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.
Albin Blomqvist is just 20 years old, but his hockey days are over due to a history of concussions. Blomqvist, who played for Lethbridge in the Western League alongside his brother Axel (a Winnipeg Jets prospect), is now back in Sweden and has penned an article for Hockeysverige.se. It’s a tough read and brings up a lot of important issues for the hockey world.
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
Finland’s Jokerit club is embarking on a brave new adventure in 2014-15, leaving the Nordic nation’s Liiga in favor of the Russian-based KHL. It’s an odd fit, considering the origins of the Molotov cocktail, but the Helsinki squad is going for it. And according to some Finnish authorities, Jokerit is trying to lure icon Teemu Selanne back into the fold more than two decades after he left for Winnipeg.
Brian Boucher’s NHL career was replete with memorable, headline-making moments.
A first round draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers, Boucher made the NHL’s all-rookie team in 2000, led the league in goals-against average that season, set (and still holds) the league’s modern-day record for consecutive shutouts (five) and played a pivotal role in the Flyers’ march to the Stanley Cup final in 2010.
Yet, when his big league playing days fizzled, there was no major announcement. In fact, we weren’t sure if he was retired or active. After a quick Internet scan, we discovered he played five games last season for Zug in Switzerland and when that didn’t work out, he decided to pack it in.
Russians have had a huge impact on the NHL and the way the game is played, but their arrival in North America wasn’t without controversy.
In the August, 1989, edition of The Hockey News, a wave of Soviet stars, riding the crest of glasnost, broke down barriers and signed to play with NHL teams. Slava Fetisov and Sergei Starikov inked in New Jersey. Alexandr (that’s how he spelled it in ’89) Mogilny officially became a Sabre. And Igor Larionov and Vladimir Krutov were brought into the Vancouver Canucks fold.
Some natives, however, remained suspicious and opposed.
How much has Teemu Selanne driven us wild flirting with retirement over the last decade? Even when he’s “gone,” he may not be really gone.
Finnish team Jokerit has offered the future Hall of Famer, 44, a contract. It would mean playing in his home city of Helsinki and with the Finnish League team that developed him. It would also mean helping Jokerit transition to the Kontinental League, as this coming season the franchise will become the circuit’s first Finnish entry.
Selanne told sports.ru he’s considering the offer from team owner Roman Rotenberg, and that he’ll make a decision in the next three weeks.
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.