Major junior playoffs have reached the final series, while the AHL post-season is well into the second round. An incredibly exciting 2014-15 campaign is nearing its end, so I’m opening up the Hot List a bit to younger prospects. Like those that came before them, they are the players you’ll want to know and that we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.
The final matchups in major junior have been set: Quebec takes on Rimouski in the Quebec League; Brandon will duke it out with Kelowna in the West and Erie gets Oshawa in the OHL. Whatever the results, it’s going to be a power-packed Memorial Cup. Meanwhile, the USHL draft is taking place, with Minnesota high school standout Ryan Poehling going first to Lincoln in Phase One (for 1999 birthdays) and some interesting pickups elsewhere in Phase Two (older players). Let’s take a whirl around the prospect planet to see what’s up.
Once again, Team USA has won the world under-18s thanks to a roster made up almost entirely of NTDP kids. Though one interesting takeaway from the tourney was goaltending. The Americans went with underager Evan Sarthou of WHL Tri-City, while Canada had a tandem of underagers in Moose Jaw’s Zach Sawchenko and Saginaw’s Evan Cormier. Sure, 2015 looks like a thin goalie draft, but this was a pretty interesting trend. With that point behind us, let’s look at some of the other prospects making noise in the hockey world right now.
While I try to reserve this space for players up for this year’s draft or ones who have already been picked, there’s a treasure trove of 2016s at the world under-18s right now. Auston Matthews just broke Patrick Kane’s U.S. NTDP scoring record, while Finland is getting a huge performance from Patrik Laine (Jesse Puljujarvi’s playing pretty well, too). And Dmitri Sokolov of Russia is already on the minds of NHL scouts. With that established, let’s take a look at some of the other great youngsters in the game today.
The Frozen Four is in the books and it was a classic, with Providence College winning its first-ever hockey title over Boston University. But the season still might not be over for Terriers frosh Jack Eichel, as he and Nashville pick Jimmy Vesey of Harvard were expected to play for Team USA at the World Championship in Switzerland. Meanwhile, we’re getting very close to the world under-18s as well in the Czech Republic. With CHL playoffs still going strong, let’s cruise around the prospect world once again.
The CHL playoffs are getting intense already, with Cape Breton pushing the Memorial host Quebec Remparts to a seventh game in the first round, thanks to an overtime victory in Game 6. Some fantastic individual performances have already been logged and with the Frozen Four this week and the world under-18s on the horizon, things will only get crazier. So let’s take a look at some of the prospects we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.
The Frozen Four tournament may be the most deadly in hockey. It’s not long, but that’s the danger: it’s one-and-done, so even titan teams can get grounded in the first round, as top seed MSU-Mankato found out against RIT. But in the end, we have two teams from the two best conferences in the semifinal: Nebraska-Omaha and North Dakota from the NCHC and Hockey East’s Providence College and Boston University. Major junior playoffs are in full swing now too, so let’s look at the kids making noise in the prospect world right now.
Zach Senyshyn, RW – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
They’re going for it all in the Soo this year and with the team adding players such as Justin Bailey, Anthony DeAngelo and Nick Ritchie before the trade deadline, it’s almost easier to name the Hounds who haven’t been drafted by NHL franchises at this point. Senyshyn is one, but that’s because he’s not eligible until this summer. In the meantime, he’s been happy to soak up lessons from his elder peers.
“It’s a great learning process every day,” he said. “Working with guys like Jared McCann and Darnell Nurse in practice is a special experience.”
This is actually Senyshyn’s first full year with the Hounds. The skilled, swift skater played most of last year with the Jr. A Smiths Falls Bears near Ottawa. He had his eye on playing NCAA, with Penn State, Princeton and nearby Clarkson all on his radar. But the siren sound of the Hounds drew him to the OHL and he signed with the squad in December, playing a handful of games before returning to the Bears to work on his defense and round out his game. There was a Hounds-Bears link, too.
