Mike Halford

2014 NHL Draft - Portraits - Round 1
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Prospects Fleury, McKeown looking to crack talented young Carolina blueline

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We’ve written before about all the good, young, intriguing talent GM Ron Francis has assembled in Carolina.

Come next year, even more of it could be on display.

A defense that already features Justin Faulk (24 years old), Ryan Murphy (23), Jaccob Slavin (22), Brett Pesce (21) and Noah Hanifin (19) could get another injection of youth next season, with former first-rounder Haydn Fleury (19) and Roland McKeown (20) looking to make the jump.

McKeown was acquired from Los Angeles in the Andrej Sekera trade, and actually played alongside Fleury for Team Canada at the world juniors. Described by ‘Canes amateur scouting director Tony MacDonald as a “world-class skater,” McKeown looks like he’ll challenge for a spot with the ‘Canes this fall.

More, from the News & Observer:

The 6-1, 195-pound blueliner was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings, along with the first-round pick that became Julien Gauthier, in exchange for Andrej Sekera at the 2015 trade deadline.

In his first full season in the Carolina organization, he finished third in OHL Defenseman of the Year voting after his fourth campaign with the Kingston Frontenacs, tallying 42 points as team captain and leading Kingston to the best regular-season record in the conference. He called it a “special year” and said he developed substantially “in all aspects.”

Fleury, the seventh overall pick in 2014, is currently attending his third consecutive prospects camp. He’s been brought along slower than some of Carolina’s other defensive draftees — like Hanifin, for example — but there’s reason to believe he could challenge for minutes this year.

“I went back to junior the last two years and got better at the areas I needed to get better at to give myself the best chance to make the team this fall,” Fleury said. “I’m going to come into main camp in the fall and do my best to take that spot.”

The biggest question is how many spots Carolina will have available on defense. One was cleared out when Francis bought out the final year of James Wisniewski’s contract, and it remains to be seen how big a role Czech defender Michal Jordan will play next year — if at all, as Jordan is still unsigned.

Whatever the case, though, one thing is clear. The ‘Canes blueline has a very bright future.

(Oh, and by the way, Carolina has yet another good young d-man in the system — Jake Bean, the 13th overall pick in this year’s draft.)

PHT Morning Skate: The Bruins are going to China

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 08:  Matt Beleskey #39 of the Boston Bruins, right, meets with teammates to congratulate David Pastrnak #88 after he scored against the Winnipeg Jets during the third period at TD Garden on October 8, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Jets defeat the Bruins 6-2.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

From the B’s: The Boston Bruins, in partnership with O.R.G. Packaging, will make the team’s first-ever official visit to China when they tour Beijing and Shanghai during “Bruins Global: China 2016” from July 11-23. Current Bruins players Matt Beleskey and David Pastrnak along with Bruins Alumni Andrew Raycroft, Bob Sweeney and members of the Boston Bruins Youth Hockey Development Team will host several youth hockey clinics in Beijing and Shanghai.

— Montreal Canadiens goalie coach Stephane Waite has been added to Team Canada’s staff for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. (Hockey Canada)

— There are rumblings out of Switzerland that Kris Versteeg is close to signing with National League A side Biel. (Swiss Hockey News)

— Exciting times at Philly’s development camp, where prized prospects Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov are gunning to make the Flyers. (Philly.com)

— After missing extensive time last year with a concussion, Blues prospect Tommy Vanelli is back in the mix at Blues development camp. (STL Today)

— Former Oilers coach Dallas Eakins says that Edmonton “deserves some winning hockey. (Sportsnet)

Report: Sabres sent cavalry to meet with Vesey in Boston

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 23:  Jimmy Vesey #19 of the Harvard Crimson skates against the Boston College Eagles during the second period of the 2015 Beanpot Tournament consolation game at TD Garden on February 23, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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There was a big meeting between Buffalo and reigning Hobey Baker winner Jimmy Vesey today, per the Providence Journal, and the Sabres sent a pretty healthy contingent along.

