It may be an Olympic break for the NHL, but all the prospect circuits are still playing and some of the games are biggies. First and foremost, Boston College beat Northeastern 4-1 Monday night to clinch the school’s fifth straight Beanpot tournament, with Harvard taking a 6-2 consolation win over Boston University in the other match. Also, Sweden’s Farjestad team will take on the American League’s finest at the AHL All-Star Game in St. John’s this Wednesday. With all that in mind, here’s a look at some of the players we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.
Tyson Baillie, C – Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
You would think the second-highest scorer on the best team in the nation would get a little more love, but Baillie has fought an uphill battle for respect all season long. Central Scouting has him ranked just 90th among North American skaters for the draft and he wasn’t included in the CHL Top Prospects Game. But he won’t let the snubs get him down.
“My coaches have talked to me about it,” he said. “I just use it as motivation to work harder.”
Scouts from NHL teams are a lot more positive on Baillie, an offensive player with decent hands. He has 22 goals and 55 points in 56 games, including three in his past two outings. A big fan of L.A.’s Mike Richards, Baillie tries to be gritty around the net and bring goals to his team. Playing for the CHL’s No. 1-ranked Rockets has helped him grow as a player, too.
“You learn that it’s team first,” Baillie said. “We don’t have any superstars, it’s not like Portland or the London Knights. We’re a four-line team.”
A late 1995 birthday, Baillie is already in his third year with Kelowna and the experienced squad is ready to shoot for a title. Last season offered a good lesson when the team almost lost to underdog Seattle in the first round before rallying.
“Being down 3-0 in that series and coming all the way back, we learned a lot in that series,” he said. “We figured out how to win.”
And while teams such as Portland and London will stand in their way, the Rockets have a great shot at the Memorial Cup – with Baillie being a crucial piece. Draft eligible in 2014.
Nick Ritchie, LW – Peterborough Petes (OHL)
A power forward that can play both skilled and snarly, Ritchie had an incredible weekend, tying a franchise record (and older brother Brett, the Dallas pick from Niagara) by scoring five goals in a game. The big-bodied winger earned Ontario League player of the week honors for his efforts. Draft eligible in 2014.
Josh Ho-Sang, RW – Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
Like Ritchie, Ho-Sang went off on the weekend. The incredibly skilled winger factored in on every Windsor goal in a 6-5 win over North Bay and he’s now top-15 in OHL scoring with 70 points in 56 games. When Kerby Rychel was traded away, the season became sink-or-swim for Ho-Sang and he has chosen to swim. Draft eligible in 2014.
Jonathan Diaby, D – Victoriaville Tigres (QMJHL)
Hard-hitting and physically imposing, Diaby has also shown off his offensive chops from the blueline lately, with five points in his past four games. In fact, Diaby is nearly a point-per-gamer this season after coming back from summer shoulder surgery. Drafted 64th overall by Nashville in 2013.
Johnny Gaudreau, LW – Boston College Eagles (Hockey East)
It’s hard to conceive of a future in which ‘Johnny Hockey’ does not walk away with this year’s Hobey Baker Award, especially since the junior just won his third Beanpot in as many tries. The compact dynamo is averaging two points per game this season on a dynamite Eagles team. Drafted 104th overall by Calgary in 2011.
Christopher Brown, C – Cranbrook Kingswood Cranes (Mich. HS)
If you’re up for the draft and playing on a smaller circuit, you have to dominate. Brown seems to have that covered as the gifted pivot has thrashed the Michigan high school ranks for 18 goals and 66 points in 22 games. Yep, he’s averaging three points a game. The Boston College commit has a sweet release on his shot and doesn’t mind taking the body. Draft eligible in 2014.
Ryan Mantha, D – Indiana Ice (USHL)
The behemoth 6-foot-5, 225-pound defenseman is better known for his shutdown abilities, but Mantha also popped in two assists for his second multi-point effort of the year shortly after joining the Ice via trade from Sioux City. The University of North Dakota commit is a great crease-clearer and penalty killer. Draft eligible in 2014.
Oliver Kylington, D – Farjestad (SHL)
It’s pretty neat that a Swedish club team is the opponent for the AHL all-stars, but the fact Farjestad is bringing along Kylington really makes the event sizzle. A phenom 16-year-old thanks to his skating ability, the blueliner already has six points and a plus-6 rating through 26 games against men in the Swedish League. Draft eligible in 2015.
Brendan Burke, G – Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
At 6-foot-4, Burke certainly has the modern netminder’s frame, plus the pedigree – his dad is former NHL goalie Sean Burke. The son is shining right now, ripping off nine straight wins for the Hawks, including three by shutout. Drafted 163rd overall by Phoenix in 2013.
Matt Berkovitz, D – Ashwaubenon Jaguars (Wisc. HS)
An effortless skater that doesn’t waste a lot of motion out there, Berkovitz is a big-bodied kid who has five points in his past three games and 35 through 22 games overall. The University of Wisconsin recruit needs to be more aggressive, but he’s got time to work that out. Draft eligible in 2014.