Sunaya Sapurji

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Sunaya Sapurji is the junior hockey columnist for Yahoo! Sports Canada. Sunaya previously worked at the Toronto Star for 10 years as a copy editor and writer covering the Ontario Hockey League.

  • General managers hoping their gambles pay at CHL import draft

    Oliver Kylington reacts after being selected 60th overall by the Calgary Flames during the 2015 NHL Draft.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)Oliver Kylington reacts after being selected 60th overall by the Calgary Flames during the 2015 NHL Draft. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    There were lots of gambles taking place on Tuesday as the Canadian Hockey League held their annual import draft. Many big names – including players taken last weekend at the NHL entry draft – were in the mix as 120 players had their CHL rights picked up.

    Going first overall to the Acadie-Bathurst Titan was Russian forward Vladimir Kuznetsov. The 17-year-old won a gold medal with Russia at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge last year and played the regular season with his hometown Yekaterinburg in the MHL, Russia’s junior league. He finished with 12 points in 43 games. He won't be eligible for the NHL draft until 2016.

    Russia lead the charge at the draft with 19 players selected followed by the Czech Republic (12) and Finland and Sweden tied at nine players a piece.

    One of the biggest names taken on Tuesday was Swedish defenceman Oliver Kylington, a second-round pick of the Calgary Flames. The 18-year-old was one of the biggest surprises last weekend when he fell late in the second

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  • Paul Bittner forges his own path from hockey-mad Minnesota to the NHL Draft

    The Bittner Family (L to R): Ryan, Jo, Paul, Jon, and Mark, will all be at the 2015 NHL draft in Florida this weekend.  Photo courtesy: Jo BittnerThe Bittner Family (L to R): Ryan, Jo, Paul, Jon, and Mark, will all be at the 2015 NHL draft in Florida this weekend.  Photo courtesy: Jo Bittner

    There was never a dull moment in the Bittner household. It was in the small town of Crookston, with a population just under 8,000, in northwest Minnesota, that Jon and Jo Bittner raised their three rambunctious boys. There was Mark, the oldest; Ryan; and the baby, Paul – all two years apart.

    He might have been the youngest, but Paul was the most independent and headstrong of the three boys. When he tried skating as a two-year-old, he refused any help from his brothers or his parents and would often be found on their backyard rink, lying flat on the ice.

    “He wanted nothing to do with any of us,” said Mark, now 22. “He’d say, ‘No! I’ll do it myself,’ so he’d rub his skates on the ice and just lay there in the middle of the ice. When we would play we’d only have one goalie on our outdoor rink so we’d have skate around him and avoid him.

    “One day he was up and skating with us and from then on we were all skating together.”

    That big backyard rink would host shinny games for all the

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  • NHL Scouts Poll: The class of 2015 is average beyond the top 10

    Upcoming NHL draft picks Connor McDavid (L) and Jack Eichel (R).  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)Upcoming NHL draft picks Connor McDavid (L) and Jack Eichel (R). (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    The 2015 NHL entry draft has been fastidiously churning in the hype machine for more than a year now. That’s to be expected with the likes of Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel eligible to walk down the draft floor in Sunrise, Fla., on Friday evening.

    Both players have been labeled as potential generational talents and dissected to their fullest – McDavid since he was a 14-year-old and Eichel following in the spotlight a few years later. But there are other familiar names, too. There’s Boston College defenceman Noah Hanifin and forwards Dylan Strome of the Erie Otters, Lawson Crouse of the Kingston Frontenacs and Mitchell Marner of the London Knights.

    The top-end talent has given the impression that this year’s draft could be as good – if not better – than the draft class of 2003, in which every single player drafted in the first round (led by first overall pick Marc-Andre Fleury) played, at the very least, a handful of games in the NHL.

    So, what do the experts think?