The report claims GM Tim Murray, head coach Dan Bylsma and assistant Jerry Forton all spent “two-plus hours” in Boston meeting with Vesey, who the Sabres acquired in June from Nashville.

Murray has been outspoken in his desire to land Vesey, who can become an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 15. It stands to reason he and Bylsma were there to detail what role they see Vesey playing in Buffalo, but the inclusion of Forton is compelling.

Why?

Well, prior to joining Buffalo, Forton had a two-year stint as an assistant at Harvard — including the 2012-13 campaign, which was Vesey’s freshman year for the Crimson.

If Forton and company were able to bend Vesey’s ear, it could mark a significant change in strategy. The 23-year-old has been insistent about testing UFA waters, and balked on signing with the Predators for exactly that reason.

There’s been rumblings the allure of playing with close friend Jack Eichel could also swing Vesey in Buffalo’s direction. But optimism about that notion was dissipated this week when Vesey’s brother Nolan — currently participating in Toronto’s prospects development camp — downplayed the idea of his brother signing anywhere prior to Aug. 15.

“At the end of the day, Jimmy’s going to make his own decision,” Nolan said, per TSN. “Obviously I’ve thought about playing with him before, he’s my brother. It would be cool, but I want what’s best for him and he’s going to choose the team that’s the best fit for him.”

It’s long been rumored that Jimmy has his sights set on signing with Boston, the team he grew up cheering for.

Related: Vesey will get the Sabres’ best pitch, but he still intends to go to free agency

Leafs announce plans for centennial season

Toronto Maple Leafs President Brendan Shanahan, left,  and Lou Lamoriello smile at a news conference to announce Lamoriello has been named the new general manager of the Maple Leafs NHL hockey team in Toronto, Thursday, July 23, 2015. (Galit Rodan/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Toronto will celebrate its 100th season in 2016-17, and while some of the festivities have already been announced — like the NHL Centennial Classic, an outdoor game versus Detroit — the club announced a series of initiatives on Thursday for the upcoming campaign.

“The Maple Leafs Centennial Anniversary comes at a very special time in the team’s history,” team president Brendan Shanahan said in a release. “It allows us to look back and celebrate the great players, accomplishments and special memories of one of the most important franchises in hockey, but at the same time, look ahead to the next 100 years and the start of an exciting new chapter in team history.”

Among the plans for season No. 100:

— A special centennial logo, featuring the Maple Leafs new logo in silver with the number 100 displayed.

— New banners to hang in Air Canada Centre, paying tribute to the players that have had their numbers honored. Beginning this summer and throughout the season, the 18 original Air Canada Centre banners will be delivered to the hometowns that produced these players.

— Exhibition games in Halifax, St. Catherine’s and Hamilton.

— Statues for Dave Keon, Tim Horton and Turk Broda will officially be added to Legend’s Row.

For more on Toronto’s Centennial season plans, click here.

Pens sign former Florida forward Wilson

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 14: Garrett Wilson #28 of the Florida Panthers skates against the New York Islanders during the first period at the Barclays Center on March 14, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Pittsburgh added some depth to its forward group on Thursday, agreeing to terms with ex-Panther Garrett Wilson on a one-year, two-way deal worth $575,000 at the NHL level.

More, from the Pens:

Wilson, 25, split the 2015-16 season between the Florida Panthers and their minor-league affiliate, the Portland Pirates. It was Wilson’s first extended NHL action, as he appeared in 29 contests with the Panthers.

During the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs, the 6-foot-2, 199-pound Wilson suited up for all six of Florida’s opening-round matchups against the New York Islanders, picking up his first NHL point with an assist on Alex Petrovic’s game-winning goal in Game 4.

Wilson primarily plays left wing and while there aren’t many openings at that spot, his versatility could result in some minutes up front next season. Pens GM Jim Rutherford dealt away Beau Bennett to New Jersey, and has yet to come to terms with veteran center Matt Cullen.

If the Pens are looking for a physical presence next year, Wilson could be a good option. Despite only playing in 29 games for Florida last year, he finished seventh among forwards with 75 hits.