Mark McNeill has 12 points in his first nine games of this season. (Thomas Porter Photographics)
NHL rookies have been all the rage in the early going, with Derek Stepan notching a hat trick in his Rangers debut and Carolina beaming over the first two performances by Jeff Skinner. But there’s still a lot of talent playing in the junior ranks, so once again here’s a look at some of the kids we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.
Mark McNeill, C – Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
There hasn’t been a ton to cheer about in Prince Albert in recent years, but McNeill and a young crew of Raiders are working hard to change that. In fact, McNeill worked hard all summer in preparation.
“It was a huge off-season for me,” said the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Edmonton native. “I worked out five days a week for two-and-a-half to three hours with Barry Butt of Premier Strength.”
Butt’s NHL clients include Jason Chimera and Jay Bouwmeester, which gave McNeill a chance to see what the pros do. He also skated with NHL and American League pros every Tuesday. The end result for the two-way power forward is 12 points in his first nine games, good for second on the team. And, the Raiders are sitting second in their division.
“We’re playing all 60 minutes and playing structurally sound hockey,” McNeill said.
Checking out Prince Albert’s roster, there is a lot of youth alongside 2011 prospect McNeill, but so far it’s working. As for an Edmonton boy shacking up in Prince Albert (pop. 40,000), the big center is loving it.
“Yeah, big city kid going to a small town,” McNeill noted. “But it was great coming to a town where everything is Raiders. And it’s good to be looked up to by the little kids.”
Based on his frame and skills, a lot of people will be looking up at McNeill in the future. Draft eligible in 2011.
Alexx Privitera, D – Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL)
Keep an eye on Privitera. Playing on a winless expansion Muskegon squad, the undersized defender (5-foot-9, 186 pounds) has been aces on the power play and even dropped the gloves in a brawl-filled third period against the U.S. NTDP. His four points in three games is tops among defenders in the league. Draft eligible in 2011.
Luke Adam, C – Portland Pirates (AHL)
A big-bodied banger with a scoring touch in junior, Adam wasted no time making his presence felt at the pro level. In his first AHL game, the power forward rang up four points in a win over Manchester, helping him to rookie of the week honors in the process. Drafted 44th overall by Buffalo in 2008.
Brandon Saad, RW – Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
A power forward who loves to play in traffic, Saad has nine points in his first eight Ontario League games, helping the Spirit to wins in seven of their first eight games. With his size and skating ability, Saad is positioned to be a top-5 pick this coming summer. Draft eligible in 2011.
Nikita Kucherov, RW – CSKA-2 (MHL)
Playing in the Kontinental League’s junior circuit, Kucherov has lit up the league for 25 points in 13 games, with a slight tilt to assists (16). At 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds, the right winger can certainly bulk up, but with a plus-19 rating already, responsibility won’t be an issue – even if getting him over to North America is. Draft eligible in 2011.
Rocco Grimaldi, C – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
Considering he was a minus-19 last season, Grimaldi’s plus-4 rating through two games is a good omen. A pint-sized scoring machine, the 5-foot-6 Grimaldi has put up numbers at every level and his seven points lead the league early on. He already has two shorthanded points, so size and overall defense will be the only questions he must answer this season. Draft eligible in 2011.
Mark Pysyk, D – Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
The usually lowly Oil Kings are off to a fantastic 5-2-0 start, so how about some love for new captain Pysyk? The team doesn’t have a top-20 scorer and just one point-per-game player (Michael St. Croix), so obviously the team concept is working. Pysyk himself is a plus-4, miles ahead of his past numbers. Drafted 23rd overall by Buffalo in 2010.
Sam Mellor, C – Trail Smoke Eaters (BCHL)
One point off the British Columbia League’s scoring lead, Mellor’s 28 points through 14 games is nonetheless impressive for a 17-year-old. A demon on the power play, Mellor can also throw a nice check and is committed to the University of Alaska-Anchorage for next season. Draft eligible in 2011.
Maxime Clermont, G – Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)
A potential Team Canada goalie for the world juniors this year, Clermont is off to a rollicking start for the Olympiques, posting a 1.97 goals-against average and .918 save percentage. He also has four of Gatineau’s five victories. Drafted 174th overall by New Jersey in 2010.
Tobias Rieder, RW – Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
The Rangers lost a lot of scoring this year with Jeff Skinner and Jeremy Morin both leaving for the pros, but import Rieder is doing his part to keep Kitchener afloat. The German-born right winger has six goals and 12 points in seven games, the same totals as teammate and top 10 prospect for the 2011 draft Gabriel Landeskog of Sweden. Rieder is also an alum of the Landshut Cannibals. 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.
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