Nail Yakupov\'s Sarnia Sting take on the Windsor Spitfires early in the OHL season. (OHL Images)
Major junior seasons are either underway or soon will be as another year of hockey quickly approaches. There is a lot of excitement around the next couple of NHL drafts and I figured this would be a good time to write about some of the games and events I’m most looking forward to for the rest of 2011.
As the Ontario League season kicks off, scouts and fans are drooling over the Sarnia Sting’s loaded roster. The season gets into full swing Wednesday night and it’s only fitting the Sting matchup early on against the last team from the OHL to have everyone this excited, the Windsor Spitfires. Sarnia’s Nail Yakupov and Alexander Galchenyuk are easily two of the most exciting offensive prospects for the 2012 NHL draft and are surrounded by a strong roster that will do some major damage around the league this season. Windsor isn’t the same team of a couple years ago, but it still boasts some strong talent and offensive punch. Puck-moving defender Nick Ebert is one player from the Spitfires who will benefit from the run-and-gun style that will emerge when these teams do battle on the 25th.
The Quebec League, whose season has already begun, has taken some lumps over the past few years, but received an exciting injection of highly skilled offensive stars and house many of the high-end NHL prospects for the next couple of drafts. The Oct. 22 matchup between the Quebec Remparts and the Halifax Mooseheads will be the first meeting between potential first overall picks for the 2012 and 2013 NHL drafts, Mikhail Grigorenko and Nathan MacKinnon. As if watching the two dazzling playmakers won’t be enough, add gritty and physical wingers Martin Frk and Adam Erne to the mix and you have four potential superstars on the ice at the same time. The two teams will also meet on Nov. 19 in Quebec City and again on Dec. 3rd back in Halifax.
Also worth keeping an eye on is the Oct. 5 Western League game between the Edmonton Oil Kings and Kootenay Ice in the City of Champions. Circle this game on your calendar because it will be the first opportunity this season to see the Reinhart family battle. Kootenay boasts Calgary Flames prospect Max Reinhart and the youngest brother, Sam, while Edmonton will come back with heavy doses of the defensive brother, Griffin. Griffin is likely a top-15 pick for the 2012 draft and Sam may be the pick of the litter as he has proven to be an offensive force at every level he has competed. Also add Edmonton’s 2013 draft-eligible Curtis Lazar to the mix as he has the capability to steal the show and is a contender to go first overall.
From Nov. 7-13 Hockey Canada will once again host the World Junior A Challenge, this year in Langley, B.C. Although the tournament isn’t big in terms of NHL exposure it has provided its fair share of dramatic and entertaining games with plenty of talent to boot. Last year, Switzerland’s Gregory Hofmann burst onto the scene during this event and rode the momentum into the World Junior Championship where he managed to create a buzz that eventually got him drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes. Last year’s tournament also marked one of the first opportunities many NHL scouts had to see Mikhail Grigorenko in action.
If the Junior A Challenge doesn’t float your boat, how about the first of many potentially epic battles between the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels and Medicine Hat Tigers on Nov. 26? Both teams are poised to make a run at the title this year and boast some of the most exciting prospects for the next two drafts. Rebels defenseman Mathew Dumba and Tigers winger Hunter Shinkaruk are good friends off the ice and ultra-competitive on it, which has made for great tilts from bantam to the WHL. They are more than likely to continue those battles all the way to the NHL level.
A New Year’s Eve clash in Edmonton between Canada and the USA at this year’s world juniors will be an absolute epic that should also pit two of this year’s best draft-eligible defensemen against one another. Ryan Murray and Jacob Trouba should be huge components for their countries during the event and are also vying for the honor of being the first defenseman selected when June’s NHL draft rolls around. The two will be neck-and-neck all year to the point where they will flip-flop on everyone’s draft boards up until the moment we hear their names called on the podium. A strong performance in a game of this magnitude could vault one over the other for good. USA and Canada could potentially meet again during the playoff round in Calgary as well.
Ross MacLean is the head scout for International Scouting Services and is considered one of the rising stars of the business. A young, diverse and versatile hockey mind, MacLean leads ISS' network of scouts and puts his domestic and international hockey experience and knowledge towards ranking and providing industry-leading profiles and information on draft eligible players around the world.