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What the NHL (and its fans) can learn from other virtual drafts – Sportsnet.ca

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About five months ago, the hockey world was looking forward to gathering in Montreal and welcoming in a new class of prospects at the 2020 NHL Draft where Quebec-born Alexis Lafreniere would be hearing his name called first overall so close to home.

Now, he and the rest of this year’s prospects will hear their names called at home, while continuing to practise proper safety protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tuesday’s 2020 NHL Draft will no doubt look a lot different this year, with the NHL conducting a virtual draft — similar to those we’ve seen already in the WNBA and NFL, who went ahead with theirs as scheduled back in the spring.

The WNBA was the first North American professional league to take on the challenge of a virtual draft, on April 17, and their resounding success showed us it was not only possible to pull off, but also really entertaining while still giving the athletes a memorable experience as they took this next step in their career. A week later, the NFL conducted its three-day, 255-pick draft, giving football fans a welcomed distraction with another successful (and glitch-free!) production. The National Women’s Hockey League also went ahead with its draft in April, which wasn’t broadcast but was able to bring hockey into the homes of many sports fans in a unique way on social media.

Watch Round 1 of the NHL Draft on Sportsnet and SN NOW beginning at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT on Tuesday, Oct. 6. Then catch Rounds 2-7 on SN1 and SN NOW starting at from 11:30 a.m. ET/8:30 a.m. PT on Wednesday, Oct. 7.

All three drafts were resounding successes, bringing new ideas and elements to the table and providing valuable lessons for other leagues to learn from them.

By now, we’re pretty used to seeing sports and television productions produced remotely, and getting a webcam view into the home offices and basements of those on-air is just part of our new normal. The NHL pulled off its quarantined return-to-play without a hitch, we’re a few games away from crowning champs in the WNBA and NBA’s respective bubbles, and we’re more than used to seeing empty ballparks and football stadiums as the sports world has resumed.

Still, this year’s NHL Draft will take a little getting used to.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will still be hosting Round 1, but he’ll do so from the NHL Network’s New Jersey studio (the same setting we saw during the draft lottery back in August). Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly will host Rounds 2-7 from the same studio, and teams will continue the tradition of announcing their own picks — just not from a formal draft stage, but rather their own remote location.

Not seeing the league’s latest first-round picks make the trip from their seats to the draft stage, hearing the reactions of the crowd, and seeing players interviewed in person as their futures are beginning to unfold… that will be an adjustment. But it’s still a joyous occasion, and will offer hockey fans another glimpse of normalcy at a time when we’d usually be digging into a fresh season of NHL hockey.

Here’s a refresher of how the WNBA, NFL, and NWHL conducted their virtual drafts, and how those experiences might shape our expectations of what’s to come in the NHL on Tuesday night.

Approach with compassion

This one’s listed first, because it’s the most important lesson learned from throughout this entire experience — both in sports and society as a whole. This draft isn’t going to be what we’re used to seeing, and it isn’t going to be perfect — and that’s okay. Everyone’s doing the best they can, while still following government and league guidelines to keep everyone safe and in good health. There might be lags during video interviews, awkward transitions, and a few technical glitches. But if we all approach this event knowing the stakes as well as the stresses, we’ll get through it and be able to welcome and celebrate a new class of NHL hopefuls.

Conduct a mock draft (or two)

One of the bigger storylines going into the NFL draft was around how such a large-scale draft would actually work – and what would happen if, well, it didn’t.

To address concerns and troubleshoot any potential issues, the NFL conducted a two-round mock draft among all 30 teams on the Monday of draft week. Reported complaints of glitches, bandwidth issues, and unmuted phones making for a mess of a conference call allowed the NFL to resolve these issues before the real deal and give GMs more confidence going into the event.

Even in isolation, it’s going to need to be a team effort all-around. WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert talked about enlisting the help of her daughter and son while she announced each pick from her living room. The NFL allowed one I.T. professional at the home of every team’s designated drafter to step in if any technical difficulties occurred, and several NHL general managers have talked about their own comfort levels with the technology.

