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Neutral Zone Wrap: Juniors drop the puck

by | Fantasy Writer
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Happy folly-days! Yes, the NHL is officially a joke in your town -- provided your town has a sense of humor and even cares about hockey. But never fear, alternative options are here.

With the big kids fighting over who can stay in the sandbox, the young ones are itching to display their wares in the World Junior Hockey Championship. And thanks to the tournament being held in Russia, us Eastern time-zoners are subjected to 4 a.m. wake-up calls and the inevitable office naps that will follow. For those on the left coast, these games are merely an excuse to stay up late.

The next potential stars are ready and able. But can they carry their country to a medal? Here are the players to keep an eye on in Ufa (not to be confused with the acronym for an unrestricted free-agent). No obvious selections like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Nail Yakupov but also no obscure examples from Latvia's practice squad. And here we go:

Goalies

Andrei Makarov/Andrei Vasilevski, Russia

Hard to differentiate between these two netminders due to similar skill sets, although Vasilevski (at 6-foot-3) provides the bigger target. Some would place Makarov as the backup because he went undrafted in 2012 (while Vasilevski was taken 19th overall by Tampa). More likely than not, the two Andreis will continue to rotate unless one of them ends up stealing the show.

Malcolm Subban, Canada

Just like his older brother P.K. Subban, Malcolm plays an aggressive game. The knock on the Bruins first-rounder may be his inexperience and lack of confidence on the larger ice surface. The Canadian coaching staff might want to see more out of Subban before officially anointing him as their No. 1, but Jordan Binnington may end up earning the starting nod when they drop the puck on Boxing Day.

Also keep an eye on: Patrik Bartosak, Czech Republic; John Gibson, USA; Eetu Laurikainen, Finland

Defense

Seth Jones, USA

The son of former NBAer Popeye Jones has been mentioned as a possible #1 pick in next summer's draft. And when you watch him functioning in top gear, you will understand why. Jones captained the US under-18 side to a gold medal in April, shouldering the load from the back line (eight points and a plus-9 in six games). He'll be counted on heavily to make Americans forget about their seventh-place finish from a year ago.

Hampus Lindholm, Sweden

Want to see why the Ducks picked the slick Swede at the six-spot? While Lindholm's offensive resume isn't impressive (six in 19 in the AHL), his stellar work at both ends has turned a lot of heads. He could possibly bulk up a bit (from 195 pounds) to prepare himself for the day-to-day physicality that will hit him hard when he arrives in the NHL.

Olli Maatta, Finland

Pittsburgh may have gotten the blueline special when they selected Maatta at No. 22 a few months ago. Currently anchoring a dominating London Knights squad, where he has excelled as their power-play quarterback (24 in 32 this season after a combined 55 in 77 during 2011-12). He will undoubtedly continue the same role for the Finns.

Also keep an eye on: Tim Bender, Germany; Mirco Mueller, Switzerland; Morgan Rielly, Canada; Rasmus Ristolainen, Finland

Forwards

Aleksander Barkov, Finland

His heritage may be Russian but the kid's got plenty of Finnish. After all, Barkov saw meaningful minutes at last year's event as a 16-year old (four in seven). And it's not as if he is intimidated by older opponents by sitting in the top-10 in the Finnish Elite League scoring race (with 28 in 32). Expect Barkov to be grabbed in the first five picks this coming June -- and more realistically by No. 3.

Marko Dano, Slovakia

Another 2013 hopeful who is earning rave reviews from the scouts. Perhaps not the biggest or fastest skater you'll see but definitely a wizard when it comes to finding the net (14 goals in 15 total underage contests last year). Will Slovakia medal this time? Probably not. Think this youngster can help his country to a respectable finish? Book it, Dano.

Alex Galchenyuk, USA

Yes, you read that right: Galchenyuk is an American, thanks to Dad having played in Milwaukee during the early 90s. The center may actually be better off without former linemate Yakupov in Sarnia, as he can step out from the shadow and show his immense talent (61 in 33). Whether Galchenyuk can transfer this to the WJHC is yet to be seen, but chances are he'll be a star someday in Montreal.

