Talk about program building. Penn State was ranked No. 1 in the NCAA by one of two national polls this week – pretty remarkable since the Nittany Lions didn’t even have a Division 1 team until five years ago. The team has tougher games ahead of them, but they’ve already beaten ranked opponents this season and it will be interesting to see if Penn State can qualify for its first ever Frozen Four in the spring. On top of that, the biggest name in the 2017 draft got back on the ice this weekend, so with all that in mind, let’s take a trip around the world of prospects.
Adam Fox, D (Calgary): With 19 points in his first 15 games with Harvard, Fox has been one of the great surprises of the NCAA season. To hit the ground running as a freshman while also taking classes at the most famous university in the world? Pretty impressive.
“It’s kinda surreal,” Fox said. “You’re not going to get a better education than at Harvard. Knowing the history of people who have gone there is something I take a lot of pride in. Playing hockey there is an honor and I’m happy to do it.”
Fox’s course load includes classes in writing, economics and another entitled “Understanding Darwinism.” Perhaps the 5-foot-10, 185-pounder can do an essay on the evolution of the defenseman, as his offensive hops are what make him just as a dangerous as the 6-foot-4 monsters of the past.
“From a young age I’ve always been able to handle and move the puck,” Fox said. “But obviously I’m a defenseman, so I still take pride defensively and shutting it down back there.”
Calgary landed Fox 66th overall in the draft this past summer and though players of his size are just now becoming more prominent in the elite ranks, it was hard to ignore the smarts and puck movement Fox was utilizing from the point for the U.S. National Team Development Program last season. Still, it’s stunning to see how well the kid has fared in the ECAC, which tends to be stocked with older, stronger collegians.
“The coaching staff has really helped,” Fox said. “Playing exhibition games against college teams last year with the NTDP helped prepare me for the competition and our forwards are really skilled up front, so getting the puck to them is definitely good for me.”
And good for any forward wearing the same jersey as the blueliner. Fox helped Team USA win gold at the world juniors and now he has Harvard off to a great start, with the Crimson ranked sixth in the nation.
In the Pipeline
Denis Gurianov, RW (Dallas): Gurianov was great at the world juniors, using his speed and skill to burn opponents. Now back in the AHL with Texas, the Russian teen is back at it. Just check out this highlight, which looks eerily similar to the overtime play he made to win bronze over Sweden.
Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C (Boston): Coming into college, the only question about ‘JFK’ was whether he could be a top offensive threat; we knew he was a great two-way player. But with seven goals in his past four games, the Boston U. sophomore is now a point-per-game player and the Terriers are on fire.
Brett Murray, LW (Buffalo): Penn State, as I mentioned, is rolling. And the Nittany Lions got even bigger recently when Murray joined early from the USHL. The 6-foot-5 power forward was playing great for Youngstown and decided to take on a new challenge in college. Murray picked up an assist in his NCAA debut.
Christian Fischer, RW (Arizona): The AHL player of the week, Fischer has been excellent for the Tucson Roadrunners in his first pro season. The power forward has seven points in his past four games and is now a point-per-gamer, sitting second in team scoring overall.
2017 Draft Stars
Nolan Patrick, C – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL): It’s been a long time coming for Patrick, the consensus top prospect for 2017. The big, dominating center missed three months due to an undisclosed injury, but jumped right back in with a four-point night in his return against Kootenay. The best part? From the get-go, Patrick looked like he wanted to take over the game…and then he did.
Timothy Liljegren, D – Timra (Swe.): While Patrick was injured, Liljegren was loaned from Rogle in the SHL to the Allsvenskan, Sweden’s second-best circuit. While that sounds not-so-good, the highly-rated defenseman is playing big minutes for Timra, while still facing older, stronger competition. Scouts are getting a little nervous about his lack of production, however. This is already shaping up to be a very interesting draft year.
Micah Miller, C – Grand Rapids Thunderhawks (Minn. HS): With 38 points in 15 games, Miller is not messing around in high school. Fast, strong and hard-working, the St. Cloud State commit is just 5-foot-9, but don’t take him for granted or your team might get burned.
Conor Timmins, D – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL): The Hounds are red-hot and Timmins has been a great driver from the blueline. The puckmoving defenseman has 35 points in 43 games and has such great ability and patience when he’s controlling the offensive play.
Dynamic Duo: Ivan Chechovich and D’Artagnan Joly of Baie-Comeau are making it fun to watch the Drakkar this year. Chechovich, who leads the team in scoring, has great skill and vision, while Joly is a big dude who can move well and also has nice hands. Chechovich plays center and has a five-game point streak going, while Joly plays right wing and has four points in his past four games.
2018 Draft Star
Quinn Hughes, D – U.S. NTDP (USHL): His late birthday means the under-18 star will get picked a year later than most of his cohorts, but that’s just another season of development for scouts to drool over. Hughes has been described as a Kris Letang type of defenseman, with great puckhandling abilities. The Michigan commit leads all NTDP blueliners with 26 points in 37 games.