The pressure is on Dylan Strome – because of Dylan Strome

Matt Larkin
Dylan Strome. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Connor McDavid, fast on his way to becoming the face of the NHL, understandably attracted a lot of attention at BioSteel’s 2016 Pro Hockey Camp this week in Toronto. Excited kids followed him everywhere he went. So did reporters and photographers. It was hard to tell them apart from the kids.

But as he fiddled around working on his skills Tuesday, he had a worthy playmate. His old Erie Otters teammate, Dylan Strome, was out there, too, stride for stride. They worked together on some passing drills. They chatted. They competed in a raucous target shooting contest, much to the tykes’ delight from the rafters of St. Michael’s College School Arena. What stood out: Strome looked like he belonged out there, even with McDavid. We know No. 97’s raw tools are among the very best in the NHL already, but Strome flashed a lot of skill, too.
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Pittsburgh signs Thomas Di Pauli, still has a building advantage

Ryan Kennedy
Thomas Di Pauli (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Pittsburgh Penguins have signed free agent center Thomas Di Pauli to a two-year entry-level contract, adding an asset to an organization that does not have a deep prospect pipeline right now. But here’s the thing: the Pens are staying in the NHL’s top echelon without a traditional building strategy and Di Pauli is part of that.

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Why next season’s Dallas Stars have a higher ceiling – and a lower floor

Matt Larkin
Stephen Johns and Kari Lehtonen. Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)

Ending a season with a 6-1 home loss in a Game 7 obviously leaves a bitter aftertaste. But it could’ve been worse for the Dallas Stars.

The lopsided letdown in the Central Division final was embarrassing but hardly signified the end of something. Quite the opposite. The Stars are beginning something: an era of what might be sustained dominance. There’s an excellent chance we merely look back on 2015-16 as their warmup act.

The Stars jumped from out of the post-season to second overall in the NHL and first in the Central Division. They got a second straight MVP-caliber year from captain Jamie Benn. Tyler Seguin continued to score at an elite pace. Sophomore D-man John Klingberg busted out for 58 points. The versatile Cody Eakin has become one of the game’s best third-line centers, and Jason Spezza’s 33 goals were one short of his career high. The Stars led the league in scoring and finished second in 5-on-5 Corsi For Per 60. They were an offensive juggernaut, and they have room to grow in that regard. Power winger Valeri Nichushkin hasn’t realized his potential yet but is still just 21. Prospects Jason Dickinson and Brett Ritchie lurk on the roster bubble, with Denis Gurianov on the way eventually.

The Stars also came within one victory of the Western Conference final without Seguin, who missed all but one playoff game with an Achilles injury. So they have a lot going for them, especially on offense. Their best players remain in their 20s. Franchise cornerstones Benn and Klingberg are signed long term. This team has as high a ceiling as any in the NHL. That’s why we picked Dallas to reach the Stanley Cup final in our 2016-17 THN Yearbook.

Note that we didn’t pick them to win it all, however. The Stars are a strange beast in that, for all their upside, they have a significant amount of downside in 2016-17, too. Or they at least raise a truckload of questions.

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There are some bad omens for Canada’s junior program right now

World junior heartbreak  (Photo credit should read Markku Ulander/AFP/Getty Images)

On Wednesday, Canada was eliminated from medal contention at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament in Slovakia. Russia and Sweden will move on from the pool, and hey; those are both great national programs. But Canada has won the under-18 event (which also has games in the Czech Republic) 18 of the past 20 years. Yes, only twice have they lost the gold medal game in that span.

Now, call it a one-off if you will, but ignore the trends at your own peril: Canada’s junior dominance continues to slide.

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Kristian Vesalainen is Finland’s power forward threat for the 2017 draft

Kristian Vesalainen  (Photo by Tommy Holl/Frolunda Gothenburg/Champions Hockey League via Getty Images)

It’s impossible to watch Kristian Vesalainen right now and not get excited about where he’ll be once the world juniors roll around almost five months from now. Already 6-foot-3 and 203 pounds, Vesalainen has a gold medal under his belt from Finland’s world under-18s victory in North Dakota this past season and has already played against men in the SHL.

Yes, one of Finland’s best prospects is playing in Sweden.

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The top 40 players at the National Junior Evaluation Camp

Joel Eriksson-Ek (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

There was a lot of international talent in Plymouth, Michigan last week. Team USA hosted its summer National Junior Evaluation Camp (NJEC) in the town, with the dual purpose of seeing what the Americans have for the upcoming world juniors and facing great competition from Canada, Sweden and Finland.

In the end, Canada lost all three of its games, while the other nations went 2-1. Is that a concern for the Canucks, who host the world juniors in Toronto and Montreal this winter? Not so much. As coach Dominique Ducharme pointed out, it was August. There’s still a lot of hockey to be played and his charges hadn’t seen meaningful competition in months.

On the other hand, what do you say about players who had great performances in Michigan? Surely that says something about those teens’ preparation.

Here’s a look at the top 40 players that I saw in Michigan – with a caveat. I saw each team play twice and in the case of Canada and the U.S., sometimes I saw a player once or not at all. So I’m not going to rank those kids, as it wouldn’t be fair. That means players such as Pierre-Luc Dubois, Travis Konecny and Anthony Beauvillier aren’t eligible.

Others, such as Carl Grundstrom and Lucas Carlsson, got injured either before I got there or within the first few shifts.

So if you don’t see your favorite prospect here, that could be the reason. Or, they just didn’t distinguish themselves to me. Doesn’t mean they’re a bust, doesn’t mean I hate them. With that out of the way, let’s get to the list:

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