Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Final Thoughts on the National Junior Evaluation Camp

The National Junior Evaluation Camp concluded over the weekend and I finally found the time to share my thoughts on the WHL and Portland Winterhawks' players that were there.

Caleb Jones (USA):
-Jones was solid for the U.S. throughout the camp. He seems to have made some pretty big strides in the off-season in his overall defensive positioning and strength. He did not get caught out of position very often and sometimes was able to adjust and cover for his defensive partner. Of all of the d-men in attendance for the U.S., Jones was perhaps the most consistent in both ends. After making it past the cuts last summer, only to not receive an invite to the U.S.'s final camp last December, Jones looks to finally be a lock for the team that will be going to Toronto and Montreal for the U-20 WJC's this year. I especially liked his pairing with Boston University d-man Charlie McAvoy. The first-round pick of the Boston Bruins and Jones seemed to have good chemistry. They did play for the USNTDP at the same time, so are probably pretty familiar with how each other plays. Look for this to be a top-four pairing for the U.S. this winter in Canada.

Henri Jokiharju (Finland):
-I am really excited to see Henri put on a Portland sweater later this month (okay-a practice jersey for the Neely Cup first). His strengths and Mike Johnston's system appear to be a perfect fit. He skates really well and often uses his speed to recover when he is out of position, which happened fairly often at the NJEC. His positioning will need work as he adjusts to the North-American ice surface, but I'm confident he will pick it up pretty quickly. The fact that he logged serious minutes for the U-20 team at this camp, while being a '99 birth-year guy is very impressive. The camp was stocked with first-round NHL-draft picks who were one and two years older than him and he did not look out of place at all. In fact, as the camp went along, he started to look more confident and comfortable, taking more offensive chances and throwing his slight body around more. He also was able to get this shot through from the point with more consistency as the camp went on. His slap shot is not very accurate, but his placement on his wrist shot from the point is pinpoint accurate. Often great rebound chances were created by his deft shot. A possible pairing with Jones on the first-unit power play could very well be one of the better ones in the WHL, once he gets used to playing in the WHL. I think his prospects of being a top NHL draft pick next summer were definitely helped by his camp and the fact that a lot of NHL scouts, general managers and coaches were in Plymouth taking it in.

Kieffer Bellows (USA):
-Bellows is a great sniper who fairly soon could be part of a nice duo with Mathew Barzal for the N.Y. Islanders. I'm fairly confident that he won't stay long with Boston University, but jumping up to the Isles' is far more likely than playing in the WHL with Portland. He will be a big "what might've been" for Portland as what impact Mike Johnston had would have had on recruiting him to Portland can never really be known outside of the Bellows household.

Jake Oettinger (USA):
-Another Portland prospect that is headed to Boston University this fall. He is a late birth date, so he is not eligible to be drafted until the 2017 NHL draft. I really liked what I saw out of the big goalie over the duration of the camp. He goes down pretty quickly for a guy who is 6'4" and covers his angles pretty well. I think he will make the final squad for Team USA as Tyler Parsons' backup. That way he will gain some experience and have a good shot at being the starter at the 2018 WJCs.

Kailer Yamamoto (USA):
-The Spokane Chiefs' forward started out the NJEC with a couple of incredible games. This got him a spot playing on the U.S.'s top line with Bellows and Clayton Keller. In the first period of his first game with them, though. he ran a Swedish d-man and gained a 10-minute game misconduct. I think I counted only a few shifts that he skated for the rest of the game. After that, he was moved back to fourth-line minutes and likely moved himself out of contention for a spot on the roster this winter. I think if he starts tearing up the WHL at the start of the season, he could get another chance at the camp in December and maybe earn a spot as the extra, energy-type forward. This is the spot that Chase De Leo and Scott Eansor had for the U.S,. over the last two WJCs, though they were both centers, while Kailer is a winger.

Juuso Valimaki (Finland):
-The Tri-City Americans' d-man had a horrendous start to the camp but got much better over the last three games. Over the first two games, he was constantly out of position and made a lot of mistakes in his own zone. Then, he looked to have calmed down quite a bit and made simpler and smarter plays in his own zone, leading to fewer turnovers. He took a hit in his own zone to flip the puck out, which helped set up the equalizing goal for Finland in their win over Canada and scored a goal off a wrist shot from the point in their OT loss to Sweden. Valimaki is a play-maker, who should get a lot of first-round level interest from NHL teams in next June's draft and his last three games will help make up for the first two and keep him in contention to be drafted there. The sheer amount of scouts coming out to Eastern Washington to watch Yamamoto and T.C.'s Michael Rasmussen, should give him a lot more opportunities to impress particular scouts. He could also be paired consistently with N.Y. Islanders' signed d-man Parker Wotherspoon, which should allow him to jump up and make eye-catching offensive plays.

