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Posted On Thursday, 03.24.2011 / 6:14 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to St. Paul 2011 Entry Draft Blog

WHL announces 2011 All-Star Teams, Award nominees

The Western Hockey League released the 2010-11 WHL Conference First and Second All-Stars and the Conference finalists for the 2011 WHL Awards. The WHL Player of the Year finalists will be announced April 20. The winners of those awards and the WHL Player of the Year will be announced at the Awards Luncheon in Calgary, Alberta, on May 4.

Portland Winterhawks forward Sven Baertschi, who represented his native Switzerland in the 2011 World Junior Championship in Buffalo, N.Y., in January is up for WHL Rookie of the Year honors. Bartschi, who led all first-year players in the League with 34 goals and 85 points, is projected to be selected in the opening round of the 2011 Entry Draft in St. Paul, Minn., this June.

Another top 2011 prospect, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Red Deer Rebels, was named to the Eastern Conference First Team All Stars. As a rookie last season, Nugent-Hopkins finished second on the team in scoring with 65 points, including 24 goals, in 67 games to earn WHL's Rookie of Year Award and help the Rebels reach the playoffs for the first time in three years.

This year, Nugent-Hopkins, projected to go among the top three picks in the June draft, erupted for 31 goals and 106 points in 69 games.

WHL EASTERN CONFERENCE ALL-STAR TEAMS
FIRST ALL-STAR TEAM

Goaltender – Darcy Kuemper (Saskatoon, SK), Red Deer Rebels*
Defenceman – Stefan Elliott (North Vancouver, BC), Saskatoon Blades*
Defenceman – Brayden McNabb (Davidson, SK), Kootenay Ice*
Forward – Linden Vey (Wakaw, SK), Medicine Hat Tigers*
Forward – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Burnaby, BC), Red Deer Rebels
Forward – Mark Stone (Winnipeg, MB), Brandon Wheat Kings

SECOND ALL-STAR TEAM
Goaltender – Tyler Bunz (St. Albert, AB), Medicine Hat Tigers
Defenceman – Alex Petrovic (Edmonton, AB), Red Deer Rebels
Defenceman – Duncan Siemens (Sherwood Park, AB), Saskatoon Blades
Forward – Cody Eakin (Winnipeg, MB), Kootenay Ice
Forward – Brayden Schenn (Saskatoon, SK), Saskatoon Blades
Forward – Quinton Howden (Oak Bank, MB), Moose Jaw Warriors

WHL WESTERN CONFERENCE ALL-STAR TEAMS
FIRST ALL-STAR TEAM

Goaltender – James Reid (Calgary, AB), Spokane Chiefs
Defenceman – Tyson Barrie (Victoria, BC), Kelowna Rockets
Defenceman – Jared Cowen (Allan, SK), Spokane Chiefs
Forward – Brendan Gallagher (Delta, BC), Vancouver Giants
Forward – Tyler Johnson (Spokane, WA), Spokane Chiefs
Forward – Ryan Johansen (Port Moody, BC), Portland Winterhawks

SECOND ALL-STAR TEAM
Goaltender – Calvin Pickard (Winnipeg, MB), Seattle Thunderbirds
Defenceman – Brenden Kichton (Spruce Grove, AB), Spokane Chiefs
Defenceman – Ryan Murray (White City, SK), Everett Silvertips
Forward – Brendan Shinnimin (Winnipeg, MB), Tri-City Americans
Forward – Brendan Ranford (Edmonton, AB), Kamloops Blazers
Forward – Ryan Howse (Prince George, BC), Chilliwack Bruins

*indicates unanimous selection
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Posted On Thursday, 03.24.2011 / 2:27 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to St. Paul 2011 Entry Draft Blog

Euro prospect Adam Larsson out with shoulder injury

In a season where defenseman Adam Larsson wants to prove to the hockey world just how valuable an asset he could be in his draft year, the big Swede is doing it the hard way.

