Hockey Day Preview: College hockey getting noticed in the NHL, building roots for fans

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Hockey Day In America is turning the focus on the roots of the game in America as well as the fans and support that Americans give to the game. We’ve seen pond hockey show the game at it’s most basic roots, we’ve seen community leaders bring the game to the people as a means to help the kids out, and there’s another area of the game that flies under the radar to a degree in America. College hockey in the United States has played a huge role in helping build the talent pool in the NHL as well as making the game more popular across the country.

Take a look around at the rosters of the teams playing in each of the games during Hockey Day In America and you’ll find a team that’s well represented by guys who spent some or all their time in the NCAA honing their skills before reaching the NHL.

Washington: David Steckel (Ohio St.), Mike Knuble (Michigan), Matt Hendricks (St. Cloud State), Tom Poti (Boston U.)

Buffalo: Mike Grier (Boston U.), Nathan Gerbe (Boston College), Jordan Leopold (Minnesota), Drew Stafford (North Dakota), Thomas Vanek (Minnesota), Chris Butler (U of Denver)

Philadelphia: James van Riemsdyk (New Hampshire), Andreas Nodl (St. Cloud State), Darroll Powe (Princeton), Matt Carle (U of Denver)

New York Rangers: Brian Boyle (Boston College), Derek Stepan (Wisconsin), Matt Gilroy (Boston U.), Ryan McDonagh (Wisconsin)

Detroit: Justin Abdelkader (Michigan St.) Drew Miller (Michigan St.), Patrick Eaves (Boston College), Brian Rafalski (Wisconsin), Jimmy Howard (Maine)

Minnesota: Matt Cullen (St. Cloud State), Chuck Kobasew (Boston College), John Madden (Michigan), Eric Nystrom (Michigan), Greg Zanon (Nebraska-Omaha)

Chicago: Jonathan Toews (North Dakota), John Scott (Michigan Tech), Fernando Pisani (Providence College), Duncan Keith (Michigan St.), Marty Turco (Michigan), Nick Leddy (Minnesota), Jordan Hendry (U of Alaska), Patrick Sharp (Vermont), Viktor Stalberg (Vermont), Ryan Johnson (North Dakota), Jake Dowell (Wisconsin)

Pittsburgh: Craig Adams (Harvard), Chris Conner (Michigan Tech), Nick Johnson (Dartmouth), Chris Kunitz (Ferris State),  Brett Sterling (Colorado College), Joe Vitale (Northeastern), Alex Goligoski (Minnesota), Brooks Orpik (Boston College), Ben Lovejoy (Dartmouth), Paul Martin (Minnesota)

Mind you, this list is just of the guys you’re likely to see play during Hockey Day In America. You won’t get to see Boston University’s Chris Drury, University of Michigan’s Mike Comrie, or Western Michigan’s Mark Letestu thanks to injuries. Just looking at the array of guys that played college hockey on Chicago and Pittsburgh’s roster is stunning on its own.

While the NCAA and the CHL are going through their own brand of cold war regarding recruitment of players, one thing both leagues can boast is the uncanny ability to produce the next set of great players to come along in the NHL.

The work the coaches and institutions across college hockey have done in building themselves up into an even more viable entity for kids with an eye on the pros to go to has been a long time in development. With former head of the NHLPA Paul Kelly now in charge of College Hockey, Inc. the amount of attention that will be brought to the college game will only grow. The annual Frozen Four is generally when fans will hear most about the college game, but Kelly’s duties will be to help make it more of a season-round thing as well as doing their part to throw their weight around when dealing with the CHL.

While Canadian junior hockey is still the main go-to spot for teams to find NHL talent coming up through the ranks, the NCAA with the likes of Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith helping draw more attention to where their roots in the game came from is getting noticed a lot more. For a lot of fans it’s just hockey all the same to them, but for Americans a lot of their roots in the game came from rooting on the local college team, something yours truly can vouch for personally.

Announcing the Hobey Hat Trick: Aston-Reese, Butcher, Vecchione

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Northeastern’s Zach Aston-Reese, Denver’s Will Butcher, and Union’s Mike Vecchione are the three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award.

Aston-Reese, a 22-year-old forward, had 31 goals and 32 assists in 38 games this season. Undrafted, he signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier this month.

