Kelly Friesen

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Kelly Friesen is a blogger for Yahoo! Sports

  • NHL draft tracker: Simon Stransky, Prince Albert Raiders

    Simon Stransky is one of the WHL's top forwards in the 2016 NHL draft class. (Lucas Chudleigh/Prince Albert Raiders)Simon Stransky is one of the WHL's top forwards in the 2016 NHL draft class. (Lucas Chudleigh/Prince Albert Raiders)

    Simon Stransky’s decision to take the same path as his older brother, former Saskatoon Blade and Dallas Stars pick Matej Stransky, by leaving the Czech Republic to play in the WHL has paid notable dividends. The Prince Albert Raiders winger has asserted himself as a potential first-round pick in the 2016 NHL draft class, as he was recently ranked 24th among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting Service’s midterm ranking.

    “He said it was a good experience and that it would be good for me, too,” says Stransky on his decision to play in the WHL. “He told me they have good coaches out here and it’s a good way to get to the next level.”

    Evident in his stats, the 6-foot, 169-pound Stransky has evolved his game in his sophomore season with the Raiders. He’s netted 14 goals and 38 points in 37 contests following notching 42 points in 70 contests last year.

    “I’ve played a lot this year,” says the Ostrava, Czech Republic native. “The coach gives me a lot of ice time and I’ve had good

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  • Red Deer Rebels’ Jake DeBrusk aims to end junior career on high note

    Jake DeBrusk has 13 points in 12 games since joining the Red Deer Rebels on Dec. 27. (Dave Brunner Photography) Jake DeBrusk has 13 points in 12 games since joining the Red Deer Rebels on Dec. 27. (Dave Brunner Photography) 

    Boston Bruins first-round pick Jake DeBrusk had a whirlwind of a day on Dec. 27 when he found the Swift Current Broncos traded him to the Red Deer Rebels. It wasn’t easy for him to put Swift Current in the rearview mirror, but he knew he was headed for greener pastures in Red Deer, the hosts of the 2016 Memorial Cup.

    “I had mixed emotions that day,” says DeBrusk. “I had a lot of good memories in Swift and that’s the only team I played for in the WHL. It was tough to say goodbye, but I was super excited and honoured to get the chance to play for Red Deer. I knew some guys on this team and know they are a great organization and it will be a great opportunity to play in the Memorial Cup.”

    The 6-foot, 181-pound winger didn’t have to wait long to return to Swift Current following the trade. The Broncos hosted the Rebels on Jan. 16 in his 11th game with Brent Sutter’s crew.

    “It was a really weird experience,” says DeBrusk, who has notched 14 goals and 39 points in 36 games this year. “Not

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  • Auston Matthews was ranked No. 1 among International skaters in Central Scouting's mid-term rankings . (Roni Rekomaa / Lehtikuva via AP) Auston Matthews was ranked No. 1 among International skaters in Central Scouting's mid-term rankings . (Roni Rekomaa / Lehtikuva via AP)

    Arizona product Auston Matthews remains the 2016 NHL draft’s top prospect following the release of NHL Central Scouting Service’s midterm rankings.

    Matthews, who plays for the ZSC Lions in Switzerland, topped the scouting service’s International skaters list. It’s believed his impressive showing with Team USA at the 2016 world junior championship solidified his No. 1 ranking.

    “I think he did solidify himself as the probable No.1 pick, but it's not a big margin between him and the next best two (Jesse Puljujärvi) or three (Patrik Laine),” Central Scouting’s Thomas Roost told BTN shortly after the tourney ended. “Matthews was very strong on the puck, he did win a lot of battles in the corners and along the walls and he could easily hold off opponent d-men who attacked him. In addition, he did put himself often in good shooting positions and his shots were quite dangerous most of the time.”