For the second time this season, Larsson was sidelined by injury on Tuesday and Thursday during Skelleftea's semifinal round matchup with Lulea in the Elitserien playoffs. According to NHL European Scouting director Goran Stubb, Larsson left the second period of Tuesday's game with a shoulder injury. Projected to be drafted among the top three in June, Larsson was held out of practice for precautionary reasons on Wednesday and never dressed for Game 2 against Lulea on Thursday.

The winner will face either Farjestad or AIK for the Swedish Elite League championship beginning April 5.

Larsson represented Sweden at the 2010 and 2011 World Junior Championship, finishing as the team's highest scoring defender at the tournament this past season with 1 goal and 4 points. He produced 7 assists, 9 points and 41 penalty minutes in 37 regular-season games this season.

A groin injury kept the 6-foot-3, 200-pound blue liner sidelined much of the regular season. He did play in the semifinals and bronze-medal game at the WJC, but supposedly pushed it a little too much. It probably didn't help that he was on the receiving end of a booming check by Team Canada and Columbus Blue Jackets draftee Ryan Johanson in the tournament semifinal.

But Larsson has rebounded nicely and, prior to suffering his shoulder injury on Tuesday, was playing his best hockey of late. It'll be interesting to see how he responds when he does return to the lineup.

"He's a big, complete package with a great future in hockey," Stubb told NHL.com. "It's not easy for a player with his talent to improve every year. He's been on his own high level already for three years. Perhaps there's too many "experts" expecting too much from him ... forgetting that he is only 18."

Two of Larsson's teammates on this year's Swedish National Junior Team praised their impressive young defenseman when asked for comparisons to Tampa Bay Lightning defender Victor Hedman.

"I think Adam is better than Hedman, but that's my opinion," said Larsson's WJC defensive partner and Sweden's alternate captain, Fredrik Styrman."He's more stick handling and can move the puck quick. That's the big thing, and he can hit too. He's a strong guy and he's big. I think he has a great future (in North America)."

Goalie Robin Lehner, who was drafted in the second round by the Ottawa Senators in 2009, feels very confident with Larsson patrolling his end.

"Hedman was big, of course, and strong and Adam is smaller but he makes up for that with smartness," Lehner told NHL.com. "He's really smart with the puck and tough. He won't back down from anything and even fought a 30-year-old in Swedish league. He just has this glow in his eyes … you know he's going to be a great player."

Former NHL GM Craig Button, who works as a hockey analyst for 'NHL On The Fly' and the NHL Network, has been impressed with Larsson's determination and grit. He has him ranked No. 3 on his draft board behind only Ryan-Nugent Hopkins of Red Deer (WHL) and Gabriel Landeskog of Kitchener (OHL).

"I like him for the completeness of his game," Button said. "He's a guy that can play defensively. He's got the size (6-3, 200) and poise defensively, but offensively, he knows how to create chances. He's got a great shot, he can pass the puck and jump into the attack. He can make good decisions and, for an 18-year-old defenseman, sometimes you're looking for that player who has to make better decisions. I really like the way he gets himself into position defensively and offensively, and he can control the game. Those types of players, who can play a lot of minutes, are hard to find."

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Posted On Thursday, 03.24.2011 / 1:38 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - Countdown to the Playoffs

Orpik near a return

If Penguins fans were wondering just how close defenseman Brooks Orpik is to returning to the lineup he said if the situation were different, he'd be playing.

"If it was the playoffs, I'd be playing tonight," he told NHL.com following Thursday's practice here at the Wells Fargo Center. "Or I'd probably be playing before tonight."

Orpik won't play Thursday (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US) in Philadelphia against the Flyers, but he's getting closer to playing again for the first time since he broke a finger on his right hand blocking a Patrick Marleau shot Feb. 23 against the San Jose Sharks.

Coach Dan Bylsma said that return could come next week, maybe in time for Tuesday's rematch in Pittsburgh.

Orpik has stayed in shape by skating during his recovery, saying he missed just two or three days, so conditioning won't be an issue.