Butcher, a 22-year-old defenseman, had seven goals and 29 assists in 41 games for the Frozen Four-headed Pioneers. A fifth-round pick of the Avalanche in 2013, Butcher is still unsigned and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent Aug. 15. It remains to be seen if the Avs will offer him a contract, though it’s been reported they will.

Vecchione, a 24-year-old forward, had 29 goals and 34 assists in 38 games. Undrafted, he’s expected to sign with an NHL team shortly — possibly the Flyers or Wild.

Jimmy Vesey, Jack Eichel, and Johnny Gaudreau were the Hobey Baker winners in each of the last three years.

After 12-game absence, Boychuk back for Isles

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The New York Islanders, four points back of the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and having lost their last two games, will get a huge boost tonight on the blueline.

Johnny Boychuk, who’s missed the last 12 games with a lower-body injury, will return to the lineup on Thursday when the Isles take on the Flyers in Philadelphia. It’ll mark the first time the veteran defenseman has played since getting hurt back on Mar. 3.

(Boychuk draws in at the expense of Thomas Hickey, who’ll sit tonight.)

Needless to say, this is a massive addition for the Isles. Boychuk was averaging close to 21 minutes per night and had 21 points through 59 games before his injury, and led all New York defensemen in shots on goal.

The Isles are going to be an interesting team to watch down the stretch. It’s tough sledding, with five of their final seven contests being played on the road, though that’s mitigated by the fact they’re playing a bunch of teams outside of the playoff picture (Philly, New Jersey x2, Buffalo and Carolina).

McAvoy has the talent to improve Bruins right now

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Charlie McAvoy could be in the Providence Bruins’ lineup as soon as Friday against Albany.

Providence also plays Saturday and Sunday, so even if it’s not Friday, the 19-year-old defenseman is expected to get his first taste of pro hockey sometime this weekend.

Of course, the real question is when his Boston Bruins debut may occur.

“He has the attributes to be able to play NHL games right now, absolutely,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney, per the Providence Journal. 

McAvoy has yet to ink an NHL contract. He’s in Providence on an amateur tryout after making the decision to leave Boston University. If he plays an NHL game this season, the first year of the three-year entry-level contract he’ll sign would be burned.

Hence, Sweeney’s desire to see McAvoy in the AHL before making any decisions.

“This gives an opportunity for him, first and foremost, to get a chance to play professional games, which is another level for him. [We’ll] evaluate from there,” said Sweeney.

It’s certainly possible, given McAvoy’s talent, that he could help the NHL Bruins right now. The bar is essentially Kevan Miller, Boston’s third-pairing defenseman on the right side. (If McAvoy were a left shot, the bar would be slightly lower, with all due respect to John-Michael Liles.)

The NHL Bruins, who’ve yet to book a playoff spot, have six games left in their regular season. They host Dallas tonight, Florida Saturday, and then they’re in Chicago Sunday.

Assuming McAvoy stays with Providence all weekend, his first real chance to get into an NHL game would be Tuesday against Tampa Bay.

Stay tuned.

Read more: Bruins will leave door ajar for McAvoy

Extension talks on hold between Radulov, Habs

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Here’s what Alex Radulov wants you to know about his contract negotiations with Montreal.

No, he did not ask for an eight-year extension.

Yes, he and the club had preliminary talks about a new deal.

No, those talks aren’t still going on.

From Sportsnet:

Radulov, who has 16 goals and 49 points in 71 games, told Sportsnet negotiations on a new deal between himself and the team are currently on hold, and that while there had been previous talks, they never got to the stage where a formal offer was presented by the club.

“When it happens, I’m sure you guys will be the first to know,” he said.

The topic of Radulov’s extension came to the forefront about two weeks ago, when a report from TSN 690 in Montreal claimed he asked for an eight-year extension from the Habs.

TSN’s Insider Trading panel then discussed the report later that same evening, adding to the fire.

Radulov quickly, and emphatically, shot down the report.

“It’s not even close, what they saying,” he said, per TSN’s John Lu. “I don’t even know how this — I just don’t even want to discuss that because it’s nothing I can really control.”

Radulov, who turns 31 in July, returned to the NHL this year after four-year stint with KHL powerhouse CSKA Moscow. The Habs rewarded him handsomely for coming back — one year, $5.75 million — and Radulov has responded, emerging as one of the club’s top offensive performers.

He’s also been lauded for his passionate play and become one of Montreal’s most dependable forwards. Radulov’s averaging over 18 minutes a night, and trails only captain Max Pacioretty in terms of scoring.