Do it for McEichel.

In 2006, the NHL had an incredible opportunity. For the first time since the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, the NHL’s best players would have the chance to compete at the Winter Olympics again. This time, however, it wasn’t in a prime spot. It was in Turin, Italy, not exactly known to be a hockey hotspot.

Earlier in the NHL season, two living hockey legends, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, began their illustrious NHL careers. For years, both players had been heralded as the next big thing, with the hype between the two teenagers higher than almost any other player in the world.

For people outside of North America, the thought of seeing these two superstars battling it out at the 2006 Winter Olympics seemed almost surreal. Two of the youngest bright stars, playing together with the likes of Pavel Datsyuk, Joe Sakic and more. This wasn’t the World Juniors, this was the biggest international stage in the world.

Unfortunately, fans wouldn’t get their wish. Ovechkin would go on to play for Russia, scoring an impressive five goals en route to being named to the tournament All-Star team in just his first try. Crosby, on the other hand, did not participate. In what can only be considered as one of Canada’s most disappointing performances in recent men’s team history, Canada failed to even contend for a medal after some poor results along the way. With players such as Todd Bertuzzi and Kris Draper making the trip to Italy instead, you can imagine that scoring wasn’t their strong suit.

So that’s it. The NHL missed a really good chance to showcase two of the best players the league will ever have to a market that have had very few big league players in the history of the nation. It wasn’t the NHL’s fault, of course. Wayne Gretzky, the greatest hockey player to ever take a shot on net, was more interested in a team with character and experience over speed and skill. Well, hey, the team struggled big time, didn’t they?

Let’s not do that with the next generation, OK?

Meet Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. If you don’t know who they are, you’re likely not a hockey fan. Actually, even most non-hockey fans living in North America know a thing or two about both of them. They’re superstars of a new era, a world where physicality is slowly dying and contracts are quickly rising.  We’re devoid of the time where we’d see 5+ players getting 110+ point seasons in the NHL. The game is evolving, and with that, it’s time to bring in the next breed of hockey sensations.

McDavid and Eichel, also known as McEichel, are two of the best at what they do. They score, they’re fast, they can basically do anything they want on the ice and be very effective. In fact, Eichel went to the World Championships and really took control of the face-off dot against men, some of them almost twice his age. McDavid could have played five minutes a game and still put up incredible scoring numbers, scoring at free will every time he even thought about touching the puck.

Unlike Crosby and Ovechkin, McEichel will have about three years to hone their craft before getting a chance to participate at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. At this point, that’s more than enough time for them to both compete for the league scoring title beforehand. It’s unlikely that they’ll be far off from becoming international stars at that point, so for the sake of projection, they’ll be good enough to participate in PyeongChang.

Now, we know the NHL isn’t very interested in heading to Korea in three years, and for good reason. The league has to shut down for two weeks to allow its stars to travel, the teams don’t make any money and the risk of injury is always prevalent. Oh, and the tournament is halfway across the freakin’ world.

South Korea is not a top hockey nation. In fact, they just returned to Division IA, the second highest division of the World Championships, following heartbreak in the same group back in 2014. The country has never earned a birth in the top division of the World’s, and yet the International Ice Hockey Federation has given them an automatic birth into the 2018 Olympics due to their host status.

South Korea wont be bringing in fans and revenue based off of their own players. As it stands, only three players on the 2015 World Championship squad, Mike Testwuide, Michael Swift and Brock Radunske had a chance at the NHL, but even then, none of them ever made it out of the minors. As well, none of those three are actually from the country, and instead transferred over after meeting the IIHF’s eligibility requirements.

Do those sound like the names that people will wake up at 3am EST in the morning to watch skate around for a few hours? No, absolutely not. But Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel are exactly the two guys the hockey world need. Talk to any hockey fan over the past ten years and you’ll find that the chance to see Crosby play live is something none of them will want to pass up. With all the publicity that McEichel got around the sport over the past few years, you can only imagine that the same thing would happen in 2018.

The ratings won’t be great likely due to the time zone. Yes, the big names will still get a chance to steal the spotlight, as the likes of Crosby and Ovechkin will be automatic large draws for the rest of their lives. But, like already mentioned, the timing and the actual location of the tournament will hurt the viewership, no question about it. You didn’t see the majority of NHL supporters in North America complaining about prime time viewing like we became accustomed too in Canada and the States. Bringing in two new stars that a good portion of the world will never have had the chance to see on national TV, or in person, of course, would surely signal a big boost in ratings.

We’re going to see these two battle it out with their respective NHL organizations for many years. In fact, with it pretty much confirmed notion that McDavid will be an Oiler and Eichel will be a Sabre in June, we could see the two battling for many Stanley Cups in a few years time. But there is something special about putting on a jersey to represent your country. There is something special about Wayne Gretzky bringing home the Canada Cup gold. There is something special about Dominik Hasek stealing the national spotlight in Nagano. There is something special about a group of college hockey students from the States defeating the overpowered Soviets. There is something special about international hockey, something that big time salaries and labour disputes can’t even come close to.

