Miikka Salomaki played against men in Finland in 2010-11 and is eligible for the 2011 NHL draft. (Getty Images)
The final event before the NHL draft has been completed and the results are in from the annual combine in Toronto. And while the team interviews can be just as important as the physical testing, only the latter produces top-10 lists of the best in show. With a look at who excelled – plus a couple other notes from the prospect world – here’s the weekly rundown of players we’re excited to see in the NHL some day.
Miikka Salomaki, LW – Karpat Oulu (Fin.)
Sturdy and stocky, it should come as no surprise that Salomaki boasted the best core muscles at the combine. The Finnish winger crushed 70 curl-ups to earn that title and also fared well in the V02 Max bike test. The fact he played against much older competition in the SM-liiga meant he had to mature fast this season.
“The game is faster with men than in juniors,” Salomaki said. “And of course the players are bigger.”
A guided missile on the ice, the teenager cites countryman Tuomo Ruutu as his NHL model and that grit is evident. But does his physical play ever ruffle the veterans he plays against?
“Maybe sometimes,” he said. “I try to always, always play hard. I think I’m good in battles.”
Salomaki would still like to work on his skating and shooting, but he has already shown vast improvement this year. At the world juniors, he went from a depth player on the bench to a key contributor, even playing alongside projected first-rounder Joel Armia. While Salomaki plans to spend more time developing in Finland, his game is pure NHL already. Draft eligible in 2011.
Maximilien Le Sieur, RW - Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)
A big power forward who is still finding his scoring touch, Le Sieur was dominant at the combine, racking up top-10 scores in numerous categories. He excelled at the Wingate bike, the Vertek vertical jump (which assesses leg power) and several upper-body exercises such as the bench press and push-up station. With the Cataractes hosting the Memorial Cup next year, he’ll really get a chance to shine. Draft eligible in 2011.
Jonathan Racine, D – Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)
Le Sieur’s teammate was also a big winner at the combine, acing the Wingate and posting the third-longest wingspan in the field. Racine doesn’t put up a lot of points, but he’s a very physical defenseman who loves to hit and isn’t afraid to drop the gloves. He also scored well on the medicine ball throw. Draft eligible in 2011.
Joe Morrow, D – Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
Morrow grew up on a farm and literally lifted bails of hay, so it’s not surprising he had one of the best overall performances at the combine, tallying top-10 finishes in many categories across the board. His excellent playoff run with the Winterhawks also saw him up his production to just a shade under a point per game. Draft eligible in 2011.
Laurent Brossoit, G – Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
Netminders are notoriously difficult to gauge in their early years and Brossoit’s season in Edmonton wasn’t necessarily lights-out. But scouts like the physical tools there and his combine-best wingspan seems like a pretty good asset for a goaltender. At nearly 6-foot-3 and 193 pounds, Brossoit has the prototypical modern frame in net. Draft eligible in 2011.
Sean Kuraly, C – Indiana Ice (USHL)
In terms of body fat, Kuraly had one of the best ratios at the combine and also did well in both the V02 Max bike and the Wingate’s fatigue index, so conditioning is clearly not a problem here. A great penalty-killer known for his two-way play, Kuraly went through some offensive dry spells this year, but still looks like a valuable prospect. Draft eligible in 2011.
Dillon Fournier, D – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL)
Fournier has been a No. 1 selection in the Quebec League draft and now he has the inglorious distinction of being taken first in a dispersal draft. With Lewiston folding, the Maineiacs players were available to the rest of the league and Fournier, a two-way defenseman who shades to the defensive side, was the most valued asset to the Huskies. Draft eligible in 2012.
Kevin Tansey, D – Cumberland Grads (CJHL)
It’s the time of year for draft dark horses and a buzz is out there for Tansey, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound rearguard who plays a tough game. With 13 goals in 55 games, the big blueliner showed he also has an offensive side, but it’s the physical tools scouts like. The Ottawa-area teen is committed to Clarkson next season. Draft eligible in 2011.
Connor Murphy, D – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
Missing most of the season to a back injury, Murphy’s combine was very important in terms of reassuring teams he was ready to go – and then proving it in the fitness portion. Well-spoken and confident, Murphy dotted the top-10 lists, doing particularly well in the body fat index and medicine ball toss. Draft eligible in 2011.
Luke Lockhart, C – Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
On a Seattle team that didn’t exactly fire on all cylinders, Lockhart showed tremendous year-over-year growth, tripling his point production to 48 points after gathering 16 in 2009-10. And despite coming in at less than 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, Lockhart ripped up the combine, placing in a host of top-10 categories. Draft eligible 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.
For more great prospect profiles and news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.