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.
Samuel Morin, D – Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL)
Here’s a cheery thought for Flyers fans: Morin is once again upping his game during the playoffs. The big, mean defenseman has four goals and six points through four games for Rimouski, meaning there’s more than just the 6-foot-6 frame to look forward to in the future. Drafted 11th overall by Philadelphia in 2013.
Sam Reinhart, C – Kootenay Ice (WHL)
It’s not just the fact he rang up 17 points in his first six games of the playoffs, it’s that he did it against a pretty solid Calgary Hitmen team. Reinhart and partner in crime Jaedon Descheneau have been on fire and Reinhart’s combination of smarts and skill will certainly see him picked very early this summer. Draft eligible in 2014.
Eric Knodel, D – Toronto Marlies (AHL)
His pro career started with outsized controversy thanks to Don Cherry, but the former New Hampshire Wildcat was calm and responsible in his AHL debut versus Iowa. The big defensive blueliner made safe plays and largely kept the puck out of trouble. Drafted 128th overall by Toronto in 2009.
Johan Gustafsson, G – Iowa Wild (AHL)
It’s been a down year for the Wild, since most of Minnesota’s best prospects are up with the NHL club, but Gustafsson is nearly unbeatable when he’s on, using his size and an active eye to keep the puck out of the net. The Swede is facing a ton of shots and still has a respectable .908 save percentage. Drafted 159th overall by Minnesota in 2010.
Shane Eiserman, LW – Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL)
On a good team that wins through balanced scoring, Eiserman is heating up at the right time with points in his past four games. The University of New Hampshire commit is a dogged worker with power forward potential and his plus-21 rating is tied for tops on the squad. Draft eligible in 2014.
Andreas Englund, D – Djurgarden (Swe.)
Camp rosters for the world under-18s are beginning to trickle out and Sweden will boast a nice assortment of blueliners, including Englund. The big defensive defenseman for Djurgarden plays a physical game and makes a nice first pass. Draft eligible in 2014.
Ryan Fitzgerald, C – Boston College Eagles (Hockey East)
The top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Bill Arnold and Kevin Hayes is well worthy of the praise it gets, but let’s give a shout-out to the freshman Fitzgerald, who scored the crucial game-tying goal in Boston College’s eventual win over UMass-Lowell. The son of former NHLer Tom Fitzgerald is smart and scrappy and has an admirable 28 points through 39 games. Drafted 120th overall by Boston in 2013.
Kevin Labanc, LW – Barrie Colts (OHL)
A competitive player with excellent hands, Labanc has developed nicely during his rookie season in the OHL. A graduate of the U.S. NTDP program, the kid from Staten Island, N.Y., had six points in Barrie’s first-round triumph over Sudbury as the Colts took out the Wolves in five games. Draft eligible in 2014.
Paul LaDue, D – University of North Dakota (NCHC)
It took two overtimes, but North Dakota dispatched Ferris State thanks to a point shot LaDue unleashed, helping Connor Gaarder score the winner. LaDue is known for his offense, but can also play in his own end and brings great size with his 6-foot-2, 194-pound frame. Drafted 181st overall by Los Angeles in 2012.