Futures mailbag: best of the 2015 draft’s defensemen, Scott Laughton and more

Noah Hanifin (photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Thanks to summer world junior camps, prospects have been in the spotlight this week and for some, that meant reinforcing decisions on where they will play next season. Calgary’s Brandon Hickey says he’s going back to Boston University, Leafs pick Jeremy Bracco confirmed his commitment to Boston College and Zach Werenski is indeed headed back to Michigan. And speaking of Werenski, he’s part of our first mailbag question this week. As always, if you have a draft or prospect-related question, hit me up on Twitter at @THNRyanKennedy, using the hashtag #thnfutures with your question.

Let’s get to it.

Which of the first round 2015 defensemen has the biggest upside? And who is closest to being in the lineup?

– Tomas Djupsjobacka (@tdjupsjo)

In terms of upside, I’d go with either Carolina’s Noah Hanifin or Columbus’ Zach Werenski. Both have great size and skating ability, plus they can play in all situations. If you had asked me right after the draft who was closest to being in the lineup, I would have said Philadelphia’s Ivan Provorov, since he has the hockey IQ and physical edge to compete right away. But then Carolina signed Hanifin to his entry-level deal, ending his Boston College career after one stellar campaign. Perhaps he goes to the AHL this season, but given Carolina’s lack of depth on the back end, Hanifin may end up being the answer to both questions (Provorov also has more competition in Philly).

 

Very curious about your opinion on Sean Day’s development in Mississauga

– Alex Sloan (@Alex_Sloan)

Funny how that question became a flashpoint this week, what with Day missing the cut for Canada’s under-18 Ivan Hlinka squad. But I can also expand on the defenseman’s trajectory here. I think Day has been good so far in Mississauga, but this will be a huge year for him – and not just because he’s up for the draft. Conditioning was reportedly a factor in his national team cut, so that should be a priority. The Steelheads are also growing around him, so I need to see good offensive numbers, but also improvement in his own end. With his natural physical gifts, Day has great potential as an NHLer, if he can harness it and become a student of the game.

 

Which five NHL teams do you feel are in the best position when it comes to prospects and which five are in the worst position?

– Keenan Clarry (@KeenanClarry)

Here’s my best:

Edmonton – The high end of Connor McDavid and Darnell Nurse vaults the Oilers to the top since McDavid is such a sure thing. I’m also a big William Lagesson fan.

Buffalo – Jack Eichel is the Sabres’ McDavid equivalent, plus you have Sam Reinhart, Justin Bailey and some nice long-term catches in Will Borgen and Christopher Brown.

Winnipeg – The deepest pool. Nikolaj Ehlers, Josh Morrissey, Nic Petan, Connor Hellebuyck, Eric Comrie, Kyle Connor, Erik Foley…it’s almost unfair at this point.

Arizona – Another great assembly with Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Dylan Strome, Christian Dvorak, Max Letunov, Brendan Perlini and Nick Merkley,

Anaheim – Already a great team, the Ducks have reinforcements ready in Nick Ritchie, Nic Kerdiles, Shea Theodore and Kevin Roy, plus longer-term gems such as Julius Nattinen and Jacob Larsson.

And my worst, with the caveat that some of these teams are in a win-now window and have therefore sacrificed prospects:

San Jose – Timo Meier and Nikolay Goldobin are solid, but not much depth behind them.

Pittsburgh – Derrick Pouliot used to be surrounded; now he’s one of the last elite prospects in the pipeline.

New Jersey – Pavel Zacha will help, but there isn’t much more scoring coming otherwise.

Toronto – Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen and Scott Harrington have all really helped the Leafs’ outlook recently in this category, but they were thin before.

New York Rangers – Just don’t have the critical mass of prospects since they’re in their Stanley Cup window right now. Adam Tambellini and Pavel Buchnevich are good, though.

 

It’s been three years since he was drafted, but what can we expect from Scott Laughton?

– Vincent Mongrain (@vincentM10)

If the Flyers move out Vincent Lecavalier, Laughton is in a great position to make an impact on Philadelphia’s third line – which may not sound impressive for a first-rounder, but it’s a good role because Laughton can handle the responsibility. With Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier ahead of him, Laughton won’t be getting the big assignments in the early parts of his career anyway, but he can be a solid contributor and a two-way player.

 

Blue Jackets first-round pick Zach Werenski heading back to NCAA

Jared Clinton
Zach Werenski. (Tom Sorensen/USA Hockey)

The Columbus Blue Jackets made Zach Werenski the eighth overall pick in the 2015 draft, but the 18-year-old defenseman won’t be suiting up in Ohio quite yet.

