Sam Reinhart and Aaron Ekblad Derek Leung/Getty Images)Sam Reinhart (left) and Aaron Ekblad are potential No. 1 picks in the 2014 NHL draft.
CALGARY -- The Canadian Hockey League -- a collection of the major junior hockey leagues in Canada (QMJHL, OHL and WHL) -- staged its Top Prospects game this week, and I was on hand to take in the event, as well as connect with scouts and executives. Going back to my top 30 draft prospects column from the preseason, 21 of those 30 play in the CHL, so this was a good chance to get an update on many of the top players that will be on the board this summer.

I tend to give a slight emphasis to puck possession skill in my evaluations, based on numerous studies that show it is the single best predictive measure of team-level success at higher levels. Performance is taken into account as another factor, adjusted appropriately for team strength, league quality and other contextual elements.

This contest featured a game-winning goal by Sault-Ste. Marie’s Jared McCann, but Kootenay’s Sam Reinhart really jumped off the ice. Here’s a deeper look at the top draft prospects that appeared in this game:

Anthony DeAngelo, D, Sarnia (OHL)

DeAngelo flashes his great offensive tools, which is the strength of his game as evidenced by his OHL scoring totals. He's a very skilled puck mover, who is dangerous on the mad advantage. The reason I may hold back from tagging him as a first-round prospect is his play on the defensive end. DeAngelo is undersized, and regularly on the wrong end of scoring chances. It would be one thing if he was making good plays but being out-muscled, however he's not making the proper defensive reads on some occasions.

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Filip ForsbergLudvig Thunman/AFP/Getty ImagesFilip Forsberg (left) was named the MVP of the World Junior Championship, with 12 total points.
Finland shocked host team Sweden in the gold medal match to conclude the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship. But while the team results of the event are important, the individual performances are what many focus on, as some of these players will be stars in the NHL in the coming seasons.

Below are my grades for NHL teams in terms of the players in their pipeline that participated in the event, including some observations on every drafted prospect. This is based mostly on video observations, but also discussions with scouts. Bear in mind that the team grades are not meant to show total prospect value, as that cannot be determined from a short tournament, and that we focus more on the scouting angle instead of the statistical angle for these rankings. For reference, an "A" represents a high number of prospects participating in the tournament and performing at a high level. A "D" represents few prospects in the tournament and those that did participate did not perform particularly well.

Nashville Predators: A

• F Filip Forsberg was outstanding and was named MVP of the tournament. He dominated opponents with high-end puck skills, a great work ethic, a top-end power game and good instincts. He was always involved in the play when he was on the ice, sometimes creating chances through sheer will. Forsberg looks like a potential top-line NHL forward, and perhaps a star.
• F Saku Maenalainen had a surprisingly great tournament, as he was the top goal scorer, and a threat every game on Finland's top line. He doesn't have great puck skills, but he's a big, strong forward who skates well, went to the high percentage areas, showed good awareness and quality finishing skills.
• G Juuse Saros was the best goaltender at the tournament, a natural progression after being the best goalie at the under-18 tournament last spring. Saros may be small, but he's an incredibly gifted goaltender in all other aspects. He's quick, smart, poised and most impressive of all are his reads and reflexes. Saros reads shots off the stick perfectly, anticipating when to stand, go down and make movements within the crease.
• F Zach Stepan was the 13th forward for most of the tournament for Team USA, but slotted in briefly for Danny O'Regan. He's a decent all-around player who made a few nice plays at the tournament, but was mostly a non-factor.
• D Mikko Vainonen was a solid, physical defensive presence. He regularly made some tough stops and cleared forwards out of the high percentage areas well. However, he didn't get much done in terms of puck movement.

Washington Capitals: A

• F Riley Barber was outstanding, and was a consistent offensive threat for the Americans. He brought speed, skill, energy and effective decision making on a regular basis, showing why he's been one of the top players in college hockey this season.

