Ronalds Kenins

McDavid, Eichel headline NHLPA Rookie Showcase

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This year’s NHLPA Rookie Showcase won’t be lacking star power.

The top two picks at this year’s entry draft — Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Buffalo’s Jack Eichel — will be in attendance, along with 38 other prospects that’ll descend upon Toronto on Tuesday, Sept. 1 for photo ops and media availability.

The list of invitees, per the players’ union:

Connor McDavid (Oilers), Jack Eichel (Sabres), Dylan Strome (Coyotes), Mitch Marner (Maple Leafs), Noah Hanifin (Hurricanes), Ivan Barbashev (Blues), Chris Bigras (Avalanche), Oliver Bjorkstrand (Blue Jackets), Madison Bowey (Capitals), Connor Brown (Maple Leafs), Michael Dal Colle (Islanders), Nikolaj Ehlers (Jets), Robby Fabbri (Blues), Zach Fucale (Canadiens), Nikolay Goldobin (Sharks), Ryan Hartman (Blackhawks), Connor Hellebuyck (Jets), Julius Honka (Stars), Kasperi Kapanen (Maple Leafs), Ronalds Kenins (Canucks), Slater Koekkoek (Lightning), Dylan Larkin (Red Wings), Sonny Milano (Blue Jackets), Samuel Morin (Flyers), Mike Matheson (Panthers), Michael McCarron (Canadiens), Josh Morrissey (Jets), Brendan Perlini (Coyotes), Nic Petan (Jets), Emile Poirier (Flames), Shane Prince (Senators), Ryan Pulock (Islanders), John Quenneville (Devils), Mike Reilly (Wild), Nick Ritchie (Ducks), Travis Sanheim (Flyers), Mackenzie Skapski (Rangers), Brady Skjei (Rangers), Shea Theodore (Ducks) and Jake Virtanen (Canucks).

This will mark the seventh year the PA has gathered rookies for its annual event. Last year’s Rookie Showcase featured 33 players, including Calder Trophy winner Aaron Ekblad and fellow finalist Johnny Gaudreau.

It’s official: Top-ranked ’16 draft prospect Matthews will play in Switzerland

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Auston Matthews is off to the Swiss League.

On Friday, National League A club ZSC (Zurich) Lions tweeted out that Matthews, the Arizona-bred phenom projected to go No. 1 overall at next year’s draft, will suit up for them next year rather than play junior hockey for WHL Everett.

The news comes after months of speculation and bureaucratic red tape. While Matthews has long been tied to a move to Switzerland, work permit issues prevented the Lions from making the signing official; per Swiss Hockey News, Matthews will have to wait until he turns 18 (in mid-September) before playing.

It promises to be worth the wait.

Matthews had a banner campaign for the U.S. National Team Development Program last year, setting single-season records with 55 goals and 117 points. He broke the previous scoring mark led by Chicago’s Patrick Kane, who also happens to be the last American-born player to go No. 1 overall.

In Zurich, Matthews will play professionally and against men, which should be a good test — at 6-foot-2 and 194 pounds, he’s expected to handle himself physically.

He’ll also get an opportunity to work under an experienced head coach in Marc Crawford.

Crawford brings plenty to the table, having racked up over 500 wins during a 16-year coaching career with stops in Quebec, Colorado, Vancouver, Los Angeles and Dallas. He captured the Jack Adams as the NHL’s top coach in 1995 and, a year later, helped the Avalanche win the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

Following his last stop with the Stars in 2011, Crawford took the Zurich job and has achieved a high level of success. The Lions captured the league championship in 2014 and were largely credited for the development of Ronalds Kenins, an undrafted Latvian forward than caught on with the Canucks last season, scoring 12 points in 30 games.

“Matthews is an outstanding young hockey player and everyone involved with the ZSC Lions is so excited about seeing him play in Zurich,” Crawford told Today’s Slapshot back in May. “I believe [the Swiss National League A] is the the perfect training ground for young athletes.”

With the Lions, Matthews will also skate with a slew of ex-NHLers: Robert Nilsson, Ryan Shannon, Dan Fritsche and Marc-Andre Bergeron, to name a few.

Canucks’ biggest question: Where’s the upside?

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Not long after Trevor Linden was named the Canucks’ president of hockey operations in 2014, he bemoaned the lack of young players making an impact for the team.

“I like the people we have in [our] core positions, but they need support from the bottom,” Linden said. “There’s a gap between the core players and what’s coming from below them. There hasn’t been a real push from the bottom and that’s created issues.”

That narrative still applies a year later. Even if 20-year-old center Bo Horvat can build on his impressive rookie season, the Canucks will likely need more from their youngsters in order to remain a playoff team.

