<span class="vcard">Mike Halford</span>

Team Sweden plays Finland in the quarter final round of the IIHF World Junior Hockey Tournament

Get to know a draft pick — Mikko Rantanen

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Like we’ve done in the past, we’re profiling top prospects who may hear their names called Friday in the first round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. But this year, something new — we’re featuring special guest analysis from former Minnesota Wild scout Mark Seidel, who currently serves as the president of North American Central Scouting.

Mikko Rantanen (RW)

Height: 6’4 Weight: 211 Shoots: Left

Team: TPS Turku (SM-liiga)

Country: Finland

NHL Central Scouting ranking: No. 1 among International skaters

What kind of player is he?

Another large, physically imposing winger, Rantanen benefited from playing professionally last year in the Finnish league — he finished second on his team in scoring, with 29 points in 56 games, and served as an alternate captain despite only turning 18 in October.

His professional experience was on full display at the World Juniors. While Finland flopped to a seventh-place finish, Rantanen impressed scouts with his individual efforts, scoring four goals in five games while emerging as one of the most dynamic forwards in the tournament.

Rantanen is easily one of the most NHL-ready prospects in this year’s draft. He’s spent either part or all of the last three seasons playing against men in the SM-liiga, and his size should allow him to immediately hang with professionals in North America.

Seidel says:

“Rantanen utilizes a coveted combination of size, skill and offensive ability that teams cherish. He has a long, lean frame that he uses to shield the puck from defenders, but I’d like to see that size used more effectively as a consistent physical force. He doesn’t play scared, and could physically dominate opponents when he fills out his body — which would make him very tough to stop. His skating is good for a big kid and defensively, he’s aware of his responsibilities.”

NHL comparable: James van Riemsdyk/Kevin Hayes

For more 2015 NHL Draft profiles, click here.

Once again, Blues goalies to compete for No. 1 gig

Nashville Predators v St. Louis Blues
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Stop us if you’ve heard this one before.

In a recent interview with the Post-Dispatch, Blues GM Doug Armstrong said the club would continue with its annual rite of passage and let its two netminders — Jake Allen and Brian Elliott — battle for the starting job.

Again.

“We believe that we have two good goaltenders and training camp is going to decide who plays opening night,” Armstrong explained. “That’s how I see it from my perspective.”

St. Louis, and Elliott in particular, has been in this situation before — first with Jaroslav Halak, then with Allen. It’s often put the club in an unenviable position come playoff time, as head coach Ken Hitchcock has been forced to choose a starter after utilizing a timeshare throughout the regular season. It’s often been reminiscent of the old football adage:

If you have two starting quarterbacks, you really don’t have one.

Which brings us back to the present. In speaking with the Post-Dispatch, Armstrong suggested that Jake Allen — who started the club’s opening-round playoff loss to Minnesota — was no longer in a position to learn at the NHL level.

But then he added the club wasn’t ready to officially demote Elliott to No. 2 status.

On Allen: “He can’t apprentice anymore. He put in a good year last year. Now is his time. He’s done the work necessary to compete for that job.”

On Elliott: “I didn’t say he’s coming in as the backup. He could have a great summer and steal the job.”

So, how does this play out? Nobody would blame Elliott for being unimpressed with how things have transpired; he’s been the one constant in goal over the last four years and had the playoff starting gig taken away last year — despite Hitchcock anointing him the No. 1 in late May.

It’s worth noting that, at the end of last season, Elliott said he hadn’t requested a trade.

Pens’ Ebbett signs in Swiss League

Pittsburgh Penguins v Dallas Stars
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Looks like interest from Europe was too much for Andrew Ebbett to pass up.

Ebbett, who split last season between Pittsburgh and AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, has agreed to join Bern of Switzerland’s National League A, the club announced on Wednesday.

Ebbett, 32, just wrapped the last of a two-year, two-way, $1.1M deal that paid $550,000 at the NHL level. He scored six points in 24 games with the Pens and, as he’s done throughout his career, lit up the American League — Ebbett had 44 points in 44 games for the Baby Pens, and another seven in eight playoff appearances.