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Previewing notable Euros at WJC 

December, 26, 2013
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Filip ForsbergBruce Bennet/Getty ImagesFilip Forsberg will be counted on to produce for Sweden at the World Junior Championships.
With the IIHF World Junior Championship fast approaching, our final preview includes profiles on the top drafted players among the European teams. We also include some brief notes on the top draft-eligible players as well as predictions for the tournament.

As with the breakdowns of Team USA and Team Canada already posted, these notes are based on personal viewings and discussions with scouts, and each drafted player is listed with his NHL club.


Finland


Teuvo Teravainen, C, Chicago Blackhawks

Teravainen is expected to carry Finland on his back, entering the tournament as one of the top drafted prospects outside the NHL. Teravainen's puck possession skills are outstanding. He's a great puck handler, with offensive instincts that are off the charts. He makes lightning-quick decisions, controls the play very well and has a bullet of a one-timer.

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Previewing Canada's WJC team 

December, 24, 2013
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Jonathan DrouinRichard Wolowicz/Getty ImagesIf healthy, Team Canada's Jonathan Drouin may be the best player on the ice at the WJCs.

With the IIHF World Junior Championships fast approaching, we continue our breakdown of the top teams with a look at the prospects who comprise Team Canada's tournament roster.

As with the breakdown of Team USA already posted, these notes are based on personal viewings and discussions with scouts, and each drafted player is listed with his NHL club. Prospects who are draft eligible are noted as such.


Josh Anderson, RW, Columbus Blue Jackets

Anderson is a prospect who has developed very well over the past two seasons. "When he was drafted I thought he was a potential depth guy, but now he looks like a potential top-nine NHL forward," said one NHL source. Anderson is a very strong winger who plays a fast, physical brand of hockey. He isn't overly skilled, but has enough offensive instincts to get involved in the play.

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Previewing Team USA's WJC team 

December, 20, 2013
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Riley BarberTim G. Zechar/Icon SMIRiley Barber (left) has been one of the top college prospects this season.
The IIHF under-20 World Championships -- otherwise known as the World Junior Championship -- kicks off in a week. This is the first of a series of previews on the prospects playing in the tournament.

Coming off a gold medal at the 2012-13 tournament, Team USA will be looking for more of a committee effort this time around, without star prospects like Alex Galchenyuk, Seth Jones, Jacob Trouba and John Gibson. While the group isn't as strong -- and a golden finish is more unlikely than last time -- the USA should be in the mix for a medal.

Note that three names you see here will not play in the tournament, as they'll have to be cut before the IIHF directorate meeting on Dec. 25. These notes are based on personal viewings and discussions with scouts, and each drafted player is listed with his NHL club, with the players eligible for the 2014 and 2015 drafts are denoted as such.

Riley Barber, RW, Washington Capitals

Barber is a returning member from last year's gold medal team. He has been nothing short of fantastic in college this season (Miami (Ohio)), and has arguably been the most impressive prospect in college hockey. A sixth-round pick in 2012 by Washington, he has quickly become one of the top prospects in their organization. He's a very skilled offensive player, with above-average speed and finishing skills, and he also plays a quality two-way game. Look for Barber to be among the top players in the tournament.

Will Butcher, D, Colorado Avalanche

Butcher has been a big part of USA Hockey the last few years. He competed at the under-18s as an underage player, was the U.S. national team development program's (NTDP) second-best defenseman last season behind Steve Santini, and their top offensive weapon. He is a great skater who can be really dangerous with the puck, even if he's a little over-risky at times.

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Jonathan DrouinRichard Wolowicz/Getty ImagesJonathan Drouin continues to impress onlookers at every stop this season.
The Super Series between the CHL's top under-20 players and the Russian Selects ended with a tiebreak after the WHL won the final game Thursday night. This event has become steadily more important as an evaluation tool leading into the World Junior Championships and roster decisions. The series was mostly lopsided toward Canada in terms of skater performance, with Russia needing great goaltending to stay in the games.

