As training camp cuts come fast and furious, we’re seeing some fun storylines emerge in the NHL, especially with some big-name restricted free agents still without contracts. We also have the return of major junior hockey and we’re on the cusp of a USHL return, so there’s a lot to report on in the prospect world.
The biggest story however, concerns San Jose Sharks first-rounder Ryan Merkley, who is still in camp with the big club. But the offensive defenseman is working with his OHL team, the Peterborough Petes, on a trade if and when he returns. I’ve been told the front-runners are Saginaw, Barrie, London and Windsor – the first three of which are serious contenders this season. Merkley has a ton of skill but there are questions about his impact on a dressing room.
So in the second installment of my new wrap-up, I’ve got a note for every NHL team, with key events including the Traverse City prospects tournament the Junior Club World Cup (which took place in Russia and featured junior teams from Europe plus a couple all-star squads from North America).
ANA: Czech goalie Lukas Dostal is back in Finland’s top league for the second year and the challenge is large. His Ilves squad hasn’t won a game yet and while Dostal’s numbers aren’t great (3.11 goals-against average, .857 save percentage), he’s doing just as well as battery mate Ville Kolppanen, who is a veteran in the league.
ARI: Left winger Alexander Daryin was a monster at the Junior Club World Cup in Russia, with six assists and seven points in five games for the champs, Loko Yaroslavl. Even more impressive was that many of those helpers were primary assists.
BOS: Sounds like Bruins fans are loving left winger Jakub Lauko and I know the feeling. One of my favorite world junior interviews came last year in Vancouver after his Czechs beat Denmark on New Year’s Eve. To break the ice, I said, “Hey, Jakub, how are you doing?” Lauko’s response: “I’m (bleep)in’ exhausted.”
BUF: Technically, the Sabres could have assigned gritty center Matej Pekar to the AHL, but with his 2018-19 campaign shortened by injury, going back to OHL Barrie was the prudent play. Pekar has five goals in his first two games – so that’s not bad.
CGY: After getting taken with the fourth-last pick in the 2019 draft, goalie Dustin Wolf was clearly going to be motivated for this season and the seventh-rounder is off to a good start. The WHL Everett starter has a shutout and a .939 save percentage in his first two appearances.
CAR: Though Finland’s Karpat Oulu fell short at the Junior Club World Cup, they did nab third place and speedy Tuukka Tieksola was a big reason. The right winger led the tournament in scoring with 11 points in five games and often dominated.
CHI: It was nice getting an in-person look at right winger Michal Teply in Traverse City. The big Czech kid showed some very nice playmaking skills and the event served as a North American intro for the import, who is playing for WHL Winnipeg this season.
CBJ: One of the most famous aspects of Columbus training camp is the two-mile run imposed by coach John Tortorella. And one of the best in the past few years has been an unlikely prospect: Doyle Somerby, the 6-foot-6, 222-pound defenseman. Somerby came second to Alex Wennberg this year after finishing first in 2018 and third in 2017.
COL: One of the feel-good stories of the 2019 draft was power forward Sasha Mutala, who went to the Avs in the fifth round. Here’s Colorado director of amateur scouting Alan Hepple on Mutala persevering through both his parents’ illnesses: “We like the character, we like what he’s done. Hopefully it helps him get to where he needs to be, that thing to stay with it.”
DAL: Even though he won back-to-back national titles with the University of Minnesota-Duluth, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Riley Tufte play as good as he did in Traverse City. The big left winger was engaged, physical and offensively dangerous.
DET: When the Red Wings needed a comeback in the championship game at Traverse City, a pair of players led the way: Joe Veleno and ‘veteran’ Givani Smith. A power forward who can finish offensively, Smith was crucial late in the game against Dallas.
EDM Goalie Dylan Wells trained in Toronto this summer and took part in BioSteel Camp, where his fellow netminders included Jordan Binnington and Malcolm Subban. Needless to say, it was a great environment for the young AHLer: “Watching their work ethic on the ice is pretty special,” Wells said. “And the technical pieces of their game – ‘Binner’ is so sound. The way he tracks pucks, how elite he is on first shots – he’s so efficient and those are things I try to apply to my game. Malcolm’s athleticism is off the charts, his lateral movement is crazy – seeing that really pushes me to be better.”
FLA: Defensive defenseman Riley Stillman enters his second pro year and the adjustment from the OHL to AHL Springfield was valuable last season. “It’s about learning body position and the big thing is your stick,” he said. “Back in junior I could bully people and push them around a bit more than I can in pro, where guys are the same size or bigger than me.”
