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Posted On Friday, 09.23.2011 / 11:07 AM

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

USHL Fall Classic loaded with draft-eligible players

The United States Hockey League's annual Fall Classic has traditionally offered NCAA Division I and III coaches, along with NHL representatives, a tremendous opportunity to catch a glimpse of many of the top players in the country. Several of those standouts also happen to be eligible for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

The four-day event, which includes each of the USHL's 16 teams and encompasses 24 games, also attracts many of the country's top scouts. NHL Central Scouting's Jack Barzee, who specializes in scouting the mid-West and those players in the USHL, is a loyal follower of the Fall Classic.

Prior to the tournament, Barzee took some time to talk to about those players he will be paying particular attention to at this year's tournament. Following the tournament, which concludes Sept. 24, we'll reach out to Barzee to receive his post-tournament evaluations.

The player who might be getting the most attention this week at the Fall Classic is 6-foot-1, 182-pound forward Zemgus Girgensons of the Dubuque Fighting Saints.

"He's the most experienced player … already having a year in the league and is the most physically developed," Barzee said.

NHL Network analyst Craig Button likes the fact Girgensons gets another year under his belt with Dubuque head coach Jim Montgomery, who not only starred alongside Paul Kariya at the University of Maine but spent parts of six seasons in the NHL. He captained the 1992-93 Maine team to the school's first NCAA championship.

"It's early to say who will emerge out of the group of centermen eligible for the draft but Girgensons has Jim Montgomery as his coach and that is going to help him," Button told "Girgensons is too good to play in the junior leagues but he's not good enough to play in the KHL, so he has to find a place where he can develop his skills."

Committed to the University of Vermont in the fall of 2012, the Latvian center finished third on the team with 49 points (21 goals) in 51 games in 2010-11 and was selected to the mid-season Western Conference All-Star Team.

Girgensons received an automatic one-game suspension in a 3-1 victory over the Tri-City Storm on Thursday and will sit out Friday's contest against Muskegon. He received his suspension with 25 seconds remaining in the third period after being issused a game misconduct for checking from behind.

Another player starring in Dubuque is left-handed defenseman Michael Matheson (6-foot, 170 pounds), who recently won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2011 Under-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial.

Defenseman Jordan Schmaltz (6-2, 175) of Sioux City is committed to the University of North Dakota. He finished his rookie season in the USHL as the league's highest-scoring defenseman with 44 points (13 goals) in 53 games. Schmaltz was named to the USHL's 2011 All-Rookie Team.

Barzee's USHL dark horse candidate for the 2012 draft is Sioux City defenseman Cliff Watson (6-2, 195), who is committed to Ohio State next September.

"He played with Appleton United last year and I like everything about him," Barzee said. "He's a bull. Secondly, he's a bull who can skate, can shoot the puck, moves the puck, knows the game and can put you in the nickel seats. That's a pretty good combination for me. Watson will be the second guy on the power-play to get a lot of assists, but he's also a dynamite defensive player."

The Fargo Force has two players in the fold, including 5-foot-10 defenseman Brian Cooper and 6-2 blueliner Justin Wade.

"Cooper is going to be one of those real controversial-type guys heading into the draft because he's another Gary Suter or Matt Carle type; he's not yet 6-foot, but is one of those offensive-type defensemen in the mold of Ryan Murphy (Carolina Hurricanes)."

Wade, who recently committed to the University of Notre Dame, played 35 games with the Force as a 16-year-old in 2010-11. He was also a member of the U.S. Under-18 Select Team in the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament this past summer.

There are also several players starring for the U.S. National Team Development Program Under-18 Team, including forwards Cameron Darcy, Nicolas Kerdiles (Wisconsin), Brendan Silk (Boston College) and Stefan Matteau (North Dakota), defenseman Jacob Trouba and goalie Collin Olson (Ohio State).

Among that group of formidable players, Trouba, who hasn't committed to college but whose rights belong to the Ontario Hockey League's Kitchener Rangers, would appear to be a first-round talent next June.

Trouba had 7 points in 21 games for the U-18 team last year and 6 goals, 19 points in 37 contests for the U-17 Team. The native of Rochester, Mich., scored the first goal in a 4-3 overtime gold-medal game triumph over Sweden in the 2011 U18 World Championship in Germany last April.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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Posted On Wednesday, 09.21.2011 / 1:17 PM

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

Yakupov looks to be top choice ... for now

And so it begins.

Nail Yakupov, Sarnia Sting
The road to the 2012 NHL Entry Draft is well under way and, not surprisingly, there are several players vying for top honors. At the head of the list is Russian Nail Yakupov of the Sarnia Sting in the Ontario Hockey League.