"He means a lot to our team, especially on the PK," said Kris Letang, his usual partner. "He shuts down top guys every night. The physical aspect of the game, which we don't really have on the back end except for maybe two guys -- I think he can bring a lot. Can't wait to bring him back."

The Pens' top four blueliners -- Letang, Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek -- haven't been in the lineup at the same time since Feb. 20. And with eight games left following Thursday's game with the Flyers, it's not coming too soon.

Although with the storm of injuries that has battered the Penguins all season, Orpik remains a cynic.

"We've still got nine games to go," he said. "The way thing are going here this year, who knows?"

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Thursday, 03.24.2011 / 12:23 PM

By David Kalan -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Countdown to the Playoffs

Is Parise's return too little too late?

With nine games remaining in New Jersey's season and nine points separating the Devils from the last playoff spot in the East, it seems their brilliant run at a postseason berth, valiant as it was, is likely to come to an end soon and there will be no souls or fiddles made of gold to console them.

The Devils' remaining schedule -- only two of their remaining opponents would not be in the playoffs if the season ended today -- is hardly favorable even if New Jersey plays five of its final seven at home. Those last two weeks are likely to serve merely as a curtain call to what was an incredible 2011 after a decidedly unincredible 2010. But while the sobering reality of New Jersey's first early spring in 15 years starts to set in, there is some good news coming out of the Garden State this morning.

According to Rich Chere of the Star-Ledger, GM Lou Lamoriello announced today that young star forward Zach Parise will play again this season "unless there is something unforeseen that happens."

When one looks at New Jersey's incredible second-half, in which the team went from a very un-Devil-like 27 points out of the postseason to as close as six points earlier this month, one has to marvel that not only did the Devils embark on one of the most impressive runs at the playoffs ever -- New Jersey shave 21 points off the gap, the largest deficit overcome to make the playoffs is 12 -- but they did so without, arguably, their best player for the vast majority of the season.

Parise went down with a torn meniscus in Los Angeles on Oct. 30, just 12 games into the season. It was a huge blow to lose a player whom, after consecutive 80-plus point seasons, appeared to be on the verge of superstardom -- something not easily achieved for an offensive star in New Jersey's defense first system.

Given that the Devils didn't really take off until after Jacques Lemaire replaced John MacLean as head coach, Parise's absence was obviously not the only problem, but to assume this team couldn't have done better with the four-time 30-goal scorer in the lineup is silly.

Lamoriello declined to say if Parise would be practicing with the team today, but given the dramatic nature of his injury and the stunningly high odds against the Devils making the postseason, one has to wonder if bringing him back at all makes sense. Parise has skated on his own for weeks and, according to Lamoriello, is "on a time frame", but it seems unlikely Parise's return could provide the boost New Jersey will run the table and get the help required to close the gap by April 10.

Of course, there may be much more at play than a run at the playoffs. Parise is a restricted free agent after this season and will likely be given an offer sheet that leaves the Devils hard-pressed to retain their franchise cornerstone given the hefty contract of Ilya Kovalchuk. Despite his eye for talent and maintaining a system, Lamoriello is yet to prove himself a master at making the math work in the salary cap era like Detroit's Ken Holland, but he is certainly savvy enough to find a way if he feels Parise is worth the investment -- and if he plays like he did before his injury, Parise certainly is.

As a result, this may be more of a glorified tryout to see how Parise has recovered before the looming monetary decisions come, and with several large contracts coming off the Devils books over the next few seasons -- Patrik Elias, Dainius Zubrus, Bryce Salvador, Colin White and Martin Brodeur to name a few -- there certainly should be a way to squeeze Parise in for the long term even if it means a cap crunch could make 2011-12 difficult.

But what impact it could have on the current campaign seems minimal at best barring a miracle. That's not to say the Devils don't have a penchant for comebacks. New Jersey's comeback from a 3 games to 1 deficit in the 2000 Eastern Conference Final is the stuff of legend for Devils fans and the less-heralded rally to take the 2006 Atlantic Division title by winning the final 11 games of the season might be even more impressive. One more incredible comeback will probably not happen this time given the daunting task that still remains, however.