Carter Hart (Canada):
-He had the worst camp of any U.S. Division player in Plymouth. He gave up an early, weak goal and never seemed to recover. Overall, he played most of one game (a 5-1 loss to Sweden) and gave up four goals on only 20 shots. I don't think this damaged his stock so much that he will be out of the running for Canada come December, but it certainly didn't cement his standing as the starter. Overall, as reigning CHL Goalie of the Year, he was the favorite coming into camp, to be the starter. Sweden beat him twice in tight up over his left shoulder and so was looking to take advantage of a seeming gap in his coverage. I have some concerns about how mentally-tough Hart is as over the past two seasons, he had a fair share of really bad games. I think he got pulled a total of six times against Portland over his two WHL seasons, so there's a chance that I have a bad impression of him. However, there is still some signs that sometimes he can let a poor game, turn into an awful one, by compiling more than one bad goal.

Evan Sarthou (USA):
-It probably isn't a great sign that the Tri-City goalie did not see any ice after the two teams were put together. The three other goalies all saw some ice-time, while he was relegated to backup duty.

Noah Juulsen (Canada):
-I was really surprised to see him left off of the Canadian team last year, but after watching him play a few games at the NJEC, I'm starting to see why he's not necessarily a guy Hockey Canada loves. Juulsen was out of position quite a few times and often struggled in zone exits under heavy pressure. His powerful slap shot was never really uncorked and he never really looked comfortable out there. I was far more impressed with right-handed Kelowna Rockets' d-man Cal Foote in all of these aspects of the game. It could be that Juulsen earns his way onto the team, by having a great WHL season, but right now I would probably leave him off the team.

 Keegan Kolesar (Canada):
-While Juulsen moved down the Canadian depth chart for me, Kolesar moved up it. His line with Tampa Bay prospects Anthony Cirelli and Mathieu Joseph was one of Canada's best and has the size to be a strong checking line that still has the pop to provide some scoring. Kolesar is one of the best net-front presences in the WHL, because of his size and great hands and he was great at the camp when put in this role as well. If Mathew Barzal returns to play for Canada, he also provides Hockey Canada with a guy who has chemistry with one of their best centers from their time together with Seattle. Overall, I think his camp earned him a spot on the U-20 team. He doesn't have much international experience, but Hockey Canada seems to not take this into consideration as much as USA Hockey does.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Spokane's Yamamoto Shines for USA White at Day Two of the NJEC

The second day of the annual National Junior Evaluation Camp took place Monday in Plymouth, Michigan and plenty of players with Portland Winterhawks and WHL ties were present. Even more WHLers are set to join Wednesday when Canada sends their continent in. I was able to watch both games online and have some thoughts on a bunch of the players. Every single one of the players that I have been following closely survived the cuts to the roster that acted as a way to combine the USA Blue and USA White squads into one team of 17 forwards, 11 defensemen and four goalies (no goalies were cut).

USA Blue 6 Sweden 4:
The split-squad USA Blue team finished with a 2-0 record and scored a total of 14 goals in their two games. St. Louis Blues' prospect Tage Thompson followed up his hat-trick on Sunday with two more goals, including the eventual game-winner. In a reversal of what happened Sunday vs. Team USA White, Sweden jumped out to a 2-0 lead, before allowing USA Blue to storm back and score three in-a-row. From that point, they mostly traded goals, until Thompson put it away late. 
Caleb Jones (USA Blue):
-He played with pretty much every d-man on the USA Blue roster, as the coaches mixed things up searching for some chemistry. Jones looked to have scored to give USA Blue their first lead of the game, but a second look via replay showed that he struck the right post, before the puck bounced off of goalie Adam Werner and to the ice, where Toronto Maple Leafs' prospect Jeremy Bracco poked it home. As nice as the goal would have been, I was most impressed by Jones's ability to read the play and jump on a line-changing Sweden squad, in order to create a three-on-two rush. From there he picked his spot and very nearly potted his first goal of the camp. I am growing increasingly more confident that Jones will make the final Team USA World Juniors' roster, as he has been one of their most consistent d-men at the camp so far. He currently sits fifth on the team in shots on goal through two games with eight and all of those chances that he took, were low-risk, high-reward type looks; when Sweden was changing or out of position and had little hope of counter-attacking against an out-of-position Jones. Perhaps Jones's best play of the game, was paying the price in his own zone, by taking a vicious check into the boards, in order to get the puck out of the zone, leading to Thompson's empty-netter. Caleb's one minus in the game was due to a bad bounce at his own blue line, which ended up with a two-on-zero and Sweden's second goal. In my opinion, he was interfered with on the play as the non-puck carrying Swedish forward picked him off, so his teammate could go in alone. However, the non-call ended up not really playing a role in the final outcome of an exhibition game, so I'll let it go.
Jake Oettinger (USA Blue):
-The Portland prospect was not as great in his second game, particularly on Sweden's first goal, where he seemed to struggle tracking the puck. A wrist shot from the far right, near the blue line, is something I expect an elite junior goalie to stop and he didn't. He did not have much of a chance on the second goal and was not challenged too much beyond that. Overall, he stopped 19 of 21 shots and 32 of 34 shots over his two halves played. That's a 0.942 save percentage against some pretty good competition. I would have to say that right now, he is my favorite to start for Team USA, but overall the positions on this roster, I have been least impressed by the goalies. There is definitely room for someone to come out of nowhere and be invited to the final camp in December.
Evan Sarthou (USA Blue):
-The Tri-City goalie was a little better in game two and he looked more confident out there. He faced better looks than Oettinger did and mostly stood his ground. Sweden did a really good job of creating a lot of traffic around his feet and he was strong in his net and found the garbage before their forwards did. Both of the goals he gave up were of the top-corner variety, where I would have been astounded if he made the stop. Sweden has some elite snipers and they showed off their stuff picking both the right corner and the left corner on their two goals on Sarthou. Late in a tight game, Sarthou stood tall and made three saves in a row during one penalty kill. 

