Tomorrow is the big day for the Western Canadian NHL teams. Their brightest future stars will be taking to the ice to start leaving an impression on their coaches and management by playing their hearts out in the Annual Young Stars tournament.
After exploring who the Canucks are bringing to the party, our focus is shifting to evaluate the opposition. Each of the three opposing squads have shiny new toys to show, as well as some returning players who have continued to evolve their game in an effort to crack the 23 man NHL roster.
Once again the Oilers boast the highest drafted player in this year’s tournament in 4th overall selection Jesse Puljujärvi. Puljujärvi has been rehabbing an injury for most of the summer and will likely have a limited role for the Oilers to protect him for the regular season. (they might have learned a lesson after last year). The Oilers roster can be found here.
The Oilers were incredibly busy recruiting players from the NCAA this offseason having successfully won the sweepstakes for Drake Cagguila (ND), Matt Benning (Northeastern), and Nick Ellis (Providence).
Cagguila was hotly pursued by the Canucks after putting up 52 points in 39 games this season. In addition to the offensive output, he was a team mate of Brock Boeser and Troy Stecher at North Dakota.
Matt Benning? That name sounds familiar… Well, it should! Matt is Jim’s nephew and was drafted by the Bruins while Jim was with that organization. Benning is a quiet shut down defenseman who we also had interest in, but ultimately fell short.
Beyond undrafted free agents, the Oilers do have a nice crop of their drafted assets suiting up this weekend.
Defenseman Ethan Bear is exactly the type of prospect every team needs! The fifth leading scoring defenseman in the WHL, Bear continues to develop into another great defenseman drafted in the 5th round (seriously, why are there so many NHL defensemen from the 5th round of the draft?). He has signed his ELC, which is a reward for all of the hard work Bear has put into improving his skating and defensive awareness.
Former 1st overall pick in the WHL bantam draft Tyler Benson is coming off of an injury plagued season which limited him to 30 games for Vancouver (WHL) this year. That did not scare the Oilers enough to bypass him at number 32 in the 2016 entry draft. Benson was listed as an ‘A’ rated prospect at the beginning of the year, watching the highlights you can see why!
Overall the Oilers look solid, but do not have the same roster talent as last year where the team featured Connor McDavid and Darnell Nurse. Expect some flashy moments from this team, but don’t expect them to control the play like they did at times last year.
The future looks bright for the Calgary Flames after miring in the no-man’s land of ‘rebuilding on the fly’ for the better part of a decade. When the team finally stopped trading away high end draft picks for stop gaps, the prospect pool really started to grow. This edition of the Young Stars roster is a great insight into what the Flames are doing to build a great future. It’s painful to acknowledge this, but it’s very true! Full roster found here.
Someone needs to tell the Flames that they can only play ONE goalie at a time! They have 4 netminders with them, which is the most of any of the teams in Penticton. It’s one thing to bring quantity if you don’t have quality, but to have 4 solid prospects in net is an embarrassment of riches. Returning to the tournament the Flames have the 3 headed monster in Nick Schneider, Mason ‘was drafted ahead of Demko’ MacDonald and Jon Gillies. The new face this year is Tyler Parsons from the London Knights (OHL) who was taken 54th overall in this year’s draft. This quartet rivals our trio for best goaltenders in the tournament.
Here’s some footage of what the Flames goalies have been working on this offseason
On the back end, the Flames are shaping up nicely. They have players with great size (Kanzig, Falkovsky, and Bruce all at 6’7"), some skilled offensive defensemen (Kylington, Andersson) and some veterans (Culkin, Morrison). This group is diverse and should have all the answers for whatever matchups are put in front of them.
Just like on defense, the Flames have assembled a group of players with a variety of talents up front. There are scorers, playmakers, grinders and 2-way forwards.
This will be the first opportunity for Flames fans to see the highly controversial Mark Jankowski in game action. After a great collegiate career, Jankowski turned pro and has shown some flashes of why our current AGM John Weisbrod (the man responsible for drafting Jankowski) called him ‘the next Joe Nieuwendyk’
Another first viewing for hockey fans will be the much anticipated arrival of Matthew Tkachuk! Tkachuk was the fan favorite choice for our annual mock draft fan poll because of his highly developed game and size. Flames fans would love to see their marquee player dominate the Canucks and show us that we messed up on draft day.
The biggest omission from the Jets explosive roster is Patrik Laine. Apparently this 18 year old player doesn’t have to be a part of a rookie showcase because, well, he’s one of the best players from his country and is playing for Finland in the World Cup of Hockey! That’s about all you need to know about this Ovechkin-esque forward. But he’s not in Penticton… moving on!
Overall the Jets have brought many of their top prospects to BC. Some of these players are familiar faces to those of us who attended/watched last year’s event with 9 returnees. The complete roster is here.
Luckily for fans of the other 3 teams neither of the two Jets netminders from last year’s squad are returnees. Hellebuyck and Comrie have been replaced by 2016 6th round pick Mikhail Berdin (Sioux Falls, USHL) and 2012 7th round pick Jamie Phillips. Even though they are late round selections, never forget that goalies are a real crap shoot and these 2 could still be solid pros in a couple of years. Just take a look at the highlight reel for Jamie Phillips for proof that he has some puck stopping skills!
Without a question had one of the biggest opening days of the 2016 entry draft, both literally and figuratively. They moved up from 22nd to 17th to select behemoth Windsor Spitfire defenseman Logan Stanley (6’7").
It’s not uncommon for NCAA players to leave college early, but it is rare to see two players with the skills that Jack Roslovic and Kyle Connor possess turn pro at the same time for the same NHL team. The dynamic skating and hockey sense possessed by both players could bode poorly for Western Conference teams soon enough!
Connor was an absolute beast in his one season at Michigan putting up a whopping 71 points in 38 games for legendary NCAA coach Red Berenson. He simply played his way out of college hockey and will likely be a late cut (if cut at all) at Jets training camp.
With Elite hands and hockey IQ, Jack Roslovic follows the aforementioned Kyle Connor in leaving College after only his Freshman season (10 g-16 a-26 pts, 36 gp). There are several options for the 6’1" forward including London (OHL), Manitoba (AHL) and of course the Jets depending upon where his development is seen by the Jets braintrust.
The Jets standout returnee at forward has to be their Alex Burrows, Brendan Lemieux! Gritty and skilled, Lemieux again put up more than a point per game in the OHL (62 points in 45 games). The biggest difference between this year and the previous ones was the reduction in penalty minutes having declined his penalty output from 145 minutes in both 2013-14 and 2014-15 to a more respectable 62 this past season. Either he has calmed down a bit or he has become super crafty about hiding his misdoings!
There is a Cole’s notes version of what to look forward to starting tomorrow at the 2016 Young Stars tournament. Each year we watch a few players exceed everyone’s expectations and become NHL players ahead of their projected times. Who do you think will have an amazing camp? Who do you think will demonstrate that they are not ready for professional hockey?
Up next: Tales from the Trans-Canada