Michael Grabner had 30 goals and 48 points in 66 AHL games with Manitoba this season.
The finals are set in the Canadian League as teams jockey for position in the Memorial Cup. Star power is abundant, though John Tavares will have to watch from home after Windsor bounced his London Knights in the Ontario League semis. There’s still a lot of talent playing hockey heading into May, so let’s take a look at some of the prospects we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.
1. Cody Hodgson, C – Brampton Battalion (OHL): The Future Watch '09 cover boy leads his troops into Windsor for an OHL battle-royale final this week and it should be a classic. Hodgson, so smart and gifted, is tied with the Spits’ Taylor Hall and Ryan Ellis for most playoff points with 27 through 16 games. Drafted 10th overall by Vancouver in 2008.
2. Dmitri Kulikov, D – Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL): With each passing week, Kulikov’s star shines just a bit higher. The Russian blueliner seems like a lock for the draft’s top-10 and if he can take the Volts to a Memorial Cup, all the better. Kulikov leads all ‘Q’ defensemen in scoring with 17 assists and 19 points through 12 games. Draft eligible in 2009.
3. Michael Grabner, RW – Manitoba Moose (AHL): Despite an early scare from a Toronto Marlies team that gave them trouble all season, the Moose are on to the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs and Grabner has played a big role. The 2006 first-rounder (14th overall) has five points through six games and has used his outside speed to create havoc for opponents all year. As for the opening round, Grabner knew his squad would get on track eventually.
“Everyone was kinda nervous,” said Grabner. “There was a lot of pressure on us, finishing first overall. I think we outplayed them the whole time, we just didn’t get the bounces.”
Grabner, who played his junior hockey with Spokane in the Dub, vastly improved his plus-minus this season over last, going from a plus-5 to a plus-22. Attitude was paramount to the improvement.
“I took a lot more pride in it,” Grabner said of his defensive play. “Last year I was rattled when I was a minus, even if I scored a goal that game.”
As one of the highest-drafted Austrians ever (Thomas Vanek went fifth overall in 2003), Grabner is proud of his home and points to the lockout as a key moment in the country’s hockey awakening.
“A lot of NHLers came over,” Grabner recalled. “Jason Krog was on my hometown’s team, Eric Weinrich played on my town’s team, Dan Cloutier was on the rival team…it’s getting a lot of media attention now.”
For Grabner, the next step of course is a roster spot with the parent Vancouver Canucks, which he knows will not be an easy task.
“When I get the chance, it’s all up to me,” he said. “I have to prove I belong there.”
Drafted 14th overall by Vancouver in 2006.
4. Mike Lee, G – Fargo Force (USHL): Lee and his expansion buddies in Fargo are killing the field right now in the United States League playoffs, winning six straight over higher seeds to head into the final. Lee leads the league with a 1.81 goals-against average and .948 save percentage in the playoffs. Draft eligible in 2009.
5. Charles-Olivier Roussel, D – Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL): Drummondville may be an unstoppable force, but what happens when the Volts meet Roussel and his crew? The rising blueline star has 14 points through 14 playoff games to lead the Cataractes’ defense corps. Draft eligible in 2009.
6. Jamie Benn, LW – Kelowna Rockets (WHL): The Rockets felled the mighty Vancouver Giants in six games and will now take on Calgary for the Dub title. Benn, once again, has led the way for Kelowna, notching a league-high 28 points through 16 playoff games. He’s looking like a real draft steal. Drafted 129th overall by Dallas in 2007.
7. Philippe Paradis, C – Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL): As a younger player on a veteran team, Paradis is known more for his defensively responsible play than his offense. But if he can help the Cataractes to a Memorial Cup berth, his draft stock will go up nonetheless. Draft eligible in 2009.
8. Brandon Kozun, RW – Calgary Hitmen (WHL): Can you say ‘new NHL?’ Kozun is a mite at 5-foot-8, 146 pounds, but that didn’t stop him from a 108-point regular season and 15 points through 12 playoff games. Look for an NHL team to take a chance on this overager at the draft in Montreal this summer. Draft eligible in 2009 (undrafted in ’08).
9. Jean-Philippe Lamoureux, G – Alaska Aces (ECHL): It’s not often you see an ECHLer on The Hot List, but how can J-P Lamoureux be ignored any more? Undrafted after a stellar career at the University of North Dakota, the 5-foot-10, 155-pound netminder has three shutouts through seven playoff games and is facing about 30 shots a night. His 1.28 GAA and .960 SP are by far the best in the league. Eligible for free agency.
10. Dale Mitchell, RW – Windsor Spitfires (OHL): A stocky 5-foot-9 and 200 pounds, Mitchell turned around his plus-minus with the Spits this year following a trade from Oshawa and is still putting up nice offensive numbers, coming in second in the OHL with 26 points through 15 playoff games. Drafted 74th overall by Toronto in 2007.
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The Hot List, a weekly 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.
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