NHL Prospect Camp Ramblings

Dean Youngblood

2014-09-15

Monday, September 15th

 

Buckle up folks and get your bookmarks ready, today’s prospect camp and tournament updates/thoughts are coming in the form of a massive hockey avalanche.

 

NHL prospect tournaments are in full swing and it’s that time of the year where we start taking down names on players whose hard work in the summer is translating into great things on the ice. In fantasy hockey, any bit of progression (good or bad) news is a chip in your hand.

 

After attending several junior training camps and even more exhibition games, here are a few names of draftees who may be ready to step into stardom in their respective leagues.

 

 

 

 

The Anaheim Ducks’ prospect cupboards are one of the best when considering NHL-ready players. With John Gibson, Rickard Rakell, William Karlsson, Stefan Noesen, Nick Ritchie, Shea Theodore and Nic Kerdiles, the ducklings are looking very good. Honestly, one of my favourite prospect lineups resides in Anaheim. Look for Nic Kerdiles to be a player who won’t take long to adjust to the NHL game. I expect him to be a breakout player this year with Norfolk (turned pro after last season) and force the hands of the Ducks. Many of these players will use the prospect camps/tournaments to prepare for the NHL main camp before heading back to their junior, collegiate or AHL teams (except for Gibson and Rakell).

 

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Under the new name “Arizona Coyotes”, forward Henrik Samuelsson is turning heads early in camp and appears to be carrying the momentum after a strong showing at the 2014 CHL Memorial Cup Championship, where he helped his Edmonton Oil Kings capture the title. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Hank push for a bottom six role this season. More likely, Samuelsson will attempt to acclimate himself in the AHL.

 

Max Domi is the Arizona Coyotes top prospect and even after a roller-coaster OHL season, he’s expected to make the main roster. He was wildly inconsistent and showed a lack of effort last year but even as frustrating as he was to watch last year, Domi needs to be challenged at the pro level to see if his special offensive talent can emerge against the best players….and, yes, I do think it will. In a system not known for offensive surges, Domi’s talents could change the dessert’s landscape.

 

I was able to catch Brendan Perlini in OHL training camp action and I remain extremely impressed with his skating ability. Honestly, Perlini is one of the best skaters in recent memory. His lengthy stride features every element you want from an elite skater – acceleration, power, quickness and lateral agility. As good as he was flying down the wing, Perlini will certainly be returned to the Niagara IceDogs where he will attempt to improve upon his 2013-14 breakout season. He still has work to do on his consistency and physical play but he should remain one of the OHL’s top scorers.

 

One under the radar prospect to watch is Coyotes Tyler Gaudet. He has been a rising prospect who the Coyotes signed as a free agent but his blue-collar work ethic and intelligent two-way play could see him crack the roster as a 4th line player.

 

Last Coyotes prospect to watch …. Defenseman Connor Murphy. Many people peg Murphy as a defender who will draw mainly defensive minutes and that may be true to a degree but I witnessed him confidently run an offense in Sarnia and know that he has some underlying offensive upside. He has already earned significant minutes with Arizona/Phoenix so we know that the organization values him. More offensive minutes will come his way and he’ll exceed people’s offensive expectations (as long as he remains healthy).

 

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The Boston Bruins have several prospects ready to push the coaching staff and that begins with Ryan Spooner who I feel could replicate a similar game to David Krejci and create a more dynamic offense in Boston. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the crafty pivot reach double digits in goals and push for 35-40 points with the B’s.

 

Alexander Khokhlachev enjoyed a great campaign with Providence last year and he will see spot duty with the B’s but he’s destined for more AHL action.

 

Top 2014 pick, David Pastrnak has been a glowing prospect early in tournament play showing that his non-stop motor was an equally as threatening defensively as it was offensively. Coaching brass was really excited about his creativity even though it comes with some risk defensively. Pastrnak showed a commitment to backchecking which will only give him more opportunity to perfect his offensive attacks. The Bruins nabbed Pastrnak with the 25th pick last June and in a couple of seasons I wouldn’t be surprised to see us wondering how that was even possible.

 

Keep an eye on former OHL scoring star Seth Griffith as he looks to improve upon his 50-point AHL rookie season. Big year for Griffith as he looks to solidify himself as a legitimate NHL call-up.

 

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Buffalo Sabres’ 2013 2nd round selection (52nd), Justin Bailey, was a standout in camp as he was finding the twine with ease. He had four goals in scrimmage action in the opening six minutes. Possessing natural scoring instincts and a frame that is developing nicely, Bailey is primed for a breakout with the Kitchener Rangers. He has been sidelined with injuries in both of his OHL campaigns but he’s a healthy season away from launching himself into the league’s elite scoring group and clearing point-per-game numbers for the first time. Look for Justin Bailey to be among the made-available players come OHL trade deadline for team’s looking to bulk up their offensive output for a long playoff run.

 

Sabres are also looking for one (or more) of Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov and/or Jake McCabe to play their way onto the main club’s blueline permanently. Ristolainen is the front runner but Buffalo wants Zadorov to show that he’s capable of moving up the depth chart sooner than later.

