Mississauga's towering defenseman leads off our weekly round-up of prospect talent – and he's not content with just being a shutdown specialist.
We’re back, folks. Another year, fishing for gems in the world of prospects. This is a tricky time of the season, since some of the best youngsters are still at NHL camps. So take your CHL results with a grain of salt until further notice. But it is nice to see Ryan Moore and Nicholas Caamano (Dallas) give the fans in Flint something to cheer about early on. Let’s get to the list, shall we?
Nic Hague, D – Mississauga Steelheads (OHL): Hague was already one of Mississauga’s best defensemen last season, but thanks to his late birthday, he gets another full year to state his case in front of NHL scouts. So it’s kinda funny to think that he’s only starting his second year of major junior. Hague played his 16-year-old year in his hometown of Kitchener with the Jr. B Dutchmen – and it wasn’t because of an NCAA decision.
“I felt really young,” he said. “I wanted to take back a year just for me; stay home, get Grade 11 out of the way. I felt I wasn’t ready yet and I would have stepped into a No. 6 or 7 role in Mississauga. With the Dutchmen, I was a 1-2 guy, getting power play time, killing penalties…I always had the puck on my stick. That year helped me improve a lot.”
Last year, his rookie OHL campaign, was pretty good too. The 6-foot-5 shutdown defenseman helped the Steelheads push heavily-favored Barrie in the first round of the playoffs, only succumbing after seven games.
“Going into that series, we were supposed to get swept,” Hague said. “When we came back in Game 2, that was an eye-opener for us. It made a lot of guys realize we could compete with the best in the league. In this year’s playoffs, we want to go all the way.”
And there are some pieces to do so. Hague will be key on defense, using his reach and body to discourage incursions to the net. He’s about 210 pounds now but sees himself at 215 and perhaps even 225 eventually – as long as it’s muscle he’s putting on. Hague also wants to make sure he doesn’t get pigeon-holed as defense only. He had 24 points as a rookie and two in his first two games this year.
“I really like being put in those situations,” he said. “I don’t consider myself just to be a shutdown guy; I like to jump up in the play and I feel comfortable on the power play.”
As he continues to grow both physically and game-wise, Hague will be a lot to handle – and he’s clearly not going to stand still when it comes to his development.
In the Pipeline
Matt Luff, RW (Los Angeles): The Kings are getting a pretty good return on their most recent investment. Luff was just signed as a free agent last week and is already piling up points for the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs. The league’s player of the week notched six points in two games, largely thanks to his shot and instincts.
Ales Stezka, G (Minnesota): The USHL goalie of the week. Stezka became the first Chicago Steel netminder ever to record a shutout in his opening night debut. The Czech native has a big frame and will be one to watch for the world juniors this year.
Ilya Sorokin, G (New York Islanders): Once again, Sorokin is thrashing the KHL for CSKA Moscow. The quick netminder has posted two shutouts in his first eight starts and is rocking a .949 save percentage, good for third overall. He’s also undefeated in regulation, going 6-0-1 so far.
Fredrik Karlstrom, C (Dallas): Karlstrom is one of the top scorers in Sweden’s second-best circuit (the Allsvenskan) so far, jumping out with five points in his first five games against men. The AIK center is fast, big and aggressive – a nice combination.
2017 Draft Stars
Nolan Patrick, C – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL): The consensus No. 1 prospect for the draft, Patrick missed Canada’s world junior camp in the summer due to sports hernia surgery, but made it back in time for Brandon’s season opener. The result? Two points for the all-around center in 3-2 overtime loss.
Michael Rasmussen, C – Tri-City Americans (WHL): Hard to top Rasmussen’s season debut. The imposing 6-foot-5 center rang up four goals against Spokane, then added another the next night in Portland. Needless to say, he’s your early leader in tallies.
Clayton Phillips, D – Fargo Force (USHL): The University of Minnesota commit is going to be a very dangerous offensive defenseman this season for the Force. Phillips got rolling early, with two goals in his first game, earning him USHL defenseman of the week honors.
Erik Brannstrom, D – HV 71 (Swe.): With five points in five games, Brannstrom is off to a cracking start to his draft year. Scouts love this kid, who brings skill, skating and details to the blueline – one told me he’s “the closest thing to Kimmo Timonen that I’ve seen.” Size is the only concern, as Brannstrom comes in at 5-foot-9 and 164 pounds right now.
2018 Draft Stars
Benoit-Olivier Groulx, C – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL): Teams better get a handle on Groulx quick, because the kid is great at finding those soft areas in the offensive zone that lead to goals. The son of famed coach Benoit Groulx has two tallies in his first two games since going first overall in the Quebec League draft this summer.
Filip Zadina, LW – Dynamo Pardubice (Cze.): The Czechs were a great story this summer, winning the Ivan Hlinka tournament on home ice after years of Canadian dominance. Zadina may turn out to be an even greater story, as some scouts believe he could vie for first overall in 2018 thanks to his high-end motor, shiftiness and shot. He basically does everything well.