When Auston Matthews decided to eschew major junior and the NCAA in favor of a trailblazing route in Switzerland, the hockey world was intrigued. How would an American teenager fare against men in a league known for being one of the most challenging in Europe?
In the early goings, the answer is “quite well.”
WINNIPEG – There was a time not long ago when players on the fourth line were specialists. And their specialty, more often than not, was to go out and punch people in the face. But the Winnipeg Jets might just have a different kind of fourth-line specialist this season in rookie Nic Petan.
Actually, Petan has two recent trends in hockey working in his favor as he tries to earn a spot on the Jets by bypassing the minors. The first is that there is a place in the game now for players who are 5-foot-9 as long as they have some skill, which Petan has in abundance. The second is the advent of 3-on-3 overtime, which begins this season.
When the timeline on Patrik Berglund’s recovery from shoulder surgery was announced as four months, the St. Louis Blues had to launch a plan of attack. The Swedish center may end up missing half the season, so a band-aid solution wouldn’t do. Fortunately, St. Louis has several options and really, two different ways to go from there.
Welcome back to my mailbag, where all manner of questions on prospects and the draft are answered. If you have something you want to know about, hit me up on Twitter at @THNRyanKennedy and hashtag it #thnfutures. You might see the question here in a couple weeks.
In the meantime, let’s get to the latest round of inquiries, the first of which is very timely:
BUFFALO – The fourth annual All-American Prospects Game took place Thursday night, pitting the top 2016 NHL draft hopefuls from the USA against each other in a very entertaining showcase game. Consensus No. 1 prospect Auston Matthews was not there (he’s kinda busy in Switzerland right now), but since this will be a great draft for Americans, a lot of talent was on hand.
And though these all-star games can be fluky, the elite kids rose to the occasion. Jeremy Roenick, who coached one squad, saw Matthew Tkachuk and Luke Kunin catch fire, while Derek Plante, the other bench boss, had Max Jones and William Knierim to rely on.
It was a tough game for goalies (these contests usually are) and OHL London’s Tyler Parsons actually left five minutes in with a collarbone injury after catching a puck high – he had forgotten his neck protector, acccording to Roenick. Team Plante won the game 6-4. Here’s a look at the big names and the kids who stood out for me.
The United States League begins action on Friday and it will be an interesting year for the junior circuit. While the top NHL draft prospects will mostly come from USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (which plays a modified USHL schedule), there are a lot of NHL draft picks that will play for the other teams in the league as they hone their games for the NCAA. This will be a key development year for many of those raw kids taken in the middle of the draft.
Below you will find projected rankings for the teams, based off surveys I conducted scouts and writers who follow the USHL. You will also find a player or two to follow on each squad, with their NCAA commitment and NHL rights status included. Let’s get to it.
The Western League celebrates its 50th season this year, with Moose Jaw and Regina kicking off the festivities Thursday night. Full action gets going the next day and it will be interesting to see how things shake out in the ‘Dub.’ For starters, the Brandon Wheat Kings are the best team by consensus, even with New York Islanders pick Ryan Pilon stepping away from hockey just months after he was drafted.
Nevertheless, based on the experts out West that I surveyed, this is Brandon’s year. Below you’ll find my league rankings, plus a couple NHL prospects to watch from each franchise.
The London Knights have been a powerhouse for years now and while GM Mark Hunter is now part of the Toronto Maple Leafs brass, there’s no reason to believe the OHL franchise will take a step back. In fact, thanks to a demonic recruiting summer and the return of some of the league’s top offensive lights, London is poised to dominate after an uncharacteristically short playoff run last year.
Who will be chasing the Knights? Below you’ll find my rankings, based off surveys of OHL experts. You will also find players to watch for each franchise. Two teams have moved since last season: Belleville is now Hamilton, while Plymouth is now Flint. Let’s take a gander, shall we?