Lawson Crouse: ‘I’m a big power forward’

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When looking at the prospects for the upcoming NHL Draft many have heard of the likes of Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel – the two topped the NHL Central Scouting midterm rankings released this week.

At No. 4, behind Boston College defenseman Noah Hanifin, is a hulking 6-foot-4, 211-pound forward by the name of Lawson Crouse.

Crouse, who plays for the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League, was listed at No. 3 on the International Scouting Services latest rankings released earlier this month.

“Everytime he’s out there, you know what he’s giving you,” said Benoit Groulx, who coached Crouse with Team Canada at the recent world junior hockey championship. “You know what he brings to the table. He’s a big body, likes to get involved. Smart player, solid with the puck. He’s solid also on the defensive game.”

The 17-year-old, who was a surprise to even make the Canadian team, spent much of the tournament on the fourth line registering a goal and three points in seven games.

Crouse has 16 goals and 23 points in 31 OHL games this season – a nice increase in production from the 15 goals and 27 points he registered in 63 games during the 2013-14 season.

“I’m a big power forward. I just try and bring it every night,” said Crouse describing his game. “If you want to play in the National Hockey League, I feel that’s what you have to do. I can score, but there are areas of my game that I’m strong at – in the defensive zone and doing the little things.

“That’s something that I focus on. Try and control the little things and do everything else.”

Crouse grew up idolizing current Colorado Avalanche veteran Jarome Iginla, but models his game after a couple of other NHL stars.

“Right now I like to watch Rick Nash and Milan Lucic- trying to find a balance between them both,” he said. “I have the ability to score, but I also have the meanness and ability to play physical like Lucic.”

Given his size, whoever selects Crouse in the first round in June could have an NHL-ready player for the start of next season.

Will the Youngstars even have a chance? (Updated)

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NOTE: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly listed the cutoff/eligibility birth date as Sept. 1, 1993. It is Sept. 1, 1992. Changes have been made to reflect this new date.

COLUMBUS — Gary Bettman said they’ll be “incredibly competitive.”

Patrick Kane said ‘it’s a young man’s game.”

Well, in 19 months we’ll know for sure.

During Saturday’s official announcement of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey — which will include new entities in Team Europe (players outside of Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic) and the North American Youngstars — there was plenty of focus on the latter.

Specifically, who’s going to be on this team? And how good will it be?

Per ESPN, Youngstars-eligible players will need to be 23 or younger by Sept. 1, 2016 — meaning the cutoff birth date is Sept. 1, 1992. What’s more, 23-and-under players can only play for the Youngstars, not the Canadian or U.S. senior national teams.

And that could make for some interesting roster decisions.

Per Bettman, World Cup teams will carry traditional 23-man rosters. To give an idea of what the North American Youngstars are currently working with, here’s a list of eligible players that’ve participated in NHL games this year.

Forwards: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Brandon Saad, Matt Nieto, Sean Couturier, J.T. Miller, Nathan MacKinnon, Sean Monahan, Mark Scheifele, Jonathan Huberdeau, Boone Jenner, Ryan Strome, Johnny Gaudreau, Alex Galchenyuk, Jonathan Drouin, Bo Horvat, Sam Reinhart, Anthony Duclair, Curtis Lazar.

Defense: Connor Murphy, Dougie Hamilton, Aaron Ekblad, Jacob Trouba, Seth Jones, Morgan Rielly, Damon Severson, Ryan Murray, Cody Ceci, Derrick Pouliot, Griffin Reinhart, Matt Dumba, Darnell Nurse.

Goalies: John Gibson.

Obviously, the above players will have matured and gained experience, and players yet to make their NHL debuts will be in the mix. Many have already speculated about the projected top two picks at the 2015 Draft — Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel — becoming Youngstars teammates; there are also those that starred at the recently-completed World Junior Championships (think Max Domi, Samuel Morin, Josh Morrissey, Nic Petan, Dylan Larkin, Sonny Milano, Anthony DeAngelo, etc.)

Goaltending will probably be the biggest issue. Rarely do netminders become NHL regulars at that young an age; as such, you’ll speculatively hear the names of Malcolm Subban, Zach Fucale and Thatcher Demko get thrown around. The goaltending position is, by far, the most difficult to handicap.

All of which begs the question: While the Youngstars idea is great in theory, will it actually work when executed? Will the Youngstars provide stiffer competition than, say, Switzerland, which sits seventh in the latest IIHF Rankings?

One guy that sounded entirely on board with the Youngstars was Kane — who, you’ll remember, made his NHL debut at 18 and went on to win the Calder.

“If you look at hockey these days it’s a young man’s game, more that ever now,” Kane said on Saturday. “Teenagers are coming into the league and playing right away now, and the skill level is better and better.

“I think we all like watching young players play the game. I know myself I like watching the World Juniors to see who are the next up and coming guys, and I think fans enjoy that too.”

Here’s an early look at Team Europe

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COLUMBUS — First, they really need to figure out the name.

Officially it’s the straightforward-but-staid “Team Europe,” though we heard plenty of other monikers during Saturday’s announcement of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey: Pan-European, Team Other Europe and The Island of Misfit Boys (courtesy Bleacher Report’s Dave Lozo, which I feel might not stick)

For clarity’s sake, the squad is called Team Europe (for now) and comprised of players outside the traditional Big Four — Sweden, Finland, Russia and Czech Republic — of international hockey. As such, the NHL and NHLPA have hatched a Ryder Cup-style squad of players from Slovakia, Switzerland, Slovenia, Norway, Denmark, France, Belarus, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Austria and another other European country I’ve failed to mention.

