The World Junior Championship is finished and everyone – we hope – is back from Ufa by now. The NHL’s back too, which means some rookies may have to impress in a hurry if they want to make their debuts in 2013. On top of that, the Canadian League’s trade deadlines are here, so there’s a lot to cover this week as we look at some of the players we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.
Elias Lindholm, C – Brynas (Swe.)
The Swedes went young at the world juniors (necessity played a part) and earned a surprising silver medal. With the tourney coming home to Malmo next year, don’t be shocked if Lindholm helps lead the Tre Kronor one spot higher on the podium. A two-way threat who showcased his savvy play at both ends of the rink in Ufa, Lindholm has been excellent playing against men back home this season, notching six goals and 21 points in 32 games, best among junior-aged players.
“You must be strong on the puck in the elite league,” he said. “All the 'D,' all the players are strong so you need to protect the puck a lot and that has helped me a lot.”
Also helping is linemate Calle Jarnkrok, the Detroit prospect who also happens to be Lindholm’s cousin. Their chemistry, which dates back to childhood, has been key for Brynas and helped Lindholm get more exposure with the team.
“(At) Christmas we'd celebrate together and we played a lot of hockey outside,” Lindholm said. “So we know each other on the ice.”
Now it’s the younger cousin’s turn to intrigue at the draft and thanks to his skills, he’s shaping up to be a top-five pick and the first Swede to go this year. His game philosophy won’t hurt his chances, either.
“I try to deliver the puck with speed to my forwards and work hard every game,” he said. “And get some points, too.” Draft eligible in 2013.
Mikhail Grigorenko, C – Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
Rumors that Grigorenko is older than he claims are still rumors, but there’s no debating that he was a man among boys during the world juniors. The big, skilled pivot was a constant threat for the Russians even when some of the other offensive cogs weren’t firing. With the lockout over, he’ll now have a shot to make the Sabres. Drafted 12th overall by Buffalo in 2012.
Blake Pietila, LW – Michigan Tech Huskies (WCHA)
In their final two WJC games, Team USA started its grind line of Pietila with Cole Bardreau and Ryan Hartman. The Huskies sophomore inspired that confidence by winning draws when called upon and shutting down the opposition, finishing the tourney with a plus-5 rating and two assists in seven games. Drafted 129th overall by New Jersey in 2011.
Morgan Rielly, D – Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
While the offensive defenseman’s pairing with fellow gunner Ryan Murphy was a peculiar choice for the bronze medal game, Rielly still had a solid world juniors for Canada with three points in six games. Now with Jake Gardiner on the shelf, the blueliner may get a shot at cracking the Maple Leafs’ lineup for at least the start of the NHL season. Drafted fifth overall by Toronto in 2012.
Nikolay Goldobin, RW – Sarnia Sting (OHL)
When the stars are away, the kids get to play and Goldobin made the most of his opportunity. The latest Russian import to take Sarnia by storm, the right winger was player of the week in the Ontario League after snapping London’s 24-game win streak and tallying eight goals and 12 points in five games. Draft eligible in 2014.
Rasmus Ristolainen, D – TPS Turku (Fin.)
One of Ristolainen’s best attributes is the fact he seems to take it personally when a forward gets near his goalie’s crease. That’s when the 6-foot-3, 207-pounder’s snarl comes out and it’s not nice if you’re on the receiving end. On a disappointing Finnish squad, the youngster still notched six points in six games. Draft eligible in 2013.
Valery Nichushkin, LW – Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL)
The one-game suspension for a dumb hit-from-behind against Canada was a low point, but Nichushkin paid his debt to his teammates by swooping in for a magnificent overtime goal against those same Canucks to earn bronze a couple days later. His size, speed and skill are flat-out intimidating. Draft eligible in 2013.
Cody Ceci, D – Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
Give it up for Ceci, who was a loyal sailor on a sinking flotilla in Ottawa. The 67’s just dealt the 6-foot-2, 203 pound force to Owen Sound (picking up future star D-man Jake Middleton in the process), where he can put his size and skill to use as the Attack make a run for another OHL title. Drafted 15th overall by Ottawa in 2012.
J.T. Compher, C – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
For the first time in 13 tries, the U.S. National Team Development Program beat the University of Michigan and while that’s as much an indictment of the season Red Berenson’s crew is suffering through, it is a nice feather in Team USA’s cap. Compher, who will join Michigan next season, potted two assists in the 5-3 victory. He’s a workaholic with skill. Draft eligible in 2013.
Mark Visentin, G – Portland Pirates (AHL)
As it often goes for goaltenders, Visentin has been on a tear since hitting some adversity. After giving up eight goals on 43 shots in duty against Binghamton and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in December, Visentin turned a switch and put up five straight wins on five goals-against, earning him the most recent AHL player of the week honors. Drafted 27th overall by Phoenix in 2010.
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 on thehockeynews.com. A player is eligible for The Hot List until they play their first NHL game.
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