We may be entering the dog days of summer, but there’s a lot coming up to get excited about if you’re big on prospects. Stay tuned as The Hot List – our weekly countdown of the players we can’t wait to see in the NHL one day – will pay special attention to rookie camps and the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament in the near future.
1. Louis Leblanc, C – Lac St. Louis Lions (QMAAA): Leblanc is a sought-after commodity these days. The only non-major junior player invited to Canada’s Under-18 camp for the Ivan Hlinka tourney, Leblanc has also chosen Harvard over Val d’Or for the final step in his amateur career. In the meantime, the USHL and Omaha could be the next destination for the high-scoring pivot. Leblanc was the Quebec Midget AAA leading scorer and MVP this season, while passing Daniel Briere’s mark with 85 goals over two years. Draft eligible in 2009.
2. Patrick Wiercioch, D – Denver Pioneers (WCHA): Yup, Wiercioch is no longer headed to the Wisconsin Badgers. With a backlog of bodacious blueliners in Madison and David Carle’s situation in Denver, the Pios managed to pluck the highly touted defenseman from their conference rival.
Wiercioch, a second-round selection of the Senators in June, comes from the sturdy Omaha Lancers of the USHL, where, despite injuries, he was pleased with his environment.
“I was surrounded by one of the best teams in junior hockey,” he said. “We had 19 Division I scholarship players on the roster.”
The B.C. native was also happy to be selected by a Canadian franchise, especially one he sees himself playing for in the future.
“I think Ottawa is a good fit,” he said. “I’m an offensive defenseman, much like the first pick (Erik Karlsson).”
While Wiercioch had planned to spend the next few years in Wisconsin, the timeline likely doesn’t change for Denver, where he expects to grow his game at the proper pace and go pro when the time is right.
“Making the NHL is the No. 1 goal,” he noted. “If I feel I’m ready to make the jump, then I’ll be confident in that decision.”
In the meantime, Wiercioch brings a good deal of buzz and even more playmaking ability to the Mile High City. Drafted 42nd overall by Ottawa in 2008.
3. Stepan Novotny, RW – Kelowna Rockets (WHL): The fact Denver landed Wiercioch took the sting out of losing Novotny to the Dub. The Czech national started off his North American career as a star with prep school Shattuck-St. Mary’s before hopping over to the USHL to play tougher competition with the Indiana Ice. Those enemies will get meaner and nastier in the Western League, so Novotny will have a chance to really show what he’s made of. Draft eligible in 2009.
4. Steven Anthony, C – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL): The prized rookie didn’t blow the hinges off the door as a 16-year-old, but the Sea Dogs were a deep squad and he was only 16. With some attrition in the Saint John ranks, look for Anthony to get back to the offensively dominant player he was with Sidney Crosby’s old squad, the Dartmouth Subways. Draft eligible in 2009.
5. Jared Cowan, D – Spokane Chiefs (WHL): The upcoming season was supposed to be the Memorial Cup run for the Chiefs, but wouldn’t you know it, those darned kids caught fire too soon. The run for a repeat is now on and Cowan, all 6-foot-5 and 207 pounds of him, will be there for the defense. Draft eligible in 2009.
6. Patrik Berglund, C – Vasteras IK (Swe): The early buzz coming out of St. Louis is that the 6-foot-4 Berglund is coming to town and he plans on staying a while. With 45 points in 36 games this year, the young Swede brings a scoring dimension the Blues could use. Drafted 25th overall by St. Louis in 2006.
7. Josef Pontasch, LW – Detroit Belle Tire (MAHA): USA Hockey’s Select 17 festival wrapped up on the weekend and the leading scorer was Pontasch, who tied Beau Bennett of the L.A. Jr. Kings with 11 points, but scored five goals to Bennett’s four. Nonetheless, they’re two names to watch out for. Draft eligible in 2009.
8. Michael Frolik, C – Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL): With a sagging offense and a pivot spot available, look for Frolik to make a serious challenge for a roster spot in Florida this fall. The Czech center was dynamite alongside Jakub Voracek at the world juniors, but missed significant time with injury as well. Drafted 10th overall by Florida in 2006.
9. Riku Helenius, G – Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL): At 6-foot-3, 203 pounds, Helenius covers a lot of net, which he’ll do once again for Seattle next season. The Finn’s first North American campaign was a success, if not one overshadowed by fellow Dub net stars Chet Pickard and Dustin Tokarski. Drafted 15th overall by Tampa Bay in 2006.
10. Brian Salcido, D – Portland Pirates (AHL): Technically, Salcido isn’t a Pirate anymore; when the season begins, he’ll either be with the new AHL affiliate Iowa Chops or the Anaheim Ducks. It goes without saying the offensively savvy defenseman would prefer to be a Duck. Drafted 141st overall by Anaheim in 2005.
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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