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POSTED ON Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 11:12 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to 2012 NHL Draft

Kelowna's Colton Sissons suffers concussion

Might as well add Kelowna Rockets captain Colton Sissons to the long list of coveted 2012 draft prospects suffering from injury or illness this season.

According Dubnation Magazine, Sissons will be sidelined at least one month with a concussion.

The 6-foot-1, 189-pound forward, who is NHL Central Scouting's No. 14-ranked skater in North America, is first in goals (26) and second in points (41) for the Rockets this season. He also has a team-leading 13 power-play goals, and has produced two shorthanded goals.

Sissons was injured in the team's 3-2 loss to the Kamloops Blazers on Feb. 11 at Prospera Place in Kelowna.

There are some scouts who feel Sissons might just be the best two-way forward available in the upcoming draft.

"I definitely look up to a guy like Ryan Kesler," Sissons told NHL.com at the 2012 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Feb. 1. "I like watching Mike Richards also. I like those type of guys who are reliable in their own zone and put up numbers in the offensive zone. They're always working and they're always moving their feet. Kesler and Richards are definitely guys I look up to and want to be like one day in the NHL."

Sissons said he could be put in any situation on the ice.

"I could pretty much play any position … wing or center," he said. "I'd prefer center, no doubt about that, but I've been adjusting to wing a lot in my career."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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POSTED ON Monday, 02.13.2012 / 9:19 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to 2012 NHL Draft

Yakupov scores first shorthanded goal

The wrist injury that forced Sarnia Sting forward Nail Yakupov from the third period on Saturday, didn't keep him sidelined very long.

Yakupov, NHL Central Scouting's top-rated North American skater, scored two goals and was the only player of six to score in a shootout when the Sting earned a 7-6 victory over the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds on Sunday.

Yakupov returned to the Sting lineup on Saturday and scored a goal in a 5-3 loss to the Sudbury Wolves, but suffered a wrist injury in the third period that forced him to the dressing room.

Yakupov was given a two-game suspension for skipping the 2012 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Feb. 1 in Kelowna, B.C. He returned to the lineup on Saturday.

Despite playing with what the team deemed a "sore wrist" on Sunday, Yakupov appeared to be his usually effective self.

"Ryan [Spooner] and Nail took over in the third period and they couldn't be stopped [against the Greyhounds]," Sting head coach Jacques Beaulieu told Dave Borody of sarniasting.com

Yakupov pulled Sarnia into a 6-6 tie at 18:29 of the third when he connected for his first shorthanded goal in two seasons with the Sting. Yakupov is 21st in the Ontario Hockey League with 59 points, including 25 goals this season, in 31 games.

Following a scoreless overtime, Yakupov scored the only goal of the shootout to give the Sting the win.

Sarnia will next visit Guelph on Friday before traveling to Saginaw on Saturday. The Sting will then return home to host London on Feb. 20 at RBC Centre.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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POSTED ON Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 7:29 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to 2012 NHL Draft

Yakupov suffers wrist injury in return to lineup

Sarnia Sting forward Nail Yakupov, NHL Central Scouting's top-rated North American skater, returned to the lineup on Saturday after serving a two-game suspension but would ultimately return to the dressing room with a wrist injury.

Yakupov, who did score his 23rd goal of the season in a 5-3 loss to the Sudbury Wolves, apparently suffered his ailment in the third period.

 "He’s got a bad wrist and couldn’t finish the game," said Sting head coach Jacques Beaulieu. “We’ll see how he feels tomorrow. We don’t know if he can play in Sault Ste. Marie [on Sunday].”

Yakupov had been sidelined the previous two games for skipping the 2012 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Feb. 1 in Kelowna, B.C.

The extent of the injury to Yakupov, who has 23 goals and 33 assists in 30 games, was unknown after the Saturday's game.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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POSTED ON Thursday, 02.09.2012 / 1:30 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Langenbrunner set for first game back in New Jersey

NEWARK, N.J. -- St. Louis Blues forward Jamie Langenbrunner said he has no idea what type of reception he'll receive on Thursday when he makes his first appearance at Prudential Center since being dealt by New Jersey Devils last year.
 
