The big news in the prospect world right now concerns the class-action lawsuit filed against the CHL and without going into too much detail, I think this could have a dramatic effect on junior hockey. With profits and losses so extreme across the continent, I believe a minimum wage policy would have to be supported by revenue sharing. But let’s get back on the ice, shall we? Because that’s what The Hot List is, a round-up of the kids we can’t wait to see in the NHL one day.
With NCAA hockey officially in full swing, there is action aplenty to watch for in the prospect world. Boston University’s Jack Eichel and Erie’s Connor McDavid already seem to have a fantastic game of anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better going on, but who else should you be watching this season? Here are some of the other names making noise right now.
With NHL rosters set, we will soon say goodbye to some Hot List favorites. Since as soon as players such as Curtis Lazar in Ottawa and Anthony Duclair of the Rangers make their big-time debuts, they will be considered graduates here. But while those players make their dreams come true, others are still on the path, so let’s take a look at some of the prospects making noise around the world right now.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.