Final thoughts on USA World Jr. evaluation camp

The hopefuls for Team USA’s 2016 World Jr. (under 20) squad closed up shop at Lake Placid over the weekend, closing out the event with a 32-player roster (whittled down from the original 39 invites) powering USA to a 6-1 win over Finland.

Here is the final USA roster:

http://worldjuniors.usahockey.com/page/show/1909970-2015-final-u-s-national-junior-evaluation-camp-roster

Here are some random thoughts on players I feel are worth mentioning. Because of my work with Red Line Report, I can’t go into too much detail, but here’s hoping we can give you enough of a tease to get an idea of what some of these players bring to the table for the 2016 NHL draft, and for those players already drafted- more insights into what your favorite (or not so favorite) NHL club might be getting in a few years if not sooner.

2016 NHL draft candidates

Scott Eansor, C- Small, speedy undrafted buzzsaw center out of Seattle of the WHL showed some versatility and tenacity here. Watch for him to boost his production this season and get a look in next June’s draft in his final window of eligibility. He’s got some moxie to go with his opportunistic approach and did not look at all out of place in this setting.

Auston Matthews, C- He made it official last week- the Arizona wunderkind will be skating in Switzerland for the Zurich Lions of that nation’s top pro league. Matthews then gave Zurich fans a glimpse of what is in store against Finland with a highlight reel goal just 53 seconds into the final exhibition contest, skating through three defenders at the offensive blueline and then finishing off the play with a filthy backhand shot that snuck in past the short side post. The 2015-16 hasn’t even started yet, but Matthews is doing everything to justify the pre-season prediction that he’ll be the top overall pick in next June’s NHL draft.

Chad Krys, D- The youngest player on the final roster played well for Team USA, showing some impressive poise with the puck. The BU recruit (his dad also played there) ranges anywhere from being projected as a first- or second-round pick on various public lists, but if he plays the entire season like he did in Lake Placid, he looks bound for a top-30 selection.

Charlie McAvoy, D- New York native is my pick as the top Empire Stater for the NHL draft. He’s got good size, vision and keeps things pretty simple. NHL clubs are looking for two-way players on defense- it’s no longer enough to simply defend or score- the most sought-after guys are the ones who can do both. McAvoy fits that bill and will likely get better as he continues to mature and fill out.

Matthew Tkachuk, LW- This winger needs no introduction to American hockey fans who remember how big of an impact his dad, Keith, had as a premier power forward in the 1990s. He led USA with 8 points in the games and he was a shark around the net, pouncing on loose pucks and demonstrating that killer instinct that goal scorers all possess. He’s not one of those coast-to-coast types, but when the play breaks down in front of the net and the puck is pinballing around, he has that natural ease for getting his stick on it and putting it into the cage.

Drafted players

Paul Bittner, F (Blue Jackets)- Big, skilled Portland Winterhawks winger slipped to the second round and Columbus pounced. With his physical tools, he has the potential to flourish as a top-six power winger in the NHL one day- he just needs to be more consistent and use his natural size and strength to his advantage more. But, after camp, you could see why some were projecting him as a first-round pick.

Anders Bjork, F (Bruins)- The 2014 fifth-rounder closed out the event in style, bagging a pair of back-to-back goals in the second period. He’s not a high-end scorer, but there is some natural hockey sense and opportunism in his approach. He takes straight lines to the net, puts himself in areas where rebounds occur and manages to outwork opponents to loose pucks. Bjork has the makings of a solid third-line NHL winger.

Brock Boeser, F (Canucks)- Vancouver’s top selection made his bones offensively in the USHL with Waterloo, and his hot stick carried over. Whenever the offense was flowing, Boeser seemed to be involved, setting up plays or finishing them off. He’s not a dynamic, flashy player who jumps off the screen at you, but you noticed him because he’s smart and made sure he was in the middle of the play.

Jeremy Bracco, F (Maple Leafs)- The final pick of the 2015 draft’s second round is such a skilled offensive player. His vision and creativity is off the charts and he brings such a dangerous element to any line he’s skating on. I don’t even care anymore that he doesn’t have a game-breaking explosion- he looks plenty fast to me when he’s taking pucks to the net or dishing through a maze of sticks to a wide open teammate. Bracco is going to make more than a few teams sorry they passed on him.

