Nail Yakupov

Yakupov, Shinnimin headline the CHL Awards

The Canadian Hockey League – which oversees the Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League, and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League – dished out its awards today. Here are some of the highlights:

— Nail Yakupov was selected as the Top Prospect of the Year. If you haven’t heard his name yet, you will soon. Yakupov topped the NHL Central Scouting’s rankings and there’s a good chance that he will be selected first overall. One potential obstacle in his path is the fact that he’s a forward and the holders of the first overall pick, the Edmonton Oilers, are already stocked up on superb young forwards. The Oilers might ultimately decide to draft based on need and select defenseman Ryan Murray.

— Brendan Shinnimin became the first player since Alexander Radulov in 2006 to win both the Top Scorer of the Year and Player of the Year awards. Sidney Crosby also captured both of those awards in 2005. Shinnimin had an incredible 134 points, which is the most from a WHL player since 1998-99. Shinnimin went undrafted, but inked an entry-level deal with the Phoenix Coyotes in March.

— Dougie Hamilton nabbed Defenseman of the Year honors. Hamilton was selected with the ninth overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the Boston Bruins. They were using one of the picks they got from the Toronto Maple Leafs as part of the Phil Kessel deal.

— Mikhail Grigorenko was selected as the Rookie of the Year. Like Yakupov, Grigorenko is eligible to be taken in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. It would be a huge surprise if Grigorenko ends up being selected before Yakupov, but both should be top-10 picks.

After years of hype, McDavid to play first NHL game

Connor McDavid
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The hype surrounding Connor McDavid couldn’t be much greater, but finally expectations will start to give way to results.

The NHL career that’s been talked about for years will begin tonight when his Edmonton Oilers face St. Louis.

“It’s something that you dream of for so long,” McDavid told “The draft is one thing, but to finally be in this situation is another, so I’m really excited. It’s been a long road; it’s been a lot of hard work. I think a lot of guys’ stories are different in how they get here, but the one common theme is hard work and my story is not any different that way.”

McDavid has transformed the Oilers with his mere presence. Its breathed fresh optimism into a city that have watched this team struggle in its efforts to dig out of the NHL basement. One also has to wonder if Peter Chiarelli would be the team’s new general manager and Todd McLellan its new head coach if Edmonton hadn’t won the draft lottery.

But where will he lead Edmonton? Will he be just the sixth 70-point rookie of the salary cap era? Will he struggle out of the gate, putting the hype into question? Perhaps he’ll draw comparisons to Steven Stamkos, who had a modest rookie campaign by the standards of a highly regarded top pick, but has nevertheless gone on to become a superstar.

That would surprise Stamkos as the Lightning captain feels McDavid is better than he is currently. Just further proof that those lofty expectations are coming from all sides.

“You don’t want to put too much weight on his shoulders; he’s an 18-year-old kid,” Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli said. “I don’t care how good he is or how good he’ll be, it’s a lot to shoulder if you’re supposed to be the guy and you’re the only guy. Fortunately we have a lot of high-pedigree players that are high picks who have gone through similar situations that he’s going through.”

Edmonton certainly has no shortage of first overall picks, but none as highly regarded as McDavid. But then, few ever are.

Related: There’s ‘a real positive vibe’ in Buffalo, where Eichel will make NHL debut tonight

There’s ‘a real positive vibe’ in Buffalo, where Eichel will make NHL debut tonight

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Jack Eichel didn’t disappoint in the preseason, finishing with six points in four games, including two shorthanded goals.

Tonight in Buffalo, his NHL career will start for real when the Sabres host the Ottawa Senators in regular-season action.

“It’s something I’ve dreamed of my whole life, stepping foot on that ice and making the NHL,” Eichel said, per “It’s kind of been a whirlwind, but you’re finally playing hockey for a living and everything you’ve done your whole life is to get to this point. It’s pretty special.”

The 18-year-old’s debut was front-page news this morning in Buffalo, where the Sabres have been among the NHL’s worst teams since last making the playoffs in 2010-11.

Eichel front page

Granted, even with the additions of Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane, Robin Lehner and Cody Franson, expectations for 2015-16 remain modest for the new-look Sabres. Certainly, a spot in the playoffs would count as a surprise.

But for the fans of a team that’s barely possessed the puck the past couple of years, it’s night and day.

“People are excited,” GM Tim Murray said earlier this week. “It’s great. They think we’ve improved, and there’s a real positive vibe, I believe.

“That’s what I said to our coaches, ‘I want everybody to be positive. I’m the only guy in the organization allowed to be negative.’ That’s the way I wanted it. If I’m the most negative guy in the city about the team, that’s pretty good.”