USA White 8 Finland 2:
One day after USA Blue scored eight goals on Finland, USA White did the same. What's strange is both times, Finland scored all of their goals, before their competition scored any. Monday, the Finns scored on the power play and added an even strength goal, before the game was 15 minutes old. Then USA White took over, led by two goals and three assists from N.Y. Islanders' draft pick and Portland prospect Kieffer Bellows and three points from linemate and Arizona Coyotes' draft pick Clayton Keller. The two were paired together, along with USA Blue's Joey Anderson, while playing for the USANTDP and there is some obvious chemistry there.
Henri Jokiharju (Finland):
-The 1999 born defenseman looked a lot more confident in his second game, as he settled into battling a team loaded with elite offensive talent. His only major miscue was on a failed clearance that led to USA White's eighth and final goal. His biggest improvements in his two games, for me, was while playing on the second unit power play. He constantly moved around between the two points and had the puck on his stick multiple times, leading to a couple strong Finnish looks. I also enjoyed his toughness out there as he was giving 30-40 lbs to a lot of the forwards he was battling in front of the net and he just kept battling, showing a lot of lower body strength and good stick positioning in moving some of them out of his goalie's line of sight.
Kailer Yamamoto (USA White):
-He had the highlight of the day for me, as he was carrying the puck, heading away from the net, towards the left corner of the attacking zone, when he stomped on the brakes and spun around towards the net, setting up Bellows for USA White's seventh goal. With his slick move, he left Finnish d-man Jarkko Parikka flat on the ice. It was the hockey equivalent of basketball's: "breaking someone's ankles." Yamamoto also scored a goal as he went to a tough area in front of the net and poked home a pass from Bellows. The Spokane Chief forward has three points in his two games, but more importantly, he keeps getting moved up the line up. He started out the camp on the fourth line and by the end of Monday's game was playing on the top line with Bellows and Keller. USA White had tried out a couple bigger forwards with the smallish Bellows and Keller, but ended up with the 5'8" Yamamoto, who is pound for pound the toughest guy on the team. He provided the net-front presence a few times while his team was on the power play and took a ton of punishment on doing so. He, very likely, has risen on Team USA's depth chart and could find himself representing his country this winter. It certainly does not hurt his draft stock, that he's putting this performance on while some of the NHL's general managers and coaches are watching.
Kieffer Bellows (USA White):
-Bellows led team blue in scoring with six points in two games and is a complete lock for the WJCs. One thing I noticed from this game, was his tenacity. He definitely plays with more of an edge then I was expecting. Several times I noticed him return a check to whomever had just checked him. His one-touch passing with Keller is elite level and the young Finnish d-corps had absolutely no hope of containing them in this game.
Juuso Valimaki (Finland):
-While I have come away, more or less, impressed with most of the players I've been watching closely, Valimaki has not been one of them. This is a great opportunity for him to impress all of the NHL minds in the crowd and he has not done that. It seemed to me like he took Finland getting pushed around in the previous game to heart and went out of his way to throw a lot more checks in this game. Often though, he took himself out of position to make the hit. He was certainly not Finland's worst d-men out there as even their NHL-drafted d-men looked mediocre, but he was out there for several of USA White's goals and was victimized by the Bellows-Keller combo a couple times. He will need a much better game against Canada tomorrow to start to change some of the negative opinions he's likely been creating in the crowd.

