Canada got thrashed in the opening round of the World Under-18 Championship in Belarus, giving credence to the notion the organizers should have waited a couple more days to add players such as Plymouth’s Tyler Seguin, whose Whalers were knocked out of the playoffs before the tournament started. Nonetheless, the lack of a Canuck juggernaut has allowed a bevy of European kids to shine, so with some North American action thrown in for good measure, here’s a look at some of the players we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.
1. Anders Lee, C – Green Bay Gamblers (USHL): The accolades are coming in for Lee, who was just named United States League rookie of the year on the strength of his 66 points and nine game-winning goals in 59 games, not to mention a dizzying plus-38 rating. A bruising athlete who was also a star high school football quarterback, Lee knows his strengths.
“Controlling the puck,” Lee said. “If I go into the corner, I’m going to hold onto it.”
And while college football scouts were making calls back when Lee played for Edina high school in Minnesota, the choice for the youngster was simple.
“Growing up I always played hockey all year,” he said. “Football was only in the fall. I couldn’t give up hockey.”
And the Gamblers are glad he didn’t. Also lucky are the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who will procure Lee’s talents next season. He’ll join Green Bay teammate Steve Summerhays, prospective 2010 NHL first-rounder Riley Sheahan (already with the Irish) and U.S. NTDP defenseman Stephen Johns in South Bend.
“It came down to where I felt comfortable,” Lee said. “We have a really good class coming in.”
Lee would like to keep working on his skating, but with a father who was also a champion cyclist, working on leg speed is never a problem.
“We’ll go on 40-mile rides, get the legs going,” Lee said. “Nothing better on a sunny day.” Drafted 152nd overall by the New York Islanders in 2009.
2. Teemu Pulkkinen, LW – Jokerit (Fin.): Injuries knocked Pulkkinen out of the spotlight this year, but now he’s using the under-18s as his personal draft combine. The swift winger is tied for the lead in tourney scoring with 12 points in four games, playing on a super-Finn line with Mikael Granlund and Joonas Donskoi. Draft eligible in 2010.
3. Johan Larsson, C – Brynas (Swe.): Sharing the scoring lead with Pulkkinen is Larsson, an underdog of a prospect who’s ranked only 34th among European skaters by Central Scouting. At six-foot, 200 pounds, Larsson is a solid, but not huge body, certainly shining on a big stage; his 12 points have come in just three games for Sweden, he’s the team captain and he’s been killer on faceoffs. Draft eligible in 2010.
4. Jack Campbell, G – U.S. NTDP (USHL): Once again, Campbell is using the spotlight to prove just how much of a big-game goalie he is. The future Windsor Spitfire is rocking a 1.34 goals-against average and .952 save percentage through four starts for Team USA and has only given up three even-strength goals in total. With Calvin Pickard struggling for Canada, the race for top goalie in the draft is looking like a one-man competition. Draft eligible in 2010.
5. Evgeni Kuznetsov, C – Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL): After flaming out at the world juniors, the Russians are trying to get back on track at the under-18s and Kuznetsov, who played at the WJC, has been a big factor. Not only has the young pivot put up a team-high eight points in four games, but his plus-10 rating leads the tourney. Draft eligible in 2010.
6. Jarred Tinordi, D – U.S. NTDP (USHL): It’s often tough to give props to defensive defensemen when you’re not seeing them live, but Tinordi’s put up an impressive shutout in Belarus for Team USA. The 6-foot-5, 203-pound son of ex-NHLer Mark Tinordi is a plus-5 so far and hasn’t been on the ice for any even-strength goals against. Draft eligible in 2010.
7. Jeff Skinner, C – Kitchener Rangers (OHL): The Rangers have Windsor on the ropes in a big possible playoff upset and Skinner has been holding the dagger. The tremendously skilled center is riding a five-game streak of multi-point games, including all three contests against Windsor so far. Skinner now leads the Ontario League in playoff scoring with 27 points in 16 games. Draft eligible in 2010.
8. Brandon Gormley, D – Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL): Known as a defenseman who can do it all, it shouldn’t be surprising that Gormley has excelled in the post-season this year. The second-year Wildcat has 13 points (all assists) in 12 games and a plus-8 rating, to boot. He’s still looking like a top-5 pick this summer. Draft eligible in 2010.
9. Drew Owsley, G – Tri-City Americans (WHL): Size-wise, Owsley is practically (Darren) Pang-ish at 5-foot-8, 156 pounds. But the kid can stop the puck, so maybe there’s an NHL team out there with interest. Owsley’s 2.20 GAA and .928 SP are tops in the Dub among playoff starters, while his two shutouts in 13 games is a nice way to help your team through the bracket. Draft eligible in 2010 (undrafted in 2009).
10. Vladislav Namestnikov, LW – Khimik Voskresensk (Rus.): The early favorite as top-rated Russian for 2011, Namestnikov is slight at 6-foot, 159 pounds, but naturally he has time to grow. Skill-wise, he’s showing he won’t be intimidated at the under-18s, with seven points in four games. Draft eligible in 2011.
The Hot List, a weekly 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.
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