Mikhail Grigorenko, Russia

Buffalo's first 2012 selection (#12) is arguably the purest offensive talent of the bunch (and no offense to teammate Yakupov) who also uses size and strength (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) to his advantage. Clearly a defensive liability but he is bound to improve. And that hardly matters when you're posting gaudy numbers for Quebec of the QMJHL (50 in 30).

Jonathan Huberdeau, Canada

Nathan MacKinnon may be the talk of the Canuck crew but Huberdeau will be the one racking up the most points for the Red and White. Already having served Canada admirably in the last Under-20 (nine in six) and a killer junior contributor (257 in 195!), he's also not afraid to backcheck when necessary. If he can even hit half of his production when the pros come calling, then the Panthers will be happy.

Elias Lindholm, Sweden

No relation to Hampus; after all, Lindholm is like the Swedish version of Jones (no relation to Seth). Like Barkov, Lindholm is proving teenagers can hold their own with much older skaters (21 in 32 in the top Swedish league). With other more recognizable forwards in camp, he tends to get lost. But that hasn't hurt his draft stock, being projected to go somewhere in the first 10 selections.

Also keep an eye on: Filip Forsberg, Sweden; Martin Frk, Czech Republic; Zemgus Girgensons, Latvia; Rocco Grimaldi, USA; Artturi Lehkonen, Finland; Valeri Nichushkin, Russia; Mark Scheifele, Canada

So who do I like to win? Well, I could say Sweden to repeat but that's not very logical or even realistic. Or I might look at an exciting US lineup and tab them for success. Those Russians possess many dangerous skaters and should be front and center for the final. But I think I will stick to my homeland bias and go with Canada to reclaim its junior crown. Who's in your bracket?

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Player News
Evgeny Kuznetsov
Caps' Kuznetsov Seeking Short-Term Extension
Evgeny Kuznetsov, C, WAS
12:48 AM
News: Evgeny Kuznetsov's agent said that his client and the Capitals are exploring a two to three year contract extension, Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post reports.
Analysis: Evgeny Kuznetsov remains a restricted free agent and his re-signing is a top priority for general manager Brian MacLellan and the Capitals. After a slow start to his sophomore campaign, Kuznetsov was a mainstay as the team's second-line center by season's end, finishing with 37 points in 80 regular season games, as well as five goals and seven points in 14 playoff games. With outstanding offensive skills, Kuznetsov figures to be a fixture on the Capitals for many years to come, but appears willing to accept a bridge deal rather than sign a long-term extension at this time. Keep an eye on the situation as it unfolds, but all signs point to Kuznetsov staying in DC for now.

Marcus Johansson
Caps' RFA Johansson Files For Salary Arbitration
Marcus Johansson, C, WAS
7/5/2015
News: Marcus Johansson filed for salary arbitration on Sunday, and will have his hearing heard during the arbitration period from July 20th to August 4th, Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post reports.
Analysis: If the case goes before the arbiter, Marcus Johansson will take a contract extension with a maximum of two years. While the filing is indicative of disagreement between Johansson's camp and the Capitals about a new contract, there is still a very good chance the two sides will get a deal done before the case is heard. A fixture in the Capitals top-six last season, Johansson has a career-high of 20 goals and 47 points in 82 games. The arrival of T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams may complicate Johansson's deployment in next season's lineup, but general manager Brian MacLellan has made it clear he wants to keep Johansson with the team beyond next season. Keep an eye on the situation as it unfolds.

Braden Holtby
Caps' RFA Holtby Files For Salary Arbitration
Braden Holtby, G, WAS
7/5/2015
News: Braden Holtby filed for salary arbitration on Sunday, and will have his hearing heard during the arbitration period from July 20th to August 4th, Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post reports.
Analysis: If he goes through arbitration, Braden Holtby will receive a contract with a maximum term of two years, the Capitals choice given that Holtby's camp chose to file for arbitration. An arbitration period certainly imposes a specific timeframe for the Capitals to work out a long-term extension for Holtby, who is coming off a career year in which he posted a 2.22 GAA and .923 save percentage en route to a 41-20-10 record over 73 games during the regular season. Rounding out a season worthy of Vezina consideration (although he was not a finalist for the award), Holtby turned in an outstanding post-season effort cut short by the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, but not before winning six games with a 1.71 GAA and .944 save percentage. All signs point to a big pay day for Holtby who has emerged as one of the league's top goaltenders, and while the Capitals are unlikely to let him slip away, there does appear to be some roadblocks in getting a deal done at the moment.

