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Downing the competition

Michael Downing is trying to get the attention of NHL scouts, since this is his draft year. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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Michael Downing is trying to get the attention of NHL scouts, since this is his draft year. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Everything is happening right now! The CHL-Russia Super Series kicked off in Quebec with the locals getting a full dose of the Nail and Mikhail Show, as Yakupov and Grigorenko led the visitors to a 6-2 victory. Meanwhile, the World Jr. A Challenge is underway in Nova Scotia and the U-18 Four Nations tournament is getting underway in Ann Arbor, Mich. That’s a whole lot of hockey to add to the regular junior sked, so let’s take a look at some of the prospects making noise right now.

Michael Downing, D – Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL)

Team USA is small up front at the WJAC, but any enemy forwards that cross the blueline are eventually going to run into Downing, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound specimen on the back end who doesn’t take to intruders kindly. In fact, it’s one of his specialties.

“The physical game yes, but I’m really solid defensively,” he said. “Every once in a while I’ll throw a big hit and get the team going.”

That was evident at the All-American Prospects Game in Buffalo and Downing has continued his success in the United States League this season. His Fighting Saints have allowed a league-low 20 goals against and the University of Michigan commit is a plus-6, despite the fact offense is not a big part of his game (he has two assists in nine games). Playing for the 10-1-1 squad, the big defenseman is happy to play for a coach with such a great track record.

“Jim Montgomery, the guy knows what he’s doing,” Downing said. “He won a championship his first year here, last year we made a good run and this year we have high expectations.”

Downing, who cites current Wolverines D-man Jon Merrill as a model, wants to get better at jumping into the rush and he’ll join a great blueline when he does head to college. The decision to commit to the Maize and Blue was easy, too.

“I fell in love with the school and the campus when I was a little boy,” he said. “I grew up 15 minutes from Ann Arbor.”

Nothing beats home cooking. Draft eligible in 2013.

Andrei Vasilevski, G – Tolpar Ufa (Rus.)

Vasilevski is coming off a signature performance in the first game of the Super Series, where he stoned some of the QMJHL’s most dangerous weapons. But most intriguing are reports that the big netminder is coming over to North America next season. Will he play for OHL Mississauga or AHL Syracuse? That’s the big question. Drafted 19th overall by Tampa Bay in 2012.

Ryan Fitzgerald, C – Valley Jr. Warriors (EJHL)

The kid’s got a thing for big stages, that’s for sure. Coming off his MVP performance at the All-American Prospects Game, Fitzgerald notched a hat trick in the first period of his first game at the WJAC as the Americans romped over Canada East 9-1. The quick-thinking pivot is committed to Boston College. Draft eligible in 2013.

Emile Poirier, LW – Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)

Riding a four-game point streak, Poirier is coming off a hat trick versus Val-d’Or and is quickly rising up the scoring charts in Gatineau. The late birthday left winger got off to a bit of a slow start, but is now a point-per-gamer who uses his quick hands and feet to get the job done. Draft eligible in 2013.

Sami Vatanen, D – Norfolk Admirals (AHL)

He was the defenseman of the year in Finland last season and Vatanen has once again proven that size is not an issue for him on the blueline. The nifty 5-foot-9, 163-pound wizard is second among rookie defenders in the American League with nine points through eight games, trailing only the sublime Justin Schultz. Drafted 106th overall by Anaheim in 2009.

Sean Monahan, C – Ottawa 67’s (OHL)

The 67’s got off to a slow start, but are turning things around. If the team has any shot at making noise this year, it will come off the talents of Cody Ceci and Monahan. The top Ontario Leaguer available for the draft, Monahan has been held off the scoresheet just twice this year (basically an off weekend in mid-October) and has already posted 27 points in 16 games. Draft eligible in 2013.

Brendan Harms, RW – Fargo Force (USHL)

A two-way player with some offensive pop, it’s been all Harms’ way so far in Fargo, as the right winger leads the USHL in scoring with 15 assists and 19 points in 12 games. Committed to Bemidji State, the Manitoba native also boasts a sturdy plus-10 rating. Draft eligible in 2013.

Nicolas Petan, C – Portland Winterhawks (WHL)

An undersized but talented pivot, Petan hopped out of the gate quick this season, but has proven lately that he’s no flash in the pan. In fact, the B.C. native has thrown up an incredible six multi-point games in his past seven outings and he still had one point in the other game. With 27 points in 16 games overall, he’s leading the Hawks in offense. Draft eligible in 2013.

Martin Kokes, D – Litvinov (Cze.)

A defensive defenseman who plays a smart, mature game in his national junior league, Kokes is one of the players to watch for the Czechs at the WJAC. The steady blueliner is a frequent international player and will need to be at his best, as the Czechs are big underdogs in Nova Scotia. Draft eligible in 2013.

Matt DeBlouw, C – Michigan State Spartans (CCHA)

Second among rookie scorers in the conference with seven points in eight games, DeBlouw is off to a great start on a rebuilding Spartans squad. Known for his attention to detail in all three zones, the freshman is coming off a four-point game on the weekend. Drafted 186th overall by Calgary in 2012.

 

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 on thehockeynews.com. A player is eligible for The Hot List until they play their first NHL game.

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