“The assistant coach in Smiths Falls was Walt Dubas,” Senyshyn said. “He’s Kyle Dubas’ uncle. It’s pretty cool the way things worked out.”
Kyle Dubas of course, was the Hounds’ GM last year and now works for the Toronto Maple Leafs. But it’s a member of the Colorado Avalanche that Senyshyn counts as a role model.
“I’d say Matt Duchene,” Senyshyn revealed. “He plays the game at such a high pace and uses his creativity to create offense.”
With three points in his first two playoff games, Senyshyn’s not doing too bad in that category himself. Draft eligible in 2015.
Michael Mersch, LW – Manchester Monarchs (AHL)
The former University of Wisconsin Badger tied a franchise record by notching five points in a win over Hershey on Friday, but he didn’t stop there. The sturdy Mersch, who doesn’t mind heading to the front of the net, also collected points in his next two games. Drafted 110th overall by Los Angeles in 2011.
Nicolas Roy, C – Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL)
When you’re 6-foot-4 and 202 pounds, it pays to use your frame and that’s what Roy has been doing in the Sags’ first-round series against Moncton. Despite being the underdogs, Chicoutimi has the showdown tied 1-1 in part due to Roy’s four points. Defensively responsible, it’s good to see his offense busting out. Draft eligible in 2015.
Mike Robinson, G – Lawrence Academy Spartans (Mass. HS)
A big goaltender who comes in at 6-foot-4, Robinson had to stop a lot of pucks for the Spartans this season and even though it didn’t result in team success, he did catch the eyes of scouts. Along with his size, the University of New Hampshire commit has great technique and quickness. Draft eligible in 2015.
Travis Konecny, RW – Ottawa 67’s (OHL)
The 67’s got Konecny back from injury right in time for the post-season and he has rewarded them with his presence. The highly skilled heart-and-soul captain has come out guns a’ blazing with seven points in the first three games in what has been a high-scoring affair versus Niagara. Draft eligible in 2015.
Joel Ek Eriksson, C – Farjestad (Swe.)
A 200-foot player with size and a good shot, Ek Eriksson couldn’t get Farjestad past the quarterfinal in Sweden’s under-20 playoffs, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. The big pivot had five goals and 10 points in six games for Farjestad, who dropped their second post-season series to Djurgarden. Draft eligible in 2015.
John Quenneville, C – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
The Wheaties have aces all through their lineup, but early on in Brandon’s playoff series against Edmonton, Quenneville has been a driver with five points in three games. The sturdy pivot has a great shot, skates hard and really competes. Drafted 30th overall by New Jersey in 2014.
Jake Walman, D – Providence College Friars (Hockey East)
The Friars had the benefit of playing their regional games in Providence, but they still had to beat two very good NCHC teams and Walman was key against Denver in the final. The offensively talented blueliner notched three assists in the 4-1 win over the Pioneers. Drafted 82nd overall by St. Louis in 2014.
Nick Boka, D – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
A noted gym rat, Boka has pretty good size ay 6-foot-1, 197 pounds and generally plays a physical, defense-first game. But the University of Michigan commit can also wheel when he wants to and has a nice offensive upside, even if it’s not his go-to skill. Draft eligible in 2015.
Vaclav Karabacek, RW – Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)
Baie-Comeau has taken care of business at home, winning both games in their opener against Saint John, with Karabacek doing a lot of damage. The gifted Czech, who plays at a high pace and has some dazzling skill, has four assists already in the series to lead the Drakkar. Drafted 49th overall by Buffalo in 2014.
Since I did a big NCAA dig on Monday, it’s time to focus on some other circuits. Major junior playoff brackets are set and there will be some barnburners – Quebec vs. Cape Breton is intriguing, while a potential second-round match between Erie and the Soo Greyhounds is dizzying to think of. But the big story right now is Youngstown of the United States League. The Phantoms just broke a USHL record by winning 17 straight – and Chicago gave them a good game in that last one. But enough about teams, here are the players making noise in the prospect world right now.