I had talked to some NHL scouts who noted the Russian under-20s at the Four Nations tournament overseas a few weeks ago lacked depth, and the Russian squad that was sent to Canada for the Super Series -- without the top KHLers -- lacked star power. That made it tough on the players who were at the Super Series, as they were not ever able to generate even moderate puck possession.

Regardless, there were still many good prospects on display, including these notable names:

Jonathan Drouin, C, Tampa Bay Lightning

Drouin was, as expected among Junior-level players, simply dominant. The reviews from scouts in the building were ebullient, as Drouin displayed his elite offensive skills and top-end skating ability. What was most notable to me was that Drouin -- who had been moved over to center this season -- was making a lot more defensive plays than last season. That can only bode well for his NHL future, considering his offensive capabilities.


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Previewing the Super Series 

November, 14, 2013
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Aaron EkbladClaus Andersen/Getty ImagesAaron Ekblad, a 2014 draft eligible defensemen, has 18 points in 19 games in the OHL.
The Subway Super Series between the CHL and Russian Selects kicks off Nov. 18. This event is a prime viewing opportunity for some of Canada's top under-20 players, and also another prime evaluation tool for potential spots on Canada's World Junior Championships team. Full rosters can be found here.

Russia will not bring some of their top players, as they will be competing in an under-20 Four Nations tournament overseas. The New York Rangers' Pavel Buchnevich, Tampa Bay's Andrei Vasilevski and Edmonton's Bogdan Yakimov and Anton Slepyshev will not make the trip, but all four very likely will be at the WJC.

But, the same can't be said for the teams representing the three Canadian Major Junior leagues (QMJHL, OHL and WHL), as they'll essentially have "all hands on deck" for these contests. Here are some of the top prospects I'll be keeping an eye:

Madison Bowey, D, Kelowna Rockets (WHL), Washington Capitals

Bowey is a player I was high on at the 2013 NHL draft because of his significant upside. Washington selected him in the second round, as he’s a very good skater with offensive skill and a bomb for a shot. He really stood out at the spring under-18 tournament for Canada. He does still need to work a little on his decisions, but as a final cut from being invited to Canada's WJC camp in August, Bowey has a great opportunity with appearances in both WHL games to impress the evaluation staff.


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Checking in on the top prospects 

October, 10, 2013
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ManthaRichard Wolowicz/Getty ImagesRed Wings prospect Anthony Mantha is off to a hot start this season in the QMJHL.
The 2013-14 season is underway in the NHL and across many other leagues, and that means there are already several notable prospects turning heads.

With just a two-week sample, it's foolish to come to too many conclusions. However, there are some prospects performing unusually well, taking on a significant amount of responsibility or seeming to improve some portion of their game that was unexpected prior to the start of the campaign.

Here are some of the top prospects based on their play thus far this season, listed with their NHL team.





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Pageau shines in London tourney 

September, 11, 2013
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PageauAP Photo/Sean KilpatrickSenators prospect Jean-Gabriel Pageau already has one NHL hat trick on his resume.
LONDON, Ontario -- On Monday, I posted some notes from the four teams at the London prospect tournament regarding the performance of notable young players. But it wasn't possible to get everything out of my notebook in just one post, so let's circle back for some extended thoughts on some others.

Pageau's impressive tournament

Jean-Gabriel Pageau -- the 96th overall pick in 2011 -- has been trending up on a season-by-season basis. He had the best even-strength shot differential per 60 minutes for Ottawa during the 2013 regular season, and was the team's third best during the playoffs. He continued his excellent play at the London tournament.

One executive said he was "on another level." "Dominant," said another NHL source. Another identified him as the clear best player at this tournament and one source described him as God's gift to Ottawa.



Well, the last one may have been made up by yours truly, but you get the idea.

