Ryan Strome has 32 goals and 101 points with the Niagara IceDogs this season. (OHL Images)
The Minnesota state high school tourney is finished and Eden Prairie came out on top. Led by draft-eligible center Kyle Rau, the Eagles won a triple-OT thriller over Duluth East on a goal by their star pivot. With other post-seasons either underway or close to it, let’s take a look at some of the players we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.
Ryan Strome, C – Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
At the beginning of the year, he wasn’t even counted on to be a first round pick, now he’ll easily be in the top 10. Dazzling in the offensive end and tenacious when he doesn’t have the puck, Strome broke the 100-point mark for Niagara in the same amount of time it took him to score 25 the previous year, split between the IceDogs and Barrie. Even he was surprised.
“The goal was to average a point per game,” Strome said. “It’s something I’m glad I accomplished, but I’m also glad I got it over with so it didn’t linger.”
The second-year OHLer even has a league scoring title within reach, although he would have to have a big finish to pass Kitchener’s Jason Akeson. Either way, it’s clear Strome can create offense, a trait he believes was nurtured by a dual proclivity for hockey and lacrosse, a sport he only stopped playing competitively recently.
“You have to pick your spots and be creative,” he said of lacrosse. “There’s not a lot of room out there and there’s a lot of 1-on-1 play. I miss playing it and played just as passionately as I do hockey.”
While Strome would like to improve on his faceoff acumen and defensive play, he’s been one of the biggest surprises in junior this season. A part of the trade that sent Alex Pietrangelo the other way to Barrie last season, Strome is making Niagara’s part of deal look very solid. Draft eligible in 2011.
Brett Flemming, D – Mississauga-St. Mike’s Majors (OHL)
In a recent OHL coaches’ survey, Flemming was a big winner, garnering the top spot as the Eastern Conference’s best defensive defenseman and hardest worker. He was also among the top three for most underrated player, best bodychecker and best penalty-killer. Drafted 145th overall by Washington in 2009.
Ryan Johansen, C – Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
He’s essentially been coronated as Columbus’ next great hope at center for 2011-12, but in the meantime Johansen has been taking care of business in Oregon. The brilliant playmaker has points in every game this month, with four of six being multi-point affairs. He’s also top-10 in the league with 85 points through 59 games. Drafted fourth overall by Columbus in 2010.
Maxim Shalunov, RW – Chelyabinsk (Rus. Jr.)
At 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, Shalunov certainly has the frame to succeed at the next level, but right now he’s concentrating on helping his team beat Salavat’s juniors in the playoffs. So far, Shalunov’s on the right track, leading his squad with a goal and four points in two games. Draft eligible in 2011.
Mac Engel, G – Spokane Chiefs (WHL)
He may be the backup, but this is how draft gems are unearthed. Engel has won his past seven decisions for the Chiefs and his 2.39 goals-against average is good for second in the league. Even his losses are getting better; his last setback was a 34-save performance against Seattle in which he yielded just two goals. Draft eligible in 2011.
Jonathan Huberdeau, C – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
Another prospect who cracked the 100-point barrier (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins did it in the Dub as well), Huberdeau’s squad has already secured the top seed in the Quebec League, so the only thing left is to set the record for most wins in a season. The Dogs have three games to go and have to win out. Draft eligible in 2011.
Jaden Schwartz, C – Colorado College Tigers (WCHA)
Back from his WJC broken ankle, Schwartz hasn’t missed a beat for the Tigers, who head to the conference’s Final Five thanks to the undersized wiz kid’s overtime marker against Wisconsin. Schwartz had a pair in the 4-3 win and nearly led the team in scoring during the regular season despite missing weeks with injury. Drafted 14th overall by St. Louis in 2010.
Jamie Oleksiak, D – Northeastern Huskies (Hockey East)
The Huskies will keep on dancing thanks to a quarterfinal upset over Boston U. on the weekend. Northeastern was the only road team to triumph in the bracket and will take on Boston College in the semifinal. That gives the 6-foot-7 Oleksiak a chance to avenge his team’s loss to the Eagles in the Beanpot final earlier this winter and improve his draft stock in the process. Draft eligible in 2011.
Sam Warning, LW – Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (USHL)
Another diminutive scorer from the United States League, Warning comes in at 5-foot-9, 175 pounds, but his results speak for themselves. The Missouri native just cracked the 20-goal mark, which is pretty substantial on that circuit. His 38 points in 44 games means he has doubled his production year over year in Cedar Rapids. Draft eligible in 2011.
Ben Scrivens, G – Toronto Marlies (AHL)
It’s been a carousel in net at all levels for the Maple Leafs organization this year and although injuries are never wanted, the result has yielded some gems. Scrivens, a first-year pro out of Cornell, has made the transition from ECHL to American League quickly and not suffered. His 2.32 GAA and .926 save percentage are stellar and he even got on the bench as the Leafs’ backup recently. Signed as a free agent by Toronto in 2010.
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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