And the return of the best homegrown forward in franchise history is unlikely to change that.
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.23.2011 / 9:00 AM

By Seth Ambroz -  Special to NHL.com /NHL.com - Seth Ambroz draft blog

Omaha's Seth Ambroz hoping for playoff bye

Seth Ambroz is a right wing for the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League. The 6-foot-3, 202-pound Ambroz, committed to the University of Minnesota in the fall of 2011, was just 15-years-old when he burst upon the USHL scene as a rookie in 2008-09. Through 49 games this season, Ambroz leads the team with 21 goals, 40 points and 202 shots. The New Prague, Minn., native was rated No. 28 on NHL Central Scouting's mid-term release of North American skaters in January. A participant of the 2010 NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp fueled by G Series in August, Ambroz has offered to maintain a monthly blog for NHL.com that will chronicle his season leading up to the NHL Entry Draft in St. Paul, Minn.

Hi everyone! It's almost playoff time here in the USHL. I think it's been a good year so far. You see a lot of 60-plus point seasons from other players, but being a power-forward, I don't think about that too much. I think 40 points is a great accomplishment and hopefully, they'll keep coming. Right now I'm just not thinking about personal statistics too much. I'm having a fun year and we've had kind of a low-scoring team this year too, so I think just moving forward from here would be great.

We have six games left and, really, we'd like to win them all but that's a tough thing to do in this league. But there are a lot of things you want to work on as a team down the stretch … you want to work on details heading into the playoffs. You want to work towards getting all the little things right and playing your best hockey heading into the playoffs. You just want to be playing well as a team at the right time and that time is entering the playoffs.

Right now, we'd like to win these games to pull away from the pack a little because they're fighting for that second seed in the playoffs too (Omaha is currently second in the West -- one point ahead of Sioux Falls). Sioux Falls (Omaha's opponent on Wednesday) is right behind us and we have a tough grind with some road games. Road games will test every team's character right now, but we'll see what we bring to the table.

(Three of the first five meetings between Omaha and Sioux Falls have been decided by a single goal. The top 6 teams in each conference qualify for the playoffs and the top 2 teams in each conference receive a playoff bye).

You could look at the bye in two different ways, obviously we've had injuries this year and have a couple guys out so it would be good to get that bye and get some guys rested up. But you could look at it as, when you get that bye, you kind of get a little bit out of the loop by not playing and then go into the next series against a team that has already played so you have to get ready quick. But, either way, you can look at the positives or negatives, but I think we could probably use the rest right now with all the bumps and bruises, so we'll really push for that second spot and the bye.

We made it to the conference final last year and fell short in Game 5 (to Fargo, 3-games-to-2) there so we'd like to get back and go even farther this time around.

The media requests with the draft coming up fast hasn't been too bad. It's been nice to focus on the stretch run here in the last few games and just try not to think too much about the draft. I just want to focus on what's ahead of me and hope things turn out well.
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.22.2011 / 2:50 PM

By Corey Masisak -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Countdown to the Playoffs

Names to watch: potential playoff recalls

There are now several Chicago-area reporters confirming that Marcus Kruger, a fifth-round pick in the 2009 Entry Draft, is indeed en route from his native Sweden to join the Blackhawks for the final weeks of the NHL season. With injuries to Patrick Sharp and Dave Bolland, the Blackhawks need some help in the middle and Kruger could make his debut as soon as tomorrow night.

With Kruger's pending addition in mind, who might be some other surprise call-ups once the Stanley Cup playoffs begin? P.K. Subban, who had all of two NHL games on his resume, was a big hit for the Canadiens last year when injuries forced his recall during the first round of the playoffs. Buffalo played Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final in 2006 with a pair of guys, Nathan Paetsch and Jeff Jillson, who had combined for three NHL games before that.