LA: Goalie Jacob Ingham was traded to Kitchener from Mississauga this summer, giving the OHL netminder a fresh start. His numbers in ‘Sauga were rough, but I’ve also seen him steal games.
MIN: Here’s Matthew Boldy on what he wants to improve on as the first-rounder heads to Boston College: “My skating is one thing; being able to play the game at the fastest speed I can, moving my feet instead of trying to slow it down. And scoring goals in certain areas, putting the puck in the back of the net is something I want to work on, too.”
MTL: Center Ryan Poehling played in the Minnesota-based Da Beauty League this summer with Vancouver’s Brock Boeser and the NHL right winger was impressed. “He’s a really solid player,” Boeser told me. “Big, tall center who sees the ice well and makes plays. He’s going to be a tremendous player.”
NSH: In his first two pre-season games for USHL Omaha, center Alex Campbell made a statement with four points and nine shots on net. Campbell played in the BCHL last season and will be heading to NCAA Clarkson after this season with the Lancers.
NJ: It wasn’t hard to see why the Devils picked defenseman Daniil Misyul this summer. The third-rounder looked great for Loko at the Junior Club World Cup, using his skating and size to help the team win the tournament.
NYI: Florida pick Riley Stillman said Josh Ho-Sang was one of the hardest players to defend against in the AHL last season. “He’s so dynamic,” Stillman said. “You never know what he’s going to do out there.”
NYR: The Rangers had a bunch of marquee names in Traverse City, but I want to mention Patrick Newell, who looked very good from my viewings. A free agent signing out of St. Cloud State, Newell showed some great quickness at the tourney and created a lot of offensive chances for himself. He has already been assigned to AHL Hartford, where he got in six games last season after signing.
OTT: Here’s what Senators GM Pierre Dorion told me in early August about top center prospect Logan Brown’s 2018-19 campaign: “In the second half, him and Drake Batherson were two of our best forwards (in AHL Belleville) and to do that at 20 years old shows we have a pretty good player there. He’s right on pace and he’ll be knocking on the door with a good summer.”
PHI: Another Boeser teammate in Da Beauty League was Noah Cates, who also garnered praise. “He’s a really smart player,” Boeser said. “Always has his head up and sees the ice well. And he’s a humble kid, which is awesome too.”
PIT: Interesting to see defenseman John Marino still up with the Penguins after a big round of cuts. He was drafted by Edmonton but traded to Pittsburgh when it became apparent the Harvard kid wouldn’t sign. Marino is a puckmover, just like Pierre-Olivier Joseph (acquired in the Phil Kessel trade). You can never have too many.
STL: Famed goalie coach Eli Wilson worked with Joel Hofer in the summer and here was his scouting report on the kid: “Great patience, good structure. His visual attachment on shots and passes is very good and he plays with composure.” Hofer plays for WHL Portland.
SJ: After getting cut by the Sharks, right winger Jake McGrew wasted no time getting into form back in the WHL: the California product had two goals in his first game with Spokane and two points in his second.
TB: Another entry from Da Beauty League in Minnesota: Sammy Walker, who registered six goals and eight points in three games. The hard-working right winger returns to the University of Minnesota this fall after a smashing freshman campaign in 2018-19.
TOR: The Leafs had a pretty good showing in Traverse City, the first time they played in the tourney. I really liked left winger Egor Korshkov, who came over from Russia late last season. Not only does he have a big, strong frame to protect the puck with, but he has some wicked creativity and vision, too.
VAN: Shortly after goalie Arturs Silovs was drafted by the Canucks, he was selected by the OHL’s Barrie Colts in the CHL Import Draft. Here’s Colts GM Jason Ford on his team’s new 6-foot-4 Latvian stopper: “He’s a rangy, athletic goalie, really competitive in the crease. He’s still raw and still learning the position, but he also has two years of junior eligibility.”
VGK: Left winger Pavel Dorofyev isn’t seeing much time in the KHL with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, but the skilled kid is making it count. Dorofyev has three points in seven games while playing less than nine minutes per contest. The team leaders are tied with four points.
WSH: The WHL champion Prince Albert Raiders lost some key producers over the summer, which means more opportunity for big Aliaksei Protas. The second-year import is off to a good start with two points in two games.
WPG: Center David Gustafsson was faced with a sharp learning curve in 2018 when he played his first SHL games with HV 71. But the Jets liked the 17-year-old’s skill set and took him 60th overall that summer. Gustafsson is still in camp with Winnipeg right now (partly in thanks to Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor’s contract talks), where he is gaining more great experience.