The Sting open the season on Friday against Erie at the RBC Centre. In six preseason games, Yakupov did nothing to disappoint, racking up 6 goals and 15 points. He closed out the preseason with a spectacular five-point outburst, including 4 goals, in a 6-1 victory over the Windsor Spitfires.

NHL Network analyst Craig Button feels Yakupov is the real deal.

"He's got an abundance of skills," Button told "When you're talking about the top eight guys (in the 2012 draft), you're talking about so many attributes and he fits right into that category as a player with multiple attributes."

The native of Nizhnekamsk, Russia, who was named Rookie of the Year in the Canadian Hockey League in 2010-11, led all first-year players and finished tied for fourth overall in OHL scoring with 101 points in 65 games (49 goals, 52 assists).  He became just the fifth OHL rookie to reach 100 points in a season in the last 15 years and established new team record for goals and points by a rookie -- surpassing the marks set by Steven Stamkos in 2006-07.

"When you watch Yakupov, you can see that explosive ability but you also that stealth ability, like Jari Kurri," Button said. "Kurri would wait, and before you knew it, not only was (Wayne) Gretzky moving in, but Kurri was moving into the right spot and it was too late. Yakupov has that ability, which is why I've compared him to Kurri. Jari was always one of those guys to say, 'I'm not going to go there yet because it's not time to go there.' Yakupov has that similar ability and patience."

Yakupov (5-foot-11, 180 pounds) represented Russia at the 2011 World Under-18 Championships, notching a hat trick in a 6-4 victory over Team Canada in the bronze medal game.

In addition to Yakupov, Button named three defensemen from the Western Hockey League who looked primed to go in relative early fashion next June -- Ryan Murray of the Everett Silvertips, Matt Dumba of the Red Deer Rebels and Morgan Rielly of the Moose Jaw Warriors.

Murray was named Everett's captain this past season by head coach Craig Hartsburg despite the fact his 6-foot-1/2, 190-pound blueliner 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. He'll serve as captain of the Silvertips this season as well. In 122 career games for the Silvertips, Murray has recorded 73 points (11-62-73) and is Everett's all-time plus-minus leader with a +51 rating.

"Murray is a real dependable, consistent defenseman," Button said. "He reminds me of a Kevin Lowe-type defender. He passes the puck very well and is the type of player you want on your team."

NHL Central Scouting's Chris Edwards feels Murray is the complete package.

"He's an excellent skater," Edwards said. "His mobility, agility and speed make him, at this point, one of the best skaters up for the draft. He possesses excellent puck handling and decision making and is a top two defenseman in Everett. I would expect him to be a top two at the pro level as well."

Dumba was the WHL's rookie of the year in 2010-11, connecting for 15 goals and 26 points for the Rebels in 62 games. He was also a plus-24 with 83 penalty minutes. At the 2011 U-17 World Hockey Challenge in Winnipeg, Manitoba in January, Dumba led the tournament with 12 assists and 12 points.

"He's a kid who reminds me of P.K. Subban (Montreal Canadiens)," Button said of Dumba.

Rielly, meanwhile, led Moose Jaw in scoring as a rookie last season with 6 goals and 28 points in 65 games. He was also the second youngest player to represent Team Canada at the 2011 World Under-18 Championships.

"Rielly will lift you out of your seat," Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan told "He's and exceptional skater; he skates as well as anyone that's ever played in the WHL. He twists and turns on a dime and is very exciting to watch."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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Posted On Saturday, 09.17.2011 / 4:54 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - Super Saturday

Talbot ready to follow Pronger's lead

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Maxime Talbot doesn't anticipate a major change in how he must go about his usual business now that he'll follow the lead of Philadelphia Flyers captain Chris Pronger instead of captain Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh.
Pronger was named the 18th captain in Flyers history on Friday. Crosby has worn the 'C' in Pittsburgh since the start of the 2007-08 season.
"I guess yes and no," Talbot said. "Sid was a young leader, but such a mature leader. From the first day he put a shirt on with the Pittsburgh Penguins, he was the leader of the team. It's been six years and he's not only been a young leader, he's a pretty mature leader. And Chris has been playing forever. It's going to be great to have a new captain."
Talbot, who signed a five-year deal worth $9 million with the Flyers in July, agrees with Pronger that leaders don't all have to wear a letters on their jersey.
"Yeah, it's just a letter," Talbot said. "You need leadership on this team even though some guys don't have letters. In this room, you need everybody pushing in the same direction. Chris doesn’t need to be captain to be a leader. He'd be the same guy if he didn't have the captain, so everybody's pushing in the right direction. That's how we’re going to win some games."