Make this special, NHL.

Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.

As the 2015 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships is set to begin, NHL fans will be watching to see their favorite teams prospects represent their country and getting a glimpse of what’s to come in the future. However, for fans of teams in the lower end of the standings, they will be watching for a potential franchise player. It’s a chance for those fans to be hopeful about what’s to come and to not worry about the doom and gloom of the current NHL season.

While most of you reading this will more than likely know these names, it’s always good to get a refresher on a few potential NHL stars. Then, for those of you that don’t know these players, get to know them soon because two or three could become household names in no time.

mckeenshockey.com
mckeenshockey.com

5. Pavel Zacha, Czech Republic: The #5 spot was originally going to go to defenseman Oliver Kylington of Sweden, but due to an injury, Kylington will no longer be participating in the tournament. So now, Pavel Zacha is added to the list and deservedly so. Listed as a centre, Zacha has played most of his hockey in his home country of the Czech Republic, to this point of his career. He was able to play 38 games for the Bili Tygri Liberec men’s team, after being with their junior teams for many years. In those 38 games, Zacha registered only 8 points (4 goals, 4 assists) but it’s important to remember that Zacha was just 16 years old, playing with grown men. As for this year, Zacha decided to come to North America and is currently playing for the OHL’s Sarnia Sting where he has 19 points (9 goals, 10 assists) in 21 games.

Standing at 6’3, 205lbs Zacha already has pro-level size and he certainly uses it. His game is based around his big body presence as he’s a physical player and uses that size advantage to keep opponents from taking the puck away from him. He is already a solid two-way player and by going to the CHL, he will be able to refine his overall game even further. Offensively, he has a good shot and shows good creativity with the puck. Zacha’s strength is, well, using his strength to get to the front of the net and use his frame to create chances. The major knock on Zacha that will determine how high he goes in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft is how his skating improves. He’s a gifted player at both ends of the ice and should be a top 10 pick when the draft rolls around, but his skating will be the difference between being a top 5 pick or not. Zacha will get to play among the likes of David Pastrnak and Jakub Vrana at the tournament as the Czechs will look to grab a medal with their skilled group.

Tom Sorensen/USA Hockey
Tom Sorensen/USA Hockey

4. Zach Werenski, United States of America: The first of three Americans to be featured in this list, defenseman Zach Werenski has had to jump many hurdles to reach where he is now. The Michigan native spent last year with the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP.) As an alternate captain with the U-17 U.S. National Team, Werenski posted 31 points (7 goals, 24 assists) in 47 games. This season, as a 17-year old, Werenski is playing for the University of Michigan Wolverines. Werenski, like four other American players his age, chose to skip his second year with the USNTDP and go straight to college. In 15 games with Michigan, Werenski has totaled 12 points (3 goals, 9 assists.)

Werenski, like Zacha, has pro-level size at 6’2, 214lbs but his game is not as predicated on size like Zacha’s. Werenski is a very good all-around player that does just about everything well. He shows poise with the puck and can control the flow of a game when he has the puck on his stick. He has a great first pass on the breakout and can jump into the rush with his smooth skating ability. However, Werenski is defensively responsible so he picks his spots when and where to jump into the rush as to not get caught out of position. He does a good job on the defensive end closing out along the wall and his gap control is improving. He’s able to play on both special teams, and play well on both. He works the point on the power play very effectively. Werenski needs to improve mainly on using his size more and being more aggressive in the defensive zone.

Tom Sorensen/USA Hockey
Tom Sorensen/USA Hockey

3. Noah Hanifin, United States of America: The more talked about of the two U.S. born defenders, Noah Hanifin is currently the consensus #3 ranked player by four different outlets. Hanifin captained the U.S. National U-17 Team last year, where he had 32 points (8 goals, 24 assists) and played 14 games with the U-18 team, posting 13 points (2 goals, 11 assists.) In both tournaments, Hanifin totaled 8 points (2 goals, 6 assists) in 13 games. Hanifin, just as Werenski did, chose to become a freshman in college at 17 years old and skip his second year with the USNTDP. Hanifin chose to play with the Boston College Eagles, who are ranked 15th in the Top 20 rankings, and has 7 points (2 goals, five assists) in 17 games.

Hanifin has good size at 6’2, 205lbs and should continue to grow as he’s just 17. Many people who watch Hanifin rave about how great of a skater he is, and for good reason. At his size, he’s a very good skater with explosive strides and makes it looks easy as he blows by opponents. His speed and acceleration help give him time and space to create plays and with his great intelligence and vision, he usually makes the right plays. Just like Werenski, Hanifin shows great poise with the puck and makes great plays under pressure. His defensive game may be just as good as his offensive game, he plays smart on defense and uses his size as he plays with more of an edge than Werenski does.

