Boston College loses Sonny Milano; OHL Plymouth wins

Ryan Kennedy
Sonny-Milano-draft

It’s an agonizing decision for a lot of prospects: head to college and be the big man on campus, or sign with an NHL team and play a longer schedule in major junior. Last year, it was Montreal first-rounder Michael McCarron in the spotlight. He chose the Ontario League’s London Knights over Western Michigan. This time, it’s Columbus first-rounder Sonny Milano, who will join the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers after he informed Boston College he would not be attending the school this fall.

As detailed by Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch, Milano struggled with the decision and that’s not surprising.

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Who to watch for at the Ivan Hlinka under-18 tournament

Ryan Kennedy
Matt-Barzal

Every summer, some of the best under-18 players in the world travel over to the Czech Republic and Slovakia for the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament, named after the former NHL coach. This event serves as the first major showdown of the season for the upcoming draft class and yes, it’s 2015′s turn in the spotlight.

Technically, this is not a best-on-best tournament, since Team USA does not send the National Team Development Program – the kids who end up dominating the world under-18s in the spring. Instead, the American squad is made up of prep schoolers and players from major junior and the United States League. For a look at Americans to watch for, check out my report from the camp earlier this summer. Also, Connor McDavid won’t be there, since he just got finished with Canada’s world junior camp. And Pavel Zacha, who recently signed with the Ontario League’s Sarnia Sting, is out as well. But there is still a lot of talent suiting up.

Here are some of the players to watch for:

Matt Barzal, Canada – A center with the Western League’s Seattle Thunderbirds, Barzal is an excellent playmaker with hands, quickness and creativity. He played as an underager at the world under-18s and projects to be a top-five or top-10 pick in 2015.

Oliver Kylington, Sweden – Skating, skating, skating. Kylington is a gifted speedster on Sweden’s blueline who will likely be the second D-man taken in 2015 after Noah Hanifin (USA). Kylington’s Farjestad club provided the opposition for the American League all-stars this past season and he won the fastest skater competition as a 16-year-old against the AHL’s best.

Dylan Strome, Canada – A big, growing center for the Ontario League’s Erie Otters, Dylan has excellent hockey IQ and some sweet hands. The younger brother of Ryan Strome, Dylan projects to be a top-12 pick in 2015.

Travis Konecny, Canada – A tantalizing combination of high-end skill and heart, Konecny was amazing for a lowly OHL Ottawa team this past season and will likely be a top scorer in the ‘O’ for 2014-15. Projects as a top-15 pick, since he measures in at just 5-foot-10, but Konecny is going to make some NHL team very happy.

Mitch Marner, Canada – Like Konecny, Marner is undersized, but the kid can flat-out play. Marner possesses an abundance of skill and flash, which will serve him well as he takes on a bigger role with the OHL’s London Knights this season. Projects as a top-15 pick.

Jakub Zboril, Czech Republic – Repping for the home side, Zboril is a smart defenseman with good size who can contribute at both ends of the rink, including on the power play. Zboril, who will join the Quebec League’s Saint John Sea Dogs this year, makes a good first pass and moves the puck well. Projects as a top-50 pick.

Sebastian Aho, Finland – Not to be confused with the Swedish Sebastian Aho, the Finnish Aho is a forward who makes those around him better and shows a great deal of poise and professionalism on the ice. Projects as a top-50 pick.
Also to watch on Finland is big scoring forward Patrik Laine, who is not eligible until 2016.

Alexei Platonov, Russia – Honestly, I don’t have much of a book on the Russians at the Ivan Hlinka, but Platonov is a sturdy tank on the blueline who comes in at about 6-foot-5 and 203 pounds. Has some scoring potential, but that’s not his primary game. Projects as a top-50 pick.

Adam Huska, Slovakia – A big, prototypical modern goaltender, Huska was great for Slovakia at the world under-18s, where his solid butterfly technique and ability to track shooters often bailed his team out. They’ll need him to be strong again at the Ivan Hlinka. Projects as a top-10 goalie for 2015.

Dominik Diem, Switzerland – An energetic forward with a big shot, Diem isn’t blessed with great size, but he has shown an ability to maximize his impact in the past. Gets back on defense, too. Projects as a top-100 pick.

Edited to reflect that Patrik Laine is from Finland

The Kevin Hayes sweepstakes are about to heat up

)Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images Sport)

If Kevin Hayes doesn’t sign with Chicago by Aug. 15, he’ll be this summer’s version of Justin Schultz and become a UFA.

A first-round pick of the Blackhawks in 2010, Hayes is a playmaking power forward who had a terrific senior season at Boston College with 27 goals and 65 points in 40 games. He’s not keen to sign with Chicago because the Blackhawks are so deep on the right wing, both at the NHL level and in terms of prospects. He’ll surely get a rookie max deal regardless.

Hayes, 22, probably has a short list of three teams:

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Aaron Ekblad hurt in exhibition game, but why was he even playing?

Aaron-Ekblad-draft

The chance to play for Team Canada in an international event is one of the bigger dreams of most hockey players, no matter how good they are. In fact, I can tell you exactly what it means to every single player I’ve asked, because they all have the same response: “Any time you get to put on that jersey, it’s a great honor.”