USA Cuts:

-Joey Anderson (NHL-drafted by New Jersey, WHL-drafted by Brandon) and Max Jones (NHL-drafted by Anaheim) were the biggest surprises for me of the cuts. Anderson has some natural chemistry with Bellows and Keller  and it seemed that USA might just roll with that as one of their lines. I think if you are Kailer Yamamoto, you can read the Anderson cut as Team USA giving you every opportunity to play with those two and solidify yourselves as a set lien for the WJCs.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Bellows Impresses at Day One of USA's NJEC

Lots of players with connections to the Winterhawks and the WHL were in action Sunday as part of national camps. Current Winterhawks Caleb Jones, Henri Joikiharju and Cody Glass were just two of those players. First, Portland Winterhawks' drafted prospect Kieffer Bellows and current Spokane Chief Kailer Yamamoto suited up for Team USA White as they took on Sweden's national team at the first game of the National Junior Evaluation Camp (NJEC).
Sweden 6 Team USA White 3:
-This game was truly a tale of two halves. USA White dominated the early play and posted a 3-1 lead before Sweden got to work and ran off five goals in a row for the 6-3 win.
Kieffer Bellows:
-How can we get this guy to forego his college commitment with Boston University and sign with Portland? Seriously, what do we have to do? He simply is a pure scorer, who should be able to convert it to the NHL level very soon. This is the first time I've seen him play and he did not disappoint. Bellows was drafted in the first round of this last NHL draft by the N.Y. Islanders, so Portland's best route to obtaining him would be them to sign him, making him ineligible for the NCAA. He scored USA White's first goal on a one-timer off a terrific feed from d-man J.D. Greenway and nearly had another as his shot was trickling over the goal line, when a Swedish d-man swept it away. Bellows has some natural chemistry with USANTDP linemate Clayton Keller (Arizona Coyotes' draft pick) and it showed. The two, along with Vancouver Canucks' prospect Brock Boeser (WHL rights owned by Seattle) were the team's most dangerous line.
Kailer Yamamoto:
-The Spokane native is on his way to being the highest NHL-drafted player from the state of Washington next June, in my opinion. Though he looked undersized out there, the late '98 born Yamamoto did not look out of place. He started out on the team's fourth line before getting bumped up to the third line, to play with Rem Pitlick (WHL rights owned by Prince George-drafted by Nashville) and Troy Terry (drafted by Anaheim). If Bellows' line was USA White's best, Yamamoto's may have been their second-best. Yamamoto got an assist on USA White's third goal. As he entered the zone with the puck he deftly dropped a pass to Ryan Lindgren (WHL rights owned by Brandon-drafted by Boston), who got a great looking shot on net that ended with Terry scoring on a scramble in front. Yamamoto is a passionate player, who can be a nightmare for d-men trying to get the puck out of their own zone. He can take bad penalties sometimes, but this is a gamble a lot of coaches will be willing to take. With a roster this stacked, Yamamoto's best chance to make the team, in my opinion, is as an energetic fourth-line player. Despite not scoring in this game, he had three different great looks that Swedish goalie Felix Sandstrom (drafted by Philadelphia) stopped. Two of those were absolute gems of saves.