Richard Wolowicz/HHOF-IIHF Images
Richard Wolowicz/HHOF-IIHF Images

2. Jack Eichel, United States of America: The top rated American skater in the 2015 draft class, centre Jack Eichel may not be as good as the consensus #1 player, but he certainly has the potential to become a franchise-altering player for the team that has the opportunity to draft him. Eichel began with the USNTDP a year earlier than both Werenski and Hanifin, starting in 2012-13. That year, Eichel had 34 points (19 goals, 15 assists) in 36 games with the U-17 team as well as 18 points (10 goals, 8 assists) in 22 games with the U-18 team. The following year, Eichel had 87 points (38 goals, 49 assists) in 53 games with the U-18 team. In both years with the USNTDP Juniors team, Eichel posted 72 points (33 goals, 39 assists) in 59 games. Eichel played in the WJHC last year and registered 5 points (1 goal, 4 assists) in 5 games and was just named as the captain for this years team. Eichel is now with the Boston University Terriers, the current #1 ranked team in the Top 20 rankings.

Listed at 6’2, 195lbs Eichel is another sizable player who should fill out as he grows older. He uses his size as a big part of his game but also has great skill and can outmaneuver an opposing defender with his hands or drive by with his speed. Due to his size and strength, he’s tough to knock off the puck and is hard to beat on face-offs. His combination of vision, speed and smarts allow him to be able to go end-to-end with ease. Teams may end up shifting him to the wing because of his explosive speed and great work on the walls. He’s an unselfish player, but his shot is extremely lethal as well. He will be able to crack a top-six role in the NHL next year, no matter which position he plays. As he is a very good defensive player, I could see him staying at centre because he’s so gifted at both ends of the ice.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

1. Connor McDavid, Canada: No surprise here. This might be the most talked about and hyped up junior player since John Tavares, maybe even Sidney Crosby. While I’m not saying McDavid will be better or worse as an NHL player than either Tavares or Crosby, he is certainly talked about just as much. In 2011-12, McDavid played for the Toronto Marlboros Minor Midget AAA team, where he amassed a whopping 209 points (79 goals, 130 assists) in 88 games. This helped him earn the exceptional player status that had only been given to the aforementioned Tavares and current Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad at that point. He was then taken first overall in the 2012 OHL Priority Selection by the Erie Otters. Since then, McDavid has played in 137 games for the Otters and has produced 216 points (69 goals, 147 assists) including 51 points (16 goals, 35 asissts) in 18 games this season, before he broke his hand. In 7 games with Team Canada last season at the WJHC, McDavid had 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists.) He will look for a much more impactful performance this time around.

At 6’1, 190lbs McDavid could be a little heavier but he has time to fill out his frame. Connor McDavid is just a generational talent, plain and simple. Whichever team drafts him, could be looking at the face of the franchise for a very long time and potentially the face of the NHL. He thinks the game so well and is always playing a couple of steps ahead of everyone else on the ice, he sees scoring chances before they’ve even happened. His skill-set is unmatched by anyone his age right now. His combination of speed, hands, and shooting ability makes him a threat every time he touches the puck. His gaudy assist numbers tell you that he makes his teammates better and can create plays at an elite level. McDavid has the ability to change the game whenever he’s on the ice. He will relied on to lead Canada back to World Junior glory and fans of whichever team drafts him will be hoping he turns into the player he has the potential to be. A quick search on YouTube and you can see why teams are trying to be bad in order to be in position to draft this potential superstar.

Honorable mentions go to Lawson Crouse (Canada), Mikko Rantanen (Finland) and Ivan Provorov (Russia).

Follow me on Twitter, @BShaw27.

Gary Bettman appeared on the NHL Network on Tuesday, saying that NHL participation in future Olympic hockey tournaments would be “extremely difficult”.

In his interview, which you can find here, the NHL Commissioner said that Pyongchang, South Korea (2018) and Beijing, China or Almaty, Kazakhstan (still up for grabs in 2022) weren’t particularly hockey hotbeds. Bettman brought up a good point when he talked about how big the Olympic tournaments in Salt Lake City and Vancouver were due to the tournaments being local to NHL markets. A large part has to do with the timing, as not many casual fans will find the idea of waking up to see Latvia vs Norway at 4:00am to be a positive experience.

Bettman did say, however, that he was “excited about the possibility” of the World Cup of Hockey, which is expected to take place in Toronto, Ontario in 2016. The NHL has still yet to announce the official details as of yet, but it is believed to be planned prior to the 2016-2017 NHL season.

So, is this it for the NHL? Will they really not send their best players to defeat the Koreans 55-0? Or is this similar to what was said prior to the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi?

Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.

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Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images

In Pierre LeBrun’s most recent post on the potential for an NHL World Cup, the ESPN insider reports that the NHL is seeking out opportunities to have teams compete in regular season contests over in Europe in the near future.

“What possibly could also be part of a World Cup announcement – although it depends on the timing of it over the next few months – is the return of the Premiere Games,” wrote LeBrun. “The NHL hopes to have regular-season games back across the pond next season, but no firm details are finalized on that front.”

