A player to watch: Anaheim Ducks forward Devante Smith-Pelly

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When Team Canada hosted their World Junior camp earlier this month in Alberta, it was an opportunity for the hockey world to take a look at some of the NHL’s best prospects. As usual, there were 1st round draft picks that were simply biding their time before they make their inevitable jump to the most skilled league in the world. Guys like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ryan Johansen, and Jonathan Huberdeau aren’t going to surprise anyone—those are the guys who everyone already knows. But every year there are guys who continue to progress and raise some eyebrows, as they show they are capable of taking their game to the next level.

This year, Anaheim Ducks prospect Devante Smith-Pelly showed that he could be that player. Ever since he was drafted in the 2nd round (42nd overall), the knock on Smith-Pelly was his consistency. He’d have games where he looked like a dominant beast on the ice; then he’d have games where he completely disappeared. Over the course of last year’s OHL playoffs, it looks like he has turned the corner and taken the next step. If consistency was the only thing holding him back, then watch out.

“I think it was just me taking every game as it’s ‘the biggest game,’” Smith-Pelly shared with Pro Hockey Talk. “I know in the regular season you can take a couple of nights off. You don’t want to, but it happens. It a long season. I looked at it in the playoffs like there were no nights off and I have to play my best every night. I thought that really helped me.”

There’s an understatement. In 20 postseason games with the talented Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors, Smith-Pelly led his team with 15 goals and 21 points. In fact, the 15 goals tied him for the league lead in the OHL playoffs. He continued the strong post-season with three goals, three assists, and a selection to the all-tournament team.

Even though he’s shown impressive scoring touch since he dedicated himself to becoming a more consistent player, he brings much more to the table than just goals and points. For a comparable, fans need to look no further than the other team in Southern California:

“I try to play like a guy like Dustin Brown. A guy who throws huge hits, he can score, he’s a good leader. That’s probably the main guy I try to model my game after… [laughs] although, Dustin’s an LA Kings guy, so I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that,” Smith-Pelly says.

If he can play with the energy and leadership for the Ducks that Dustin Brown brings to the Kings, Smith Pelly will be allowed to say whatever he wants.

Most players constantly have to work at their two-way game before they can be seriously considered for the NHL, but a strong two-way game is one of Smith-Pelly’s strongest attributes. He hits everything that moves, takes good angles on the forecheck, and knows how to finish when he goes to the front of the net. Surprisingly, learning to be a good two-way forward is something new for the Scarborough, Ontario native.

“Yeah, Coach [Dave] Cameron has been helping me ever since I got there to work on my defensive game,” Smith-Pelly explained. “Coming into the OHL, the minor hockey league team I play on, we never really played defense at all, so he’s helped mold me into a two-way guy. When I went back this year I really wanted to work on my two-way game and he helped me out a lot. That’s the kind of thing I need to do to be successful at the next level and I’ve just been trying to show that.”

Although Cameron has immensely helped his game in Mississauga and he impressed observers at Team Canada’s camp in Alberta earlier this month, Smith-Pelly has his sights set squarely on the NHL next season. Scouts noticed an extremely strong, physical, grinding type of right wing. If he continues to develop at the same pace, he projects as a power-forward who will be able to score 20+ goals in the league.

Adding fuel to the fire, Anaheim Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle said earlier this summer that some of the promising prospects, including Smith-Pelly, will have an opportunity to make the team out of training camp this year. Whether he makes the big club this season or next, fans in Anaheim should start getting excited about the prospect they have—it looks like he’s blossoming into a good one.

Canucks could really use Patrick or Hischier

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The Vancouver Canucks are hoping for better luck in tomorrow’s draft lottery. If they receive it, they may get a player who can step right into their lineup, and stay there for years to come.

The top two picks in the 2017 draft are expected to be centers Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier.

It remains to be seen who will go first overall. Patrick was the consensus pick for a while, but Hischier started to gain ground with an impressive showing for Switzerland at the World Juniors.

“I think the top two players in this draft have the potential to maybe step in and play next year and be productive players at the NHL level,” said Canucks GM Jim Benning. “But I think the next three players, whether you’re looking at a play-making center, or potentially a power-play defenseman, there’s good choices there too.”

Gabe Vilardi, Casey Mittelstadt, and Cody Glass are centers the Canucks could select if they fall out of the top two. Cale Makar, Miro Heiskanen, and Timothy Liljegren are options on defense.

