Pre-season hockey is on for all three major junior circuits, while the United States League’s Dubuque Fighting Saints come back from the Junior Club World Cup in Russia with a bronze medal (Sudbury of the Ontario League was not so lucky). A lot of big names and combinations got their campaigns off on the right foot, so let’s take a look at some of the players we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.
With Mikhail Grigorenko gone, Erne will be counted on as the focal point of the Remparts offense and in two pre-season games, he was right at the top of the team rankings with three points. But more importantly, the sturdy American showed himself to be a whole lot to handle earlier this summer at Team USA’s world junior camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., using his 6-foot-1, 206-pound frame to slough off most attackers and be one of the most effective forwards on the squad.
“To be able to have a big body, I’m lucky that I can take the puck wide and really use that to my advantage,” Erne said. “Especially against teams like (Sweden, Finland and Canada), they’re so skilled and the defense really knows how to play the body.”
Scouts like Erne best when he’s playing that straight-ahead game and moving on without the creative, but more east-west Grigorenko might even help the power forward take things to the next level this season. Erne will be doing it without coach Patrick Roy, now with the NHL’s Avalanche, but the youngster’s not worried.
“We're all going to miss him, he was a great guy, great coach,” Erne said. “I know with Philippe Boucher, they're not going to pick someone who doesn't know how to do their job. I'm just going to stick to the same thing and do my best.”
Boucher comes in with a great track record as a junior exec, but he might actually want to lean on players such as Erne when it comes to living in the spotlight of major junior’s biggest team.
“There's always somebody watching in Quebec,” Erne said. “The scouts love to come here.”
And a lot of their eyes will be drawn to the big left winger once again. Drafted 33rd overall by Tampa Bay in 2013.
Well that didn’t take long. The Otters’ new top line of McDavid, Connor Brown and Andre Burakovsky scorched Niagara for 14 points in a 6-3 win, with McDavid posting a goal and six points. While training with NHLers a few weeks back, the phenom was every bit as fast as his much older pro competition and looks bigger now. Draft eligible in 2015.
Virtanen would be a top prospect based on his scoring prowess alone, but the thing that sets him apart from the pack is how mean he can be out on the ice. The top pick in the 2011 bantam draft had a blood feud with Barrie’s Aaron Ekblad during Canada’s Ivan Hlinka tournament tryouts and with five points in two pre-season games with the Hitmen, he’s taking no games off so far. Draft eligible in 2014.
Though he had only two points in four games at the Junior Club World Cup, Eiserman’s potential was on full display in the semifinal loss to Finland’s HPK. The NTDP product and University of New Hampshire commit used his nimble hands and powerful 6-foot-2, 196-pound frame to cut through the defense and set up an easy tap-in goal. Draft eligible in 2014.
With Rasmus Ristolainen a question mark for the world juniors (he might be in the NHL with Buffalo), Pokka’s role for the Finns becomes even more crucial. At the Lake Placid evaluation camp, he was on the top power play unit and logged big minutes. Now playing in the European Trophy tourney for club teams, Pokka tops all junior-aged defensemen with four points through five games. Drafted 34th overall by the New York Islanders in 2012.
The brother of Carolina prospect Erik Karlsson (not the Sens star), Anton may have more in the toolbox than his older sibling and brings a power forward frame (6-foot-1, 190 pounds) and mindset to the table. Not afraid to crash the net, Karlsson posted up four goals and five points in four JCWC games. Draft eligible in 2014.
His draft year was interrupted by hip surgery, but Comrie was back for the Lake Placid camp and has put up decent numbers in the pre-season so far, rocking a .923 save percentage through two outings. Of course, the real test will be how much of a workload he has in the regular season, where the Ams will count on him as one of their linchpins. Drafted 59th overall by Winnipeg in 2013.
A dump truck of a defenseman who really keeps the opposition honest with his physical play, Rosburg won silver with Team USA at the Ivan Hlinka tournament and recently committed to Michigan State, where he will eventually join an evolving core of talent under coach Tom Anastos. Draft eligible in 2014.
There’s no doubting Ho-Sang’s hands and offensive skills, but this will still be an important year for him to prove himself as someone who can use his teammates and not just succeed on his own raw talent. Ho-Sang has scored in both of Windsor’s two pre-season games and will have a great opportunity to improve on his 44-point rookie campaign. Draft eligible in 2014.
A blueliner with decent size and decent speed, Tuulola tended to stay back on his pairing, but covers a lot of ice in the defensive zone and has produced offensively in the Finnish junior ranks. The youngster ranked third on the team with an average time on ice of 19:04 at the JCWC, helping HPK to a silver medal at the tourney. Draft eligible in 2014.
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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