 

All eyes are on the Sabres shiny new prize in Sam Reinhart but don’t be surprised if the Sabres take their time with this young prospect. Reinhart is among the smartest players of his age group but handling the 82-game season isn’t an easy one and Buffalo won’t rush him.

“Sam is a talented player, but we’re in a position now that we’re not going to rush anybody,” Kevin Devine (director of player personnel) said. “Our team has improved, but as far as us being Stanley Cup contenders, it might take a little while. Sam has all the tools, but the question will be is he physically strong enough to play against NHL players. That’s the question mark for me, and I hope he makes it easy for us and plays so well that he leaves no doubt.” “A lot will have to do with his training camp when he’s playing with and against NHL players in the [preseason] games,” Devine said. “We’d love for him to step in and be a real force, but we’re not going to rush him.” (NHL.com)

 

 

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Calgary Flames have introduced their top 2014 pick, Sam Bennett, but it’s potential Calder Trophy candidate Johnny Gaudreau who is receiving a ton of focus. “I’ve spent quite a bit of time with Johnny in the past months,Calgary coach Bob Hartley said. “No. 1, he’s a great human being. I believe that great people make great teams. It’s his hockey smarts with the puck, his knowledge of the game, his vision with the puck, his ability to create space for himself while giving unbelievable passes. It seems that he has that knack to make simple plays that other players just can’t do.

 

Sam Bennett actually had the luxury of playing with Connor McDavid (2015 NHL Draft phenom) with the Toronto Marlboros and compared playing with McDavid to playing with Gaudreau. That speaks volumes to both players’ skillsets.

 

Johnny Gaudreau flashing his stuff: {youtube}UUiliG5VxHNHJR4ooEW0R0dQ{/youtube}

 

This Bennett kid isn’t too shabby either and has been a standout with the Flames at the Penticton prospect tournament as well.

 

Flames assistant Todd Gill saying that the performance of Sam Bennett – the best player on the ice by a fairly large margin – was nothing. And Gill would know. He coached Bennett the past two seasons with the OHL Kingston Frontenacs

 

Personally, I can’t see the Flames rushing Bennett and if he’s returned to the Kingston Frontenacs, he should go head-to-head with former teammate Connor McDavid for the OHL scoring title.

 

Sam Bennett wrap-a-around goal at Young Stars Tournament: {youtube}UUiliG5VxHNHJR4ooEW0R0dQ{/youtube}

 

While Sam Bennett and Johnny Gaudreau draw the spotlight, I’ve got a gut feeling that Markus Granlund is the prospect who could surprise most as a Flames member this year. Paired with Michael Ferland and Josh Jooris, Granlund’s line has been the most productive in Penticton. I could see Granlund move up the Flames depth charts fairly quickly and it starts as main camp kicks off in a week.

 

Whatever happened to that 2012 1st round homerun pick the Flames made when they selected Mark Jankowski 21st overall? Haven’t came across much press on his progress. I said “why?” at the time of the selection and my question still remains relevant.

 

Brock McGinn and Haydn Fleury are the two Canes’ prospects I am closely watching. I was very, VERY impressed with Fleury’s performance at the Under-18 World Championships last spring. He thinks the game extremely well and few defensemen combine their size and mobility as well as Carolina’s 7th overall selection. Aaron Ekblad was the unanimous top ranked defender but Fleury has the skill set to push him throughout their NHL careers.

 

Brock McGinn is the type of player every coach wants in his lineup simply because he can mold his game and fill out a number of roles. Skilled enough to complement a scoring line but where he really excels is playing his gritty agitating style and that will help him translate to the NHL quicker than other more one-dimensional prospects.

 

Not big by NHL goaltender standards, Alex Nedeljkovic showed well in his first tournament game. I remain confident that Nedeljkovic will emerge as one of the best goaltenders from the 2014 draft. He’s extremely athletic and can steal games with the best of them.

 

Of course, free agent signee Sergey Tolchinsky is looking to replicate his outstanding training camp from last year – ya know, the one that earned him an NHL contract. He’s a thrilling talent to watch!

 

UPDATE: Veteran prospect Victor Rask is having a nice little showing in Traverse City as he played the hero scoring the OT winner vs. the Rangers Monday evening. His shot is lethal and it shows in his tournament stats (4G 2A in three games).

 

 

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The Blackhawks have held out potential future fantasy stud Teuvo Teravainen from tournament games in London but that shouldn’t diminish the excitement. Fantasy owners are eager to see their prized asset in action but Chicago might have different plans. Although I realize his immediate success at the NHL may be limited due to Chicago’s ridiculous forward depth, I still believe this kid has to be one of the better forwards. Patience is the key with Teravainen (video profile) and the Hawks are in no position to rush a player they really don’t need and risk his development. Now that Brad Richards is in the windy city, it certainly won’t help this Finn’s immediate opportunities. Time is on their side with Teravainen.

 

UPDATE: Teravainen played Monday night and he registered three assists including this beauty…

 

{youtube}eZMEJ_jkhSw{/youtube}

 

 

Defenseman Stephen Johns (2010, 60th overall) had some impressive moments in Chicago’s tournament games. Not afraid to jump into the rush and with his size, he’ll shouldn’t have any issues transitioning to the AHL from a physical standpoint. Johns had five points in an eight game call up with Rockford last year.

