2014 NHL Draft - Round 1

Avs’ first-rounder Bleackley says lack of contract is ‘in the back of my mind a lot’

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Safe to say Colorado isn’t thrilled with the progression of Conner Bleackley.

Things haven’t gone great since Bleackley went 23rd overall in ’14, two spots ahead of impressive B’s rookie David Pastrnak. Shortly after getting picked, Bleackley’s junior coach, Brent Sutter, said he wasn’t ready for NHL hockey.

Bleackley then barely spent any time at Avs camp last fall, getting sent back to junior after arriving in inadequate shape, putting forth what Patrick Roy called a “disappointing” effort.

Oh, and Bleackley is still without an entry-level deal.

Compare that to Colorado’s first-rounder from this year, Mikko Rantanen, who signed his two weeks after getting picked.

“Obviously, it’s in the back of my mind a lot,” Bleackley said of his contract situation, per the Denver Post. “I try not to focus on that. I think it’s out of my control. What I can control is the work I put in this summer and what I do here at camp.

“If I do all the things right, like my goal is, that’ll happen.”

Bleackley is coming off a good campaign in WHL Red Deer, where he posted 49 points in 51 games (missing time with a groin injury). At 19, he’s almost assuredly headed back to junior this year, so the focus now will be on when he signs.

Should he not get his ELC done by next summer, he’ll re-enter the draft — though that’s not something Bleackley wants to happen.

He wants to earn his ELC at this year’s training camp.

“They told me to come ready to work,” he explained. “Hopefully I can earn it here in camp. I’m looking forward to it.”

Back to school: Hickey returning to BU, Werenski to Michigan

2015 NHL Draft - Round One
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Two of the better freshmen defensemen in NCAA hockey last season are returning for their sophomore campaigns.

Brandon Hickey, a Calgary draftee from Boston University and Zach Weresnki, the University of Michigan product taken eighth overall by Columbus at the 2015 draft, have opted not to go the Canadian junior route and instead stay at their respective schools.

Hickey’s status was thrown into doubt earlier this week when his WHL rights were traded to Red Deer, who will host the 2016 Memorial Cup. Werenski was rumored to be headed to OHL London, who drafted him in the second round in 2013.

“I’m going back to school, the plan hasn’t changed,” Hickey said, per TSN. “I’m looking for a backup plan in case I get injured. Injuries happen in sports. I don’t want to be a guy that is just tied to hockey.

“I want to be a guy who has options. If hockey doesn’t work out then I’ll always have my degree to fall back on.”

Werenski, meanwhile, confirmed his intention to play another year for the Wolverines to NHL.com.

The returns are a big boon for the collegiate hockey landscape. Hickey is the only NCAA player currently playing for Canada at the World Junior Showcase, and had six goals and 17 points in 41 games last season for the Terriers; Werenski led all Wolverines d-men in scoring, with 25 points in 35 games, and was named to both the Big Ten’s first and all-freshman teams.

Tampa Bay officially bids to host ’18 World Juniors

Vancouver Canucks v Tampa Bay Lightning
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Back in January, Tampa Sports Commission executive director Rob Higgins said his group “started to lay the groundwork” for a bid to host the 2018 World Juniors, but noted it was “still a ways off from the official bid process.”

On Thursday, that changed.

Per the Times, Tampa Bay has officially submitted its bid to USA Hockey to host the tournament. It’s believed Amalie Arena — home of the Lightning — would be a host arena if the bid is success, and the ECHL Florida Everblades’ Germain Arena in Estero, Florida has been floated as a potential second location.

If the bid is successful, it would continue in Tampa Bay’s growth as a hockey market. The city hosted the NCAA Frozen Four in 2012 and will do so again in 2016; this year, the Bolts made it to the second Stanley Cup Final in franchise history, with nearly 17,000 people showing up to Amalie for a Game 6 watch party (the Lightning went on to lose Game 6, which saw Chicago win the Cup on home ice for the first time in 77 years.)

Related

Coyotes withdraw bid for 2018 WJC

Detroit in talks to host ’18 World Juniors

Preds sign Saros, Rinne’s backup at Worlds

Juuse Saros
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The Nashville Predators announced that they have signed goaltender Juuse Saros to a three-year, entry-level contract.

Saros, 20, was taken with the 99th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. He’s coming off of a strong season in the Finnish league where he posted a 2.14 GAA and .929 save percentage in 47 games with HPK Hameenlinna. That’s after he was 2013-14 Finnish Elite League Rookie of the Year with a 1.76 GAA and .928 save percentage in 44 games.

On the international stage, Saros led Finland to a gold medal in the 2014 World Juniors. He also was Pekka Rinne’s understudy in the 2015 World Championship. That role didn’t lend itself to much playing time, but when he was called into service against Slovakia, he earned a shutout by turning aside 22 shots.

Rather than once again become Rinne’s backup, Saros is more likely to be given a chance to adjust to North American hockey while honing his skills in the minors during the 2015-16 campaign. Nashville already has Carter Hutton inked to a one-way contract, although the 29-year-old goaltender’s deal will expire after the 2015-16 campaign, so if Saros has a strong season then perhaps he’ll be viewed as a serious candidate for the backup job at that time.

Habs assign Bozon to AHL as remarkable comeback continues

Montreal Canadiens Headshots
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Another chapter was written in the Tim Bozon story on Wednesday — the Habs announced Bozon has been sent to AHL Hamilton, on the heels of a successful junior season with WHL Kootenay.

It’s an impressive feat, to say the least.

Roughly one year ago — Mar. 19, to be exact — Bozon was awoken from a medically-induced coma stemming from bacterial meningitis, which caused him to lose 40 pounds and left him with difficulty speaking. The 21-year-old spent six months in hospital and had to re-learn how to walk.

“I almost died,” Bozon said earlier this season, per CBC. “I’m not scared to say that.”

From there, Bozon regained strength and participated in the Habs’ training camp last fall before playing three exhibition games with the Bulldogs. It was at that time the Canadiens’ organization thought it best to return Bozon for a fifth year of junior hockey and he fared well, scoring 35 goals and 63 points in 57 games for the Ice.

Bozon, Montreal’s third-round pick (64th overall) at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, could make his AHL debut this Friday when Hamilton takes on Texas.