With the NHL season now a go, let’s give a little shout-out to those rookies who made their big league debuts. James van Riemsdyk, Michael Del Zotto and Matt Gilroy are just a couple of early lights who have now graduated from the Hot List, so congratulations, boys. The following players are also on the fast track to the NHL some day soon.
1. Ryan Spooner, C – Peterborough Petes (OHL): The Petes are riding high in the Ontario League’s East Division and the play of Spooner certainly helps. The young pivot has a nose for the puck and that ever-important ability to appear invisible to defenders until it’s too late. As a rookie last season, Spooner put up 30 goals and 58 points in 62 games, but like any good hockey player, he’s humble about the accomplishment.
“I was surprised by my stats,” Spooner said. “But (Pat) Daley and (Brett) Theberge were great linemates. They’re older guys and they showed me the way.”
This year, it’s Spooner’s turn to show the league what he’s all about. He’s draft eligible this summer and knows the ramifications.
“It’s obviously a huge year, so I have to play well,” he said, before noting his focus is on the Petes first. “But it’s just another season. I don’t want to grip my stick too tight; I need to stay relaxed.”
Spooner can do that because he knows he has the confidence of his team. He likes killing penalties because of the responsibility and prides himself on his skating, vision and two-way game. With those qualities, it’s not hard to see why he may be popular at the draft this summer. Draft eligible in 2010.
2. Andrei Kuchin, LW – Chicago Steel (USHL): Following the path blazed last year by Stanislav Galiev, Kuchin is a Russian import doing big things in the United States League. The left winger has six points in two games and already has big-time experience thanks to his time with Vityaz of the Kontinental League. Draft eligible in 2010 (undrafted in 2009).
3. Taylor Hall, C – Windsor Spitfires (OHL): It looks like Hall has some competition for the OHL scoring title courtesy Plymouth’s Tyler Seguin, but don’t think Windsor’s best will shirk from the pressure. Hall is already getting the lofty comparison treatment from pundits (the new Pavel Bure!), but at least he’s not hurting the hype by posting 17 points in eight games so far. Draft eligible in 2010.
4. Mac Carruth, G – Wenatchee Wild (NAHL): Carruth leads the North American League in games (10) and wins (seven), and lest you think the victories are only coming due to volume, the youngster also boasts a 2.02 goals-against average. A Minnesota-Duluth commit, Carruth fills out the net well with his 6-foot-2, 172-pound frame. Draft eligible in 2010.
5. Samuel Groulx, D – Quebec Remparts (QMJHL): With nine points in eight games, Groulx is certainly doing his part on the Remparts’ back end, which is probably why the lanky blueliner was named the Q’s defensive player of the week. His plus-2 rating didn’t hurt matters, either. Drafted 92nd overall by San Jose in 2008.
6. Jordan Weal, C – Regina Pats (WHL): The Dub’s player of the week, Weal gives Regina a 1-2 Jordan punch now that Eberle’s back from NHL camp. Weal, all 5-foot-9, 165 pounds of him, has 11 points in eight games, but more importantly, he’s a plus-4 – much better than last year’s minus-10 season. Draft eligible in 2010.
7. Robin Lehner, G – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL): It’s hard not to dish out a lot of love to the Soo early on; the Hounds just have so many intriguing prospects. Lehner, naturally, is one of them. The 6-foot-4, 224-pound Swedish import has an impressive 2.00 GAA and .935 save percentage as an OHL rookie, while splitting duties with the equally impressive Bryce O’Hagan. Drafted 46th overall by Ottawa in 2009.
8. Adam Polasek, D – PEI Rocket (QMJHL): Another European import doing well in the Q, Polasek is putting up numbers all over the place. The 6-foot-2, 187-pound rearguard has seven points in 10 games, not to mention 18 penalty minutes. Draft eligible in 2010.
9. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C – Red Deer Rebels (WHL): The Rebs aren’t exactly burning up the league, but RNH has been a bright spot. A No. 1 pick in the bantam draft, the rookie has six goals and nine points in eight games, tops among Dub freshmen. Is it too early to start calling him ‘The Nuge’ yet? Draft eligible in 2011.
10. Brayden McNabb, D – Kootenay Ice (WHL): Lauded for his physical play, McNabb hasn’t disappointed early on, but the offense he has provided has really stood out. The blueliner has eight points through six games, putting him atop the Kootenay leaderboard. Drafted 66th overall by Buffalo 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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