In the days and weeks after the draft, a number of NFL teams released behind-the-scenes videos of how their draft setups came together. It was interesting to see how much communication was required at all levels, and how teams set themselves up for maximum success on draft night.

Now several months later, it’s likely we’ll see fewer home office setups and more socially-distanced boardrooms as regulations allow.

Several NHL general managers have spoken about doing test runs of their own, and getting comfortable with the tech setup and how communications will be conducted among staff.

Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman said he’ll be in a socially-distanced conference room at the team’s facility: “This morning, we did our own bit of testing, walking through the technology we’ll be using … The league is running through it with our IT people to make sure we’re running it how they want it to run, and making sure it’s operational. I’m very comfortable that it should work out really well.

“We’ve got a nice spaced-out conference room, and it will be a little quieter in there,” Yzerman continued, via NHL.com. “It will be a little less hectic. Particularly in Round 1 when the building is full, the fans are chanting and there is a lot of buzz in the building. With a lot of people around, it can be very distracting. I kind of like this [virtual] format. You do not have the ability to quickly catch the eye of a general manager, but we’ve got multiple phone lines. You can get a lot done quickly.”

“We’ve gone through multiple scenarios, we’ve had multiple mock drafts,” Senators general manager Pierre Dorion, owner of the third and fifth overall picks, told reporters. “We’ll be ready.”

San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson said he spoke with management from other leagues to get advice.

“We’ve talked with other GMs from other sports that have had to go through this,” Wilson told reporters, via The Associated Press. “We’ll have enough setup that we’ll have all of our staff accessible.”

Let fans behind the scenes

One of the best parts of watching the draft is the drama of it all — even (or maybe especially) before the first team is officially on the clock. With every team’s front office sitting at tables on the draft floor, it’s the only time so many hockey movers and shakers are in one place and looking to make deals. Watching GMs mill about, mingle, seeing who’s on the phone(s), seeing traditional foes chatting (or not talking at all)… it makes for great T.V. And even if a trade doesn’t go down, it’s the possibility of what’s being discussed in plain view that makes this event so much fun to watch.

A virtual draft means much of that intrigue is missing — though, it doesn’t have to be completely gone. The NFL had a camera trained on each team’s GM and head coach, stationed in their respective home offices, which still allowed fans a glimpse behind the scenes. (It also ensured they were following proper social distancing protocols.) Because NFL teams’ staff typically conduct their drafts from their respective “war rooms” at the clubs’ facilities, seeing NFL GMs and coaches working separately in their own homes wasn’t as big an adjustment as it would be for those in the NHL.

The NHL will also implement cameras fixed on all teams’ GMs to let fans in on any action.

Maybe we’ll see some more sweet home setups…

Put prospects first

The draft has changed in presentation over the years but prospects are, of course, always front and centre. In fact, now more than ever, it will be really important for the NHL to give the class of 2020 a positive, memorable experience despite the fact that they won’t be hitting the draft stage for that moment they’ve no doubt envisioned over the years as they’ve strived to make it to the pros.

This is where the WNBA really shone. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert made it a priority to keep players front and centre, knowing this group of prospects wouldn’t get to enjoy the kind of in-person experience and celebration as those drafted before them.

Both the WNBA and NFL drafts saw many draftees let fans into their home virtually via a league-provided camera, and both also sent out draft packages featuring league gear and team hats to give draftees that traditional draft-day token. The NHL plans to do the same, providing top prospects with multiple teams’ gear and setting them up for virtual interviews so their new fanbases can hear from them first-hand from home.

Both the NFL and WNBA struggled at times to capture that live “draft moment” — not surprising, when you’re dealing with delays and a number of different feeds — but being able to see draftees waiting and then celebrating with their families was a valuable part of the experience, just like it is during the draft in normal, in-person situations.