Instead of playing for the Blue Jackets in 2015-16, Werenski will instead return to the NCAA, where he plays for the University of Michigan. This past season, on a Michigan team that finished third in the Big Ten, Werenski was a standout, scoring nine goals and 25 points in 35 games.

There were rumors that Werenski could be heading to the OHL, where the London Knights owned his rights after selecting him in the second round of the 2013 draft. But Werenski confirmed to NHL.com that he would be returning for his sophomore season with the Wolverines. Read more

13-year-old Anthony Cipollone commits to NCAA’s University of Vermont

Jared Clinton
Vermont Catamounts logo

Anthony Cipollone won’t be old enough to head to college until 2020-21, but the 13-year-old forward has already committed to play for the NCAA’s University of Vermont.

Cipollone announced that he had committed to the program earlier this week and it appears he could be suiting up as soon as he’s old enough. He won’t be the first in his family to commit to the program, however, as his brother, Joseph, who’s three years Anthony’s elder, committed to the program in January of this year.

It’s not unusual for players to commit to schools years before they’re of age to actually suit up for the programs, but it’s more likely they commit at Joseph’s age, 16, than Anthony’s. That said, it has happened before where a not-yet-high school aged player has committed to a college program. Read more

Memorial Cup hosts land Michael Spacek, chase Brandon Hickey

Michael Spacek (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

The way Red Deer finished the 2014-15 campaign – a five-game, first-round loss to Medicine Hat – you’d be forgiven for wondering how they would turn things around in time to be tough hosts of the Memorial Cup this year. But in a flash of activity, GM and coach Brent Sutter has begun to shake the foundations.

Read more

North American flag-planting and the Sean Day cut

Ryan Kennedy
Sean Day (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Sean Day is one of the more fascinating prospects available for the 2016 NHL draft. A Canadian who didn’t live in the country until he was drafted by the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads, Day was the first player to be granted “exceptional status” by Hockey Canada who did not go on to be drafted first overall in the OHL. Now, he has been cut by the Canadian national team’s under-18 squad, which will compete in the Ivan Hlinka summer tournament in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

And some hockey folks are raising some interesting points about the defenseman.

Read more

Matthew Tkachuk and the boys of summer headline The Hot List

Matthew Tkachuk. (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)

A Hot List in the middle of summer? Why not? There’s plenty of prospects on the ice right now, what with Canada hosting teams in Calgary and Team USA defending home ice in Lake Placid. From world junior prep to Ivan Hlinka tryouts for Canada’s under-18s, there are some important viewings going on right now for the international squads, so let’s take a look at some of the kids who are standing out so far. Players are listed with their presumed 2015-16 squads.

Matthew Tkachuk, LW – London Knights (OHL)

The exciting thing about Tkachuk is that his star will continue to rise as he continues to grow. Already 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, Tkachuk showed off his numerous skills in USA White’s 10-4 destruction of Sweden. In fact, Tkachuk had a hat trick in the game.

“I consider myself a power forward and I mix in some skill, too,” Tkachuk said. “My best attribute is my hockey IQ. I use that to get me where I want to be, get to pucks and get around the net, where I am most of the time.”

The son of former NHL great Keith Tkachuk, Matthew has a big hockey family. Jimmy and Kevin Hayes are cousins, while Casey Fitzgerald, his teammate last year with the U.S. National Team Development Program, is a second cousin. Playing for the NTDP seemed like the best career move.

“I just knew it was the best decision for me,” he said. “Seeing all the guys who have moved forward to the NHL – Patrick Kane, Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson, Ryan Kesler – all those good players went there.”

Tkachuk was almost headed to Notre Dame for this season, but signed on with the powerhouse Knights, instead. He’ll go from riding shotgun with top 2016 prospect Auston Matthews at the NTDP to playing with a bevy of huge talents in London such as Christian Dvorak and Mitch Marner. This will be a big development year and Tkachuk already has a role model picked out.

“I watch a lot of James van Riemsdyk,” he said. “I try to play exactly like he does. I’m a pretty big guy, I like to be around the net and I try to mix in some skill.”

Tkachuk wants to work on his quickness, but with such a fast mind, he’s already a handful for opponents. Draft eligible in 2016.

Mitch Marner, RW – London Knights (OHL)

The patience with the puck and the vision to find his man are two aspects of Marner’s game that are so fun to watch – unless you’re an opposing team. The Knights star displayed that in Canada’s 4-1 world junior camp win over Russia on Monday and there’s no reason to suspect the points machine will slow down anytime soon. Drafted fourth overall by Toronto in 2015.

Mikko Rantanen, RW – TPS Turku (Fin.)

Thanks to an out clause in his Finnish contract, Rantanen could come to North America this season and I think he has a shot at the NHL. USA Blue found that out the hard way in Lake Placid as the big, gifted winger thrashed the Yanks for three assists in a 10-3 stomping on Monday. Drafted 10th overall by Colorado in 2015.

