Hamilton, Knight, Spooner get ready at NHLPA Showcase

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Hamilton, Knight, Spooner get ready at NHLPA Showcase

The Boston Bruins were well represented in the fourth annual NHLPA Rookie Showcase, and Bostons young prospects had the gifts in hand to prove it.

Dougie Hamilton, Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner are all concerned about a potential NHL lockout, but that was a worry for another day with so much going on around them in Toronto.

All you can do is hope that things start on time. Its easy to sit there and just worry about the negatives around it, but its not the best thing to do, said Spooner. Im saying to myself that the season is going to start on time, and that gives me the best chance to prepare. It would be easy to cut corners and say eh, the season isnt going to start on time and slack a bit. But Im not doing that.

All three Bs prospects had their likeness scanned for the latest edition of the EA Sports NHL Hockey 2013 video game, and also posed for plenty of photos snapped for what will eventually become their first hockey trading cards with Upper Deck and Panini America (the official trading card licensees of the NHLPA & NHL). The cards will be made once each member of the trio plays a game in the NHL.

Hamilton, Spooner and Knight were among 29 NHL hopefuls the most ever for the NHLPA event -- that the players association summoned to Toronto as players expected to make their NHL debuts this season.

Or at the very least players that are within striking distance of making it to the big leagues soon. Hamilton and Spooner had worked up a friendly rivalry as hockey video game adversaries over the last couple of days, and enjoyed getting back together so quickly after Bruins Development Camp in early July.

It was pretty fun. Very cool, said Hamilton, who has the best chance of the three players to crack the Bs roster out of training camp. There were a lot of pictures and autographs, but the best part was probably the full head scan by EA sports for the video game. They had 18 cameras for our head and profile and stuff.

They actually have the OHL in the game, so I made my video game debut two years ago. But the real debut as a member of the Bruins will be pretty cool.

The players went from station-to-station at the two-day event taking pictures, recording videos, playing video games against each other, and signing plenty of autographs for fans before taking in a dinner at the Hockey Hall of Fame. There were also plenty of free goodies for the players from Upper Deck and Panini.

Obviously Im here with Dougie and Jared, so thats awesome. Ive been able to sign some autographs and enjoy myself, said Spooner. Opening up hockey cards and playing NHL 2013 have both been pretty cool. I think Dougie and I opened up six or seven containers of hockey cards, so maybe like 2,000 each. Its been pretty cool for somebody that loves hockey.

NHLPA representatives Mathieu Schneider and Rob Zamuner also spoke to the 29 NHL prospects prior to the dinner, and wrapped up a nice little way for each of the youngster to cap off whats been an important summer.

Its been pretty busy. Were going from station-to-station, but its been really fun, said Knight. We just yesterday played in the EA video game tournament and each got a copy of the game. So I think Im going to go home and play it.

We did a bunch of head shots for the game as well. That was pretty cool. A lot of the guys here Ive played against and Id never really met before -- and a lot of guys from the Dub WHL and the Q QMJHL that Id never played against or met. So it was cool to get to know them and go out to dinner with them.

Hamilton, Spooner, Knight and the other 26 prospects spent much of Tuesday at the MasterCard Centre practice home of the Toronto Maple Leafs where they interacted with the media before finishing the day with a scrimmage on the ice. It was a brief whirlwind trip for young prospects getting ready for the biggest moments of their hockey careers to date, but its also another step prepared by the NHLPA to get those youngsters ready for their NHL close-up when it does arrive.

Heinen coming up big with Bruins' roster openings on the wing

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Heinen coming up big with Bruins' roster openings on the wing

BRIGHTON, Mass. – Danton Heinen has to know he’s got a fair shot to win an NHL job out of B’s training camp if he plays with confidence and assertiveness. 

So far, that little Black and Gold carrot has served him well in the preseason. The 21-year-old winger has scored a goal in each of his first two preseason appearances for the Bruins. He will be pushed back into the lineup again vs. the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night.

The difference this time around is Claude Julien will be behind the bench once again for the Bruins after his time with the World Cup of Hockey and the B’s lineup will start to take on more of a real NHL feel with David Pastrnak and David Backes entering the mix.

Julien has liked what he’s seen thus far out of the University of Denver product, and clearly he’ll keep getting looks as long as the production and good work ethic are there.

