Kelly Friesen

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Kelly Friesen is a blogger for Yahoo! Sports

  • NHL scout: “(Patrik) Laine has the biggest upside in the draft”

    Once upon a time, it seemed the eventual winner of the 2016 NHL draft lottery wouldn’t have to think twice about selecting Auston Matthews. He was regarded as the slum-dunk pick because of the combination of his elite skill set, imposing frame and complete game.

    On the eve of the lottery, however, Finnish star Patrik Laine’s strong play has pushed scouts to question the status quo. He’s not only put some space between himself and fellow countryman Jesse Puljujärvi, who is favoured to go third overall at June's NHL draft in Buffalo, but he’s also made a case to challenge Matthews as the draft’s top prospect.

    Although the No. 1 draft slot seems to be Matthews to lose, some scouts believe Laine has the potential to leapfrog the Scottsdale, AZ., native at the upcoming IIHF World Championship tournament May 6 -22 in Russia.

    “I was pretty sure about (Matthews) him going first overall for nearly all the season, but now I'm not so sure and think the World Championship in Russia will finally

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  • Ivan Provorov and the Wheat Kings take on the Rebels in the WHL's Eastern Conference final. (Wheat Kings)Ivan Provorov and the Wheat Kings take on the Rebels in the WHL's Eastern Conference final. (Wheat Kings)

    As expected, the Brandon Wheat Kings and Red Deer Rebels are set to square off in the WHL’s Eastern Conference final. The Wheaties were the top team in the conference this year while the Rebels loaded up at the trade deadline and host the upcoming Memorial Cup.

    After knocking the Edmonton Oil Kings out in two games, the Wheat Kings were on their game in the second round. They ousted the Brayden Point-led Moose Jaw Warriors in five matches.

    The Rebels squeaked by the Regina Pats in an exciting seven-game series following their first round battle with the Calgary Hitmen. They took Game 7 at home in a close 2-1 affair.

    Brandon hosts Games 1 tonight at the Keystone Centre. Here is a preview of the series.

    (1) Brandon Wheat Kings (48-18-4-2, 102 pts) vs. (3) Red Deer Rebels (45-24-1-2, 93 pts)

    Season series: Tie 2-2-0-0. Prediction: Wheat Kings in 6.

    Series in a sentence: Memorial Cup favourites square off against the Memorial Cup hosts.

    Here are some questions to ponder about in the

    Read More »from WHL Eastern Conference final preview: Memorial Cup hosts in tough against Wheat Kings
  • WHL playoff preview: Second-round matchups in the Eastern Conference

    Brayden Point and the Warriors face the Wheat Kings int he second round. (Larry MacDougal, The Canadian Press)Brayden Point and the Warriors face the Wheat Kings int he second round. (Larry MacDougal, The Canadian Press)

    Albeit there were some hiccups, the first round of the WHL’s Eastern Conference playoffs didn’t include any big surprises. The Brandon Wheat Kings and Red Deer Rebels won their heavily favoured series while the Regina Pats and Moose Jaw Warriors came out on top of their close matchups.

    The Wheat Kings stumbled out of the gate in their first series, as they dropped the first two games to the Edmonton Oil Kings. They pulled up their socks in Game 3, though, and went on to take the series in six matches.

    Moose Jaw’s elite scorers were just too much for the Prince Albert Raiders to handle. Brett Howden, a 2016 NHL draft prospect, led the way with 11 points while veteran forwards Dryden Hunt and Brayden Point racked up 10 points each.

    Red Deer’s trade deadline additions came up big in their five-game series over the Calgary Hitmen. San Jose Sharks pick Adam Helewka (5G-2A) and Boston Bruins first-round pick Jake DeBrusk (3G-2A) combined for 12 points.

    Even though the Pats finished

    Read More »from WHL playoff preview: Second-round matchups in the Eastern Conference
  • NHL draft tracker: Sam Steel, Regina Pats

    Regina Pats centre Sam Steel is a potential 2016 first-round pick. (Keith Hershmiller)Regina Pats centre Sam Steel is a potential 2016 first-round pick. (Keith Hershmiller)

    Regina Pats centre Sam Steel grew up in a hockey household in Sherwood Park, Alta. He spent countless hours learning the game and enhancing his skills on his father’s high-end backyard hockey rink with his older brother Patrick Steel, who played Junior ‘A’ with the AJHL’s Canmore Eagles.

