The brain trust of the Buffalo Sabres has lots of talent down on the farm with the AHL Rochester Americans who’ll soon join Jack Eichel and sniper Evander Kane in terrorizing NHL goaltenders.
Forwards Justin Bailey, Nick Baptiste, and Evan Rodrigues are biding their time and getting better with the Americans. If they don’t make the Sabres roster in 2016-17, they’ll have company in Rochester: WHL Kelowna Rockets defenseman Devante Stephens.
The Sabres think they have another Kelowna defensive stud in Stephens, who was chosen in the fifth round with the 122nd overall pick. He scored 2 goals and 9 assists in 72 regular season games for the Rockets in 2015-16.
Edmonton feels it got a steal of the 2015 draft when the team selected Seattle Thunderbirds defenseman Ethan Bear in the fifth round with the 124th pick. The 19-year-old high-scoring Ochapowace First Nation member tallied 19 goals and 46 assists in 69 regular season games.
He’s maintained his scoring touch in the WHL playoffs with 3 goals and 8 assists in 11 games. In March, he was named a WHL Western Conference first-team all-star. If all goes well, the Oilers in the not-too-distant-future will have a defensive lineup that includes Bear, Caleb Jones and 2013 first-round pick Darnell Nurse.
If all goes as defenseman Andong “Misha” Song and about a billion other folks in China hope, he’ll be patrolling the blue line for his country in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Song became the NHL’s first draft pick born in China when the New York Islanders chose him in the 172nd over pick in the sixth round in 2015.
He skated for Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., where he had 1 goal and 7 assists in 27 games in 2015-16. Song is doing for hockey in China what Yao Ming did for basketball – helping trigger interest in a sport that many in the country previously hadn’t watched or played.
“When Misha Song got drafted, it just blew up,” Wei Zhong, a friend of Song’s who plays hockey for Hinsdale Central High School in Illinois told The New York Times in January. “He inspired all these kids to start playing , and some of my friends who were with hockey before to dust off their skates and start playing again.”
Bokondji Imama, who was chosen by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the sixth round with the 180th overall pick in 2015, is poised to punch and hit his way to the NHL.
The Montreal-born son of immigrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Imama, 19, is one of the most-feared enforcers in the QMJHL and hardest body checkers. He had 7 goals, 12 assists and 86 penalty minutes in 48 games for the Saint John Sea Dogs.
He would have had more PIMs but he was suspended 15 games by the QMJHL in December for leaving the bench to defend a 15-year-old teammate who was being roughed up by a 20-year-old member of the Halifax Mooseheads.
Though the league punished Imama, Sea Dogs management praiseed him for his actions.
“As an organization, we fully support Boko through this difficult situation,” Sea Dogs General Manager Darrell Young said in a statement in December. “He sacrificed himself to come to the aid of a young teammate. Once again, he proved to be the ultimate teammate and team comes first with us. Boko will be a big loss for our hockey club. He is a valuable member of our team both on and off the ice.”