Thursday, September 15, 2011

Buffalo vs. New York: The Championship Game at the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament

It’s safe to say the MSG Network got its dream matchup in the championship game of the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament, as the New York Rangers and the Buffalo Sabres – despite both being beaten in their final round-robin game – got the nod to determine who had the better crop of young stars in the Empire State.

Minnesota vs. Dallas: 5th Place Game at the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament


Despite a reasonably strong effort in trying to defend last year's tournament title, the Minnesota Wild finished round-robin play at the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament 1-2-0 (good for 3rd in the Howe Division), and were slated to face-off against the Dallas Stars, who matched Minnesota's 1-2-0 for 3rd place in the Gretzky Division.  The two Western Conference foes faced off for 5th place in this year's tournament.  The Wild would do so without a pair of first-round draft picks, center Zack Phillips (2011) and defenseman Tyler Cuma (2008), who were scratches for the contest (no word on if either scratch was due to injury).

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Buffalo vs. Detroit: Day 3 at the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament


The final contest on Tuesday of the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament between the Buffalo Sabres and the Detroit Red Wings was essentially played as a formality. Buffalo entered the day 2-0 after victories over defending tourney champ Minnesota and Columbus, and had already earned a place in the championship tilt (with the other half of that card being the New York Rangers, despite losing in double OT to Carolina earlier in the day). On the other hand, Detroit would be relegated to the 7th place game following losses to the Blue Jackets and Wild to start the tourney. Their sloppy play - especially versus Columbus – was quite uncharacteristic for a team wearing the winged wheel, and they sought to amend their game plan and please the very pro-Red Wing crowd at Centre ICE.

Carolina vs. New York: Day 3 at the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament


The New York Rangers were attempting to close out round-robin play at the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament with an unblemished 3-0 record, and looked to do this Tuesday afternoon against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Canes have had a struggle in the tourney thus far, looking scattered and disorganized in an 8-2 loss to Dallas on the first day, followed by a tough 2-1 defeat to St. Louis on Sunday. At a glance one would think this matchup would be a mismatch, but as we know, that’s why they play the games.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Dallas vs. New York: Day 2 at the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament


The New York Rangers and the Dallas Stars knew heading into this evening’s clash that the winner would be on the fast track to Wednesday’s championship tilt in the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament. Each team certainly wanted to feed off the strong start both squads had in their opening games yesterday. The Stars jumped on Carolina early and often in an easy 8-2 win, while the Rangers were fueled by strong special teams in a 5-2 victory over St. Louis.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Columbus vs. Buffalo: Day 2 at the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament


The luck of the draw on David’s Rink at Centre ICE Arena today for the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament was that all four teams playing their today won their games yesterday. That made today’s games key to put the winners in the driver’s seat for a berth in Wednesday’s championship game. First up were the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Buffalo Sabres.

St. Louis vs. New York: Day 1 at the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament


Special teams are crucial to every hockey team’s success, and can help make a good team great. Yesterday’s tilt between the New York Rangers and St. Louis Blues at the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament was a great example of how one team took advantage of the penalty troubles of their opponent.

Buffalo vs. Minnesota: Day 1 at the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament

The opening contest in the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament pitted the defending champion Minnesota Wild against tourney newcomers in the Buffalo Sabres. The game was delayed briefly to start thanks to a brief power problem which affected the circuit breaker powering the scoreboard and the P.A. microphone. But after the brief technical glitches, it was on to the banner raising ceremony for the Wild’s 2nd tourney championship and a ceremonial puck drop from Cammi Granato, the first female HOFer from the United States.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Diamonds in the Rough: Who To Watch at the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament

Each year at the NHL Prospects Tournament, there are several talented young players who aim to impress the hundreds of scouts and NHL brass in attendance, all in the hope of cracking the roster of their parent NHL club, seeking to avoid a demotion to the minors or being sent back to juniors (FYI, NCAA players are not eligible to participate in NHL training camps and rookie tournaments until they complete their four years in college or relinquish their collegiate eligibility by turning pro). This year is no different, and there are a number of skaters and netminders looking to make the grade.

I’m going to give a run-down of some of the big names I’ll be watching closely in the games I’ll be working. Bear in mind, by no means is this a ranking (the order in which I discuss these players is entirely random), nor is it intended to act as a comprehensive biography. But of all the players coming to Traverse City, their will be a handful of players who will have an impact playing with their NHL teams in 2011-12.

Some may turn out to be a pleasant surprise (such as last year’s Calder winner, Carolina’s Jeff Skinner, and Derek Stepan of the New York Rangers), others merely a flash-in-the-pan (Fabian Brunnstrom for Dallas in 2008). But whether or not these kids break into the big time this season depends on a number of factors, most of which involve the positional needs of each team. A prospect will have a much easier time carving his niche on a cellar dweller such as Columbus than he will getting ice time on a perennial powerhouse like Detroit. But injuries, ineffective play by incumbent veterans, or a coaching change might make the need for a mid-season call-up necessary for some of these teams. Like I said before, I’d expect about 4-6 players here at Centre ICE this week will play most – if not all – of this season at the highest level in the world.

