Matthews defies odds to crack Team North America lineup

Auston Matthews  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

So just how good is the consensus No. 1 overall pick in the NHL draft, Auston Matthews? Well, he’s so good that apparently he can skate uphill.

When Peter Chiarelli and Stan Bowman, the two men most responsible for putting the North American roster for the World Cup of Hockey together, announced their initial selections for the 23-and-under team less than three months ago, Chiarelli declared that Matthews had an “uphill road” in his attempts to be on the roster. But with an impressive World Championship to his credit where he was one of the best players in the tournament, Matthews bucked the odds and will find himself part of what will easily be the most intriguing team in the tournament.

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More Patrik Laine! Finland gives us what we want with World Cup roster

Patrik Laine (Photo by Anna Sergeeva/Getty Images)

Given how important the youth have been to Finland this year, it’s probably not a shocker that the final seven roster spots for the nation’s World Cup of Hockey team skew young. But it is nice to see the kids rewarded.

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Is Madison Bowey the missing piece that Washington needs?

Ryan Kennedy
Madison Bowey (Photo by Ken Andersen/NHLPA via Getty Images)

It’s hard not to see a bitter irony in the fact that Madison Bowey is still playing hockey, while the Washington Capitals are not. After all, the Caps are the dream for Bowey, a physical two-way defenseman currently enjoying his first year of pro with the AHL’s Hershey Bears.

But if Bowey can help the Bears get five more playoff wins, it will be the perfect ending to an excellent year of development for Washington’s most promising blueline prospect. And perhaps a glimpse of the Capitals’ future.

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Mitch Marner is destroying the Memorial Cup, so what can we expect from him next season?

Mitch Marner (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

The London Knights are steamrolling the competition at the Memorial Cup and Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Mitch Marner is leading the way, just as he did in the OHL playoffs. All told, the right winger has 57 points in his past 21 games (13 in three Memorial Cup wins). Add in the 116 points he had during the regular season and you’ve got a weaponized threat on the ice.

The Knights have already clinched a spot in the Memorial Cup final thanks to a 3-0 record (in which they have outscored their opponents 20-5), so with one game left on the docket for the team, it’s hard not to speculate what Marner’s future holds next season.

So let’s speculate, shall we?

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Finland’s international golden era has just begun

Finland's Jesse Puljujärvi (Markku Ulander/AFP/Getty Images)

Call him The Narrative Slayer.

When Connor McDavid charged the net for what turned out to be the game-winning goal in Canada’s 2-0 golden performance at the World Championship in Russia, the young Oilers star punctured a pretty good storyline in the making. That being, of course, that a Finland victory would have given Suomi all three major IIHF men’s titles this year.

But while Finland may have lost at the worlds, the country’s gold medals at the world juniors and world under-18s were reason enough to believe that Finland is entering a golden era of hockey.

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Mikko Rantanen bound and determined to take on the big boys in the NHL next season

Ryan Kennedy
Mikko Rantanen. (Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Before Mikko Rantanen even got drafted, before he knew which players he would be competing against for a job, he maintained that his goal for 2015-16 was to play in the NHL. And after the powerful right winger was taken 10th overall by the Colorado Avalanche, he did just that – for a handful of games, at least.

Rantanen, the brightest prospect in Colorado’s system and Future Watch’s No. 5 prospect overall, made the Avalanche out of camp and played the first six games of the season. The strapping young Finn didn’t register a point and never eclipsed 11 minutes of ice time in any given game, but it’s tough to consider his assignment to the AHL as a disappointment, especially given how Rantanen has performed ever since. “It was an experience for him to dip his toe in the water,” said David Oliver, Colorado’s director of player development. “With ice time comes confidence, and for his development curve we wanted to get him to the AHL to play those big minutes.”

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Should prospect goaltenders play a lot in the AHL – or a little in the NHL?

Matt Larkin
Matt Murray.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

A fractured larynx
 is horrible news for anyone. Merely writing about such a gruesome, frightening injury churns the stomach. For Providence Bruins goaltender Malcolm Subban, though, taking a puck to the throat Feb. 6 was especially discouraging.

After all, he was somewhere he didn’t think he should be.

If it were up to Subban, 22, he would’ve been far away from Portland, Maine and the Providence warmup, where he sustained the injury before a game against the Pirates. Subban spoke to THN shortly before training camp, and he made it clear he would rather be an NHL backup, fighting for scraps behind Tuukka Rask in Boston, than an AHL starter.

“From the OHL to the AHL, once I got in and got comfortable, I did really well coming in as a young guy, so I feel I can do the same in the NHL,” he said. “I’ve done it at the last two levels and succeeded there. So, looking at it the same way at the NHL level, I could play until I’m 28 and develop in the AHL, you know what I mean? So who’s to say when the age is? I definitely feel I can jump up there, and I’ve had a good couple seasons in the AHL.”

Subban wasn’t pulling a prima donna act. He dutifully accepted his AHL assignment to start 2015-16. He only admitted his preference for the big club when asked. And his mentality reflects how virtually every young goaltender feels once he’s drafted. They all want to be in the NHL as soon as possible, no matter how small the workload might be.

“In one sense, we’d all think there’s something wrong with them if they didn’t say that,” said Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford, a former NHL goalie.

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Memorial Cup players to watch for all 30 NHL teams

Ryan Kennedy
Ivan Provorov (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

The Memorial Cup begins today in Alberta, with the hosts from Red Deer taking on the OHL champs from London. Along with the Rebels and Knights, fans will be treated to performances by the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings and QMJHL’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. These teams didn’t get here by employing a bunch of scrubs, so there are many players to get excited for.

A lot of those kids have already been drafted by NHL teams and for franchises that don’t have any prospects in the tournament, there is also a raft of talent eligible for this summer’s draft in Buffalo. With that in mind, here’s my list of who to watch, no matter which NHL team you follow.

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