“I think he’s been a real good player. He’s a smart player that seems to be heady and sees the play well. He seems to be in the right place and understands the game,” said Julien. “The hockey sense is something that you either have or you don’t, and I think he has great hockey sense. It certainly makes a great hockey player. I’ve liked him so far and I’m looking forward to seeing more of him.”

One other thing is certain: wing positions are open on the roster with Frankie Vatrano out for three months and Jimmy Vesey sharpening his skates at Madison Square Garden as a New York Ranger.

“We have to keep an open mind.  Frank Vatrano is hurt, and we kind of felt that he was going to have a really good start to this year. His confidence seemed to be at its highest, and the World Championships were good for him,” said Julien. “We have to look at what we have for a replacement. We went after Jimmy Vesey and we didn’t get him. So there are some spots that are open, and there’s no doubt about it.

“I’m going to be looking at compete level and I’ll be watching for the next three games to see who can fit in those spots. There are open spots, so it’s not cut-and-dried like a lot of years when it has been.”

Clearly, the high-end offensive skill is there after posting 36 goals and 93 points in his first two years at the University of Denver prior to going pro, and Heinen has a dollop of pro experience after getting into three AHL games with Providence at the end of last season. 

The 6-foot-1, 180-pounder showed off the playmaking ability setting up his teammates for chances in Friday night’s win over the Red Wings, and then finally scoring at crunch time in the third period when the coaching staff moved Zach Senyshyn to his opposite wing.

Both of his goals in this preseason have been tying scores in the third that factored prominently in the game’s outcome. That’s been impressive for a young prospect in his very first NHL camp.

But Heinen claims there is still more to come in his game, and that’s encouraging. He’s just starting to get comfortable as a player that uses his vision, hockey IQ and passing to generate loads of scoring chances when he’s on the ice.

“I feel pretty good. I’ve felt better as things have gone on, and I felt better [on Friday against Detroit] than I did in the first game,” said Heinen, who finished just behind a couple of guys named Jack Eichel and Dylan Larkin for the NCAA scoring title as a freshman a couple of years ago. “I just need to keep getting better. I think I have a lot more to give. I’m just trying to put my best foot forward, and we’ll see what happens.

“I think I’ve rushed a few plays where I feel like I could hang onto [the puck] and make a smarter play. So it’s little things like that. As I play a little more then I get more comfortable hanging onto it, so I hope to do a little more than that.”

It will also be interesting to see how Heinen responds to again being in the B’s lineup on Saturday for back-to-back, physical preseason games when the NCAA schedule can be a bit more spaced with weekend games. 

There are other candidates like Jake DeBrusk and Zachary Senyshyn that have enjoyed solid training camps to date for the Bruins, but it feels like Heinen is starting to push ahead for one of those winger roster spots Julien has in mind as he watches these final four exhibition games leading into the regular season. 
 

Saturday, Oct. 1: Vesey's New York state of mind

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Saturday, Oct. 1: Vesey's New York state of mind

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while gearing up for Big Papi weekend.

 
*A “behind-the-scenes” look as Jimmy Vesey was sold on the New York Rangers, but there’s not too much detail about the pitches from the other teams. Feels pretty apparent at this point that Vesey wanted to live, and work, in New York City.

*Damien Cox says that the World Cup of Hockey better get it right the next time, or else…or else what, Damien? You’re going to block them on Twitter?

*PHT writer Joey Alfieri has Patrick Kane, Erik Karlsson and P.K. Subban making their preseason debuts on Saturday. David Backes and David Pastrnak will play their first preseason games for the Bruins as well.  

*It’s a complicated, strange story with Vladimir Sobotka, the KHL and the contract he seemingly can’t get out of to again play for the St. Louis Blues.

*Oliver Ekman-Larsson is ready to get back to work with the Arizona Coyotes after his World Cup experience.

*San Jose Sharks prospect Timo Meier is out for the next month with mono, which is definitely worse timing than Zach Senyshyn getting hit with the mononucleosis bomb over the summer.

*A quick look at the Philadelphia Flyers in advance of their preseason meeting with the Black and Gold tonight, which won’t be televised.

*For something completely different: there will be some pretty funky stuff happening on The Walking Dead this season.