It began as a possibility months ago, but now it is a reality. Switzerland’s ZSC Lions have announced that American center Auston Matthews will play for the Zurich-based squad in 2015-16, becoming the first high-end North American prospect ever to play in Europe during his NHL draft season.
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.
The 2016 World Junior Championship doesn’t begin until late December, but the rivalry between Canada and Russia has already been turned up a notch.
In a World Junior Showcase game played Monday evening in Calgary, Team Canada took on Russia at the four-game exhibition. Early in the second period, shortly after a goal by Joe Hicketts to put Canada up 2-1, Canadian defenseman Jeremy Roy sent a pass up ice to Jared McCann at center ice. McCann turned to receive the pass and didn’t see Russian defenseman Nikita Zhuldikov coming to throw a hit. The result was a massive check: Read more
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.
Welcome back to the Futures Mailbag, where I will answer any prospect and draft-related questions you the readers may have. If you have a query, hit me up on Twitter (@THNRyanKennedy) and use the hashtag #thnfutures to make sure I scoop it up. If you don’t see your question this week, stay tuned – there’s always some overflow. Let’s get to it:
Welcome to my new mailbag, a spot where I will answers questions from readers who reached out to me on Twitter using the hashtag #thnfutures. The idea behind this space is to bring you info on prospects and the draft, so anything in that world is game. There was a pretty good crop of questions right off the bat, so if you don’t see yours answered this week, check back next Friday. Here we go:
While it’s not considered a traditional hockey market, Tampa Bay has shown they’ve got love for the game. Now, in an attempt to showcase their incredible fan support on the international stage, the city has put in an official bid for the 2018 World Junior Championship, which is to be held in the United States.
According to the Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith, the group hoping to bring the tournament to Florida filed its official bid by the end of June and they’re hoping USA Hockey, which will narrow down the applications and suggest a host to the IIHF, leans in favor of Tampa Bay.
“Tampa is very formidable in the conversation,” Dave Fischer, the senior director of communications for USA Hockey, told Smith. “The (Lightning) owner (Jeff Vinik) and sports commission is aggressive. We’ll see where it winds up.” Read more
Though Russia has been great at the world juniors, it’s been five years since the hockey power even medalled at the world under-18s and even then, it was just a bronze. The United States has dominated the latter competition thanks to its National Team Development Program, which hot-houses the best under-18s and under-17s in Michigan, where the two squads concentrate on strength training and playing older competition.
Now, Russia is getting in on the act.