The Hot List: Dylan Strome is burning up the 2015 draft charts

Erie's Dylan Strome (Photo by B Wippert/Getty Images)

Is it too early for world junior speculation? Never! Unfortunately, the speculation comes at the expense of Team USA hopeful Steven Santini. The New Jersey prospect has been sidelined with a wrist injury that will keep him out of the tournament, but there may be a name or two below who can pick up the slack. Check out this week’s round-up of who to know in the world of prospects.

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The 50 NCAA players you need to know this season

Ryan Kennedy
Vancouver pick Thatcher Demko (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)

It’s gonna be a great year for college hockey. Not only will the usual array of prospects be on display as they build up their games at school, but there is a special bonus: The Fab Five Frosh.

A mixture of late birthdays, incredible skill and tantalizing opportunities have coalesced to produce a class of first-time draft eligible players rarely ever seen before. Who are these incredible teens? Check out the list below.

Along with the Fab Five, you will also find the most intriguing players for this year. My choices are largely based on NHL upside, so you won’t find a ton of upperclassmen, nor free agents. It was tough getting the roster down to 50, but here we go:

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The best Russian goalie prospect in years is finally here

Ryan Kennedy
Tampa Bay's Andrey Vasilevskiy (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

Once a team drafts a hot name in the prospect world, it only stands to reason that fans would want to see that player as soon as possible, even if it’s not with the NHL club right away. For Tampa Bay Lightning boosters, the wait was a little longer with netminder Andrey Vasilevskiy, but he’s finally here.

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Hockey Canada’s elite under-17 program no longer ‘mass participation’

Ken Campbell
Team Ontario, 2008  (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

One of the stories that kind of flew under the radar this summer was Hockey Canada’s new development model when it comes to picking its teams for the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. The players who are picked for that tournament from now on will be judged solely on their hockey talents, not their hometown.

Prior to this year’s tournament, which will be held in late December and early January in Sarnia, Hockey Canada submitted five regional teams from Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario, Western Canada and British Columbia. Those rosters included total of 110 16-year-old players from coast-to-coast, but it didn’t encompass the best 110 16-year-old players in Canada. And the problem with that is all Canada’s opponents in the tournament – USA, Russia, Finland, Sweden and Germany – were sending the top 22 players from their countries.

“When you’re from Russia or Finland or Sweden, you don’t know anything about Atlantic Canada,” said Hockey Canada’s senior director of hockey operations Scott Salmond. “All they see is a Canadian sweater and it’s a big thrill to beat that team. In our organization, we want to have a culture of winning and the sooner we start that, the better.”

After seeing its regional teams win five of the tournaments in a row, a Canadian team has won just one of its past four tournaments and wasn’t even on the podium last year. It might be a stretch to suggest that lack of success at the Under-17s has trickled up to Canada’s struggles at the World Junior Championship, but it’s all about cultivating the best talent so that by the time the players are playing in the WJC, they’re more familiar with one another.

So instead of having five regional teams, Hockey Canada instead had a camp this past summer with the 108 best 16-year-olds, regardless of geography. From that, three rosters of 22 players each will be chosen for the Under-17 World Hockey Challenge, so French speaking players from Quebec will be playing with Anglophones from British Columbia, Maritimers with players from Ontario. That way, as Salmond pointed out, the third-best goaltender in Ontario might get a chance to play in the tournament, “because he might also be the third-best goalie in all of Canada. We needed to get this quota system out of it and have the absolute best players together more often.”

The team will be selected by Hockey Canada head scout Ryan Jankowski and his regional scouts and while the three coaches – Jean-Francois Houle, Sheldon Keefe and Dan Lambert – will have some input, they will for the most part be handed their roster and told to coach the players they have been given.

This, of course, has raised the dander of those who think Hockey Canada is further catering to only elite players. By decreasing the player pool at the under-17 level by 44 players and possibly eliminating the chance for unknown players from small towns to be exposed to a high level of competition, is Hockey Canada guilty of identify and catering to only the best of the best at too young an age? Salmond says Hockey Canada’s tracking over the last decade indicates that the best players in any age group tend to move on to the elite teams anyway. Just because the 10th best player in Newfoundland gets a chance to play in the under-17s doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to elevate his game in the following years and be part of the top group of players.

“And this is not mass participation,” Salmond said. “It is a Program of Excellence and we’re not going to apologize for that.”

Ottawa Senators prospect Nick Paul is busting out

Nick Paul helped drive North Bay to greatness this past season (Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

There was a lot of buzz on Tuesday afternoon surrounding the shootout goals scored by Jordan Subban and Josh Ho-Sang at the BioSteel Sports camp in Toronto, and deservedly so. But one of the other finalists in the informal skills competition was center Nick Paul and he had some pretty nasty moves as well – the difference was, Paul did it at a hulking 6-foot-3 and 198 pounds. Check out all the highlights below, starting at the 1:30 mark:

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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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