But getting Patrick or Hischier would be a huge win for a team that will soon have to replace Henrik Sedin, who turns 37 in September.

Benning says Patrick offers a combination of size (6-3, 198), skill and hockey sense, with “no real weakness in his game.”

As for, Hischier it’s his speed that really stands out.

“He’s built for today’s game,” said Benning. “His speed going through the neutral zone is fun to watch.”

The Canucks have the second-best odds to win the draft lottery. The furthest they can fall is to fifth.

Last year, Vancouver fell two spots from third to fifth, with Winnipeg and Columbus moving up. The Canucks drafted Finnish defenseman Olli Juolevi with their selection.

Draft lottery odds

Colorado Avalanche 18.0%
Vancouver Canucks 12.1%
Vegas Golden Knights* 10.3%
Arizona Coyotes 10.3%
New Jersey Devils 8.5%
Buffalo Sabres 7.6%
Detroit Red Wings 6.7%
Dallas Stars 5.8%
Florida Panthers 5.4%
Los Angeles Kings 4.5%
Carolina Hurricanes 3.2%
Winnipeg Jets 2.7%
Philadelphia Flyers 2.2%
Tampa Bay Lightning 1.8%

Paajarvi out, Barbashev in as Blues look for ‘physical element’

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After losing Game 1 — and with it, home ice advantage — of their series against Nashville, the Blues are making a lineup change for Friday’s Game 2.

Ivan Barbashev, who’s been a healthy scratch the last three games, will draw in, replacing Magnus Paajarvi. Paajarvi sits despite being a fairly productive player recently, notching a goal and three points in his last five games.

This, of course, includes the game-winning, series-clinching OT goal against Minnesota on Saturday:

“We like to give players a chance to respond and a chance to get back in there when they’re coming out of the lineup,” Blues head coach Mike Yeo said, per NHL.com. “We saw what that did for (Jori Lehtera). It’s in no way anything against Magnus. We’re very grateful and appreciative of what he’s done and what he can do for us, but ‘Barby’ has been a good player for us for a long time, too.

“Having him in the lineup, he’ll be energized and bring a physical element… When he gets the puck of the offensive zone, he has a chance to create something. We’ll see how he does tonight.”

The hope is that Barbashev can rediscover some of the form shown during the regular season. The Russian rookie made an impact, scoring five goals and 12 points in 30 games.

Sabres granted permission to speak with Futa

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Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Kings promoted Mike Futa to assistant general manager.

But Futa received that promotion before the Sabres cleaned house last week, and that timing is important to note.

Because it’s now being reported, via a Kings spokesman, that the Sabres have been granted permission to speak with Futa about their GM vacancy.

It’s no surprise that Buffalo has asked to interview Futa. He was a candidate for the Sabres’ GM job in 2013 — a job that eventually went to Tim Murray.

Futa was once thought to be heir apparent to Dean Lombardi in Los Angeles. But when Lombardi was fired, the Kings went with Rob Blake instead.

Some background on Futa, courtesy the Kings:

Futa most recently served as Kings Vice President, Hockey Operations and Director of Player Personnel. This upcoming season will be Futa’s 11th season with the Kings.

Futa recently concluded his 10th full season with the Kings, and third in his most recent position. He was named VP of Hockey Operations and Director of Player Personnel in May of 2014 after serving as Director of Amateur Scouting, a position he assumed on June 5, 2007, when he originally joined the Kings.

Futa came to the Kings when he was appointed Co-Director of Amateur Scouting along with Mark Yannetti. Together, Futa and Yannetti rebuilt and retooled the entire Kings Amateur Scouting staff.

Related: Darryl Sutter wants to keep coaching

Habs sign Quebec League sniper Waked

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On Friday, Montreal agreed to a three-year, entry-level deal with QMHJL Rouyn-Noranda forward Antoine Waked.

Waked, 20, is coming off a strong season in which he racked up 80 points in 67 games. He finished tied for ninth in the league in goals, with 39, in what was something of a surprise. Previously, the Quebec native had never scored more than 15 goals in a campaign, suggesting Waked could be the prototypical late bloomer.

An undrafted free agent, Waked had been tied to the Habs earlier this season, with reports he’d receive an ELC at the end of his junior campaign.