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Posted On Saturday, 09.17.2011 / 4:14 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - Super Saturday

Flyers Camp: Jagr talks Flyers-Penguins rivalry

VOORHEES, N.J. -- So what does Jaromir Jagr remember most about the Philadelphia Flyers-Pittsburgh Penguins rivalry when he played for 11 seasons in the Steel City?

"I remember I always had a tough time to play," Jagr told the media following the opening day of Flyers training camp at the Virtua Flyers Skate Zone on Saturday. "Nobody wanted to play the Flyers back then. You knew it was going to hurt to play against them -- that's what I remember. They had the big guys and they always drafted strong guys who played physical."

Jagr was asked if he feels he betrayed the fans of Pittsburgh by signing a one-year contract with the rival Flyers.

"First of all, when I was making the decision, I never thought the Pittsburgh fans would want me back," he said. "Every time I played there and touched the puck, they were booing me … I didn't think it was going to be such a big deal if I'm not going to sign with Pittsburgh.

"On the other side, it was my decision. I've only been a free agent twice and I had to do what is best for me. If I hurt somebody, I apologize because I didn't want to, but I don't understand why people can be that mad about my decision."
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Posted On Saturday, 09.17.2011 / 3:14 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - Super Saturday

Flyers Camp: Giroux enjoys time with Jagr

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Claude Giroux doesn't consider there to be any added pressure despite the fact Mike Richards and Jeff Carter -- two of the team's offensive staples -- were traded in the offseason.

"There's not a lot of pressure, but more excitement and a challenge and there's a lot of ice time to be taken," Giroux said following the opening day of training camp at the Virtua Flyers Skate Zone.

"When you see something like that, it kind of makes you push more and play harder and better. Guys are pretty excited for the preseason games. We have a lot of new players and Mike and Jeff are gone, but there's another spot open for ice time and power-play time. The young guys have a chance, so it's an opportunity."

Giroux, who led the Flyers with eight power-play goals, 51 assists and 76 points last season, centered a line with 39-year-old right wing Jaromir Jagr and left wing James van Riemsdyk on the opening day of training camp on Saturday.

"When I was a kid, I looked up to (Jagr) because he was obviously one of the best young players to ever play," Giroux said. "So, anytime you have a guy like that on your line, it's pretty exciting. He's that kind of player who knows how to score goals and is always in good position to get open. He's been in the league for a long time, so anytime you have a player like that on your line it's good. I'll be playing with JVR too, so I was playing with two strong guys."

Only time will tell if the JVR-Giroux-Jagr line remains intact throughout training camp since coach Peter Laviolette has stressed that no line is safe at this stage in the preseason.
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Posted On Saturday, 09.17.2011 / 2:50 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - Super Saturday

Flyers Camp: Who will replace Ville Leino?

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Flyers coach Peter Laviolette is making no promises. In other words, just because Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell have played together the last two season, doesn't necessarily mean they'll be together to start the 2011-12 campaign.

Briere and Hartnell had much success on a line with Ville Leino the past two seasons in Philadelphia. Leino signed with the Buffalo Sabres in the offseason, however, leaving a hole on one of the team's most prolific units. Laviolette was asked who has the best shot at replacing Leino.

"I wouldn't assume that Briere and Hartnell will be together to open the season and I truly believe that everything is open and Hartnell may be a fit with somebody else," Laviolette said following the opening day of training camp Saturday. "I think Paul Holmgren said it best to the players, nobody should really assume anything. It's wide open with regard to what we're looking at and that's why to ask about one person (Jakub Voracek) being with two guys who have been together … it's going to shake up.

"We're going to take a look at different options and see what we see out here."

Briere and Hartnell actually opened the first day of camp on a line with offseason acquisition Voracek.
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Posted On Saturday, 09.17.2011 / 10:50 AM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - Super Saturday

Flyers Camp: Jagr with Giroux, JVR, set to meet media

VOORHEES, N.J. -- One of the Flyers big free-agent acquisitions, Jaromir Jagr, will be holding a press conference with the media at 1 p.m. here at the Flyers Skate Zone.

He seems to be taking in much of the session and watching attentively while working drills with his linemates. There doesn't seem to be much interaction with other players, but that was probably expected. He seems to have nice jump but it is strange to see him wearing orange and black.

He opened the first practice on a line with left wing James van Riemsdyk and center Claude Giroux. He also participated in 2-on-1's with Max Talbot. Jagr and Talbot signed deals with the Atlantic Division champion Flyers in the offseason.
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Posted On Saturday, 09.17.2011 / 10:27 AM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - Super Saturday

Flyers Camp: Voracek gets chance to replace Leino?

