Congratulations on another Hot List alum graduating on to the pros. Toronto’s Nazem Kadri was an emergency call-up to the Maple Leafs Monday night when Christian Hanson and Fredrik Sjostrom took ill. Kadri took the opening faceoff against San Jose’s Joe Thornton and played a regular shift, but didn’t score in a 3-2 loss. One of his future teammates is featured on this List and once again, we’re here to big-up some players we hope to see in the NHL one day.
1. Keith Aulie, D – Toronto Marlies (AHL): Though Dion Phaneuf was the big-name blueliner acquired by the Leafs from Calgary last weekend, the Buds also picked up Aulie, a 6-foot-6, 208-pound prospect who played his junior hockey with the Western League’s Brandon Wheat Kings. And even though the deal saw Aulie move from the West Coast’s Abbotsford Heat all the way east to Toronto, the 20-year-old rookie pro had no problem with the move.
“I’ve never been traded in my career,” Aulie said. “But coming to this organization, it’s the best place to play in the world.”
And it was the world juniors that gave Aulie some name recognition in this trade. In 2009, he teamed up on Canada’s blueline with Buffalo’s Tyler Myers to form a very effective ‘twin towers’ pair en route to gold in Ottawa.
“He was really good to play with,” Aulie said. “We got thrown together in the summer and it worked out that we were together through the whole tournament. I learned a lot from him and seeing where he is now is my goal.”
But while Myers is getting his name on all kinds of scoresheets, Aulie delights in keeping guys from reaching it. Using his big frame and a fluid skating style, the lanky defenseman angles off attackers in just a few strides.
“I defend top players,” Aulie said. “It’s my main objective. If I keep their best players off the scoresheet, that’s a job done for me.”
And as Aulie continues to develop, beating him to the goalie will become an even taller order. Drafted 116th overall by Calgary in 2007; acquired by Toronto in 2010.
2. Ben Hanowski, RW – St. Cloud State Huskies (WCHA): A high-flying scorer coming out of the Minnesota high school ranks, Hanowski had to prove he could put up points at a higher level this year. Thanks to his recent tying goal against Alaska-Anchorage – which came with less than a second left in the game – it’s fair to say Hanowski is on his way. The freshman now has 15 points in 30 games. Drafted 63rd overall by Pittsburgh in 2009.
3. Michael Bournival, LW – Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL): With eight points in his past three games, Bournival is on fire, earning him ‘Q’ offensive player of the week status. The Cataractes left winger has already more than doubled his offensive output from last season and now has 50 points through 45 games. Draft eligible in 2010.
4. Maxim Goncharov, D – CSKA Moscow (KHL): A hard-hitting blueliner, Goncharov is also showing some offensive pluck in the Kontinental League this season. The 20-year-old has 17 points, including four power play goals, in 49 games this year despite not getting top-four ice time. He also leads his defense corps in penalty minutes with 52. Drafted 123rd overall by Phoenix in 2007.
5. Jeff Skinner, C – Kitchener Rangers (OHL): Junior players tend to put up some of their best numbers in their draft year and Skinner is making sure there’s no late-season letdown for himself. The hardworking Rangers pivot has 22 points in his past 16 games and is ranked seventh in the Ontario League with 71 points in 52 contests overall. Plus, he’s about to crack the 40-goal barrier. Draft eligible in 2010.
6. Connor Knapp, G – Miami RedHawks (CCHA): Platooning with fellow sophomore Cody Reichard, Knapp has helped form one of the deadliest goaltending tandems in the land. His 2.04 goals-against average is second only to Reichard’s 1.39 in the conference and with a 6-foot-5, 215-pound frame, Knapp is an impressive physical specimen. Drafted 164th overall by Buffalo in 2009.
7. Simon Despres, D – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL): Despres has already bested his offensive career high with 36 points through 48 games, but even more important is his plus-minus. The 6-foot-4, 218-pounder is plus-27, by far the best mark of his ‘Q’ career. Drafted 30th overall by Pittsburgh in 2009.
8. Casey Cizikas, C – Mississauga St. Mike’s Majors (OHL): The fact the Majors play a disciplined team game means they don’t have a lot of flashy stat guys, but Cizikas is among the OHL leaders in plus-minus with a plus-32 rating. He’s also exactly a point-per-game player through 53 matches. Drafted 92nd overall by the New York Islanders in 2009.
9. Jordan Weal, C – Regina Pats (WHL): On a team that isn’t even scheduled to make the playoffs right now, Weal is doing his part to keep the Pats in the hunt. The 5-foot-9, 165-pound sparkplug has 74 points in 56 games and cracked the 50-assist barrier for the second straight year. Draft eligible in 2010.
10. Cab Morris, G – Indiana Ice (USHL): Morris has been a star for Indiana all year long and his .924 save percentage is by far the best in the league. At 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, the Illinois native has great size for a goalie and is sure to be snapped up this summer. Draft eligible in 2010 (undrafted in 2009).
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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