Next up  on Sunday was Caleb Jones, prospect Jake Oettinger and Tri-City Americans' goalie Evan Sarthou for Team USA Blue, taking on Henri Jokiharju and Tri-City d-man Juuso Valimaki for Finland.
Team USA Blue 8 Finland 1:
The USA fell behind early, but then slowly took over behind a hat-trick by Tage Thompson (drafted by St. Louis) and two goals from Tom Novak (drafted by Nashville).
Caleb Jones:
-After hanging around development camp last year, yet not getting an invite for December's final camp, you had to know Caleb would come ready to do whatever the coaches wanted, in order to make the team. His defensive pairing with Sean Day (drafted by N.Y. Rangers) was USA Blue's most consistent all game. Jones played a more conservative style then we are used to seeing in Portland, but still found a way to get a couple good offensive looks. Interestingly enough, both of his shots were on shorthanded rushes up the ice. Both times, he was giving his team the chance to switch out tired penalty killers and he still got great looks. At last year's camp, he got caught out of position quite a few times. That was not the case even once on Sunday. He has made large strides defensively in that time and looks to have packed on another 10-15 lbs of muscle as well. I am looking for Caleb to be one of the best d-men in the WHL this season and he did nothing on Sunday to discourage that lofty expectation.
Jake Oettinger:
-Jake is a late '98, so he is not eligible to be drafted until next June. He has committed to Boston University, just like Bellows and fellow Portland prospect Henry Crone. He stopped all 13 shots he faced and never really looked like he needed to try that hard to stop them. He is 6'4", so he covers a lot of the net, but he also ha  surprising amount of athleticism. One left pad kick save really stood out to me, as he quickly turned away what looked like a sure goal for Finland. Oettinger was the most impressive and had the best numbers of the four U.S. goalies in action Sunday.
Henri Jokiharju:
-This was my first look at Portland's recently signed import defenseman. Since he is a '99 born player, I was pretty surprised that he was with the U-20 team. He is still eligible for the U-18 Ivan Hlinka tournament, but apparently is in the running to compete for the U-20 WJC defending champion roster. Jokiharju is really under-sized out there, when playing against 18 and 19-year-olds, but it never really was a detriment in this game, despite the score. I really do not think that he was to blame for any of USA Blue's goals and that says something as Finnish d-men as a unit had a truly awful game. They were really poor at covering passes to players in front of the net, essentially giving them a lot of slam-dunk style goals. Jokiharju was out there on the left-defense on Finland's second power play unit and got two of his three shots on net, while on the man-advantage. He does a really good job of getting shots through and on net, even with high pressure from shot-blocking forwards. He even used his small size in a positive way, by initiating some rough stuff with USA Blue's Riley Tufte, which ended with Jokiharju getting checked in the back and going down. I think a larger player would not have been knocked down by the shot, which was all the better for Henri and Finland.
Evan Sarthou:
-The Tri-City goalie exhibited both his best and worst sides Sunday. He got caught out of position on Finland's only goal, as he slid way too far to his left on a two-on-one, allowing an easy goal into an empty net. After that early goal, he settled down and stopped every shot he faced (nine saves on ten total shots). His positioning was great and he seemed to do a really great job of anticipating where each shot was come from.
Juuso Valimaki:
-Honestly, I did not notice him that much. He is expected to be a possible first round pick next June, but needs to be a little more consistent then he was last season in order for that to happen. He's probably far more likely to represent Finland then Jokiharju is at the WJCs, but Henri was honestly better on Sunday.

Canada White 5 Canada Red 2:
Cody Glass:
-I was not able to watch as much of this game as I did the other two, but Cody played right wing on Canada White's top line, along with fellow WHL players Brett Davis (Lethbridge) and Stelio Matheos (Brandon). Glass seemed to be a magnet for the puck from what I saw and did a really good job of taking the play that was there, rather than trying to do too much. I've always thought that the national team coaches respect that Glass is a responsible player. He plays well on both ends of the ice and though he does not make too many spectacular plays, he always seems to make the right play given whatever situation he is in. This is likely the reason, he has made most of the national teams that he's tried out for.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Caleb Jones at the USA's World Junior Evaluation Camp

Caleb Jones

Caleb Jones is at the United States' U-20 World Junior Evaluation Camp this summer again. After being at Lake Placid, New York the last couple years, the camp is in Plymouth, Michigan this year. The camp is the first step for USA Hockey in choosing the squad that will represent the U-20s at the World Junior Championships in Montreal and Toronto, beginning December 26th.

Jones was part of the Evaluation Camp last summer and made it past the cuts needed to combine the USA White and USA Blue rosters, but was not invited back in December for the final camp, before the team traveled overseas. He should have a much better shot at making the team as a 19-year-old puck-moving d-man, but will still need a strong camp to help make his argument.

With top d-men like Zach Werenski, Louie Belpedio, Will Borgen, Brandon Carlo and Brandon Fortunato all too old to return and play for the U-20 team, Jones has a great opportunity to not only make the team, but play a big role for the Americans this winter.

This year Canada has joined Finland and Sweden to make it a four (after the USA cuts Tuesday) team exhibition tournament. It should be a fun little primer for the big tournament and give us a chance to preview what the different rosters will look like.

Jones is on USA Blue and their first game will be this afternoon at 1pm PST vs. Finland. Winterhawks' prospect goalie Jake Oettinger will also be on USA blue along with Tri-City Americans' goalie and Black Diamond, WA native Evan Sarthou.

On USA White, meanwhile are Spokane Chief forward Kailer Yamamoto and Portland prospect Kieffer Bellows. Their first game starts at 10am PST today and it is against Sweden. Bellows started on the first line left wing, while Yamamoto was slotted the fourth line right wing. I will be watching as many games as I can of the camp and will try to do a daily recap of how Jones, Portland prospects and Sarthou and Yamamoto performed and what their outlook to make the final roster is.

Suiting up for Finland is 1999 born d-men Henri Jokiharju, who was just selected by Portland in this year's import draft and recently signed. Finland is suiting up almost exclusively a 17-year-old squad for the Evaluation Camp, so that they can take a long look at some of their younger players.

