2011 NHL Entry Draft - Portraits

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins showed promise during Young Stars game on Sunday

Rookie camps and prospect tournaments provide young players with solid first opportunities to further their causes going into regular training camp, the preseason and maybe even the regular season. When the Edmonton Oilers made Ryan Nugent-Hopkins the first pick of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, many remarked that the undersized center might need at least one more season at the junior level before he’s ready for the big time.

While RNH is already taking steps to add some weight to his frame (one of the concerns scouts expressed about his NHL-readiness), the best way for him to prove that he’s ready for an immediate jump is to impress the Oilers as much as possible. That’s especially true regarding how he fares against direct competition.

Sunday’s Young Stars game against Vancouver Canucks prospects represented Nugent-Hopkins’ first chance to show his stuff. The Oilers crushed the Canucks 7-2, with the playmaker earning a second assist. Swedish prospect Anton Lander stole the show with two power-play goals, but various onlookers seemed to come away pretty impressed with Nugent-Hopkins.

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Going forward, Peter Tessier wrote that Nugent-Hopkins “looks as advertised” while Ryan Classic believes that the rookie showed “incredible passing poise.” Thomas Drance also marveled at his playmaking instincts and said he was “just fun to watch.”

Obviously, one game against mostly non-NHL competition isn’t a proper gauge for Nugent-Hopkins chances of making the team, but it never hurts to show some signs of promise. While Ian Walker’s piece begins with discussion about the fact that Nugent-Hopkins might not look the part, it seems like the Oilers like what they’ve seen so far.

If anything, Nugent-Hopkins is student of the game. His combination of vision, creativity, skating and playmaking ability put him arguably at the top of the class when it comes to the 150 or so other prospects gathered here.

It’s no wonder his potential future Oilers teammates have him penciled in on the second line to start the regular season. “From what I hear from the guys on the team he’s been skating with for the past few weeks, he’s definitely ready to make the jump from junior skill-wise,” said Oilers’ former first overall pick Taylor Hall, who just so happened to use last year’s Young Stars tournament as a springboard to future success. “I haven’t seen him yet, but I guess it’s just amazing with what he can do with the puck. As long as he can handle the expectations, pressure and media, which I have no doubts that he can, he’s going to be fine.”

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“I’ll tell you what I told Ryan, this is not a race,” said Tambellini. “We want training camp to be a learning experience and for him to just be Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Nothing more, nothing less. If he plays this year great. If he goes back to Red Deer, that’s also great.”

My instinct is usually to lean toward allowing players as much time to mature as possible, especially since dirt-cheap entry-level years can really benefit teams in the salary cap era. Why waste one of those precious bargain years if that player isn’t ready yet? (That being said, it’s pretty tough to argue with the results that Jeff Skinner produced right out of the gate in his Calder Trophy 2010-11 season.)

It should be interesting to watch Nugent-Hopkins’ ups and downs as he tries to make the Oilers roster out of training camp. The adept passer will get his next chance to “Wow” the Oilers’ brass on Tuesday, when Edmonton’s prospects takes on Winnipeg Jets youngsters. We’ll keep you updated about his progress, especially during key moments in training camp and the preseason.

Red Wings look to future in net … a future possibly without Howard

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 07:  Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings makes a save against the Boston Bruins during the first period at TD Garden on April 7, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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This summer looks like it could be one of changes for the Detroit Red Wings, even beyond the most obvious storyline of Pavel Datsyuk‘s future.

One area where the Red Wings would like to make some tweaks is in net, namely in trading Jimmy Howard. The Detroit Free-Press points out that GM Ken Holland admitted that moving the former franchise netminder “might be good for the organization.”

It’s reasonable to wonder what kind of market there will be for Howard, whose deal ($5.29 million cap hit through 2018-19) looks pretty tough to stomach on paper.

Maybe it’s best to consider the Red Wings’ options if Howard starts the 2016-17 season off on a strong note, or something of that nature. Perhaps an expansion draft could “solve” that problem if Detroit cannot find any takers?

The Red Wings remain forward-thinking and patient, which likely explains why the Free-Press focuses on their confidence with prospect Jared Coreau.

“In the big scheme of things, he’ll play in Grand Rapids for another year, but now we know he can play a lot of minutes if needed,” Goalie coach Jeff Salajko said. “Jimmy Howard played four years in the minors. We’re not rushing Jared, but he is going to be an NHL goalie, there is no doubt in my mind about that.”

In other words, a pairing of Petr Mrazek and Coreau wouldn’t just be a cost-effective duo … it might just be the Red Wings’ ideal scenario in the not-too-distant future.

Stanley Cup Final referees: McCauley, O’Halloran, O’Rourke, Sutherland

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 13:  Referee Dan O'Halloran #13 holds up a face-off between the Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators during their NHL game at First Niagara Center on December 13, 2011 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Dave Sandford Getty Images)
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From the NHL:

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Pretty veteran crew, including three returnees from last year’s final.

Per the NHL, O’Halloran and O’Rourke will call tonight’s series opener from Consol.

After advancing to Cup final, DeBoer had Sharks fans coming up to him with ‘tears in their eyes’

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 29: Head coach Peter DeBoer addresses the media during the NHL Stanley Cup Final Media Day at Consol Energy Center on May 29, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH — When Pete DeBoer was hired to coach the San Jose Sharks, he wasn’t totally cognizant of how much heartbreak the fan base had experienced throughout the years.

Now he knows.

“First year in the community, I didn’t realize kind of the baggage that was carried around,” DeBoer said this morning ahead of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. “Twenty-five-year season-ticket holders coming up to you with tears in their eyes and crying.”

The Sharks, of course, have never been this far in the playoffs. Prior to this year, they’d made it three times to the Western Conference Final, losing each time.

More painful were the first-round exits. Like in 2009 when they won the Presidents’ Trophy and got knocked out by the Ducks, and two years ago when they led the Kings 3-0 before dropping four straight.

It was only after the Sharks beat the Blues that DeBoer fully realized the “gravity of what they’ve been through” as fans in San Jose, and “how important this is to them.”

Not that he’s satisfied with getting this far.

“The business at hand now is to get off on the right foot, plant the right seeds for this series, impose our game,” he said. “Every series is the same — it’s whatever team can impose their game on the other team the quickest and for the longest. That’s our goal here tonight.”

Related: For Pete DeBoer, San Jose was the perfect landing spot

Kopitar will play for Slovenia in Olympic qualifiers

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 13: Anze Kopitar #11 of Slovenia skates against Russia during the Men's Ice Hockey Preliminary Round Group A game on day six of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 13, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar will spend part of his offseason trying to help Slovenia qualify for the Olympics.

RTV Slovenia has the story here.

The qualification games will be played September 1-4 in Minsk. Slovenia is in a group with Belarus, Denmark and Poland. The winner of the group will qualify for the Olympics.

The NHL reportedly has no issue with Kopitar’s participation, even though the league has yet to commit to sending its players to Pyeongchang.

Slovenia made its Olympic debut in ice hockey at the 2014 Games in Sochi.

Kopitar will also represent Team Europe at the 2016 World Cup later in September.

Related: Slovenia beats Slovakia for historic win