Don’t force fan interaction

In an effort to re-create the fan experience, and the time-honoured tradition of booing the commissioner, the NFL brought in a backdrop of each teams’ fans via webcam feeds to serve as a backdrop as Roger Goodell read out each selection. It was an admirable idea, and likely a difficult feature to coordinate in an effort to bring in some semblance of normalcy, but it mostly missed the mark and didn’t appear to be worth the effort. It also pushed Goodell into forced interactions, which wasn’t a great look overall.

The NWHL, which presented its draft solely online, brought the hockey community together by going to where the fans already are: Hockey Twitter. The league reached out to various people in and around the hockey and sports community to announce picks with a personalized video and graphic for each prospect being chosen. In doing so, they were able to virtually bring together athletes from various leagues and communities, including the NHL and WNBA, as well as media personalities and other supporters, making for a total team effort online that captured fans’ attention and most likely brought in new supporters, too.

Bring your dog

OK, this is a really just a message for all the coaches, GMs, insiders, and prospects out there who plan to operate from home, in hopes of making some more internet magic like this gem from Bill Belichick and his pup, Nike:

Worth a shot, right?

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Byfield named to Hockey Canada WJC select camp roster – NHL.com

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The camp will be held at Westerner Park Centrium from Nov. 16-Dec. 13 in Red Deer, Alberta.

Alexis Lafreniere, chosen No. 1 by the New York Rangers in the 2020 draft, was not one of the 46 invitees that includes 26 forwards, 15 defensemen and five goalies. The forward played for Canada in the 2019 and 2020 WJC, and he was named the tournament most valuable player in 2020.

Lafreniere could still be added to the team; the Rangers want Lafreniere to attend NHL training camp, but Hockey Canada chief executive officer Tom Renney said more clarity on Lafreniere’s status is expected in about 10 days.

“(Rangers general manager) Jeff Gorton and I had a good chat,” Renney said, “and [I] gave Jeff the opportunity to understand our timetable of what might be coming up with respect to this camp … and well beyond that. With that being said, Jeff was certainly open-minded to the idea, was hoping that his player would have the opportunity to join the NHL team in New York as of now, actually, to begin skating with the club.” 

The event is the final step in picking the team that will play for Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship. The tournament, to be held Dec. 25 to Jan. 5, 2021, will be played entirely at Rogers Place in Edmonton without fans in attendance in a secure-zone bubble, similar to what the NHL used for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The IIHF initially was going to utilize Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta as joint hosts.

“I think having an opportunity to be together for 51 days will be special,” Canada coach Andre Tourigny said. “Fortunately for everyone, we’ll have time to be really well prepared so we’re really grateful for it. the coaches spent so many hours on video for scouting and getting prepared. Close to 90 players had been scouting through video and I think we’re really excited and really confident with the group we will have in Red Deer. We can’t wait to get into the bubble.

“This has never happened in the past where Team Canada had the chance to meet together for this long (in a selection camp) and to grow their structure and to grow their chemistry for that long. I think it will be unique, and it will be an outstanding opportunity for us.”

Byfield, a forward, is one of six returnees who helped Canada finish first at the 2020 WJC, along with defensemen Bowen Byram (Colorado Avalanche, 2019 NHL Draft, No. 4) and Jamie Drysdale (Anaheim Ducks, 2020, No. 6) and forwards Dylan Cozens (Buffalo Sabres, 2019, No. 7), Connor McMichael (Washington Capitals, 2019, No. 25) and Dawson Mercer (New Jersey Devils, 2020, No. 18).

To ensure the health and safety of all participants and the community, Hockey Canada will be adhering to enhanced measures around testing and team protocols.

“Although this has been a difficult year for our athletes and staff, we are excited to unveil the 46 players who will compete for a spot on Canada’s National Junior Team at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship,” said Scott Salmond, senior vice-president of national teams for Hockey Canada. “We know our athletes are excited for the opportunity to defend gold on home ice this year, and we expect a highly competitive selection camp with a number of difficult decisions to be made when it comes time to select the players who will wear the Maple Leaf in Edmonton in December.”

