockey. Not only will the usual array of prospects be on display as they build up their games at school, but there is a special bonus: The Fab Five Frosh.

A mixture of late birthdays, incredible skill and tantalizing opportunities have coalesced to produce a class of first-time draft eligible players rarely ever seen before. Who are these incredible teens? Check out the list below.

Along with the Fab Five, you will also find the most intriguing players for this year. My choices are largely based on NHL upside, so you won’t find a ton of upperclassmen, nor free agents. It was tough getting the roster down to 50, but here we go:

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Can Alexander Wennberg come to the rescue for Columbus?

Ryan Kennedy
Alexander Wennberg (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

It has been a trying month for Blue Jackets fans. First and foremost, there is the ongoing contract dispute with emerging star center Ryan Johansen. Then Nathan Horton was discovered to have a degenerative back condition and Boone Jenner broke his hand. So there goes the team’s entire top line. Oh, and defenseman Ryan Murray isn’t taking contact yet as he recovers from knee surgery.

So how about some good news, eh Columbus?

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Edmonton loses a prospect while Dallas beats the system

Dallas pick Julius Honka (LUDVIG THUNMAN/AFP/Getty Images)

On Tuesday, the Dallas Stars assigned offensive defenseman Julius Honka to the American League’s Texas Stars. As an 18-year-old experiencing his first NHL training camp, it was no surprise that the Finnish blueliner wouldn’t make the cut. What surprised many observers was that Dallas was allowed to assign Honka to the AHL in the first place.

After all, Honka played in the Western League for Swift Current last season and conventional wisdom held that players drafted out of the CHL who still had major junior eligibility (such as Honka) had to be returned to junior; they couldn’t go to the AHL.

This is the rule that has vexed sometimes-Buffalo Sabre Mikhail Grigorenko for a couple years now, since he was drafted out of the Quebec League. But the Stars were confronted with a glitch in the system.

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Electrifying Jeremy Bracco leads off Ryan Kennedy’s Hot List

Team USA's Jeremy Bracco (Photo courtesy of Tom Sorensen/USHL)

Welcome back to another season of The Hot List, my weekly update of who is making noise in the world of prospects. Players are eligible for the list as long as they haven’t stepped on the ice for a regular season NHL game; otherwise, they come from all different leagues and development points. Some will be on hot streaks, others will be new names you’ll want to bank in your memory. All will be potential NHLers one day. Hockey’s back, so let’s take a look at this week’s roundup.

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Carolina Hurricanes prospect scores near-impossible goal

Ryan Kennedy
Canes GM Ron Francis and Josh Wesley (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

If Erie Otters goaltender Devin Williams is looking for someone to blame after he was victimized by Josh Wesley, perhaps he should write a terse letter to Colin Muldoon.

See, defensemen don’t usually have moves like the ones Wesley pulled off against Erie, but there’s an explanation for that.

Muldoon was Wesley’s coach with the under-14 Carolina Jr. Hurricanes and the reason the son of retired Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Glen Wesley went from playing forward to back on the blueline. Soon after, Wesley joined the Ontario League’s Plymouth Whalers as a rearguard, but as you can see here, his offensive instincts are still pretty honed:

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Is it fair to compare the Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl to the Kings’ Anze Kopitar?

Ryan Kennedy
Leon Draisaitl (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Player comparisons are fraught with peril, especially when teenagers who have yet to see their first NHL shifts are part of the equation. On top of the age gap, there’s also a hype factor because it’s much more fun to say a smaller skilled player is the next Patrick Kane versus the next Steve Sullivan or David Desharnais, no matter which is most accurate. But when scouts saw Leon Draisaitl play for the Western League’s Prince Albert Raiders this past season, names such as Joe Thornton and Anze Kopitar came up. Keep the latter in mind, because there’s more than just one similarity between the stupendous Los Angeles Kings pivot and the growing Raiders teenager.

When the Edmonton Oilers tabbed Draisaitl with the third selection overall at the draft, they made him the highest German pick ever. Not that it was a long list, but Germany has produced a decent amount of NHLers, from Marcel Goc (the former record holder, who went 20th in 2001) to Christian Ehrhoff and Jochen Hecht. But none of those players lacerated the landschaft the way Draisaitl did. As a 15-year-old in Germany, he put up a staggering 97 goals and 192 points in (wait for it) just 29 games. He kept the same six-points-per-game pace up in the playoffs. And keep in mind, that’s not as fun as it sounds when you’re serious about your sport.

“It was never easy,” Draisaitl says. “It’s not easy to get ready for those kinds of games when you know you’re going to score a lot of goals. It’s not easy to concentrate when you know it will be a high-scoring game. I just wanted to get better every game and work hard.”
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