VOORHEES, N.J. -- So we're here at the Flyers SkateZone in Voorhees, N.J., for the opening day of Flyers training camp.

The place is absolutely packed as the organization has plenty of activities for the fans. While it's still early, reporters present here in the press area are saying coach Peter Laviolette is already deviating a bit from what the veteran coach had on his board yesterday.

Right off the bat, Laviolette has Danny Briere centering Jakub Voracek and Scott Hartnell. So it's possible Flyers' fans will see offseason acquisition Voracek replacing Ville Leino on that line. There's Claude Giroux in the middle between James van Riemsdyk and Jaromir Jagr. Blair Betts is the pivot between Jody Shelley and Andreas Nodl and Michael Nylander was with Wayne Simmonds and Max Talbot.

Ilya Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovsky are the two goalies on hand in the first session.
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Posted On Wednesday, 09.14.2011 / 11:34 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - Prospecting the future

Sabres win championship in Traverse City debut

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- The Buffalo Sabres certainly made their initial appearance in the Traverse City Prospects Tournament one to remember.

In the process, they also got the best of their New York neighbor, as Marcus Foligno scored a pair of goals to lead the Sabres to a 5-2 victory over the New York Rangers in the championship match on Wednesday at Center ICE Arena.

The Sabres become the fifth different team to win the prospect tournament in the last five years.

"When you make improvements and have new additions to the organization with rookies and bunch of guys who haven't made the NHL yet, and go into a tournament and pull a championship, it's exciting for the organization and exciting what's to come in the future for the Sabres," Foligno told

Indeed, the Sabres outscored the opposition, 9-1, in the third period of their three victories in the five-day tournament en route to winning the trophy. In their only loss of the tournament, a 5-2 setback to Detroit on Tuesday, the Sabres were outscored, 3-0, in the final period.

"The third period was a focus of ours (against New York)," Sabres' prospects coach Ron Rolston said. "On Tuesday, that was a change and we wanted to get back to that (Wednesday). We just want to make sure that our guys were playing the right way and paying attention to details. We were able to make three strong finishes on those last three goals."

Corey Tropp's goal 1:28 into the third snapped a 2-2 tie before Daniel Catenacci connected at 15:00 to give Buffalo (3-1-0) a 4-2 cushion. Foligno then tacked on his second of the game when he drove home a shot off a breakaway after taking a pass from Zack Kassian at 17:47 to close out the scoring.

"It's weird … this whole tournament, we were a third period team," Foligno said. "Besides the Detroit loss, I think we all knew we had a little bit more in the tank (in the third) and we had 20 minutes left in this tournament to leave it on the ice. There was a lot of positive energy between intermissions and Rolston got us to work."

Foligno, who finished the tournament with 3 goals and 2 assists, was happy to chip in on the score sheet.

"It's always fun to score and help out with the points, but at the same time you want to do your job and do your role," he said. "I'm glad I had those opportunities to put the puck in the net."

Luke Adam had a goal and one assist and goalie Nathan Lieuwen made 21 saves in the triumph. The Rangers (2-1-1) received goals by J.T. Miller and Ryan Bourque.

"Our boys were resilient," Rolston said. "They worked really hard and as the tournament progressed, they knew what we had to do to be effective and have success. You felt it on the bench; we had a lot of energy and guys had good communication in terms of how we needed to play, so that was good to see."

Buffalo's top line of Luke Adam centering Foligno and Kassian proved to be quite a handful throughout the tournament. In Buffalo's loss to the Red Wings, Adam was a healthy scratch.

"Luke Adam is a great player and pretty good with the puck, and he has a great shot," Foligno said. "Kassian has a big body down low. We create space for each other and are all big guys and when we're in the offensive zone, it's tough for the opponents to kind of keep up with our pace."

Kassian agreed.

"I think we're three big bodies that like to play down low and that really favored us and we were moving it really good to find openings," Kassian said. "Luke has that great shot, so if he's in the slot you just give him the puck … it's going to be a goal more so than not."

Many of the Sabres' prospects are now looking forward to the start of training camp on Friday, including Kassian, Adam, Foligno and defensemen Mark Pysyk and Brayden McNabb.

"My goal is to play as many exhibition games as I can and do as well as I can," Foligno said. "I want to continue this strong effort I had in Traverse right through main camp. It'll be fun with all the guys and to get to play with pros."

Kassian feels Traverse City has certainly given the players one leg up entering main camp.

