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Mantha, Wennberg among Traverse City best

by Mike G. Morreale

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Columbus Blue Jackets player development coach Chris Clark had a good feeling about the team the Blue Jackets had for the 2014 Traverse City Prospect Tournament.

The Blue Jackets had six players on the roster that were selected in the first or second round of recent NHL drafts. They lost forward Sonny Milano, a 2014 first-round pick (No. 16), to a fractured cheek and orbital bone in the second period of the opening game, but the Blue Jackets won their first tournament championship in eight years with a 3-2 overtime victory against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday.

"Looking at the rosters before we went into the tournament, I thought we had a good team and a good chance but you never know until you get on the ice," Clark said. "I thought our guys responded well; we trailed by at least one goal in every game, but [we] still responded."

John Davidson, the Blue Jackets’ president of hockey operations, was ecstatic to see his young players hoist the championship cup.

"So many players performed well," Davidson said. "[Alexander] Wennberg, [Josh] Anderson, [Oliver] Bjorkstrand. And our goalies. I really like this group of young players. They earned this."

In the championship game Columbus overcame a penalty-shot goal that gave Dallas a 2-1 lead in the second and a shot that Blue Jackets forward TJ Tynan rang off the crossbar with less than two minutes left in regulation. Anderson, a fourth-round pick (No. 95) in 2012, ended the game when he deflected in a shot by Austin Madaisky with 1:54 remaining in a 3-on-3 overtime.

Here's a look at's top 11 players from this year's tournament (listed alphabetically). Milano and Dallas Stars forward Brett Ritchie (2011, No. 44) are excluded from this list because of injuries.

Christian Folin, Minnesota Wild (2014, free agent) -- Kurt Kleinendorst, who coaches Minnesota's American Hockey League affiliate in Iowa, said the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Swede was "a good get by our organization." Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher signed Folin to a two-year, entry level contract in April after Folin's second season at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.

"It's not easy to find a big defenseman like that and we were fortunate to get him," Fletcher said. "He realized that there was an opportunity. I'm happy with the five guys we have returning, but we let him know there will be competition and maybe one or two spots will be available. We told him that if he does a good job he could be looking at making the NHL team right away."

The No. 54-ranked prospect on the Top 60 prospect ranking was coveted highly and for good reason as he offers good mobility, strength and maturity. Folin had one goal and seven shots for the fifth-place Wild.

Kevin Hayes, New York Rangers (2014, free agent) -- The 6-foot-5, 225-pound forward was moved to center for the tournament after spending most of the past two seasons at right wing at Boston College, including last season when he was a Hobey Baker Award finalist. He is No. 49 on the Top 60 prospect ranking.

In four games at Traverse City he had one goal and three points, and his 11 shots on goal were second on the team. Hayes seemed to improve with each game while exhibiting speed and power through the neutral zone.

"There were a lot of strong guys at the tournament and they couldn't move him," said Rangers director of player personnel Gordie Clark. "He protects the puck so well and he looked like he was having fun out there because for the better part of two years he hadn't been at center but on wing at Boston College. As he gets better and better and learns the speed of the game, he'll make those plays a lot earlier. He was a fraction of a second away from doing some big-time damage here."

Julius Honka (2014, No. 14), Dallas Stars -- The 5-11, 180-pound defenseman is a special talent. He skates on the ice with the greatest of ease and knows how to defend. Once he exhibits a little more patience with the puck he's going to become an impact player in the NHL. Honka led all first-year defenders in the Western Hockey League in scoring last season with 56 points (16 goals) in 62 games. He helped Finland win a gold medal at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship, where he had one assist in seven games.

Honka had one goal, three points and four shots in Traverse City for second-place Dallas.

"I think any defenseman at that age needs to work in their own end, especially at the pro level," Stars director of amateur scouting Joe McDonnell said. "But he plays it fine. He competes. Obviously he is not a [6-foot-3] defenseman, but he plays bigger than he is. He goes into the corner to make plays to get the puck out of his zone. He makes a great first pass out."

Jyrki Jokipakka (2011, No. 195), Dallas Stars -- Stars general manager Jim Nill said there are four defensemen knocking on the door for NHL playing time this season, but the 6-3, 205-pound Finn was the only one of the group playing for the Stars in Traverse City. Jokipakka was paired for much of the tournament with Honka and was a calming influence for him.

Last season Jokipakka was third among defensemen in scoring with 21 points in his first AHL season with the Calder Cup champion Texas Stars, and had a plus-5 rating in 68 AHL games.

Anthony Mantha is determined to become the first Red Wings prospect in 15 years to make the jump from junior hockey to the NHL. (Photo: Getty Images)

Anthony Mantha (2013, No. 20), Detroit Red Wings -- The 6-4, 190-pound forward was as good as advertised in Traverse City, with four goals, five points and a plus-3 rating in four games for third-place Detroit. He proved to be a strong, dynamic force and was cognizant of the fact all eyes were on him as one of the premier prospects at this event. Mantha, No. 10 on the Top 60 prospect ranking, is determined to become the first Red Wings prospect in 15 years to make the jump from junior hockey (Val-d'Or of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) to the NHL.

