Team USA was once again victorious at the under-18s and Canada felt the sting of losing to both the Americans and the Russians, finishing fourth for their efforts. The major junior playoffs are getting down to just the elites, so let’s take a look at the world of prospects and some of the players we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.
Joe Morrow, D – Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
With eight Winterhawks drafted last season and another four poised to go in the first couple rounds this summer, it’s nice being eligible when you play for powerhouse Portland. Morrow is in that company and has distinguished himself as a defenseman to watch in the draft.
“It’s a little humbling to see that our team gets looked at,” he said. “It shows that scouts really appreciate what (coach-GM) Mike Johnston and (assistant coach-asst. GM) Travis Green have accomplished.”
If Morrow sounds like he has some aw-shucks in him, it may be because of his roots. The son of former Portland blueliner Dave Morrow, Joe grew up on a farm outside Edmonton and all that hay-bailing may have helped his on-ice strength, which is just one of his better characteristics.
“I can be a simple defenseman that gets the puck out of his own end,” Morrow said. “I pride myself on my first pass and as long as I’m having fun, I think I play well.”
Morrow would like to get more consistent in all areas, but having a former pro for a father has helped his journey.
“He knows what to say and what not to say,” Morrow said. “He raised me with a hockey childhood and he never points me in the wrong direction.”
So far, so good for the latest Winterhawk in the family. Draft eligible in 2011.
Garrett Wilson, LW – Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
The big-bodied captain of the Attack has been leading by example all post-season and now Owen Sound has defending champ Windsor on the ropes. Wilson leads his team in scoring with 17 points in 14 games and continues his great two-way play. Drafted 107th overall by Florida in 2009.
J.T. Miller, LW – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
Usually international tournaments are the strict domain of Rocco Grimaldi, but the under-18s were ruled by Miller when it came to American offense. Known for his skill and hockey sense, Miller rang up nine assists and 13 points in six games, en route to the gold medal. Draft eligible in 2011.
Gustav Bjorklund, C – Vasteras (Swe. Jr.)
Talk about clutch. When Sweden needed offense at the under-18s, Bjorklund was there. The diminutive pivot scored the game-winner and the insurance marker against Russia in the semifinal, then posted two points in an overtime loss to the U.S. in the final. Overall he had eight points and a plus-10 rating in six games. Draft eligible in 2011.
Jesse Graham, D – Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
Playing with Dougie Hamilton during the regular season was certainly a boon for the younger Graham, but the slight blueliner has made the playoffs his coming-out party. The slick-skating puck-mover has posted nine points in 13 games after registering just 18 points in the regular season. Draft eligible in 2012.
Kirill Kabanov, LW – Lewiston Maineacs (QMJHL)
Everyone’s favorite junior loose cannon has focused his ammunition at the opposition this spring and the Maineiacs are soaring because of it. Kabanov has posted seven goals and 18 points in 13 games for Lewiston and is looking like the potent offensive force he was once fawned over as. Drafted 65th overall by the New York Islanders in 2010.
Albert Yarullin, D – Kazan Bars (Rus. Jr.)
Yarullin has been lauded for his heavy shot, but obviously there were some tip-ins at the under-18s, because he posted 11 assists and no goals in seven games as the Russians took bronze. Yarullin’s plus-12 rating also led the tourney. Draft eligible in 2011.
Steffen Soberg, G – Oslo Manglerud Stars (Nor.)
International tournaments have a way of unearthing gems, so keep an eye out for Soberg, who posted an exemplary .931 save percentage for overmatched Norway at the under-18s. Rookie of the year back home, Soberg played against men and was also on a bad club team, so when his numbers are good, it’s doubly impressive. Draft eligible in 2011.
Andy Welinski, D – Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)
The Gamblers have only played three playoff games so far, but Welinski scored in two of them, so his post-season is off to a great start. The timing is solid, too; the six-foot, 190-pound defenseman certainly has a sturdy frame, but that offensive potential is starting to shine through, too. Draft eligible in 2011.
Matt Hackett, G – Houston Aeros (AHL)
Hackett helped the Aeros sweep aside Peoria in the first round of the American League playoffs and now Milwaukee looms. But the former Plymouth Whalers keeper can be confident; his 1.67 goals-against average is tied for the AHL’s best playoff mark. Drafted 77th overall by Minnesota in 2009.
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 only on thehockeynews.com. A player is eligible for The Hot List until they play in their first NHL game.
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