Summer Skating

With training camp coming right around the corner, talk has started to turn to some of the NHL’s young players on the cusp of cracking the big league roster.

A pair of summer series took a look at the New York area franchises late last week. ESPN Insiders can check out some player projections from Puck Prospectus and get a glimpse of the future, as E.J. Hradek lists key prospects to watch for in camp. Here’s a taste:

New York Islanders: Nino Niederreiter

The lefty-shooting right wing doesn't turn 18 until Sept. 8. In fact, he was among the youngest players in his draft class. While he'd probably be better served by another season of junior hockey, I won't be surprised in the least if he's wearing blue and orange on opening night.

New Jersey Devils: Alexander Urbom

Eyeballing him during the Devils prospect camp last month, he reminded me of a young Vladimir Malakhov. I'm not saying he's that good; rather, I just felt he has same lanky build. He seemed to have good feet for a bigger player and he looked comfortable and confident during the prospect scrimmages. Of course, it's hard to say what it really means to look good (or bad) in a summer prospect game.

New York Rangers: Mats Zuccarello Aasen

The undrafted 22-year-old (he turns 23 on Sept. 1) opened some NHL eyes with his play for Modo in the Swedish Elite League as well as his Olympic performance for an overmatched Team Norway. In fact, Zuccarello Aasen led the Swedish league with 64 points in 55 games. (Before you get too crazy about that, keep in mind former Ranger Jan Hlavac was the league's fifth-leading scorer as well as its top goal producer.)

There’s plenty more on each prospect and each team, including projections of players on the rise and others whose production is expected to slip back.

Not an Insider? NHL.com’s 30 in 30 series (Huh, that sounds familiar … ) explores who’s new, who’s nixed and what’s next for the Devils, Islanders and Rangers.

While the only cup talk on Long Island this summer was followed by the suffix of “cake,” the headline of that NHL.com Isles’ piece taps the team as playoff contenders.

Don’t scoff. The Isles stayed in contention until late January last season, then fell off following a seven-game losing streak and an epic swoon from John Tavares (9 points in 37 games from Dec. 14 to March 14). If the young center can maintain the point-per-game rate he posted in his other 45 games and the team gets consistent goaltending, there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t be able to sneak into the top eight teams in the East.

And while Tavares may not have the same supporting cast, another recent No. 1 overall pick shows such an improvement in Year 2 isn’t impossible.

Morning Links

  • The Winnipeg Free Press tells the tale of the Toews brothers, who want to renew their rivalry on the ice. David Toews, the Johnny Drama to Jonathan's Vinny Chase, was a third-round pick for the Islanders in the 2008 entry draft. The article tells about how he once beat his big bro at hockey in the backyard. Before Isles fans get too carried away with his talent, we should probably re-emphasize "once." But that Jonathan Toews kid is pretty sharp, what with his gold medal and Stanley Cup and all.

  • The Sporting News' Craig Custance hosted a round table discussion with NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes (a vet of the Devils, Rangers and Islanders), Washington Capitals forward Brooks Laich and new Devils head coach John MacLean. Not that one. This one. The trio discussed this year's most-improved and potential surprise teams (Laich taps the Isles), as well as what it was like to take down Hans Gruber*. (* may not have actually been discussed ... but should have)

  • The Burlington Times News reports on a North Carolina politician who was supposed to actually wrestle an opponent on Saturday (scroll down). Why do you care? Because if the politician got pinned, he'd have to wear a Devils jersey and condemn the Carolina Hurricanes. North Carolina voters getting a dose of the hard hitting issues, indeed. You can see the results here.

  • NESN takes a look at the Devils today, noting that while the Devils could still be dangerous, they need Ilya Kovalchuk for the playoffs. We'll explore the money issues surrounding Kovalchuk on this blog later today.