Five NHL prospects to watch in the Calder Cup final series

Brian Costello
Dallas Stars v Winnipeg Jets

This year’s Stanley Cup final series is one of the most geographically challenging we’ve seen in a while. Los Angeles and New York are separated by 2,450 miles and three time zones.

But the two finalists in the American League are a little farther apart. Cedar Park, Texas, home of the Texas Stars, and St. John’s, Newfoundland, home of the St. John’s IceCaps, are separated by 2,648 miles.

The farm teams for the Dallas Stars and Winnipeg Jets begin their playdown for the Calder Cup Sunday in Texas. Here are the top five NHL prospects to watch in the AHL championship series.

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Is Dustin Tokarski really outplaying Henrik Lundqvist?

Tokarski

The only downside to the Dustin Tokarski story at this point, at least from a personal financial perspective, is that it’s not happening during the regular season.

You see, Tokarski is on a two-way deal, which is really good if you’re playing in the NHL during the regular season, not so good if you’re playing in the playoffs when players do not pick up paychecks. Tokarski’s NHL salary is the league minimum $575,000 and he spent 23 of the 195 days of this season on the Canadiens roster. That means he picked up $67,821 in NHL salary, but spent the bulk of the season pulling down $80,000 in the minors. The good news for Tokarski is that if he plays in the minors next season, his salary goes up to $135,000 and in 2015-16 his contract becomes a one-way deal, which means he’ll make $575,000 regardless of whether he plays in the American League or the NHL. Read more

AHL’s Marlies give diehard Toronto fans an incredibly touching wedding present

Adam Proteau
Sean and Erin-Marie Boulton

When Toronto residents Sean and Erin-Marie Boulton were married this past Saturday, they had all that really matters: each other, and their families. But thanks to the American League’s Toronto Marlies, the couple also received a wonderful wedding present – the gift of hockey.

The Boultons originally were slated to tie the knot in September of 2015, but family health concerns caused them to move their wedding date up to May 24 of this year. The change in plans drained their financial resources and meant the diehard hockey fans and Marlies season ticket holders not only wouldn’t be able to renew their tickets for next season, but also prevented them from enjoying Toronto’s current AHL playoff run. However, their friends began making inquiries with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment management members – and after the wedding ceremony ended Saturday, one of the gifts awaiting them at the reception was a leather box with a blue ribbon around it.

Boulton tells the rest of the story in a touching blog post of his own: Read more

How The Hockey News ‘helped’ Jon Cooper get to the NHL

Ronnie Shuker
(Photo by Scott Audette/NHL)

Right above the urinal in the washroom of the Norfolk Admirals dressing room. That’s where coach Jon Cooper placed The Hockey News’ American League predictions from our Oct. 17, 2011, issue before the start of 2011-12. We had Norfolk finishing 13th in the Eastern Conference. They ended up finishing first overall and cruising to the Calder Cup championship in a record-shattering season thanks to a remarkable run of 28 conescutive victories.

“Everybody had to stand and stare at it every day, so you can thank yourselves for being part of the motivation for our streak,” Cooper joked. “As soon as I saw it, I brought it in and said, ‘Look at where the biggest hockey magazine has put you guys.’ ”

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AHL Man of the Year Eric Neilson a soft-hearted enforcer

The Hockey News
Neilson_644x420

By Jared Clinton

The first thing you notice when talking to Eric Neilson is his presence – his voice booms. It makes sense that a man who makes his living playing as an enforcer would convey his 6-foot-2, 200-plus-pound frame just with his tenor. But even with his voice filtering through a phone, you can hear his cheeks pulled up in a smile.

All of this is to say that Neilson, contrary to his tough guy persona, is a gentle giant off the ice. So it’s no surprise that he received the 2013-14 Yanick Dupre Memorial Award, which is given to the American League player who best exemplifies the spirit of community service. Neilson has been nominated six consecutive years – one for each of his full seasons in the AHL – but what makes his accomplishment more incredible is that he’s played those campaigns in five different AHL cities.

“I like to go where I get an opportunity,” said Neilson, who has played the past two seasons with the Syracuse Crunch. “That’s always my goal. I’ve been a journeyman throughout my career. I always try to go where my greatest opportunity is. I’m 29, but my goal is to one day play in the NHL.”

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NHL Prospect Hot List: Washington’s Andre Burakovsky

Andre-Burakovsky

Playoffs in the junior leagues are in full stride, while developments at the world under-18s have been intriguing to say the least. Team USA lost its first game to the Swiss before rebounding, while the Czechs are flying high and Canada is doing just enough to stay up top. Here’s a look at some of the top NHL prospects playing around the world right now.

Andre Burakovsky, LW – Erie Otters (OHL)

With 10 goals and 13 points through 12 playoff games, it goes without saying that Burakovsky is doing well for Erie, but you really have to see him live to appreciate the magic of the winger. Burakovsky loves to control the puck and uses his slick hands to weave through traffic, where a lethal wrister can then be employed to finish off the play. Considering he played against men last year in Sweden, it’s probably no wonder he is flourishing against players his own age now.

“Of course it was a little harder back home,” he said. “It’s older guys that know what they’re doing so you have to be really smart. Here it’s more physical; you have to keep your head up all the time and go a bit faster. And the hockey over here fits me better; I like the smaller ice.”

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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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