"Everyone in there is in game shape, ready for main camp," he said. "For me, personally, I hope to get in some exhibition games and play well."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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Posted On Wednesday, 09.14.2011 / 1:01 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - Prospecting the future

Rangers' Miller ready to face former coach in TC final

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Don't think for a second that New York Rangers prospect J.T. Miller doesn't know who his opposing coach will be when his club battles the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday in the championship game of the Traverse City Prospects Tournament.

"Yeah, that's Ron Rolston, my coach for two years at the NTDP (National Team Development Program)," Miller told

The most decorated head coach in NTDP history left after seven years to become the coach of the Rochester Americans, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres, in July. He's coaching Buffalo's prospects in the tournament this week. The Rangers and Sabres will square of in the tournament final here at Center ICE Arena at 7 p.m. ET.

Rolston guided his teams to five medals and multiple tournament championships in international competition. He is the only coach in U.S. history to win three gold medals in the Under-18 World Championship (2005, 2009, 2011). His team also captured a silver medal in the 2007 U18 World Championship.  Rolston's teams never missed a championship game in either of the two major NTDP tournaments -- the World U18 Championship and the World U17 Hockey Challenge.

Miller, who was drafted 15th overall by the Rangers in June, knows his team will have their work cut out for them.

"It's going to be great playing against him … it's about time," Miller said. "He's taught me a lot that I know, so I'm going to use what he taught me against him and hopefully it works out. I'm sure he has some really tough defensive systems up his sleeve, so it should be a good game."

The Rangers won their only other trip to the Traverse City championship game in 2007, defeating the Columbus Blue Jackets, 5-1, behind the play of Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky, Michael Sauer, and Marc Staal. This is the first year Buffalo is competing in Traverse City.

Miller, who passed on a scholarship to the University of North Dakota to sign with the Ontario Hockey League's Plymouth Whalers for the 2011-12 season, skated in 48 games with the USNTDP U18 team this past season. He produced 11 goals, 37 points and 80 penalty minutes.

"He's a really good hockey player, a lot of tools and a bright future," Rolston praised. "He's come a long way in the two years I had him as far as maturity. This will be his next step, getting with an organization and working with their leadership to continue his maturity and development. He's strong and can skate, plays hard. The Rangers have a lot there to work with."

Miller, from East Palestine, Ohio, led Team USA in scoring with 13 points in six tournament contests en route to capturing the gold medal at the 2011 U18 World Junior Championship in Germany. He tied for third among all tournament skaters in points, fourth in assists (9), sixth in goals (4), and seventh with a plus-8 rating.

In addition to Miller, the Rangers' prospects have been led by defensemen Tim Erixon (1 goal, 3 assists), Dylan McIlrath and Samuel Noreau and forwards Shane McColgan (2 goals, 2 assists), Ryan Bourque (3 goals), Christian Thomas (1 goal, 3 assists), Blake Parlett (5 assists) and Jonathan Audy-Marchessault (2 goals, 3 assists). Goalies Jason Missiaen (1-0-1, 2.94 goals-against average, .898 save percentage) and Scott Stajcer (1-0-0, 2.00 GAA, .929 save percentage) have performed well.

The 6-1, 200-pound Miller appeared in 95 career games over two seasons in the United States Hockey League with the USNTDP, registering 26 goals and 42 assists for 68 points, along with 159 penalty minutes.

"I think the pace (of the tournament) is great and the physicality that goes with it just takes it to a whole new level," Miller said. "I'm just trying to get used to it every game and trying to play more consistent. It's a tough game and you just can't beat yourself up too much and just get right back at it on the next shift. I'm trying to work on that."

Miller was asked what he anticipates from the Rolston-coached Sabres.

"A hard-nosed hockey game," he said. "They'll do their jobs and be responsible all over the ice. You have to play your role under Rolston … that's what he taught me over the years."

The Sabres have been led on offense by the triumphant top-line trio of Marcus Foligno (1 goals, 2 assists), Luke Adam (2 goals) and Zack Kassian (3 assists). Defensively, Brayden McNabb and Mark Pysyk have excelled. Nathan Lieuwen (1-1-0, 4.00 GAA, .862 save percentage) and Ryan Rondeau (1-0-0, 3.00 GAA, .885 save percentage) have split goaltending duty.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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Quote of the Day

I've been so fortunate, blessed, to play a long time with some great players and be on power plays, play in some great cities and stuff. It's been fun.

— Avalanche forward Jarome Iginla on tying Dino Ciccarelli for 46th place on the NHL's all-time list with his 1,200th career point after their win vs. the Predators on Friday