Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The future is here....or at least it's coming soon

The countdown is on, and it’s now 12 days and counting until the start of the 2009 NHL Prospects Tournament at Centre ICE Arena in Traverse City. The teams for the tourney were set long ago, and now finally the rosters are, too. Yesterday the Minnesota Wild were the final team to post their roster of prospects. The rosters of all eight participating teams are available at redwingscentral.com.

I’ll again have the best view in the house for the second year in a row from the unique vantage point of the scorer’s table, as I will be handling the P.A. announcing duties again at this volunteer-driven event. There’ll always be certain players who’ll draw more than their fair share of attention at the Prospects Tourney, and this year will be no different. Now that I know which young stars will be looking to set the ice on fire in T.C. in the hopes of making their respective NHL clubs, I’ve compiled a list of young stars I’m looking forward to seeing.

  • Brandon Sutter (Carolina), Trevor Ludwig (Dallas), Chris Bourque (NY Rangers), Landon Ferraro (Detroit), Bjorn Krupp (Minnesota), Phil McRae (St. Louis): Anyone else here feel like they see a pattern here? These sons of former NHL’ers certainly have a legacy to live up to, and no doubt are looking to carve their own niche. Bourque rescinded his scholarship to New Hampshire to play with Patrick Roy’s Quebec Remparts (an increasing trend amongst USNTDP players and American junior prospects, a topic I plan to address in the near future), and is therefore eligible to play in this tournament (whereas players who wish to retain their NCAA eligibility cannot play in T.C. – Bourque’s NCAA eligibly, of course, went out the window when he signed to play in the QMJHL). Krupp will is in Minnesota’s rookie camp on a tryout basis, having gone undrafted this year after leaving the USNTDP to play with the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League). Sutter will be looking to recover from a concussion (courtesy of Doug Weight). Ludwig returns for a second year with Dallas’ rookies, as does McRae for St. Louis. And who wouldn’t be excited to see the “Son of Parm?” I’ll have to keep an eye on the crowd for Landon’s dad Ray. And speaking of family matters….

  • Michael Neal (Dallas), Adam Perry (St. Louis): Neal will try to follow in the footsteps of older brother James, who was the top player last year as the Stars claimed the tourney title en route to a great rookie season at the NHL level. Perry (younger brother of Anaheim’s Corey) is in St. Louis’ rookie camp on a free agent tryout basis after spending last season in Phoenix’s minor league affiliates. For good measure, throw Chris Bourque’s name in this group, as older brother Ryan is in the Washington farm system.

  • Jeremy Morin (Atlanta): Another former USNTDP product, the Thrashers’ second round pick this year (45th overall) will spend next season with the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL.
  • John Moore (Columbus): Drafted 21st overall by the Jackets, Moore chose the OHL over the NCAA and will be a teammate of Jeremy Morin in Kitchener this upcoming season.

  • Evander Kane (Atlanta): At 4th overall, Kane will be the top pick form this year’s draft appearing in T.C. I don’t see too many of this year’s first rounders making the NHL this year, but Kane is one that I feel has a good chance at making the big time NOW.

  • Chris Terry (Carolina): The inaugural recipient of the Mickey Renaud Captain’s Trophy (given to the captain of an OHL team who best displays leadership on and off the ice), Terry had a monster year last season with the Plymouth Whalers, finishing second in points (39-55-94 in 53 games, only trailing this year’s top overall pick, John Tavares). Terry also claimed the Dan Snyder Memorial Trophy as the OHL’s top humanitarian. Not a bad resume for a 5th round pick from two years ago.

  • Stefan Legein (Columbus): A brief recap: Legein was a member of the 2008 Canadian Junior team who captured gold, but he decided to quit hockey altogether at the start of last season to work at a pizza parlor. The Blue Jackets’ 2nd round pick in 2007 ultimately had a change of heart, and joined Columbus’ AHL affiliate in Syracuse mid-season. I’m very interested to see this kid’s drive and heart on the ice as the upcoming season approaches.