    “I’m definitely from a hockey family,” says Steel, who is ranked 29th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting Service. “I grew up with a big backyard rink and used to skate on it all the time. I started playing hockey at like three years old and it’s a game my family loves.”

    In the Queen City, the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Steel has been fortunate to be surrounded by many elite scorers. He has laced up the skates with the likes of Calgary Flames first-rounder Morgan Klimchuk and 120-point scorer Adam Brooks.

    “I’ve been lucky to play with lots of skilled forwards in Regina,” says Steel, who possesses elite playmaking abilities and a high hockey IQ. “Guys like Morgan Klimchuk and Braden

    Read More »from NHL draft tracker: Sam Steel, Regina Pats
  • WHL playoff preview: First-round matchups in the Eastern Conference

    Ivan Provorov's Brandon Wheat Kings are the favourites in the WHL's Eastern Conference. (Wheat Kings)Ivan Provorov's Brandon Wheat Kings are the favourites in the WHL's Eastern Conference. (Wheat Kings)

    After the Kelowna Rockets swept them in the WHL final last year, the Brandon Wheat Kings have their sights set on redeeming themselves and booking a trip to the 2016 Memorial Cup in Red Deer.

    The Wheat Kings struggled out of the gate, but went on a roll down the stretch. They posted an 11-0-2-0 record in their last 13 contests and finished the year with 102 points.

    Brandon’s toughest Eastern Conference competitor seems to be the Red Deer Rebels. The Memorial Cup hosts loaded up at the trade deadline by acquiring many major junior stars such as Boston Bruins first-round pick Jake DeBrusk, San Jose Sharks pick Adam Helewka and overage forward Luke Philip.

    The WHL’s playoff action kicks off tonight as the Wheat Kings and Oil Kings square off. The other three Eastern Conference series begin on Friday.

    Central Division

    (2) Lethbridge Hurricanes (46-24-1-1, 94 points) vs. (7) Regina Pats (36-28-3-5, 80 points)

    Season series: Pats 3-1-0-0. Prediction: Pats in 7.

    Series in a sentence: The

    Read More »from WHL playoff preview: First-round matchups in the Eastern Conference
  • Kootenay Ice win 2016 WHL bantam draft lottery

    Kootenay hopes to draft the next Sam Reinhart with the top pick in the 2016 WHL bantam draft. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)Kootenay hopes to draft the next Sam Reinhart with the top pick in the 2016 WHL bantam draft. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

    The Kootenay Ice’s rebuild received a major boost today at the 2016 WHL bantam draft lottery. The organization was awarded the top selection in the draft after its ball was drawn in Calgary.

    With a 12-53-6-1 record this season, Kootenay missed the playoffs for the first time since moving to Cranbrook, B.C., in 1998. It was the first year of the club’s rebuild after they graduated Buffalo Sabres prized pick Sam Reinhart and Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Rinat Valiev last offseason.

    Kootenay began to reload their cupboard at the 2015 bantam draft despite not holding a first-round pick. They drafted Yorkton, Sask., native Keenan Taphorn 34th overall and Notre Dame Hounds product Loeden Schauffler 56th overall. They went on to acquire Kaeden Taphorn, the twin brother of Keenan, in a January trade with the Vancouver Giants.

    The Ice have never drafted first overall as a Cranbrook-based team, but the organization did hold the No. 1 pick when they were located in Edmonton in 1997. They chose

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  • Lethbridge Hurricanes winger Brayden Burke is on the 2016 NHL draft radar. (Cindy Adachi)Lethbridge Hurricanes winger Brayden Burke is on the 2016 NHL draft radar. (Cindy Adachi)

    As a sophomore with the Lethbridge Hurricanes, Brayden Burke has blossomed into one of the top point producers in the Western Hockey League. The left-winger hit triple digits this season with 27 goals and 109 points in 72 games.

    “I owe credit to my linemates and the good chemistry we have,” says Burke, who produced eight goals and 34 points in 42 contests last season. “All year we’ve had good chemistry. I also think keeping it simple has paid off. Just making the smart passes and doing the little things right.”

    The 5-foot-10, 164-pound Burke entered this season with a bit of a chip on his shoulder following going undrafted in the 2015 NHL entry draft. He set his sights on proving all 30 NHL teams wrong for not taking a chance on him last year.

