The All-American Prospects Game will be loaded this year

Ryan Kennedy
Zach Werenski is part of an excellent cast headed to Buffalo (Tom Sorensen/USA Hockey)

The third annual USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game takes place in Buffalo on Sept. 25 and no doubt organizers will tell you it’s looking like the best one yet. People say that about all sorts of events every year, but if everyone shows up, this will be the best yet.

The game is only as good as the talent available and last year’s installment in Pittsburgh was hampered by the fact the U.S. didn’t produce any top-10 talents for the 2014 class. Sonny Milano and Alex Tuch were the best of the bunch and both ended up as mid-round picks. The debut of the game in Buffalo a year prior featured Seth Jones, at the time thought of as the No. 1 overall prospect and ultimately a fourth overall pick who went straight to the NHL. But Adam Erne pulled out and hometown kid Justin Bailey sustained a concussion just before the festivities, meaning a better lineup was possible.

But this year? Assuming everyone shows up healthy, this is a stacked bill. Here’s a look at some names to keep in mind.

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Born in the USA could be theme song of 2016 NHL draft

Ken Campbell
Jakob Chychrun  (Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

The best draft USA has ever had was in 2007 when Patrick Kane went first overall and was immediately followed by James Van Riemsdyk. Two years prior was close, when Bobby Ryan went second overall behind Sidney Crosby and Jack Johnson was taken third overall.

But if current trends continue for the next two seasons, the 2016 draft will put the rest of those in their dust in terms of producing high-end players trained in America. Not only is it a good bet USA will produce its seventh first overall pick – unless Jack Eichel is taken first overall in 2015, in which case it would be USA’s eighth – but there’s a chance the top five could be chock full of American talent. Read more

The top 10 players to watch in the Champions League

Washington first-rounder Jakub Vrana has already started his season (Photo by Andreas Froberg/Linkoping HC/Champions Hockey League via Getty Images)

If you can’t wait for the NHL season to start, maybe turn your attention to Europe, where the Champions League is off and running. The super-sized tournament for club teams features squads from all over the continent and it’s more than just a place to find fun NHL names from the recent past (Chuck Kobasew! Mikael Samuelsson!). A lot of great young talent is on display, including some top NHL prospects and draft eligibles. Below you’ll find 10 players to watch for as the tournament goes on. Not included were skaters on rosters but yet to play in a game, including 2016 prospect Patrik Laine of Finland, 2015′s Michael Spacek of the Czech Republic and Pittsburgh first-rounder Kasperi Kapanen.

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Draft lottery changes reduce incentive to tank for supreme talent

Brian Costello
Erie Otters v Guelph Storm

The NHL is making changes to its draft lottery ostensibly to discourage teams from tanking in order to get a higher pick. What that means for the 2015 draft is the team finishing 30th now has just a 20 percent chance of winning the lottery and getting first overall pick. That’s down from 25 percent the past two drafts and down from 48.3 percent since the creation of the draft lottery in 1995.

What’s more, starting with the 2016 draft, the league will now have a lottery to determine the top three picks in the draft, not just the top pick. In past years, if the 30th-place team didn’t win the lottery, it slipped just one spot to second pick. Starting next year, the 30th-place team could conceivably slip to fourth pick if its number doesn’t come up during the draws for the first three picks.

Here are some other new facets of the adjusted lottery odds.

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Boston College loses Sonny Milano; OHL Plymouth wins

Ryan Kennedy
Sonny-Milano-draft

It’s an agonizing decision for a lot of prospects: head to college and be the big man on campus, or sign with an NHL team and play a longer schedule in major junior. Last year, it was Montreal first-rounder Michael McCarron in the spotlight. He chose the Ontario League’s London Knights over Western Michigan. This time, it’s Columbus first-rounder Sonny Milano, who will join the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers after he informed Boston College he would not be attending the school this fall.

As detailed by Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch, Milano struggled with the decision and that’s not surprising.

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Who to watch for at the Ivan Hlinka under-18 tournament

Ryan Kennedy
Matt-Barzal

Every summer, some of the best under-18 players in the world travel over to the Czech Republic and Slovakia for the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament, named after the former NHL coach. This event serves as the first major showdown of the season for the upcoming draft class and yes, it’s 2015′s turn in the spotlight.

