Electrifying Jeremy Bracco leads off Ryan Kennedy’s Hot List

Team USA's Jeremy Bracco (Photo courtesy of Tom Sorensen/USHL)

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.

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NHL Prospect Hot List: Could Sam Bennett go first overall?

Sam-Bennett

The CHL is down to its final six teams as all three major junior circuits are on to the final. Meanwhile, the United States League got its draft on, assigning teams to players over the course of two days. And in international news, draft eligible prospects Kevin Fiala, Sam Reinhart and Leon Draisaitl were all given chances with the men at the warm-ups for the World Championship in Belarus. Here’s a look at some of the other prospects making noise in the hockey world right now.

 

Sam Bennett, C – Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)

Even though his season ended weeks ago and he couldn’t go to the under-18s due to a groin injury, Bennett’s stock is sky-high. The versatile pivot could quite possibly go first overall at the draft in Philadelphia and even if he doesn’t, Bennett’s combination of skill, strength and valor will have him in the NHL sooner than later. Even though he grew up a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, Bennett has been watching two out-of-towners for inspiration.

“I like Mike Richards and Jonathan Toews,” he said. “They’re great leaders, great players and they play a 200-foot game.”

Bennett prides himself on his compete level and would like to improve on his overall strength, though to hear scouts talk, it’s already hard enough to get the puck off him. Had he been available, Canada might have done better than bronze at the under-18s. Last year, Bennett and former midget teammate Connor McDavid helped the Canucks win gold in Russia.

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NHL Prospect Hot List: Haydn Fleury of Red Deer

Haydn-Fleury

Team USA won the world under-18s in Finland, which is really no surprise because the Americans are always the favorite. What was surprising however, is that they didn’t play Canada in the final: the Czechs took out the Canucks in the semis, earning a silver medal and putting the national program on a new positive track after some dark years. Here’s a look at some of the noteworthy players from that tournament and from around the world of prospects.

Haydn Fleury, D – Red Deer Rebels (WHL)

A veteran of Canada’s gold-medal summer team at the Ivan Hlinka tournament, Fleury reprised his anchor role on the blueline at the under-18s and was named top defenseman for his efforts, playing on a pairing with Kingston’s Roland McKeown.

“We were together at the Ivan Hlinka too, so we’re familiar, Fleury said. “You like to have that in a short tournament.”

Both defensemen are big puckmovers and will likely be two of the first blueliners taken in the draft, once Aaron Ekblad is off the board. Fleury was a stalwart for the Western League’s Rebels this season and the team lost a heartbreaking tiebreak game with Prince Albert, missing the playoffs as a result. Still, the defenseman stood out in his draft year.

“It went well personally, but our team struggled at times,” he said. “We were a bit inconsistent, especially on home ice. So we’d like to change that up next year and hopefully have a good team.”

Since defensemen take a bit longer to develop, Fleury will likely be back in Alberta for 2014-15, even if he goes in the top 10. But he’s got an NHL-caliber bench boss working with him in Brent Sutter, who could also coach the Saskatchewan native at the world juniors.

“He treats all of us like pros and that’s how it should be,” Fleury said. “We all want to get to the next level and if he treats us like that, we’re already ahead.”

Big, mobile and strong, Fleury is the most likely of the Rebels to hit that next level in an impactful way. Draft eligible in 2014.

Jakub Vrana, C – Linkoping (SHL)

Vrana was an absolute force at the under-18s, racking up eight goals and 10 points in seven games. Scouts thought he would play more Swedish League and less junior this year, but a special mid-season conditioning program took his skating up a notch and got his confidence back. As he showed in Finland, his sniping ability is back and it is deadly. Draft eligible in 2014.

Dylan Larkin, C – U.S. NTDP (USHL)

Anchoring the second line for Team USA at the under-18s, Larkin chipped in four points in six games, but his overall value goes beyond the scoreboard. Scouts love the University of Michigan commit for his speed, strength and work ethic – they feel he’ll be a no-doubt NHLer in the future and a leader. Draft eligible in 2014.

Willie Nylander, C – Modo (SHL)

Whomping the Finns 10-0 certainly didn’t hurt Nylander’s numbers, as Michael’s kid posted four in the rout and finished the under-18s with 16 points in seven games. That was tops in the tournament and did nothing to dispel the notion that Nylander is one of the most dynamic players in the draft and one who can make plays at high speeds. Draft eligible in 2014.

Jack Dougherty, D – U.S. NTDP (USHL)

A solid two-way defender for the gold medalists, the University of Wisconsin commit always seems to get his point shot through to the net, whether it’s on a wire or a simple wrister with eyes. Dougherty opened the scoring for the Americans in the Czech game and they never looked back. Draft eligible in 2014.