Let’s take a look at potential roster choices shall we?

Forwards: Anze Kopitar (Slovenia), Marian Gaborik, Marian Hossa, Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco, Richard Panik, Tomas Kopecky (Slovakia), Thomas Vanek, Michael Raffl, Michael Grabner (Austria), Mikhail Grabovski (Belarus), Mikkel Boedker, Frans Nielsen, Jannik Hansen, Lars Eller (Denmark), Antoine Roussel, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (France), Tobias Rieder, Leon Draisaitl, Marcel Goc (Germany), Zemgus Girgensons (Latvia), Mats Zuccarello (Norway), Nino Niederreiter (Switzerland), Dainius Zubrus (Lithuania).

Defense: Zdeno Chara, Andrej Sekera, Lubomir Visnovsky, Andrej Meszaros (Slovakia), Roman Josi, Mark Streit, Yannick Weber, Luca Sbisa, Mirco Mueller, Raphael Diaz (Switzerland), Christian Ehrhoff, Dennis Seidenberg (Germany).

Goalie: Jaroslav Halak (Slovakia), Frederik Andersen (Denmark), Thomas Greiss (Germany), Jonas Hiller, Reto Berra (Switzerland).

Halak, who’s represented Slovakia internationally on a number of occasions, figures to be in the mix for one of the goaltending spots — and, one would think, the starting job — but has mixed feelings about the Team Europe concept.

“I would say if it was 10 years ago it would be upsetting because 10 years ago we had a lot of guys in the NHL,” he explained during . “Right now, we got maybe 12. So that would be tough to make a team out of 12 guys.

“Obviously you need 20. It will be different to see [the rest of Team Europe] but at the same time I’m open to it. It would be nice to play with some other players from different countries.”

As most assumed when reports of a Team Europe concept first broke, the team will be well-stocked at forward but thin on defense and in goal. On their own, Switzerland and Slovakia probably have the strongest contingents but lack depth certain positions. Other countries simply don’t have enough players period so, from a competition standpoint, the Ryder Cup-style amalgam makes sense.

It just remains to be seen if all the projected players fully embrace the idea.

“I’m sure it’s going to be strange at first, but playing against each other you know pretty much all of the guys anyway, Kopitar said. “I don’t think it’s going to be too hard to come together.”

NHL unveils 2016 Winter Classic, Stadium Series games

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On Saturday, the NHL officially announced three outdoor games for the 2015-16 season with Boston, Minnesota and Colorado playing host.

On Jan. 1, 2016, the Bruins will take on the Montreal Canadiens at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. Boston becomes the first team to play host to the Winter Classic twice. The Bruins defeated the Philadelphia Flyers, 2-1 in overtime, at Fenway Park in 2010. The Canadiens will become the second Canadian-based team to play in a Winter Classic, after the Toronto Maple Leafs participated in last year’s event at Michigan Stadium.

The Minnesota Wild will play host to the first of two Stadium Series games on Feb. 21, when the Chicago Blackhawks visit TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus.

Commissioner Gary Bettman was asked about including the Blackhawks in a fourth outdoor game.

Six days later, the Colorado Avalanche will welcome the Detroit Red Wings to Coors Field in the second Stadium Series game.

All-Star captains Foligno and Toews announce player assignments for skills competition

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Team Foligno and Team Toews announced the All-Star and rookie assignments for tonight’s All-Star Skills competition, which you can watch live at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN or online at NBCSports.com.

Maple Leafs’ forward Phil Kessel, who was traded from Team Toews to Team Foligno Friday night highlights the list of players participating in the fastest skater competition. Jonathan Drouin of the Lightning, Habs’ Jiri Sekac and Buffalo’s Zemgus Girigensons will also skate for Team Foligno. They’ll compete against Tyler Seguin, who was involved in the Kessel trade, Mike Hoffman of the Ottawa Senators, Panthers’ rookie Aaron Ekblad and Blues’ sniper Vladimir Tarasenko.

Team Foligno will set Alex Ovechkin, Claude Giroux, Ryan Johansen free in the breakaway challenge, they’ll face Team Toews’ Corey Crawford. For Team Toews’ Tarasenko, Jakub Voracek and Johnny Gaudreau will be tasked with beating Brian Elliott.

Bobby Ryan, Nick Foligno, Radim Vrbata and Patrick Kane will receive passes from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Anze Kopitar for Team Foligno in the accuracy shooting competition. Rick Nash and Patrik Elias will feed shooters Ryan Getzlaf, Patrice Bergeron, John Tavares and Jonathan Toews for Team Toews.

Ryan Johansen and Kane highlight Team Foligno participants for the challenge relay while Team Toews replied with Gaudreau and Bergeron.

Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien will be part of a group of four shooters for Team Foligno in the hardest shot competition. They’ll be challenged by the likes of Brent Seabrook and Shea Weber from Team Toews.

The shootout competition will feature the likes of Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos from Team Foligno go up against Tarasenko and Tavares from Team Toews.

Individual winners will be crowned from each of the six events and points in the overall team vs. team competition will also be awarded from each challenge.