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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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Posted On Tuesday, 01.31.2012 / 7:07 PM

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

Athanasiou has big move in store for skills competition

KELOWNA, B.C. -- Will London Knights wing Andreas Athanasiou be able to pull off the ridiculous move he has up his sleeve at the 2012 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Skill competition on Tuesday here at Prospera Place.

If he does, it could turn out to be even more spectacular than last year's lacrosse-style scoop and wicked backhand off a spin-o-rama by Detroit Red Wings prospect Tomas Jurco.

"I remember watching that move last year by Jurco … it was pretty amazing," Athanasiou told NHL.com.

While the 6-foot-1, 174-pound native of Woodbridge, Ont., would not reveal the exact move he had prepared for the scouts and fans in attendance, he was certain that if he's able to execute, it will be something special.
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.31.2012 / 10:45 AM

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

Prospects to undergo tough on-ice testing

KELOWNA, B.C. -- Long before those top players from the Canadian Hockey League will hear their names at the NHL Entry Draft, they'll undergo a series of on- and off-ice tests that will provide scouts and general managers an instant user profile of each player.

On Tuesday morning, those 2012 draft-eligible stars of the CHL will be put through those tests at Prospera Place, home to Western Hockey League's Kelowna Rockets.

The on-ice component, which will have 70 individual measurements extracted from 14 on-ice tests that break each player's game down into the essentials of skating, puck handling and reaction time, will be conducted by a representative from Next Testing. Next Testing, a provider of testing and reporting services for understanding athletic performance, has served as the testing provider for the Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game since 2008.
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Posted On Sunday, 01.29.2012 / 6:12 PM

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

Yakupov makes successful return to Sarnia lineup

Nail Yakupov appeared comfortable and confident in his return to the ice for the Ontario Hockey League's Sarnia Sting in three games this weekend.

The Russian right wing, ranked No. 1 according to NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of North American skaters, finished with one goal, two points and a minus-2 rating in his first bit of game action with the Sting since Dec. 17.

Yakupov, who missed the previous nine games for the Sting, suffered a knee injury in the gold medal game at the 2012 World Junior Championship in Calgary, Alta. He scored his 22nd goal of the season en route to being named the game's second star in a 5-2 loss to the Ottawa 67's in Ottawa on Friday.
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Posted On Thursday, 01.26.2012 / 5:19 PM

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

Yakupov could return Friday for Sarnia

It appears as though Nail Yakupov, the top-ranked skater on NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of North Americans, could rejoin the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League as early as this weekend.

According to The Observer, Yakupov, who has been sidelined since suffering a knee injury in the gold medal game of the 2012 World Junior Championship on Jan. 5, might play Friday against the Ottawa 67's.

Yakupov has certainly made the most of the time he's spent on the ice in Sarnia this season, connecting for 21 goals and 53 points in 26 OHL games. The 5-foot-10 1/2, 189-pound right wing won a silver medal for Russia at the WJC after producing 9 assists and a plus-4 rating in seven games. His teammate in Sarnia, Alex Galchenyuk, was believed to be out the entire regular season after undergoing ACL surgery. But, according to The London Free Press, he could return March 1.
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Posted On Wednesday, 01.25.2012 / 4:17 PM

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

Craig Button's top 2012 draft prospects



Not soon after NHL Central Scouting released its midseason list of the top North American and European skaters for the 2012 NHL Draft, did NHL Network analyst Craig Button offer the top 10 prospects in his cross-hairs.

Not surprisingly, Button's list is chock full of talented defensemen and centers -- two areas of strength in this year's talented crops. The top player on his list is Nail Yakupov, the Russian flash from the Sarnia Sting in the Ontario Hockey League.

Here is Button's personal top 10 with some commentary on each prospect. The number in parenthesis represents the ranking issued by NHL Central Scouting earlier this month.

10 (9) - Jacob Trouba, USA U18 NTDP (USHL), D -- "A real terrific two-way defenseman. As he grows into his body, I think he has a chance to be a real force in that area of the game."

9 (3) - Ryan Murray, Everett (WHL), D -- "Is one of those guys that winning teams have. He doesn't make mistakes, he's steady and coaches will put guys like this on the ice because they know that nothing bad will happen. He's smart, a good skater. He's maybe not that dynamic offensively, but a very consistent, reliable defenseman."

8 (15) - Matthew Finn, Guelph (OHL), D -- "I just love Matt Finn because I think he's developed so much from the beginning of the season until now. To me, he reminds me of my dear late friend, Brad McCrimmon. Brad was a guy who could control the game in so many different ways, and that's what I see when I watch Matt Finn."

