Prospect Watch: Tampa Bay’s Dominik Masin is a wanted man

Dominik-Masin

Getting drafted is a dream for all high-end hockey prospects, but being selected by a team on the rise like the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the day even more sweet. Czech defenseman Dominik Masin was picked 35th overall by the Bolts this summer, capping off a season that saw his stock jump up after the world under-18s. Speaking through a translator, Masin was amped for the future.

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Prospect Watch: Anaheim’s Matt Berkovitz brings to mind Ryan Suter

Ryan Kennedy
Matt-Berkovitz

While the state of Wisconsin has produced numerous excellent NHLers in recent years, from Phil Kessel and Ryan Suter to Joe Pavelski, it’s a rarity to see a player drafted straight from the dairy state’s high school ranks.

Long the domain of Minnesota, high school hockey in the Midwest was turned on its head at the 2014 draft when defenseman Matt Berkovitz of the Ashwaubenon Jaguars was selected 123rd overall by Anaheim. Later on in the fifth round, three Minnesota products went in a row when Luc Snuggerud, Tyler Nanne and Miguel Fiddler heard their names called. But for once, Wisconsin high school held the bragging rights, even if Berkovitz didn’t intend on using them.

“I don’t try to hold it over anyone,” he said. “I’m just happy to be picked.”

Sounds like “Midwest nice” is alive and well in the youngster. And it’s fine that Berkovitz doesn’t want to ruffle feathers off the ice, because he’s sure to make an impact on it in the future. During the season, one NHL scout told me that the Jaguars star reminded him of Ryan Suter thanks to the way he skates without wasting motion. Like Suter before him, Berkovitz has committed to the University of Wisconsin, but first the youngster plans on suiting up in the United States League for the Chicago Steel.

Berkovitz could have joined the Steel this past season, but felt the timing wasn’t quite right.

“I don’t think I was mature enough,” he said. “I didn’t like my situation there as much as I thought I would, so I thought the Elite League in Minnesota, with Team Wisconsin, was a good league to prove myself in. I wanted to dominate there before moving on to the USHL.”

The Upper Midwest High School Elite League takes place before the regular high school season and features all-star teams from around Minnesota, Shattuck St-Mary’s prep school and a few other entries, including Team Wisconsin, where Berkovitz led his squad’s defense corps with 13 points in 21 games.

“I’m a reliable two-way defenseman who can move the puck well,” he said. “I can play solid defensively and create a lot of offense.”

Needless to day, Berkovitz wouldn’t have been waiting until the fifth round of the draft if he was a finished product – the youngster does need to get stronger, in scouts’ minds. But he does have a good 6-foot-1, 180-pound frame to build on and that skating acumen is hard to teach. Chicago missed the USHL playoffs this past season, but will return young scoring ace Robby Jackson (2015 draft) and 2014 Blackhawks pick Freddy Olofsson, a left winger originally from Sweden.

After that, he’ll head back to his home state of Wisconsin to play for a Badgers program that has churned out NHL defensemen over the years, from Jake Gardiner and Justin Schultz to Ryan McDonagh and of course, Ryan Suter.

 

Ryan Kennedy’s Top 10 2015 NHL draft prospects

Ryan Kennedy
Connor McDavid (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

The 2015 draft has been hyped for quite some time now and the crazy thing is, the season hasn’t even started yet.

Potentially franchise-changing names lie at the top with Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin, but it’s also shaping up to be a deep draft.

Here’s a look at 10 players to watch for, but also keep in mind University of Michigan commit Zach Werenski, Chicoutimi’s Nicolas Roy and Ottawa’s Travis Konecny.

1. CONNOR MCDAVID
C, 6-0, 185 LBS, Erie (OHL), 56-28-71-99-20
Can create offense within the blink of an eye. Has been a phenom for years already.

2. JACK EICHEL
C, 6-1, 191 LBS, U.S. NTDP (USHL), 53-38-49-87-28
Big, fast and talented, the Boston University commit will keep McDavid on his toes.

3. NOAH HANIFIN
D, 6-2, 201 LBS, U.S. NTDP (USHL), 45-8-24-32-34
All-around force would be No. 1 in most draft years. Quebec or Boston College next.

4. OLIVER KYLINGTON
D, 6-0, 174 LBS, Farjestad (Swe.), 32-2-4-6-6
Incredibly fast skater was too valuable to send to under-18s. Farjestad needed him in playoffs.

5. MATT BARZAL
C, 5-11, 171 LBS, Seattle (WHL), 59-14-40-54-20
Brilliant playmaker skates well and made an impact for Canada at the under-18s.

