Updating all 2015 NHL top-10 draft choices not named McDavid or Eichel, two Bruin prospects among the AHL scoring leaders, an early look at how Torts might affect the Columbus roster and a heads-up about the 2016 BMO CHL/NHL top prospects game.
The top two players in the 2015 NHL draft are understandably getting the lion's share of attention so far this season because top pick Connor McDavid is emerging as a dynamic, world-class talent for the Edmonton Oilers after a slow start and Jack Eichel is living up to his billing as a future franchise player for the Buffalo Sabres.
Dylan Strome (third overall by Arizona) is not doing badly (a goal and 10 assists in just seven games for the Erie Otters), but is tied for 37th in Ontario Hockey League junior scoring. The younger brother of Islanders' forward Ryan Strome recently succeeded McDavid as Erie captain. It will be interesting to see how the loss of McDavid from the Otters will affect Strome, but the 2014-15 OHL and CHL scoring champion has enough skill to succeed in any situation. When he joins budding stars Max Domi and Anthony Duclair with the Coyotes, Arizona will have a formidable nucleus of skilled youngsters up front.
Continuing to distance themselves from former GM Brian Burke's fondness for truculent players, the Maple Leafs furthered their new smallish, ultra-skilled mandate by selecting Claude Giroux clone Mitch Marner fourth overall. Coming off a 126-point season with London of the OHL, the dynamic right winger totaled five goals and 11 points in his first eight games with the Knights this season. If you don't have him yet in your dynasty pool, it's probably too late.
Noah Hanifin, drafted fifth by Carolina, got his first NHL point with an assist in a 5-2 loss to the host San Jose Sharks. Hanifin, whose game has been compared to Drew Doughty's, has just that one point in seven games, but he played a solid 16:12 and looked good in all facets of the game. Mature for his age right out of Boston College, he could stick with the Hurricanes beyond a nine-game tryout, although significant NHL ice time and points are at least a season or two away.
The Devils could not resist acquiring Pavel Zacha's combination of size (6-3, 214) and skill sixth overall. Desperate for scoring, New Jersey landed a power forward who was prevented by injuries last season (16 goals and 34 points in 37 games for Sarnia of the OHL) from really showing what he can do. The young Czech center has five goals, eight points and 10 PIMs in his first seven games back with the OHL's Sting this season. Power forwards are notoriously slow to develop, but he's one to watch, especially since New Jersey needs all the help it can get to juice one of the NHL's lamest offenses.
Desperate to build a respectable defense to go with their usual productive forwards, the Flyers chose a blend of skill and physicality by nabbing Russian blueliner Ivan Provorov one pick after Zacha. After an eye-opening WHL rookie season (15 goals, 61 points and plus-36 in 60 games) with Brandon, the 201-pounder has two goals and 14 points in 11 games with the Wheat Kings. Philly can't wait to see him garbed in orange.
Considering the sadsack transition game that led to an 0-8 start, Columbus was on the right track by picking two-way defenseman Zach Werenski eighth overall. Not especially physical, he compensates with superior skating and awareness plus a strong stick. Following a nine-goal, 25-point, 35-game campaign with the University of Michigan, the husky 6-2 214-pounder has two assists in as many games this season for the Wolverines.
Sniping right winger Timo Meier fell to San Jose ninth overall at the 2015 NHL draft after a 61-game junior season in which he amassed 44 goals and 90 points for Halifax of the QMJHL. A scorer with a defensive conscience, the Swiss native graduated from assistant captain to captain with the Mooseheads, for whom he has three goals and 10 points in eight games this season. In international U-20 play, he already has three goals and an assist in four games for Switzerland this season.
Rounding out the top 10 picks of 2015, right winger Mikko Rantanen went to Colorado. You could persuasively argue the Avalanche really need to build a better blueline corps, but they couldn't resist his size (6-4, 209), playmaking, hockey acumen and two-way style. Playing for a bad team in Finland's top men's league, Rantanen finished second in scoring for TPS with 28 points in 56 games, getting stronger as the season wore on. Averaging only 9:21 of ice time and with a minus-5 rating in six NHL games, Rantanen was dispatched to San Antonio of the AHL for the ice time he needs to develop. He might develop more slowly than the nine players drafted ahead of him.
Dylan Strome highlights, and his hockey philosophy:
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Fans of the Bruins still distressed by a counter-productive off-season and nervous about Boston's mediocre 3-3-1 start should be encouraged when they survey the AHL's scoring leaders because young forwards Alexander Khokhlachev and Frank Vatrano are among the top four point-getters. Khokhlachev, Boston's second-round pick in 2011, has two goals and 11 points to tie Bridgeport veteran Joe Whitney for the league scoring lead. A creative playmaker and talented finisher, the skilled 22-year-old Russian has played in just four games with Boston, but has the looks of an NHLer. The undrafted Vatrano, a Massachusetts native with a long history of playing hockey in the state, is tied for the AHL goal-scoring lead with eight (plus two assists) in seven games with Providence. While early in the season, that's an encouraging development for the short but burly 201-pounder, who had just one goal and no assists in a five-game trial with the AHL's Bruins last season.
Unheralded Frank Vatrano scores twice in a pre-season game against New Jersey:
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Although John Tortorella immediately made his mark on the Blue Jackets after they hired him to replace fired coach Todd Richards (benching Ryan Johansen for the final 6:10 of a game and reportedly telling the young star his physical conditioning is not good enough), it's unclear what effect the fiery, impatient new Columbus coach will have on the team's prospects. Torts (one of the more flattering nicknames by which the league's most controversial coach is known) has a reputation for overworking his favorite players while leaving others to collect splinters in their butts at the far end of the bench. Tortorella's arrival has not silenced the rumor that young left winger Kerby Rychel is being shopped, presumably for blueline help.
Torts faces the media after his first game coaching the Blue Jackets (and avoids a meltdown):
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Tickets are on sale for the Canadian Hockey League's 2016 BMO CHL/NHL top prospects game Jan. 28, which will be hosted by the Western Hockey League's Vancouver Giants at the Pacific Coliseum. The 21st annual game will showcase the CHL’s top-40 NHL draft-eligible players as selected by NHL Central Scouting. Hundreds of NHL scouts will be in the crowd to assess players the Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League, and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. It will be the second time the game has been in Vancouver. Current NHLers who have played in the game include Steven Stamkos, Carey Price, Drew Doughty and Connor McDavid. Trivia time: Who is the only player to record a hat trick in the game? The answer will be revealed in a moment. Ticket prices range from $19 to $49 plus fees. For details, visit http://bmotopprospects.ca/article/2016-bmo-chl-nhl-top-prospects-game. Answer: Gilbert Brule (on home ice in Vancouver in 2005).
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I hope you enjoyed my first-time ramblings.