The NHL has a long history with teams competing over in different continents. Back in 1938, the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings squared off in a 9 game series in France and England. Since the NHL lockout back in 2005-2006, the NHL has competed in a non-NHL country six times in a row, with five of the years being part of the European Premiere series. However, the NHL has yet to venture outside North America since 2011, with the Buffalo Sabres and Anaheim Ducks finishing as the most recent victors overseas.

With the potential World Cup coming up, it’s clear the NHL wants to get as much revenue from around the world as possible. Will this be a success? No reason for it not too, but it’ll be interesting what some of the hometown fans will think of having home games removed from the schedule.

Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.

Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images North America
Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images North America
Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images North America

For many players, the thought of moving overseas during the latter stages of the career is a very enticing option. Beautiful cities, solid paycheck…oh, did I forget to mention fantastic hockey? For these five players, either near the end of the careers or just looking for a second chance, the Champions Hockey League will benefit from having the skill and experience acquired by these fine hockey gentleman are set to take their place in the unique tournament while giving North American’s someone to root for.

Age should be a positive factor for Metropolit.
Age should be a positive factor for Metropolit.

5. Glen Metropolit (Adler Mannheim, Group C): A longtime NHL journeyman, Glen Metropolit has made a name for himself playing in European competition. One of the most popular players to ever suit up for Team Canada at the Spengler Cup, Metropolit put together 14 points in 17 games over four separate tournaments. During his final NHL season back in 2009-2010, Metropolit scored 16 goals and registered 13 assists in 69 games with the Montreal Canadiens, solid production from a bottom six aging forward. After 159 points in over 400 contests, Metropolit decided to move back to Europe for what should likely be the final few seasons of the Toronto natives career. After stints with both Zug and Lugano, Metropolit found himself with SC Bern for the final three games of his NLA career before his club battled in the relegation round. For the upcoming season, Metropolit signed with the German squad Adler Mannheim at the age of 40, playing in the Champions Hockey League in the process. Metropolit has proven in recent NLA seasons that he has the ability to put the puck in the net, but with Mannheim being a CHL underdog, how will it stand up against Europe’s best?

Dave Abel/Getty Images North America
Dave Abel/Getty Images North America

4. Justin Pogge (Farjestad, Group B): Hey Leaf fans…wait, you know what I’m going to say. It’s still a topic of discussion every time the Leafs and Bruins take to the ice thanks to the stellar play of, you guessed it, former Toronto draft pick Tuukka Rask. Following an incredible performance at the 2006 World Junior Championships (which was followed by a so-so outing at the Spengler Cup later in the year), Pogge went on to have very limited success with the Toronto organization before bouncing between teams and leagues during his last few seasons of professional hockey in North America. After a single season while competing in the Italian Serie A league, Pogge joined BIK Karlskoga of Allsvenskan as the starting goalie. Farjestad liked what they saw out of the once promising Canadian netminder, eventually signing him to a contract to compete with former Calgary Flame Danny Taylor and 2010 Atlanta Thrashers draft pick Fredrik Pettersson Wentzel. Will Pogge pull his career together and maybe, just maybe, return to North America in the next few seasons?

Ranger may have had a tough season in the NHL, but expect a fresh new defenseman this year.
Ranger may have had a tough season in the NHL, but expect a fresh new defenseman this year.

3. Paul Ranger (Geneve-Servette, Group C): Like pretty much every player on this list, Ranger has had a crazy career. In his return to the NHL last year, Ranger tallied six goals and eight assists in 53 games with the Maple Leafs while getting limited ice time. Previously, Ranger took three years off from playing for an unexplained reason, keeping in shape in the process with hopes of eventually getting a new NHL contract. Following a season with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, the Leafs thought he was fit enough to return to the league, but it didn’t go so fine and dandy during the one season with the club. Despite being named Toronto’s nominee for the 2014 Bill Masterton Trophy back in April, the team didn’t have room for the struggling blue liner before he eventually moved over to the 2013 Spengler Cup Champions. At 29, it’s hard to say his NHL career has come to an end, but based off of his recent career highlights (very limited) and the rising hockey market in Switzerland, maybe there is no reason for him to come back to North America. Nonetheless, he chose a fantastic club to join and should experience some success in a busy year for the Swiss club.

Will Hecht lead Mannheim in scoring once again?
Will Hecht lead Mannheim in scoring once again?

2. Jochen Hecht (Adler Mannheim, Group G): Following a lockout shortened 2012-2013 NHL campaign, Jochen Hecht called it quits from hockey…but not really. As it would turn out, Hecht would decide to return to Adler Mannheim, the same German team that had housed him during the beginning of his pro career, as well as both NHL lockouts. Hecht, who shares the record for most games played at the World Junior Hockey Championships together with Switzerland’s Björn Christen (26), played for St. Louis, Edmonton and Buffalo during his NHL career and scored 186 goals and registered 463 points in 833 games. Last year, his first full season with Mannheim since 2005-2006, Hecht recorded 36 points in 49 games to lead his club in scoring, beating out former NHLer Simon Gamache by three points. At 37 years old age, his career has seen much better days, but his veteran leadership and still prevalent scoring ability could help Mannheim try and overcome a tough Group G.