Antoine Bibeau, G – Val-d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL)

The Foreurs head into Game 7 with the equally potent Halifax Mooseheads and Bibeau will have to be sharp. Even though he gave up five goals in a 7-5 Game 6 win, the big netminder also stopped 38. Overall, he’s winning the goaltending duel with Montreal pick Zach Fucale. Drafted 172nd overall by Toronto in 2013.

Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW – Portland Winterhawks (WHL)

Once again, it’s Portland and Edmonton vying for the WHL crown and there will be a lot of weapons on display. The Winterhawks are led offensively by Bjorkstrand, the top post-season scorer in the ‘Dub’ with 15 goals and 28 points in 14 games. The smart and gutsy Dane may be skinny, but he gets the job done out there. Drafted 89th overall by Columbus in 2013.

Michael Amadio, C – North Bay Battalion (OHL)

Living up to the name, the Battalion moves as one under coach Stan Butler, so the individual accolades are tougher to come by. But Amadio is helping his draft stock immensely in North Bay’s incredible playoff run, running the second line and playing an effective two-way game with plenty of physicality. Draft eligible in 2014.

Mark Friedman, D – Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL)

The Hawks and Indiana Ice appear to be on a collision course for the United States League final and Friedman will have to be good for Waterloo. The Bowling Green commit provides offense from the blueline and has been a solid contributor with six assists in five games. Smart and slick-skating, he has also been great on the power play. Draft eligible in 2014.

Brett Pollock, C – Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)

On a talented team, Pollock is having a coming-out party with 17 points in 14 playoff games. His size is a definite plus, as the pivot is 6-foot-2 with room to fill out, plus he has a slick pair of mitts. And even with his height, Pollock knows how to find the quiet scoring areas in the offensive zone. Draft eligible in 2014.

 

 

NHL Prospect Hot List: Washington’s Andre Burakovsky

Andre-Burakovsky

Playoffs in the junior leagues are in full stride, while developments at the world under-18s have been intriguing to say the least. Team USA lost its first game to the Swiss before rebounding, while the Czechs are flying high and Canada is doing just enough to stay up top. Here’s a look at some of the top NHL prospects playing around the world right now.

Andre Burakovsky, LW – Erie Otters (OHL)

With 10 goals and 13 points through 12 playoff games, it goes without saying that Burakovsky is doing well for Erie, but you really have to see him live to appreciate the magic of the winger. Burakovsky loves to control the puck and uses his slick hands to weave through traffic, where a lethal wrister can then be employed to finish off the play. Considering he played against men last year in Sweden, it’s probably no wonder he is flourishing against players his own age now.

“Of course it was a little harder back home,” he said. “It’s older guys that know what they’re doing so you have to be really smart. Here it’s more physical; you have to keep your head up all the time and go a bit faster. And the hockey over here fits me better; I like the smaller ice.”

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NHL Prospect Hot List: Sanheim stands tall for Canada

Ryan Kennedy
Travis-Sanheim

With his NHL debut in Calgary, Johnny Gaudreau officially exhausted his eligibility on The Hot List. But it was a great run for the speedy ball of talent, starting as a member of the United States League’s Dubuque Fighting Saints. In fact, thanks to his three years at Boston College, Gaudreau is likely the most frequent name ever to appear on the list (John Gibson is a likely second). But back to the present: Here are some of the new players we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.

Travis Sanheim, D – Calgary Hitmen (WHL)

Currently over in Finland with Team Canada’s under-18 team, Sanheim has made a remarkable jump up the draft rankings this season. This was his first season with the Hitmen, as he spent last year in midget, building up his game and his strength.

“I could get more ice time and play every role,” Sanheim said. “I could go to the gym more, get stronger and prepare for this year to not only make the team, but make a difference on the team. And I think I did that, I jumped into a pretty key role.”

A ninth-rounder in the bantam draft, Sanheim ended this season with a very respectable 29 points and a plus-25 rating in 67 games. But he started off slow, with just three points through 21 games. Once he adjusted to life in the ‘Dub,’ things picked up. He also got more opportunities when captain Jaynen Rissling went down with an injury in December. Another defenseman who has helped Sanheim is fellow draft prospect Ben Thomas. The two formed a pairing in Calgary and also skated together as Canada took off for the under-18s.

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NHL Prospect Hot List: Brayden Point returns for Canada

Ryan Kennedy
Brayden-Point

A Hot List stalwart graduated from eligibility Monday night, as goalie John Gibson made his NHL debut with the Anaheim Ducks, notching a shutout for good measure. Elsewhere, Radek Faksa headed to AHL Texas while Henri Ikonen headed to Syracuse. Most importantly, the world under-18s are coming up in Finland, so here’s a look at some of the names to know there and around the prospect galaxy.

