Coming soon to an NHL team near you: This man

Ken Campbell
Jeff Blashill

Jeff Blashill and Jon Cooper are really close friends and it will only be a matter of time before they’re both living out their dreams as NHL coaches. You know all about Cooper now that he’s working his magic with the Tampa Bay Lightning. And sooner or later, you’ll learn about Blashill, who was named the American League’s coach of the year for his work with the Grand Rapids Griffins.

It may not be this summer, but Blashill will be an NHL coach very soon. And who knows? With all the coaching opportunities that figure to be opening up this summer, perhaps someone will take a chance on a 40-something AHL coach of the year and Calder Cup winner, the way the Tampa Bay Lightning did with Cooper. It’s not without its precedent. Since 2009, Cooper, Guy Boucher and Scott Arniel went directly from being AHL coach of the year to the head man behind an NHL bench.

“Personally, I think he needs another year or two to get more of a base of experience,” said Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland, who hired Blashill as an assistant in Detroit before making him the Griffins head coach in 2012-13. “But I think he’s an NHL coach in the making, there’s no doubt about that.”

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Taking a slapshot in the mouth looks painful

Ryan Kennedy
Mitch-Callahan

Mitch Callahan is a gritty, hard-working prospect for the Detroit Red Wings currently plying his trade in the American League for Grand Rapids. He won a bronze medal with Team USA at the 2011 world juniors, a Western League title with Kelowna in 2009 and a Calder Cup with the Griffins last year.

So of course his biggest moment in the spotlight is going to come from getting a slapshot right in the mouth. Callahan tweeted out a picture of the aftermath and it is not for the squeamish. If you’re not eating, take a look.

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NHL Prospect Hot List: Peterborough’s Nick Ritchie

Ryan Kennedy
nick ritchie

There’s a lot of movement in the prospect world right now as juniors and Europeans find their seasons ending, but the American League is still chugging along. From Robert Hagg and Dylan Labbe playing their first AHL games to Jake Paterson joining Grand Rapids, it’s an exciting time. There are also two intense Game 7s in the Ontario League playoffs Tuesday night, with Peterborough erasing a 3-0 deficit on Kingston and Niagara trying to hold off the favored North Bay Battalion. On top of that, Boston College, North Dakota, Union and Minnesota punched their tickets to the Frozen Four. Let’s take a look at some of the other names in the prospect world that we’re keeping an eye on.

Nick Ritchie, LW – Peterborough Petes (OHL)
When Ritchie goes into beast mode, it’s tough to stop the young winger. At 6-foot-3 and 229 pounds, he’s got the carriage to be an NHLer right now, but the Petes are happy he’s still with them. The power forward had two goals and a helper in Peterborough’s shocking come-from-behind Game 6 win over Kingston, a game in which the Petes trailed 3-0 before Ritchie got the 5-4 comeback started. But to hear the kid tell it, this was always a tight series.

“We were down 3-0 and all three games we lost were close ones,” he said. “Because we were playing so well, we knew the series was far from over.”

Part of the Petes’ success lately has been the top line of Ritchie and fellow 2014 prospect Eric Cornel with speedy center Hunter Garlent, who came over in a trade from Guelph and once played lacrosse with Ritchie.

“Ever since we picked up Garlent, we’ve been clicking,” Ritchie said. “We complement each other pretty well and we all like to move the puck.”

Citing Milan Lucic and Jamie Benn as NHL models for his game, Ritchie also has older brother Brett, the Dallas prospect, to lean on.

“I’ve tried to do everything he’s done,” Nick said. “I still try to watch his games when I can and we get excited for each other when we do well.”

Thanks to his combination of size, skill and snarl, Nick will likely be chosen in the top 12 this summer, besting his second-rounder brother. But Brett is already succeeding in the pros with AHL Texas, so Nick will have to keep working hard if he wants to keep the family tradition going. Draft eligible in 2014.

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Roy Sommer is a record-setting AHL coach, but his team would be lost without son Marley

The Hockey News
Roy Sommer

By Chris Kazarian

On a chilly Friday morning in the middle of January, all is quiet on the streets of Worcester, Mass., as workers in this proud city in Boston’s shadow have punched their time clocks, beginning the slow descent toward the weekend.

Deep inside the DCU Center, home to the American League’s Worcester Sharks, players who dream of NHL contracts are about to substantially raise the decibel level. It begins minutes after the Sharks’ morning skate in preparation for their home game later that night against the Springfield Falcons. As players walk the short distance from the ice to the dressing room, some throw their practice jerseys onto a rolling gray bin placed directly in the center of their stalls.

But not center Jon Matsumoto.

“Mo,” he calls out in a sing-song voice, holding up his jersey.

“Mo,” he repeats.

Within seconds a “Mo” chant reverberates through the wooden stalls of the Sharks’ dressing room as teammates join in.

