The 2013 NHL Draft is certainly shaping up to be a good one.
While the Draft may not come close to the number of high-caliber defensemen selected in the first round last June, the depth across the board is quite impressive. During the 2012 Draft at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, 13 defensemen were plucked in the first round to match a record set in 1996.
The run on defensemen started early, too, as three of the top five and eight of the top 10 players picked star on the back end.
The top two players on the board entering this season are center Nathan MacKinnon of the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and defenseman Seth Jones of the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Hockey League.
The Philadelphia Flyers may have missed out on nailing down a big-name defenseman in the free-agent market, but they did land one of their key cogs from last season on Thursday when they signed forward Jakub Voracek to a four-year contract.
The deal reportedly is worth $17 million, according to CSNPhilly.com and other media reports. The 22-year-old restricted free agent, who will likely fill the void left by the departed Jaromir Jagr on the Flyers' top line with center Claude Giroux and left wing Scott Hartnell, will earn $4.25 million annually.
"We are happy to have Jake under contract and look forward to him being a big part of our future," Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said.
Even if Zach Parise doesn't re-sign on the dotted line to return to the New Jersey Devils prior to the start of free agency, there's no reason to believe the team for which he has spent the last seven seasons is completely out of the picture.
Parise told Rich Chere of The Star-Ledger on Tuesday that New Jersey would still be a strong candidate for his services -- even if no deal were struck by the noon deadline on Sunday.
"I'm sure a lot of people would think that, but that's very far from the case," Parise told the paper. "If it does happen to get to Sunday, that's by no means saying I don't want to go back to New Jersey.
"I know the perception would be, 'Oh, he wants out.' But that's not the case. I haven't been lying. I've said all along how much I like playing in New Jersey. So that wouldn't be me saying, 'I don't want to play there anymore.'"
PITTSBURGH -- One draft down, one more to go for Swedish goalie Oscar Dansk.
Dansk, drafted with the first pick of the second round by the Columbus Blue Jackets (No. 31) on Saturday at Consol Energy Center, spent this past season with Brynas Jr of Sweden's second division. He sported a 2.82 goals-against average and .910 save percentage in 28 games.
NHL Central Scouting's No. 2-ranked European goalie admitted he would certainly take the major-junior route if he is selected by a team on Wednesday during the Canadian Hockey League's annual Import Draft.
"My dream will be to come to camp and try my best, but I know it's a process and however long the process going to take, we'll see," Dansk said. "I feel like I had good conversations with the Blue Jackets, but you never know what will happen."
"We kind of crossed paths on the floor and gave each other a hug," Sutter told NHL.com. "He's my best friend and to share this experience with him is so surreal. I'm extremely proud of him and I'm sure he'd say the same about me."
In 148 games spanning three seasons with the WHL's Blades, Sutter has totaled 352 PIMs, including 165 in 70 contests this season. According to hockeyfights.com, he also dropped the gloves 10 times in 2011-12 -- seven short of the 17 players he fought last season.
Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello pretty much assured that the younger Matteau wouldn't allow history to repeat itself when he drafted Stefan with the 29th pick of the NHL Draft at Consol Energy Center on Friday.
Was the youngster, NHL Central Scouting's No. 17-ranked North American skater, surprised by the selection?
By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer With the first pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, the Edmonton Oilers selected 18-year-old right wing Nail Yakupov, making him the first Russian-born player chosen No. 1 overall since Alex Ovechkin in 2004. READ MORE ›
"I met with the Devils a few times, but obviously knowing the history of my name, I guess it's surprising," Matteau said. "But I couldn't be more thrilled."
Matteau's father was selected with the 25th pick in 1987 by the Calgary Flames, meaning Stefan lost the big bet since father was drafted earlier than son.
After hearing his name announced by New Jersey director of amateur scouting, David Conte, Matteau said he didn't even have enough time to chat with his father.
"I gave [my father] a hug and ran down to the stage," Matteau said. "I think he's happy for me. If I would have gone to the Rangers with the pick before, there would have been a lot of pressure. I think it's good for me and I'm glad to be a Devil."
Matteau was the sixth American-born player drafted in the opening round. He'll play for the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2012-13.
"You meet with teams early on and give yourself expectations and sometimes you don't meet them," Matteau said. "I thought I could have gone earlier, but it worked out in the end. There are 10 to 15 minutes between each pick and it's long.
"Today was the longest day of my life, but it all worked out in the end and I'm really proud."
The 6-foot-1 1/2, 210-pound center had 15 goals, including four power-play goals, and 32 points in 46 games with the U.S. National Team Development Program this season. He also accumulated 166 penalty minutes. In 47 games with the U-17 Team last season, he had seven goals, 18 points and 67 penalty minutes.
