Owen Tippett caught the eye of one of Dobber's many prospect scouts. Photo courtesy Mississauga Steelheads.
I recently attended a Mississauga Steelheads/Oshawa Generals, in anticipation of checking out some of the more notable names for the 2016 NHL entry draft.
We’ve all heard the name Alexander Nylander, courtesy of the pedigree that his father and brother have garnered. Don’t be fooled, though, this kid is the real deal.
We’ve all heard the name Sean Day, and his granting of exceptional player status by the OHL, which immediately evokes names like John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, and Connor McDavid. To watch Day play raises a whole new discussion, but I’ll save that for another column.
Instead, I went searching for the real dirt on the well-knowns but not necessarily headline-making players. Names like Michael McLeod, Nathan Bastian, and to a lesser extent, Austin Osmanski.
A funny thing happened, though.
While I went in search of a greater understanding of, and perhaps a little excitement for, the 2016 draft, I came away with something totally different … and that’s excitement for what 2017 has to offer, with two names in particular showing what they could do.
In particular, the names Owen Tippett and Nicolas Hague are names to keep an eye on for 2017.
Tippett, in his rookie season with the Steelheads, shows flashes of fantastic speed and exceptional offensive skill. Putting up respectable numbers this season as an OHL rookie with 14 goals and 19 points over 45 games, Tippett looks like he has all the tools to be a sure-fire first-round selection in 2017.
Already standing 6-1 and a reported 181 pounds, watching his game is somewhat reminiscent of a Corey Perry and his nose for the net. This was readily apparent in the game, when he absolutely undressed Oshawa defender Jalen Smereck to score a highlight-reel goal. An exciting player to watch, there is no doubt.
On the defensive side of the game, hulking defenseman Hague is another name to keep tabs on. A late 1998 birthdate, he missed the cutoff for the coming draft by just under three months and looks like a potential blue-chipper. A left-shooting defenseman, he presents an intriguing combination of size, skill, and smarts with an active stick, great anticipation and big reach.
Moreover, Hague is being relied upon by his coach in key situations. This included a four-on-three penalty kill where he blocked a shot and forced the pointman out past the blueline, showing a heady awareness of the game uncommon in a player his age. To go along with his defensively responsible game, he has a deceptively quick snapshot that he gets off with a vengeance.
Do not be surprised if his name starts to float into the conversation as a top-30 pick in Chicago come June 2017.
* * *
With the announcement of the potential for an NHL expansion draft that may take place in the summer of 2017, the amount of speculation about player exposure may never have been stronger.
Particularly important is the handling of players who have been honing their craft in the AHL, who have been generating pro years that may be a determining factor in said draft. While there is a bevy of names that raise eyebrows, one name may be the most intriguing of all … and that name is Matt Murray.
Pittsburgh prospect Matt Murray is playing like a seasoned pro as Marc-Andre Fleury's backup while the Penguins close in on a playoff berth:
With former first overall selection Marc-Andre Fleury manning the crease in Pittsburgh, the progress of Murray has not been lost among those in the hockey community. Drafted 83rd overall in the 2012 entry draft, Murray has progressed well within the OHL and AHL systems.
Posting gaudy numbers in the 2014-2015 season of 25 wins and a 1.58 GAA in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the six-four netminder earned himself a well-deserved cup of coffee in the pros. He has not disappointed, posting a 4-2 record with a miniscule 1.85 GAA and .931 save percentage.
The question now is how the Penguins looks at the future – do they trade their established goaltender in Fleury, or do they attempt to trade Murray for another asset?
There is certainly a market for goaltending help – names like Calgary, San Jose, and Toronto spring to mind – and Murray could be a handsome acquisition.
While Murray will be just one name that will be bandied about in the rumor mill, he may well be one of the more coveted. Time will tell.
* * *
Still unresolved is the situation involving Nashville Predators' draft pick Jimmy Vesey.
With reports emerging today that Nashville remained “cautiously optimistic” about signing the Hobey Baker nominee, it has not prevented conspiracy theorists from emerging. Since word first emerged that Vesey was reluctant to sign with the Predators, scuttlebutt started quickly. Chatter was that he sought to move to the club that employed his father, Jim Sr., as an amateur scout and that held his brother Nolan in their prospect pool.
Of course, I’m talking about the Toronto Maple Leafs.
With anything certain at this point, every passing day without a signing seems to point more clearly to Vesey becoming a UFA. While David Poile went on the record as stating he “hopes to get (Vesey) signed in the next two or three weeks,” this may also represent an attempt to create a trade market. If Poile can get an inside scoop on a team that may sign the young forward, a conditional pick may be in the offing.
Whether or not this was just media negotiation, or if in fact Vesey pulls on a yellow jersey in the next few weeks, it will be interesting to see how it all turns out.
* * *
Thanks for reading!