The Oklahoma City Barons have agreed to terms with forward Matthew Ford on a one-year American Hockey League contract for the 2014-15 season, the team announced today.
“I loved everything about Oklahoma City, starting with the organization,” Ford said of his time with the team during the 2013-14 season. “It’s really a first-class operation from the coaches, players, and a big part of that, is the fan support.”
Ford, 29, played in 73 games for the Barons last season and registered 47 points with 25 goals and 22 assists. He was fourth on the team in total points and led Oklahoma City in goals (25), games played (73) and power-play goals (12). Ford also tied for the team lead in multi-goal games with three two-goal outings on the year.
“We’re going to have a lot of second-year guys that will help us get back to how we were playing in the second half of this past season,” Ford said. “We started peaking around playoff time last year, and we’ll have some pieces to put together down the road, but I like the group we have. This organization likes to win, and we want to make the playoffs.”
Ford has spent the time in the AHL in each of his six professional seasons with Oklahoma City, Hartford, Lake Erie, Hershey, Adirondack and Springfield. He was drafted in the eighth round (256th overall) by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. Ford played four years (2005-08) at the University of Wisconsin, where the Badgers won the 2006 NCAA Championship.
That doesn’t mean he has forgotten where he’s come from. Draisaitl is hoping to one day be the type of German player who inspires younger children in his home country to take up hockey.
“German players don’t come along very often,” he said. “We just don’t have the best development. I don’t like saying it. I’m proud to be German but I think it’s important for German hockey to have (good German players) so kids have guys to look up to. I want to be that same type of guy that maybe makes younger guys in Germany play hockey because I’m proud to be German and I want to make the country proud and make as many kids play hockey as possible.”
Draisaitl skated for Germany at the 2014 IIHF World Championships earlier this month in Minsk, Belarus.
The media and public has made a lot about the group known as the ‘Fantastic Four’ which heads into the draft as the so-called top tier players. That list includes defenceman Aaron Ekblad, along with centres Sam Bennett, Sam Reinhart and Leon Draisaitl. However, Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr says some of that has to do with media hype and things could change depending on team needs.
“There’s a lot of hype there,” Marr said. “The NHL scouts and teams aren’t going to tell you what they really think. But that’s why they play the games and that’s why we see what happens there. There’s nothing to say that one of the Europeans couldn’t slide up in there or Michael Dal Colle couldn’t slide up in there. But I know to try and predict the order is an exercise in futility. At the top end there they’re going to get good players, it’ll just be what that team is looking for in a player.”
The Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr was in attendance at the Combine and provided his thoughts on why this week is so important to NHL clubs as they move closer towards the draft.
“A lot of teams have been working on their lists all year long,” Marr said. “Some teams have had the opportunity to meet the players but a lot of times they haven’t. Certainly the general manager hasn’t or the assistant general manager so this gives them an opportunity where all of the kids, we can bring them in one spot. They can go around, the general managers have heard about these players and now they get a chance to meet with them and the scouts get a chance to know them a little better. If they have some questions that they didn’t really want to grill them on during the season about their play then now is the point in time they can bring that up with them there.”
Marr also mentioned the importance in the medical evaluations and fitness results as well as how each individual player responds to instructions or motivation.
“For the most part they’ve done their lists here. They might use this here to tweak things a little bit because they didn’t know how to differentiate some players as they work their way down their lists. And it certainly helps those that are at the top end there, the teams where they can identify this is the guy we’re going to key in on.”
Sam Bennett is a consensus top-five pick and the number one North American skater in Central Scouting’s rankings. He is one of the younger prospects at the top, as he turns 18 on June 20. That isn’t stopping Bennett from being confident in his ability to make an NHL roster out of camp this year.
“I do feel like I’ll be ready come training camp and I’m going to work really hard in the gym this summer and on the ice and do whatever it takes to be ready for the NHL next year,” Bennett said.
Bennett also says that was a reoccurring topic in his interviews with teams at the combine.
“I was asked by a bunch of teams if I thought I was ready and my answer every time was I think I’m ready to play next year.”