The rules for this list is the players must not be on roster today and can't have played more than nine NHL games to this point (this rules out guys like Washington's Braden Holtby and Buffalo's Luke Adam). Here's five names to remember if injury problems strike during the Stanley Cup playoffs:

1. Cody Hodgson, F, Vancouver

Hodgson has already had two stints with the Canucks this season (both last month), and he had a goal and an assist in eight games. The additions of Maxim Lapierre and Chris Higgins at the trade deadline meant another trip back to Manitoba for Hodgson and made it seem less likely that he'll be around in the postseason.

Manny Malhotra's eye injury could change that though. Hodgson was considered one of the top 2-3 prospects in hockey after a star turn at the 2009 world junior championships, but injuries have delayed his development. Don't be surprised if he earns a sweater for Vancouver at some point if the Cancuks go on a long playoff run and there is another injury or two up front.

2. Brayden Schenn, F, Los Angeles

Schenn began the season with the Kings and had two assists in eight games. He also spent some time on a rehab assignment with Manchester in the AHL before returning to the Western Hockey League. He was the top scorer at the WJC in December/January and The Hockey News recently named him the sport's top prospect in their "Future Watch" edition.

If the Kings were looking for an offensive boost during the playoffs, he could be the guy they turn to. There might be a problem with his availability. Schenn was traded to Saskatoon this season, and the Blades were the top team in the WHL during the regular season. A long run with the Blades could keep him from being available to the Kings if they needed him.

3. Ryan Ellis, D, Nashville

Ellis scored 100 points in the Ontario Hockey League (yes, that total is right) and might be the premiere offensive defenseman prospect in hockey. The Predators have a lot of good, young defensemen but if the power play is struggling during the postseason, he could have a Subban-like impact.

His junior team, Windsor, is not the powerhouse it once was, so he could be out of the OHL playoffs (and with Milwaukee in the AHL or even Nashville) sooner than Schenn. Ellis is a diminutive guy who has always had questions about his size, but his skill is elite and tossing him into the fire in the NHL postseason might just be worth the risk for the Predators if they needed him. Another good prospect on defense, Roman Josi, would be a safer choice but there's no reason why both couldn't play for the Predators if there was a rash of injuries.

4. Brendan Smith, D, Detroit

Could also include Red Wings forward Tomas Tatar here, who had a goal in nine games earlier this season, but Smith would, like Ellis, potentially be making his NHL debut during the playoffs. Smith was Detroit's first-round pick in the 2007 Entry Draft and spent three seasons at the University of Wisconsin.

He's had a successful rookie season with Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League (12 goals and 32 points in 57 games) and his second on the Griffins in scoring among the defensemen. Detroit might lean toward recalling a more seasoned option like Derek Meech or Doug Janik, but Smith is the organization's top prospect and it isn't out of the realm of possibility that he gets a game or two for the Red Wings in an emergency situation.

5. Michael Leighton, G, Philadelphia

OK, so this is breaking the rules a little. Calgary's Leland Irving, San Jose's Alex Stalock or Nashville's Mark Dekanich are possibilities as young goalies who could be thrust into a tough spot during the NHL playoffs, but wouldn't Leighton be a great story?

The emergence of Sergei Bobrovski has pushed Leighton down the depth chart in Philadelphia, and he's made only one appearance for the Flyers this season. He has a .924 save percentage in the AHL this season, and no other team has a guy who went 8-3 in the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs sitting in the minors as a "in case of emergency, break glass" option.
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.22.2011 / 10:59 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to St. Paul 2011 Entry Draft Blog

QMJHL announces finalists for Golden Puck Awards

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League on Tuesday released the list of nominees for the 2011 Golden Puck Awards. Each year, the QMJHL honors its most deserving athletes, teams and personalities at its awards banquet, which will be held April 6 at the Hyatt-Regency hotel in downtown Montreal.

