2016 second-round pick Rasmus Asplund is getting valuable experience with Farjestad back home in Sweden, but he's looking forward to teaming up with Alex Nylander in Buffalo.
The best thing about the prospect world? There are very few “dog days.” The world juniors is in our rearview mirror, but here comes the CHL Top Prospects Game! I’ll be in Quebec City for the festivities on Monday, so stay tuned for coverage next week. As for bad news, while Hamilton, Oshawa and Regina make their bids for the 2018 Memorial Cup, the 2017 hosts from Windsor just found out key defenseman Logan Stanley (WPG) will be out long-term due to knee surgery, putting his participation in jeopardy. In the meantime, let’s take a look at some of the players with brighter storylines right now.
Rasmus Asplund, C (Buffalo): Though his world juniors ended with another disappointing fourth-place finish, overall it’s been a pretty good year for Asplund. Not only is he one of the top junior-aged scorers in the SHL, but the world juniors gave him another chance to hang out with Alex Nylander, his fellow Buffalo draft pick.
“It’s always fun to be on the same team as Alex,” Asplund said. “He’s an outstanding player and a good guy in the room, too. And now we’re both Sabres.”
Asplund was taken 33rd overall by Buffalo this summer and while it’s always fun to be drafted by the team hosting the event, the talented two-way center was getting approached for autographs the day before he was picked, giving him a preview of how knowledgeable the locals are.
“I was there for two months this summer and it’s an amazing hockey town,” he said. “Everyone is crazy about hockey so it’s going to be exciting to get there soon.”
Asplund is currently playing for Farjestad back home in Sweden. The squad is mid-table in the SHL, but for a young player with NHL dreams, Asplund is getting a golden opportunity to grow his game right now.
“It’s been a really good year for me,” he said. “I’m playing almost 19 minutes every game and in all situations, so the development has been outstanding. I’m taking steps every day.”
While Asplund and Nylander played on separate lines at the world juniors this year, they had chemistry at the tourney in 2016. And with the Sabres rebuilding and both players looking promising for the future, the two Swedish nationals could be starring in different shades of blue and gold very soon.
Mathieu Joseph, RW (Tampa Bay): It’s been a huge year for Joseph, who took silver at the world juniors with Canada. But the talented and energetic winger’s most lasting legacy may be his new franchise record point streak. Joseph has now gone 23 games without missing the score sheet, breaking QMJHL Saint John’s franchise record, which had belonged to Zach Phillips.
Mitch Vande Sompel, D (NY Islanders): I get the feeling Vande Sompel is in his element with the OHL’s London Knights. The offensive defenseman was acquired at the trade deadline from Oshawa and he already has seven points in six games for his new squad.
Daniel Sprong, RW (Pittsburgh): Injuries have devastated Sprong’s young career, so it’s good to see the kid back with Charlottetown and doing what he does best: putting up offense. Sprong has nine points in eight QMJHL games for the Islanders since returning from shoulder surgery.
Dakota Joshua, C (Toronto): It didn’t take long for Penn State to get knocked down a peg. Joshua and his Ohio State mates did the damage with two wins on the weekend and the hardworking center had four points in that span for the Buckeyes, who are climbing in the Big Ten.
2017 Draft Stars
Ian Scott, G – Prince Albert Raiders (WHL): It’s not often you hear a goaltender lauded for his leadership qualities, but that’s what some scouts see in Scott, whose big frame has won the Raiders games they shouldn’t have. Scott will get a chance to show off his stuff at the Top Prospects Game.
Dylan Samberg, D – Hermantown Hawks (Minn. HS): Scouts are having a lot of fun watching Samberg, a big, mean D-man in the Minnesota high school ranks. Along with his physicality, the University of Minnesota-Duluth commit is also a great skater – further boosting his stock.
Artyom Minulin, D – Swift Current Broncos (WHL): Along with forward Aleksi Heponiemi, Minulin is providing the Broncos with great value from their imports. A smart, two-way defenseman, Minulin leads the Swift Current blueline in points with 34 through 48 games.