    Beyond Matthews, in no particular order, here is a look at 10 potential first-round picks to watch

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  • Victoria Royals forward Matthew Phillips is second in points among WHL rookies. (Jon Howe)Victoria Royals forward Matthew Phillips is second in points among WHL rookies. (Jon Howe)

    Even though he only possesses a 5-foot-6, 137-pound frame, Victoria Royals centre Matthew Phillips has asserted himself as one of the Western Hockey League’s top rookies this season. He sits second in the league’s freshman scoring race with 22 goals and 45 points in 44 games.

    Phillips’ point production speaks volumes on its own, but it’s even more impressive when considering the hyped talents he has outperformed on the stats sheet. He’s outscored all the 2014 bantam draft picks, albeit he is a year older with a 1998 birthdate. Moreover, he’s notched more points than potential 2016 first-round NHL picks Sam Steel (Regina Pats) and Brett Howden (Moose Jaw Warriors).

    Modest and humble, Phillips credits his teammates for his early WHL success.

    “The older guys have helped me transition to this level,” says Phillips, who turns 18 in April. “I have really good linemates and we work well together. A guy like Alex Forsberg has helped me out a lot; he has a lot of skill and playing with him has

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  • Washington Capitals pick Connor Hobbs hits stride in Regina

    Regina Pats defender Connor Hobbs has notched 27 points in 36 games this season. (Keith Hershmiller Photography)Regina Pats defender Connor Hobbs has notched 27 points in 36 games this season. (Keith Hershmiller Photography)

    Even though the Washington Capitals chose him in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL entry draft, Regina Pats blueliner Connor Hobbs entered his 18-year-old season with something to prove this year. He was yet to establish himself as a star in the WHL largely because he only played 55 regular-season games in his previous two seasons in the major junior league.

    Roughly half way into the year, Hobbs has left little doubt that he’s on his way to developing into one of the WHL’s top defencemen. He has racked up 12 goals and 28 points in 37 contests while playing a strong game at both ends of the ice.

    “It feels good (to be taking part in his first full WHL season),” says Hobbs, who turned 19 on Jan. 4. “It was exciting to come here last year and that has not changed this year. I’m having a lot of fun and am glad to be a part of a great organization like the Pats.”

    The 6-foot-1, 196-pounder credits his teammates and the organization’s “energy” for his success in the Queen City.

    “There’s a lot

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  • Kelowna Rockets defender Callan Foote following father's footsteps

    Kelowna's Callan Foote has 18 points in 39 games in his WHL rookie season. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze) Kelowna's Callan Foote has 18 points in 39 games in his WHL rookie season. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze) 

    Callan Foote is following the footsteps of his father, former NHL great Adam Foote. He has been making a name for himself as a sound two-way defenceman in his rookie season with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets.

    “We talk a lot and he gives me good advice,” says Foote, who has scored four goals and 18 points in 39 games this season, on his relationship with his father. “He went through the same process as me except he played in the OHL. He knows how it works and we can talk strategy on how to handle certain things on the ice.”

    As a 6-foot-3, 198-pound blueliner, it is inevitable that Foote has some similarities with his father; however, as more of a mobile defender than a shutdown specialist, there are notable differences between the two.

    “We have some similarities, but I’m my own player,” says Foote. “But the comparisons don’t bother me and I’m used to it.”

    Foote, who isn’t draft-eligible until 2017 because of his late 1998 birthdate, credits his early major junior success to his team. He

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  • 2016 WJC displays elite Finnish, U.S. draft-eligible talent

    Auston Matthews notched 11 points in the tourney while the U.S. captured bronze. (Roni Rekomaa / Lehtikuva via AP) Auston Matthews notched 11 points in the tourney while the U.S. captured bronze. (Roni Rekomaa / Lehtikuva via AP)

    Led by tournament MVP Jesse Puljujärvi and Arizona product Auston Matthews, the top NHL draft prospects from Finland and the United States stole the show at the 2016 world junior championship. 

    The tournament is a testament to how the Finns and Americans have both produced bumper 2016 NHL draft crops. It’s not as though the two countries were handed the draft’s spotlight because of a weak pool of Canadian talent, either. Canada has a handful of elite prospects such as Sarnia Sting defender Jakob Chychrun and Mississauga Steelheads forward Michael McLeod, but they are a step behind the Matthews of the world.