There are several 2011 draft-eligible players up for awards, including nine from the Saint John Sea Dogs. The nominees for Top Professional Prospect included Saint John forward Jonathan Huberdeau and defenseman Nathan Beaulieu and Drummondville forward Sean Couturier. Huberdeau, who is considered by many to be a top 5 pick in the 2011 Entry Draft, finished with a franchise-record 105 points on 43 goals, 62 assists in 67 games. Couturier produced 36 goals, 96 points in 58 contests and Beaulieu had 12 goals, 45 points in 65 games.

Here are this year's nominees:

Michel-Brière Trophy - Most Valuable Player
Sean Couturier (2011 draft eligible) - Drummondville Voltigeurs
Philip-Michaël Devos - Gatineau Olympiques / Victoriaville Tigres
Jonathan Huberdeau (2011 draft eligible) - Saint John Sea Dogs

RDS Cup - Rookie of the Year
Martin Frk - Halifax Mooseheads
Charles Hudon - Chicoutimi Saguenéens
Zach O’Brien - Acadie-Bathurst Titan
Domenic Graham - Drummondville Voltigeurs  
David Honzik - Victoriaville Tigres
Dominic Poulin - Chicoutimi Saguenéens

Émile « Butch » Bouchard Trophy - Best Defenseman
Brandon Gormley - Moncton Wildcats
Simon Després - Saint John Sea Dogs
Ryan Kavanagh - Shawinigan Cataractes / Rimouski Océanic

Frank-J.-Selke Trophy - Sportsman of the Year
Philip-Michaël Devos - Gatineau Olympiques / Victoriaville Tigres
Zach O’Brien - Acadie-Bathurst Titan
Zack Phillips (2011 draft eligible) - Saint John Sea Dogs

Michael-Bossy Trophy - Top Professional Prospect
Nathan Beaulieu (2011 draft eligible) - Saint John Sea Dogs
Sean Couturier  (2011 draft eligible) - Drummondville Voltigeurs
Jonathan Huberdeau (2011 draft eligible) - Saint John Sea Dogs

Ron-Lapointe Trophy - Coach of the Year
Mario Duhamel - Drummondville Voltigeurs
Gérard Gallant - Saint John Sea Dogs
Patrick Roy - Québec Remparts

Maurice-Filion Trophy - General Manager of the Year
Sylvain Couturier - Acadie-Bathurst Titan
Mike Kelly - Saint John Sea Dogs
Pascal Vincent - Montreal Juniors

Paul-Dumont Trophy – Personality of the year
Sean Couturier (2011 draft eligible) - Drummondville Voltigeurs
Jonathan Huberdeau (2011 draft eligible) - Saint John Sea Dogs
Louis Leblanc - Montreal Junior

Humanitarian Award
Alex Émond - Rimouski Océanic
Kirill Kabanov - Lewiston MAINEiacs
Gabriel Lemieux - Shawinigan Cataractes

Michel-Bergeron Trophy - Offensive Rookie of the Year
Martin Frk - Halifax Mooseheads
Charles Hudon - Chicoutimi Saguenéens
Zach O’Brien - Acadie-Bathurst Titan

Raymond-Lagacé Trophy - Defensive rookie of the year
Domenic Graham - Drummondville Voltigeurs
David Honzik - Victoriaville Tigres
Dominic Poulin - Chicoutimi Saguenéens

Guy-Carbonneau Trophy - Best defensive forward
Michael Kirkpatrick - Saint John Sea Dogs
Phillip Danault (2011 draft eligible) - Victoriaville Tigres
Frédérick Roy - Québec Remparts

Kevin-Lowe Trophy - Best defensive defenseman
Samuel Finn - Lewiston MAINEiacs
Charles Landry - Montreal Junior
Andrew Randazzo - Drummondville Voltigeurs
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Posted On Monday, 03.21.2011 / 5:14 PM

By David Kalan -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Countdown to the Playoffs

Is Calgary's last stand tonight in Los Angeles?