Isaac Ratcliffe, LW – Guelph Storm (OHL): Ratcliffe showed deft hands in tight on a game-winner against Windsor on the weekend and at 6-foot-6, his mitts are impressive. The big left winger has seven points in his past eight games and leads the Storm in scoring.
Cameron Crotty, D – Brockville Braves (CCHL): A shoulder injury kept him out of the spotlight for a while, but Crotty is back and has three points in his past three games. The Boston U. commit is a puckmoving defenseman with good size and great skating ability.
2018 Draft Star
Bode Wilde, D – U.S. NTDP (USHL): There was a lot of hype around Wilde, who was seen as a potential No. 1 pick for the OHL before he committed to the NTDP. But the big defenseman has lived up to expectations, using his bomb shot and elite skating to get results. Wilde is committed to Harvard and Saginaw owns his OHL rights.
The USHL wants to stay competitive with the CHL, and maintain its reputation as a solid developmental league for American prospects.
The United States Hockey League has grown in leaps and bounds in the past decade and now the Midwestern circuit is changing its rules in order to stay competitive with the CHL, and maintain its reputation as a solid developmental league for American prospects.
After meetings with the Board of Governors and USA Hockey, the USHL has decided to institute a number of changes for the next two seasons.
The first significant change regards Canadian import players. Currently, any non-American player is considered an import and teams are allowed four per season. Starting in 2017-18, franchises can count two Canadians as non-imports, hypothetically bringing the total number of non-Americans on the squad to six. On top of attracting more players such as Shane Bowers (2017 draft) and alumni Cam Morrison (COL) and Brett Murray (BUF), the move also allows the USHL to stay competitive with the CHL and particularly the OHL, where a number of high-profile Americans play.
“We’re bullish on American talent,” said USHL commissioner Bob Fallen. “The world juniors and World Jr. A Challenge said a lot for the state of hockey here, but we want to level the playing field. They have an outstanding league, but we think we can compete at that level.”
The biggest difference between Canadian major junior and the USHL is that the USHL is NCAA compliant, meaning players do not receive any money for playing there. Talent-wise, the average major junior team would beat a USHL team, but in terms of high-end players, the USHL is producing many NHL first-rounders now, from Brock Boeser to Clayton Keller.
Two of the biggest names in the USHL this year are import forwards – Finland's Eeli Tolvanen, a 2017 draft prospect for Sioux City, and Russia's Andrei Svechnikov, a 2018 prospect with Muskegon.
The USHL has also become a big incubator for European goalies lately, thanks to the CHL’s ban on import netminders. And while USA Hockey floated the idea of a similar stance, the USHL instead compromised and will limit teams to one non-American goalie, starting in 2018-19. That import goaltender will also count as two import spots, so teams must be sure. Right now, four of the top five goals-against averages in the USHL belong to Europeans and the Green Bay Gamblers have an all-Euro platoon of Maksim Zhukov and David Hrenak.
Fallen said the USHL didn’t want an outright ban because having competition from top European and Canadian kids would push American goalies to be better. For the league’s GMs, finding those import gems is going to be even more important now.
“Certainly you’ll have to be more mindful of who you bring in,” said Lincoln Stars coach and GM Jon Hull. “You want your imports to be impactful.”
Hull, who has a pretty good young American netminder in Cayden Primeau with the Stars, mused that the rules might even bring younger goalies more opportunity in a league dominated by older teens. He thinks the same of the Canadian import rule, because now a team might be more inclined to bring in a younger Canadian skater who would need more time to make an impact, but may have a high ceiling.
For goalies who need an extra year of development before college, the USHL will allow teams to carry an overage netminder without him counting toward the team limit of four overagers (which, this season, refers to 1996-born players).
Another major shift for 2017-18 will be the schedule. Teams will still play 60 games, but the season will begin two weeks later and last 26 weeks instead of 28.
