If you’re a big draft watcher, the Canadian League playoffs have been a downer. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is out, Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan Murphy were dusted in the first round and Sean Couturier’s season is over in the ‘Q.’ But Niagara, Saint John and Portland are still alive, so hope springs eternal. Plus, a wealth of talent is on display at the world under-18s in Germany. For more players we’re excited to see in the NHL one day, keep on reading…
Justin Faulk, D – Charlotte Checkers (AHL)
Fresh off a national championship with the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Faulk signed on with the Carolina Hurricanes, who immediately assigned him to Charlotte. The Checkers are in the middle of a playoff battle with Hershey, so the teen defenseman is jumping right into the fire. Fortunately, Faulk’s a kid who has been through a lot of experiences this year and between the world juniors in Buffalo and the Frozen Four in Minnesota, he’s already played in two NHL rinks this year.
“You’re in a big building playing in front of 20,000 fans,” he said. “So I wasn’t too shocked last weekend.”
Though he played just one season in Duluth, Faulk’s strength was a big reason why the Canes felt he was ready for the pros, though his skill set will also come in handy.
“I think I’m a good puck-mover,” Faulk said. “With my skating ability and vision, I’m able to make the simple play, get the puck out of the zone and find the open man.”
With 33 points in 39 games with the Bulldogs, Faulk piled up the accolades in college, but he’s not one to rest on his laurels. The blueliner wants to keep working on his defensive zone coverage and not getting beat out of the corners. Back in Duluth, where the Bulldogs had dyed their hair for the Frozen Four, the program’s first men’s hockey title was given the appropriate fanfare, even if it’s a bit easier to spot the victors.
“Walking around, people seem to know us,” Faulk said. “They probably recognize us from our blonde hair.” Drafted 37th overall by Carolina in 2010.
Nikita Kucherov, RW – CSKA Moscow (Rus. Jr.)
The knock on Kucherov is his inconsistency, but during the under-18s, he’s been consistently awesome. The Russian right winger has world-class creativity, a good shot and mad stickhandling skills. He also leads the tourney with five goals and 10 points in three games. Draft eligible in 2011.
Gabriel Bourque, LW – Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
Bourque must love the start of tournaments, because his first AHL playoff game resulted in a 5-2 win over Texas – and the driven winger collected a point on every goal. Bourque had a similar outburst at the world juniors two years ago when he tallied seven points in Canada’s 16-0 drubbing of Latvia. Drafted 132nd overall by Nashville in 2009.
John Gibson, G – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
Once again Team USA is soaring at the under-18s and this year it’s Gibson steering the ship. The big netminder has battled Chicoutimi’s Christopher Gibson for the title of top 2011 goalie playing in North America all year and his 1.43 goals-against average and .955 save percentage at the under-18s will certainly help his cause. Draft eligible in 2011.
Dougie Hamilton, D – Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
Recently named the Ontario League’s scholastic player of the year, Hamilton will need all the smarts he has to help topple Mississauga in the Eastern Conference final. Luckily, the big two-way defenseman has been hot in the post-season, racking up 11 assists and 14 points in nine games. Draft eligible in 2011.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau, C – Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)
‘The Gat’ knocked off Sean Couturier’s Drummondville squad in six games and the diminutive Pageau was front and center. After dropping the first two matches, the Olympiques reeled off four straight wins, with Pageau contributing multi-point games in all, including two goals and three assists in the pivotal Game 4. Draft eligible in 2011.
Brayden McNabb, D – Kootenay Ice (WHL)
The Ice didn’t just sweep the powerhouse Saskatoon Blades, they knocked them all over the place and McNabb was a big part of that. The burly defenseman had multi-point games in three of four wins over Saskatoon and leads the Western League in playoff scoring by a defenseman with 15 points overall. Drafted 66th overall by Buffalo in 2009.
Kyle Rau, C – Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)
It’s the Year of Rau. After scoring the winning goal at the Minnesota state high school hockey championship in double-OT and being named ‘Mr. Hockey’ as the state’s top senior, Rau took his talents to South Dakota and the United States League. After a great end to the regular season, the small but dynamic center has jumped a notch in the playoffs, leading the league with three goals and five points in five games. Draft eligible in 2011.
Joel Armia, RW – Assat Pori (Fin.)
The Finns haven’t had much success at the under-18s, but Armia has been there for his countrymen. The big power forward has a goal and seven points in three games, which means he has produced more than twice as much offense as the next highest player on the roster. Draft eligible in 2011.
Mark Scheifele, C – Barrie Colts (OHL)
Playing for a bad team limited his exposure, but Scheifele hasn’t let that hold him back and the burgeoning power forward has been a steady riser in the draft rankings. At the under-18s, he’s been a beast, leading Canada with five goals and six points in three games. 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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