 

Phillip Danault doesn’t possess the high-end offensive skills that us fantasy owners seek but he’ll definitely become a valuable pro in deeper keeper leagues. There’s something about NHL certainty that you shouldn’t overlook in the dying rounds of deep drafts.

 

Look for 2014 1st rounder Nick Schmaltz to be one of the nation’s top rookies as he takes his skilled game to the University of North Dakota, where he will team up with brother Jordan Schmaltz (St. Louis Blues).

 

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The Avalanche are just breaking ice on the first day of prospect camp so there isn’t a lot to report here. Clearly, Conner Bleackley (2014 1st round selection) will draw a lot of attention. It seems that we have been waiting on 2009 draftees Tyson Barrie and Stefan Elliott to breakout as defensive superstars forever but after Barrie exploded for 13 goals and 38 points last season, the former is here to stay.

 

Look for Elliott to finally remain with the big club. Concussion nightmares have setback former 1st rounder (2010) Joey Hishon but after suiting up in 50 games with Lake Erie, he could be in for a uplifting season, likely splitting time between the AHL and NHL.

 

Keep watch for Chris Bigras in training camp after he impressed the Avs brass with a strong showing last fall.

 

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Ready to jump into professional action, London Knights forward Josh Anderson has been a notable standout scoring two shorthanded goals in Monday’s prospect game versus St. Louis. He’s a big power forward who plays a low-maintenance and smart two-way game. He’s a competitor who could step into a bottom-six role simply because he plays such a simple game.

 

Alexander Wennberg was impressive during Columbus’ development camps during the summer and he will head to main camp looking to make decisions tough for John Davidson, Jarmo Kekalainen and company. It’s expected that Wennberg will start in the AHL with Springfield but if he can flash his playmaking brilliance and show management how strong of a two-way player he can be, he may pass some on the depth charts.

 

Kerby Rychel (the second 2013 1st round pick) will certainly start with the AHL Falcons and look to ride the momentum he gained after being traded and winning the OHL Championship with Guelph. Rychel isn’t the type of player to create a lot of scoring chances but few players have his type of finishing abilities.

 

From Columbus’ organization, Mike Reilly is my favourite sleeper pick for fantasy leagues. He doesn’t come with the same draft pedigree as many of the others but this offensive defenseman was named the Big Ten’s Defenseman of the Year after racking up nine goals and 33 points in 41 games with the University of Minnesota.

 

Columbus Blue Jackets 2014 1st rounder, Sonny Milano, was slated to excite CBJ fans at the Traverse City Prospect Tournament but that excitement was short lived after the slick winger suffered some facial injuries that will sideline him from the tournament. Milano could be out for up to two weeks before returning to Plymouth. If you check the DobberProspects’ Columbus page, you’ll notice that Milano is listed as Columbus’ 6th best prospect to own. Personally, he’d be #1 on my list.

 

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The Detroit Red Wings haven’t had a prospect jump from junior hockey to the NHL main roster since Jiri Fischler did it in 1999 but Anthony Mantha could be the first to do so. That’s unheard of in a patient organization like Detroit and speaks volumes to Mantha’s development over the past year. Mantha has scored 160 goals in 226 games with Val d’Or becoming the CHL’s most lethal scorer.

 

“Ken (Holland) will be the first to say that goes against his managing philosophy,” Assistant GM Kris Draper told NHL.com. “Because of what he’s done in major junior he’s kind of accelerated (his path) and given himself an opportunity to legitimately be a Detroit Red Wing and an opportunity to crack our top six.”

 

“He’ll get an opportunity, whether it’s playing on the wing with (Pavel Datsyuk) or (Henrik Zetterberg). But he’s going to get an opportunity to play with one of those guys. Then it’s really up to him. We all feel Anthony is a special player and somebody who has earned an opportunity to make the big club.

 

“We feel that we have something special in Anthony Mantha. We want him to make the team. We want him to come out and light it up in training camp and preseason games. We open up against Boston and can put a guy out there who is 6-foot-4 on our first line. We would love that. The opportunity is going to be there and it’s up to him to embrace it.”

 

Look for former Barrie Colts’ sniper Andreas Athanasiou to take steps in his development this year. He was a bit of a streaky scorer at the OHL level but he’s lining up next to the above-mentioned Mantha at the prospects tournament so opportunity knocks to improve his confidence. Athanasiou is a very skilled player and he will take a few seasons to get his feet wet but the scoring potential is there.

 

Athanasiou and Mantha will be joined by the gritty Tyler Bertuzzi (one of my favourite OHLers to watch from last season). Keep an eye on this trio.

 

Mantha scored three goals in the opening two games (vs. STL and CBJ) playing on a strong line with Tomas Nosek and Martin Frk.

 

So where are each of these players slated to play this season?

 

“While Mantha and Athanasiou will likely end up as teammates in Grand Rapids – providing Mantha doesn’t surprise everyone by making the Red Wings’