Benjamin Conz was a surprising star at the WJC, but went undrafted in 2009. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
SASKATOON – How could I not do a Hot List while on location at the greatest yearly roundup of prospects? The loose theme today is heroes and many of them were unexpected, but their names are in lights now. Once again, here’s a look at some players we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.
1. Benjamin Conz, G – Langnau Tigers (Swi.): Even though he was among our top-60 prospects in last year’s Draft Preview, Conz went unselected. But after his huge performances against Russia and Slovakia, no one’s sleeping anymore.
Suiting up against men back home, Conz felt his Swiss League experience helped his WJC performance.
“Playing against former NHLers such as Serge Aubin prepared me for the speed here,” Conz said through a translator.
The young netminder is excellent at rebound control, often directing pucks deep into the corners. His reflexes and puckhandling are also solid. As for his 50-save quarterfinal performance against the Russians, the Swiss goalkeeper knew what he had given his country.
“No one would bet on us before the game,” Conz noted.
Needless to say, he also plays well under pressure. Draft eligible in 2010 (undrafted in 2009).
2. Jerry D’Amigo, RW – R.P.I. Engineers (ECAC): Call him G.I. Jerry; a real American hero. D’Amigo has been dynamite in the medal round for the States, popping in two key goals against the Swedes to punch a ticket to the final. He’s speedy and has great sense with the puck; the left winger mercilessly froze Jacob Markstrom with a fake before zipping one by the usually unbeatable Swedish netminder. Drafted 158th overall by Toronto in 2009.
3. Jordan Eberle, C – Regina Pats (WHL): Eberle has combined with fellow Dub stars Brayden Schenn and Brandon McMillan to form Canada’s most potent line. The Pats pivot was tied for the team lead in points with 11 heading into the gold medal game (Alex Pietrangelo shares the title) and has made his name being hard to knock off the puck. He also has a wicked wrister. Drafted 22nd overall by Edmonton in 2008.
4. Marco Scandella, D – Val d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL): Boasting size (6-foot-2, 208 pounds) and skill, Scandella has really acquitted himself well on a Canadian blueline filled with popular names. His ability to hustle down ice and get himself into position for the game-winning shorthanded goal against Switzerland was impressive. Drafted 55th overall by Minnesota in 2008.
5. Nino Niederreiter, RW – Portland Winterhawks (WHL): How could I not include Nino? Everyone’s favorite Swiss junior, Niederreiter willed his team to victory against Russia and was just as important as Conz. His size (6-foot-2, 203 pounds), skills and desire will take him far. Draft eligible in 2010.
6. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D – Leksand Stars (Swe.): With five points in five games, OEL was the top non-Canadian defense scorer heading into the final day of action. His smooth skating will definitely help him at the next level. Drafted sixth overall by Phoenix in 2009.
7. Chris Kreider, C – Boston College Eagles (Hockey East): Speed was the key to American success and Kreider was one of the top demons. The Boston College freshman was a threat nearly every shift and will get even better as his NCAA career goes on. He had six points in six games heading into the final. Drafted 19th overall by the New York Rangers in 2009.
8. Vladimir Tarasenko, RW – Sibir Novosibirsk (KHL): Though the Russians faltered, Tarasenko looked good for an underager. His Kontinental League experience has clearly taught him how to fight through checks when he has the puck and he has a deft touch around the net. Draft eligible in 2010.
9. Mattias Ekholm, D – Mora IK (Swe.): Despite tallying just one goal in the tourney, Ekholm was a plus-8 heading into his final game. Another smooth-skating Swede, Ekholm’s lanky 6-foot-4, 194-pound frame allows him to cover a lot of ice fast. Drafted 102nd overall by Nashville in 2009.
10. Mikael Granlund, C – HIFK Helsinki (Fin.): Heading into their final game, Granlund led the Finns with five points in five games. He wasn’t happy with himself after the loss to the U.S., but the youngster did do some good things; he was a hawk on defense when the goals weren’t coming for him. Draft eligible in 2010.
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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