When is a free agent not really free? When his name is Johnny Gaudreau

Ken Campbell
Johnny Gaudreau (right) (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)

As of today, NHL teams are permitted to get in touch with restricted free agents in advance of the free agency period opening July 1. Which is kind of like when Communist governments would hold elections. The fix is pretty much in. Chances are overwhelming that nobody is going to get an offer sheet, despite the fact you could make an all-star team out of the players who are available.

“Over the years you can probably count the number of visits teams have had with restricted free agents on one hand,” one agent said. “And I don’t think there will be too many this year.”

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The real battle for Clayton Keller is about to begin

Ryan Kennedy
Clayton Keller  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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.

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Winners and losers from the first round of the draft

Ryan Kennedy
Winnipeg's Patrik Laine (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)

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.

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Tyson Jost: Family, sacrifice and what it takes to get to the draft

Ryan Kennedy
Tyson Jost. (Garrett James Photography)

BUFFALO – The first thing you should know about Tyson Jost is that he’s a character kid. He blew away teams at the draft combine with his interviews and it’s not hard to predict him wearing the captain’s ‘C’ in the NHL some day. The dynamic two-way center will go in the first round tonight but he’ll be the first to tell you he didn’t get there alone.

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Report: Blackhawks’ top prospect Schmaltz leaves NCAA, signs entry-level deal

Jared Clinton
Nick Schmaltz (Elsa/Getty Images)

The key to a successful off-season for Chicago GM Stan Bowman is finding cheap, effective talent to keep the Blackhawks as competitive as they have been over the past several seasons in the Central Division. And it seems Bowman has started his summer by bringing in one of the Blackhawks’ top prospects.

The Chicago Tribune’s Chris Hine reported Sunday that 20-year-old center Nick Schmaltz has inked a three-year, entry-level contract with the Blackhawks, choosing to forego a third season at University of North Dakota and instead join the pro ranks. In THN’s Future Watch 2016, a panel of scouts ranked Schmaltz as Chicago’s best prospect, and 26th-best in the league, and his performance in the NCAA makes it clear why.

This past season, Schmaltz appeared in 37 games for the UND Fighting Hawks, scoring 11 goals and 46 points. He was a key part of UND’s top line, alongside Drake Caggiula and Brock Boeser, and Schmaltz scored one goal and four points in four games during UND’s Frozen Four national title victory. That’s not to mention his two-goal, eight-point World Junior Championship performance for Team USA. Read more

Michigan State legend Ron Mason passes away at 76

Ryan Kennedy
Coach Ron Mason (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Ron Mason, the legendary former coach of the Michigan State Spartans, has passed away at the age of 76.

Mason won 924 games behind the bench at Michigan State, Bowling Green and Lake Superior State. He guided the Spartans to the national championship in 1986 and again as athletic director in 2007. But his impact on college hockey went well beyond wins.

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Best hockey city in the USA? That honor belongs to Detroit, study says

Jared Clinton
A young fan holds up a sign sitting between his parents at his first Red Wings game (Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

Minnesota may call itself the State of Hockey, but when it comes to the best hockey town,a recent study says ‘Hockeytown’ still reigns supreme.

According to WalletHub’s 17-metric study, Detroit is the best city to live in for “hockey enthusiasts.” The metrics include number of teams, performance, Stanley Cups, division titles, fan engagement, popularity and attendance, but it wasn’t limited to the NHL. But before you go thinking this was a ranking of NHL towns, consider that the study also included NCAA Div. I programs to help find which hockey cities were really the best.

So while it was the Red Wings’ success and fan engagement that helped put Detroit atop the 72-city list, the lack of NCAA action in the city ended up hurting the city’s margin of victory. Yes, the University of Michigan and Michigan State are nearby, but they’re not technically in Detroit. Thus, they were given their own ranking.

Because of this, WalletHub’s study only saw Detroit narrowly defeat Boston for the title by less than three-quarters of a point. That’s because Boston has great local college programs that offer fans with another way to watch the game. Read more

Prospect of the Year: meet the best for all 30 NHL teams

Ryan Kennedy
Brock Boeser (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

It’s about that time, folks. The Memorial Cup field has been set, the AHL is into the conference finals and the NCAA champs were crowned long ago. So which players repped their franchises the best? The following list is made up of the prospects I believe had the best seasons for their parent franchises.

These are not necessarily the most NHL-ready players or the top prospects in the organizational pecking order, but these guys had the most success overall (but yeah, a lot of the top guys are here anyway). Factors include individual stats and growth, plus team success – so don’t be surprised to find some North Dakota Fighting Hawks and Brandon Wheat Kings on the list. One more note: any player who is Calder-eligible for the current NHL season does not count – that means no Frankie Vatrano for Boston or Connor Hellebuyck for Winnipeg, as examples.

Let’s get to it:

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