Jacob Markstrom is one player that could make a significant impact. The 25-year-old goalie, coming off a stellar season in the AHL, will be Ryan Miller’s backup in 2015-16. For a bubble team like Vancouver, goaltending could very well be the difference between making and missing the postseason.

There’s also Jake Virtanen, the sixth overall pick in the 2014 draft. The Canucks are hoping the 18-year-old winger can be the power forward they once hoped Zack Kassian could be for them.

“[Virtanen] can play the skill game and the physical game,” said director of player personnel Stan Smyl, per the Times Colonist. “He can go through people. He can hit people, and he doesn’t care who he hits.”

Virtanen still has to make the team, but he should be given every opportunity to do so. Otherwise, it’s back to junior.

Then there’s Frank Corrado, the 22-year-old, right-shot defenseman who will try to help replace Kevin Bieksa.

And Sven Baertschi, the 22-year-old winger who’s shown promising signs since being traded to the Canucks from Calgary.

And Linden Vey, the 24-year-old forward who conceded that his “preparation last summer wasn’t what it needed to be.”

Ronalds Kenins, Hunter Shinkaruk, Brendan Gaunce, Nicklas Jensen, Jared McCann, Cole Cassels, and Alexandre Grenier are among the other prospects to watch.

It’s no secret that the Canucks have an aging core. The Sedin twins are 34. So are Alex Burrows and Radim Vrbata. Dan Hamhuis and Chris Higgins are 32. Miller is 35.

It’s also no secret that the Canucks did not draft well for a number of years. From 2006 to 2012, the only players they selected that have played in the NHL and remain in the organization are Corrado and Jensen.

Hence, Vancouver’s failure to remain an elite team, and hence, the need to become better at identifying and developing talent.

Related: Vote on whether the Canucks will make the playoffs

Canucks sign Ronalds Kenins and Alex Friesen to one-year deals

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The Vancouver Canucks have signed pending restricted free agent forwards Ronalds Kenins and Alex Friesen the club announced on Monday.

According to TVA’s Renaud Lavoie, Friesen’s deal is a one-year, two-way deal worth $575,000.

Brad Ziemer of The Vancouver Sun reports Kenins’ deal is a one-year contract worth slightly more than the league minimum of $575,000.

Kenins appeared in 30 games with the Canucks during the 2014-15 season scoring four goals and 12 points while registering eight penalty minutes. The 24-year-old also spent time with the American Hockey League’s Utica Comets scoring five goals and seven assists in 36 games.
His two-year, $1.85 million entry-level deal was set to expire next month.

Friesen spent all three years of his entry-level deal in the minors. The 24-year-old set career highs in goals (10), assists (20) and points (30) in 60 games with the Comets in 2014-15. He was originally the Canucks’ sixth-round selection (172nd overall) in 2010.

Swiss league ‘perfect training ground’ for Matthews, says coach Crawford

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Interesting interview over at Today’s Slapshot, where former NHL head coach — and current ZSC Lions bench boss — Marc Crawford spoke about the possibility of his club landing Auston Matthews, the US NTDP project pegged to go No. 1 overall at the 2016 draft.

“Matthews is an outstanding young hockey player and everyone involved with the ZSC Lions is so excited about seeing him play in Zurich,” Crawford told the site, via email. “I believe [the Swiss National League A] is the the perfect training ground for young athletes.

“He will be coached by an NHL coach, he will be challenged by playing against men in a fast-skating, highly-skilled league.”

Crawford does bring plenty to the table, having racked up over 500 wins during a 16-year coaching career with stops in Quebec, Colorado, Vancouver, Los Angeles and Dallas. He captured the Jack Adams as the NHL’s top coach in 1995 and, a year later, helped the Avalanche win the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

Following his last stop with the Stars in 2011, Crawford took the Zurich job and has achieved a high level of success. The Lions captured the league championship in 2014 and were largely credited for the development of Ronalds Kenins, an undrafted Latvian forward than caught on with the Canucks last season, scoring 12 points in 30 games.

As a result of his success in Switzerland, Crawford has interviewed for a variety of NHL gigs — including vacant jobs in Pittsburgh and Florida last summer — which could be part of the reason why Matthews is seriously contemplating a move to Zurich. In addition to NHL-caliber coaching, Zurich has minimal travel that allows for more practice time than other leagues, and is filled with former NHL players (this year, the team featured Ryan Shannon, Robert Nilsson, Dan Fritsche, Marc-Andre Bergeron and Henrik Tallinder.)

Related: Everett GM expects Matthews decision this week