6. PAVEL ZACHA
LW, 6-3, 201 LBS, Liberec (Cze.), 38-4-4-8-10
Incredibly, played most of the season against men. Power forward can wire the puck, too.

7. COLIN WHITE
C, 6-0, 179 LBS, U.S. NTDP (USHL), 47-33-30-63-81
Boston College commit is a complete player and leader who can really motor.

8. DYLAN STROME
C, 6-2, 178 LBS, Erie (OHL), 60-10-29-39-11
Great frame, excellent hockey IQ. He’ll produce even more once older Otters move on.

9. KYLE CONNOR
C, 6-1, 170 LBS, Youngstown (USHL), 56-31-43-74-12
Michigan commit is a preternatural scorer. Ranked second in league. Dazzled at under-18s.

10. DANIEL SPRONG
RW, 5-10, 177 LBS, Charlottetown (QMJHL), 67-30-38-68-20
Potent shot, strong on his skates and whip-smart. Sprong was a force for the Islanders.

FAVORITE FOR 2016: It’s not easy to fly under the radar when you play for Team USA’s National Team Development Program, but an early season injury had some folks missing out on Auston Matthews. Luckily, he did his best to jog their memories by putting a big stamp on 2013-14 at the world under-18s.

The Arizona native rang up seven points in seven games en route to the gold medal. Only Jack Eichel and Sonny Milano beat him among Americans. And Matthews did it from the third line.

“He’s unbelievable,” said one scout. “Smooth skating, incredibly skilled two-way guy. You notice him every time he’s on the ice.”

A late-born 1997, Matthews is one of the few major NTDPers yet to make a college commitment, making him a hot commodity coming out of his star turn in Finland.

TOP STUD IN 2017: Famous bloodlines continue to dot the prospect map and one name to watch for is big right winger Nolan Patrick of the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings.The nephew of former NHLer-turned-coach James Patrick, Nolan is already 6-foot-3, even though he doesn’t turn 16 until September. He was taken fourth overall in the 2013 bantam draft. He has already played 12 games (including the playoffs) for the Wheaties and prides himself on playmaking.

“I have pretty good vision out there,” he said. “I try to use that to my advantage.”

And when he needs advice, Uncle James is always available.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had a phone call that wasn’t about hockey,” Nolan said.

Buffalo Sabres sign Andre Benoit, ease pressure on blueline kids

Ryan Kennedy
Andre-Benoit

In a few years, the Buffalo blueline will be run by players such as Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov, Jake McCabe and Mark Pysyk. The hope of course, is that the Sabres will be a playoff team by then, helped up front by names such as Sam Reinhart, Zemgus Girgensons and perhaps Connor McDavid. But in order to get that organic progression, the organization must ensure that those current youngsters don’t get squashed by pressure and expectations along the way.

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Who’s going to win the turtle race for 30th – and gain a franchise player?

Columbus Blue Jackets v Carolina Hurricanes

If Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin are the top three amigos for the 2015 NHL draft, the Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes and Calgary Flames are their top three suitors.

Yesterday, my esteemed boss Jason Kay wrote a blog wondering if the Sabres killed their chances of winning the McDavid sweepstakes by filling out their roster with established veterans Matt Moulson, Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges, Andrej Meszaros and Cody McCormick. No need to worry, the Sabres aren’t going anywhere other than 30th place.

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Did Buffalo kill its chances of winning the Connor McDavid sweepstakes? Does it matter?

Jason Kay
Buffalo Sabres v Toronto Maple Leafs

As you might imagine, there were some intense discussions around our office following a free agency feeding frenzy a few weeks ago that lived up to the hype. Our staffers were dissecting the moves that were and weren’t made, the winners and losers, when someone floated the Buffalo Sabres.

On July 1 they splurged, adding Josh Gorges (via trade), Brian Gionta, Matt Moulson, Andrej Meszaros and Cody McCormick. That’s nearly $19 million towards their cap this season dedicated to five new players.

But money wasn’t the issue. The Sabres had oodles of cap space. The concern was whether they had done too much and had critically wounded their chances of landing the first overall pick in 2015, most likely Connor McDavid.

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Prospect Watch: Finland’s Esa Lindell develops for Dallas

Ryan Kennedy
Esa-Lindell

North American audiences haven’t seen much of Esa Lindell and if you ask the Swedes, they would have preferred not to have seen him at all this year.

Lindell, an offensive defenseman, scored thirty seconds into the gold medal game at the world juniors in Malmo, staking underdog Finland to a lead in a hotly-contested match that they would never trail.

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