AHL moving West just one of several key U.S. hockey projects

The Ducks and Sharks will move their AHL teams to California (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Say hello to the American League’s Pacific Division. The dramatic shift that will see five AHL teams shifted to California not only shakes up the continent’s second-best circuit, but will also have big ramifications for how the game is embraced by the population in the Golden State.

“Hockey is growing in California and the West Coast,” said Anaheim GM Bob Murray at the official press conference. “This is going to take it one step further.”

From a grassroots perspective, the Pacific Division will nurture more hockey fans in a state that is already producing some pretty nice talent. Because it’s not just important that kids can watch players and prospects in the process of achieving NHL dreams, but that cities such as San Diego and Stockton get anchor teams that hopefully help the kids themselves start to play the game locally.

The AHL announcement is one of just several big projects on the go that will help the game as a whole. Here are four others to keep an eye on:

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The Hot List: Nicolas Roy can shoot with a stick or a rifle

Nicolas Roy (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

The busy season continues, with lots to report on in the prospect world. The CHL Top Prospects Game was last week, while the North American League Prospects Tournament field was just announced. Toss in the American League’s All-Star Game and there’s a lot to cover off, so let’s look at some of the kids we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.

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2015 draft prospect Timo Meier headlines The Hot List

Timo Meier (Photo by Francois Laplante/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year if you’re an NHL scout, as all-star games for draft hopefuls are in full swing. Last week, the United States League held its Top Prospects Game, while this week the CHL takes its turn. Though the USHL game was a bit lopsided (a 7-4 contest that was never close), many players stood out. And injuries in the CHL have given some previously overlooked players a second chance. Let’s take a look at some of those kids and more in our weekly wrap-up of players we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.

Timo Meier, RW – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)

You could say that Meier has been lucky to line up beside two of the most dynamic teenagers in the world this year – Kevin Fiala on the Swiss world junior team and Nikolaj Ehlers with Halifax – but there’s a reason the talented right winger earned those plum assignments: He’s pretty good in his own right, as evidenced by the 25 goals and 56 points he has put up for the Mooseheads in 37 games.

“I had a good start to the season, it’s going pretty good,” Meier said. “We’re a young team and we’re improving every day. It’s been fun so far.”

The Swiss may have bombed out at the world juniors, but Meier showed a lot of great attributes and he’ll be back to defend his country’s honor next year as well. In the meantime, the late 1996 birthday is honing his skills in the Quebec League as he prepares for the NHL draft.

“It’s a fast league, with a lot of fast players,” he said. “It’s really intense. I can improve my game a lot in this league.” Read more

2015 draft phenom Jack Eichel does it again for Boston University

Ryan Kennedy
Jack Eichel (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)

When Boston University needs a boost, the Terriers know where to find it. Freshman Jack Eichel has been money for the team all season long, leading the Terriers in scoring and coming through in the clutch. The latest example came this weekend with B.U. facing off against UMass-Lowell in a game that would decide first place in Hockey East.

The Terriers got a power play in overtime and that’s when Eichel went to work. Fast-forward to 1:45 in the clip below to see Eichel win the faceoff and then moments later blast home the winner:

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McDavid & Eichel are special, but very far from best 1-2 draft duo

Jason Kay
Jack Eichel by Brian Babineau, Connor McDavid by Adam D’Oliveira

The Connor McDavid-Jack Eichel NHL draft showdown is a towering monster, thanks in various parts to their amazing skill levels, an insatiable media appetite and social media. They’re being touted as better than Taylor Hall-Tyler Seguin, the dynamic duo that topped the 2010 draft board. As for their careers, however, they have many miles to skate to rank with the best-ever No. 1-2 tandems.

That distinction is held by Guy Lafleur and Marcel Dionne, who occupied the top slots in 1971. Montreal nabbed Lafleur first, following Sam Pollock’s legendary machinations; the Habs GM pried the No. 1 pick out of California a year earlier, then traded Ralph Backstrom to Los Angeles to help prop up a flagging Kings squad when it appeared they might finish last overall. The dipsy-doodling worked, as Los Angeles moved past the Seals, cementing the top choice for Montreal. Read more

Portland’s powerful Paul Bittner leads off The Hot List

Paul Bittner (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

The United States League holds its Top Prospects Game in Dubuque tonight, with draft dandies such as Kyle Connor, Brock Boeser and Tom Novak leading the charge. And with the world juniors in the books, it’s interesting to look back at the CHL and see which players upped their games with extra responsibility and opportunity. So that’s part of what we’re doing this week in our weekly look at prospects we’re excited to see in the NHL some day.

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