So I’m not surprised that Florida Panthers prospect Aaron Ekblad wanted to play at Canada’s world junior exhibition camp in Quebec. But why would the Panthers allow the No. 1 overall pick to play in the mini-tournament against the Czechs and Russians?

In speaking with execs from other teams (attempts to reach the Panthers were unsuccessful), they always like having their top prospects put in situations where they can develop, so it’s not crazy that Florida would want their most prominent draft pick to take on a leadership role in the summer and get some reps as he prepares for his first NHL training camp. Unfortunately, injuries are an unpredictable part of the game.

And after seeing their prized prospect get hurt Tuesday night on a hit from Czech defenseman Lukas Klok, the Panthers must be feeling like they rolled snake eyes:

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Oilers prospect Darnell Nurse aims for Team Canada spot

Darnell-Nurse-WJC

When the cuts were made to the 2013 Canadian world junior team, a howl went up in some corners when Darnell Nurse was left off the roster. The seventh overall pick in the 2013 draft, Nurse had size, mobility and a growing offensive repertoire – all great traits for a best-on-best tournament. But the Canuck braintrust went a different way and though it’s unfair to claim in hindsight that Nurse would have contributed to a better constructed blueline, the Edmonton Oilers prospect is back in camp and on a mission to learn from the past.

“You have to be on all the time, whether it’s a practice or a game,” Nurse said. “It’s a real fun camp to be a part of. You’ve got 40 guys all competing.”

Nurse is at the 2014 camp now in Montreal, where he’s hoping to make a good impression on the Hockey Canada decision-makers and show off his best attributes.

“I’ve always had the ability to cover the ice with my skating,” he said. “My strength is knocking guys off the puck.”

At 6-foot-4 and 189 pounds, Nurse is a big blueliner with a nasty streak. I wondered last summer if that aggressiveness would hurt him in an international tournament where bodychecks often become penalties based on how loud the crowd cheers. To that end, it’s worth noting that Nurse saw his PIM total drop season over season and he said that a lot of his focus has gone into improving on the minor details on defense, such as staying between the dots in his zone and letting the play come to him.

To me, Nurse could be an excellent shutdown option with offensive upside at the tourney, much in the same way Russia’s Nikita Zadorov (Buffalo) took away half the defensive zone every time he was on the ice in Malmo.

After another successful campaign with the Ontario League’s Soo Greyhounds, Nurse even got a chance to see the pro game when he hooked up with Oklahoma City in the American League. He played seven games with the Barons, split between the regular season and the playoffs, where he gained even more confidence in his physical abilities.

While there is a possibility that Nurse sticks with Edmonton this fall and begins his NHL career, he would otherwise have to return to the OHL, since he doesn’t turn 20 until February. So the world juniors would be a great tournament for his development.

With Aaron Ekblad and possibly Josh Morrissey NHL-bound this fall, the Canadians would only have one returning D-man from the previous world juniors in Owen Sound’s Chris Bigras. Even then, the Colorado prospect was effectively the seventh man on the unit (thus absolving himself of any blame in what was a bit of a debacle).

One interesting aspect of this year’s candidates is how once again, the field is dominated by left-hand shots. Canada’s Olympic team was split right down the middle and had great success, but the world junior squad had just two righties in Ekblad and Matt Dumba. Assuming Ekblad is with the Florida Panthers, that leaves only Washington pick Madison Bowey and Kings prospect Roland McKeown available this time around. Of course, Nurse is willing to play his off-side if it means a red and white jersey come December.

“Last year I played both sides,” he said. “Even in the AHL. It’s nothing I’m not comfortable with.”

Now it’s time to start proving his worth, no matter which side of the ice he’s on. The Canadians play four games in a row this week in Quebec, with Russia and the Czech Republic providing the competition. That’s where Nurse can begin to lay the foundation for what he hopes is a berth on a national team that will be under a lot of pressure to win when the WJC medal round hits Toronto after New Year’s.

Anthony Mantha has a real chance to make Red Wings roster

The Hockey News
Red Wings prospect Anthony Mantha believes improved defensive play is the key to him cracking the Wings' 2014-15 lineup. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

By Michael Musalem

If you didn’t already know, the Detroit Red Wings are pretty good at sniffing out elite talent at the draft. In the case of first-rounder Anthony Mantha, the Original Six franchise may have just done it again.

Selected 20th overall in 2013, Mantha was far from a household name in the hockey community until the following December, when he was chosen to represent Canada at the World Junior Championship in Malmo, Sweden. The Longueuil, Que., native would go on to lead Canada in scoring with 11 points while being named to the tournament all-star team. And for a young unknown like Mantha, that was huge.

“It helped me a lot,” Mantha said. “It started off the year before when I had a good season. Then I came in last year and had a great first half, so when I went up the world juniors my confidence level was already way higher. From there I just kept pushing, and it went great.”

The Val-d’Or alum heads into Wings camp this September with the goal of making the team outright, and according to a May interview with The Hockey News, GM Ken Holland wants to give Mantha every opportunity to do just that.

“We’re going to give him a real chance in camp,” Holland said. “We’d be pretty stupid if we just gave him two exhibition games and then sent him to Grand Rapids.”

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