    “I didn’t fully expect to get drafted last year, but it was disappointing,” he says. “I’ve used that as motivation for this season. I want to show that they made a mistake and that they should pick me this season.”

    It seems Burke’s dream of

    Read More »from Snubbed in 2015, Lethbridge Hurricanes’ Brayden Burke eyes second chance on NHL draft floor
  • NHL draft tracker: Riley Tufte, Blaine High

    Minnesota native Riley Tufte is a potential first-round pick in the 2016 NHL draft. (MJoy Photography/Fargo Force)Minnesota native Riley Tufte is a potential first-round pick in the 2016 NHL draft. (MJoy Photography/Fargo Force)

    With an imposing 6-foot-5, 190-pound frame, it’s easy for Riley Tufte to stand out among his peers. He is not, however, a prototypical power forward, as he’s regarded as a larger skilled winger with an appealing combination of soft hands and a strong skating ability.

    “I do see a big advantage to having size,” says Tufte, who is ranked 17th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting Service. “I obviously have a long reach and can use my body to win battles.”

    In his fourth season with Blaine High, the Ham Lake, MN., native dominated the Minnesota high school hockey scene this past year. He produced over three points per game with 47 goals and 78 points in 25 matches.

    “Being here for four years, I’m used to the pace and know the league,” he says. “My teammates have been playing with me my whole life and we have lots of good chemistry. It’s helped me a lot this year to know what to expect.”

    Tufte started the year with the USHL’s Fargo Force, who drafted him first overall in the

    Read More »from NHL draft tracker: Riley Tufte, Blaine High
  • Auston Matthews remains 2016 NHL draft’s top prospect after Swiss season ends

    Arizona product Auston Matthews remains the 2016 NHL draft's top talent. (Roni Rekomaa / Lehtikuva via AP) Arizona product Auston Matthews remains the 2016 NHL draft's top talent. (Roni Rekomaa / Lehtikuva via AP)

    With it all said and done, Auston Matthews’ unorthodox decision to turn pro in his draft season seems to have paid dividends. The Scottsdale, AZ., native remains the 2016 NHL draft’s consensus top prospect and pocketed a six-figure salary after wrapping up his 2015-16 season with the Swiss National League A’s Zurich Lions last week.

    “I still think he is the front-runner for No.1 at this point,” says NHL Central Scouting Service’s Thomas Roost, who is a Switzerland-based scout.

    The 6-foot-2, 194-pound centre looked anything but an 18-year-old freshman in Zurich. While showcasing his elite stride, top-notch offensive abilities and superb hockey sense, he netted 24 goals and 46 points in 36 games.

    “Before the season, I did expect that he will be one of the best players in the league until November and the best player after that and I guess I was quite correct with this prediction,” says Roost. “I wouldn't say that he did exceed my expectations, but he definitely did meet them and my

    Read More »from Auston Matthews remains 2016 NHL draft’s top prospect after Swiss season ends
  • Victoria Royals goalie Griffen Outhouse thrives in rookie season

    Victoria Royals netminder Griffen Outhouse has been lights out in his WHL rookie season. (Jon Howe)Victoria Royals netminder Griffen Outhouse has been lights out in his WHL rookie season. (Jon Howe)

    Despite going undrafted in the 2013 WHL bantam draft, Griffen Outhouse has solidified himself as one of the league’s top goalies in his rookie season with the Victoria Royals. Look no further than his numbers for proof of that, as he’s posted a 1.83 average and .937 save percentage throughout 25 games.

    “I feel I’m a late-bloomer and have grown my game a lot in the past couple of years,” says Outhouse, who turns 18 on March 13. “I played for some good programs the last couple of years (Pursuit of Excellence in 2013-14 and the Cariboo Cougars in 2014-15) and I developed a lot.”

    Humble and modest, Outhouse credits his team, especially his goalie partner Coleman Vollrath, for his early major junior success.

    “As soon as I got here, the team welcomed me and made me feel comfortable,” he says. “The defensive core here is great and we have a great group of guys. I also couldn’t have asked for a better teammate and mentor than Coleman. He’s a great guy and has helped me a lot this year and

    Read More »from Victoria Royals goalie Griffen Outhouse thrives in rookie season

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