Development key for new Maple Leafs prospect Tobias Lindberg

Tobias Lindberg  (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

The Toronto Marlies have a luxury not many, if any, teams in the American League enjoy. When the parent team is out of town, the Marlies have access to two ice surfaces in the same building. And they use them. At one point during practice, coach Sheldon Keefe splits the groups up, with one going to one rink for skill development, the other on another sheet working on systems.

And what exactly does that have to do with the Toronto Maple Leafs acquiring prospect Tobias Lindberg in the trade with the Ottawa Senators for Dion Phaneuf? Actually, quite a bit. Because how Lindberg develops under the watchful eye of Keefe will go a long way to determining how good he’ll be as an NHL player. And how good he’ll be as an NHL player will go a long way to ultimately deciding how well the Leafs did in the trade.

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Youngsters dazzle at the AHL’s All-Star skills competition

Eric Comrie (Photo by Graig Abel Collection/Getty Images)

While John Scott was being carried on the shoulders of his all-star teammates in Nashville (I can see the reports now: Joe Pavelski, day-to-day, hernia. Brent Burns, day-to-day, hernia…), the American League’s finest were having their skills competition at their all-star festivities in Syracuse. And there were some pretty nice performances for fans of a couple NHL franchises.

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Top 30 draft rankings for 2016: Laine and Puljujarvi ride golden wave

Patrik Laine (#29) and Jesse Puljujarvi (photo by Heikki Saukkomaa/AFP/Getty Images)

The world juniors in Finland were almost unprecedented in terms of draft influence. Four of the six tournament all-stars (as chosen by the media) were 2016 prospects: Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Olli Juolevi and overall MVP Jesse Puljujarvi. The kids aren’t supposed to dominate like that, but here we are. With Alexander Nylander and Matthew Tkachuk also having strong tournaments, the big question around the campfire right now is where to slot defenseman Jakob Chychrun.

The OHL Sarnia star did not make Team Canada, but he’s the only defenseman in the top echelon right now – though Juolevi is seriously threatening that. One exec I spoke with believes Chychrun is in a positional class by himself, while another team scout told me Juolevi is pushing his way into the conversation.

So what happens on draft day? Top D-men are hard to find, but those elite forwards are awfully tempting. Since we’re nowhere near knowing which teams will be selecting early, I’m keeping things conservative, as I generally do. Here’s a look at my current top-30:

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How Matthew Tkachuk kept up with the other WJC draft titans

Matthew Tkachuk (Photo by Markku Ulander/AFP/Getty Images)

HELSINKI, FINLAND – It has been the year of the draft phenom at the world juniors. Auston Matthews flirted with an American goal-scoring record, Alexander Nylander put up points in his injured brother’s stead, while Finland got gigantic performances from Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi (my choice for tourney MVP).

But let’s not forget Matthew Tkachuk. The American left winger ended his tournament on a high note, posting up two goals and three points in an 8-3 wiping out of Sweden, winning himself a bronze medal in the process. With his size, smarts and skills, Tkachuk is firmly entrenched in the top-five for me, with Nylander behind him (and perhaps Jakob Chychrun, though being the only defenseman in the conversation may help him on draft day).

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Big, strong Russians put the boots to Team USA

The Russians celebrate against Team USA  (Photo by Markku Ulander/AFP/Getty Images)

HELSINKI, FINLAND – In a classic Cold War battle, the Russians had the better strategy, beating Team USA 2-1 in a grinding war on ice. The Americans’ top line of Auston Matthews, Colin White and Matthew Tkachuk was held off the scoreboard, despite an inordinate amount of ice time given to them by coach Ron Wilson. And while Tkachuk, a top prospect for the 2016 draft, hit a crossbar and came close on several other great chances, the crease in front of goalie and Washington Capitals prospect Ilya Samsonov was largely a no-go zone for Americans.

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Finland jumps Sweden as captain Mikko Rantanen heats up

Mikko Rantanen (left) celebrates (photo by Sarah Fuqua)

HELSINKI, FINLAND – Swedish defenseman William Lagesson let out a primal scream, then loudly muttered to himself as he stalked off the ice. The rugged Edmonton Oilers prospect had, after all, managed to shut down Finnish super-teen Jesse Puljujarvi; something unheard of in this edition of the world juniors. But while Puljujarvi’s deadly line with Carolina pick Sebastian Aho and another 2016 draft phenom, Patrik Laine, was held off the scoresheet, Finland had a Plan B.

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How Sweden’s Linus Soderstrom is living – and thriving – with Asperger Syndrome

Linus Soderstrom (photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)

HELSINKI, FINLAND – Through five games at the world juniors, Sweden rolled. The Tre Kronor were scoring in bunches, but also getting incredible goaltending from starter Linus Soderstrom. The New York Islanders prospect surrendered just five goals in four appearances, including a 46-save shutout against the U.S. in a 1-0 game the Americans swear they should have won, had it not been for the kid in the other net. So perhaps that kid’s public announcement right before the tournament came at the best time possible.

Soderstrom, as it turns out, has Asperger Syndrome.

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Did goaltending matter in a 6-5 game? Ask the Finns

Kaapo Kahkonen (photo by Markku Ulander/AFP/Getty Images)

HELSINKI, FINLAND – We knew pretty early on in this tournament that Finland could score, but could the Young Lions keep the puck out of their own net? In the round robin, that was no guarantee. Russia strafed them for six in a loss, while the Czechs got four past the Finns in a game the hosts would win 5-4.

So yes, it appears as though the Finns played with fire again in their quarterfinal win over Canada (which had a 6-5 score), but talk to the players and they’ll tell you the goalie change made early in the second period really helped get them on track. Out came Veini Vehvilainen and in came Kaapo Kahkonen.

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