Without further ado, here’s some of the top names at the tourney this year who’ll be high on everyone’s “must see” list.

Ryan Johansen, F, Columbus:  The 4th overall draft pick in 2010 stand a good chance to stick with the Blue Jackets this year. Johansen led a stacked Portland Winterhawks (WHL) team with 93 points (40 / 52) in 62 games last year.

Jack Campbell, G, Dallas:  “Captain America” had his share of growing pains last year – his first in the OHL with the Windsor Spitfires – but regained his composure to help lead the Spits to the conference final. The 11th overall pick in 2010 went 24-14-4 / 3.80 / .884 / no SO.

Jamie Oleksiak, D. Dallas:  The hulking stay-at-home blueliner (6’7”, 240) was taken 14th overall in this June’s draft. He’ll be taking his physical play to the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit after departing Northeastern University after his freshman season.

J.T. Miller, F. NY Rangers:  After two seasons with the U.S. National Developmental Team Program in Ann Arbor, Miller will make a short drive up M-14 to play with the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers, spurning a scholarship to the U. of North Dakota. Miller tallied 37 points (11 / 26) in 48 games with the USNTDP’s U-18 squad (3rd on the team), and was chosen 15th overall by the Rangers this June.

Jake Allen, G, St. Louis:  Originally taken 34th overall in 2008, Allen returns for his 4th visit to the T.C. tourney. Allen went 25-19-3 / 2.52 / .917 / 6 SO in his first pro season with the Peoria Rivermen (AHL), displacing Ben Bishop as the Blues’ top goaltending prospect in the process.

Stefan Della Rovere and Phil McRae, F, St. Louis Blues:  These two agitating grinders spent most of last season with the Blues’ top farm club in Peoria, but each had brief call-ups to St. Louis. No doubt they’ll be looking to impress the Blues’ coaching staff for more ice time at the NHL level this year.

Matt Hackett and Darcy Kuemper, G, Minnesota:  Hackett and Kuemper were two major reasons why the Wild won the NHL Prospects Tournament last year. In his first pro season last year, Hackett – chosen 77th overall in 2009 – helped lead the Houston Aeros (AHL) to the Calder Cup Final with a 23-16-4 record / 2.37 / .916 / 2 SO. Meanwhile, Kuemper was named the WHL’s Top Goaltender and Player of the Year in 2010-11, going 45-12-5 / 1.86 / .933 / and a staggering 13 SO with the Red Deer Rebels.

Zack Phillips, F, Minnesota:  The pick used to select Phillips (at 28th overall this past June) was part of the package sent to the Wild from the Sharks, landing Brett Burns in San Jose. Phillips tallied 95 points (38 / 57) in 67 games for the Memorial Cup champion Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL).

Chay Genoway, D, Minnesota:  The diminutive defenseman (5’8”, 165) was a Hobey Baker finalist as a senior with the U. of North Dakota, notching 37 points (6 / 31) in 36 games. Genoway was signed by the Wild as an undrafted free agent.

Ryan Murphy, D, Carolina:  Another pint-sized puck mover from the blueline (5’11”, 176), Murphy put up big numbers with the Kitchener Rangers (OHL). His 79 points (26 / 53) in 63 games was 2nd best on the Rangers, and helped him get selected 12th overall by the Hurricanes in 2011.

Brendan Smith, D, Detroit:  Considered the Red Wings’ top prospect in a deep talent pool, Smith stand a good chance to see some significant ice time on Detroit’s blue line. The 27th overall pick in 2007 had a steady rookie season in Grand Rapids (AHL) last year with 32 points (12 / 20) and 124 PIM in 63 games.

Gustav Nyquist, F, Detroit:  This crafty Swede – taken 121st overall in 2008 – enters his first professional season after completing three seasons at the University of Maine. A two-time Hobey Baker finalist, Nyquist had an impressive rookie camp in July.

Tomas Jurco, F. Detroit:  Another stellar puck-handler, Jurco was the Wings’ top pick (35th overall) this past June. While Jurco notched 56 points (31 / 25) in 60 games in helping Saint John (QMJHL) to the Memorial Cup crown last year, the slick Slovak made more of a name for himself thanks to YouTube with some sweet dangling.

Zack Kassian, F. Buffalo:  This bruising power forward (6’3”, 215) can punish you on the scoresheet, finishing with 77 points (26 / 51) last year with the Windsor Spitfires (OHL). But his chippy physicality can cross the line between tough and dirty from time to time – as evidenced by his cross-check to the face of Barrie’s Matt Kennedy (now a Carolina prospect) back in 2010, earning Kassian a 20-game suspension. The Sabres’ 1st rounder from 2009 (13th overall) was also suspended for 2 games at this year’s World Juniors for – you guessed it – a hit to the head.

Brayden McNabb, D. Buffalo:  Chosen 66th overall in 2009 by the Sabres, the rock-solid McNabb (6’4”, 210) helped the Kootenay Ice capture the WHL title last season, garnering 72 points (22 / 50) in 59 games.