But he does admit to being a tad nervous.
 
"It feels a little weird coming back for the team you played for, and obviously I was here for a lot of years, but it's good to come back," Langenbrunner told the media following his team's practice on Thursday morning. "It's a little weird walking through the [visitor's] door instead of the other one."
 
Not only was the ex-Devils captain a key member of New Jersey's Stanley Cup run in 2003, leading the League with 11 goals and 18 points in 24 playoff games, but Langenbrunner was also a popular member of the team's "ZZ Pop" line alongside current captain Zach Parise and Travis Zajac. He said he went out to dinner with Parise on Wednesday before speaking to a few former teammates on Thursday.
 
Langenbrunner played 564 regular-season games in New Jersey spanning seven-plus seasons from 2001-02 to 2010-11, producing 142 goals, 243 assists and 385 points. Jason Arnott, who spent parts of four-plus seasons in New Jersey and was dealt to the Washington Capitals at the trade deadline last year, will sit out Thursday's game with a sore shoulder.
 
"I think of all of all the good things that happened while I was here," Langenbrunner said. "The friendships you made and successes you had. I really enjoyed my time in New Jersey and am proud to have played for this organization."
 
Langenbrunner was traded to the Dallas Stars last Jan. 6 before signing a one-year deal with the Blues over the summer.
 
"It's been great and I've really enjoyed my time [in St. Louis]," Langenbrunner said. "I didn't know a whole lot about it, to be honest with you. I played in [New Jersey] so long that you don't pay too much attention to the team's out west, but I've really enjoyed it. Obviously, since [Ken Hitchcock] has come in, we've given ourselves a chance.
 
"He's brought experience and calm to the bench. He brings a simplified way of playing the game and everyone has brought into that and has enjoyed playing for him."
 
The feeling is mutual.
 
"Langer and [Jason Arnott] have been valuable pieces for what we need," Hitchcock said. "In those competitive games, Jamie has been a very competitive player. The harder the opposition plays, he recognizes that and his experience and competitiveness just takes over; he dials it up and it drags other people into the fight. I think when you have a young team that suddenly finds the opposition dialing up the checking, they might get overwhelmed, but Jamie and Arnott have helped us plow through it."
 
Forward T.J. Oshie has also benefitted from Langenbrunner's presence.
 
"I think he brings that hard work ethic," he said. "Langer never takes a shift off, he doesn't complain about anything. He doesn't complain about ice time and just goes out there and plays hard when he gets his minutes. I think that's an inspiration to us younger guys to keep playing hard."
 
In other news, Jaroslav Halak will get the start in goal and Brian Elliott will get the nod at home against Colorado on Saturday.
 
Also, the Blues recalled 21-year-old Russian forward Evgeny Grachev from their American Hockey affiliate in Peoria on Wednesday. Grachev has played in 24 games for the Blues this season, notching 1 goal and 4 points. In 13 games for the Rivermen, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Grachev had 2 goals and 5 points.
 
Grachev was acquired by the Blues from the New York Rangers in exchange for a 2011 third-round draft choice (Steven Fogarty) last June.
 
"He was really good when we had him from a checking standpoint, but in Peoria, we wanted him to be more assertive offensively and he was," Hitchcock said. "Rather then being a guy who deferred to other people, we wanted him to kind of put the puck in his hip pocket and drive to the net and he did that. He's a trusted defensive player, but we think there's a lot more he can do offensively if he uses his body to take the puck to the net."
 
Here's the projected lineup for the Blues:
 
Jamie Langenbrunner - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
David Perron - Patrik Berglund - Chris Stewart
Chris Porter - Vladimir Sobotka - Evgeny Grachev
B.J. Crombeen - Scott Nichol - Ryan Reaves
 
Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Kris Russell - Roman Polak
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
 
Jaroslav Halak will get the start in net and Brian Elliott will serve as backup.

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POSTED ON Thursday, 02.09.2012 / 11:42 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Hedberg starts as Devils go for six straight

NEWARK, N.J. -- Johan Hedberg will make his first start in three games on Thursday when the surging New Jersey Devils play host to the red-hot St. Louis Blues at Prudential Center.
 
