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Blackwood a top goalie despite short time in net

Thursday, 02.05.2015 / 3:00 AM / Prospects

Evan Sporer - Staff Writer

Mackenzie Blackwood wasn't a goalie. He almost wasn't a hockey player.

Blackwood, the top-rated North American goalie in the NHL Central Scouting midterm rankings for the 2015 NHL Draft, grew up like many kids, trying his hand at multiple sports. At age 9 Blackwood said he stopped playing hockey to focus on lacrosse and snowboarding.

The hiatus was relatively short-lived, as a year later he said he was back to playing in house leagues in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

But even then he wasn't a goalie. That didn't come until at age 12, when Blackwood's VP Bearcats lost their goalie and needed someone to play the position.

Finland's Rantanen put on show at World Juniors

Thursday, 01.29.2015 / 3:00 AM / Prospects

Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer

Finland didn't do much celebrating at the conclusion of the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship.

After winning a gold medal at the 2014 WJC, Finland struggled to find any level of consistency at this year's tournament and finished seventh.

However, forward Mikko Rantanen made quite the impression as one of the youngest players on the team.

In the eyes of some scouts, the 18-year-old left-shot right wing was Finland's best player. He had four of Finland's eight goals at the WJC, and proved to be fast, energetic and reliable player at each end of the ice for Finland.

McDavid: I'm not in a class by myself

Wednesday, 01.21.2015 / 7:00 PM / Prospects

Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer

ST. CATHARINES, Ontario -- Erie Otters center Connor McDavid admitted there was a bit of a letdown for him after helping Canada celebrate its first gold medal in six years at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship at Air Canada Centre in Toronto earlier this month.

"It's pretty common to have a little bit of a letdown after world juniors; your game is so ramped up and everything is riding on every single play," McDavid said. "Then you come back to the Ontario Hockey League, where it's still great hockey but not the world juniors, so it's common to have a letdown."

McDavid, who was an alternate captain for Canada, had three goals, 11 points and a plus-8 rating in seven games for his country and was named to's World Junior Championship All-Tournament Team.

"I think I had a little bit of [a letdown] that first week back to Erie but I'm feeling really good now," he said.

Bittner's size makes him appealing 2015 draft prospect

Thursday, 01.15.2015 / 3:00 AM / Prospects

Joe Yerdon - Correspondent

BUFFALO – One of the bigger forwards eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft is Paul Bittner.

Bittner, a 6-foot-4, 202-pound left wing, plays for the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League. He's in his third season with the Winterhawks after coming out of Crookston High School in Minnesota and he was listed as a first-round candidate by NHL Central Scouting Service in their 2015 "Players to Watch" list.

A forward his size will earn attention from NHL scouts regardless, but it's the other skills he has to go along with it that can make him a first-round pick.

Connor, ready for Michigan, awaiting Draft moment

Thursday, 01.08.2015 / 10:03 AM / Prospects

Adam Kimelman - Deputy Managing Editor

As a Michigan native, Kyle Connor long has dreamed of playing hockey at the University of Michigan.

But before that happens he'll get to live another dream, hearing his name called at the 2015 NHL Draft.

Connor, a 6-foot-1, 182-pound left wing/center with the Youngstown Phantoms of the United States Hockey League, earned an A rating on NHL Central Scouting's player to watch list.

"He's a solid two-way player and plays hard in both zones," Central Scouting's Greg Rajanen said. "Nice stride and quickness and good in tight with the puck. Saw him against the [United States National Team Development Program] U-18 team and elevated his game against them and wants the puck. And when he gets it he makes things happen."

Harkins draws inspiration, drive from father, brother

Thursday, 12.18.2014 / 3:00 AM / Prospects

Aaron Vickers - Correspondent

Forward Jansen Harkins of the Prince George Cougars of the Western Hockey League has developed into a top prospect for the 2015 NHL Draft, but he isn't above asking his father for advice during rides to the rink, just like he did as a kid.

It's a perk that comes when your father, former NHL player Todd Harkins, doubles not only as his ride to and from the rink most days, but also as his team's general manager.

"He knows what it takes and how hard you have to work," said Jansen, who earned an A rating on NHL Central Scouting’s November players to watch list. "He's really instilled that [work ethic] in me my whole life. He's always been around coaching me and teaching me. He's been a lot of help to me. And now I have him up in Prince George living with me.

"It's nice to have someone I can talk to and relate to what I'm going through. It's awesome."

Zacha making transition to North America look simple

Thursday, 12.11.2014 / 3:00 AM / Prospects

Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer

Pavel Zacha had a pretty good idea of the steps he needed to take to succeed in his first season in North America with the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League.

It wasn't easy. The smaller rinks and quick decisions he had to make on the fly were a bit of an adjustment, but the Czech Republic native seems to have found his groove.

"Pavel has made a seamless transition to the North American game," Sting general manager Nick Sinclair said. "He's a very intelligent young man both on and off the ice."

With 19 points in 21 games, Zacha is tied for third in scoring among OHL rookies, and his nine goals are tied for third on the Sting. He had an A rating from NHL Central Scouting on its November players to watch list for the 2015 NHL Draft.

Shift to goalie paying off for USNTDP's Opilka

Thursday, 12.04.2014 / 3:00 AM / Prospects

Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer

Luke Opilka came very close to quitting hockey before realizing his true calling as a goaltender during an open skate at a friend's birthday party.

"I was never too good a player; the only goal I ever scored was on my own net," Opilka said. "I really thought I actually scored a goal so I began celebrating. I was probably a mite [8 years old] then and I probably should have known better, but I didn't."

What he did learn was that playing defense was not a good idea for him.

"I tried goaltender at my friend's birthday party and just loved it, so I stuck with it from there," he said.

Novak lurking on edge of center pool in 2015 Draft

Thursday, 11.27.2014 / 3:00 AM / Prospects

Joe Yerdon - Correspondent

BUFFALO – With the attention being paid to center prospects in the 2015 NHL Draft, it might be easy to lose track of a player like Thomas Novak.

Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, and Dylan Strome have all taken turns in the spotlight already this season, but now Novak is starting to make his mark amongst draft hopefuls and drawing rave reviews from those who have watched him closely.

Novak's road to notoriety is a bit different than many his contemporaries.

He's playing in the United States Hockey League for Waterloo after a three-year stint with St. Thomas Academy in Minnesota.

Tri-City defenseman Carlo building up offensive game

Thursday, 11.20.2014 / 9:00 AM / Prospects

Adam Kimelman - Deputy Managing Editor


It was his strong defensive game that earned defenseman Brandon Carlo of the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League an A rating from NHL Central Scouting in its latest players to watch list.

But for Carlo to cement his status as one of the top prospects for the 2015 NHL Draft, he needs to advance the offensive side of his game. The numbers might not show it yet, but Carlo is putting the work in.

In 23 games this season Carlo has one goal and 10 points, putting him ahead of his pace from last season, when he had three goals and 13 points in 71 games.

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Yeah, I guess so. That empty-netter was pretty lucky, but I'll take it.

— Senators forward Mike Hoffman when asked if his two-goal game was a good way to celebrate his 26th birthday
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