7 (2) - Mikhail Grigorenko, Quebec (QMJHL), C -- "Everybody needs centers, and the bigger the center, the better. Grigorenko qualifies under both traditions and he's a guy who might not have the greatest finishing ability, but he's a real strong playmaker who uses his size effectively. He's a strong skater and he has a lot of potential. He's one of the very few guys who could challenge the very top part of the draft, maybe even No. 1."

6 (8) - Griffin Reinhart, Edmonton (WHL), D -- "His brother was drafted by Calgary, and he has a younger brother up and coming. Griffin is different and the defensemen in the draft all have different qualities. They're big, strong and raw. But when he gets his confidence, size and physically matures, watch out, because he'll be a force."

5 (LV) - Alex Galchenyuk, Sarnia (OHL), C -- "He's been out with the ACL, rehabbing and trying to get back to the ice before the end of the season. But he's another center, a dynamic playmaker. He makes others around him better and he's a really strong competitor."

4 (5) - Morgan Rielly, Moose Jaw (WHL), D -- "Another top player who had ACL surgery … he had it in November. When I think of Morgan Rielly, I think of a guy who completes plays. He's always puts the puck on your stick, creates scoring chances. He gets out of trouble and the way the game is played now at the NHL level, guys that are so dynamic and can transition from defense to offense, are very desirable."

3 (1 Euros) - Filip Forsberg, Leksand (SWE), C -- "He was a member of Team Sweden's gold medal team at the World Junior Championship, where he played a regular shift. He's big and strong, and loves to shoot the puck. He's got great hands and a great release and he's hungry to score. He gets the puck and gets directly to the net. I see some shades of Brendan Shanahan in terms of that release he possesses."

2 (7) - Mathew Dumba, Red Deer (WHL), D -- "Every time I watch him play, all I see is continued progress in his game. I watch and I don't see any area of his game that he cannot only play in, but can dominant and excel in. He reminds me of Chris Chelios, with a little bit of Scott Stevens."

1 (1) - Nail Yakupov, Sarnia (OHL), RW -- "Suffered a knee injury but that won't hold him out. He's dynamic, electric. Not only is he a competitor, but he has the great skills to finish and make plays. He pulls people out of their seats. Hey NHL fans, he'll be a treat to watch once he reaches the NHL."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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Posted On Wednesday, 01.25.2012 / 10:02 AM

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

Grigorenko returns to form with Remparts

Top draft prospect Mikhail Grigorenko of the Quebec Remparts in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League has left little doubt that he remains an extremely viable draft option despite missing some time with an ankle injury this season.

Since returning to Remparts lineup two games ago on Jan. 21, Grigorenko has responded with two goals. On Tuesday, he scored in regulation and then connected for the decisive goal in the third round of a shootout to lead Quebec over the Chicoutimi Sagueneens at the Georges Centre in Chicoutimi.

Grigorenko scored both his goals against Chicoutimi's Christopher Gibson, a second-round (No. 49) draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings last June. A player many expect to be drafted among the top three choices at the 2012 NHL Draft in Pittsburgh on June 22, Grigorenko took two shots on goal and won 7 of 18 face-offs in Tuesday's win.



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Posted On Tuesday, 01.24.2012 / 1:15 PM

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

Sabres set to welcome back Ehrhoff, Regehr

NEWARK, N.J. -- Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff finally had an opportunity to look on the bright side on Tuesday as his team prepared for the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center.
 
One day after learning defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, who had been sidelined the past three weeks with a rib injury, would make his anticipated return, Ruff got word that fellow defenseman Robyn Regehr would also return following a four-game absence.
 
"I'm going to go out there and help us try and win a game … it's come around the last couple of days as I've been able to take some slap shots with the guys in practice," Regehr, who was suffering from an upper-body injury, said. "My strength seems to be back, so hopefully I can use some of it [Tuesday]. It's never fun when you're a player stuck on the sidelines having to watch -- you really don't feel you're part of the team.
 
"I like being around the guys and being a part of the solution. We're on a slide right now and we have one game to turn it around and then enjoy a few-days break so I think everyone is looking forward to that opportunity."
 
Since Ehrhoff suffered his injury on Dec. 30 in a fight with Troy Brouwer of the Washington Capitals, the Sabres have gone 2-7-2. The Sabres' power play has also faltered without Ehrhoff, going 4-for-28 over that 11-game stretch.
 
"It's huge to have those guys back, just having their presence in the locker room is big," Sabres captain Jason Pominville said. "They are two of our top defensemen and they're going to log a lot of minutes. Robyn usually plays against the top line and Christian is really good on the power play and penalty kill. They're going to add a lot to our team and we're excited to have them both back."
 
Will it make a difference for the struggling Sabres, who currently sit last in the Eastern Conference?
 
The Sabres have lost 12 straight games on the road in regulation -- they've never before dropped more than seven in a row at any point in their history. The team is 8-15 away from First Niagara Center in 2011-12 with just 41 goals in 23 games for an NHL-low 1.78 per game.
 
