It’s the dead of summer, but hockey is always around the corner thanks to camps of all persuasions. The Hot List took a trip out to Los Angeles last week to hang out with a bunch of top kids signed to the CAA Hockey player agency, while the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament and Canada-Russia Challenge are slated for August. So let’s dive into some of the names catching buzz lately.
Zemgus Girgensons, C – Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL)
The Latvian warrior is done in Dubuque, but where will he end up next season? The two surprising possibilities are Rochester in the American League or the NHL’s Sabres after Buffalo signed the power forward to his entry level deal in rapid time. That meant the University of Vermont took another ‘L’ after also losing recruit Anthony De Luca to the Quebec League earlier in the year. But Girgensons’ mature game and physical frame is destined for pro play and he’s got a pretty good model in mind.
“I play like Ryan Kesler,” he said. “That would be my comparison.”
And with the Sabres also nabbing the offensively gifted Mikhail Grigorenko in the first round, Buffalo looks to have an amazing 1-2 punch down the middle – or playing together as they did during rookie camp – in the near future.
“It’s a great move by the team to get two big centers,” Girgensons said. “I prefer to play center, but it doesn’t matter to me if I play wing because he pushes me out. But I’ll give 200 percent to get in front of him.”
Though Latvia and Russia are fierce rivals internationally, Girgensons is happy to have Grigorenko on his side when they don the Blue and Gold of Buffalo. Before that, he hadn’t seen the big pivot in the flesh too often.
“The world juniors was the only time,” Girgensons said. “But he got hurt early in the game, so I didn’t really get to see him.”
Chances are that’s about the change. If not this year, the Sabres will have their own ‘G-Unit’ going before long – and the Northeast Division better look out. Drafted 14th overall by Buffalo in 2012.
Nail Yakupov, RW – Sarnia Sting (OHL)
He dazzled at Edmonton’s prospect camp and just signed his entry level contract, so everything is going according to plan so far for ‘Jamba.’ Next up? A starring role at the Canada-Russia Challenge, where Yakupov can once again use his ebullient skill set to put the crowd on its feet (in Russia) or nail them to their chairs (in Canada). Drafted first overall by Edmonton in 2012.
Tobias Liljendahl, LW – Djurgarden (Swe.)
The first thing that strikes you about the 6-foot-2, 198-pound Liljendahl in person is just how physically thick he is for a teenager. Once he has a couple more years in the gym, that frame is going to be hell for opposing defensemen to contain. As it is now, he’s been a prolific junior scorer and can also play center, so watch out. Draft eligible in 2013.
Matt Dumba, D – Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
With Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Murray likely in the NHL during the world juniors, Dumba has a chance to take on a great leadership role when the tourney shifts to Ufa over the holidays. First, however, he’ll take his puck-moving prowess to the Canada-Russia Challenge. Drafted seventh overall by Minnesota in 2012.
Connor Hurley, RW – Edina Hornets (Minn. HS)
Despite the presence of 2012 seventh round pick Lou Nanne (188th overall) on the team, it was Hurley who shouldered the offensive load for Edina last season, putting up a stellar 26 goals and 58 points in 30 games. The kid’s got a quick wrister and will likely play in the United States League for Muskegon before and after the high school season in Minnesota. Draft eligible in 2013.
Jackson Whistle, G – Vancouver Giants (WHL)
It’s not easy being a goalie at a camp filled with elite prospects, but Whistle did his best at the CAA Hockey showdown. In one particular drill, he had several duels with potential 2013 No. 1 pick Nathan MacKinnon and came out to at least a draw, including one spectacular down-but-not-out paddle save. Draft eligible in 2013.
Kevin Roy, C – Lincoln Stars (USHL)
The record-breaking offensive talent and former YouTube sensation will vie for a spot in the Canada-Russia Challenge, but that’s not the only reason Roy is in the news. He’s also looking for a new school. Roy de-committed from Brown and word is he’s looking to shift over to Hockey East for heightened competition. Drafted 97th overall by Anaheim in 2012.
Adam Erne, RW – Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
Team USA typically uses the Ivan Hlinka tournament to give non-NTDP players the chance to rep the Stars and Stripes and many come from prep schools or Jr. A programs. But Erne is an impact player from major junior who put up 55 points in 64 games last season and will be even more integral next year for the Remparts, so watch for him to do some damage. Draft eligible in 2013.
Marko Dano, RW – Dukla Trencin (Svk.)
A playmaker who is fierce and unforgiving when taking on opponents with his physical play, Dano is a sought-after commodity right now. Prince George has his major junior rights, while Slovan Bratislava – Slovakia’s new KHL team – is rumored to be his ultimate destination. He’s already played against men back home and had success. Draft eligible in 2013.
Ryan Pulock, D – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
Rated as an ‘A List’ player to watch by Central Scouting for 2013, Pulock joined Canada’s under-18 team after the tourney started this spring, but quickly earned his way up the depth chart. Shouldn’t be too surprising, since the late birthday blueliner had 60 points in 71 games for the Wheaties as a sophomore. Draft eligible in 2013.
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.
For more great prospect profiles and news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.