Luke Adam, F. Buffalo:  The former St. John’s Fog Devil (QMJHL) had a great opening campaign in the AHL last year, scoring 62 points (29 / 33) in 57 games with the Portland Pirates. A second-rounder in 2008 (44th overall), Adam also potted 3 goals and an assist in 19 games in limited minutes with the Sabres in his NHL debut last season.

Feel free to mention any players you’ll be paying close attention to at the tournament in the comments below. Here’s where you can find all eight rosters (just click on each team's name for the link to their respective roster.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Icemen Returneth: Your 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament Primer

We’re less than 48 hours from start of the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, and while most of the rest of the Western world is focused on the return of football, my mind is right where it belongs – on hockey. Nothing like the return of the NHL’s best and brightest young stars to cure an 7 ½ - month case of writer’s block….

(Frankly, I wouldn’t have minded if the NFL remained locked out forever, but I digress.  That's a rant for another day.)

A few changes to the tournament this year have been made. Last year, the Tampa Bay Lightning brought their prospects back to Northern Michigan after a one-year hiatus, replacing the Atlanta Thrashers. For this year, Tampa will host their own three-team rookie tourney with Nashville and Florida (word on the street was the Thrashers would’ve been a part of this tournament as well, but they apparently moved north or something like that). In the place of the Lightning are the Buffalo Sabres, who will make their debut at Centre ICE in the tourney’s first game, taking on the defending champion Minnesota Wild. The remaining seven teams return for the tourney’s 14th edition: Detroit (the host team), Minnesota, Dallas, Columbus, St. Louis, Carolina, and the New York Rangers.

Speaking of the Blueshirts, their local TV affiliate, the MSG Network, will be coming to Traverse City to telecast the games featuring the Rangers’ prospects. These games will be broadcast live, and will also be simulcast on the NHL Network (along with multiple repeat showings if you can’t catch the live broadcast). This will be the first time since 2008 that any of the tourney’s games on be shown on TV, and hopefully the presence of the MSG Network will bring other broadcast teams to cover these games (the Red Wings fans I see on a daily basis are befuddled at the opportunity Fox Sports Detroit is missing by opting not to telecast these games).

For those of you familiar with my work here at Spittin’ Chiclets, you know the drill with how I operate, but here’s a primer for all you newcomers to the blog: I work as one of the public address announcers for these games, so I have an ice level view of the action from the scorer’s box. I’ll be providing coverage of the games I’m scheduled to work, plus I’ll include snippets of the games I won’t be working, which I’ll be catching bits and pieces of during intermissions of the games I do work (Centre ICE has two adjacent sheet of ice, and games will occur simultaneously, staggered by ½ hour delays for the start of each game.) The luck of the draw would have it this year that I’ll get to see all eight teams play at least one game during the round robin portion of the tournament (which hasn’t been the case in years past).

The schedule for the tournament is below (with the games I’ll be working and covering in bold and italics):

Saturday, September 10
3:30 pm Minnesota / Buffalo (David’s Rink)
4:00 pm Dallas / Carolina (Huntington Rink)
7:00 pm NY Rangers / St. Louis (David’s Rink)
7:30 pm Detroit / Columbus (Huntington Rink)

Sunday, September 11
2:30 pm Columbus / Buffalo (David’s)
3:00 pm St. Louis / Carolina (Huntington)
6:00 pm NY Rangers / Dallas (David’s)
6:30 pm Detroit / Minnesota (Huntington)

Monday, September 12
No games scheduled - Day off for practice

Tuesday, September 13
3:00 pm NY Rangers / Carolina (David’s)
3:30 pm Dallas / St. Louis (Huntington)
6:30 pm Columbus / Minnesota (David’s)
7:00 pm Detroit / Buffalo (Huntington)

Wednesday, September 14 (my work schedule is still to be determined for the final day)

3:00 pm 7th place - 4th Place Howe Division / 4th Place Gretzky Division (David’s)
3:30 pm 5th place - 3rd Place Howe / 3rd Place Gretzky (Huntington)
6:30 pm 3rd place - 2nd Place Howe / 2nd Place Gretzky (David’s)
7:00 pm Championship - 1st Place Howe / 1st Place Gretzky (Huntington)

Howe Division
Detroit, Minnesota, Buffalo, Columbus

Gretzky Division
NY Rangers, St. Louis, Dallas, Carolina

I'm always happy to plug the fine work of others, so I'm more than willing to direct you good folks towards Sarah at The Left Wing Lock (not to be confused with the Left Wing Lock site which reports starting goaltenders for you fantasy hockey players out there).  She's been covering the tournament and Red Wings training camp for much linger than I have, and she does a fine job.  There's also standings, rosters, stats, and boxscores of every game from the good folks at Pointstreak.

Certainly some of these young men will make an impact with their respective clubs this season. So tomorrow, I give a brief rundown on the young stars to watch in this tournament (or at least who I’ll have a close eye on). Perhaps this year’s Calder Trophy winner will be playing in this event, much like last year when Jeff Skinner made his debut in a Carolina Hurricanes sweater.