Pageau is a high-end skater who gets praise for his intangibles and work ethic; however, it's his hockey sense that makes him potentially really valuable as an NHL player. All of his good decisions, the plays he makes in tight spaces, and the confidence he has to be creative all point to a quality two-way player. He shows the ability to make a pass you didn't think he would have time to make, and make a perfect backward pass on the penalty kill to knock off 20 seconds. Ninety percent of players wouldn't think of doing that, let alone a player who won't turn 21 years old until Nov. 11.

Pageau isn't a total lock to make the Senators out of camp, but it seems very likely he will, and may push those ahead of him on the NHL depth chart this season.

Percy stands out


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Young stars shine at prospect tourneys 

September, 9, 2013
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LindholmBill Wippert/Getty ImagesElias Lindholm was the No. 5 overall pick in the 2013 draft, and may be ready for the NHL this season.
As the NHL convened across North America for a slew of prospect tournaments, Insider's hockey writers followed suit, attending tourneys in Michigan, Florida and Ontario to get a glimpse of some of the league's future stars. Below are their notes from a weekend of prospect observation.

Notes from Traverse City


TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- There were plenty of excuses lined up for Elias Lindholm if he was rusty in his return to the ice on Sunday when the Carolina Hurricanes played the Buffalo Sabres. He hasn't played a game since March. He's recovering from a bruised shoulder, suffered during a Hurricanes summer development camp. He's still adjusting to the smaller ice.

So GM Jim Rutherford kept his expectations in check while watching the No. 5 overall pick from the 2013 NHL draft from his spot above the ice at the NHL Prospect Tournament in northern Michigan. He didn't need to.

"I was surprised he played as well as he did," Rutherford said when we chatted after the game. "I was looking for a guy trying to get through the game and get his timing. The second and third period, his skill level really showed and his vision. He was really good with the puck. He moved the puck to the open guys all the time."

Rutherford's conclusion? "I was very, very pleased," he said.



The Hurricanes believe Lindholm is talented enough right now to play in the NHL in 2013, although the injury set back his summer workout plans during an offseason that is already a challenge for high draft picks. A top prospect's draft year can be a whirlwind -- from the draft combine to the draft, then the demands that come with being a player expected to help turn around a franchise. Lindholm said he's been managing it all, and even worked in some vacation time in Miami, but admits it's been a grind.

"The summer has been up and down," he said following Sunday's game, a 7-4 loss to the Sabres. "I wanted more hours in the gym. It is what it is. I think I'll just [make] the best of the situation."

If he continues to impress Carolina's decision-makers in training camp, he will likely end up playing on a line with Jeff Skinner, a scenario Rutherford prefers. The mix of Lindholm's vision along with Skinner's scoring ability balances out the Hurricanes' forward group. That's the ideal.

But considering that he's an 18-year-old switching to the North American game while coming off a shoulder injury, it may not necessarily play out that way. If Lindholm isn't ready for the NHL following training camp, there's going to be a tough decision to make. He hasn't ruled out returning to Sweden, while Carolina would prefer he plays closer to Raleigh if he isn't in the NHL, since the anticipation would be that he won't stay in the AHL for long.

"We'll see. We will have a discussion if I get sent down to the minors what is best for me," Lindholm said. "Maybe it's best for me to go back to Sweden and play another year. Maybe it's better to get used to the small rink and play in the minors. We will see."






More on the Hurricanes

The Hurricanes are still waiting for final word on the CT scan of defenseman Joni Pitkanen's broken heel. The expectation is that he'll miss camp and the start of the regular season, which opens up an opportunity on the Hurricanes' blue line for prospect Ryan Murphy. Through three games in Traverse City, Murphy leads all defensemen in the tournament with six points, registering three of his assists on the power play.

"His upside is his offense. He can certainly help our power play," Rutherford said. Although offense has never been the problem for Murphy.

"The key for him is being paired with the right partner and we've got a couple guys that suit that," Rutherford added. "The thing he needs to work on is the defensive side of the game. He's a smart enough player to figure that out."