‘Mo’ springs up from the corner and in a rocking horse fashion, runs up to Matsumoto, snags his jersey and slam dunks it into the bin, lifting his hands up triumphantly to a roar of approval. Read more

Roy Sommer’s long, cross-country journey to AHL coaching record

Rory Boylen
Roy Sommer

To say Worcester Sharks coach Roy Sommer has had an eventful career – and even an eventful trip towards his career – is an understatement. He hadn’t even considered becoming a hockey coach until he got his first job at it and once he achieved that, the road was still a rocky one. At one point, he even coached a roller hockey team in California.

But when Doug Wilson and the San Jose Sharks gave him his first chance at the head job of an American League team in 1998-99, it set Sommer on a path towards history. Read more

An all-hockey March Madness bracket

Ryan Kennedy
Dynamo-Moscow-KHL

We are not immune to college basketball’s March Madness here at The Hockey News. In fact, it’s a big thing at the office. But since our primary passion is puck, I thought it would be fun to make up an all-hockey bracket, featuring the best leagues in the world. What would it look like? You can find the result here, but what follows is all the first-round matchups based on my personal seedings.

Obviously, all 30 NHL teams qualified because that circuit is heads and shoulders above everyone else. From there, I gave six seeds each to the American League, Kontinental League and Swedish League, followed by four for Finland’s SM-Liiga and the NCAA; three for major junior (based on the CHL’s rankings – sorry, Quebec League) and one each from the United States League, Canadian University and the domestic leagues for Switzerland, Germany and the Czech Republic. Naturally, the youngest teams took the lowest seeds – as skilled as they are, you can never discount “man strength” in these games – and an effort was made to keep AHL affiliates away from the NHL parent clubs for the first few rounds. The tournament happens now, so injuries will be a factor, as will the current state of the team (lost nine in a row coming in? That may hurt you).

I’ll update the bracket as the real Final Four tournament goes on, but for now: Who do you think gets upset in the first round?

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The secret to Tampa Bay’s shocking rookie production

The Hockey News
TJohnson

By Gareth Bush

When Steven Stamkos broke his tibia in November, all but a few wrote off Tampa Bay’s chances in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Apart from the now-departed Martin St-Louis, the Lightning were left with depth forwards and a cluster of middle-tier prospects with little to no NHL experience.

Tampa was consistently dressing six rookies and all were asked to step up. None of Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson, J.T. Brown, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Mark Barberio and Radko Gudas were ever “can’t-miss” prospects. At best, they were B-listers in past editions of Future Watch. None of them ever made the top 50. But every once in a while it’s important to be reminded projections are just that: projections.

Last year’s edition of Future Watch rated Tampa Bay’s draft performance over the past four years as the second-worst in the league. Aside from the consecutive lottery picks of Stamkos (first overall in 2008) and Victor Hedman (second in 2009), the team has only had four players in our annual top-50 prospect list the past four years, with an average rank of 32.25.

Not only is Tampa’s group of six playing beyond expectation, it’s been an integral part of the team remaining an East contender.

“It’s surprising a lot of people in this league,” says Dave Andreychuk, who won a Stanley Cup with the Bolts in 2004 and now works for them in a management role. “You have to look internally at what they’ve done in the past, those young kids, and the success they had in the minors. But has the progression and the maturity been a little quicker than we thought? Absolutely.”

Johnson, Palat, Barberio and Gudas credit their progression to two factors. The first is their American League success in 2011-12 playing for Calder Cup-champion Norfolk, which won a record 28 straight games.

The second is the coach of that team, Jon Cooper, now mans the bench in Tampa Bay. Since reuniting at the NHL level, they’ve performed beyond expectations laid upon them by scouts and fans alike. The only one not surprised is Cooper.

“I’m a true believer that a team that plays together and wins together can have a lot of success,” Cooper says. “It’s not that one or two guys are in the lineup and squeezing the stick tight every night. The fact that we brought so many rookies in at the same time has helped.”

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Fantasy Pool Look: Trade deadline impact, part III

Jacob Markstrom (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

So much happened around the NHL last week that to effectively analyze the impact on fantasy-relevant players, I’m breaking it into three columns (read Parts 1 & 2 HERE). This is the final piece, focusing on the prospects…

Chris Brown, Washington Capitals
The Caps gave up Martin Erat to acquire this budding power forward. Brown is close to making the jump and has played 12 NHL games already. The former college star at Michigan was drafted in the second round (36th overall) in 2009. Look for him to get a long look in camp in the fall and perhaps play the second half of next season in Washington. His fantasy value won’t arrive for several years, though. Brown was the fourth ranked prospect on the Coyotes according to the recently released THN Future Watch edition. Read more on him at dobbersports.com.

Sebastian Collberg, New York Islanders
Acquired in the Tomas Vanek deal, Collberg has scoring-line upside, but it will take some time for him to get there. I’d look for him in an Isles uniform in 2015-16 and on fantasy squads in 2017-18. He didn’t take the step forward in Sweden this season that we were hoping to see, which probably factored into him being traded. But he’s still one of the better prospects out there. He was drafted 33rd overall in 2012 and was ranked sixth among Habs prospects in Future Watch. Read more on him at dobbersports.com.

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