The Devils are looking to build upon a season-high five-game winning streak while the Blues enter the game having earned 22 of a possible 24 points against teams from the East this season.
 
The 38-year-old veteran has won six of his last eight decisions -- the last coming on Saturday in a 6-4 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. For the season, Hedberg is 13-7-1 with two shutouts, a 2.52 goals-against average and .909 save percentage.
 
The decision comes two days after Martin Brodeur twisted his right ankle in a shutout victory over the New York Rangers. Brodeur didn't practice with the team on Wednesday but did return to the ice for the team's optional skate on Thursday.
 
"If it's a playoff game, he probably starts, but we want to do the right thing long term here," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "We have to emotionally re-engage here and be ready to go."
 
Four of the Devils' five victories during their current run have come against teams currently holding postseason spots in the East. The steak began with a 4-3 shootout win over the East-leading New York Rangers on Jan. 31.
 
It isn't known if Brodeur will serve as Hedberg's backup, but the team did recall goalie Jeff Frazee from Albany of the AHL.
 
"I'm capable of coming in and playing if need be," Brodeur said.
 
"He looked pretty good in practice," DeBoer said of Brodeur. "I'll sit down with [Devils GM] Lou [Lamoriello] and we'll see how [Brodeur] feels when he gets off the bike and has done his workout."
 
Meanwhile, defenseman Adam Larsson, who will miss his fourth straight game with a bruised lower back, is progressing nicely according to DeBoer.
 
"He's getting better and did some light exercise [Thursday morning]," DeBoer said. "All the results on him have been negative, so it's just a matter of time."
 
DeBoer also said that while wing David Clarkson did not participate in the morning skate, he will suit up Thursday against the Blues. Clarkson, who is having a career-season with 21 goals and 30 points, was the only healthy player not to participate at Thursday's skate.
 
Here are the projected lineups for Tuesday game for the Devils:
 
Zach Parise - Patrik Elias - Ilya Kovalchuk
Petr Sykora - Dainius Zubrus - David Clarkson
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Adam Henrique - Steve Bernier
Eric Boulton - Jacob Josefson - Cam Janssen
 
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador - Anton Volchenkov
Matt Taormina - Kurtis Foster
 
Johan Hedberg gets the start; either Martin Brodeur (ankle) or Jeff Frazee will serve as backup.
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POSTED ON Thursday, 02.02.2012 / 11:05 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Live Blog: NHL.com at CHL Top Prospects Game

Dalton Thrower comes to aid of Saskatoon teammate

KELOWNA, B.C. -- The old adage 'blood is thicker than water' was certainly put to the test, to an extent, on Wednesday during the 2012 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game here at Prospera Place.

Saskatoon's Lukas Sutter (L) and Dalton Thrower
Not that Saskatoon Blades teammates Lukas Sutter and Dalton Thrower are related, but you kind of get the feeling this friendship is not only built on trust and reliability, but watching the other's back in a time of need.

So was the case on Wednesday when, with 3:22 remaining in the second period, Thrower came to the aid of his best friend following a tremendous hit that sent Sutter head over skates in his own zone. Plymouth Whalers forward Thomas Wilson was the one to raise the ire of Thrower, who wasted little time when given a brief window of opportunity to set the record straight despite being four inches shorter and 18 pounds lighter than the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Wilson.

"I was still on the bench when it happened, but the (defenseman) changed right after the hit and I saw Wilson was still on the ice," Thrower said. "He's a great player and a physical presence out there. I didn't know a lot about him but you see he's a big guy and I saw him hitting guys out there. I felt it wasn't a clean hit and did something about it."

Wilson appeared to get the upper hand initially, but Thrower, who partners with Colorado Avalanche prospect Duncan Siemens in Saskatoon, had a good finish.

"I thought I did OK [in the fight]," Thrower told NHL.com. "He had a couple inches and pounds on me, but I wasn't too scared."

Said Sutter: "That's what best friends are for. It was a good hit and he caught me at the end of a shift, and Dalton was the first guy to have my back … I wouldn't expect anything different from him."

