Three players from 2011 Draft to watch next season

We’ve heard plenty about all of the top picks by now. But a question that plenty of people are asking is: who will we see in the NHL next season? Which prospects will be able to step into an NHL locker room and compete with the best players in the world as an 18-year-old? It sounds like a daunting task when we put it that way—but we’ve identified three players who we think will make it with the big boys next season: Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche, Adam Larsson of the New Jersey Devils, and Mika Zibanejad of the Ottawa Senators.

To be clear, this is not a list of the only players who will make it over their career—nor is this specifically a list of who will have the best NHL career. In fact, there’s a very good chance that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jonathan Huberdeau will be the best of the 2011 class when all is said and done. But for now, both players could use another year in the minors to increase both size and strength. It’s not a knock on them and in the long-run, it’s usually best for players to full develop in the minors (or juniors in this case) before they try to make the jump against fully-grown professionals. This is a list of the three prospects best equipped to immediately make the jump this October.

It’s a decidedly Swedish list.

Gabriel Landeskog: The big Swedish left-winger was widely regarded as the most NHL-ready prospect in the 2011 draft. Much has been made of his off-the-charts leadership abilities that made him the youngest captain for the Kitchener Rangers in the last 30 years. He was also the first European captain ever for the storied OHL franchise. The skilled forward already proved that he could play with grown men at the age of 16 in the Swedish Elite League. He plays a physical brand of hockey that should make his transition the most seamless of the draft class.

Adam Larsson: The size and speed may be a slight step up for the blue-chip blueliner, but the age of his opponents won’t change when he steps onto NHL ice. At 18-years-old, he’s already played two full seasons in the widely respected Swedish Elite League. At 6’3” and 200 pounds, the talented Swede already has the size to hold his own against NHLers. The key for rookies—and particularly rookie defenseman—is to be able to keep up with the pace of the game. That plays right into Larsson’s strengths as his single greatest attribute is his poise with the puck.

Mika Zibanejad: The Senators’ first round pick might be a dark horse to make the NHL in 2011, but we think he has all the tools to make the jump sooner rather than later. Like Larsson, he also played against men last season in the Swedish Elite League. He finished his 26 game stint with 5 goals and 4 assists with Djurgardens in Stockholm; by the end of the season it was hard to believe that he had started the season with Djurgardens’ junior team. He showed great improvement with his 2-way responsibilities to go with his expected offensive game. Already at 6’2,” Zibanejad will undoubtedly grow into a power forward in the NHL. With his willingness to go to the dirty areas of the ice, his high skill level, and the Senators need for NHL forwards, Zibanejad should get a real shot to make the team and contribute in training camp.

Measure of revenge: Kings delay clinching efforts for Flames, Blues

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Deep down, the Los Angeles Kings probably realize that their season will end on game 82. Still, they kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Wednesday night … and managed to spite a team they’re growing to hate.

OK, maybe the hate is almost totally focused upon Matthew Tkachuk, yet the disdain for that talented-but-tormenting rookie was palpable.

It didn’t feel like the Kings exacted physical revenge on Tkachuk, but beating his team 4-1 ranked as classic scoreboard vengeance. With that, the Calgary Flames (and by extension the St. Louis Blues) will need to wait to clinch a playoff berth.

Now, as much as tonight was about Tkachuk, the focus was also on a pugnacious player who once dazzled for the Flames: Jarome Iginla.

In what might be Iginla’s final visit to Calgary – at least as an active NHL player – he was one of the best players on the ice. His fitting curtain call included a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a spirited fight, an assist and a goal.

Seriously, that fight with Deryk Engelland:

That goal included a bit of luck, but hey …

Iginla was named the first star of the contest, and cameras captured his big smile in enjoying a special night. For all the nastiness of that game, it was refreshing to see such a heartwarming moment.

For more on the violence, check out this post on the early stuff and this one on Tkachuk’s missed missile launch on Drew Doughty.

Kings and Canucks will square off in first NHL exhibition games in China

graphic via NHL
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It’s official: the NHL will hold preseason games in China before next season.

The league made the announcement on Wednesday night: the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two exhibitions: one on Sept. 21 (Shanghai) and Sept. 23 (Beijing). How cool is that?

“It is a privilege and an honor for the L.A. Kings to represent the National Hockey League in China as part of these two games against the Vancouver Canucks,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said. “Growing the game of hockey is something we take great pride in and it is a big priority for our hockey club and AEG as a whole. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players and our staff, and we are looking forward to the games taking place in two tremendous facilities in two remarkable cities.”

The press conference inspired some jokes tonight.

Some of the best bits came in roping in … Kobe Bryant and David Beckham?

Alrighty then.

Click here for more details.

 

Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

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Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.

Blackhawks bolster Central lead, shine harsh light on Penguins’ struggles

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Blame it on injuries if you want, or emphasize the Chicago Blackhawks’ overall hot finish to the season. Either way, Chicago scorched the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, a contest that felt more or less over by the time the first period ended 4-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor.

The Blackhawks scored by committee on Wednesday, with Artemi Panarin (goal, assist) and Patrick Kane (two assists) being the headliners. Meanwhile, former Penguin Marian Hossa has quietly climbed to 25 goals on the season.

Meanwhile, the Penguins limped through this one and have now lost four consecutive games.

With this result, the Blackhawks look like close to a lock to win the Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Metro crown is virtually unthinkable for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins might also need to accept the likelihood that they may not enjoy home-ice advantage in the first round.

They’d probably accept that more easily if they can get healthier and get back on track. Wednesday was a little worrisome in those regards.