The Dallas Stars were supposed to join the NHL’s elite this season. They made the playoffs last year on the strength of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn’s sublime chemistry, and an off-season Jason Spezza trade made them a one-line team no more. Instead, Dallas regressed, missing the playoffs. Its offense remained outstanding, but few teams struggled as much preventing goals.
The Blue Jackets will draft players from any and all circuits, but those kids tend to wind up in either major junior or the AHL. Sonny Milano chose Plymouth over Boston College, Peter Quenneville left Quinnipiac for Brandon, Markus Soberg went from Sweden to Windsor and Marko Dano dumped the KHL for the AHL. Will the trend continue?
One of the most buzzed-about prospects at the draft combine in Buffalo was Saint John Sea Dogs defenseman Jakub Zboril, a Czech national who plays with an edge and can contribute at both ends of the rink. It’s looking like Zboril will go in the middle of the first round in Florida thanks to that combination of talents, but his physicality has made him far from a favorite amongst opponents.
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.
Despite his six-foot, 183-pound frame, Mitchell Stephens answers to the nickname ‘Chubby.’ And the origin story behind the moniker is pure hockey culture, right or wrong.
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.
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:
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.