As NHL.com's Dave Lozo noted in his story about tonight's Calgary-Los Angeles game, this might very well be the night the Flames' remarkable second-half run comes to an end.

Because the Flames will have played three more games than Anaheim and Dallas, each of which they trail by one point in the chase for the West's final playoff spot, a loss will almost certainly leave Calgary with too large a hill to climb, something that seems fairly surprising considering the Flames had jumped up to as high as fifth in the West on their blistering run.

The potential demise of this hot streak is interesting because it could be foreshadowing the very same fate for New Jersey in the East, another team that has turned heads with a remarkable second half -- and garnered most of the press in doing so. But that run by New Jersey, as impressive as it is, may have obscured a more impressive feat in Calgary given a number of circumstances.

This run in Calgary came as the team showed no signs of life and had a number of issues in flux when GM Darryl Sutter stepped down from his post in late December. What made Sutter's change so different from a similar front office move is that not only was Sutter more or less the face of the organization after captain Jarome Iginla, but Sutter was also the brother of head coach Brent Sutter, which immediately put the entire coaching staff's status up in the air.

While New Jersey did have a change at head coach -- one that now seems to have been warranted -- the front office was never in position for a shakeup. GM Lou Lamoriello is likely to have carte blanche with the Devils as long as he wants.

Calgary's uncertainty was on an entirely different level, and when one throws in that Iginla, arguably the best player in the history of the franchise, was rumored to be on the move throughout February as the trade deadline approached, the chance that the Flames could descend quickly into irrelevance this season was looking quite good.

But despite questions in the front office, behind the bench and in the locker room -- not to mention the pressure of hosting the first outdoor game in Canada in more than seven years at the 2011 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic -- the Flames authored a remarkable turnaround from top five pick in the 2011 NHL Draft to top five in the Western Conference playoffs, going 22-6-6 since late December.

Unfortunately for Calgary, however, a recent 1-3-1 skid seems to have put the kibosh on completing what was a tall order from the outset. The chances of a rally for the final spot aren't done yet -- after all, the Flames play four of their last eight games against teams near the bottom of the West standings -- but another loss against a team also competing for a postseason spot could spell the end of the trip.

A defeat tonight in Los Angeles would fit the bill.
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Posted On Monday, 03.21.2011 / 3:09 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to St. Paul 2011 Entry Draft Blog

NCAA Men's Frozen Four set

The NCAA Regionals are set to begin in four separate locations throughout the United States. The field of 16 for the 2011 NCAA Division I Men's Ice Hockey Championship was released on Sunday, with Yale, North Dakota, Boston College and Miami (OH) receiving the No. 1 seeds in the bracket (in that order). Boston College, the defending champion, meets Colorado College in its opener. Play begins this Friday, March 25, with the first round, and quickly progresses to the Frozen Four, set for April 7-9, at Xcel Energy Center in Minnesota -- site of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Here's a look at the NCAA schedule and those players within the games who could hear their names at the 2011 Entry Draft June 24-25.

East Regional Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard
March 25, 2011 No. 2 Union (N.Y.) vs. No. 3 Minn. Duluth 3 p.m. ET ESPNU/ESPN3.com
March 25, 2011 No. 1 Yale vs. No. 4 Air Force 6:30 p.m. ET ESPNU/ESPN3.com
March 26, 2011 East Regional Championship 6:30 p.m. ET ESPNU/ESPN3.com

West Regional Scottrade Center
March 25, 2011 No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 Nebraska-Omaha 5:30 p.m. ET ESPN Syndication/ESPN3.com
Michigan: Kevin Clare, D, 6-1.5, 202; Jacob Fallon, C, 5-10, 191

March 25, 2011 No. 1 Boston College vs. No. 4 Colorado College 9 p.m. ET ESPNU/ESPN3.com
Colorado: Josh Thorimbert, G, 6-0, 178