The selection camp will include practices, three intra-squad games and six games against a team of U SPORTS all-stars before the team enters the bubble in Edmonton in preparation for the 2021 WJC. The camp will take place in a bubble and will be closed to the public and media.

Canada will be in Group A, along with Finland, Switzerland, Slovakia and Germany. Group B will include the United States, Russia, Sweden, Austria and the Czech Republic. Canada plays the opening game of the round-robin portion against Germany on Dec. 26. 

The top four teams in each group will play in the quarterfinals Jan. 2. The semifinals are Jan. 4, and the championship and third-place games are Jan. 5.

Canada, which defeated Russia 4-3 in the 2020 championship game at Ostravar Arena in Ostrava, Czech Republic, finished first at the event for the 18th time. 

Vancouver (Western Hockey League) coach Michael Dyck and Saskatoon (WHL) coach Mitch Love will be assistants under Tourigny, the coach of Ottawa of the Ontario Hockey League. Love and Tourigny were assistants to coach Dale Hunter at the 2020 WJC.

HOCKEY CANADA WJC SELECT CAMP ROSTER

GOALIES: Brett Brochu, London, OHL (2021 draft eligible); Dylan Garand, Kamloops, WHL (New York Rangers); Taylor Gauthier, Prince George, WHL (2021 draft eligible); Triston Lennox, Saginaw, OHL (2021 draft eligible); Devon Levi, Northeastern, HE (Florida Panthers)

DEFENSEMEN: Justin Barron, Halifax, QMJHL (Colorado Avalanche); Bowen Byram, Vancouver, WHL (Colorado Avalanche); Lukas Cormier, Charlottetown, QMJHL (Vegas Golden Knights); Jamie Drysdale, Erie, OHL (Anaheim Ducks); Kaiden Guhle, Prince Albert, WHL (Montreal Canadiens); Thomas Harley, Mississauga, OHL (Dallas Stars); Daemon Hunt, Moose Jaw, WHL (Minnesota Wild); Kaedan Korczak, Kelowna, WHL (Vegas Golden Knights); Mason Millman, Saginaw OHL (Philadelphia Flyers); Ryan O’Rourke, Sault Ste. Marie, OHL (Minnesota Wild); Owen Power, Michigan, BIG10 (2021 draft eligible); Matthew Robertson, Edmonton, WHL (New York Rangers); Braden Schneider, Brandon, WHL (New York Rangers); Donovan Sebrango, Kitchener, OHL (Detroit Red Wings); Jordan Spence, Moncton, QMJHL (Los Angeles Kings)

FORWARDS: Adam Beckman, Spokane, WHL (Minnesota Wild); Mavrik Bourque, Shawinigan, QMJHL (Dallas Stars); Quinton Byfield, Sudbury, OHL (Los Angeles Kings); Graeme Clarke, Ottawa, OHL (New Jersey Devils); Kirby Dach, Saskatoon, WHL (Chicago Blackhawks); Tyson Foerster, Barrie, OHL (Philadelphia Flyers); Gage Goncalves, Everett, WHL (Tampa Bay Lightning); Ridly Greig, Brandon, WHL (Ottawa Senators); Dylan Holloway, Wisconsin, BIG10 (Edmonton Oilers); Seth Jarvis, Portland, WHL (Carolina Hurricanes); Peyton Krebs, Winnipeg, WHL (Vegas Golden Knights); Hendrix Lapierre, Chicoutimi, QMJHL (Washington Capitals); Connor McMichael, London, OHL (Washington Capitals); Dawson Mercer, Chicoutimi, QMJHL (New Jersey Devils); Alex Newhook, Boston College, HE (Colorado Avalanche); Jakob Pelletier, Val-d’Or, QMJHL (Calgary Flames); Cole Perfetti, Saginaw, OHL (Winnipeg Jets); Samuel Poulin, Sherbrooke, QMJHL (Pittsburgh Penguins); Jack Quinn, Ottawa, OHL (Buffalo Sabres); Jamieson Rees, Sarnia, OHL (Carolina Hurricanes); Cole Schwindt, Mississauga, OHL (Florida Panthers); Xavier Simoneau, Drummondville, QMJHL (2021 draft eligible); Ryan Suzuki, Saginaw, OHL (Carolina Hurricanes); Philip Tomasino, Oshawa, OHL (Nashville Predators); Shane Wright, Kingston, OHL (2022 draft eligible); Connor Zary, Kamloops, WHL (Calgary Flames)