Cody Glass, Henri Jokihrju and the U-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament

With the end of July comes the fast-approaching U-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament.  In order to get the rosters for the tournaments, countries like Canada have a number of players invited to camps, where the national team coaches can evaluate them and ultimately decide whether they will be invited to go to the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Cody Glass finds himself in the mix for the U-18 team, one year after competing at the Five Nations tournament for Team Canada Red (Canada split into three teams to make it an eight-team tournament). This year, he is one of 44 players vying for a spot on the 22-man Canadian roster for the U-18 Ivan Hlinka tourney. The camp takes place Saturday, July, 30th through Tuesday, August second. Three different intra-squad Red vs. White scrimmages will take place Sunday, Monday and Tuesday to help the coaches make a decision. Once a decision is made on the final roster, those 22 players will go to the Ivan Hlinka tournament which runs August eighth through 13th. Canada's first match is at 8:30 am on the eighth vs. Slovakia.

Among the 24 invited forwards and competing for the 16 forward spots with Glass are six other WHL players. They are: Jaret Anderson-Dolan (Spokane), Jordy Bellerive (Lethbridge), Brett Davis (Lethbridge), Jake Leschysn (Regina), Stelio Matheos (Brandon) and Michael Rasmussen (Tri-City). There are also four WHL d-men among the 16 blue-liners vying for six spots. Those WHLers are Josh Brook (Moose Jaw), Brayden Gorda (Edmonton), Jonathan Smart (Kelowna) and Scott Walford (Victoria). Ian Scott from the Prince Albert Raiders is one of four goalies trying for two spots. Doing the math there, 1/4 of the U-18 roster is from the WHL (11/44).

If Glass is able to make the U-18 roster, it will do nothing but help his 2017 NHL draft stock as this tournament is essentially the start of the scouting season fro NHL teams. Usually one or two players have breakout tournaments and start to gain some attention on their way to being drafted in the first round.

Canada has dominated, historically at the Ivan Hlinka, winning the last eight and 11 of the last 12. This is one of two major U-18 tournaments with the other coming in April. Due to the CHL season, Canada usually ices a much stronger roster for the Ivan Hlinka tounrey, while Team USA does the reverse. The U.S. has won six of the last eight U-18 World Junior Championships with this strategy.

Already chosen on for the U.S.'s U-18 Ivan Hlinka team this year, are unsigned Portland Winterhawks' prospects Ryan Poehling, Brannon McManus and Clayton Phillips. Poehling was listed by Portland, but has committed to play for St. Cloud State University starting this fall. He is a 6'3" 185 lb forward, who scored more than two points a game last year for his high school, before scoring four points in nine games in the USHL with the Lincoln Stars during the 15/16 season. McManus was selected by Portland in the fourth round of the 2014 WHL bantam draft, but has committed to play for the University of Minnesota starting this fall. He was rookie-of-the year in the USHL last season with the Omaha Lancers, notching 39 points in 58 games as a 16-year-old. Phillips is another protected list add-on for Portland, who had 15 points in 25 games from the blue line last year with Edina High School. While none of these prospects are that likely to play with Portland, they will still be players to watch at the Ivan Hlinka tournaments, just in case they do change their minds.

Expected to join Glass as Portland Winterhawks in the Czech Republic and Slovakia is newly signed defenseman Henri Jokiharju. The Finnish d-man represented his country at the both the U-18 Ivan Hlinka and the U-18 World Junior Championship as a 16-year-old last season and should be a lock to make the Ivan Hlinka tourney team this year. He even won gold with the Finns at the U-18 WJCs. I am looking forward to getting my first look at the right-handed d-man, who will be manning the blue line for Portland this year when he plays for the U-20 team at the U.S.'s NJEC this week. Finland chose to carry mostly 1999 born players for the Evaluation Camp, rather than have a lot of their older players attend. I would not assume that just because he's suiting up for the U-20 team in Plymouth, he will play for them in Toronto and Montreal at the World Junior Championships.

Winterhawks-Centric U-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament Schedule:
Monday, August Eighth:
-6:30am: USA vs. Finland
-8:30am: Canada vs. Slovakia
Tuesday, August Ninth:
-6:00am: Canada vs. Russia
-6:30am: USA vs. Sweden
10:00am: Finland vs. Czech Republic
Wednesday, August 10th:
-5:00am: Canada vs. Sweden
-6:30am: Finland vs. Switzerland
-10:00am: USA vs. Czech Republic
Friday, August 12th:
-Semifinal games
Saturday, August 13th:
-Third place and Final games.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Winterhawks' Prospects Competing at National Development Camps

Brannon McManus
It's July and that does not mean hockey is taking a break. For a number of Portland Winterhawks' prospects, it meant a chance to play at National Development Camps and put themselves in the running for future international tournaments. Let's take a look at the different camps that have/are going on and how the prospects did.