Leduc, AB native and Spruce Grove Saint defenceman Brandon Hickey has an Oilers connection.
“I grew up watching them,” Hickey said. “I’ve watched a lot of hockey of the Edmonton Oilers. Growing up, it was my dad’s favourite team and he passed that passion on to me. In our basement we have a little hockey rink with the Oilers logo in the middle. It’s pretty neat to even just talk to them here.”
Hickey is the 63rd-ranked North American skater by Central Scouting. He is just under 6-foot-2 and just over 175 pounds. He had a 22-point season (4-18-22 in 49 games) for Spruce Grove this year.
As the son of a player, draft prospect Kasperi Kapanen grew up around NHL rinks. Naturally, this lifestyle led to some very interesting stories.
His father Sami Kapanen would have him around after practice and the young Kapanen would go out on the ice. At the Scouting Combine, Kasperi told one of the more interesting, and potentially dangerous, stories he has from his childhood.
“I remember a story where I was actually on the ice when I was around three or four with my dad after practice and I think it was Bates Battaglia who was taking slap shots on the boards and he wasn’t looking up at all,” said Kapanen. “I was skating right in the way and I didn’t have a helmet on, or I did but it still wouldn’t have helped that much, so I think he shot it three or four inches above my head so my dad kind of got mad at him a little bit but there’s a lot of stories.”
Battaglia and Sami Kapanen played together on the Carolina Hurricanes from 1997-2003.
Growing up in Windsor, ON, draft prospect Hunter Smith got an up-close view of an Edmonton Oiler as he was ripping up the Ontario Hockey League.
In three seasons with the Windsor Spitfires, Taylor Hall posted 284 regular-season points and 76 in the playoffs. It’s a big reason why he was the number one overall pick in 2010 by the Oilers. Smith witnessed Hall’s reign in the OHL.
“I think I was at every game,” the 18-year-old winger said. “My family had season tickets and I saw him score a lot of goals. He’s electric player and would obviously be a great player to have on your team one day.”
Smith posted 40 points (16-24-40) this season for Windsor and rocketed his draft stock after slipping through the draft last year. He is a towering winger, standing at close to 6-foot-7 and is an intriguing prospect after his breakout season.
Smith says he doesn’t know where he may go in the draft. He is just going with the flow.
“Big guys, I’m not going to shrink any. I don’t really have any expectations. I’m kind of going there with an open mind and whatever happens, happens because I over thought my OHL draft and it didn’t go as planned. Right now I’m just trying to let it happen.”
Many of the top prospects eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft will be put to the ultimate test this week in an effort to impress potential future employers at the NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto.
The primary purpose of the Combine, which runs May 26-31, is to aid all 30 NHL teams in the player selection process. NHL Central Scouting invited 119 players from North America and Europe to take part.
The Combine will allow NHL scouts and general managers an opportunity to interview as many prospects as they wish during a five-day period from May 26-30.
The 2014 NHL Scouting Combine will incorporate three new fitness tests for the top prospects in attendance on May 31 at Toronto International Centre.
Replacing push-ups, the push-pull station and seated medicine ball throw at this year's event will be overhand pull-ups, single leg squat and a pro agility test.
"The NHL strength coaches group were consulted during a review of the NHL Combine and their group suggested to remove those three tests and replace them with testing that is more dynamic [more moving body weight] versus static [stationary] tests," Director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr told NHL.com. "The 30 NHL teams were polled on whether they supported these testing modifications and the majority approved for us to implement them at the 2014 Combine."
The overhand pull-ups will require each player to perform a maximum number of consecutive repetitions with the correct technique while pausing for one second at the top and bottom of the movement. Partial pull-ups will not be counted.
The single leg squats evaluate unilateral strength, balance and full body coordination. Each player must perform five successive repetitions on each leg. Each squat is worth 15 points with a maximum score of 75 (per leg).
The pro agility test will rate multi-directional speed, agility and whole body reaction, plus control. In a timed test, players are required to sprint 15 feet to the right and touch a line with their right hand, sprint 30 feet to the left and touch a line with their left hand, and sprint 15 feet to the right and over the line to finish