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Jahnke: Fantasy football reactions from the Falcons' TNF win over the Panthers | Fantasy Football News, Rankings and Projections – Pro Football Focus

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Thursday Night Football featured two division rivals who played just 18 days ago. The Falcons dominated time of possession most of the game, but their drives kept ending in field goals, which kept the game close. The game featured plenty of stars in the fantasy football world, but none of them had a great game — some performances were quite disappointing.

As always, this collection of fantasy reactions will include snap counts for skill players on each team, along with notes on players who saw their fantasy stocks rise or fall during the action — and how we should react to anything new.

Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers

Winner: WR Curtis Samuel, Carolina Panthers

Samuel had the winner spot locked up early in the second quarter after scoring his second touchdown of the game. He ended up with three carries for 23 yards and a touchdown, along with four catches for 31 yards and another TD. Samuel’s fantasy stock was on the rise earlier in the week after the release of Seth Roberts, which helped lead to more playing time for Samuel. While this game was a step in the right direction, Christian McCaffrey will return soon and command a ton of touches. There is the possibility McCaffrey and Mike Davis seeing the field at the same time, which could cut into both Samuel’s playing time and his carries.

Loser: WR Russell Gage, Atlanta Falcons

Gage was held to two catches on three targets for 25 yards. With Ridley missing two-thirds of the game, this should have been an opportunity for Gage to have a bigger role in the offense. He had seen his targets rise in recent weeks, leading to back-to-back games with over 50 yards. Instead, Ridley’s injury led to more targets for Julio Jones and Hayden Hurst. Even if Ridley misses time, it would be hard to trust Gage with how few targets he had in this game and earlier in the season when Jones was out.

Waiver Wire Target: RB Brian Hill, Atlanta Falcons

Hill has spent the season as the No. 2 running back behind Todd Gurley II. Coming into Thursday night, he had put up a higher yards per carry and more than double the yards per route run. This week, Hill saw his biggest role in the offense in over a month. Despite having seven fewer carries than Gurley, Hill ended up with nine more rushing yards. He saw three targets and was the only halfback targeted in the Falcons offense. He only had two catches for nine yards, but if he continues to outplay Gurley it wouldn’t be surprising to see Hill’s playing time continue to rise.

Injury: WR Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons

Ridley left the game early in the second quarter with an ankle injury. He was off to a strong start with three catches on four targets for 42 yards before the injury. The Falcons have struggled to keep all three of their wide receivers healthy, with both Julio Jones and Russell Gage missing time in recent weeks. While Olamide Zaccheaus typically replaced Jones, and Brandon Powell replaced Gage last week, it was Christian Blake primarily replacing Ridley Thursday night. Blake caught both of his targets for 14 yards. If Ridley were to miss any time, Blake would be a good waiver wire target. He might not be someone worth starting right away, but there would be high upside in the Falcons offense.

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A way-too-early look at Canada’s 2021 World Junior Championships roster – Sportsnet.ca

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Hockey Canada announced a list of 47 players expected to participate in a 51-day evaluation camp en route to the 2021 World Junior Championships in Edmonton. Canada will put its title defence on the line, playing in Group A alongside Germany, Slovakia, Switzerland and Finland.

Canada will open the tournament on Dec. 26 against Germany, with the marquee preliminary round match-up against Finland on New Year’s eve.

At first glance, this roster is extremely deep. There are 26 first round picks and seven returnees from last year’s gold medal winning team. The list of 26 includes Kirby Dach, whom Hockey Canada learned it was getting on loan from the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday.