Brandon Carlo, D (Bruins)- It was a solid camp overall for Boston’s first of three second-round picks in June. Don’t make him into something more than he is right now, which is a superb defensive player with the size and skating to perhaps develop into more of a threat offensively. I thought he looked very strong in the games he played in, and the B’s desperately need an infusion of size and fluid skating on their blue line. He was a very good value pick at 37, but let’s not put him in the Hall of Fame just yet.

Erik Foley, F (Jets)- If anyone was wondering going in who this kid is, they have a much better idea now. He showed on more than one occasion that his skill level allows him to keep up with some of the bigger names in the draft. Foley’s heart and hustle are what make him such a good prospect- he’s not afraid to do the dirty grunt work along the walls or pay the price in front of the net. But, he’ll also take the puck down the ice and beat the goalie with a wicked shot, too. Winner.

Dylan Larkin, F (Red Wings)- Man, this guy is smooth. If he isn’t tearing it up at the WJC next December/January it will be for one reason only: he’s skating for the big club in Detroit and has bigger fish to fry in the NHL. Larkin’s speed, skill and sense will make him a force to be reckoned with, and I can’t imagine the Wings will keep him in the minors for very long if at all.

Jack Roslovic, F (Jets)- This American sniper knows how to finish around the net and showed off his instincts and intelligence throughout. Another example of a player who isn’t going to make the eye-catching play but just finds ways to put the puck in the net, it’s hard to imagine that the Jets came away with Roslovic, Kyle Connor AND Foley. With that trio, they’re living that Dawes song- it’s a little bit of everything.

Jake Walman, D (Blues)- Providence College standout with dual citizenship really brought his two-way game to the mix. It’s a case of the rich getting richer with Walman, who looks about to emerge as a NCAA force after being a solid value selection in the third round in 2014.

Colin White, F (Senators)- White is looking more and more like a real nice roll of the dice at 21 for Ottawa. There’s a lot to like about him- he can skate, play a 200-foot game, is great on draws…but the offense that went missing earlier in the season is making its way back. Watch for him to be a regular story at BC with the Eagles.

Dog Days of Summer- Franson, WJC National Eval Camp & Ivan Hlinka

We’re at that point in the offseason where there simply isn’t a whole lot going on hockey-wise. The top free agents are signed and off the market, many of the 30 NHL teams’ personnel are taking what little time off they can before annual August events pull them back into rinks and onto the job for the 2015-16 season.

Here are a few notes to keep us all centered, especially as NFL training camps open up and the pending football season grabs a lot of the headlines (not touching Tom Brady or Deflategate, though folks- and many of you are probably glad for that).

Cody Franson to the Bruins would certainly bring a player with name recognition to the team, but I’m not sure it’s the right kind of move for the long term.

Now, we have both Franson and Don Sweeney admitting that the two sides are in talks (among others) and I know that back in 2005, he was high on Boston’s draft list- they contemplated taking him in the 2nd round (they went with flash in the pan Petr Kalus instead). Some of you may remember that coming out of the lockout, the ’05 lottery was a snake draft, meaning that the B’s had the 22nd selection of the first round, then the order reversed in the second, giving them 9th pick and then back to the original order in the 3rd and so on- like the fantasy drafts for those who are into that sort of thing. So, the B’s contemplated taking Franson as early as 39, and then were hoping he would fall to them with the 22nd pick of the 3rd round. They got close, but it didn’t happen and they ended up with Finnish bust Mikko Lehtonen (later traded to Minnesota as part of a package for Anton Khudobin) instead.

Getting back to Franson- he was in prime position to cash in as an unrestricted free agent at mid-season, having the best year offensively of his career, but when the wheels fell off in Toronto and he was moved to Nashville for a premium return, he was unable to get going on a playoff team. That’s a red flag, and he’s a cautionary tale for the cap era, giving teams pause in locking him up for term and value because depending on which version of Franson you get, it’s the kind of signing that can make or break a team trying to contend.

