Connor Hurley will take to the ice with the Edina Hornets again this season. (Helen Nelson, MN Hockey Hub)
Players from almost all ranks of the prospect world are on the ice now, even if a lot of it is exhibition play. Still, it’s never too early to see who’s getting off on the right foot, so let’s dive into our weekly look at some of the kids we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.
Connor Hurley, C – Edina Hornets (Minn. HS)
Edina is one of the premier high school teams in Minnesota right now, producing NHL prospects such as Zach Budish, Lou Nanne and Max Everson. This is Hurley’s year – but the talented forward jumped the gun and had a fantastic 2011-12 campaign as well, leading the Hornets with 22 goals and 48 points in 25 games and to a berth in the state tournament, where they lost to the eventual champs from Benilde-St. Margaret’s. Still, Hurley came out smiling.
“It was amazing,” he said. “I had been dreaming about it since I was a little kid, watching my brother win it in 2005. It was so much fun skating on that ice.”
His brother Ryan won the prestigious title with Holy Angels (Erik Johnson’s alma mater) and also taught Connor the importance of diversity – in this case, trading off hockey and lacrosse as a way to build skills. And what Connor does well in the arena can be traced to those lessons from his Lax bro:
“I see the ice well and there’s also my playmaking and scoring,” he said. “Being able to make passes without looking.”
Right now, Hurley is playing in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League, which gathers the top players from around Minnesota (plus a few out-of-state squads) for autumn play, since the high school season doesn't start until late November. He’s currently second in league scoring with a goal and seven points in three games – all wins for Team Southwest. Hurley may spend some time with the United States League’s Muskegon Lumberjacks this season too, with the NCAA looming after that.
“I grew up watching the (U. of Minnesota) Gophers, but it’s going to be different now with the Big Ten,” Hurley said. “It’s going to be a very good league, so it will probably be either Big Ten or Hockey East – those are the teams I dreamed of playing for.” Draft eligible in 2013.
Shane Gersich, C – Holy Family Catholic Fire (Minn. HS)
The top pick in the United States League draft, Gersich is now property of the Omaha Lancers. But right now, the high-scoring forward is competing in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League, where he has a solid three goals and five points in three games for Team Southwest. A strong skater who makes his linemates better, Gersich will play high school hockey again this year. Draft eligible in 2014.
Rasmus Ristolainen, D – TPS Turku (Fin.)
It’s shaping up to be a nice draft for Finns and Ristolainen leads the way on the back end. Currently competing in the European Trophy tournament, he’s tops among Turku defenders with three points in seven games, but is also known for his physical game and maturity. Ristolainen already has one world junior tournament under his belt and will be a bigger part of this year’s team. Draft eligible in 2013.
Bogdan Yakimov, C – Reaktor Nizhnekamsk (Rus.)
Playing for the same KHL junior team that spawned Nail Yakupov, the 6-foot-5, 202-pound Yakimov has some serious size to his game. The big pivot ended last year’s campaign on a strong note with Reaktor, then took it to another level by tying for the national team scoring lead at the world under-18s with seven points in six games. Yakimov plays a solid two-way game with puck protecting skills. Draft eligible in 2013.
Valery Nichushkin, RW – Traktor Chelyabinsk (Rus.)
Another dangerous offensive force out of Russia, Nichushkin is a heady player with good size (6-foot-4, 196 pounds) who has dominated internationally in the past. With the KHL junior season already underway, the right winger has posted two goals and four points in three games after tallying just 10 points all of last year. Draft eligible in 2013.
Mitch Eden, D – Prince George Spruce Kings (BCHL)
A gifted playmaker who knows how to move the puck, Eden tallied four assists in two games at the B.C. League’s first-ever showcase to lead the circuit in offense from a blueliner. Eden came over from the Ontario Jr. A League’s Huntsville Otters, a franchise no longer playing in that tier. The defender is eyeing the NCAA, but hasn’t chosen a school yet. Draft eligible in 2013.
Matt Tomkins, G – Sherwood Park Crusaders (AJHL)
One of the fittest players at the draft combine this year, Tomkins also boasts a dynamite wingspan. That’s great for a goaltender and he’ll be one to watch in the Alberta Jr. League this season as he prepares for life at Ohio State in 2013-14, where his main competition in net will likely be Carolina pick Collin Olson. Drafted 199th overall by Chicago in 2012.
Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW – Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
Danish world junior coach Todd Bjorkstrand is an American who had a long pro career in Denmark, where his sons Oliver and Patrick became top talents. Oliver is now proving that his dynamic offensive game isn’t just Herning Blue Fox good – it’s Western League good, too. The young right winger has four goals and seven points in his first four pre-season games for the Winterhawks. Draft eligible in 2013.
Ryan Fitzgerald, C – Valley Jr. Warriors (EJHL)
The son of former NHLer Tom Fitzgerald is coming off an exemplary high school career that included back-to-back titles in Massachusetts and will skate at the All-American Prospects Game at the end of the month. In more immediate news, the high-scoring pivot is joining the Eastern Jr. League for the year before he hits up Boston College in 2013-14. Draft eligible in 2013.
Olivier Archambault, LW – Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL)
Archambault’s strengths come from his hands and creativity, both of which have been on overdrive in exhibition play. The talented left winger has nine assists in five games as he tries to rebound from a subpar 2011-12 marred by a concussion. He will be a key part of the Volts’ attack. Drafted 108th overall by Montreal 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 their first NHL game.
For more great prospect profiles and news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.