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Aaron EkbladClaus Andersen/Getty ImagesAaron Ekblad is on his way to being a top-five pick in the 2014 NHL draft.
The Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament wrapped up with Canada winning its sixth straight gold medal at the tournament. But perhaps more important, the event provided the hockey season's first look at some of the top draft-eligible prospects for 2014.

Here are some notes on some of the big names who played well at the event based on my conversations with scouts in attendance and watching video of a couple of games.

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Top performers at WJC Camp 

August, 13, 2013
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Connor McDavidClaus Andersen/Getty ImagesConnor McDavid's elite skill set was on full display at the WJC evaluation tournament.
We recently had a look at the top prospects for Team USA at the Lake Placid World Junior Championship evaluation tournament, so we'll continue on that same theme here, this time focusing on the players at the event representing Canada, Sweden and Finland.

This year's evaluation camp had fewer big names than usual, with top prospects like Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin, Morgan Rielly, Griffin Reinhart, Aleksander Barkov, Rasmus Ristolainen, Jacob Trouba, Seth Jones, Filip Forsberg and Elias Lindholm not attending. Then again, Team Canada being in attendance for the first time helped to counterbalance this somewhat.

Despite all those absent big names, there were still several impressive top prospects to go along with good performances from draft-eligible players. Here are some notes from my observations attending the camp on the most impressive performers.





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Breaking down Team USA WJC Camp 

August, 12, 2013
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Riley BarberTim G. Zechar/Icon SMICaps prospect Riley Barber, left, is arguably the top offensive player on the U.S. junior team.
This winter, the United States will look to defend its under-20 gold medal in Malmo, Sweden. Last week, the team held its National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., going up against Sweden, Finland and Canada. The U.S. played mediocre for most of the camp, although it had a strong final game against Canada.

Without high-end talent on its roster like last year, when it boasted Seth Jones, Jacob Trouba and Alex Galchenyuk, the current roster lacks a game-breaking element. This current U.S. team is deep, but deep in solid players and those with two-way value.

"We have to be a blue-collar, lunch-pail, go-to-work-every-day [type of team]," head coach Don Lucia said. "We're not going to outskill a lot of teams. We have to have a good work ethic."

General Manager Jim Johannson reinforced the team approach, adding, "I think this is going to be a pack of wolves, a group effort in all parts of the game."

Despite the lack of top-end stars, there was still a lot to talk about at the camp, as several defensemen stood out. Though the evaluation process will continue into next season and the December camp, here are some notes on U.S. players from my observations:





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Henrik LundqvistEliot J. Schechter/NHLI/Getty ImagesHenrik Lundqvist had the faith of his Swedish team, but NHL teams remained skeptical.
This is the third and final piece in our series reflecting on where stats saw future success (or failure) on the horizon for draft picks. After first looking at forwards and then defensemen, we now look to the crease.

To review, many studies have shown there is notable predictive value in stat-based analysis for prospects. The main issues facing analytics for junior, collegiate and other levels are adjusting for context and trying to separate the relationship between production and the typical uncertainty/miss rate of projecting prospects. After all, stats can't tell you everything about prospects. They need to be adjusted for a variety of factors, they can't replace scouts, and they are subject to statistical noise. However, if used correctly for the NHL draft, stats can help teams find some overlooked sleepers and may prevent them from making a glaring mistake.

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P.K. SubbanTom Szczerbowski/US PresswireP.K. Subban's numbers painted him as a high-potential prospect.
As noted in Tuesday's post regarding statistical insights on draft forwards, there has been an increased emphasis on analytics at the prospect level in the hockey world.

To review, many studies have shown there is notable predictive value in stat-based analysis for prospects. The main issues facing analytics for junior, collegiate and other levels is adjusting for context and trying to separate the relationship between production and the typical uncertainty/miss rate of projecting prospects. After all, stats can't tell you everything about prospects. They need to be adjusted for a variety of factors, they can't replace scouts, and they are subject to statistical noise. However, if used correctly for the NHL draft, stats can help teams find some overlooked sleepers and may prevent them from making a glaring mistake.

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