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 five least effective trade deadline deals of 2014-15

James Wisniewski (Debora Robinson/Getty Images)

For the past week, the Toronto Blue Jays have owned the sports news cycle thanks to the club’s big time acquisitions of Troy Tulowitzki and David Price ahead of the MLB trade deadline. There’s one problem, though: there’s a possibility that neither trade will actually help get the Blue Jays into the post-season.

The Blue Jays currently sit two games back of a wild-card spot, and, even then, they may find themselves ousted in the one-game playoff between the wild-card teams. If that happens, they will have made two major trades and, especially with regards to the Price trade, have mortgaged their future in a non-playoff year.

This isn’t a problem specific to baseball, however. Every year, teams wheel and deal at the NHL trade deadline with hopes of getting that final piece to put them over the top. This season was a rarity, in that the Chicago Blackhawks’ key addition, Antoine Vermette, actually performed admirably throughout the post-season and helped bring another Cup to the Windy City. In other cases, though, the deals went bust. Such is the case when there can only be one champion.

Here are five deadline deals from the past season that fell flat: Read more

Rumor Roundup: Blueline buzz as free agency continues

Christian Ehrhoff (Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

The Columbus Blue Jackets could add a veteran defenseman before the start of 2015-16. Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch reports sources claiming Jackets management have had discussions with free-agent blueliner Christian Ehrhoff, who’s coming off a one-year, $4-million contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Portzline suggests a deal between the Blue Jackets and the 33-year-old Ehrhoff is possible, provided the latter remains on the free-agent market long enough to drive down his asking price. Despite missing 33 games last season due to head injuries, the puck-moving rearguard could help the Blue Jacket’s power play.

The Jackets only have around $3.6 million in cap space for 2015-16, which Portzline believes is why they’re willing to be patient in their dealings with Ehrhoff. He also notes several other defensemen, including Andrej Meszaros, Cody Franson and Marek Zidlicky are available, but hasn’t yet confirmed if the Jackets are interested in them. Read more

Three playoff teams who could miss in 2015-16, and three non-playoff teams who could get in

Sidney Crosby (Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

Parity in the modern-day NHL creates such a delicate balance between teams that one year’s powerhouse is the next year’s dud, and vice versa. Just ask the Colorado Avalanche, who went from Central Division champs to out of the playoffs, or the Calgary Flames, who went from rebuilding team to round 2 of the post-season.

In all, 2014-15 swapped Calgary, Nashville, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Washington, the New York Islanders and Ottawa into the playoffs, with Colorado, Los Angeles, Dallas, San Jose, Boston, Columbus, and Philadelphia falling out. That’s seven new teams out of 16, or 43.75 percent.

With that crazy stat in mind, which 2014-15 post-season qualifiers might slide out in 2015-16? And which teams might take their places? I’ve chosen three candidates in each category.

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NHL retiree Gilbert Brule signs one-year deal with KHL’s Zagreb

Gilbert Brule (Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Gilbert Brule didn’t pan out how the Columbus Blue Jackets hoped when the club selected the winger sixth overall in 2005 and he announced his NHL retirement in 2014. But Brule suited up this past season in the KHL, and he’s set to play again next season.

After signing a one-year deal with Avtomobilist Yekaterinberg in 2013-14, Brule suited up for 44 games with the club. During his first season in the KHL, Brule notched 10 goals and 15 points, and his season has helped him land another deal in the primarily Russian league.

Croatian club Medvescak Zagreb have announced they have signed Brule to a deal for the 2015-16 season, but the club hopes he can be a top-six player.

“Brule will perfectly fit in our team and we believe it will be of great help,” said Medvescak’s GM Aaron Fox. Read more

Are Bowman’s 2015-16 Blackhawks better than the Cup winners?

Trevor Daley (left) and Ryan Garbutt (Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)

Hall of Famer Steve Shutt once famously had this description of how Scotty Bowman’s players felt about him: “You hated him 364 days of the year, and on the 365th day you got your Stanley Cup ring.” Ken Dryden wrote in his book, The Game, that, “Scotty Bowman is not someone who is easy to like.” And Dino Ciccarelli had this evaluation: “He was a great coach and a rotten person.”

Chicago Blackhawks GM and Scotty’s son Stan Bowman does not generate the same kind of derision and admiration, but as a hockey executive, he is indeed proving that the apple does not fall very far from the tree. The moves he has made since the Blackhawks have won the Stanley Cup, while dictated by salary cap constraints, are proving that, in many ways, the younger son has the same cold blood running through his veins when it comes to dealing with players.

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Brandon Saad and Ryan O’Reilly sign huge deals with new teams

Brandon Saad

The contracts came in within minutes of each other and both came with big dollar amounts. Columbus signed new left winger Brandon Saad to a six-year, $36 million contract, while Buffalo extended recently acquired center Ryan O’Reilly for seven years at $7.5 million per season. Let’s walk through the sticker shock.

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Saad return underwhelming, but what did you expect?

Brandon Saad (Photo by Megan Bearder /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

At first glance, it’s pretty tempting to look at the return Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman got for Brandon Saad and deem it to be underwhelming. Like, really underwhelming. But Bowman also realizes, perhaps better than any other GM in the business, that when you’re not dealing from a position of strength, your pals in the GM fraternity are more likely to throw you an anchor than a life preserver.

Either that, or Marko Dano is going to be a lot better than everyone thought. Or perhaps Bowman, who seems to know a little bit about evaluating talent, saw in Saad a player whose value was perhaps a little inflated by playing with Jonathan Toews so much and being part of such a strong team. No doubt, he saw an offer sheet coming. But if that offer sheet had contained a six at the front of the salary number, the Blackhawks would have received a first-, second- and third-round choice. Instead, they dealt Saad and two prospects to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Artem Anisimov, Dano, Jeremy Morin, Corey Tropp and a fourth-round pick in 2016.

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