Hockey’s about to start again, even if the pros don’t get out of the gates in time, so it’s time for my annual look at teams I’m excited to see this season. As always, these are squads that may win a lot of games, but more importantly for my purposes, boast a lot of intriguing prospects. This year I’m extending my reach to the United States League and bringing back the NCAA.
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
The Hounds got some great news recently when import pick Sergey Tolchinsky received his visa and touched down in Northern Ontario, bringing his dynamic talents to the Soo forward corps. Also, this is defenseman Darnell Nurse’s draft year and the big blueliner has the tools to be a serious first-rounder. Add in playmaking rookie pivot Jared McCann and there’s something to see in the Soo.
Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Yeah, the Herd will be one of the best teams in the country this year and not much of a surprise, but how can you not get excited about them? Nathan MacKinnon is the top forward available in the 2013 draft, while Jonathan Drouin is another dangerous offensive prospect with first round written all over him. Netminder Zachary Fucale is a good pre-season bet to be the first netminder taken in the draft and a healthy Martin Frk can impress his future bosses in Detroit with a bounce-back campaign.
Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
The Hawks are great viewing pretty much every year now, but again it’s hard to ignore them. Seth Jones headlines the marquee as the top defenseman available in the draft and joins a blueline corps that also features Pittsburgh first-rounder Derrick Pouliot. Oliver Bjorkstrand comes in from Denmark to show what he can do, as does Dominic Turgeon – the son of former NHLer Pierre. All three newbies have had great pre-seasons.
Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL)
OK, I’ve already seen the Black Hawks play once this year courtesy the Junior Club World Cup in Russia, where they lost a tight final to OHL Sudbury, but I liked what I saw and want more. Taylor Cammarata is a whirlwind of excitement when he has the puck up front, while Ian McCoshen is a big, talented force on the blueline. Both are up for the draft this year, as is goaltender Eamon McAdam, a Penn State commit. With Dubuque losing recruits Mark Jankowski and Brandon Shea to other leagues, Waterloo will be the USHL team to watch this season.
University of Michigan Wolverines (CCHA)
Runner-up shoutouts to the University of Nebraska-Omaha (Anthony Stolarz, Brian Cooper) and Michigan State (John Draeger, Matt DeBlouw, Rhett Holland), but it’s tough to beat the 1-2 punch of Jacob Trouba and Boo Nieves for an incoming freshman class. Trouba’s highly publicized decision to stay the course to Ann Arbor when Kitchener of the OHL came calling overshadowed a little of the glee that Michigan fans should have gotten from the blue-chip defenseman coming to campus, but once he’s on the ice – and possibly paired with buddy Jon Merrill – all will be forgotten. Nieves brings another offensive weapon to a team already boasting a big, young talent in Carolina pick Phil Di Giuseppe, while Jared Rutledge will come in from the NTDP to play net after the program lost similar goalies Jack Campbell and John Gibson in consecutive seasons.
Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN’s associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.