Team USA summer roster out; look for an experienced world junior squad

Noah Hanifin of Boston College (Tom Sorensen/USA Hockey)

Team USA was almost shockingly young at the world juniors in 2015, so perhaps it wasn’t surprising that the Americans lost to Russia in the quarterfinal, mainly due to a rash of unnecessary penalties. But the wound of that loss could become vital scar tissue for the 2016 squad.

Because USA Hockey just released its preliminary summer camp roster and it is heavy on experience.

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Draft season means a focus on the NCAA vs. CHL recruiting battle

Ryan Kennedy
Caleb Jones (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)

As the draft approaches, NHL teams are finalizing their lists and honing in on their favorite prospects. Elsewhere in the hockey world, college programs and major junior teams are also trying to secure talent – often from that same pool. So it’s a big time of year for the kids and once again, it puts the recruiting battle between major junior and the NCAA into focus.

Just this morning, for example, draft-eligible center Sam Miletic of the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers committed to the OHL’s London Knights. Miletic put up a ton of points on the same Michigan high school team that produced Buffalo pick (and Boston College commit) Christopher Brown in 2013-14, but put up just so-so numbers with Green Bay, a team that struggled overall.

Given how good the Knights look for next season – they’ve already signed 2016 draft stars Matthew Tkachuk and Max Jones and will likely return top-10 2015 prospect Mitch Marner – playing in London could result in a lot of success for Miletic, who had been committed to the University of Michigan.

Some NHL franchises have preferences for major junior or NCAA, so this might help Miletic’s draft stock if he knows which teams are interested in him (and just to put things in perspective, there’s no guarantee he gets picked this year – Central Scouting didn’t have him on their final rankings, nor did ISS).

Another player who might have to make a Michigan-or-London choice later this summer? Current Wolverines defenseman Zach Werenski.

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Ryan Kennedy’s Prospect of the Year for all 30 NHL teams

Nikolaj Ehlers (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Prospects are the lifeblood of the NHL, especially in an era where free agency is dying thanks to talent retention of top stars. But who really stood out this season? Welcome to the first-ever Prospect of the Year awards.

To qualify, a player must still have Calder Trophy eligibility for next season, so excellent youngsters like Detroit’s Teemu Pulkkinen or Boston’s David Pastrnak don’t count. The winners below have impressed me with what they accomplished at their particular level of development – otherwise, it would just be a list of older prospects from the AHL who are on the cusp of NHL jobs.

Let’s do this:

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The ‘John Tavares Rule’ comes to Quebec: meet Joseph Veleno

Ryan Kennedy
Joseph Veleno (photo by Vincent Éthier/QMJHL Media)

Hockey Canada’s “exceptional status” designation has always been associated with great hype, since it takes a pretty special 15-year-old to play major junior. John Tavares, whom the rule is colloquially named after, was the first under the current guidelines, followed by Aaron Ekblad, Connor McDavid and Sean Day. But all those kids hailed from the Ontario League. This year was Quebec’s turn.

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Is this the best goaltender in the 2015 NHL draft?

Ryan Kennedy
Samuel Montembeault (Photo by Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images)

While Barrie’s Mackenzie Blackwood and Magnitogorsk’s Ilya Samsonov are the most likely netminders to be taken first off the board in Florida this summer, scouts are also very excited about Samuel Montembeault.

The starter for Blainville-Boisbriand in the Quebec League has an interesting family history in sports and his physical talents – particularly his glove hand – have talent hawks intrigued.

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Ending junior on a high note, Max Domi prepares for the NHL

Max Domi (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

The lasting image of Max Domi’s 2014-15 campaign was either his tour-de-force performance at the world juniors, or his arching pop-shot goal against Sarnia, if you’re more London Knights-centric. But the sturdy and dynamic left winger made just as much of an impact off the ice this season, taking on the captaincy in London and dedicating his spare time to children with diabetes, an affliction he also has to manage himself.

To that end, Domi was recognized with the OHL’s Mickey Renaud Captain’s Trophy, named in honor of the former Windsor Spitfires leader who passed away well before his time.

“I’ve been lucky to be a part of four unbelievable hockey teams and you take things from different players every year,” Domi said. “This year we had a younger team and leading by example was my No. 1 thing.”

The Arizona Coyotes first-rounder would meet with diabetic kids after games and respond to their letters – many of which came after he helped Canada to gold at the world juniors in Toronto.

It’s another side to a player best known for goal-scoring and physical play and the attitude he displayed this year will surely help when he tries to crack his first NHL roster in the fall.

Last season, Domi was cut from the Coyotes, even if more than a few pundits thought he was ready for duty. But the Desert Dogs had rushed prospects in the past and been burned, particularly during the Wayne Gretzky coaching era. So Domi went back to London and put in the work.

“Max had a terrific season and his development was exactly what he had hoped for,” said Coyotes GM Don Maloney. “He went back to junior with a great attitude, became captain of his team and obviously had a terrific world junior experience. And the icing on the cake was being named captain of the league.”

Even earning the ‘C’ in London was gratifying for Domi, especially since it came from his teammates, via a vote.

“No one likes to talk about themselves,” Domi said. “But when your best buddies acknowledge you like that…it’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever felt.”

While Arizona still isn’t gifting youngsters with roster spots, there will be jobs available on a team that is in the midst of a rebuild. Along with Domi, there’s speedster Anthony Duclair, who played 18 games for the New York Rangers before returning to junior. He was then sent to Arizona in the Keith Yandle trade. Henrik Samuelsson, a bullish power forward with skill and nastiness, was great for AHL Portland in the playoffs and will also get a long look.

With Antoine Vermette dealt at the deadline to Chicago and the forwards corps not exactly deep to begin with, players such as Domi and Duclair could easily see top-six minutes befitting of their skills, if they show well in camp.

“We need to introduce some younger players into our lineup and I fully expect Max to be one of those players, provided his performance is there,” Maloney said. “We’re looking forward to seeing him in the fall, seeing him in a Coyote uniform and helping us get better.”

For Domi, who helped the Knights win one OHL title and host a Memorial Cup the next year, he really did it all during his time in London. Now it’s time for the left winger to make an even bigger leap into the best league in the world.

“It’s really exciting,” he said. “It was pretty emotional finishing off my junior career, but I have a big summer ahead.”

NHL draft combine: who won the events that matter most

Ryan Kennedy
Swift Current's Jake DeBrusk (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

For all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the NHL’s annual draft combine, it is important to remember that the whole thing is a bit of a dog-and-pony show. Sure, the interviews with teams are important and it is in the best interest of the player to give it his all in the physical tests, but as we saw in this year’s playoffs, the ability to do chin-ups as a 17-year-old may not be the best indicator of NHL potential.

So where do we look for value in this weekend’s results?

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