Gerber is one of the most experienced goalies heading into the tournament.
Gerber is one of the most experienced goalies heading into the tournament.

1. Martin Gerber (Kloten, Group I): Gerber had a strange career in the NHL. In 2001, he was drafted as a 28 year old by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks following a eight season career in Sweden and Switzerland. After very limited playing time with Anaheim during a two year stint with the club, Gerber ended up becoming the starting goalie for the Carolina Hurricanes during the 2005-2006 season. Yes, Gerber would end up winning the Stanley Cup that year, but it would be young phenom Cam Ward that stole all the headlines after taking over as the starting goalie during the first round of the playoffs that year. He would later join the Ottawa Senators in what could only be described as one of the most roller coaster tenure’s a goalie (outside of Philadelphia) could ask for. After going from starting goalie to waiver pickup by the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 2008-2009 season, Gerber bounced around through multiple teams before deciding to stick with the Kloten Flyers of the NLA for a second straight season this year. Gerber will act as the backup to Jonas Muller once again this season, but like Gerber proved back at the 2013 World Championships when Switzerland finished with a silver medal, he’s definitely a fantastic option on the bench.

Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.

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IIHF Photo
IIHF Photo
IIHF Photo

With the rebirth of the Champions Hockey League beginning this Thursday, many North American hockey fans have began to show a bit of interest in the event. The first time around, back in 2008, was a smaller scale event and despite fantastic hockey action, fans were left with more to desire. Thanks to the IIHF, Europe will play host to a brand new, 44 team competition to find the greatest teams from the continent. Missing from the league this year is a Russian representative, as reports indicated that the KHL was unhappy with the guidelines set for the inaugural season.

For many European youngsters, this gives them a fantastic opportunity to compete at a high class level on the world stage. With that, here are five NHL drafted prospects that will be competing in this one-of-a-kind season, with hopes of moving over to the world’s greatest hockey league in due time.

Artturi Lehkonen – Finland’s 2013 SM Liga Rookie of the Year
Artturi Lehkonen – Finland’s 2013 SM Liga Rookie of the Year

5. Artturi Lehkonen LW (2013, 55th overall by the Montreal Canadiens, Group C: Frölunda): A season after leading his Finnish League team KalPa in scoring, Lehkonen moves over to Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League for the upcoming season. Lehkonen will likely see time along with Norwegian scoring star Mathias Olimb on the wing in an attempt to continue to prove his offensive strength. Fans may remember his fantastic showing at the most recent World Junior tournament, in which he posted four points in six games for the eventual champions from Finland. The tournament was also showed that the Habs prospect had the ability to be a dominant force on the penalty kill, a feature that could see him fill in nicely on Montreal’s third line in the future. According to Corey Pronman from Hockey Prospectus, “Lehkonen has tremendous hockey sense and finishing ability to go along with solid but not outstanding hands and speed. He’s a little on the small side, too. He’s been getting a regular shift in Finland’s top pro league, if not being leaned on at times.” Moving to Frolunda should offer Lehkonen a solid chance to be on a winning team this year at the CHL, as many expect Frolunda to come out on top of Group C over 2013 Spengler Cup champs Genève-Servette.

Will his size hurt his defensive abilities in the long run?
Will his size hurt his defensive abilities in the long run?

4. Marcus Pettersson D (2014, 38th overall by the Anaheim Ducks, Group J: Skellefteå AIK): Standing at 6’4 and weighing at less than 170 pounds, Pettersson brings a mobility level to his game that you don’t tend to see when it comes to players his height. Regardless, the Ducks prospect has a great natural ability in all zones of the ice that wasn’t matched by many players in the most recent NHL draft. Pettersson plays for Skellefteå where he spent most of the season on their under-20 squad, but it’s expected that he will spend at least most of the season with the men’s club. The son of Daniel Pettersson, who played for Skellefteå for 14 seasons, is compared to Montreal Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov by some scouts due to his offensive and special teams strength that earned him time in the top Swedish division for 10 games this past season. Playing on a team that has won the past two SHL championships, Pettersson will have tons of opportunity to prove himself with the heavyweights from Group J, but will have to beat out the Finnish club IFK Helsingfors if they have a chance on winning their division. With Pettersson on board, that can very well happen.

Vrana has already represented the Czech Republic in multiple junior tournaments.
Vrana has already represented the Czech Republic in multiple junior tournaments.