  • Jamie Benn (Dallas): Benn notched 46-35-92 in 56 games with Kelowna of the WHL last year, helping to lead the Rockets to the Memorial Cup finals. Benn also won gold at the World Juniors last year for Team Canada.

  • Scott Glennie (Dallas): Despite missing part of last season with a broken elbow, Glennie was still able to tally 28-42-70 in 55 games, and was drafted 8th overall by the Stars in June. His Brandon Wheat Kings host the Memorial Cup this season.

  • Matt Hackett (Minnesota): The nephew of former NHL netminder Jeff Hackett, Matt’s play in net last year (34-13-3, 3.04, .913, 2 SO) allowed him to wrestle the top goalie job in Plymouth away from Nashville prospect Jeremy Smith (who was traded to the Niagara IceDogs at the OHL trade deadline). Hackett was drafted in the 3rd round (77th overall) by the Wild after being named the top goaltending prospect in North America by Central Scouting.

  • Adam Almqvist (Detroit): Given the Red Wings’ track record with digging up European gems late in the draft, Almqvist is bound for stardom, right? He was drafted 210th overall in June (one pick away from the Mr. Irrelevant title), and scored 8-28-36 in 41 on the blueline for HV-71 in the Swedish U-20 league.

  • Evgeny Grachev (NY Rangers): Grachev also returns for a second year in the tourney, and comes off a season where he won the Emms Family Award as OHL Rookie of the Year with Brampton. Scored 40-40-80 in 60 for the Battalion last season, and is currently ranked as the Rangers’ 3rd-ranked top prospect (behind Michael Del Zotto, who will also be in T.C., and Artem Ansimov).

  • Ethan Werek (NY Rangers): Grachev and other rookies in the OHL stole the spotlight last year from an impressive debut by Werek (32-32-64 in 66), one of several solid youngsters Doug Gilmour is molding with the Kingston Frontenacs.

  • Michal Jordan (Carolina): Simply so I can say “It’s gotta be the skates!”

  • Justin Soryal (NY Rangers): Soryal was signed by the Rangers as an undrafted free agent prior to the end of his final junior season in Peterborough in March 2008. The Rags as a team did not have a good tournament (finishing 5th overall), but it wasn't for lack of trying on Soryal's part for trying to fire his teammates up with a good ol' donnybrook. His fights were impressive, and will likely duel with Atlanta’s Danick Paquette, Dallas’ Luke Gadzic and St. Louis' Anthony Peluso for the prime pugilist of this event.

  • Zach Boychuk (Carolina): Carolina’s top prospect (according to Hockey’s Future) made the big club out of training camp last year, but was returned to Lethbridge of the WHL after 2 NHL contests. Boychuk was slow to recover from a lingering right wrist injury suffered in the 2008 WHL playoffs, but was still able to post28-29-57 in 43 for the Broncos, and won his second gold medal for Team Canada at the World Juniors in January.
  • Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis): The 4th overall pick in 2008, Pietrangelo started last year with St. Louis, but a concussion (thanks to Toronto’s Ryan Hollweg), and was sent down to the Niagara IceDogs of the OHL. He figures to be part of a young blueline with the Blues, which will also feature the return of Erik Johnson.

  • Francis Pare (Detroit): My choice for the feel-good story from last year's tourney, the diminutive Pare went undrafted after an MVP season in the Quebec League with Chicoutimi in 2007-08. His blue-collar effort in the Prospects Tourney last year (where he easily outworked several of the more heralded – and seemingly more entitled - Detroit prospects) eventually led to a two-year entry-level contract. Pare spent last season with the Wings’ top farm club in Grand Rapids as the Griffins’ third leading scorer (24-24-49 in 63, with a team-leading +23).