Buffalo has been outscored 50-17 during its 12-game road losing streak, and 11 of those losses have been by two or more goals. Their seven-game road trip concludes next Tuesday against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre. Entering the sixth game of the current swing against the Devils, the Sabres have been outscored 23-7.
 
Goalie Ryan Miller is just 3-9-0 in his last 12 decisions and backup Jonas Enroth is 1-8-3 in his last 12 outings. Miller, who sports a 5.00 goals-against average and .836 save percentage during the team's current five-game losing streak, needs just two victories to equal Dominik Hasek's franchise record of 234 career wins.
 
Nearing the end of the Tuesday's practice, Miller took a hard slap shot to the collarbone off a shot by Marc-Andre Gragnani. He quickly skated off the ice but later told the media, "I am fine."
 
"I think he's OK," Ruff said. "He took a shot there. I didn't see it but I think he's OK."
 
Ruff is obviously happy to have both Ehrhoff and Regehr back in the lineup against the Devils.
 
"It should really help our defending," Ruff said. "I think up ice we've done a better job of getting inside but it's in our own end where we've had a tough time and two get two NHL defensemen back should help us."
 
Forward Brad Boyes, who missed practice on Monday with the flu, was again with the team at Tuesday's skate. He'll resume his normal role at center alongside Ville Leino and Drew Stafford. The team returned defenseman Joe Finley to their American Hockey League affiliate in Rochester.
 
Here is the projected lineup for the Sabres against the Devils:
 
SABRES

 
Thomas Vanek - Derek Roy - Jason Pominville
Nathan Gerbe - Jochen Hecht - Patrick Kaleta
Ville Leino - Brad Boyes - Drew Stafford
Matt Ellis - Luke Adam - Cody McCormick
 
Andrej Sekera - Tyler Myers
Christian Ehrhoff - Jordan Leopold
Mike Weber - Robyn Regehr
 
Miller is likely to get the start in goal, while Enroth serves as backup.
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.24.2012 / 11:53 AM

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

Devils' defenseman Harrold to start game at forward

NEWARK, N.J. -- Defenseman Peter Harrold will make his New Jersey Devils debut Tuesday -- as a forward.
 
Harrold, who has one goal, 12 points, 26 penalty minutes and a plus-3 rating in 41 games with the Devils' American Hockey League affiliate in Albany this season, will open at right wing, on a line with left wing Eric Boulton and center Ryan Carter when the Devils host the Buffalo Sabres.
 
Just because the 28-year-old Harrold is starting the game at forward, however, doesn't necessarily mean he'll remain there the entire game.
 
"He gives us seven defensemen," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "It's an opportunity to kind of monitor our defense. He's an extra body if someone is not going and he's capable of helping out on the power play. He has some versatility."
 
Harrold has 8 goals and 18 assists in 164 career NHL games -- all with the Los Angeles Kings. He signed with the Devils as an unrestricted free agent last summer.

He has played forward in the past with the Kings.
 
"I played forward two years ago [under then-Kings coach Terry Murray]," Harrold said. "I played there about 20-25 games and it's a little different. You get into it more on the offensive end and I enjoy that part of the game, but playing defense is what counts the most."
 
The Devils only have six healthy defensemen on the roster, with Andy Greene and Henrik Tallinder sidelined by injuries. Greene resumed skating last week and could be back after the All-Star break.
 
"The big thing for me is making sure I know the system and I have to be defensively reliable," Harrold said. "I think that's going to be my biggest focus as a forward. Clearly if I can pitch in offensively, I'd like to, but taking care of our own end would be the biggest thing."
 
The Devils are coming off two straight losses, to the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers, by identical 4-1 scores.
 
The optional morning skate Tuesday did not include Ilya Kovalchuk, Petr Sykora, Patrik Elias, Dainius Zubrus, Bryce Salvador or Brad Mills.

This will be the Devils' final game before the All-Star break. Their next game will be Jan. 31, when they host the New York Rangers.
 
Here is the projected lineup for the Devils tonight:
 
Zach Parise - Adam Henrique - Ilya Kovalchuk
Petr Sykora - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Jacob Josefson - David Clarkson
Eric Boulton - Ryan Carter - Peter Harrold
 
Bryce Salvador - Mark Fayne
Matt Taormina - Adam Larsson
Anton Volchenkov - Kurtis Foster
 
Martin Brodeur will get his fifth straight start in goal; Johan Hedberg will serve as the backup.
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike _morreale
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Quote of the Day

It's not always going to be pretty, especially against a great goalie [Lundqvist] like that. My goals are never how you draw them up. It's just a matter of grinding it out and trying to create havoc in front and good things happen.

— Capitals forward Jay Beagle on scoring in their Game 3 victory against the Rangers on Monday