Mikko Vainonen, the 118th overall pick by the Nashville Predators this year, is coming to the OHL in 2012-13. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)
Sure, free agency is in full swing right now, but that doesn’t mean the prospect scene is dormant. The CHL held its import draft last week, meaning many European phenoms now have major junior teams to call their own. And of course with the draft over, the CHL-NCAA war kicks into high gear. Washington pick Connor Carrick made one of the first moves, heading to Plymouth instead of the University of Michigan. Here’s a wrap-up of the action with an eye toward the NHL’s future.
Mikko Vainonen, D – HIFK (Fin.)
The sixth overall pick in the import draft, Vainonen is expected to join the Kingston Frontenacs at training camp in August, giving coach Todd Gill a second new esteemed blueliner alongside top domestic draft pick Roland McKeown. Vainonen spent last season with HIFK’s junior squad, putting up decent offensive numbers, but more so bringing poise and leadership to the Finnish side.
“I like to play a simple game,” he said. “Keep each pass forward, be in position and play hard.”
Vainonen won a league championship with HIFK’s under-20 squad and also got in eight games in the SM-Liiga with the big club. It was an eye-opening experience, despite the fact the blueliner already has a man’s body at 6-foot-3, 222 pounds.
“The game is faster, you don’t have any time,” Vainonen said. “Guys are bigger and stronger.”
In the OHL, he’ll be one of the bigger and stronger guys. Plus, the Fronts are looking more promising with McKeown and center Ryan Kujawinski in the fold. Still, Vainonen knows his game needs rounding out.
“Skating,” he said. “More power in my legs, getting faster.”
Chasing after the young guns in the OHL will help. And he’ll get plenty of ice time to do it. Drafted 118th overall by Nashville in 2012.
Justin Schultz, D – University of Wisconsin Badgers (WCHA)
The kid everybody wanted has an NHL team. Schultz chose the Edmonton Oilers after deciding not to sign with the team that drafted him, Anaheim, once his college career was finished. The Oilers get an offensive force on the back end and yet another dynamic weapon for what has already become a scary power play out west. Signed as a free agent by Edmonton in 2012.
Jonathan Huberdeau, C – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
We’ve seen the last of Huberdeau in the blue and silver of Saint John. As one of Florida’s top prospects, the offensively blazing pivot will be given an excellent chance to stick in the NHL this fall, particularly if fellow phenom Nick Bjugstad stays at the University of Minnesota. Of course, both could make the squad and it wouldn’t be surprising, either. Drafted third overall by Florida in 2011.
Jacob Trouba, D – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
A Michigan native who has been steadfast about his love for the NCAA’s Wolverines, Trouba is the latest to find himself in the recruiting war vortex. Reports out of Michigan have the Jets first-rounder angling towards the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers, a team just as adept as the Wolverines at developing talent. Trouba’s got a good friend at Michigan in Jon Merrill, but Kitchener would allow for the more rough-and-tumble aspects of Trouba’s game to flourish. Drafted ninth overall by Winnipeg in 2012.
Nicklas Jensen, RW – AIK Stockholm (Swe.)
Don’t be surprised if this happens more often now: Jensen is heading to Europe for his 19-year-old campaign, since he feels he has outgrown major junior. But since the Danish power forward was drafted out of the CHL, he can’t play full time in the American League until he’s 20. In a brief stint with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, Jensen showed off his valuable hands with six goals in eight games split between the regular season and playoffs. Drafted 29th overall by Vancouver in 2011.
Oscar Dansk, G – Brynas (Swe.)
If you believe all the backroom scuttlebutt, Dansk was one of the most coveted properties in the import draft. And though the Erie Otters snapped him up with the third pick, there was speculation the powerhouse London Knights or Windsor Spitfires wanted him. That’s still a possibility (via trade), but in the meantime the OHL gets a netminder who loves North America – he played at Shattuck St-Mary’s before returning to Sweden – and brings a high level of skill to the crease. Drafted 31st overall by Columbus in 2012.
Ivan Barbashev, LW – MVD Balashikha (Rus.)
The top pick in the import draft, Barbashev is heading to Moncton in the ‘Q,’ where, if his Twitter account is any indication, he’s excited to be going. The captain of Russia’s gold medal under-17 team, Barbashev has elite hands and rushing ability, as evidenced by the five goals and eight points he put up in six games at the tourney. Draft eligible in 2014.
Ryan Spooner, C – Sarnia Sting (OHL)
The talented pivot has come out of his third development camp in Boston with many positive notes. Spooner has matured both physically and in his preparation, while maintaining the elite scorer’s touch that got him where he is today. Whether he starts off with the B’s or in AHL Providence is up to him now. Drafted 45th overall by Boston in 2010.
Griffin Reinhart, D – Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
Reinhart had one of the best draft days of anyone as the second defenseman taken overall in a very strong class. Whether or not the Isles were prepared to trade their entire draft slate for Ryan Murray is irrelevant now; New York got a big specimen with hockey sense who is comfortable at both ends of the rink. Drafted fourth overall by the New York Islanders in 2012.
Nikita Kucherov, RW – CSKA Moscow (KHL)
Patrick Roy’s Quebec Remparts have been a magnet for top Russian talent, from Alexander Radulov to Mikhail Grigorenko. Kucherov now has the chance to join that number (and Grigorenko if he doesn’t make the Sabres) thanks to the import draft. Highly skilled in the offensive zone, the Russian right winger still needs to work on his ‘D,’ which is perfect because Roy is adept at teaching. Drafted 58th overall by Tampa Bay 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 their first NHL game.
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