Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had 106 points in 69 regular season games for Red Deer this season. (Photo courtesy Dave Brunner Photography)
As major junior teams drop out of the playoffs, look for some stars to join pro squads and others to suit up for their countries at the World Under-18 Championship in Slovakia. The NCAA Frozen Four also goes this week, but those who aren’t playing have been busy finding NHL teams - Stephane Da Costa, Andy Miele and Brian Gibbons among them. Here’s a look at some of the other players we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.
With four goals and nine points in an opening sweep of Edmonton, Nugent-Hopkins is doing exactly what the Rebels need right now, especially since second round opponent Medicine Hat will be a handful. But ‘The Nuge’ is keeping his head on straight and is excited at the chance to gun for a Western League title.
“It would be awesome,” he said. “I always watched the WHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup when I was growing up.”
By now, everyone knows Nugent-Hopkins is a strong candidate to go first overall in the NHL draft this summer, even if there are questions about his frame. The B.C. native savaged WHL scoreboards all season and is preparing to eat a lot of steak, ribs and pasta this summer in order to get the needed weight on his frame. The concept of heading back to Red Deer for another season doesn’t discourage him one bit.
“If I get drafted first overall, I’d be very excited,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “But whichever team drafts me, whatever they want me to do is fine with me.”
Though his vision and puckhandling are sublime, the Rebels pivot knows two-way play is the key to NHL success and that’s why he follows Pavel Datsyuk.
“Not just his offense, but his defensive play,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “If you know hockey, you know how much he does for the Red Wings.”
And some NHL team is hoping RNH will do the same for them one day. Draft eligible in 2011.
Rundblad’s squad is playing in the Elite League final and the 2009 first-rounder has been doing his part with eight points in 13 post-season games. In fact, Rundblad’s been doing it all year and was recently given the Borje Salming Trophy as the league’s best defenseman after posting 11 goals and 50 points in 55 regular season games. Drafted 17th overall by St. Louis in 2009, traded to Ottawa in 2010.
Lauded for his size in net, Honzik had a rough Top Prospects Game in Toronto, but clearly was saving the best for last. In the Tigres’ opening round upset of the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, the Czech national faced a barrage of shots, but still came out with the victory every time in a four-game sweep. Honzik’s .930 save percentage and 2.67 GAA were much better than his regular season marks. Draft eligible in 2011.
With his Moncton Wildcats finished for the season, Gormley is heading south for the American League, where he brings his sturdy all-round game to San Antonio. The newest member of the Rampage established a career-high in goals this season with 13, despite missing time to injury. His AHL run won’t last long, however; San Antonio has just four games remaining and will be in tough to make the playoffs. Drafted 13th overall by Phoenix in 2010.
The Irish rode Lee and fellow freshman T.J. Tynan all year when offense was needed and with the team facing off against Minnesota-Duluth in the Frozen Four, it’ll need more from those players. Lee scored the overtime-winner against Merrimack earlier in the tourney and was named to the All-Northeast Regional team. His 24 goals in 44 games is tops on Notre Dame. Drafted 152nd overall by the New York Islanders in 2009.
He’s a late birthday, so NHL teams must wait another year, but there’s no denying Schmaltz’s potential. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound blueliner has been the United States League’s defensive player of the week three times straight and on five occasions overall. He leads the league in scoring from the back end with 41 points in 50 games and has 11 in his past five - all Sioux City victories. Draft eligible in 2012.
Perhonen has been seen as the runaway choice for best goalie in the draft who still plays in Europe and his playoff performance has done nothing to quell that notion. The big, athletic netminder boasted a 2.14 goals-against average and .930 save percentage as JYP took the Finnish junior title and he was named MVP. Draft eligible in 2011.
Stransky didn’t have an electrifying regular season, but some of that can be chalked up to being a new kid in a new country and all the adjustments that go along with it. In the playoffs, however, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Czech has been a beast, with seven points and a plus-6 rating through six games. Draft eligible in 2011.
The Whalers scrapped out a tough seven-game series win over Kitchener and with Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan Murphy in full effect, it was no easy task. But Noesen and crew were up to the task and the Texas-bred power forward was aces with four goals and nine points in the series. Noesen’s skill and ability to make plays at top speed are seen as his best assets. Draft eligible in 2011.
No one truly had a great regular season for the Wolves, but Leivo’s turnaround in the playoffs has been greatly timed, since he’s up for the draft in the summer. The lanky left winger had 10 points in the shocking first-round sweep of Ottawa, which is equal to one-third of his total for the entire regular campaign. Draft eligible in 2011.
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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