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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Where is Kevin Hayes going? And what can the Chicago Blackhawks do about it?

2014 NCAA Division I Men's Ice Hockey Championship - Northeast Regional

With NHL buzz now shifting from the Stanley Cup and NHL awards to the draft and free agent season, the one thing that hasn’t changed with Kevin Hayes is that he remains unsigned.

Chicago’s first-round draft pick from 2010 has wrapped up his NCAA career after four years at Boston College. While the Blackhawks would like to sign him to a pro contract, they haven’t yet. It’s starting to look as though the Hayes camp is looking for another deal elsewhere. If Chicago doesn’t sign him by Aug. 15, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent.

Just speculating, but one reason why Hayes might not want to sign with the Blackhawks is because he knows they’re a team deep on right wing, both in Chicago and the development system. Behind Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Kris Versteeg and Ben Smith, the Hawks have Ryan Hartman (first-rounder in 2013), Mark McNeill (first-rounder in 2011) and Jeremy Morin (Atlanta’s second-rounder in 2009) all pushing for promotions. It might be a full two years or more in the American League for Hayes, who is 22.

Hayes is a budding power forward who, quite frankly, had three ordinary seasons at Boston College before breaking out in his senior term. The Eagles’ website lists him at 6-foot-4, 216 pounds, which is two inches and 15 pounds more than when Chicago drafted him four years ago.

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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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