Jamie Oleksiak is already drawing comparisons to Zdeno Chara. (Photo by Jim Pierce)
There’s been a lot of shuffling at the top of the draft order lately, but many other players are making their moves, as well. This is the time of season when the late-round gems start coming into their own and players attempt to distinguish themselves as first-rounders instead of second-rounders. With an eye on the 2011 draft and other top prospects, here’s a look at some of the players we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.
Jamie Oleksiak, D – Northeastern University Huskies (Hockey East)
The annual Beanpot Tournament is quickly approaching in Boston and the four schools involved – BU, BC, Harvard and Northeastern – know exactly how much hype must be weathered in order to win.
“All we can do is prepare for it as a regular game,” Oleksiak said. “You don’t want to overthink it.”
But when teams go up against the Huskies, they need to think about Oleksiak, a 6-foot-7, 240-pound blueliner who’s more Zdeno Chara than Tyler Myers. In fact, Northeastern bench boss Greg Cronin used to coach Chara when both were with the New York Islanders and that helped bring Oleksiak to the Huskies, where the Toronto native wanted to hone his game.
“I think I’m a pretty good physical presence,” he said. “I’m strong on making the first pass and making good plays in the neutral zone. Skating is definitely a big thing. I want to grow into my body.”
Which is understandable for a young man who just turned 18 and has done a good deal of growing in the past couple years. With eight points through 24 games, Oleksiak is already showing his offensive capabilities and the mobility just needs fine-tuning, not an overhaul.
“I’m pretty good North-South,” he said. “It’s the lateral movement; fast feet is a big thing.”
So if a hulking presence who plays with an edge and can move is your cup of tea, don’t sleep on Oleksiak this season. Draft eligible in 2011.
Markus Granlund, C – HIFK (Fin.)
Big brother Mikael, a Wild top prospect, is back from his concussion and apparently still playing a hard-nosed, no-fear game. But while Mikael was out, Markus was given a chance to shine with HIFK’s top squad and did well. The younger Granlund still needs to put on weight, but his vision and power play acumen are unquestioned. Draft eligible in 2011.
Evgeny Kuznetsov, C – Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL)
Seems like everything’s coming up ‘Kuz’ this year. Not only was the Caps prospect a hero at the world juniors, but now he’s been tabbed to play on a line with Sergei Fedorov at the Kontinental League All-Star Game. His 14 goals and 26 points in 40 games still rank tops among forwards on Traktor. Drafted 26th overall by Washington in 2010.
Max Friberg, LW – Skovde IK (Swe.)
An energizing player with great speed, Friberg saw action at the world juniors when Gabriel Landeskog went down to injury. Back home this season, Friberg is doing his best to get his team promoted from Division 1 to the Allsvenskan (just below the Elite League). In the regular season he posted 27 points in 23 games and he has a point-per-game in six AllEttan promotion contests. May come to play major junior next year. Draft eligible in 2011.
Lucas Lessio, LW – Oshawa Generals (OHL)
A puck-handling ace with size, Lessio put those attributes to the test Friday night when he split a pair of Saginaw defensemen and put a sprawling one-handed shot into the net for a huge highlight reel goal. Overall, Lessio has 21 goals and 43 points, the latter stat tying him with fellow draft-eligible Generals Boone Jenner and Nicklas Jensen. Draft eligible in 2011.
Justin Schultz, D – University of Wisconsin Badgers (WCHA)
The top scorer in the conference now with 15 goals and 39 points in 30 games, Schultz has been lighting it up in Madison all season. A smooth skater who is growing into his 6-foot-2 frame, the offensively gifted defenseman is having a breakout season for the Badgers. Drafted 43rd overall by Anaheim in 2008.
Zane Gothberg, G – Fargo Force (USHL)
The former Thief River Falls netminder is on a hot streak, winning nine of his past 11 starts and shrinking his goals-against average down to 2.07 in the process. Gothberg, who has good size at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, is committed to the University of North Dakota for next season. Drafted 165th overall by Boston in 2010.
Troy Vance, D – Victoriaville Tigres (QMJHL)
Brought in from the Eastern Jr. League (via a trade with Rouyn-Noranda), Vance wasted no time making an impact in Quebec. The massive 6-foot-5, 203-pound defender has a goal and four points in his first eight games for the Tigres, not to mention a plus-2 rating. Draft eligible in 2011.
Hunter Shinkaruk, LW – Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)
Here’s a story worth following: Shinkaruk has posted 31 points in 40 games for the Tigers and he’s doing it as a 16-year-old. A late birthday, the kid’s got speed, skill and vision, with plenty of time to round out his game before NHL teams can even get a sniff of him. Draft eligible in 2013.
J.T. Miller, LW – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
Consistency is what scouts want to see from Miller and he’s put on a pretty good show lately. A two-way player who skates well and has good hockey sense, Miller has four points in his past four games for Team USA, with one of his three goals coming against Quinnipiac University. The University of North Dakota commit has 22 points in 33 games overall. Draft eligible in 2011.
The Hot List, a roundup of minor league, junior, college and high school players we’re excited to one day see in the NHL, appears every Tuesday only on thehockeynews.com. A player is eligible for The Hot List until they play in their first NHL game.
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