"I want to try and push [for a roster spot]," Mantha said. "You don't come to a pro camp without the will to make the team, so I'm here to prove to everyone that I'm going to be able to play in the NHL this year. Obviously we're being judged every day, not only by Detroit management but by everyone in the stands, the other teams and your teammates. So for me I need to play my best game and I think I did that. Now I'll try to continue to do that at training camp and in the exhibition games."

Alex Nedeljkovic (2014, No. 37), Carolina Hurricanes -- The puck-moving goaltender went unbeaten in two games in Traverse City, and had a 1.50 goals-against average and .943 save percentage. He had 34 saves in a 6-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres and 16 saves in a 3-2 overtime victory against the Rangers.

Carolina coach Jeff Daniels, who is the coach of the Hurricanes' AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers, was impressed by Nedeljkovic's demeanor in net. He made all the big saves, but played the puck and made proper reads behind the net to provide added support for his defensemen.

"[Nedeljkovic] looked calm. There's not a lot of extra movement in his game and that's good," Daniels said. "As a coach you want to see him stop the ones he's supposed to and that's what he did."

Victor Rask (2011, No. 42), Carolina Hurricanes -- Deemed a two-way player, quiet and business-like, Rask was making his third appearance in Traverse City and was Carolina's most polished player on the ice. His overtime goal against the Rangers enabled the fourth-place Hurricanes to advance to the consolation game against Detroit. He had a tournament-leading nine points (four goals, five assists) in four games.

"He's got one full year of professional hockey under his belt and he came out, showed that experience and played really well," Daniels said. "I think he's on the right track. Most first-year players go through that learning process where they realize the AHL is a tough league and I thought he finished the year off really strong [16 goals, 39 points in 76 games] and was one of our better players. He proved willing to make that commitment of training and take that extra step. He's not flashy but he shuts down plays, is good on faceoffs and strong on the puck."

Ty Rattie (2011, No. 32), St. Louis Blues -- The 6-foot, 178-pound right wing performed admirably alongside 2014 draftees Robby Fabbri (No. 21) and Ivan Barbashev (No. 33), with one goal, five points, a plus-1 rating and a team-leading 14 shots on goal. Rattie, who had 31 goals and 48 points in 72 games as a rookie last season with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL, would seem to have the best shot at earning an immediate roster spot out of training camp. He was No. 38 on the Top 60 prospect ranking.

"The one thing about Rattie is that he's very coachable," Blues prospect coach and Wolves coach John Anderson said. "Everybody just thinks he scores but he blocks shots, is strong along the walls and is trying to become the complete player. The only area he needs to work on is getting into position a little more quickly. That will come though. I'm excited for him and I don't think we'll see him all year [since he'll be with the Blues]."

Rasmus Ristolainen had a team-high 17 shots on goal at Traverse City. (Photo: Dave Reginek/NHLI)

Rasmus Ristolainen (2013, No. 8), Buffalo Sabres -- This marks the second straight year Ristolainen has made's top 11 list from Traverse City. He played a strong, confident game and had one goal, two points and a team-high 17 shots on goal. He's got a chance to spend all season in Buffalo after he had two goals and four points in 34 NHL games last season. He also had six goals and 20 points in 34 games with the Rochester Americans in the AHL.

"He was one of our best players, if not our best [in Traverse City]," said Rochester coach Chadd Cassidy, who also coached the Traverse City team. "He takes charge when he's out on the ice and guys respond to that. They can see his leadership and he was an excellent captain for us."

Ryan Sproul (2011, No. 55), Detroit Red Wings -- The 6-3, 185-pound defenseman is hoping to make as big an impression in training camp with the Red Wings as he did in Traverse City. Sproul notched the only assist on the overtime goal in the consolation game to help Detroit finish third in the tournament. He's big, mobile, can handle the puck and has a rocket for a shot. He also has one professional season with AHL Grand Rapids under his belt.

"He's done a good job in trusting his feet and gapping up the ice, taking away the other team's time and space, and as a result creating a lot of transition for us," said Grand Rapids coach Jeff Blashill, who also coached the Traverse City team. "I think there's no question he's close [to becoming an NHL regular] with a number of other guys who played for me last year. It's a great competition. I think the learning process for Ryan has been big in a sense that he was able get away with a lot in major-junior because of his skill set and now he has to learn different things defensively."

Alexander Wennberg (2013, No. 14), Columbus Blue Jackets -- The 6-1, 190-pound forward played on a pretty formidable top line in the tournament, alongside left wing Marko Dano and right wing Oliver Bjorkstrand. Wennberg, No. 13 on the Top 60 prospect ranking, played a vital role in the team's first-place finish with one goal, two points, a plus-4 rating and five shots on goal. Wennberg's line accounted for eight goals in the tournament.

"He's just so smart," Clark said. "He's in the right position and making great plays. Nothing is overly flashy, but he just makes the three-foot pass that might go through someone's legs onto the tape, and everything is flat. Defensively he's been really good getting back. You tell him something once and it goes right in; he's a smart player."


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