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Fishing for prospects

Goaltender Alex Vazzano impressed scouts with his performance at the combine.

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Goaltender Alex Vazzano impressed scouts with his performance at the combine.

And you thought the draft combine was over. Not so. The NHL released the top performers from all exercise categories, so there are now official numbers for some of the prospects and at least a base of data in which to judge them. As usual, the following is a gathering of players we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.

1. Alex Vazzano, G – The Gunnery Highlanders (Conn. Prep): Of all the goaltenders at the combine, Vazzano had the best stats with four shutouts, a 2.19 goals-against average and .925 save percentage. Granted, this was against high school competition, but that’s why the Connecticut native made it his goal to be unbreakable.

“I think it was important to leave no room and be the best in my league,” said Vazzano.

Having played largely away from the spotlight, the combine was a great chance for the youngster to get his name out to NHL teams and let them know who he was. One interesting footnote is that part of his curriculum at The Gunnery was to play not one, but three sports. Along with hockey, Vazzano also played baseball and did weight training. On the ice, Vazzano has used that athletic base to his advantage.

“I think I have good reflexes and a raw ability to stop the puck,” he said. “And I think I’m good on stopping second or third shots.”

Vazzano will take that ability to the Union College Dutchmen and though the team is far from an ECAC powerhouse, the opportunity is there for greatness.

“It seemed like the right fit for me,” Vazzano said. “It’s a cliche, but I can be a big fish in a small pond.”

This summer, however, it will be one of 30 NHL teams casting a line for the youngster. Draft eligible in 2009.

2. Sami Vatanen, D – JYP (Fin. Jr.):
Undersized at 5-foot-9, 163 pounds, Vatanen nevertheless destroyed the field in sit-ups, ringing up 72 measured reps (Cassidy Mappin was second with 65; no one else broke 50). He also won the day on the VO2 Max bike, meaning the blueliner has both core strength and lung capacity to go with his solid two-way game. Draft eligible in 2009.

3. Jordan Szwarz, RW – Saginaw Spirit (OHL): Much like Vatanen, Szwarz is smaller, but packs a big punch. The Spirit winger tied Carl Klingberg and Ryan O’Reilly for most bench press reps (18) and aced the Wingate bike for anaerobic fitness. Draft eligible in 2009.

4. Taylor Doherty, D – Kingston Frontenacs (OHL): A physical beast at nearly 6-foot-7, 218 pounds, Doherty naturally did well in wingspan measurement, but also excelled in leg power – so once he fully develops, Doherty will be very difficult to get past if you’re an opposing forward. He’s gaining a lot of experience in Kingston, too. Draft eligible in 2009.

5. Brayden McNabb, D – Kootenay Ice (WHL): One of the anaerobic measurements at the combine was a fatigue index and McNabb ranked No. 1, meaning he can put in those extra minutes when needed. The Kootenay defenseman had a pretty good offensive season, too, with 36 points in 67 games while playing in all situations. Draft eligible in 2009.

6. Kenny Ryan, RW – U.S. NTDP: With the benefit of USA Hockey’s weight training, the NTDP kids did big things at the combine and Ryan was in the mix in several different categories. The Boston College commit had a great year in Ann Arbor, too, putting up 41 points in 53 games. Draft eligible in 2009.

7. Matt Hackett, G – Plymouth Whalers (OHL): Goalies tend to have a different required skill set than skaters, but Hackett hung with everyone at the combine anyway. His physiology served him well in several categories and the Whaler’s regular season stats were among the best for combine goaltenders. Hackett is the nephew of former NHL goalie Jeff Hackett. Draft eligible in 2009.

8. Jordan Caron, RW – Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL): Another player who turned in an all-around solid performance at the combine, Caron had a great regular season (67 points in 56 games) even if his Memorial Cup was limited to two goals in four games. There is serious power forward potential here. Draft eligible in 2009.

9. Josh Birkholz, RW – Fargo Force (USHL): Playing on the expansion Force, Birkholz had a solid season with 21 goals and 36 points in 55 games, while measuring up well in several different draft combine exercises. The Minnesota native is committed to the Golden Gophers. Draft eligible in 2009.

10. Cody Eakin, C – Swift Current Broncos (WHL): Another all-around performer at the combine, Eakin has been lauded for his goal-scoring ability in the Dub. Injuries slowed him down this season, but he still had 48 points in 54 games. 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.

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