Technically, this is not a best-on-best tournament, since Team USA does not send the National Team Development Program – the kids who end up dominating the world under-18s in the spring. Instead, the American squad is made up of prep schoolers and players from major junior and the United States League. For a look at Americans to watch for, check out my report from the camp earlier this summer. Also, Connor McDavid won’t be there, since he just got finished with Canada’s world junior camp. And Pavel Zacha, who recently signed with the Ontario League’s Sarnia Sting, is out as well. But there is still a lot of talent suiting up.

Here are some of the players to watch for:

Matt Barzal, Canada – A center with the Western League’s Seattle Thunderbirds, Barzal is an excellent playmaker with hands, quickness and creativity. He played as an underager at the world under-18s and projects to be a top-five or top-10 pick in 2015.

Oliver Kylington, Sweden – Skating, skating, skating. Kylington is a gifted speedster on Sweden’s blueline who will likely be the second D-man taken in 2015 after Noah Hanifin (USA). Kylington’s Farjestad club provided the opposition for the American League all-stars this past season and he won the fastest skater competition as a 16-year-old against the AHL’s best.

Dylan Strome, Canada – A big, growing center for the Ontario League’s Erie Otters, Dylan has excellent hockey IQ and some sweet hands. The younger brother of Ryan Strome, Dylan projects to be a top-12 pick in 2015.

Travis Konecny, Canada – A tantalizing combination of high-end skill and heart, Konecny was amazing for a lowly OHL Ottawa team this past season and will likely be a top scorer in the ‘O’ for 2014-15. Projects as a top-15 pick, since he measures in at just 5-foot-10, but Konecny is going to make some NHL team very happy.

Mitch Marner, Canada – Like Konecny, Marner is undersized, but the kid can flat-out play. Marner possesses an abundance of skill and flash, which will serve him well as he takes on a bigger role with the OHL’s London Knights this season. Projects as a top-15 pick.

Jakub Zboril, Czech Republic – Repping for the home side, Zboril is a smart defenseman with good size who can contribute at both ends of the rink, including on the power play. Zboril, who will join the Quebec League’s Saint John Sea Dogs this year, makes a good first pass and moves the puck well. Projects as a top-50 pick.

Sebastian Aho, Finland – Not to be confused with the Swedish Sebastian Aho, the Finnish Aho is a forward who makes those around him better and shows a great deal of poise and professionalism on the ice. Projects as a top-50 pick.
Also to watch on Finland is big scoring forward Patrik Laine, who is not eligible until 2016.

Alexei Platonov, Russia – Honestly, I don’t have much of a book on the Russians at the Ivan Hlinka, but Platonov is a sturdy tank on the blueline who comes in at about 6-foot-5 and 203 pounds. Has some scoring potential, but that’s not his primary game. Projects as a top-50 pick.

Adam Huska, Slovakia – A big, prototypical modern goaltender, Huska was great for Slovakia at the world under-18s, where his solid butterfly technique and ability to track shooters often bailed his team out. They’ll need him to be strong again at the Ivan Hlinka. Projects as a top-10 goalie for 2015.

Dominik Diem, Switzerland – An energetic forward with a big shot, Diem isn’t blessed with great size, but he has shown an ability to maximize his impact in the past. Gets back on defense, too. Projects as a top-100 pick.

Edited to reflect that Patrik Laine is from Finland

Aaron Ekblad hurt in exhibition game, but why was he even playing?

Aaron-Ekblad-draft

The chance to play for Team Canada in an international event is one of the bigger dreams of most hockey players, no matter how good they are. In fact, I can tell you exactly what it means to every single player I’ve asked, because they all have the same response: “Any time you get to put on that jersey, it’s a great honor.”

So I’m not surprised that Florida Panthers prospect Aaron Ekblad wanted to play at Canada’s world junior exhibition camp in Quebec. But why would the Panthers allow the No. 1 overall pick to play in the mini-tournament against the Czechs and Russians?

In speaking with execs from other teams (attempts to reach the Panthers were unsuccessful), they always like having their top prospects put in situations where they can develop, so it’s not crazy that Florida would want their most prominent draft pick to take on a leadership role in the summer and get some reps as he prepares for his first NHL training camp. Unfortunately, injuries are an unpredictable part of the game.

And after seeing their prized prospect get hurt Tuesday night on a hit from Czech defenseman Lukas Klok, the Panthers must be feeling like they rolled snake eyes:

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