On the upside, he’s an effective power play performer and physical defender who uses his 6-5 frame and long reach well enough. On the downside, he’s not all that mobile (the B’s have enough issues with team speed, thanks) and is not the most instinctive of players. To me- he’s more of a complementary piece who looks good on paper but isn’t talented enough to be a real difference maker. Some would argue that his performance in Toronto means that he plays better on a poorer club than on a good one, but I need to take a deeper look at some analytics on this one.

Should the Bruins end up signing Franson, I’ll do just that, but for now- I think the team is better off preserving the some $4 million it has in cap space and maintaining some flexibility to make an in-stride course correction without being up against the cap ceiling, which is what signing Franson will entail.

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The annual Team USA National Junior Evaluation Camp will get underway next week, and it’s a pretty good group of players attending this year’s event in Lake Placid August 1-8.  A complete roster of the invites can be found here. 

The Bruins have two prospects attending: 2015 second-rounder Brandon Carlo and 2014 pick Anders Bjork. Carlo played for Team USA at the 2015 World Jr. tourney and acquitted himself well as a late ’96 who had just turned 18 when he played. Bjork made it to the national evaluation camp but was cut from the squad. My guess is that the savvy two-way forward who finished his first season at Notre Dame makes it this time around because of his speed and versatility, but he’ll have his work cut out for him.

Carlo is a lock after having made the last WJC entry and with his 6-5 and condor’s wingspan, USA will need him. He’s an intriguing prospect because of his pure size and mobility (contrast that to Franson for example). It’s going to be interesting to follow the Colorado native in 2016.

Also attending are New England favorites Noah Hanifin (Hurricanes) and Johnathan MacLeod (Lightning) on defense; Colin White (Senators), Erik Foley (Jets) and Conor Garland (Coyotes).  Connecticut native Chad Krys is a 2016 draft eligible and will also be in attendance. He is my top area native for the draft class going into the season as an effective two-way defender.

Several other high-profile Americans for 2016 are at the camp as well- Auston Matthews (who made the cut a year ago at 17) will attract a ton of attention, of course. Matthew Tkachuk is on the roster as well, and is taking his game north to the OHL and Dale Hunter’s London Knights this season.

The 2016 WJC takes place from December 26, 2015-January 5, 2016 in Helsinki, Finland.

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The Ivan Hlinka select tournament is the annual NHL draft’s 1st/2nd round primer and is happening from 10-18 August in Breclav, Czech Republic and Piestany, Slovakia.

Here’s the USA roster for the Hlinka. Many will note that the National Team Development Program kids are not in this group, so this is a good place to explain why that is. The NTDP typically competes in the bulk of the Under-18 tournaments throughout the course of a season, but the Hlinka tourney is one time that USA Hockey takes a roster from all over the country with players that are not in the NTDP.

Bruins fans may not know that Zane McIntyre was USA’s goalie at the Hlinka tourney in August 2009. For him, it was his first real taste of international competition, and he used it as a springboard to greater success at the World Jr. A Challenge in the next couple of years after Boston took him in the 6th round in 2010. And of course- Johnny Gaudreau– anything but a household name in August of 2010, tore it up for USA and led them to a silver medal (along with the stellar goaltending of Harvard star Steve Michalek).

Canada owns the Hlinka because they can send their best under-18 players from the CHL without missing out on those who are often in the playoffs during the annual under-18 championship tournament each April. If you look at Canada’s roster for the Hlinka, it is literally a “who’s who” of top-60 picks for the next draft (and in some cases, the following year).

Once the Hlinka happens, the CHL is right around the corner and before you know it, summer is over and the 2015-16 hockey season is underway.

So, enjoy the dog days– boating, backyard barbeques and whatever you enjoy in the summer months, because winter is coming.

Final thoughts on the New England 2015 NHL draft class

Noah Hanifin of Norwood, Mass. goes 5th overall to the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Noah Hanifin of Norwood, Mass. goes 5th overall to the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Now, that the 2015 NHL Entry Draft is in the books, the real fun begins- we get to chart the progress and success of the 13 area natives taken from Massachusetts and New Hampshire (Mike Robinson), and we’ll see if anyone else from that group who wasn’t picked (Cam Askew, Brien Diffley and Casey Fitzgerald all could have gone but didn’t have their names called) makes their way to the NHL.

