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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Goalies always have the toughest draft days

Ryan Kennedy
nedeljkovic-plymouthwhalers

Just to give you an idea of how difficult drafting a goaltender is, I present two classes.

In 2006, NHL teams selected Semyon Varlamov, Jonathan Bernier, Steve Mason, James Reimer, Michal Neuvirth, Jhonas Enroth, plus several others who have played at least a dozen games in the big league.

In 2007, there were 20 netminders selected and only two of them ever made it to The Show: Timo Pielmeier played one game for San Jose in 2010-11, while Allen York suited up 11 times for Columbus a season after that.

So you’ll excuse GMs around the league of being a little gun-shy when it comes to taking a goalie in the draft. But Carey Price went fifth overall and Roberto Luongo went fourth, so you can’t exactly ignore the position until the latter rounds, either – even though that’s where Pekka Rinne (258th) and Henrik Lundqvist (205th) ended up.

All this means that the netminders themselves usually have no idea when they’ll be picked.

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No pinching necessary for Brad Newman

Ronnie Shuker
Newman_644x428

Brad Newman sits on the bench, hoping for the tap on the shoulder he’s been dreaming about for 14 years. Just 24 hours earlier, he cried when his coach told him he’d be dressing him for the game.

The first period goes by and Newman still hasn’t had a shift. He’s so close to realizing his dream of playing pro hockey, but it’s a tight game late in the season, Feb. 1, against Asiago, the second-best team in the Italian League, and Cortina SG is in a fight to make the playoffs.

How Newman even got to this point was a miracle. At 36, he hadn’t played competitively since 1999-00, yet here he was in the lineup for Cortina SG after begging for a tryout and playing the role of Rudy Ruettiger at practice for months, with no guarantee he’d play.

Newman, who grew up in Chicago, was a nominal player at Bowling Green, where he had just two goals and four points in 40 games over four seasons. After graduating, he moved to Los Angeles and continued to play, but never anything higher than rec hockey for the next 13 years. Read more

The top 100: Ryan Kennedy’s 2014 draft rankings

Ryan Kennedy
Aaron-Ekblad

The draft is officially one week away and things are beginning to become a little more clear. Still muddy, mind you, but with a tiny bit of transparency. The following represents my opinion on how the draft will shake out in Philadelphia based on countless interviews with NHL scouts, GMs and execs, plus my own viewings and research into how past drafts have tended to shake out in terms of positional distribution. Goalies tend to go later than their potential worth, for example, because it’s so hard to predict which ones will turn out. And size tends to bump a player up, whether or not there is an actual correlation between bulk and talent – it’s just how teams have drafted in the past.

This is not a straight-up mock draft, though some consideration was given towards past drafting tendencies – plus trades always muck that up in the end. So without further ado, here are my top 100 draft rankings for 2014:

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New USHL commissioner faces questions on expansion and Team USA

Milano

When Skip Prince took over the United States League in 2008, the junior circuit was comprised of 12 teams. And according to the outgoing commissioner, some folks thought that was plenty. But as Bob Fallen officially replaces Prince up top, the USHL is slated to ice 17 teams next season, with more cities asking to buy in. That’s one of the big issues Fallen will tackle during this reign.

A former Reebok-CCM Hockey exec whose son played in the USHL, Fallen has been involved on the boards of several grassroots initiatives, particularly in Minnesota. Now he’s in charge of the whole Midwest, with other markets interested in joining up. Prince estimated there are five or six cities interested in acquiring franchises within the league’s footprint and 10 to 15 outside the current borders.

According to some of my sources, the heavy hitters would be Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, with the three teams being linked to the NHL franchises in those cities. All three would lie outside the USHL’s current eastern border, however. And though a division including those three cities, Youngstown (Ohio) and Team USA or Muskegon (both Michigan) would make sense geographically, travel is not the only consideration.

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Meet Game 7 hero Alec Martinez of the Los Angeles Kings

Alec-Martinez

It’s the question many casual fans are asking this morning – and the one Chicago Blackhawks fans would rather not hear about: Who is Alec Martinez?

Though he was the most anonymous member of the Kings blueline, Martinez now finds himself in the spotlight after tossing the game-winning shot on net in overtime as Los Angeles won its third straight Game 7 on the road:

He may not have the star power of Drew Doughty or the veteran experience of Matt Greene, but Martinez is slowly and surely finding his way in the NHL.

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NHL draft combine: NCAA commits make their mark

Ryan Kennedy
Brandon-Hickey

They’re not the type of players that jump straight to the NHL as teenagers, but the prospects that head to the NCAA ranks have been growing in both number and quality lately. Because their development takes a bit longer, often these players are available in the middle rounds of the draft, but they still get to the NHL.

At the draft combine in Toronto, many college commits were in the early groups for fitness testing. Brown University commit Tyler Bird, a power forward from Kimball Union Academy in New England, was actually the 2014 guinea pig for his peers.

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