I could keep going and list even more to talent, but I think you all get the point. There’ll be a lot to watch for in four days worth of games. Considering Carolina is new to the tourney fold this year, and that I didn’t see a single full game of the Rangers’ youngsters (due to the schedule of games I was assigned to last year), I’m particularly excited to watch what these two teams have to offer. I’ll get the opportunity this year to see every team play at least once (I suppose that’s a benefit of being a repeat volunteer). I’m looking forward to blogging about each game I’ll be doing the P.A. for. I’ll be posting the schedule of games I’ll be working in the very near future, as well as an update on if the NHL Network will return to televise the games for a second year (I got a chuckle at overhearing Larry Murphy remark at how cold the rinks at Centre ICE were).

More to come as the games near….

Friday, August 21, 2009

Back in the Saddle again....

Well, this has certainly taken long enough, now hasn’t it?

I haven’t blogged since the second round of the NHL playoffs, and I haven’t consistently blogged since this February. After spending the summer pursuing some old favorite interests (thanks to a number of spectacular music-related podcasts, the Detroit Tigers’ surprising lead in the AL Central, the Traverse City Film Festival, and the cycling-friendly culture in the Grand Traverse area), I’m finally back behind the keyboard talking what my true passion….the world of hockey. And in a little more than two weeks, things will shift into full gear as the NHL Prospects Tournament begins for a 12th year on Sunday September 6th at Centre ICE Arena.

For the second straight year, I will have the great pleasure of being behind the microphone doing the P.A. for the tourney (well, for half the games, anyway). This is a tourney extremely reliant upon the power of volunteers, and this year will be no different. The meeting for all volunteers (myself included) was three days ago, to go over all the details and finer points. I am among the privileged to be behind the scenes where all the big names are, but I’m there to work. Snapping photos and hounding players for autographs is strictly against the code of conduct outlined for ALL volunteers, but fortunately I’ve been given the green light to blog about the action on the ice for a second year (a sampler platter of my scribblings from last year’s tourney had previously been made available on the NHL’s fan site/social network, “Connect” - now newly revamped and re-christened “NHL Fans”). It’s all about professionalism once you’re behind the scenes, and that’s more than alright with me.

It seems like the whole concept of NHL teams having a prospects tourney has caught on like wildfire in the last several years. Kitchener, Ontario hosts a four-team tourney with the future stars for the Maple Leafs, Senators, Penguins, and Panthers. Another four-team tourney has been set up out west in Sin City, where the Ducks’ Kings’ Coyotes’ and Sharks’ prospects compete in Las Vegas. Camrose, Alberta hosted a three-team tourney with the rookies of the Canucks, Oilers, and Flames. A handful of other teams paired up to face-off against one another, like the Islanders and Bruins, and the Capitals and Flyers. But the competition in T.C. is the league’s oldest rookie tournament, and by far the largest, and there have been rumblings of expanding to be larger.

A few new notes about this year’s tourney: 7 of the 8 teams who appeared at last year’s tournament return: the host Red Wings (whose training camp follows the Prospects Tourney, starting September 13th), Blue Jackets, Blues, Wild, Thrashers, Rangers, and Stars. Out is the Tampa Bay Lightning, who’d not won a single game in the tournament in at least 2 years (and I’m guessing owners Len Barrie and Oren Koules couldn’t agree on whether or not to send their rookies to Michigan….just like with everything else this sad-sack organization has done since these two goons took ownership of the ‘Ning). New to the fold this year is the Carolina Hurricanes (rumor has it the ‘Canes got in over Colorado thanks to the strength of GM Jim Rutherford’s golf game, a buddy of Wings’ GM Ken Holland).

Apparently the jury is still out on whether or not the NHL Network will return to televise these games for a second straight season. I’ll be sure to post when and if this becomes a reality.

Info on the dates and times of all games are available at the tourney’s website, and up-to-date rosters can be found right here (Minnesota, we’re still waiting on you!). I’ll have more to share on who I’m excited to see in the near future (though I’ll fill you in that I’m disappointed Columbus’ Nikita Filatov will NOT be in T.C. for a second straight year….GRRRR). More to come from Hockeytown North (hey, I didn’t coin the moniker, just goin’ with the flow here).