Olli Maatta was the first pick in the OHL\'s import draft last summer. (Aaron Bell/OHL Images)
The biggest news in the prospect world right now is Team Canada’s selection camp for the world juniors, with cuts already coming. The competition has been fierce and physical, with several surprises. The Canucks aren’t the only ones on the prowl, however, so here’s a look at some of the players we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.
Olli Maatta, D – London Knights (OHL)
As he was last year, Maatta will find himself at the world juniors representing Finland later this month. This time, however, the standout defenseman will go in with intimate knowledge of two of his biggest opponents, Canada and the U.S. As a first-year import in the Ontario League, Maatta has contributed 15 points and a plus-17 rating in 31 games for the surprising Knights and done some reconnaissance for his Finnish brothers.
“I might show my teammates some tapes,” Maatta said. “I know what type of players they are over here (in the OHL).”
One he is very familiar with is teammate Jarred Tinordi, who will likely suit up for Team USA. Maatta actually forgot it was a possibility he would face his 6-foot-7 London teammate internationally.
“Wow, I hadn’t really thought about that,” he said. “I’m really excited now. He’s a great stay-at-home ‘D,’ one of the best in the league – maybe the best.”
Maatta himself is no slouch. Combining poise and calm with mobility, the young defender moves the puck extremely well and will be one to watch in Alberta, particularly with a better cast around him this year.
“I’m really impressed with the team,” he said. “We have a very good chance to win the whole tournament, but we all know anything can happen.” Draft eligible in 2012.
Phil Di Giuseppe, LW – University of Michigan Wolverines (CCHA)
College hockey doesn’t get a lot of play up in Canada, but Di Giuseppe has made his countryfolk stand up and notice him at Canada’s WJC camp. With three points in two intrasquad games, the Wolverines winger has shown why he’s so trusted back in Ann Arbor. His youth may ultimately work against him, but size and scoring can’t be discounted. Draft eligible in 2012.
Johan Larsson, RW – Brynas (Swe.)
One of the most potent weapons available to Sweden this year at the world juniors will be Larsson who cut his teeth as a Sammy Pahlsson-type defensive forward, but has exploded on offense this year. The right winger leads all junior-aged scorers in the Elite League by a wide margin with 23 points in 31 games and looks like a good candidate for the Tre Kronor captaincy. Drafted 56th overall by Minnesota in 2010.
Alexander Khokhlachev, C – Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
With a young cast surrounding him, ‘Koko’ is still making opponents beware. The competitive, talented center is a top-10 scorer in the OHL with 15 goals and 43 points in 33 games, despite the fact Windsor is middling for the first time in years. He’ll be a great candidate for the world juniors when the Russians merge their CHL talent with the kids from back home. Drafted 40th overall by Boston in 2011.
Jon Gillies, G – Indiana Ice (USHL)
The United States League’s goaltender of the week, Gillies leads the circuit in wins with 12 (the last two coming against defending champs Dubuque) and boasts a solid .922 save percentage. At 6-foot-5, 215 pounds, he takes up a lot of net and isn’t afraid to handle a big workload. Gillies is committed to Northeastern University. Draft eligible in 2012.
Dillon Fournier, D – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL)
On a team where many of the top players are double-digit minuses, Fournier is sailing along with a reasonable minus-3. On top of that, the former Lewiston top pick is fourth in team scoring with 25 points in 35 games, also putting him among the blueline leaders throughout the Quebec League. Draft eligible in 2012.
Matej Beran, C – P.E.I. Rocket (QMJHL)
A tall drink of water at 6-foot-5, 208 pounds, Beran is playing in his third country as a teenager after stops in his native Czech Republic and Sweden, where he piled up points and PIMs. Now with the Rocket, he’s sticking with points, to the tune of 32 in his first 34 games. Draft eligible in 2012.
Michael Bitzer, G – Moorhead Spuds (Minn. HS)
If his team can score two goals, Bitzer can get them a win. That’s been the trend so far for the Moorhead netminder, who has given up just one goal per game in three wins this season and adds a sparkling .959 save percentage to go with it. Bitzer’s not a huge goaltender at just under six-feet, but he’s making the stops and that’s the important thing right now. Draft eligible in 2012.
Anthony DiFruscia, LW – Salisbury Crimson Knights (Conn. HS)
Despite being chosen in the OHL draft by Niagara, DiFruscia felt his best path for growth was in the New England prep school ranks this year. With four goals in four games (all wins), the physical left winger is looking pretty smart right now and his college options remain intact for the future. Draft eligible in 2013.
Michael St. Croix, C – Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
St. Croix hasn’t let his camp snub from Team Canada get him down – the East-West pivot has six points in his past four games, all coming on multi-point efforts. Overall, St. Croix is on the best pace of his career with 17 goals and 46 points in 32 games to lead the Oil Kings. Drafted 106th overall by the New York Rangers 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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