Back in 2011, I sat in the New England Sports Center rink in Marlborough, Mass. with my Red Line Report boss, Kyle Woodlief, and I remember us talking about Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin and how exciting the two then-14-year-old players were. Having been in the business much longer than I have, Woodlief was a voice of caution that day, reminding me that the critical years of development still lay ahead- and that sometimes the early risers plateau and others move to the forefront. As he and I arrived in Fort Lauderdale last month, we revisited that conversation and were glad that in the case of those two terrific players, both Eichel and Hanifin continued to be every bit the players we and every other scout who was watching them back then thought they could be. Now, we get to see if the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes will benefit from the enormous potential shown by both.

Kudos to the Ottawa Senators for grabbing Hanover’s Colin White 21st overall. He’s going to be an NHL player- he’s simply too smart and talented not to at least make it as a grinder eventually. But the real interesting question is whether he will get back to his scoring ways. He had a tough season- hampered by mononucleosis and nagging wrist and arm injuries, but as he got healthier at year’s end, he blew up at the Under-18 championship, even scoring the sudden death gold medal-winning goal for Team USA. He’s a terrific player and my bet is that he’s a natural scorer and will prove that in the next couple of years.

I like the Winnipeg Jets’ draft more and more with each passing day. They nabbed a high-end offensive talent in Kyle Connor after the Bruins passed on him three times (and the Isles grabbed Mathew Barzal at 16) and continued with value selections throughout the draft. But the player no one is surprised that I will key in on is Mansfield native Erik Foley, whom the Jets landed in the third round, 78th overall. Foley is your prototypical power forward who may not have ideal height, but is naturally strong and plays hard from the first faceoff until the final buzzer. He’s going to kill it for Nate Leaman at Providence College, the team he grew up cheering for as a lad. It’s a shame his favorite hometown Bruins didn’t have more time for him as well.

Mike Robinson was an interesting selection for the San Jose Sharks in the third round. The lone non-Massachusetts pick- from Bedford, N.H. by way of Lawrence Academy- has tremendous size and natural tools for the modern NHL goaltender, but we have not seen a New England high school/prep goalie taken earlier than that since Jonathan Quick was taken 72nd overall in 2005 out of Avon Old Farms. That pick turned out pretty darn well for the Kings, so if the UNH-bound Robinson delivers on his immense upside, Tim Burke and the Sharks will be sitting pretty.

I liked the value where the Blackhawks took defenseman Ryan Shea (final pick of 4th round), the Coyotes picked up Conor Garland, and the Hurricanes grabbed Luke Stevens. Those aren’t bad spots to take a chance on a trio of players who are all different, but bring some nice payoff on the long road. I was not bullish on Stevens, but you’ll hear no arguments on getting him in the fifth round. As far as natural tools go, he has some of the most impressive gifts of any player from the area. Garland is a great example of not giving up when passed over in the draft and he exploded this year to lead the Quebec League in scoring, the first time in 32 years an American has done that when some guy named Pat LaFontaine blew things up in that circuit.

There weren’t many surprises from the New England class, but mobile defender Patrick Holway to the Red Wings and big forward Pat Shea (no relation to Ryan) to the Panthers at 170 and 192 respectively is probably the closest thing. Both are South Shore natives, both are headed to the University of Maine, and both parlayed Central Scouting snubs into draft selections ahead of more than a few other listed guys who weren’t picked. It just goes to show you that NHL clubs do their own thing when it comes to the draft regardless of the more and more prolific public lists out there each passing year. If you can find either guy on one of those lists (Red Line included) be sure to let me know so I can give credit where due.

Ultimately, the draft is a dream first step to the reaching the NHL for the 211 players selected, but that’s all it is. You won’t find former and current NHL stars Adam Oates, Steve Thomas, Tyler Johnson or Torey Krug on any draft lists, and there are far more “can’t miss” players who do just that because other players develop into better pros after age 18. In my view- guys like Askew, Diffley and Fitzgerald should have had their names called, so don’t sleep on them. Throw in Robert ‘Bobo’ Carpenter as well, but all will have a chance to make it either in future drafts (except Diffley) or via free agency.

For every one of the 2015 selections- they can hang up or frame their draft jerseys, look at the photos and articles one last time and re-set their focus and personal goals: the work is only beginning.