Brayden Point, C – Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)

Canada has been tremendous at the under-18 level, dominating the summer’s Ivan Hlinka tournament for years and even snagging gold at the worlds last season despite facing a favored American squad in the final. Why were the Americans favored? Because Canada’s roster is hampered by the ongoing major junior playoffs. Fortunately, this year’s edition will have a good amount of experience and Point is part of that cohort. He helped the Canucks win gold in the summer and he learned from playing in Europe. That’s important since the under-18s are in Finland next week.

“I learned how to play on the big ice and what works over there, rather than in the CHL” Point said. “You learn how the pace is.”

And the international duty is also fun because Point gets to play on all all-star team from across three different major junior circuits – not to mention view his competition for the NHL draft this summer.

“It’s cool to see,” he said. “It’s cool to see what they’re good at and the skills they bring. It’s good to see some of the guys I know here and meet some new guys.”

A smaller player who models his game after Buffalo’s Tyler Ennis, Point rang up an awesome 36 goals and 91 points for Moose Jaw this season. Incredibly, the next-highest producer on the Warriors had just 55 points.

“Personally I had a really good season, but obviously I would have liked a few more wins and more team success,” he said. “Hopefully next year we can get to the playoffs.”

But Moose Jaw’s loss is Canada’s gain and when Point is distributing the puck, it usually ends up in the back of the enemy’s net. Draft eligible in 2014.

 

Kasperi Kapanen, RW – KalPa (Fin.)

Scouts have been empathetic to Kapanen’s plight this season, as the teen was overburdened on a KalPa team that leaned heavily on him. Now the responsible winger will get a chance to spread his wings at the under-18s, where he can show off his dazzling two-way abilities and dominate his age class. Draft eligible in 2014.

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NHL Prospect Hot List: Peterborough’s Nick Ritchie

Ryan Kennedy
Nick Ritchie (Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

There’s a lot of movement in the prospect world right now as juniors and Europeans find their seasons ending, but the American League is still chugging along. From Robert Hagg and Dylan Labbe playing their first AHL games to Jake Paterson joining Grand Rapids, it’s an exciting time. There are also two intense Game 7s in the Ontario League playoffs Tuesday night, with Peterborough erasing a 3-0 deficit on Kingston and Niagara trying to hold off the favored North Bay Battalion. On top of that, Boston College, North Dakota, Union and Minnesota punched their tickets to the Frozen Four. Let’s take a look at some of the other names in the prospect world that we’re keeping an eye on.

Nick Ritchie, LW – Peterborough Petes (OHL)
When Ritchie goes into beast mode, it’s tough to stop the young winger. At 6-foot-3 and 229 pounds, he’s got the carriage to be an NHLer right now, but the Petes are happy he’s still with them. The power forward had two goals and a helper in Peterborough’s shocking come-from-behind Game 6 win over Kingston, a game in which the Petes trailed 3-0 before Ritchie got the 5-4 comeback started. But to hear the kid tell it, this was always a tight series.

“We were down 3-0 and all three games we lost were close ones,” he said. “Because we were playing so well, we knew the series was far from over.”

Part of the Petes’ success lately has been the top line of Ritchie and fellow 2014 prospect Eric Cornel with speedy center Hunter Garlent, who came over in a trade from Guelph and once played lacrosse with Ritchie.

“Ever since we picked up Garlent, we’ve been clicking,” Ritchie said. “We complement each other pretty well and we all like to move the puck.”

Citing Milan Lucic and Jamie Benn as NHL models for his game, Ritchie also has older brother Brett, the Dallas prospect, to lean on.

“I’ve tried to do everything he’s done,” Nick said. “I still try to watch his games when I can and we get excited for each other when we do well.”

Thanks to his combination of size, skill and snarl, Nick will likely be chosen in the top 12 this summer, besting his second-rounder brother. But Brett is already succeeding in the pros with AHL Texas, so Nick will have to keep working hard if he wants to keep the family tradition going. Draft eligible in 2014.

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NHL Prospect Hot List: Tri-City’s Austin Poganski

Ryan Kennedy
Austin-Poganski

Major junior playoffs are in full swing now, while the NCAA has its field of 16 for the Frozen Four tourney in Philadelphia. As we wait for more college games to be played, there were numerous signings, from free agent Greg Carey to Chicago to draft picks such as Josh Archibald (Pittsburgh) and Gustav Olofsson (Minnesota) leaving school early to join the pro ranks. Let’s look at some of the other names we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.

Austin Poganski, RW – Tri-City Storm (USHL)

The Green Bay Gamblers finally kept Poganski off the scoreboard off the weekend, but it had been a solid run for the United States League rookie, who had 12 points in his previous eight games. On a struggling team, Poganski has been streaky but improving in the second half and scouts like that he has been more assertive as the campaign has worn on. A big fan of Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, Poganski is quite adept at getting in deep offensively.

“I see the ice pretty well,” he said. “I like to pass more than shoot and my strongest asset is going into the corners and playing strong.”

Committed to the University of North Dakota, Poganski is psyched about the chance to wear the green of the Grand Forks boys next season.

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