NHL Prospect Hot List: Washington’s Andre Burakovsky

Andre-Burakovsky

Playoffs in the junior leagues are in full stride, while developments at the world under-18s have been intriguing to say the least. Team USA lost its first game to the Swiss before rebounding, while the Czechs are flying high and Canada is doing just enough to stay up top. Here’s a look at some of the top NHL prospects playing around the world right now.

Andre Burakovsky, LW – Erie Otters (OHL)

With 10 goals and 13 points through 12 playoff games, it goes without saying that Burakovsky is doing well for Erie, but you really have to see him live to appreciate the magic of the winger. Burakovsky loves to control the puck and uses his slick hands to weave through traffic, where a lethal wrister can then be employed to finish off the play. Considering he played against men last year in Sweden, it’s probably no wonder he is flourishing against players his own age now.

“Of course it was a little harder back home,” he said. “It’s older guys that know what they’re doing so you have to be really smart. Here it’s more physical; you have to keep your head up all the time and go a bit faster. And the hockey over here fits me better; I like the smaller ice.”

Read more

Ryan Kennedy’s Lottery Mock Draft

Aaron-Ekblad

Florida won the draft lottery last night, meaning the Panthers get the first crack at an interesting field with a lot of variation in it. A lot goes into a draft list and the final results are always thrown into chaos by trades and reaches. As the draft gets closer and teams decide who they like the most, I’ll get a more accurate picture of how things might shake down. But for now, here’s a quick-and-dirty look at what could happen come draft day in Philadelphia, based on the teams’ current situation.

1. Florida – Aaron Ekblad, Barrie Colts, D

Yeah, yeah, defensemen never go first overall anymore (Erik Johnson was the last in 2006), but the Cats are loaded up front with Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad and Jonathan Huberdeau. Their best ‘D’ prospects are still in college, whereas Ekblad can step in right away and play a top-four role.

Read more

Florida Panthers win lottery. Will they keep top pick or deal it?

2013 NHL Draft

Turnabout is fair play for the Florida Panthers. At last year’s draft lottery, the second-to-last Colorado Avalanche leap-frogged the Panthers to win first overall pick. This year, it was the Panthers who did the leap-frogging.

Florida moved up one spot in the draft and won the right to select first overall in the 2014 NHL draft June 27 in Philadelphia. The Panthers had an 18.8 percent chance of winning the lottery, held Tuesday night in Toronto. The last-place Buffalo Sabres had the best chance of winning – 25 percent – but will slip to the second overall spot.

The remainder of the top 13 picks follow in reverse order of NHL standings. Edmonton picks third followed by Calgary fourth and the New York Islanders fifth. Vancouver is sixth, Carolina seventh, Toronto eighth, Winnipeg ninth, Anaheim (from Ottawa in the Bobby Ryan trade) 10th, Nashville 11th, Phoenix 12th and Washington 13th. The New Jersey Devils slip to the 30th spot as league penalty for trying to circumvent the NHL salary cap.

Winning the lottery is nice for the Panthers, but it doesn’t mean as much in a draft that is considered very equal among the top three, four, even five prospects according to most scouts. Florida is weakest on the blueline and will surely be tempted to select Barrie defenseman Aaron Ekblad first overall.

Read more

NHL Prospect Hot List: Sanheim stands tall for Canada

Ryan Kennedy
Travis-Sanheim

With his NHL debut in Calgary, Johnny Gaudreau officially exhausted his eligibility on The Hot List. But it was a great run for the speedy ball of talent, starting as a member of the United States League’s Dubuque Fighting Saints. In fact, thanks to his three years at Boston College, Gaudreau is likely the most frequent name ever to appear on the list (John Gibson is a likely second). But back to the present: Here are some of the new players we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.

Travis Sanheim, D – Calgary Hitmen (WHL)

Currently over in Finland with Team Canada’s under-18 team, Sanheim has made a remarkable jump up the draft rankings this season. This was his first season with the Hitmen, as he spent last year in midget, building up his game and his strength.

“I could get more ice time and play every role,” Sanheim said. “I could go to the gym more, get stronger and prepare for this year to not only make the team, but make a difference on the team. And I think I did that, I jumped into a pretty key role.”

A ninth-rounder in the bantam draft, Sanheim ended this season with a very respectable 29 points and a plus-25 rating in 67 games. But he started off slow, with just three points through 21 games. Once he adjusted to life in the ‘Dub,’ things picked up. He also got more opportunities when captain Jaynen Rissling went down with an injury in December. Another defenseman who has helped Sanheim is fellow draft prospect Ben Thomas. The two formed a pairing in Calgary and also skated together as Canada took off for the under-18s.

Read more

Wild WHL game includes multiple suckerpunches and a KO

Nic-Petan

The Portland Winterhawks have dominated the Western League for years now and are back in the conference final thanks to a five-game series win over Victoria. But that last victory over the Royals was a brutal one, with several dirty plays marring the game.