Back in May, reports surfaced of a potential move to Europe. Ebbett’s agent, Alec Schall, acknowledged there was interest from abroad but said his client’s primary objective — at the time — was to re-sign in Pittsburgh.

Get to know a draft pick — Lawson Crouse

Team Denmark v Team Canada
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Like we’ve done in the past, we’re profiling top prospects who may hear their names called Friday in the first round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. But this year, something new — we’re featuring special guest analysis from former Minnesota Wild scout Mark Seidel, who currently serves as the president of North American Central Scouting.

Lawson Crouse (LW)

Height: 6’4 Weight: 215 Shoots: Left

Team: Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)

Country: Canada

NHL Central Scouting ranking: No. 5 among North American skaters

What kind of player is he?

One of the biggest in this year’s draft. A hulking, physical presence, Crouse’s strength is his size yet he showed good offensive skills this season, leading OHL Kingston in goals (29) and points (51) despite playing just 56 games.

Still, the jury’s out on what kind of player Crouse projects to be at the NHL level. Optimists think he’ll be a power forward along the lines of Milan Lucic; pessimists suggest he’ll be more like Tom Wilson — not necessarily a bad thing, but a bit underwhelming (offensively speaking) for a potential top-10 pick.

The wildcard with Crouse are his intangibles: work ethic, grit, dedication and leadership. The stuff that flies in the face of analytics and fancy stats, but endeared him to his GM in Kingston — former Maple Leafs captain Doug Gilmour.

“He’s a great kid in the dressing room, he’s going to be a great leader,” Gilmour said recently, per Sportsnet. “He’s a big body. He can skate, he’s got a pro shot — his release is phenomenal.

“He’s going to compete.”

Seidel says:

“Crouse is a man-child that skates exceptionally well and is comfortable in all three zones. Nicknamed ‘The Sheriff,’ he plays a heavy game, loves to finish checks and make opponents pay the price on every shift. His offensive game still has to evolve as he isn’t a naturally gifted scorer or set-up man, but does possess a pro-caliber shot that will serve him well in the NHL. He’s also a guy that will go into high-traffic areas. A surprise selection to Team Canada’s gold medal-winning team at the World Juniors, Crouse is the type of player coaches love to have in their arsenals.”

NHL comparable: Andrew Ladd/Scott Hartnell

For more 2015 NHL Draft profiles, click here.

Get to know a draft pick — Travis Konecny

Ottawa 67s v Niagara IceDogs - Game Three
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Like we’ve done in the past, we’re profiling top prospects who may hear their names called Friday in the first round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. But this year, something new — we’re featuring special guest analysis from former Minnesota Wild scout Mark Seidel, who currently serves as the president of North American Central Scouting.

Travis Konecny (C)

Height: 5’10 Weight: 175 Shoots: Right

Team: Ottawa 67’s (OHL)

Country: Canada

NHL Central Scouting ranking: No. 14 among North American Skaters

What kind of player is he?

A skill guy, but one with bite.

Konecny is a tenacious individual that likes to throw his body around, setting him apart from fellow prospects boasting similar size and skills. Those traits have often thrust him into leadership roles; he captained Canada at the 2014 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament and, this past season, wore the “C” for Ottawa in just his second year with the club.

Though his sophomore OHL campaign was a bit of a letdown statistically — dropping to 68 points after scoring 70 as a rookie — Konecny, who dealt with an undisclosed injury over the first part of the season, enjoyed a solid second half and saw his draft stock improve accordingly. At the combine, he further endeared himself to scouts by finishing in the top ten in pull-ups, bench press and standing long jump.

Seidel says:

“The former No. 1 pick in the Ontario Hockey League didn’t contribute as much offensively as some expected this year, but his game took great strides under 67’s head coach Jeff Brown. His calling cards have always been intensity and ferocity, which he combines with a high skill level that can bring fans out of their seats.

“The young Ottawa captain embraced the leadership mantle with his team this year, and propelled a tremendous showing at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects game — where he won MVP — into a big finish to the season. It should translate into a top-15 selection for the fiery forward.”

NHL comparable: Andrew Shaw

For more 2015 NHL Draft profiles, click here.