    Yahoo Sports polled

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  • Leafs hiring Oshawa's D.J. Smith opens up another CHL job vacancy

    Oshawa Generals head coach D.J. Smith raises the Memorial Cup trophy after they won the tournament 2-1 in overtime against the Kelowna Rockets Sunday, May 31, 2015 at the Memorial Cup final in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDITOshawa Generals head coach D.J. Smith raises the Memorial Cup trophy after they won the tournament 2-1 in overtime against the Kelowna Rockets Sunday, May 31, 2015 at the Memorial Cup final in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

    The junior hockey job market continues to heat up as teams across the CHL fill the vacancies that opened up once the regular season ended. In the interim, many of those jobs for head coaches and general manager have been filled. However, with the Toronto Maple Leafs NHL scooping up many of the CHL's best and brightest, there are still a few openings to be filled. 

    The latest vacancy opened up on Tuesday afternoon when the Leafs hired Oshawa Generals head coach D.J. Smith to join Mike Babcock's coaching staff as an assistant. Smith led the Generals to a 51-11-2-4 record which culminated in an OHL title and a Memorial Cup victory last month.

    “I would like to thank (owner) Rocco Tullio and the entire Oshawa Generals organization as well as our great fans for supporting myself and my family over the past three seasons,” said Smith in a press release. “I am excited to begin a new chapter with the Maple Leafs and work alongside Mike Babcock, Jim Hiller and Andrew Brewer.”

    Smith, who was the

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  • Maple Leafs will preach patience with their NHL draft picks

    When it comes to the 2015 NHL entry draft, the Toronto Maple Leafs are saying all the right things concerning their fourth-overall pick. They’re preaching patience with their prospects.

    It’s a refreshing change from an organization that hasn’t much success developing high-end talent.

    “We’re going to look to be patient,” said Mark Hunter, the Leafs director of player personnel and interim co-GM. “We want to protect our asset that’s fourth overall. We want to develop them and make sure they’re getting better without stumbling around where it’s unnecessary.”

    At the recent NHL draft combine, Toronto’s brain trust was on hand to scope out the prospects for themselves and interview their potential picks. Among the players in the mix for the fourth pick include Boston College defenceman Noah Hanifin, Erie Otters centre Dylan Strome and London Knights winger Mitchell Marner.

    The Leafs’ decision on who to select will, of course, be impacted greatly by the Arizona Coyotes, who pick ahead of them

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  • Top prospects pushed to the limit during 'tough' combine testing

    Connor McDavid performs a pull up test during the NHL Combine on June 6, 2015 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)Connor McDavid performs a pull up test during the NHL Combine on June 6, 2015 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

    BUFFALO, N.Y. — After his combine testing was over on Saturday morning, Connor McDavid once again met with the media. He couldn’t stop yawning. Whether that was from the boredom of being asked the same questions repeatedly or from running the grueling gauntlet of the fitness testing, one couldn’t say.

    Coming into the event, the 18-year-old said his main goal was to avoid embarrassment on the pull-up bar, which had caused problems for Flames pick Sam Bennett last year when he couldn't do a single one. McDavid passed that portion with flying colours, managing to finish with six pull-ups, a task not everyone could best. The hardest test for the prospects on Saturday was the Wingate bike test which measures peak anaerobic power and capacity and McDavid and Eichel were no exceptions.

    “That one’s absolutely crazy,” said McDavid, who finished with a peak power output of 17.49. “It’s tough but it’s fun and it was good to get it over with.”

    When asked what his toughest challenge was, Eichel's

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  • Sarnia forward Zacha hoping to leave Czech mark at the NHL draft

    Pavel Zacha of the Sarnia Sting. Photo by Terry Wilson/OHL Images.Pavel Zacha of the Sarnia Sting. Photo by Terry Wilson/OHL Images.

    BUFFALO, N.Y. — Pavel Zacha has a number set in his mind when it comes to the NHL entry draft on June 26. The 18-year-old is looking to be the first top-10 pick from the Czech Republic since the Columbus Blue Jackets took Jakub Voracek seventh-overall in 2007.

