Memorial Cup hosts land Michael Spacek, chase Brandon Hickey

Michael Spacek (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

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.

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Matthew Tkachuk and the boys of summer headline The Hot List

Matthew Tkachuk. (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)

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.

The Top 10 moments for 2014-15

Andrew Hammond  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

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.

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Crosby, MacKinnon surprise seven-year-old Nova Scotia boy fighting cancer

Jared Clinton
MacKinnon-Crosby

It’s hard to believe that a town of less than 30,000 could produce two no-brainer first overall draft picks, and harder yet to believe those two would become partners in crime, making a difference in their hometown during the offseason.

That’s exactly the case for Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon, however.

Over the past few days, Crosby and MacKinnon, who both hail from Cole Harbour, N.S., made headlines by working the drive-thru at a local Tim Hortons after a photo of the pair in full uniform was posted online. The drive-thru work was for a commercial for the coffee chain, so there was a reason why the pair was behind the counter. But Wednesday, the duo was back in the headlines, this time by trying to perform a good deed away from the camera. Read more

Take a look at the Avalanche’s reported Stadium Series jersey, Rockies inspired logo

Jared Clinton
Colorado alternate Stadium Series featured

The Colorado Avalanche have a big season ahead, and in time for the 2015-16 campaign, the club will be unveiling some new threads.

According to Icethetics, the Avalanche are in line for at least one new jersey this upcoming season before the club hits the ice for the Stadium Series contest against the Detroit Red Wings in February, with the possibility of a second alternate.

With two new uniforms on the way, it was only a matter of time before we got a sneak peek at what might be in store for the Avalanche, and, courtesy of Icethetics, we now have a first look at what could be worn for the Stadium Series: Read more

Futures Mailbag: Blueline prospects in Philly, Dylan Strome and more

Samuel Morin (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Welcome to my new mailbag, a spot where I will answers questions from readers who reached out to me on Twitter using the hashtag #thnfutures. The idea behind this space is to bring you info on prospects and the draft, so anything in that world is game. There was a pretty good crop of questions right off the bat, so if you don’t see yours answered this week, check back next Friday. Here we go:

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Grigorenko’s one-year deal with Avalanche could be his last chance

Jared Clinton
grigorenko-183586054

In 2012, any trade between the Buffalo Sabres and Colorado Avalanche that involved Ryan O’Reilly could have centered on Mikahil Grigorenko. In 2015, the 21-year-old Russian winger was more of a throw in.

Nearly three weeks following the completion of a deal that saw Buffalo send Grigorenko, Nikita Zadorov, J.T. Compher and a 2015 second-round pick shipped to Colorado for O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn, it appears the Avalanche are prepared to give Grigorenko his shot at becoming a full-time NHLer. If he doesn’t make it happen this year, though, it might be his last.

The Avalanche announced Thursday they have re-signed Grigorenko to a one-year, one-way contract worth $675,000. He won’t be able to go back to the AHL without clearing waivers, but, at this point, it might be hard to find a team who would take a shot on Grigorenko, the 2012 12th overall selection. Read more

10 players facing make or break seasons in 2015-16

Justin Schultz  (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)

The Edmonton Oilers avoided arbitration with Justin Schultz Wednesday by inking the 25-year-old blueliner to a one-year, $3.9 million deal. But the arbitration wasn’t Schultz’s choice. Rather, it was the Oilers who wanted to plead their case for a lower cost on Schultz’s contract.

However, by opting for team-elected arbitration – which, as mentioned, has now been avoided with the one-year contract – Edmonton was essentially giving Schultz an ultimatum: if he wants to keep his spot in the Oilers lineup for what he believes to be fair value, he’s going to have to prove that he’s worth it. Thus, the one-year deal.

Schultz isn’t the only restricted free agent signed to a one-year contract and he’s not the only player who can, as Mike Babcock put it with regards to Nazem Kadri, “put the screws,” to his club. On the flip side, though, one bad year could see some franchises giving up on their young guns.

Here are 10 players who could have make-or-break seasons in 2014-15: Read more