3. Jakub Vrana RW (2014, 13th overall by the Washington Capitals, Group F: Linköping): Once considered one of the top five prospects in the 2014 NHL draft, Vrana fell to 13th due to consistency issues he faced while splitting time between the junior and men’s clubs wile with Linköping this past season. He’s not defensively sound whatsoever but he can skate hard and make plays offensively which tends to make up for the mistakes in his own zone. According to Hockey Prospect, “Vrana has fantastic speed that he uses effectively through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone. He has great hands and likes to show them off dangling around defenders.”  Vrana finished with over a point per game average in 2013-2014 in the SuperElit division, but only managed three in the same amount of games in the top division.  A  major two way threat whenever he’s on the ice, Vrana has already been playing against men for a couple of seasons so transitioning to full time duty should be fine for the Czech forward regardless of his low production output in the SHL.

Kasperi learned lots of fundamentals, including how to become a great playmarker, from his dad Sami.
Kasperi learned lots of fundamentals, including how to become a great playmarker, from his dad Sami.

2. Kasperi Kapanen  (2014, 22nd overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins, Group G: KalPa): The Pittsburgh Penguins have had a tough time drafting prospects in the past couple of years. You could say that the choices of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were, well, amazing, but when you pick first and second overall, are you missing on those two? Obviously not. Regardless, despite many mistakes by former GM Ray Shero, KalPa wasn’t one of them. In fact, new Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford seems to be aware of that, and has stated that 2014 first-round pick Kasperi Kapanen could make the NHL as soon as this October. If that in fact does happen, Kapanen obviously won’t be competing at the Champions Hockey League this year, but if he doesn’t make the team right away, you can bet on him becoming a lethal force as the top player on his Finnish club. Playing alongside father and former NHLer Sami Kapanen in KalPa, Kasperi was forced to overcome injuries mid-season that kept him from competing for the eventual World Junior champions from Finland. According to Future Considerations, “Kapanen has quick feet and impressive lateral agility and is a dangerous goal scorer who can make skilled passes and offensive zone reads.” That’s a player that should excel in an even more advanced role now that Lehkonen, the top scorer from last season, has moved on to Sweden. KalPa isn’t expected to do so hot in Group G, but the tougher competition will give Kapanen even more chances to prove that he’ll become an effective NHL goal scorer in the near future.

gn aeng
Will Fiala prove to be an offensive star?

1. Kevin Fiala LW (2014, 11th overall by the Nashville Predators, Group I: HV71) Nashville is no stranger to talented players from the Swiss Alps.. In recent years, Roman Josi has begun to grow into, potentially, one of the greatest players to ever come out of the country. Nashville The young phenom has already shown great promise with HV71 in the SEL, with the club hoping for same, if not more this season. Following a successful Ivan Hlinka tournament in 2013, Fiala was called up to HV71 where he started off with eight points in three games, only to produce an impressive six points in eight playoff  games. According to Hockey’s Future, “Fiala is a high-end offensive talent who plays with a chip on his shoulder. Positionally he is inconsistent at this stage of his development in terms of defending. But his creativity combined with quick skating, shooting, stick handling and passing skills — and the ability to find open spaces — make him dangerous every time he’s on the ice.” That type of praise hasn’t been limited to just one party, fortunately, as Fiala continues to prove at every level that he has the offensive skills Nashville has been searching for. Fiala should be one of the top players to watch in Group I action this year, but will the Kloten Flyers have something to say about it once the two teams square off?

Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.

Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images
Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images

The Montreal Canadiens have traded forward Daniel Briere to the Colorado Avalanche in return for P.A. Parenteau and a 2015 5th round pick.

During the 2012 free agency period, Parenteau saw his name linked to the Canadiens before eventually joining the Avalanche. The former Islanders winger, who faced knee issues during the regular season, managed to pot 14 goals and 33 points in 55 games to follow up 43 points in 48 games during the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign.

Briere, like Parenteau, had a tough season. The one time big name forward only posted 13 goals and 25 points in 69 games while playing in a very limited role for the Canadiens. Briere had signed with the Habs after getting bought out by Philadelphia last summer and had a no-trade/no-movement clause with Montreal, meaning he needed to give the OK to be traded in the first place.

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AP Photo/Alex Brandon
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

The Calgary Flames will use a compliance buyout on 30 year old defenseman Shane O’Brien.

O’Brien’s contract had 1 year left with a cap hit of $2 million. The Flames placed O’Brien on waivers back in January and he passed through without getting claimed, with the extra year likely being the killer.

In 45 games with the Flames last year, O’Brien only had three assists to go along with zero goals. In the AHL, he had 8 points in 31 contests with the Abbotsford Heat in his first time in the AHL since 2006. O’Brien, standing at six-foot-three and 230 pounds, knew a while back that he didn’t fit in with the team’s system, despite fitting in size wise.

“It is what it is with Bob (Hartley),” said O’Brien, who averaged roughly around 11 minutes a night as a bottom pairing defenseman. “You could tell by the ice time where I stood in their minds. I don’t think it’s anything personal. I don’t think Bob thinks I’m a bad guy, but, obviously, he didn’t think I was a good player. Same with (associate coach) Jacques Cloutier. From Day 1, they didn’t think I could play on their team.

