I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of New Jersey Devils fans on social media weren’t necessarily happy with Ty Smith getting his points in Spokane instead of Newark this fall, but it’s important to remember that the gifted defenseman is still 19 and has a long NHL career ahead of him. It’s also worth noting that Smith hurt his wrist in the WHL playoffs this past spring, which meant he wasn’t 100 percent when training this summer. I spoke with Spokane GM Scott Carter this week and he was obviously very happy at getting Smith back for one more run with the Chiefs. “The first thing is leadership,” Carter said. “He’s such a character kid. And his talent is something you just can’t acquire in a trade.”
Along with playing another world juniors with Canada, Smith can also work on some things that will help him when he does get another shot at the NHL next year. According to Carter, that includes moving the puck faster and making quicker decisions – two things much more intense at the NHL level than in junior.
Now, let’s take a spin around the prospect world to see what’s happening with youngsters from all 31 NHL organizations.
ANA: After a long and productive training camp in Anaheim, left winger Brayden Tracey returned to WHL Moose Jaw and he hasn’t missed a beat from last year’s breakout campaign. The Ducks first-rounder has five points in his first two games with the Warriors.
ARI: While center Jan Jenik technically could have gone pro this year, the two-way center was assigned back to OHL Hamilton and the young Czech is crushing it early. Jenik has 14 points in seven games, finding great chemistry with Kings pick Arthur Kaliyev.
BOS: Defenseman Axel Andersson has officially begun his QMJHL career with Moncton after getting assigned to the Wildcats from AHL Providence. The composed Swede has three points in his first two games with Moncton, which is one of the stronger teams in the ‘Q.’
BUF: We’ll probably have a lot of Dylan Cozens news this year, but the 2019 first-rounder is indeed off to a great start with WHL Lethbridge, notching seven goals and 11 points through seven games.
CAR: It’s been a roller-coaster ride for goalie Jack LaFontaine since the Canes drafted him in 2016. He left the University of Michigan and transferred to fellow Big Ten school Minnesota, but played last year in the BCHL with powerhouse Penticton. Now in his first year with the Gophers, LaFontaine will battle for starts with Winnipeg pick Jared Moe.
CGY: Right winger Dmitry Zavgorodniy has never had trouble putting up points in the QMJHL, but look for the Russian import to pile them up this year; he’s linemates with top 2020 draft prospect Alexis Lafreniere. Through 10 games, Zavgorodniy has 18 points.
CHI: There was never a question about Antti Saarela’s skill; it was more about his size and concussion history. But the Hawks snapped him up this summer in the fourth round and now he’s playing for Ilves in Finland’s Liiga, the top pro circuit. Saarela is only playing 10 minutes a night so far, but he’s second in faceoff percentage on the team, winning 55 percent of his draws.
COL: Here’s Avs director of amateur scouting Alan Hepple at the draft this summer on Boston U. freshman Drew Helleson: “He’s big, great stick, great skater. Maybe not as skilled as Bowen Byram or the higher-end guys, but he’s a puckmover and a big body and that will help him be effective at the next level.”
CBJ: AHL Cleveland coach Mike Eaves got a preview of first-year pro D-man Andrew Peeke in Traverse City and he was intrigued: “He’s impressive in terms of his ability to move and get places. Long stick.” The challenge now? Figuring out Peeke’s identity. Is he a playmaker, a shooter, a bumper? Eaves was excited to find out.
DAL: Center Ty Dellandrea has seen more lows than highs with the OHL’s Flint Firebirds, but he has taken it in stride. “You have to take it as a positive and say I’m going to learn from this and take everything I can out of it,” he told me. “It’s been a lot of adversity, but I think it’s going to pay off in the long run.” Maybe this season is the long run: at 5-2, the Firebirds are off to one of their best starts ever.
DET: I asked Toronto’s Mac Hollowell recently who his toughest opponent was at the Traverse City tourney this fall: “Filip Zadina was pretty fast and elusive,” he said. “He was hard to defend.”
EDM: Shout-out to Jiri Vitek for alerting me that right winger Matej Blumel returned to the Czech Republic instead of joining NCAA Connecticut for his freshman year. Blumel cited “personal reasons” for ducking out on the college game and Blumel has two points in four games for Dynamo Pardubice.
FLA: While Owen Tippett had a shot at the Panthers roster this fall, the powerful right winger started the year in the AHL. Talking to him this summer, the mindset was clear for what he needs to do: “It’s the little habits,” he said. “The 200-foot game and competing every shift.” Early on, Tippett is top-10 in rookie AHL scoring with three points in five games.
LA: The Arthur Kaliyev revenge tour is on its way. After dropping to the second round of the draft in the summer, the Long Island product is killing it for OHL Hamilton with 19 points in nine games, putting him second in the league to 2020 prospect Quinton Byfield. Kaliyev even scored a lacrosse-style goal this week.
