I had a chance on the weekend to see one of the American League’s most talent-laden teams, in terms of prospects, as the Grand Rapids Griffins visited Toronto. The Red Wings’ farm team didn’t disappoint, blasting the hometown Marlies 7-2. Here are a couple standouts from the game, plus a few more players we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.
1. Tomas Tatar, LW – Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL): With 16 points and a plus-11 rating in 22 games, Tatar has needed little time to get used to North American hockey.
The Slovakian left winger, who burst onto the international scene at last year’s world juniors, feels right at home in Michigan, where he is carving out a name for himself with the Griffins.
“It’s different,” Tatar said. “The food is different, cars are different – I like it.”
Playing on a line with ex-NHLer Patrick Rissmiller, Tatar hasn’t let his slight 5-foot-11 frame slow him down in his first pro year. And when he’s not making moves with the puck, he’s hustling back to check the opposition.
“I like being physical in the corners and I like to move the puck,” Tatar said. “And I think my vision on the ice is good.”
He’ll need those skills when he leads Slovakia at this year’s WJC in Saskatchewan. The Slovaks shocked their way to a fourth-place finish last year and Tatar, who led the team in scoring with 11 points in seven games, knows he won’t be able to fly under the radar again.
“I think I have a different position this year,” he said. “Last year, nobody knew me, so maybe teams will forecheck me harder, so I must be careful. We have a better team than we did last year and our plan is to move up in our group, but we must work hard.”
Based on what he’s done in the AHL this year, Tatar is a good candidate to lead that charge.
Drafted 60th overall by Detroit in 2009.
2. Brendan Smith, D – University of Wisconsin Badgers (WCHA): Smith has been on fire lately and now leads the conference in scoring with 26 points in 17 games. At 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, the defender has size and isn’t afraid to use it, but he also has puckmoving skills, making him all the more dangerous. Drafted 27th overall by Detroit in 2007.
3. Brendan Gallagher, RW – Vancouver Giants (WHL): At 5-foot-8, 163 pounds, Gallagher can certainly afford to add some mass, but it hasn’t hurt him yet this season. The Giants winger has tallied three or more points in three December games and has more than doubled his goal output from his rookie campaign. Draft eligible in 2010.
4. Jaden Schwartz, C – Tri-City Storm (USHL): An alumni of the Notre Dame Hounds program in Saskatchewan, Schwartz has been an absolute demon on the power play for the Storm. The 5-foot-10 pivot has 18 points on the man advantage and 32 overall in 23 games this year. Draft eligible in 2010.
5. Thomas McCollum, G – Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL): The AHL rookie looked solid against the Marlies on the weekend, staying square to the shooter and withstanding a barrage of chances from Toronto in the third period. After a couple of rough outings earlier in the season, McCollum is beginning to find his groove. Drafted 30th overall by Detroit in 2008.
6. Calvin de Haan, D – Oshawa Generals (OHL): The Gens are very hot recently, knocking off top dogs Windsor and Mississauga-St. Mike’s while climbing the Ontario League standings and de Haan has been a standout. A smooth-skating puck-mover who isn’t afraid to rush, de Haan has 19 points through 27 games. Drafted 12th overall by the New York Islanders in 2009.
7. Brian Billett, G – New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs (EJHL): Boasting a 10-1-1 record and miniscule 2.04 goals-against average, Billett is definitely in a groove right now. As further evidence, the Boston College recruit faced 57 shots against the New Jersey Hitmen recently and only conceded one goal in a 2-1 victory. Draft eligible in 2010.
8. Greg Nemisz, C – Windsor Spitfires (OHL): Know who had a good showing at Team Canada’s intrasquad game Monday night? Nemisz did. The big pivot had four points in a 6-4 Team White victory playing alongside Spits mates Adam Henrique and Taylor Hall. Foreshadowing, perhaps? Drafted 25th overall by Calgary in 2008.
9. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D – Leksand Stars (Swe.): With the Sens keeping Erik Karlsson in Ottawa during the world juniors, Sweden will need to lean even more on Ekman-Larsson, who has picked up right where he left off in the Allsvenskan (Sweden’s second-best league). The swift blueliner has 13 points and a plus-15 rating through 25 games. Drafted sixth overall by Phoenix in 2009.
10. Jacob Lagace, RW – Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL): With 43 points in 29 games, Lagace is putting up solid numbers for the Sagueneens, but it’s his special teams play that really stands out. The slick winger has five power play goals and two shorthanded markers already. Drafted 134th overall by Buffalo in 2008.
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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