    In the final NHL central scouting rankings, Zacha was listed eighth among North American skaters.

    “I hope I’ll be top-10,” said the Sarnia Sting forward at the NHL scouting combine on Saturday. “For almost like 10 years after Voracek no one from the Czech Republic was drafted in the top-10, so it would be amazing for me and for Czech hockey too.”

    At the combine Zacha said he conducted interviews with at least 24 different NHL clubs. He said the one with Philadelphia was special because he was a fan of Jaromir Jagr growing up and became a Flyers fan as a result.

    Back at home playing with Bili Tygri Liberec he was lucky enough to play with former NHL star Petr Nedved who was the captain of the team. He remembers sitting in the

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  • Face off: McDavid, Eichel ready to make a difference

    BUFFALO, N.Y. — It’s a narrative we’ve seen countless times before: The one where two young prospects are pitted against each other leading up to the NHL draft. In 2010 it was Taylor Hall vs. Tyler Seguin. After that it was Nathan McKinnon vs. Seth Jones and last year the fight to see who would reign as the NHL’s first-overall pick was between Aaron Ekblad and Sam Bennett.
    This year the media construct involves Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. And as much as you will read about these two names being inextricably linked, there is no real debate here. McDavid will go first-overall at the NHL draft on June 26 in Sunrise, Fla. The Edmonton Oilers currently hold the top pick thanks to the draft lottery.
    Eichel will go second-overall, most likely to the Buffalo Sabres who are in possession of that No. 2 slot. They are – by far- the best two players eligible for the draft, with McDavid, who has been in the centre of the spotlight since he was 15 years old, holding the edge.
    “It’s a fine
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  • Memorial Cup final: Generals get it done thanks to unsung heroes

    QUEBEC CITY — It wasn’t too long ago that Anthony Cirelli was playing AA hockey in the Greater Toronto Hockey League. He moved to AAA for his minor midget year and spent last season playing major midget.

    On Sunday night, the 17-year-old walk-on scored the game winner in overtime to hand the Oshawa Generals their first Memorial Cup title in 25 years.

    “Words can’t describe what I’m feeling right now,” said Cirelli, on the ice after the Generals defeated the Western Hockey League-champion Kelowna Rockets 2-1. “I’m just really proud of the team. We worked all year round for this and this was our goal.

    “I’m in shock. We just won the Memorial Cup.”

    Cirelli scored both goals for the Ontario Hockey League champions, including the decider a mere 1:28 into the first overtime period. Kelowna goalie Jackson Whistle stopped overager Chris Carlisle’s initial shot, but the rebound came out to Cirelli who shook off a Rockets defender to whack the puck into the net. It was a remarkable finish for an

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  • McDavid's hardware haul includes CHL player of the year

    Erie Otters' Connor McDavid poses with the Top Draft Prospect, the CHL MVP and the Scholastic Player trophies. REUTERS/Mathieu BelangerErie Otters' Connor McDavid poses with the Top Draft Prospect, the CHL MVP and the Scholastic Player trophies. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger

    QUEBEC CITY — At the rate Connor McDavid is winning awards, his family might need to add an addition on to their home to house all his hardware.

    On Saturday evening, McDavid picked up three more honours at the CHL awards banquet, winning the league’s player of year, scholastic player of the year, and top NHL prospect.

    In the Ontario Hockey League this season, McDavid finished third in scoring with 44 goals and 120 points in 47 games. He played 21 fewer games than Erie Otters teammate Dylan Strome who won the OHL’s scoring title with 129 points. Strome shared the CHL’s top scorer award with Conor Garland of the QMJHL’s Moncton Wildcats.

    McDavid’s season with the Otters ended in the OHL final when they were defeated in five games by the champion Oshawa Generals. In the meantime, the 18-year-old forward has been focusing on school and on getting ready for the NHL combine which takes place in Buffalo, N.Y., next weekend.

    “I’m just back in school,” said McDavid. “I’m looking to graduate

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