Mario Lucia is no lock to attend the University of Minnesota, despite the fact his dad coach's the hockey team. (Photo courtesy Tess Cameranesi)
Preliminary rosters for the World Junior Championship are beginning to seep out and the excitement is already building around this year’s edition in Buffalo. While some marquee names will be “too busy” playing in the NHL (add Jeremy Morin now that Patrick Kane is injured in Chicago), there will still be star power galore. With an eye on the world juniors and the rest of the prospects world, here’s a look at some of the kids we can’t wait to see in the NHL one day.
The Trojans certainly didn’t ease their way into the Minnesota high school season, playing two top-10 teams in their first four outings. But they came out ahead each time, besting Edina and Duluth East en route to a 4-0 record and Lucia’s six points have been a big factor. The top-rated NHL draft prospect in the state’s high school game, the left winger is already 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds.
“I’m tall, so I can use that,” Lucia said. “I have a good shot and good hands.”
But the youngster also knows he’ll be able to dominate even more once he matures.
“I have a big frame, so I have to fill that out,” he said. “I’m 185 pounds right now, but I could probably get up to 205, 210.”
The son of Minnesota Golden Gophers coach Don Lucia (and brother of San Jose prospect Tony Lucia), Mario had a whirlwind autumn that included service with Team USA’s under-18 team. He played games against NCAA schools such as Colorado College and Denver, then won gold at the Four Nations Cup in Sweden.
“Being able to put on that USA jersey and represent my country was just amazing,” Lucia said. “I couldn’t pass that up.”
Still deciding on what college he’ll go to (Minnesota’s no slam dunk), Lucia certainly won’t be passed up by NHL teams this summer, either. Draft eligible in 2011.
Victoriaville’s Philip-Michael Devos still has a commanding lead in the Quebec League scoring race, but Couturier has thrust himself into the runner-up position with four multi-point games in his past five outings. Still a candidate to go first overall this summer, Couturier also garnered himself an invite to Team Canada’s final world juniors camp and his size and skill make him an intriguing possibility. Draft eligible in 2011.
There’s nothing sweeter than sweeping a weekender against your archrival, which is what Dumoulin helped the Eagles do when they took out BU over the weekend. The big, mobile defenseman had four assists during the two-gamer, giving him 10 in 16 games this season, not to mention a plus-10 rating overall. He’ll also get a shot at a roster spot on Team USA for the world juniors. Drafted 51st overall by Carolina in 2009.
The diminutive Sags rookie is on absolute fire lately, garnering first star of the week honors in the ‘Q’ thanks to a stretch of great play through his past nine games. The 5-foot-8, 165-pound playmaker has 17 points in that period and comes in third overall among QMJHL freshmen with 17 assists and 26 points in 32 games. Draft eligible in 2012.
Sadikov has faced a lot of rubber for the Otters this season, more than any other goaltender in the Ontario League, in fact. But the 6-foot-4, 220-pound import has stopped quite a few of those 856 attempts, which is why his .916 save percentage is pretty impressive. Enough so that Russia has included him on its preliminary roster for the world juniors, where he served as Igor Bobkov’s backup last year. Draft eligible in 2011 (undrafted in 2010)
In a unique position to suit up for Canada in a third world junior tournament, Ellis isn’t relying on past performance to punch his ticket; he’s been tearing up the OHL lately. With four consecutive multi-point games and 37 points overall, he’s closing in on blueline scoring leader Ryan Murphy. Don’t be surprised if Ellis wears the ‘C’ for Canada in Buffalo. Drafted 11th overall by Nashville in 2009.
A proud Californian, Etem announced his preliminary roster spot on Team USA via Twitter by writing that he would be repping the West Coast, but his numbers have been loud themselves. The speedy sniper has 18 goals and 31 points in 28 games for the Tigers, but it’s the gaudy plus-21 rating that really impresses. Etem has also devastated on the penalty kill, leading the Dub in shorthanded goals with four. Drafted 29th overall by Anaheim in 2010.
With 13 points in 16 games, Olsen is doing his part to help UMD get off to a scintillating start, with just two losses through 16 contests. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound blueliner is also one of the few NCAA players up for a slot on Team Canada and his reliable, responsible game would be a great asset for a team sure to be based on structure and discipline. Drafted 28th overall by Chicago in 2009.
Norway is playing with the big boys at the world juniors this year and the key to avoiding relegation will be the play of its 6-foot-3 netminder. Playing in the Finnish junior ranks, Volden has a steady 2.66 GAA and .914 save percentage, but he was dominant at last year’s World Junior Championship Division 1B promotion group and will have to be again in Buffalo. Draft eligible in 2011 (undrafted in 2010).
With Mikael Granlund likely missing the world juniors due to a concussion, Finland’s offensive onus falls even more squarely on Pulkkinen. The dynamic left winger certainly has the chops for it; he leads the SM-Liiga in rookie scoring with 25 points in 28 games, tying him for 10th amongst all skaters. Drafted 111th overall by Detroit in 2010.
The Hot List, a 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. A player is eligible for The Hot List until they play in their first NHL game.
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