BUFFALO – Last night was huge for center Clayton Keller. The dazzling NTDP product went seventh overall to Arizona, giving the Coyotes a player with a Patrick Kane-like skill set. It was also a victory for smaller players, as Keller is one of the few top-10 picks in recent years to come in at 5-foot-10 or less.
But Keller can’t rest too much on his accomplishments in Buffalo; he’s got a big decision on his hands. Will he play for Boston University next season, or the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires? Is the AHL a possibility? There’s a lot of intrigue involved.
BUFFALO – So, who saw the draft going down the way it did? Be honest.
Yes, the top two picks were chalk. Toronto got their dominant center of the future in Auston Matthews, while Winnipeg added a savage scoring weapon in Patrik Laine. But who else won the night? And on the downer side, who lost in Buffalo? Here’s a breakdown.
BUFFALO – Weird. Vincent Lecavalier retired. You’d swear it was him, or a magical teenage version of him, sitting on a podium overlooking Lake Erie. That’s what it felt like talking to elite 2016 NHL draft prospect Pierre-Luc Dubois.
Dubois, a friendly, rosy-cheeked tank of a youngster at 6-foot-3 and 202 pounds, carries himself like a young Vinny. It’s a strange coincidence, as the last time the draft went down in Buffalo was 1998, when Lecavalier went first overall. Dubois was calm yet confident, exuding the poise of a man many years older, seemingly enjoying the questions as he sat outside on a windy Thursday. The novelty hadn’t yet worn off.
He was endearingly wide-eyed about the draft experience. He said his old QMJHL teammate, Red Wings 2015 first-rounder Evgeny Svechknikov, told him to have fun and not waste the experience. Dubois was gracious about his off-season workouts, in which he encountered the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Alex Killorn and Andrej Sustr and eventually worked up the courage to approach them for advice. Dubois can’t wait to face his childhood idol, Henrik Zetterberg, and couldn’t believe his eyes when, while he attended the Stanley Cup final in San Jose, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby approached and said, “Maybe I’ll see you soon.”
The WHL doesn’t necessarily have a need to increase scoring, but the junior league will be experimenting with a rule change in 2016-17 that could see more pucks hitting the back of the net.
As part of the league’s Annual General Meeting, the WHL announced a few rule changes, including the adoption of hybrid icing and improved video review systems in each of the league’s 22 buildings. The most interesting one, though, is that players will now be permitted to knock pucks into the net with their skates, so long as they’re not in the crease when they do so.
“The WHL also clarified the rule regarding pucks off players’ skates which enter the net,” the league’s release reads. “The clarification states that, unless the puck is in the goal crease, a puck that enters the net off of a player’s skate shall be ruled a goal. This will eliminate the need for a decision by the referee and/or video goal judge as to whether it was a distinct kicking motion or not.” Read more
BUFFALO – There was a lot of interest among the local media in defensemen this morning. With Buffalo hosting the draft combine, camera crews and reporters got a chance to quiz a number of potential future Sabres and several of those candidates were blueliners. With Buffalo picking eighth, a top D-man will surely be available, but which one?
BUFFALO – It’s not easy to find true power forwards in the draft. Many have tried and the success of Cam Neely and Milan Lucic has teams salivating at any kid with size, snarl and skill. But getting the right combination of those three is difficult. That’s why Max Jones will be in high demand at the draft this summer.
Conner Bleackley’s NHL career has yet to begin, but the 20-year-old center has already been a first-round draft choice and a throw-in asset for a trade deadline deal. Now he’s about to be drafted again.
Bleackley was originally drafted 23rd overall by the Colorado Avalanche in 2014 after putting an impressive 29 goals and 68 points with the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels during the 2013-14 campaign, but he was never locked up to a deal by the Avalanche. Over the next two seasons, during which Bleackley scored 40 goals and 95 points in 106 games, he remained unsigned, even after he was moved to the Arizona Coyotes as part of the Mikkel Boedker deal.
And with a 5 p.m., June 1 deadline to sign with the Coyotes approaching, Arizona GM John Chayka has decided his club will be going a different direction. Instead of signing Bleackley, the Coyotes are going to take the compensatory draft choice — a second-round pick, 53rd overall — and let the Rebels center re-enter the draft.
“We’re going to take the compensation pick,” Chayka told NHL.com. “There’s a lot of value in that pick. That’s not to diminish anything Conner has done or the type of player he is. He had a good Memorial Cup. He’s a good player, but at this point [the draft pick] is a more valuable asset for us.” Read more
PITTSBURGH – It’s become fairly commonplace for San Jose Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic to be staring into the eyes of the best players in the world. And after getting a steady diet of Vladimir Tarasenko in the Western Conference final, Vlasic is preparing to renew a battle with Sidney Crosby that dates back more than a decade to their days in the Quebec League.
When the puck drops for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final tonight, expect to see an awful lot of Vlasic on the ice at the same time as Crosby. It will be more difficult for the Sharks to get the matchups they want in the first two games, but not impossible. And Vlasic is ready to see a lot of No. 87 for the Pittsburgh Penguins over the next couple of weeks.