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Ready to Rocket

Sixteen-year-old Ben Duffy is putting up solid numbers in P.E.I. this season.

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Sixteen-year-old Ben Duffy is putting up solid numbers in P.E.I. this season.

With the NHL’s Central Scouting list out now and International Scouting Services releasing the November news, it only makes sense for The Hot List - our weekly rundown of players we can't wait to see in the NHL some day - to look at some of the early names raising the interest of the league’s prospect experts.

It goes without saying, however, that this year’s World Junior Championship looms heavily over several top juniors and how high they will be picked.

1. Joonas Nattinen, C – Espoo Blues (Fin. Jr.):
Surely Nattinen’s frame (6-foot-2, 176 pounds) is one of the factors that propelled him to the top of the Finnish prospect pile, ahead of scouting message board legend Toni Rajala, but the young Blues’ plus-17 rating so far this season certainly doesn’t hurt. Draft eligible in 2009.

2. Dmitry Kulikov, D – Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL):
Second among ‘Q’ defensemen with 25 points in 22 games, Kulikov has snapped all four of his goals on the power play, but still boasts a plus-10 rating. The best part is he’s already over in North America, so interested teams may not be as shy going for him early. Draft eligible in 2009.

3. Ben Duffy, C – P.E.I. Rocket (QMJHL):
At just 16 years old, Duffy has already found his stride in the ‘Q.’ Through 28 games, Duffy’s 19 points makes him the highest-scoring non-Russian rookie in the league and at 5-foot-10, it’s certainly not something he accomplished through brute force.

“I’m not a big guy, so I keep my feet moving,” Duffy said. “And I think I have good vision and speed.”

The young pivot also has a pretty good NHL model to follow.

“I like Pat Kane,” he said. “He’s not a big guy either, but he seems to make the right play all the time.”

Playing on the small, pastoral island of P.E.I., Duffy noted that the closeness has been great for hanging out and bonding with teammates. The Rocket isn’t having as much success on the ice at 11-12-1-4, but the youngster knows patience is a virtue.

“We’ve had a slow start,” he noted, “but we’re trying to get back to .500 and we’ll see what we can do.”

Along with his ‘Q’ team, Duffy will also likely be a key part of Team Atlantic’s under-17 challenge team in Port Alberni, B.C. at the end of December. The Nova Scotia native made the squad as an underager last year, but didn’t take anything for granted at tryouts the second time around.

“I tried extra-hard, because I didn’t want to be over-confident,” Duffy said.

Needless to say, the Team Atlantic coaches can feel confident they’ll get some quick offense if Duffy’s in the lineup.
Draft eligible in 2010.

4. Antti Niemi, G – Rockford IceHogs (AHL):
If and when Chicago moves one of its expensive goaltenders, at least the Hawks will have another option for a backup. Niemi has been stellar in his first North American campaign, carrying a 1.67 goals-against average and .939 save percentage for Rockford. Signed by Chicago as a free agent in 2008.

5. Eric Tangradi, LW – Belleville Bulls (OHL):
A consistent performer at a high level for the Bulls, Tangradi has been near the top of the OHL scoring ranks all season, currently standing at 37 points in 26 games. And at 6-foot-4, 221 pounds, is it any surprise he’s a Ducks prospect? Drafted 42nd overall by Anaheim in 2007.

6. Cody Hodgson, C - Brampton Battalion (OHL):
Hodgson has been on fire lately, but then again, who among the Battalion hasn’t been? The Canucks’ top pick in 2008 has 29 points in 17 games and may make that Luongo injury just a little less painful (No? Well, I tried). Drafted 10th overall by Vancouver in 2008.

7. Mac Bennett, D – Hotchkiss Bearcats (Prep H.S.):
His high school season doesn’t start for another week, but Bennett’s skating and puck-moving ability has some scouts seeing a young Paul Coffey coming out of Connecticut. Draft eligible in 2009.

8. Kellan Tochkin, RW – Everett Silvertips (WHL)
: It’s hard to ignore the playmaking skills Tochkin is exhibiting in Everett, where the youngster has 20 assists and 29 points in 25 games. The fact he is thriving in the rugged Dub has pleased scouts who wondered if the 5-foot-10 winger could withstand the rigors of the circuit. Draft eligible in 2009.

9. Alex Kangas, G – University of Minnesota Golden Gophers (WCHA): The sophomore goaltender has helped his Gophers to the top of the conference early on, banging out an impressive 2.03 goals-against average and a sick .750 winning percentage. Drafted 135th overall by Atlanta in 2006.

10. David Rundblad, D – Skelleftea (Swe.): Another young Swede playing in the men’s circuit, Rundblad has NHL size (6-foot-2, 190 pounds) and is holding his own early. He only has two points, but he does boast a plus-3 rating, not to mention a right-handed shot, a coveted thing these days in a blueliner. Draft eligible in 2009.

The Hot List, a weekly roundup of minor league, junior, college and high school players we’re excited to one day see in the NHL, appears every Tuesday only on thehockeynews.com.

For more great prospect profiles and news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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