To start, you have Florida Panthers pick Steven Hodges rabbit punching Pittsburgh Penguins blue-chipper Derrick Pouliot while Pouliot is fighting defenseman Joe Hicketts. Pouliot then KOs Hicketts, a small but feisty prospect for the 2014 draft.

But that wasn’t the end of it!

Read more

Czech teen Pavel Zacha hopes to follow Tomas Hertl

Ryan Kennedy
Pavel-Zacha

The Czech Republic has churned out quality, but far less quantity in recent years when it comes to prospects. Jakub Voracek, Radek Faksa and of course Tomas Hertl have kept the nation relevant, but when only a handful of native are taken in the NHL draft each season, it’s a problem. Good showings at international tournaments helps and that’s where Pavel Zacha comes in. Already 6-foot-3 and 201 pounds, the talented left winger just turned 17 this week, but he has already played on a team with Petr Nedved in his country’s top league, gotten his feet wet at the world juniors and learned more English than some Czech NHLers. Now he has his sites set on a good showing at the world under-18s in Finland next week.

“We have a very good team,” Zacha said. “We played good at the Ivan Hlinka tournament in the summer and I hope we can get a medal this time.”

Eligible for the loaded 2015 draft, Zacha is shaping up to be the first top-10 pick from the Czech Republic since Voracek went seventh to Columbus in 2007. “He’s a big, strong, powerful winger,” said one NHL scout. “Really good skater, too. He’s fast and he shoots the puck.”

While the race to get Zacha over to North American shores will be a feverish one when the CHL Import Draft determines major junior destinations for Euros in the summer, Zacha signed a three-year contract with Liberec this season, so his path will most likely mirror that of Hertl, who came over to San Jose this season as more or less a finished product from the Slavia Prague squad. “Everybody says it’s the best way in the Czech Republic,” he said. “I like Hertl because he did the same.”

Zacha spent the majority of his season with Liberec’s main club after dominating at the junior level and also spending time loaned out to a second-tier men’s club. He tallied eight points in 38 games for Liberec and saw action in three playoff games. It was quite the intro to the next level of hockey for the teen.

“It was hard in the beginning,” he said. “But I played with Petr Nedved and he told me good things about how to play and really supported me.”

And Nedved isn’t the first elder statesman to lend Zacha a hand. The youngster has trained in the summer before with former No. 1 overall pick Patrik Stefan in Los Angeles and will likely head to Montreal this summer for a camp arranged by agent Allan Walsh’s Octagon firm. The big houses and ocean vistas of L.A. were certainly awe-inspiring for the product of land-locked Brno in the Czech Republic, but those trips also helped him learn English – on top of movie trailers and Hollywood comedies. Growing up as a multi-sport athlete, Zacha also played tennis and soccer, but his size and skill made him a phenom on the ice. He’s been ahead of the development curve for years back home and even though he played sparingly at the world juniors in Sweden, it did open his eyes. “It was great for me, seeing players like Jonathan Drouin,” he said. “For me it was a very good tournament.”

Zacha wants to work on the mental side of his game and a great acid test will be the under-18s. In a pool with Denmark, Switzerland, Finland and Team USA, the Czechs should at least make the quarterfinal, especially with first-round 2014 draft prospects Jakub Vrana and David Pastrnak in the lineup.

If Zacha can build his resume from there, next season will be filled with opportunities and a chance to add his name to a prospect list that already features Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Noah Hanifin and Oliver Kylington. And that would be great for the visibility of both Zacha and his home country.

Will Flames prospect Gaudreau turn pro or take the slow road to free agency?

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

The Samuel Beckett play Waiting For Godot features two characters who wait endlessly for someone named Godot to arrive. To occupy themselves, they talk, argue, sing, eat, exercise, sleep, play games, even contemplate suicide.

It’s not quite that bad in Calgary Flames’ country where team management and Flames fans play the part of two characters waiting for Gaudreau to turn pro. It’s either going to happen within the next week – after Saturday’s Frozen Four final – or the wait will continue for another year.

But here’s the rub that has Flames fans worried the most. What if Gaudreau, who is heavily favored to win the Hobey Baker Award Friday as top player in U.S. college hockey, decides he wants to play his final season with the Boston College Eagles, even if they win the NCAA title Saturday?

Read more

Canada’s under-18 team goes for gold with Dineen

Ryan Kennedy
Haydn-Fleury

Canada’s world under-18 team features some of the top players available for the next two drafts, blending a dangerous combination of size, speed and skill. But taking in the squad’s final practice before they headed over to Finland, it was difficult not to classify the team as adorable, due to the players’ first names being written on tape and pasted to the fronts of their helmets. Of course, when you’re playing for coach Kevin Dineen, who is coming off a gold medal win with the Olympic women’s team, there are few questions.

“That was all me,” Dineen said. “I got the idea from my first day working with the women. I told them they could have played a great trick on me if they hadn’t been sitting in their actual stalls – they knew it was going to take a few days for me to get to know them.”

Read more