“There was genuine agreement that our season was too long,” Fallen said. “We were saying, ‘Guys, this is junior hockey and we’re here for almost nine months?’ ”
The shift back will also help teams that live in college football-crazy markets such as Madison and Lincoln.
“We’re living in a city where the Nebraska Cornhuskers are No. 1 on every level,” Hull said. “As soon as the football season is over, it becomes a hockey town. So the less games we play in September and October, the better it is for us financially.”
Along with the schedule moving back, the playoffs will be extended from eight teams to 12, with the top two seeds in each conference getting a first-round bye.
It’s a lot to digest, but it will be interesting to watch. The USHL has opened eyes in recent years and trying to keep up with the titans of major junior clearly doesn’t intimidate them.
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A look at the latest speculation surrounding Avalanche forwards Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, and which teams might be a fit.
The Colorado Avalanche may be struggling at the bottom of the NHL standings, but they continue to dominate the NHL rumor mill. As usual, center Matt Duchene and left winger Gabriel Landeskog are the focus of trade speculation. On Tuesday, TSN unveiled their trade board for the March 1 deadline, with the 26-year-old Duchene topping the list and Landeskog, 24, coming in at No. 5.
Appearing on Edmonton's 630 CHED last Thursday, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman believes the asking price for Duchene, a 30-goal scorer last season, is higher than for Landeskog. However, he can see a team that thinks it can win this season pursuing Duchene.
Friedman also said he hasn't heard many rumors involving Colorado's puck-moving defenseman Tyson Barrie. As the Avs need to bolster their blueline, he feels it doesn't make sense to trade the 25-year-old.
Avalanche GM Joe Sakic reportedly seeks a good young defenseman as part of the return for Duchene or Landeskog. That type of deal won't be easy to find this season. NBC Sports' Jason Brough observes a high number of teams are also in the market for young blueliners. There aren't many available and teams carrying those assets will set high prices for them.
Recent trade chatter links Landeskog to the Boston Burins. It was thought the Bruins were unwilling to part with rookie rearguard Brandon Carlo, but Bleacher Report's Adrian Dater claims the 20-year-old could be available after all. CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty thinks it would be a big mistake by the Bruins to swap Carlo for less than a genuine superstar.
Last weekend, the New York Post's Larry Brooks suggested New York Islanders GM Garth Snow should offer up blueliner Nick Leddy as part of a deal for Duchene or Landeskog, Brooks felt that move could provide the Isles with a significant boost.
Leddy, 25, is under contract through 2021-22 with an annual salary-cap hit of $5.5 million. Sakic, however, could have his eye on younger options.
The Montreal Canadiens need depth at center. TSN's Frank Seravalli thinks Habs GM Marc Bergevin could be interested in Duchene, though a deal of that nature probably wouldn't happen until the off-season. However, the Montreal Gazette's Pat Hickey questions if Bergevin can afford the high asking price for either Avs star.
Are the Canadiens willing to sacrifice promising 18-year-old defenseman Mikhail Sergachev in a package deal for Duchene? With 38-year-old blueliner Andrei Markov's career winding down, moving his possible replacement is a risky notion.
Ottawa Senators GM Pierre Dorion is shopping around for a forward. Seravalli's colleague Bob McKenzie believes Dorion could have interest in Duchene or Landeskog. Given the Sens need for scoring depth at left wing, McKenzie speculates Landeskog could be Dorion's preference. However, he guesses the asking price for either player is too high.
Dorion could be asked to part with 23-year-old Cody Ceci as part of the return for Landeskog. That would be a deal breaker for the Sens GM.
The Carolina Hurricanes could be the best fit as a trade partner for the Avalanche. The Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson notes they have plenty of depth in good young defenseman, are in need of scoring punch and possess the salary-cap room to take on Duchene or Landeskog.
If Sakic is talking with Hurricanes GM Ron Francis, they're keeping those discussions well below the radar. With the Hurricanes jockeying for playoff contention in the Eastern Conference, Francis could be unwilling to engage in a major roster shakeup.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).