The post-season has already started for some circuits, while major junior’s Memorial Cup quest gets going soon, too. There’s still a lot of hockey to be played, but for many top prospects the playoffs represent a chance to become clutch on the biggest stages available.
This week, we look at some of the names with an opportunity to shine in the coming months as well as the usual assortment of players we can’t wait to see in the NHL one day.
1. Taylor Hall, RW – Windsor Spitfires (OHL): Hall has a rare opportunity to pull off back-to-back Memorial Cup titles this year and based on how he lit up the tourney last season, the dynamic winger certainly won’t shirk from pressure. Right now, he’s in an amazing dogfight with Plymouth’s Tyler Seguin for the Ontario League scoring race. Hall has 103 points in 56 games, trailing Seguin by two. But you can be sure an OHL title and the No. 1 draft ranking will serve as the ultimate prizes for both stars. Draft eligible in 2010.
2. Danny Biega, D – Harvard Crimson (ECAC): The Crimson struggled to a 9-19-3 season, but two wins over Princeton have the boys playing in the conference quarterfinal. Biega popped in a big goal en route to the deciding victory, adding to his already impressive freshman resume, which includes reigning conference defenseman of the week. Draft eligible in 2010.
3. Tyler Toffoli, RW – Ottawa 67’s (OHL): Toffoli has kicked it into high gear at just the right time as Ottawa heads toward the post-season with a divisional title wrapped up. The talented right winger has nine points in just three games this month and has vaulted himself into the top-15 in OHL scoring with 78 points through 63 games and an impressive plus-24 rating. Draft eligible in 2010.
4. Jordan Eberle, C – Regina Pats (WHL): Eberle’s 102 points in 54 games (tops in the league) would be enough to get excited about, but there are rumors the dynamic and clutch pivot may make his way to the pro ranks once Regina’s season is finished. The destination is most likely American League Springfield, but hold out hopes for a cameo, Oilers fans. Drafted 22nd overall by Edmonton in 2008.
5. Zane Gothberg, G – Thief River Falls Prowlers (Minn. HS): A highly regarded netminding prospect, Gothberg did all he could to try and get the Prowlers to the state tournament, but came up just short in the sectionals. If it’s any consolation, the 6-foot, 177-pound goalie did slow down Brock Nelson’s Warroad Warriors, allowing just two goals to a team that had scored nine apiece in its previous two games. Draft eligible in 2010.
6. Philippe Cornet, LW – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL): The powerhouse Huskies will look to avenge last year’s playoff run, which fell short of a Memorial Cup berth despite the team’s talents. This time around they’ll have Cornet on their side, who played for the host Rimouski Oceanic last season and has put up a solid 75 points in 63 games this year. Drafted 133rd overall by Edmonton in 2008.
7. Nick Bjugstad, C – Blaine Bengals (Minn. HS): A towering 6-foot-5, 190-pound pivot, Bjugstad was just named the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s metro player of the year and it’s no wonder. The future Golden Gopher lit up the scoreboard this year and hasn’t stopped in the post-season. Bjugstad had two goals in both the sectional semifinal and final as Blaine heads to the state tourney as the No. 3 seed. Draft eligible in 2010.
8. Sam Grist, D – Victoria Grizzlies (BCHL): There will be no playoff glory for the Grizzlies, who lost an opening round series to Nanaimo, but the silver lining for Grist is a trip to Washington State, where he’ll spend time with the Tri-City Americans of the Western League. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound stay-at-home defenseman is expected to crack the Amerks lineup next year, so for now it’s time to just soak up the experience. Draft eligible in 2011.
9. Carl Hagelin, LW – University of Michigan Wolverines (CCHA): In a down year for the Wolverines, Hagelin has been a consistent threat. The Swedish import was third in the conference with 41 points in 39 games and came up big in a play-in game against Lake Superior, scoring two goals to help Michigan advance to the quarterfinal. Drafted 168th overall by the New York Rangers in 2007.
10. Martin Jones, G – Calgary Hitmen (WHL): Jones is back on top of the Dub leaderboard at exactly the time of year he enjoys the most. The WJC Team Canada netminder is riding a 2.24 goals-against average and .919 save percentage into the post-season where the Hitmen once again look poised to do damage. Signed as a free agent by Los Angeles in 2008.
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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