Author: Jason Brough

Saginaw Spirit v London Knights

Leafs select Mitch Marner, who’s modeled his game after Patrick Kane


SUNRISE — The Toronto Maple Leafs, not long ago run by a general manager who promised to build a team with “proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence,” have used the fourth overall pick to select one of the smallest players in the draft.

Fortunately for the Leafs, Mitch Marner makes up for his lack of size (he’s listed at 5-foot-11, 160 pounds) with a huge amount of talent. The 18-year-old forward had 44 goals and 82 assists this season for the London Knights. His 126 points were second to only Dylan Strome (who went third overall to Arizona) in the OHL.

Marner also enters a Leafs organization that’s more than familiar with his game.

From the Globe and Mail:

… the main voice in the Marner camp is Toronto’s director of player personnel, Mark Hunter. The former Knights general manager knows Marner intimately – he picked the forward 19th overall in the 2013 OHL draft and persuaded him to forgo a scholarship offer from the University of Michigan.

At that point Marner was 15 years old, 5 foot 7 and 130 pounds, and his size was the biggest reason he slipped to London at 19. Over the next two years, he grew four inches, added 30 pounds and rang up a terrific 126-point season to finish second in OHL scoring as a 17-year-old.

Hunter’s belief in him paid off. He thinks it will again for the Leafs and he has support from colleagues such as Lindsay Hofford, one of the Leafs’ newest scouts, who was the Knights’ director of scouting when they drafted Marner.

Not surprisingly, Marner has called Blackhawks star Patrick Kane “the guy I’ve always looked up to,” and he believes the NHL has changed enough to allow smaller players to thrive.

“It’s not about height,” he said. “It’s not about cross-checking as hard as you can. It’s not about hooking. All those get you a penalty nowadays. It’s a speed game now. It’s about thinking. If you have the brain to play in the NHL, no matter how tall you are, you can play. If you can dodge hits, you can play.”

Related: Get to know a draft pick — Mitch Marner

Sabres cash in their suffering, take Eichel second overall

Jack Eichel

SUNRISE — One of the worst seasons in NHL history paid off today for the Buffalo Sabres.

With the second overall pick in the 2015 draft, the Sabres selected forward Jack Eichel, the Boston University phenom that NHL Central Scouting ranked No. 2 among North American skaters. He was ranked behind only Connor McDavid, who went to the Oilers first overall.

Eichel enters the NHL with great expectations. He’s been called a franchise player, even garnering the “generational” label, along with McDavid.

The Sabres finished the 2014-15 season with a 23-51-8 record. Their 54 points were the fewest in the league, two fewer than Arizona managed. They had the worst offense, the worst power play, the worst penalty kill, and the second-worst goals-against average. They were accused of tanking. Often.

Now it’s time to start the ascension. With Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly, Zach Bogosian, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Robin Lehner, Sabres fans may not have to suffer much longer.

Related: Get to know a draft pick — Jack Eichel

Sweeney explains Hamilton trade: ‘We extended Dougie a very significant contract offer’

Don Sweeney

SUNRISE — First Dougie Hamilton was traded to Calgary, with nothing but draft picks coming back. Then Milan Lucic was traded to Los Angeles, for a pick, a prospect, and a backup goalie.

As the hockey world gathered inside BB&T Center for the draft, everyone wanted to know — what were the Boston Bruins doing?

The biggest mystery surrounded Hamilton, the 22-year-old pending restricted free agent whom Bruins GM Don Sweeney labeled a “foundational-type player.”

Was it the fear of an offer sheet that led Sweeney to pull the trigger on the trade with the Flames?

“I wasn’t necessarily afraid of the offer sheet,” said Sweeney. “I thought that we’d be able to get into a position to match.

“We extended Dougie a very significant contract offer, and it didn’t lead us to where we thought we’d be able to, with him being comfortable being a part of our group long-term. So that sort of changed the course a little bit.”

Sweeney was asked why he felt Hamilton, considered one of the best young defensemen in the league, wouldn’t be comfortable staying in Boston.

“We extended a long-term deal to pursue that,” said Sweeney. “I think everyone considers Dougie as a foundational-type player, and it was indicated to us that that might not be the case going forward in Boston.”

So, he wanted out?

“No, he didn’t ask out,” Sweeney insisted. “We were in a position where we felt we would be better-served to move in a different direction.”


Despite the loss of Hamilton and Lucic, the Bruins’ expectations remain to make the playoffs.

“With our goaltending, with the core group of our guys, our strength up the middle of the ice,” said Sweeney. “We had players that didn’t score to the level they were supposed to last year.

“Are we going to continue to look to improve our club? Absolutely.”

Report: Wild win Reilly sweepstakes

2015 NCAA Division I Men's Ice Hockey Championship - Northeast Regional

From the StarTribune’s Mike Russo:

The Mike Reilly sweepstakes are coming to an end this afternoon and unless something backfires, he will be signing with the Wild.

Russo cites sources that say Reilly will sign a two-year, $1.85 million deal (plus bonuses).

The 21-year-old Minnesota native and ex-Gopher was originally drafted 98th overall in 2011 by the Blue Jackets.

However, he opted not to sign with Columbus, thus freeing him to sign elsewhere, a la Justin Schultz in 2012 and, last summer, Kevin Hayes.

Reilly’s dad, Michael, is a limited partner in the Wild.

The Chicago Blackhawks were recently the reported favorites to sign Reilly.

Report: Coyotes may buy out Gagner

Boston Bruins v Arizona Coyotes

From Sportsnet’s Mark Spector:

The Arizona Coyotes are seriously considering buying out the contract of Sam Gagner, which has the Toronto Maple Leafs interested.

The cash-strapped Coyotes are on the hunt for centremen, and have come to the conclusion that Gagner simply isn’t a fit. Arizona GM Don Maloney has been attempting to trade Gagner while at the NHL Draft, but chances are he would have to take someone else’s bad contract back. Maloney may settle for a buy-out at one-third of the money owed, as Gagner is still just 25 years old.

Gagner only has one more season remaining on his contract. Buying him out would save the budget-conscious Coyotes just over $2 million in salary, per Cap Friendly. Their cap hit would be around $500,000 in both 2015-16 and 2016-17.

Gagner had 15 goals and 26 assists last season, his first with Arizona after being traded by Edmonton to Tampa Bay, which quickly flipped him to the Coyotes.

It was hoped that a “change of scenery” would help the former sixth overall pick.

Related: The Coyotes need to spend some money