Sutter, the son of former Philadelphia Flyers forward Rich Sutter, said he gave Thrower a hug and said thank you after the period.

"I gave him pat on back," he said.

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POSTED ON Wednesday, 02.01.2012 / 6:10 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Live Blog: NHL.com at CHL Top Prospects Game

Murray and Dumba to join forces along blue line

KELOWNA, B.C. -- It appears as though Ryan Murray and Mathew Dumba, two of the most talked-about defensive prospects eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft, will pair up in the first period of the Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Wednesday at Prospera Place.

"That will be a pretty deadly pair, that's for sure," Team Cherry goalie Matthew Murray told NHL.com.

Perhaps it won't be the first time, either, that Murray and Dumba pair up along the blue line in an All-Star type setting. Both players, who worked together exclusively during Wednesday's morning skate for Team Cherry, are looking forward to the opportunity.
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POSTED ON Wednesday, 02.01.2012 / 5:27 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Live Blog: NHL.com at CHL Top Prospects Game

Hockey Hall of Famer Jim Gregory honored

Kelowna, BC -- The Canadian Hockey League on Tuesday announced that Hockey Hall of Famer Jim Gregory will be recognized annually at the Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game with Player of the Game awards that will be named in his honor.

The announcement was made by CHL President David Branch on Tuesday evening at a special reception hosted by the CHL for those scouts attending the Top Prospects Game this week.

"The CHL and the Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game has benefited from the support of builders such as Jim Gregory," Branch said in a statement released by the CHL. "Mr. Gregory's contributions to this event and to our game are countless and it is only fitting that he be recognized annually in an event that features future NHL greats."

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POSTED ON Tuesday, 01.31.2012 / 10:23 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Live Blog: NHL.com at CHL Top Prospects Game

Skills competition winners

KELOWNA, B.C. - The CHL/NHL Top Prospects Skills Competition is under way here at Prospera Place.

Results:

Fastest skater: 1-Francis Beauvillier (Rimouski Oceanic) 14.132. 2-Branden Troock (Seattle Thunderbirds) 14.356. 3-Damon Severson (Kelowna Rockets) 14.542.

Hardest shot: 1-Nick Ebert (Windsor Spitfires) 94.7. 2-Ryan Murray (Everett Silvertips) 94.3. 3-Chandler Stephenson (Regina Pats) 94.1.

Accuracy: 1-Gianluca Curcuruto (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds) 4 hits on 5 attempts (1 for 1 in tie-breaker). 2-Scott Laughton (Oshawa Generals) 4 hits on 5 attempts (0 for 1 in tie-breaker). 3-Tom Wilson (Plymouth Whalers) 4 hits on 6 attempts.

Showdown Breakaway Challenge: 1-Radek Faksa (Kitchener Rangers). 2-Tim Bozon (Kamloops Blazers). Faksa shootout winner in tie-breaker against Bozon came on backhand lift from in tight off Matthew Murray of Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
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POSTED ON Tuesday, 01.31.2012 / 10:19 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Live Blog: NHL.com at CHL Top Prospects Game

Kelowna boys receive loudest ovation

KELOWNA, B.C. -- Not surprisingly, Kelowna Rockets captain Colton Sissons and defenseman Damon Severson received the loudest ovation during pre-game introductions for the CHL/NHL Home Hardware Top Prospects Skills Competition here at Prospera Place.

Sissons, ranked No. 14 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, is currently in this second season with the Rockets. He's produced 26 goals and 38 points in 51 games this season for Kelowna.

"It's definitely more comfortable for me being there than for some of the guys coming into Kelowna," Sissons told NHL.com. "I'm used to it here. Our fans will be loud and into it, and hopefully all our fans will get to enjoy our fans like I do night in and night out."

Sissons will participate in the showdown breakaway contest for Team Orr.

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Once again, it shows character in this dressing room. Once again, there's no quitting in here. We all wanted this so bad and we worked so hard to get home-ice advantage and we weren't going to let this one slide.

— Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog on his team's OT Game 1 win vs. Minnesota Wild