Dante Fabbro, D – Penticton Vees (BCHL)

One of two Vees to watch this season alongside center Tyson Jost, Fabbro is a smart, skilled blueliner who doesn’t mind jumping in the rush. His rocket shot netted him a goal for Canada Red in his second under-18 camp game and he had an assist in the other. Fabbro is currently looking at NCAA options. Draft eligible in 2016.

Pierre-Luc Dubois, RW – Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL)

The talented winger would have been a great candidate for the list thanks to his overtime winner for Canada White’s second win over Canada Red at the under-18 camp, but there’s more to Dubois. The 6-foot-1, 180-pounder goes to the net, protects the puck and has great playmaking vision. Draft eligible in 2016.

Brock Boeser, RW – University of North Dakota (NCHC)

As I’ve been telling anyone who listens, scoring in the USHL is tough and Boeser was one of the best with Waterloo. Thanks to his hard shot, Sweden learned that the hard way in Lake Placid as the UND recruit threw up a hat trick in a 10-4 devastation of the Tre Kroner. Drafted 23rd overall by Vancouver in 2015.

Carter Hart, G – Everett Silvertips (WHL)

Though Hart doesn’t have ideal NHL size at six-feet tall, the netminder makes up for it with his athleticism and great post-to-post movement. A breakout underage star for the Tips last season, he’s been solid for Canada Red’s under-18 squad so far. Draft eligible in 2016.

Sonny Milano, LW – Flint Firebirds (OHL)

One of the most experienced players at Team USA’s camp, Milano makes his name by dazzling in the offensive zone. Those sick hands and quick feet helped him notch two goals in USA White’s 5-2 win over Finland. Drafted 16th overall by Columbus in 2014.

Julius Nattinen, C – JYP (Fin.)

A big, talented pivot who impressed scouts last season by adding some nice bite to his game, Nattinen had two goals in Finland’s 10-3 bombing of USA Blue. He’ll take on a bigger role with JYP’s top squad in 2015-16, where his puck control skills will be welcome. Drafted 59th overall by Anaheim in 2015.

Rasmus Asplund, C – Farjestad (SHL)

Asplund began to turn heads last season and has brought up comparisons to Henrik Zetterberg thanks to his all-around game. Though he is playing wing for Sweden in Lake Placid, Asplund is good on faceoffs and is dangerous on both special teams. He has two goals and three points through two games. Draft eligible in 2016.

From zany fashion to blazing speed, Kings prospect Kempe is one to watch

The Hockey News
Adrian Kempe (Blake Gumprecht)

By Andy Tonge

If hockey doesn’t work out for Adrian Kempe, perhaps a career in fashion is in order. The 18-year-old Swede made a bold clothing statement after Game 3 of the AHL’s Eastern final in Hartford. Walking out of the dressing room in suit and tie, Kempe dropped his flip-flops on the ground, put them on, took a quick picture of his ensemble to post on Twitter, and walked across the street to the team hotel.

While the zany Kempe made the mistake of not packing dress shoes for the two-day road trip, what he did on the ice helped fans and teammates alike forget what he did off it. Carrying a 2-0 series lead versus the Wolf Pack onto the road, Kempe scored in Games 3 and 4, as his Manchester Monarchs swept their way into the Calder Cup final. Kempe was named the No. 1 star of the series-clinching game.

Having completed his season in the Swedish League, the Los Angeles Kings’ 2014 first-round pick embarked on a journey across the pond, where he joined the NHL club’s primary affiliate in Manchester, which sat in first place for nearly the entire AHL season. In his second game, Kempe lined up on the first line, centered by all-star Jordan Weal. Read more

Will Canucks prospect Shinkaruk become Jeff Skinner or a third-liner?

The Hockey News
Hunter Shinkaruk (Lindsay A. Mogle/Utica Comets)

By Casey Ippolito

Hunter Shinkaruk could be excused for not setting the AHL ablaze during his first season. Having missed most of his final junior term with a torn labrum, he had a ready-made excuse for making a slow transition to pro.

But he wasn’t prepared to indulge that narrative. “To be honest, I don’t really feel like I was too far behind when I went into camp,” Shinkaruk said. “I was fortunate it didn’t really hold me back as much as I thought it would.

The initial plot points in Act I of Shinkaruk’s pro career mirror the beginning of his junior years in Medicine Hat. Before ascending to a 49-goal season and the Tigers’ captaincy, the flashy left winger broke his leg prior to entering the WHL and struggled out of the gate. He watched a few games from the press box but quickly caught up, finishing top-five in team scoring and leaping to 91 points the following year. Read more