UConn head coach Dan Hurley has turned down the Los Angeles Lakers’ six-year, $70-million offer and will return to chase a third straight national title, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports.

BUFFALO — Defencemen have definitely dominated the broader conversation around the 2024 NHL Draft Scouting Combine and rightfully so. After the San Jose Sharks select centre Macklin Celebrini first overall in three weeks at the Sphere in Vegas, it’s possible six of the next seven or eight selections could be blue-liners.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t forwards other than Celebrini worthy of focus this year. It’s just that all the potential high-pick forwards seem like they can — justifiably or otherwise —be nit-picked for some reason or another.

Big Cayden Lindstrom missed time with a back injury that, by most accounts, doesn’t really trouble teams. But they still might wonder if he’s ultimately a winger at the highest level, as opposed to a more valued centre. Ivan Demidov was not at the combine in Buffalo this week, and being Russian severely limits the ability to scout him, raising questions about when he may ultimately wind up in North America. Tij Iginla — a huge riser this year — looks like a fantastic player. But is over-drafting him a danger based on name recognition?

There’s also Beckett Sennecke, who is kind of a late-comer on the elite forward scene, thanks to a growth spurt that saw him start his OHL career with the Oshawa Generals at five-foot-10 in 2022 and shoot up to a hair over six-foot-three in the next two years. Has this truly transformed his hockey destiny? And at the other end of the size spectrum, super-talented Berkly Catton still gets prodded about being five-foot-10 and 170 pounds.

Loads of intrigue, less in the way of pure slam-dunks.

Then there’s the fact we’ve gone this far without mentioning Cole Eiserman of the U.S. National Team Development Program. Twelve months ago, Eiserman was pegged to go not long after Celebrini — a guy he refers to as his “best friend” after playing prep-school hockey together — in the 2024 Draft. But despite passing Montreal Canadiens sniper Cole Caufield as the career-goals leader with the U.S. NTDP this season, Eiserman saw his draft stock dip to the point he may be available for a club in the middle of the first round.

“Whether it’s [warranted] or not, it definitely slipped a little,” Eiserman acknowledged after completing the fitness testing at LECOM Harborcenter in Buffalo on Saturday. “I still think I’m at the top of the draft skill-wise, but definitely trying to get better and be the best player I can be.”

Teasing out the player’s full potential was top of mind for U.S. NTDP coach Nick Fohr earlier this year when he had a bit of a heart-to-heart with the kid he’s coached in each of the past two winters.

“Part of what we do here is round out their games a little bit and he and I had a conversation mid-season this year as things started to go against him a little bit, as he started — in the eyes of some of the experts out there — to drop in the rankings,” Fohr told Sportsnet in late May. “And we had a talk about: do we want to focus on making sure we get drafted higher, because we can be in more offensive situations and do some different things to put up more numbers, frankly. Or do we want to continue to work on the things we’re trying to get better at to round our game out completely and to become a better 200-foot player, become a guy who can be depended on in his D-zone? Because I know, being here as long as I have and watching prospects move up the ranks and move on to the NHL level, those guys at that NHL level are not going to have time to teach him to play defence. They don’t want to deal with that at that level. So he made the decision, ‘No coach, we need to continue to do things the way [we are]. It’s going to be hard to read some of that [draft coverage] stuff and to hear some of that and it might be hard to drop in the draft a little bit, but I need to become a better hockey player.’”

Eiserman is convinced he’s become just that and the fact Fohr put him out in situations that called for sound defensive play at different points this year certainly backs that logic.

“I definitely wasn’t the best two-way player [at the beginning of the year] and I definitely took some really big strides and found myself in 5-on-6 (scenarios) and different (situations) I wasn’t before and I was super-proud of myself and my teammates were proud of me too to get there,” Eiserman said.

Now let’s talk about that goal-scoring ability. The six-foot, 190-pound winger netted 58 goals in 57 outings this year to set a new program mark with 127 in total, one more than Caufield’s 126. Fohr, for one, thinks the future Boston University player is going to make some NHL club very happy.

“Cole does the hardest thing in hockey the best,” Fohr said. “It’s hard to score goals and he’s really good at it. To find a guy who can score 30, 40, 50 a year, that’s invaluable to franchise and he’s a guy who can do that. There’s been a lot of negative

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