The United States national program has several "Select" camps each summer and for the "Select 16s" and "Select 17s", it meant a chance to earn a spot on the U.S. U-17 team for the Five Nations Tournament August 9th-13th in Dallas, Texas and the U-18 team for the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in the Czech Republic and Slovakia August 8th-13th, respectively. Four different Winterhawks prospects were successful in their quests to make these national rosters.

Chronologically, the Select 17s camp took place first and went from June 25th-30th.
For all three camps, the invited players were split into a number of teams and then the best players off of those teams were placed on one of either of two all star teams (blue or white), excluding the Select 15s, where there was no all-star teams or games.
Select 17s (Born in 1999)
Team Royal:
Brannon McManus- C/RW-Newport Beach, CA-Committed to the University of Minnesota.
-Team went 3-2 and he led all players with nine points in the five games. He was named to All-Star Team White and went pointless in their 5-3 loss to Blue. Because of his successful outing at the camp, he will also be competing with the U-18 U.S. team at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament in August. McManus was selected in the fourth round of the 2014 Bantam Draft by Portland and is committed to play for the University of Minnesota, starting in 2017. He made the USHL All-Rookie Team while playing with the Omaha Lancers last season. If he continues his torrid pace at the Ivan Hlinka, he should start garnering a lot of interest for the 2017 NHL Draft.

Team Columbia:
Ryan Poehling-Center-Lakeville, MN-Has committed to St. Cloud State.
-Team went 1-4 and Poehling had two goals and three assists for five points. He was named to one of the All-Star team (Team White) and went pointless in their 5-3 loss to Blue. Just like McManus, Poehling impressed enough to be named to the U.S. U-18 Ivan Hlinka roster.
Ryan Poehling

Team Gray:
Cole Guttman-Center-Northridge, CA-Committed to St. Cloud State.
-Gray went 4-1 overall and Guttman had three goals and two assists for five points overall. He was not named to an all-star team, nor was he invited to join the U-18 roster overseas.

Clayton Phillips-D-Edina, MN-Committed to the University of Minnesota.
-His team went 3-2 overall and he had one assist. He also had an assist for All-Star Team Blue, which won their game for All-Star Team White 5-3. Phillips was also named to the U.S. U-18 team for the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament. So, between McManus, Poehling and Phillips, Portland is well represented at the U-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. Of course, none of those three have been signed by Portland yet, but we can always hope.

Next up for the U.S. select camps was the "Select 16s," who went camping from July 9th-14th. Portland had three prospects invited.
Select 16s (Born in 2000):
Dawson Klein-D-Lakeville, MN-No commits.
-His ream went 2-3 and Klein had two assists in their 6-2 win over Team Gray. Klein was passed over for the U-17 Five Nations Tournament and the all-star teams.

Stanislav Demin-D-Cypress, CA-Has signed with Wenatchee Wild of BCHL.
-Orange was undefeated with a 5-0 record and he had four assists. His camp was highlighted by his three assist effort in Team Orange's 5-1 win over Team Kelly. Demin was just named to the U.S.'s U-17 national team for the Five Nations Tournament, prior to the completion of the Select 16 camp. Demin was also named to the All-Star White team, which fell 2-1 to All-Star Blue. Demin will play with, fellow Orange teammate and signed Everett Silvertips' prospect Ryan Savage for the U-17 U.S. team. The Five Nations Tournament goes August ninth-13th in Dallas, Texas.

Noah Lee-D-Los Angeles, CA-No commits.
-Gold went 4-1 and Lee had an assist in their 7-1 win over Team Black and another in their 5-2 victory over Team Royal. He was left off both the Five Nations' roster, as well as, both all-star teams.

-The last camp to go this summer was the Select 15s camp, which is from July 17th-20th.
Select 15s (Born in 2001):
Callan Sandquist-Goalie-Castle Pines, CO-No commits.
-Portland's seventh round selection, was one of only 24 goalies from the 2001 age group, across the country to be invited. He started the camp, by turning away 13 of 14 shots, on his way to a win in Orange's 4-1 victory over Team Forest. Next, Sandquist stopped 12/13 shots and Team Orange won again, this time 5-3 over Team Royal. Sandquist closed out the camp with 14 saves on 15 shots in Orange's 4-3 OT loss to Team Gray. Overall he stopped 39 of 42 shots that he faced for a 2.00 GAA and 0.929 save percentage. His save percentage was good for third overall in the camp, out of 24 goalies.
Judd Caulfield-Forward-Grand Forks, N.D.-No commits.
-The Winterhawks took Caulfield with their 10th round pick this summer. He gave Red their first lead of the tournament in their first game. They would go on to beat Team Teal 3-2. In their second game, Team Red poured it on Team Gold, as Caulfield had a goal and two assists for three points, in a 10-2 win. Caulfield and Team Red finished their camp with a 5-4 win over Team Black. Caulfield added another assist for a total of five points in the three games. This tied him for fourth overall in camp scoring.