MIN: Do we dare talk about how good Kirill Kaprizov is doing in the KHL once again? The dynamic left winger leads the league in points with 21 through 17 games. Can new Wild GM Bill Guerin convince the Russian wonder to come over at the end of the year? Kaprizov’s contract with CSKA Moscow ends on April 30, 2020.
MTL: Of course I’m going to spotlight right winger Cole Caufield this week. One of the most anticipated Habs prospects in years made his NCAA debut over the weekend with Wisconsin and the deadly Caufield lived up to billing with four goals and five points in two games; a loss to Boston College and a win over Merrimack.
NSH: Big Yakov Trenin is off to a fast start in the AHL, as the Russian-born center has four goals and five points in his first three games with Milwaukee. That puts him one point out of the AHL scoring lead.
NJ: Former NTDP defenseman Case McCarthy may have been overshadowed by his more offensively-inclined teammates last year, but he worked hard over the summer to cut some weight and become more of an all-around player. In his first game with Boston University, McCarthy had six shots on net – so that’s a good start.
NYI: If the Islanders need another playmaking center in the future, Reece Newkirk looks like a good candidate: the WHL Portland pivot has kicked off his campaign with nine assists and 10 points in his first nine games.
NYR: Goalie Tyler Wall has been busier than almost any other netminder in the NCAA so far. The UMass-Lowell starter is 3-1 with a .942 save percentage while ranking second in the nation to Denver’s Magnus Chrona (TB) in minutes. Wall has played 239:44 already, 16 seconds less than Chrona.
OTT: At Arizona State, one of coach Greg Powers’ main tenets is that “if you’re having fun, you’re playing free.” In his first two years with the Sun Devils, goalie Joey Daccord wasn’t having fun. He was overthinking and the results weren’t coming. Last year, Powers said Daccord finally started having fun and the result was a breakout season for the Sens prospect and Arizona State’s first-ever berth in the national tournament. Daccord starts this year in the ECHL with Brampton.
PHI: The plan to get Jay O’Brien’s confidence back is working out pretty well so far. The former Providence College Friar is lighting up the BCHL with 21 points in 12 games for Penticton. He’ll head to Boston University next season.
PIT: Fun story from Tampa’s Mathieu Joseph on his younger brother, Pierre-Olivier Joseph, the blueline prospect acquired from Arizona in the Phil Kessel trade. P-O was flying home from Coyotes development camp to Montreal when the trade happened, so he didn’t find out until a layover in Detroit when Mathieu got him on the line. “He said ‘Why is my phone blowing up?’ ” Mathieu recalled. “I said, ‘You just got traded, man.’ ” The brothers trained together this summer. “We worked out with Mark Lambert, the strength coach in Tampa,” Mathieu said. “I think I pushed him a lot. He gained a couple pounds and it was probably one of the first summers that he gained that much. I know he felt pressure to put weight on, so he was happy with that.”
STL: Look for big things from 5-foot-8, 167-pound center Hugh McGing this season. The Western Michigan senior is a hard-working sparkplug of a player and he has two points in his first two games with the Broncos.
SJ: The Sharks loaned left winger Jonathan Dahlen to Timra in Sweden’s Allsvenskan this season and the offensively deadly youngster is on a rampage. Dahlen has 18 points in nine games for Timra as the team tries to get back to the SHL after being relegated down last year.
TB: Few in the NHL play defense like Victor Hedman, so I asked him what he thought of prospect Cal Foote, now with AHL Syracuse: “He’s taken great strides in the past couple training camps,” Hedman said. “He’s getting very close and it’s fun to watch. We’re very spoiled with the depth in our organization and he’s a big part of that.”
TOR: Defenseman Mac Hollowell on seeing time with the AHL Marlies at the end of last season once his junior year was done: “It helped me heading into the summer, to know what I need to work on and what I need to do to make the next level.” Like many young players, Hollowell wanted to get stronger, but he didn’t want to sacrifice any of his speed in the process.
VAN: The good news? Left winger Nils Hoglander is one of the top junior-aged scorers in the SHL with three points in seven games for Rogle. The bad news? He’s also currently serving a five-game suspension for a vicious elbow he landed against Lulea’s Fredrik Styrman in early October.
VGK: Power forward Jack Dugan was one of my top NCAA players to watch this season and the Providence College sophomore did not disappoint on opening weekend. Dugan put up six points in two games for the Friars, tying him for second in the nation.
WSH: Look for center Connor McMichael to put up even bigger numbers this year after his breakout in 2018-19. The Caps first-rounder already has 14 points through seven games for the OHL’s London Knights.
WPG: You could tell that getting a chance to play for Canada at the World Junior Summer Showcase meant a lot to Declan Chisholm and the OHL Peterborough defenseman has carried those good vibes into the season. He was a runner-up for league player of the week honors after tallying five points in three road games with the Petes.
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