Max Lajoie (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)
The Broncos defenseman had an excellent rookie campaign based around offense. Now in his NHL draft season, Lajoie is playing in all situations and thriving. Learn about him, prospects from the Sharks, Flyers, Capitals and more in our weekly round-up.
Boston College won its 20th Beanpot tournament in 64 years last night, with Minnesota prospect Alex Tuch firing a seeing-eye shot in overtime for the only goal in a 1-0 overtime win over archrival Boston University. On the international scene, two Five Nations tournaments kick off this week - Finland hosts the under-18s and the U.S. hosts the under-17s. Needless to say, these will be marquee events and a lot of good evaluations will come from there. Here's a look at some of the other kids making noise in the prospect world right now:
Max Lajoie, D, Swift Current Broncos (WHL): Last year, Lajoie made a huge statement by racking up 41 points in 72 games as a rookie for the Broncos, but his play this year may be more impressive. That’s because the slick-skating defenseman is putting up numbers at a slightly better pace, but without departed NHL draft picks Dillon Heatherington and Brett Lernout on the roster. Now, Lajoie has to play against top lines while still producing.
“At the start of the year it was hard getting used to the ice time and responsibility,” Lajoie said. “But I’ve learned to manage it and I think I’m getting better every game.”
Working extra after practice and adding more cardio into his training has helped Lajoie eat those extra minutes and work ethic is something that Heatherington and Lernout really exemplified for him last season. With Swift Current battling for a wild card spot, Lajoie’s natural gifts need to be on point.
“My skating really helps in the ‘D’ zone,” he said. “But also, keeping stick-on-puck is really important.”
Born in Quebec, Lajoie spent a bit of time in Toronto before his family moved to Calgary when he was seven (his dad works in sales for a juice company). French is his first language, but Lajoie is perfectly bilingual now and feelin’ his Swift Current experience.
“I love it,” he said. “It’s a huge difference from a big city like Calgary, but I like having a community so focused on hockey. There’s something about a small town that makes it more fun.”
And if Lajoie can help get the Broncos back into the playoffs, the fun will have just begun in southwestern Saskatchewan.
In the Pipeline
Thatcher Demko, G (Vancouver): Demko set a Boston College record last night by recording his ninth shutout of the season. With his combination of size and athleticism, the Canucks have a nice future in net.
Kevin Labanc, RW (San Jose): Labanc has been fantastic for the Barrie Colts again this season and currently leads the OHL in scoring with 90 points in 47 games. Supremely patient with the puck, Labanc also dazzles with his creativity.
Jakub Vrana, LW (Washington): The AHL player of the week with seven points in three games for Hershey, Vrana now has more than a point per game after missing months with a wrist injury. The Czech youngster has mad puck skills.
Mikko Rantanen, RW (Colorado): Though still a teenager, Rantanen is having a crazy-good rookie pro campaign with the AHL's San Antonio Rampage. The Finnish powerhouse leads all league rookies with 39 points in 30 games and, of course, he also has that world junior gold on his 2016 resume.
2016 Draft Stars
Matthew Tkachuk, LW – London Knights (OHL): What more can be said about Tkachuk? The kid just keeps churning out highlight-reel goals and just to mix it up, he has practically perfected the tip-in at the top of the crease. When you're big, talented and smart, you can do that.
Luke Green, D – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL): A very talented puckmover who has gotten back on track after a tricky start, Green now has 10 points in his past 10 games for the surging Sea Dogs.
Mikhail Berdin, G – Russia U18 (Rus.): Berdin didn’t give up a goal until the third period of the gold-medal game of the World Jr. A Challenge and local shooters haven’t fared much better. A big netminder with quick legs, Berdin has four shutouts and a .928 save percentage in 21 junior league appearances for Russia’s new hot-house squad.
Libor Hajek, D – Saskatoon Blades (WHL): A do-everything defenseman with size and calmness to his game, Hajek has been a bright spot for the Blades in his rookie WHL campaign. His 20 points in 52 outings leads all Saskatoon blueliners and he’s confident with the puck on his stick.
2017 Draft Star
Scott Reedy, C – U.S. NTDP (USHL): The leading scorer on the under-17 squad, Reedy is a big, smart pivot who competes every night and can wire the puck. The University of Minnesota commit will be key at the American-hosted Five Nations tourney.