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Joel Auerbach/Getty Images North America
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images North America

The Anaheim Ducks have acquired center Nate Thompson from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for a fourth-round and seventh-round selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.

A key face-off winner, Thompson had nine goals and 16 points last season in a bottom line role with the Lightning.  Thompson owns a career faceoff percentage of 51.7, good for higher than half of the faceoffs he has taken during his time in the NHL. In 391 career NHL games with Tampa Bay, the New York Islanders and Boston, Thompson has just 85 points and 199 PIM.

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Jeff Gross/Getty Images

 

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Lightning acquired Sam Gagner from the Edmonton Oilers today, giving up winger Teddy Purcell in the deal. Much like Ales Hemsky, Sam Gagner has been rumoured to be on the outs in Edmonton for a year or more now, and this deal only sealed the deal on the inevitable.

Gagner was drafted 6th overall by the Oilers in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, and recorded 295 points for the team in 481 games played. However, he has yet to play an NHL playoff game due to the Oilers complete (apparent) hatred of having any success in the league.

Purcell was signed by the Los Angeles Kings as an undrafted free agent in 2007, joining the Manchester Monarchs before moving to the NHL. He was traded from the Kings to the Lightning, along with a 3rd round pick, for Jeff Halpern. Since then, he’s put up 67 goals in 310 games, playing almost four full years in Tampa and being a staple as a top 6 winger. He currently has a salary of 4.5 million, opposed to Sam Gagner’s 4.8 million.

It’s surprising that the Oilers didn’t attempt to get a defender from the Lightning in the deal, as Edmonton continues to lack on the blue line compared to their talented forward core (which recently added Leon Draisaitl in the 2014 draft).

UPDATE: The Lightning have flipped Gagner to the Arizona Coyotes.

Tim Bates/OJHL Images
Tim Bates/OJHL Images

St. Michael’s Buzzers forward Jake Evans has been selected in the seventh round by the Montreal Canadiens.

A rotating forward with the ability to play center and right wing, Evans collected 79 points in only 49 games in the OJHL this season. He is committed to join the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish beginning in the 2014-15 season and will surely continue to climb the ranks in hopes of fulfilling his projection as a bottom six two way forward.

Evans is still a long shot, but he could develop into a solid bottom six two way forward. He possesses great vision, he’s a powerful skater and he doesn’t make a lot of defensive mistakes. The Habs have selected twice before from the OJHL, with John Van Boxmeer being chosen in the first round back in 1972, and more recently Dustin Walsh in the 6th round back in 2008.

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Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press
Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The Washington Capitals have acquired the 159th pick in the draft and goalie Edward Pasquale for No. 164, No. 192 and a 7th-round pick in 2015.

Pasquale was selected by the Atlanta Thrashers in the fourth round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. An RFA on July 1st, Pasquale posted a 17-13-1 record during the regular season and would later go on to see some Calder Cup action from the bench during the AHL final series between St. John’s and the eventual champions Texas.

At 23 years old, Pasquale has yet to prove he’ll ever make it past the AHL. With Philipp Grubauer, Sergei Kostenko and Brandon Anderson already in the system, it will be interesting to see if he’s even offered a contract for the upcoming season.

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Toronto Jr. Canadiens defenceman and CJHL Top Prospect Award winner Jake Walman was selected by the St. Louis Blues in the 3rd round, 82nd overall, of the 2014 NHL Draft on Saturday.

Walman had a breakout developmental year in his only season of OJHL hockey, putting up 33 points in 43 games on the blueline as the Jr. Canadiens squeaked past the Oakville Blades to claim an OJHL playoff berth, before being knocked out by RBC Cup participants, the Toronto-Lakeshore Patriots. Despite starting the offseason at about 5-foot-7, Walman sprung up to a solid 6 feet to begin the year, and was able to use this newfound size to improve his puck protection abilities and to muscle up to the opponent’s bigger forwards. Walman is one of the better skaters in the 2014 draft, and can accelerate to his top speed very quickly.

Walman wasn’t the only OJHL defenseman to see his name called on the second day of the draft, as Toronto Lakeshore Patriots defender Michael Prapavessis found his name called by the Dallas Stars in the fourth round, 105th overall.

Prapavessis had a fantastic season while playing under the OJHL’s Toronto Lakeshore Patriots banner this past season. While posting 5 goals and 54 points in 47 games, the talented defenseman went on to win the OJHL Championship, Ontario National Jr. A Championship, OHA Top Prospect honors, the OJHL Best Defenseman award and more at the young age of 18. If he continues to excel when he heads off to the College level with RPI next season, Prapavessis could develop into a very solid two way defenseman.

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They actually did something smart yesterday, selecting William Nylander.

And they couldn’t even wait a single day before blowing every Leaf fans’ happiness on another ridiculous stupid play.