March 26, 2011 West Regional Championship 9 p.m. ET ESPNU/ESPN3.com

Northeast Regional Verizon Wireless Arena
March 26, 2011 No. 1 Miami (Ohio) vs. No. 4 New Hampshire 4 p.m. ET ESPNU/ESPN3.com
UNH: Nick Sorkin, RW, 6-2.5, 166

March 26, 2011 No. 2 Merrimack vs. No. 3 Notre Dame 7:30 p.m. ET ESPN Syndication/ESPN3.com
Notre Dame: Thomas Tynan, C, 5-7.5, 165

March 27, 2011 Northeast Regional Championship 8 p.m. ET ESPNU/ESPN3.com

Midwest Regional Resch Center
March 26, 2011 No. 1 North Dakota vs. No. 4 Rensselaer 1:30 p.m. ET ESPN Syndication/ESPN3.com
Rensselaer: Patrick Koudys, D, 6-2.25, 190; Brock Higgs, C, 5-9, 180
North Dakota: Dillon Simpson, D, 6-0.5, 192

March 26, 2011 No. 2 Denver vs. No. 3 Western Michigan 5 p.m. ET ESPN Syndication/ESPN3.com
Denver: Nicholas Shore, RW, 5-11.75, 195

March 27, 2011 Midwest Regional Championship 5:30 p.m. ET ESPNU/ESPN3.com

Men's Frozen Four Xcel Energy Center
April 7, 2011 East Regional Champ vs. Northeast Regional Champ 5 p.m. ET ESPN2/ESPN3.com
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Posted On Monday, 03.21.2011 / 10:11 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to St. Paul 2011 Entry Draft Blog

Lucia tops list of top high school players to watch

It remains to be seen if this year's crops of high school players will have NHL scouts and general managers clamoring for their services when the 2011 NHL Entry Draft is staged at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

At Staples Center in Los Angeles last June, 22 high school players were chosen over seven rounds, the highest total in 16 years.

At the top of the list was Nick Bjugstad of Minnesota's Blaine High School. Busted, who went 19th to the Florida Panthers and is now starring at the University of Minnesota, was a member of the U.S. National Junior Team that won bronze at the 2011 World Junior Championship in January. Joining him in the first round were fellow scholastic standouts Kevin Hayes (No. 24 overall, Chicago Blackhawks) of Noble & Greenough in Massachusetts and Brock Nelson (No. 30 overall, New York Islanders) of Warroad High in Minnesota.

On March 21, NHL.com presented its high school package, featuring a few of the top draft-eligible prospects on the board from the scholastic ranks throughout the nation. Mario Lucia of Wayzata High School in Minnesota might be the primary target. Still, there are several other skaters and a few goalies who could very well hear their name at the Entry Draft.

One high school player who is not on anybody's radar right now, but who might be in June is Burnsville (Minn.) defenseman Eddie Wittchow. At 6-foot-3 1/4, 189 pounds, Wittchow has already received numerous offers from several colleges and will likely join the United States Hockey League next fall. The senior was also named to Minnesota's Third-Team All-Metro team after finishing with 14 goals, 23 points and a plus-11 rating in 25 games for the Blaze (17-4-4).

Some scouts have compared Wittchow to defenseman Rob O'Gara of Milton Academy in Massachusetts. O'Gara, committed to Yale in the fall of 2012, was rated No. 95 on Central Scouting's mid-term report. He had 2 goals and 9 points in 30 games. O'Gara is a good skater with a nice long stride. He is able to protect the puck well with his body and passes and moves well.

Many feel that O'Gara is behind the Czech Republic's Petr Placek (6-3 1/2, 210) of Hotchkiss in Connecticut. Placek, who's committed to the University of Harvard, had an injury-plagued season and, when in the lineup, wasn't 100 percent. Still, he's a strong, powerful skater and very aggressive on the puck. He can control the difficult pass in stride and can drive the net from the off-wing. In 15 games, he had 7 goals, 13 points this season. Placek is rated No. 54 on Central Scouting's list of top scholastic stars and might very well be drafted in the mid- to late rounds.

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