One notable name not on the list was Alexis Lafreniere, the top pick by the New York Rangers in the 2020 draft. According to Hockey Canada president Tom Renney, talks are ongoing with Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton as to the participation of Lafreniere in either the camp or once Team Canada enters the bubble. We should know more in the next 10 days.

This camp will be challenging in that most of the players haven’t played a game since March. Nine players named to the camp from the QMJHL have played a varying number of games, as the only one of three CHL leagues currently on the ice.

In making things as safe as possible, each player and staff member will be tested for COVID-19 prior to leaving for camp, then tested regularly once camp begins. The evaluation camp will start on Nov. 16 in Red Deer, Alta. It is expected that the final roster of 25 players will enter the Edmonton bubble on Dec. 13.

The IIHF has made for an allowance of two extra players on the roster due to the pandemic. Canada will be allowed to carry 3 goalies and 22 skaters into the Edmonton bubble.

Discussion is ongoing with U Sports to play six exhibition games — with two pre-tournament games vs. Sweden and Russia — once Canada gets into the bubble.

Here’s a way-too-early-look at what Canada’s final roster might be (the “*” indicates a returnee from the 2020 team):

Goalies (3)

Dylan Garand

Taylor Gauthier

Tristan Lennox

Synopsis: Goaltending is the biggest concern for this team. The position is wide open with no returnees from last year, as Joel Hofer, Nico Daws and Olivier Rodrigue have all aged-out.

Gauthier is the elder statesman of the group. He’s a right-catch tender who is extremely athletic and he’s a Hlinka-Gretzky gold medalist. If Gauthier can make the saves he’s supposed to make, he should be the starter. Garand has been brilliant for upstart Kamloops. He’s a monster competitor, who is technically sound. He is also very good at playing the puck. The third goalie is anyone’s guess. Lennox has the size, Brett Brochu has come out of nowhere and Devon Levi is extremely confident and has put up remarkable numbers at every level.

Defence (8)

*Bowen Byram

*Jamie Drysdale

Thomas Harley

Braden Schneider

Ryan O’Rourke

Kaiden Guhle

Jordan Spence

Kaedan Korczak

Synopsis: The defence corps provides a nice mix of experience, size and grit. Byram and Drysdale should anchor each of the top-two pairings, with both of them likely to see significant time on the power play.

Schneider, a Rangers’ first-rounder, was close to making it last year. He skates well, moves pucks efficiently and has great physical presence. The makeup of this group allows there to be a puck-mover paired with a complimentary or more of a stay-at-home type. O’Rourke, Guhle, and Korczak are all big and nasty, while Spence is a blend of Byram and Drysdale. This group is also split evenly between left and right shots.

Forwards (14)

*Kirby Dach

*Quinton Byfield

*Connor McMichael

*Dylan Cozens

*Dawson Mercer

Adam Beckman

Gage Goncalves

Peyton Krebs

Hendrix Lapierre

Alex Newhook

Jakob Pelletier

Cole Perfetti

Philip Tomasino

Shane Wright

TBD Alexis Lafreniere

Synopsis: The strength of this team is up front. If Dach plays and Lafreniere is added before the Dec. 13 cutoff date, Canada will possess the deepest group of forwards in the tournament.

There’s plenty of size down the middle with Dach, Byfield and Cozens. It will be a dogfight for the 4C position. Lafreniere would solidify the top left wing position, while an abundance of options remain, with many natural centres being forced to the wing.

McMichael snipes and Cozens can use his size and speed, while I expect big things from Byfield in an elevated role. Mercer can play anywhere in the lineup. The competition for forward spots will be intense.

Beckman led the WHL in scoring last season. Newhook was one of the best players at camp last year. Wright will not only have earned his way on the team, but he will be able to carry this experience forward. Pelletier is super slick and the long layoff has served him well. There will also be plenty of options for the power forward type in Greig, Holloway and Poulin.

Perfetti used last year’s snub as motivation and he’s poised to make the team this year. Goncalves had a breakout year in Everett last year, while Krebs spent time in the Vegas bubble. Tomasino has speed to burn and he’s a right shot.

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