The Maple Leafs traded Carl Gunnarsson today, to the St. Louis Blues, along with the 94th overall pick, and in return, they got Roman Polak. Polak has been a negative Corsi relative on a good Blues team for the past 3 seasons, and is absolutely zero upgrade over Gunnarsson. In fact, Gunnarsson is better. Before the Carlyle system, Gunnarsson was one of the Leafs most effective defensemen, and trading him simply to get a guy who shoots the opposite way is silly. Just another bad move by Dave Nonis & co., who continue to turn the Leafs into the NHL’s funniest joke.

Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images
Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images

The Calgary Flames have acquired forward Brandon Bollig from the Chicago Blackhawks in return for a third round pick, that was later used to choose Matt Iacopelli from the Muskegon Lumberjacks.

Back in May, Bollig was given a two game suspension by the NHL for an illegal hit on Keith Ballard. A below average player from the most recent playoffs, Bollig will see time in Calgary’s bottom six for the majority of his time with the club. He currently holds a $1,250,000 cap hit for the next two seasons.

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The Nashville Predators acquired James Neal from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for Patrick Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.

Neal has had six 20+ goals seasons in the NHL and one 40-goal season, which happened to be his first in Pittsburgh, back in 2011-12. The biggest question: how will he be able to play without two super-stars at his side?

Hornqvist, a very effective two way forward that is good to put up close to 50 points a season, is coming off his best career year of 53 points in 76 games.

Spaling, on the other hand, is used mainly in a depth role due to his ability to play all forward positions. He’ll add some solid depth to a bottom six in Pittsburgh that has really struggled in recent years.

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After three seasons with the San Jose Sharks, Martin Havlat has been bought out by the club.
After three seasons with the San Jose Sharks, Martin Havlat has been bought out by the club.

As was first reported by Josh Rimer on Twitter, Martin Havlat has been bought out by the San Jose Sharks.

Havlat had spent the past three seasons in San Jose, never playing more than 48 games (this past season) and his best point total came in his first year with the team when he had 27 points (7-20) in 39 games.  Before coming to San Jose, Havlat had spent five seasons with the Ottawa Senators (the team that drafted him), three seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks and two with the Minnesota Wild before being traded to San Jose. His best season came with the Blackhawks when he had 77 points (29-48) in 81 games during the 2008-09 season. This past season, Havlat played in just one of the Sharks’ playoff games and didn’t record a point.

Havlat had one more year left on his contract that he signed with the Wild in 2009-10 and was going to make $6 million with a $5 million cap hit. With the buyout, the Sharks will have a $1 million cap hit this season and a $2 million cap hit next season (according to CapGeek.com). Havlat will hit the free agent market in search of a team that will be able to use his services at a reduced salary than his previous one.

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The Vancouver Canucks have finally ended the Ryan Kesler trade-request saga, moving the top six center to the Anaheim Ducks, and getting forward Nick Bonino, defenseman Luca Sbisa, and the 24th overall in return.

Kesler was a draft pick of the Canucks, going 23rd overall in the 2003 Draft just behind Marc-Antoine Pouliot and just before center Mike Richards. He has 655 career NHL games, all with Vancouver, and recorded 393 points in that time for a 0.60 points-per-game rate. He is 11th in all-time scoring for the Canucks, and was third on the current team in this category behind both Henrik and Daniel Sedin. The Livonia, Michigan native scored a goal in his final game for the Canucks in their 5-1 win over the Calgary Flames on April 13th.

Nick Bonino and Luca Sbisa are both young players within the Ducks organization. Bonino was drafted in 2007 by the San Jose Sharks, and his rights were traded less than two years later to the Anaheim Ducks in a minor trade. He has 82 points in 189 career games, all with Anaheim, and has 12 points in 24 playoffs games with the Ducks. He also scored 52 points in 19 games with in the second-tier Italian league during the 2012-13 lockout, because why not? Luca Sbisa is a 24 year old blueliner who was originally drafted in Philadelphia before being traded to Anaheim after 39 career games. Sbisa is a two-way defenseman who isn’t known for putting up points, and is an average possession player in all three zones.

The 24th overall pick in the 2014 draft could be an interesting one. According to results from fifteen expert mock drafts, the most likely picks in this area are Adrian Kempe from Sweden, Joshua Ho-Sang from the Windsor Spitfires, and Ivan Barbashev of the Moncton Wildcats. It’s a surprise that the Canucks couldn’t acquire the Ducks top pick in the draft at 10th overall, where bigger names like William Nylander, Brendan Perlini, and Haydn Fleury could be available. However, it’s up to the ‘Nucks management to choose where to go with the 24th overall pick.

The two teams also swapped their 2014 3rd round picks in the deal.

UPDATE 1: Later in the day, the Canucks traded defenseman Jason Garrison to the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Lightning’s 50th overall selection in this draft. Garrison is a former Florida Panther, and his departure gives room for Luca Sbisa to enter the Canucks lineup.

UPDATE 2: The Canucks have flipped the 3rd rounder acquired from Anaheim in the Kesler deal to the New York Rangers for forward Derek Dorsett.