Scouting report from Team USA’s under-18 summer camp

Ryan Kennedy
Denis-Yan

Each year, Team USA holds its Select 17s camp, where the best from that age group square off in a tournament, followed by an all-star game. Once again the camp was held in Amherst, NY near Buffalo and for early June, the hockey was pretty solid. The best of the best were chosen for the all-star game and the best from that group was also chosen to represent the Americans at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which takes place in August.

The Americans don’t send the official National Team Development Program squad to the Ivan Hlinka, instead using the summer showdown to reward kids from the United States League, major junior and the high school ranks. Here are some of the players that impressed me at the all-star game, many of whom will be heading over to the Ivan Hlinka.

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CHL Import Draft: Who is coming and who is staying home?

David-Pastrnak

The CHL Import Draft is complex. On the surface of course, it’s straight-forward: Every team from the Ontario, Western and Quebec League has the opportunity to select two European players, assuming they have two import slots open on their roster.

But if one of your Europeans went in the first round of the NHL draft, you can keep the rights to three, in case the first-rounder bounces between the pros and junior (it’s basically the Mikhail Grigorenko rule). And you’re not allowed to take goalies anymore, which is protectionist and ignores the fact American netminders have been “taking jobs” from Canadian kids as much as Europeans were.

Also, some folks will tell you it’s not quite a draft because some teams have unofficial deals with players beforehand – which led to last year’s awkward situation where Washington Capitals pick Andre Burakovsky thought he was going to Windsor, only see to Erie scoop up his rights first. After a lot of fuss, Burakovsky went to the Otters and helped Erie make a nice playoff run.

The 2014 installment of the Import Draft happened on Wednesday and as always, there was drama, beginning with the first pick. The OHL’s Sarnia Sting tabbed Czech power forward Pavel Zacha first overall, but the youngster’s agent, Allan Walsh, immediately took to Twitter to announce that Zacha, a potential top-10 NHL pick in 2015, has a contract with Liberec back home and that Sarnia just wasted the pick.

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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.

New Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Johnston will play fast

Ryan Kennedy
Mike-Johnston

For a second there, it looked like the Pittsburgh Penguins would lose a game of coaching musical chairs. But with Mike Johnston reportedly signed to a three-year pact now, the franchise can get back to the job of winning the Stanley Cup.

That has been rather difficult since the team last pulled off the feat in 2009, despite having two of the best centers on the planet in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Under previous coach Dan Byslma, the Pens had a great deal of success in the regular season but haven’t been able to get back to that Cup final, flaming out in various rounds for various reasons.

Structurally, Pittsburgh was not a great possession team in 2013-14, despite the two previously named assets. Kris Letang’s absence due to a stroke didn’t help matters, but ending the campaign with a middling Fenwick close of 50.2 percent has to be seen as a disappointment.

One of Byslma’s mantras for the team in the past was “Hunt,” meaning that the Pens should be hunting the puck down when they didn’t have it, but clearly the team had gotten to a place where they were the hunters way too often.

Johnston, who comes from the Western League’s Portland Winterhawks, hasn’t had that problem in junior. No team even came close to the 338 goals his squad put up this season en route to a fourth straight appearance in the WHL final and in an interview conducted two months ago, the coach told me his strategy.

“Our template is puck possession,” Johnston said. “Skating, up-tempo play. We want to play with pace from our defense to our forwards.”

Johnston will certainly have the tools to continue that philosophy in Pittsburgh. Along with Letang, the team also boasts Paul Martin and Olli Maatta on the blueline and I wouldn’t be surprised if Derrick Pouliot, who has played in Portland the past four years, joins his old coach as a rookie. All four of those D-men can move the puck with ease.

GM Jim Rutherford’s job now will be to bring in some reinforcements up front. The Penguins have been notoriously top-heavy in recent years, but even those Crosby and Malkin lines have been criticized for not having enough talent on the wings.

Johnston’s success in Portland did come with controversy and the back story will surely be mined in the early days of his Pittsburgh tenure. A WHL investigation unearthed alleged recruiting infractions such as extra flights for parents and giving the captain of the team a cell phone. Johnston was suspended for the second half of the 2012-13 campaign and the team lost a bunch of future draft selections. There was also a $200,000 fine levied. Some believe the investigation was a witch hunt orchestrated by the league’s old guard owners, who were sick of Portland and new owner Bill Gallacher winning so often.

Either way, Johnston served his sentence and watched right-hand man Travis Green step up and lead the team to a WHL championship and berth in the Memorial Cup final, where they lost to Nathan MacKinnon’s Halifax Mooseheads. Green went on to coach the American League’s Utica Comets this season and now Johnston is following him to the pro ranks – albeit with a loftier title.

And if Johnston can continue his up-tempo, winning ways in Pittsburgh, the Penguins may just find themselves hoisting another Cup in Steeltown.

Five 2014 draft prospects who know how to fight

Ryan Kennedy
Aaron-Irving

What is the future of fighting in the NHL? Will it go away completely, will the status quo be maintained, or will the job of intimidating opponents/defending teammates simply go to players who also bring other skills to the ice while enforcers are phased out?

No matter which scenario plays out, the following five players available for the 2014 draft can bring the pain when the gloves are dropped, but also contribute in other ways and play regular minutes.

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Patrick Roy is THN’s pick for coach of the year, but can his magic last?

Colorado Avalanche versus the Chicago Blackhawks

You can always tell when Patrick Roy wants his players to make a line change. No matter how deafeningly loud the building is, there is that ubiquitous whistle. Once they hear that shrill sound, Avalanche players scurry to the bench as though their paychecks are waiting there for them. He uses it in practice, too, prompting the kind of classical conditioning from his players Ivan Pavlov would envy.

Roy is the most engaged coach you’ll ever see during a practice. After he explains a drill, he turns to his charges and says, “Did everyone understand that?” And at the end of the workout, he insists on all of his players coming to center ice and forming a circle, putting their hands in the middle and chanting, “Team!” as they raise their hands in unison.

Seriously. Patrick Roy gets away with all of this. In the NHL. That kind of stuff might have gone over well in Quebec City, where he coached the Remparts for six seasons, but Roy is in the big leagues now. Someone should tell him NHL players can see through all that rah-rah crap and doing that is a good way to get fired.

But somehow Roy pulls it off. Stunningly well, we might add. THN’s choice for NHL coach of the year, Roy has gone where few Hall of Famers have gone before. History tells us superstar players, generally speaking, make lousy coaches. Rocket Richard lasted two games with Quebec in the World Hockey Association before quitting. Wayne Gretzky, Bernie Geoffrion and Doug Harvey were all sub .500 coaches in the NHL. Read more

Ryan Kennedy’s sleeper picks for the 2014 draft

Ryan Kennedy
Brendan-vanRiemsdyk

Other than being very good players, Joe Pavelski, Dustin Byfuglien and Matt Moulson all have something in common: They were selected after the 200th pick in the 2003 draft. One year later, the same could be said for Pekka Rinne, Mark Streit and Troy Brouwer.

Every draft class has “sleepers,” also known as players with potential that teams may have to wait longer on to develop, or simply take a leap of faith on. This year is no different, but who will those kids be? If we knew for sure, they wouldn’t be sleepers, would they? In any event, here are some players I see as potential draftees this weekend who may go late, but have the potential to beat the odds and become NHLers one day. Keep in mind there are no guarantees these players will be drafted – even when a team tells a prospect they will pick him, things often change on draft day. But these kids have something to them.

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