Andy Welinski\'s Green Bay Gamblers are in the USHL final. (Photo courtesy the Green Bay Gamblers)
There’s a whole lot of news going on in the prospect world these days.
The NHL announced its roster for the draft combine, while the Western and Ontario Leagues held their entry drafts.
Jake Virtanen, a high-scoring winger from B.C., went first overall in the Dub’s bantam draft, landing in Calgary. Meanwhile, Barrie grabbed exceptional status defenseman Aaron Ekblad in the OHL draft.
Major junior playoffs are all in the finals now, while the United States League crown will be decided by Green Bay and Dubuque. For a look at some of the players involved in all this and more, here’s the latest.
Andy Welinski, D – Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)
If you’re a fan of any team connected to Welinski, you’re probably in good spirits. That’s because success seems to follow the young defenseman around.
His old high school team, Duluth East, made it to the Minnesota state final this year. And his next team, the University of Minnesota-Duluth, won the NCAA crown this season.
In the here and now, Welinski is getting ready for his first appearance in the USHL’s Clark Cup final - which Green Bay won last year, too.
“Having these guys go through it last year has helped settle us down,” Welinski said. “Yeah, we have some talented guys, but we’ve played as a team.”
A good-sized defenseman at six-foot, 190 pounds, Welinski cites his skating and puck-moving as his best assets. Maybe that’s why he looks up to a certain member of the L.A. Kings who can manage a breakout or two.
“I like the way Jack Johnson plays,” he said. “He’s a really smart guy and he’s got skills and tools to do a lot of things.”
A childhood friend of Kings first-rounder Derek Forbort, Welinski also knows Justin Faulk - who ironically just left UMD for the pro ranks.
Nevertheless, the Gamblers D-man has been enamored with his hometown program for a long time. And while the NCAA is a big step, Welinski credits his USHL time with helping him make the transition from high school hockey, where the best players often log a ton of ice time against competition that isn’t as deep.
“It’s different hockey,” he said. “It’s 25 games versus at least 65 in the USHL. Competition’s a big one, but being challenged every day in practice by your teammates helps the transition.”
A plus-6 with two goals through seven playoffs games, Welinski looks like he’s ready for that next level. Draft eligible in 2011.
Alexander Ruuttu, C – Jokerit (Fin. Jr.)
The son of scout and former NHLer Christian Ruuttu, Alexander has been a high-riser in recent rankings and earned himself a spot at the draft combine. Skilled and hard-nosed, Ruuttu got his first national team experience this year and put up 31 points in 41 games for Jokerit’s under-20 squad. Draft eligible in 2011.
Jeremy Boyce-Rotevall, LW – Timra Red Eagles (Swe.)
Reports out of Sweden have Boyce-Rotevall, a smart player with a high panic threshold, being loaned to Sundsvall next season. That team plays in Sweden’s second-highest league, meaning the teenager will get more of a chance to make an impact than on Timra’s veteran-laced Elite League squad. Draft eligible in 2011.
Casey Cizikas, C – Mississauga-St. Michael’s Majors (OHL)
When Cizikas is on, he’s one of the most dangerous players in the OHL. Not only does the smart center play suffocating shutdown hockey, his great speed often springs him on breakaways or 2-on-1’s. And since he plays in all situations, the opposition has to deal with him often. Drafted 92nd overall by the New York Islanders in 2009.
Simon Despres, D – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
One of the few Saint John stars not up for the draft this season, Despres is bringing his veteran savvy to the Quebec League final. The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder is a great skater and has three goals in the first three games against Gatineau, in a series the Sea Dogs lead 2-1. Drafted 30th overall by Pittsburgh in 2009.
Alexei Marchenko, D – CSKA Moscow (Rus. Jr.)
Passed over in the draft last season, Marchenko is nonetheless on the radar this time around, largely thanks to his offense-driven game. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound blueliner tallied more than a point per game during the regular season and was a plus-33 in 36 games. He also earned a 23-game stint in the Kontinental League, where he had two points. Draft eligible in 2011 (undrafted in 2010).
Michael Zador, G – Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
In Owen Sound’s carousel of post-season goalies Zador is still perfect, winning all four of his decisions despite going a month between appearances at one point. With Zador in net, the Attack evened its series with Mississauga and it looks like the OHL veteran has supplanted starter Scott Stajcer for now. Drafted 148th overall by Tampa Bay in 2009.
Joel Mustonen, C – Skelleftea (Swe. Jr.)
Great in the faceoff circle, Mustonen is another high-rising Euro prospect. The Finnish pivot turned it on in the Swedish under-20 playoffs, notching seven goals and nine points in 10 games. He also played eight games with Skelleftea’s senior team this year. Draft eligible in 2011.
Mike Murphy, G – Charlotte Checkers (AHL)
From his days with the Belleville Bulls, Murphy knows pressure hockey and he’s been playing like it lately. With the Checkers moving on to the Eastern Conference final, Murphy leads the American League with a .944 save percentage, while his 1.79 goals-against average ranks third. Drafted 165th overall by Carolina in 2008.
Ty Rattie, RW – Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
In the past four games Rattie has been excellent, tallying multiple points in three of those matches and seven overall. Two of those games came in the WHL final against Kootenay, so the highly skilled winger is scoring at the right time for Portland. 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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