Landon Ferraro
Red Wings Ink Ferraro To One-Year Deal
Landon Ferraro, C, DET
7/5/2015
News: Landon Ferraro signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Red Wings on Sunday, MLive.com's Ansar Khan reports.
Analysis: Landon Ferraro has appeared in seven games over the last two seasons for the Red Wings as an injury replacement, but has otherwise yet to earn a full-time role at the NHL level. Expect him to again see most of his action this season at AHL Grand Rapids, where he compiled 27 goals and 42 points in 70 games in 2014-15.

Nazem Kadri
Leafs Ink Kadri To One-Year Deal
Nazem Kadri, C, TOR
7/5/2015
News: Nazem Kadri signed a one-year contract with the Maple Leafs Sunday that will net him $4.1 million, James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail reports.
Analysis: Nazem Kadri skated in 73 games with the Maple Leafs last season, posting 39 points (18 goals, 21 assists) over that span. He'll have a good chance to crack the top six again in 2015-16, but that doesn't mean as much coming from a team that was near the bottom in goals per game played last season.

Jeff Tambellini
Lightning Ink Tambellini to One-Year Deal
Jeff Tambellini, LW, VAN
7/5/2015
News: Jeff Tambellini signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Lightning on Sunday.
Analysis: Jeff Tambellini spent the past five seasons playing in Switzerland, but has decided to attempt a comeback at the age of 31. He's played in 242 career NHL games, tallying 63 points and 27 goals. In his 2010-11 season with the Canucks, Tambellini recorded 113 hits, also posting nine goals and eight assists with the club over 62 games. He'll attempt to make the roster out of training camp, but could end up in the minors if he doesn't make the cut.

Dan Ellis
Ellis Inks Deal With Washington
Dan Ellis, G, WAS
7/4/2015
News: Dan Ellis signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Capitals on Saturday, Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post reports.
Analysis: The 35-year-old will provide Washington with additional goaltender depth at the AHL level, but likely won't get asked to make many NHL starts in 2015-16, as he'll probably slot in as the Caps' fourth string goaltender behind Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer, and Justin Peters. However, Dan Ellis was solid when called upon by the Panthers last season, going 4-3-1 with a 2.35 GAA and a .914 save percentage in eight games with Florida.

Jamie McBain
McBain Re-Signs With Kings
Jamie McBain, D, LA
7/4/2015
News: Jamie McBain re-signed Friday with the Kings on a one-year, two-way contract, Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times reports.
Analysis: With Slava Voynov's status uncertain for 2015-16 following his jailing for domestic violence as well as an Achilles injury, Jamie McBain could have a shot at settling into a regular role on defense for the Kings. He provided better-than-expected results as a fill-in last season when injuries compromised the Kings' depth, contributing three goals and nine points in 26 games while seeing limited ice time.

Derek Smith
FA Smith Heads To Arizona On A Two-Way Deal
Derek Smith, D, ARI
7/4/2015
News: Derek Smith signed Friday with the Coyotes on a one-year, two-way contract.
Analysis: Derek Smith played in Switzerland last season for Zurich, recording five points and four PIM over 25 games. The 30-year-old will function as organizational defensive depth at AHL Portland.

Eric Selleck
Coyotes Re-Sign Selleck
Eric Selleck, LW, ARI
7/4/2015
News: Eric Selleck re-signed Friday with the Coyotes on a one-year, two-way contract.
Analysis: Eric Selleck will more than likely return to AHL Portland this season, after accruing eight goals and 23 points with them over 74 games in 2014-15. The 27-year-old isn't likely to be near the top of the list for the Coyotes as a potential forward call-up.

 
 
 
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