On Tuesday, the Dallas Stars assigned offensive defenseman Julius Honka to the American League’s Texas Stars. As an 18-year-old experiencing his first NHL training camp, it was no surprise that the Finnish blueliner wouldn’t make the cut. What surprised many observers was that Dallas was allowed to assign Honka to the AHL in the first place.
After all, Honka played in the Western League for Swift Current last season and conventional wisdom held that players drafted out of the CHL who still had major junior eligibility (such as Honka) had to be returned to junior; they couldn’t go to the AHL.
This is the rule that has vexed sometimes-Buffalo Sabre Mikhail Grigorenko for a couple years now, since he was drafted out of the Quebec League. But the Stars were confronted with a glitch in the system.
Welcome back to another season of The Hot List, my weekly update of who is making noise in the world of prospects. Players are eligible for the list as long as they haven’t stepped on the ice for a regular season NHL game; otherwise, they come from all different leagues and development points. Some will be on hot streaks, others will be new names you’ll want to bank in your memory. All will be potential NHLers one day. Hockey’s back, so let’s take a look at this week’s roundup.
If Erie Otters goaltender Devin Williams is looking for someone to blame after he was victimized by Josh Wesley, perhaps he should write a terse letter to Colin Muldoon.
See, defensemen don’t usually have moves like the ones Wesley pulled off against Erie, but there’s an explanation for that.
Muldoon was Wesley’s coach with the under-14 Carolina Jr. Hurricanes and the reason the son of retired Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Glen Wesley went from playing forward to back on the blueline. Soon after, Wesley joined the Ontario League’s Plymouth Whalers as a rearguard, but as you can see here, his offensive instincts are still pretty honed:
McDavid or Eichel. Eichel or McDavid. What about both?
The latter is a question only one team has the luxury of asking this season. The Buffalo Sabres, talked up as one of the franchises most likely to land the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft, have a strong chance to become Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel’s future home. The tandem headlines the most exciting draft class in years. Each projects as a generational talent. We have the next Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin on our hands if the scouts are right.
One storyline I haven’t heard yet, however: what if Buffalo lands McDavid and Eichel?
It’s far-fetched, even borderline silly. At this moment, however, the odds of one NHL team picking first and second in the draft are better than they’ve ever been, excluding the zany days in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the Montreal Canadiens were gifted the first few selections.
The reason is three words long: New York Islanders.
Player comparisons are fraught with peril, especially when teenagers who have yet to see their first NHL shifts are part of the equation. On top of the age gap, there’s also a hype factor because it’s much more fun to say a smaller skilled player is the next Patrick Kane versus the next Steve Sullivan or David Desharnais, no matter which is most accurate. But when scouts saw Leon Draisaitl play for the Western League’s Prince Albert Raiders this past season, names such as Joe Thornton and Anze Kopitar came up. Keep the latter in mind, because there’s more than just one similarity between the stupendous Los Angeles Kings pivot and the growing Raiders teenager.
When the Edmonton Oilers tabbed Draisaitl with the third selection overall at the draft, they made him the highest German pick ever. Not that it was a long list, but Germany has produced a decent amount of NHLers, from Marcel Goc (the former record holder, who went 20th in 2001) to Christian Ehrhoff and Jochen Hecht. But none of those players lacerated the landschaft the way Draisaitl did. As a 15-year-old in Germany, he put up a staggering 97 goals and 192 points in (wait for it) just 29 games. He kept the same six-points-per-game pace up in the playoffs. And keep in mind, that’s not as fun as it sounds when you’re serious about your sport.
“It was never easy,” Draisaitl says. “It’s not easy to get ready for those kinds of games when you know you’re going to score a lot of goals. It’s not easy to concentrate when you know it will be a high-scoring game. I just wanted to get better every game and work hard.”
Jack Eichel has thrown his tag up first in Buffalo.
Next month, fellow 2015 draft phenom Connor McDavid will get his chance to match when his Erie Otters face the Niagara IceDogs at the First Niagara Center, but as MVP of the third annual All-American Prospects Game, Eichel drew first blood.
The United States League may have lost its playoff champs in the Indiana Ice, but the junior circuit gained two expansion teams in Bloomington and Madison. The USHL has become a great league for players on the cusp of NCAA careers and this year will be no exception. I surveyed a crew of insiders to get power rankings and added a player to watch for each franchise. As a note, Team USA (the National Team Development Program) is not included in the standings since both the under-18s and under-17s play in the league and because the playoffs are kind of an afterthought; the best of the NTDP are always at the world under-18s at the time, so USHL post-season success is fleeting at best.
If you hadn’t been beaten over the head with the news already, the top prospect in the NHL draft this year is Connor McDavid of the Ontario League’s Erie Otters. But will the stellar center’s team win the title? He’ll have to do a lot, since there’s no guarantee left winger Andre Burakowsky will be back in town – the Swede could go to the Washington Capitals or even the American League. Similarly, Kingston may get Sam Bennett back, but he might end up in Calgary, while Darnell Nurse could be in Edmonton. But even without Nurse, the Soo Greyhounds will be strong. I surveyed a group of experts to find out how strong, then added a player to watch on each team.