"I'm a big-bodied power forward, have a lot of skill and a good shot, and I play with an edge," Matteau said. "Some teams like that, and I like to bring an all-around solid game."
Matteau doesn't believe he plays the game as his father once did.
"Growing up, I did get to watch him … he was a hard-working, physical guy who played with an edge," Stefan told NHL.com. "It's weird to say this because he played 15 years, but I think I'm more offensive than he was. Dad told me I'm bigger and more skilled … that's what he said."
Matteau believes he's a perfect fit with the Devils, a team he considered to be one of the hardest-working in the playoffs.
"Just their physicality and the way they never stopped," Matteau said. "The Final was a tough go, but they still didn't back down and that's how I play. I go hard to the end and it's a good fit for me."
He said his "mentality is to make the team next year."
"If not, I'll just go back to junior and develop one more year and hopefully make the jump after that."
"He's a powerful man, big and strong," Cole told NHL.com. "He plays a physical game and he's going to be good. I would think he's a little (more physical than dad). He also probably has a little more high-end offensive ability -- Stef's going to put the puck in the net."
Does Matteau have a message for Devils' fans?
"No, not really … I'm in shock myself," he said with a grin. "There's a bright future ahead, and I'm looking forward to having an impact wherever they may need me."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini drafted Yakupov, NHL Central Scouting's top-ranked North American player, with the first pick Friday in the opening round of the 2012 NHL Draft at Consol Energy Center.
Nugent-Hopkins, who accompanied the team on the stage when Tambellini announced the pick, was chosen No. 1 last year at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
"It's kind of neat to see things from this side of the spectrum and there's no pressure or nerves," Nugent-Hopkins said. "You just kind of watch all these things unfold.
"There's always talks and stuff going on before the Draft but ultimately it comes down to what the staff decides on draft day and we picked up a great player."
That 2012 draft-eligible defenseman Ryan Murray of the Western Hockey League's Everett Silvertips might not last beyond the No. 2 pick in Friday's opening round at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
The Blue Jackets currently hold the No. 2 choice in the Draft. The Edmonton Oilers have the first overall selection.
Hartsburg, who spent last season as associate coach of the Calgary Flames, served as the head coach of the Silvertips from 2009 through 2011. He coached Murray for two seasons in Everett, including his rookie season in 2009-10.
Murray was named captain of the Silvertips in 2010-11 by Hartsburg despite the fact his 6-foot-1/2, 195-pound blue liner had just turned 17-years-old. The move was made when regular captain Landon Ferraro, a second-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings in 2009, was sidelined due to sports hernia surgery and a bum shoulder.
"I really didn't expect it at all but I got more comfortable with it as the year went on," Murray said at the time. "Coach called me into his office one day and said that I would take over captaincy while Ferraro was out and I took the responsibility and it was a great honor to represent my team like that.
"I just kind of stayed the same way. I acted the same way towards my teammates and played the same way."
Hartsburg never wavered in naming Murray the youngest captain in franchise history.
"To me there never was a question," Hartsburg told the Everett Herald. "He's the most mature kid on our team. He exemplified what we want to be. He works hard every day, competes hard every day, cares about the team and his teammates. It's a reward for what he brings to the table."
Murray would reward his coach by leading all Everett defenders in scoring with 46 points, including 40 assists, while leading the team with a plus-18 rating.
Murray is currently NHL Central Scouting's top-rated North American defenseman eligible for the Draft. He's ranked No. 2 overall behind Nail Yakupov of the Ontario Hockey League's Sarnia Sting.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
Saskatoon Blades center Lukas Sutter certainly picked a good time to have a career-season with so much attention on him during his draft year.
In addition to being a feisty and agitating player to go up against, Sutter, the son of former Philadelphia Flyers forward Rich Sutter, also proved to be an extremely valuable asset on the score sheet. He connected for career highs in goals (28), assists (31) and points (59). He also tied for second on the team with nine power-play goals and sported an impressive plus-15 rating.
Why all the success in his sophomore campaign with the Blades?
It's amazing to think how much differently Russian goalie Andrei Vasilevski might have been viewed had he not pulled himself from the semifinal round game of the 2012 World Junior Championship in Calgary with just six minutes remaining in the third period.
Some may look at Vasilevski's decision to take himself out of the game at the 14:17 mark, and his country clinging to a 6-5 lead over Canada, as a move to help a seemingly winded Russian squad.
Others may view it as a sign of giving up or quitting. Either way, Vasilevski, who made 44 saves in the game, was replaced by Andrei Makarov, who closed out the victory in splendid fashion with seven saves.
Both Vasilevski and Makarov are eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft in June. But Vasilevski is the one viewed by many as a potential first-round selection.