    “I don't consider it to be an especially weak Canadian crop,” says McKeen’s Hockey head scout Grant McCagg. “I consider it to be exceptionally strong in the US and Finland at the top of the draft. This is shaping up to be one of the strongest top 10s in draft history.”

    The 6-foot-2, 194-pound Matthews, who netted seven goals and 11 points in seven games, remains the draft’s

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  • The Red Deer Rebels acquired Adam Helewka from the Spokane Chiefs in a blockbuster trade. (Chiefs)The Red Deer Rebels acquired Adam Helewka from the Spokane Chiefs in a blockbuster trade. (Chiefs)

    Days after landing Boston Bruins pick Jake DeBrusk from the Swift Current Broncos, the Red Deer Rebels made another move to help bolster their offense for the 2016 Memorial Cup. The tournament hosts acquired San Jose Sharks prospect Adam Helewka from the Spokane chiefs for team captain Wyatt Johnson, prospect Eli Zummack, a 2016 second-round bantam pick and a 2017 fifth-round bantam pick.

    The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Helewka is a big addition for Red Deer in more ways than one. He’s established himself as an elite physical forward who has a knack for putting the puck in the back of the net, as he’s scored 16 goals and 29 points in 19 games this season.

    That said, the Rebels paid a hefty price to acquire the 20-year-old winger. Since Zummack, who has 24 points in 17 games with the Okanagan Rockets at the Major Midget level, was a 2015 second-round pick, they ultimately gave up a pair of second-round draft choices. In addition, in order to make the overage numbers work, they lost a strong

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  • Red Deer Rebels land Boston Bruins pick Jake DeBrusk from Swift Current Broncos

    The Red Deer Rebels acquired Bruins pick Jake DeBrusk from the Swift Current Broncos on Dec. 27.The Red Deer Rebels acquired Bruins pick Jake DeBrusk from the Swift Current Broncos on Dec. 27.

    In preparation for hosting the 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup, the Red Deer Rebels made a big move to boost their offensive arsenal. They landed Boston Bruins first-round pick Jake DeBrusk from the Swift Current Broncos for a 2017 first-round bantam pick, a 2016 third-round bantam pick and 18-year-old forward Lane Pederson.

    The 6-foot, 181-pound DeBrusk, who turned 19 in October, had a major breakout season last year, as he netted 42 goals and 81 points in 72 games. He has been just over a point-per-game pace this year with nine markers and 26 points in 24 matches.

    The Edmonton, Alta., native gives the Rebels a solid offensive quartet. He fits in nicely alongside Russian import Ivan Nikolishin, Winnipeg Jets prospect Michael Spacek and Colorado Avalanche first-round selection Conner Bleackley.

    The addition of DeBrusk

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  • Auston Matthews leads 2016 WJC’s top NHL draft prospects

    USA's Auston Matthews scored a goal and three points in five games at the 2015 WJC. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)USA's Auston Matthews scored a goal and three points in five games at the 2015 WJC. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    All eyes will be on Team USA centre Auston Matthews at the 2016 world junior championship in Finland. He’s entering the tournament regarded as the clear-cut top prospect of the 2016 NHL draft class.

    The 6-foot-2, 194-pound Matthews has looked anything but an 18-year-old freshman in Switzerland’s National League A this season. He has scored 14 goals and 25 points in 22 games with the ZSC Lions while showcasing his soft hands, elite strength, smooth stride and top-notch hockey sense.

    “His overall package is extremely impressive,” says NHL Central Scouting’s Thomas Roost, who is based in Switzerland. “He is very strong on the puck, makes great plays, skates very well, excellent hands, and he is very successful in corner-battles and along the walls. I guess he also improved his shooting compared to one year ago. In my eyes he is still the favorite for No.1 overall.”

    It seems the Scottsdale, AZ., native is poised to be one of the most dominant players in the tourney; however, when taking

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