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.
“I played for the Jr. Sioux when I was growing up and ever since then I’ve liked North Dakota,” he said. “I was lucky enough to tour there a couple times and I felt that was the best place for me. My goal is to play there as a true freshman.”
To do so, the right winger will have some work to do, especially after jumping from St. Cloud Cathedral of the Minnesota high school circuit to Tri-City this year.
“You can always improve on strength and speed,” Poganski said. “So that’s what I work on.”
With his frame and new mindset on the ice, it’s only a matter of time before Poganski will be an impact player in college – and beyond. Draft eligible in 2014.
Roland McKeown, D – Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
The Fronts have a dangerous first-round opponent in Nick Ritchie’s Peterborough, but McKeown put the Petes in a hole with his Game 2 overtime goal. The smooth offensive defenseman skates well, has good size and puts up numbers from the blueline. Draft eligible in 2014.
Brian Pinho, C – Indiana Ice (USHL)
The former prep schooler has been on a serious tear for the Ice, a team dominating the competition in the USHL. The Providence College commit has five goals (including a natural hat trick) in his past two games and 10 points in his past five outings. Drafted 174th overall by Washington in 2013.
Dysin Mayo, D – Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
Like McKeown, Mayo is an offensively-inclined defenseman with pretty good size. He’s bringing that offense early in Edmonton’s series against Prince Albert, where his four points through two games ranks second among ‘Dub’ D-men. Draft eligible in 2014.
Connor Hellebuyck, G – UMass-Lowell River Hawks (Hockey East)
The River Hawks went all the way to the Frozen Four semifinal last season with Hellebuyck getting the final start and this season he’s been just as good. The big netminder has Lowell back in the national spotlight after turning in two shutouts at the Hockey East tournament, earning him MVP honors for the second year in a row. Drafted 130th overall by Winnipeg in 2012.
Jake McCabe, D – University of Wisconsin Badgers (Big Ten)
McCabe showed off his leadership skills as captain of Team USA’s gold medal WJC squad in 2013 and he’s also been great for the Badgers as a two-way defenseman. The junior was named to the first All-Big Ten team on the strength of a career-high 23 points in 31 games. Drafted 44th overall by Buffalo in 2012.
Nick Sorensen, RW – Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
Sorensen already has a silver medal from his duty with the Swedes at this year’s world juniors and now he’s helping the Remparts early in the post-season. The likeable right winger brings a lot of offensive skill to the table and hung five points on Rouyn-Noranda in a Game 2 victory. Drafted 45th overall by Anaheim in 2013.
Zac Larraza, LW – University of Denver Pioneers (NCHC)
The Pioneers were a bit of a Cinderella story at the first NCHC tournament, but they won the whole thing thanks in part to Larraza. The big crash-and-banger popped in a key goal and an early helper to propel Denver past Miami, earning a spot in the Frozen Four field in the process. Drafted 196th overall by Phoenix in 2011.
Oskar Lindblom, LW – Brynas (Swe.)
Some scouts aren’t sure what to think of Lindblom, but right now the burgeoning power forward is putting his best skate forward with four goals and five points in his first two playoff games with the Brynas under-20 squad. Great down low, he leads the league in post-season scoring early on. Draft eligible in 2014.
Arkhip Nekolenko, LW – Spartak (Rus.)
Though he’s known for his wrist shot, Nekolenko has been a great playmaker in the Russian junior circuit’s playoffs thanks to his offensive instincts. The big winger has been a point-per gamer for Spartak with a goal and six helpers in seven games as the team preps for the Western semifinal. Draft eligible in 2014.
Poganski photo courtesy of the Tri-City Storm