In this new feature, our prospect expert talks to the 6-foot-6 Spitfires pivot, counts down some of the best performances from NHL hopefuls and draft-eligibles and updates Conor Garland’s injury status in Moncton.
Welcome to the rebirth of The Hot List. From now on, my weekly collection of top prospects will be known as Prospect Need to Know and the format will be a little different. The biggest changes involve star power and flexibility – there will be more of both. If your prospect knowledge is limited, I’ll have you covered with a steady dose of names such as Auston Matthews, Alex DeBrincat and Patrik Laine. If you like to go deeper, there will be categories on sleeper picks, major injury news and, as the season goes on, high risers in the draft rankings. Basically, I wanted to make sure I have a platform that would not limit me in bringing you the most essential prospect news. And for organizational purposes, players will now be listed in groupings, with those already drafted first (after the spotlight player, of course). So let’s get to it and have some fun:
Logan Brown, C – Windsor Spitfires (OHL): Somewhere out there, a photo exists of baby Logan Brown and baby Jakob Chychrun sitting beside each other. The two big OHL prospects for the 2016 draft have been friends forever thanks to their dads, ex-NHLers Jeff Brown and Jeff Chychrun. The sons both spend their summers outside of Ottawa, often playing golf and hanging out by the lake. But when Windsor plays Sarnia in the winter, it’s not so chummy.
“It’s a little bit weird, but we have fun with it,” Brown said. “On the ice, it’s war.”
Brown was a surprise cut from Canada’s Ivan Hlinka team, but according to one source, it’s important to realize that the players selected for that August tournament have to be the best right then and there. Brown’s promise comes in his upside. He’s already 6-foot-6 and 218 pounds, with a great shot and puck possession skills.
“I’m very patient with the puck,” Brown said. “I like to let the play develop.”
The youngster credits coach Bob Boughner, who was just hired away from Windsor by the NHL’s San Jose Sharks, with helping him become more of a two-way player by emphasizing defensive growth. Though it’s hard not to look at Brown’s torrid offensive start right now: through three games, the Spitfires center already has six points.
Brown was born in St. Louis and played all his winter hockey there, once going three years without losing a game. But the OHL is a different beast and he admitted having some rookie jitters last season.
“I started off a little slow, testing the waters a bit,” he said. “After Christmas I felt a lot more comfortable.”
Then, the teen was afflicted by a mystery illness that gave him mono-like symptoms. He stayed in the lineup because Windsor was chasing a playoff spot, but obviously he wasn’t at the top of his game. Now healthy and surrounded by a growing pool of talent (fellow 2016 hopeful Luke Kirwan returns, while the team also added Arizona pick Christian Fischer and Russian 2016er Mikhail Sergachev), it will be fun to see what Brown can do untethered. He could easily land in the top-10 at this summer’s draft.
In the Pipeline
Jeremy Lauzon, D (Boston) – Say what you will about Don Sweeney’s Friday at the 2015 draft, but his Saturday was great. Lauzon, who plays for Rouyn-Noranda in the QMJHL was taken 52nd overall by the Bruins and is looking great so far. The 6-foot-2, 204-pounder is a great skater with an array of tools and eight points through four games.
Gustav Forsling, D (Chicago) – Originally a Vancouver pick in 2014, Forsling was traded to the Hawks in January for Adam Clendening. The best defenseman at the 2015 world juniors in my opinion, Forsling is almost automatic on the power play thanks to his shot. He’s playing for Linkoping in Sweden’s top league (the SHL) this year and has five points in six games to lead all junior-aged scorers.
Michael Spacek, C (Winnipeg) – The Czech import was brought over to bolster the Memorial Cup host Red Deer Rebels and the 2015 Jets pick definitely delivered. Spacek has nine points in his first four games, ranking him third in the WHL. Great hands, quick feet.
John Marino, D (Edmonton) – A sixth-round project pick by the Oilers in 2015, Marino is an excellent skater with great size. Committed to Harvard, the right-shot blueliner has five points in his first three games for Tri-City of the United States League.
Felix Sandstrom, G (Philadelphia) – The Flyers are infamous for goaltending woes, but 2015 was a great draft for GM Ron Hextall. Along with Matej Tomek, he landed Sandstrom, who battled injuries last year but is off to a great start with Brynas in the SHL, where he’s rocking a .931 save percentage and 1.62 goals-against average through three games.
2016 Draft Stars
Matthew Tkachuk, LW – London Knights (OHL): After dominating the All-American Prospects Game, Keith’s kid jumped straight into OHL action, thrashing the competition for a league-leading 10 points in four games for the Knights. With his size, skills and smarts, Tkachuk is almost a lock to go top-five this summer.
Alexander Nylander, RW – Mississauga Steelheads (OHL): The Steelheads won big in getting Nylander over from Sweden and he has dazzled so far. William’s younger bro (dad and ex-NHLer Michael is helping coach Mississauga now) has scored some highlight reel goals already and his seven points in five games leads the squad.
Jack LaFontaine, G – Janesville Jets (NAHL): The North American League is becoming famous for goalie prospects and LaFontaine will be one to watch for the 2016 draft this season. The Mississauga native is 6-foot-3 and uses his frame well, which helps explain the back-to-back shutouts he posted after a season-opening OT loss.
2017 Draft Star
Michael Pastujov, RW – U.S. NTDP (USHL): When USA Hockey’s under-17 squad plays the USHL, it’s supposed to be a big challenge against older, stronger competition. But the speedy and creative Pastujov has feasted so far, garnering four points in two games – a win over Muskegon and a loss to Chicago. The right winger is committed to the University of Michigan.
Conor Garland, the high-scoring Moncton Wildcats right winger, is currently going through concussion protocols after he took a nasty spill during a fight with Cape Breton’s Phelix Martineau. The small but gifted Arizona Coyotes pick could be back as soon as Friday and he has a real shot at winning his second straight league scoring title. To date, he has 13 points in just four games. Garland actually landed on his own helmet when Martineau brought him to the ice. Video link here if you’re not squeamish.