Also taking place this month, British Columbia U-16 Hockey hosted their Provincial Camp and two Winterhawks were present in Shawinigan. On the line, were invitations to represent B.C. at the Western Challenge U-16 Cup. Holden Kodak and Jason Chu both did well enough at last April's B.C. Cup, that they were invited to Provincial Camp. The invitees were split into two teams: Team Blue and Team Grey. The two teams split their four games, with two wins apiece.
Holden Kodak-Forward-Cloverdale, B.C.-No commits.
-The Hawks took Kodak in the 11th round of the 2016 bantam draft. His good camp, meant that he was named to the Team B.C. shortlist earlier today. He was third in scoring in the tournament with four points in four games. He also had three points in five games during the B.C. Cup.
Jason Chu-D-Coquitlam, B.C.-No commits.
-Portland drafted Chu in the fourth round of this past summer's draft. He scored twice and added an assist during April's Cup and added another assist in three games at the Prov. Camp. He was also named to the 30 player B.C. shortlist and should have a strong chance to represent his province in October at the Western Challenge Cup.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Winterhawks Acquire WHL Rights to Goalie Cole Kehler

The Portland Winterhawks made their first trade of the Mike Johnston 2.0 era today, when they dealt a conditional seventh round pick in he 2018 WHL bantam draft to the Kamloops Blazers for the WHL rights to 1997 born goalie Cole Kehler.

Kehler, who is out of Altona, Manitoba, was drafted in the sixth round (123rd overall) of the 2012 bantam draft by Kamloops. He spent most of his 16-year-old season with the Okanagan Hockey Academy Midget, and Prep teams. With the Okanagan Prep team, he posted an impressive 2.34 GAA and 0.934 save percentage in 14 games. He even got into 11 games with a struggling Kamloops squad that season, after backup goalie Taran Kozun was traded to Seattle. He posted a 5.16 GAA and a 0.857 save percentage for the Blazers.

The following season Kehler looked to be in the running for the starting gig after overage goalie Bolton Pouliot was "dealt" to Portland. However, fellow 17-year-old goalie Connor Ingram played better as the season progressed and got into 56 games, while Kehler only got into 21. Kehler struggled somewhat with a 4.65 GAA and 0.855 save percentage, helping make the decision to go with Ingram easier for Kamloops' coaches.

Kehler moved further down the Blazers' depth chart last year when 1998 born goalie Dylan Ferguson took over the backup spot in the preseason. Kehler ended up getting reassigned to the BCHL's Merrit Centennials, where he played 43 games, posting a 3.84 GAA and a 0.898 save percentage, for a team that missed the playoffs. Kehler then was assigned back to Kamloops for their playoff run, but did not suit up for any games, as their third goalie.

The trade makes total sense for Kamloops as they trade a 19-year-old goalie, who was not in their future plans, for a conditional pick. They appear to feel like that they are set with Ingram and Ferguson and how can you really argue with that logic.

Meanwhile, Portland has been put in a really bad spot, as far as, their goaltending situation, with Adin HIll signing with Arizona and very likely starting the season in the AHL with the Tucson Roadrunners. They were left with 1997 born Michael Bullion and 1999 born Ethan Middendorf as their only signed goalies. Also, Middendorf did not play any games last year with his team and is rumored to have been dealing with injury issues of the head variety. It is unknown whether Middendorf is even planning to continue playing hockey. Even if he decides to continue playing, taking a year off from the game cannot help him in getting ready for the WHL.

Bullion was only given seven starts last season and so his readiness to be the starting goalie this year is a big concern/question. This was not his fault, as coach Jamie Kompon decided it was a good idea to have Adin Hill start, literally every game that he was healthy enough too. This gave Portland with two goalies who had only played in 12 total WHL regular season games.

Acquiring Kehler gives Portland a backup plan, if Bullion falters when given the chance to start. It also gives the Hawks a backup goalie if Middendorf is unable to play. This, by no means, solves the goalie situation, as they could use another signed goalie or two, preferably in the 1999 or 2000 age group.

The pick will likely not even be given up, if Portland likes what they see out of a couple goalies at the Neely Cup, signs them and decides to release Kehler. Overall, it's a good safe play for the Hawks and if Kehler turns into a bona fide starter, then they got a steal.
Video of Kehler, back when he was in the running for the starting goalie spot in Kamloops.