The 2015 second-rounder has made huge strides in just one season and is now on the cusp of the NHL. Learn more about him, plus a key 2016 draft injury, a big commitment made to the University of Wisconsin and prospects from the Ducks, Isles, Coyotes and Capitals.
The NHL trade deadline had plenty of ramifications in the prospect world, with a slew of draft selections going to new teams and some actual players changing organizations as well. One situation to keep an eye on? Conner Bleackley, now of Arizona. The Colorado first-rounder would net the Coyotes a compensatory second-round pick if he doesn’t sign with his new team and based on his fractured kneecap and uneven career to date, that could be a real possibility.
Here’s a look at some of the other prospects you should know about right now:
Sebastian Aho, LW (Carolina): In dealing captain Eric Staal and several other veterans at the deadline, Carolina pushed its rebuild into all-in mode. The Hurricanes have a lot of great young defensemen, but more help is needed up front. That’s where Aho can make his mark. The Finnish kid broke out at the world juniors, centering a line with 2016 draft phenoms Jesse Puljujarvi and Patrik Laine. And while the younger wingers got the attention, it was Aho who held the trio together thanks to his smarts and defensive sense of responsibility. And yeah, he also put up 14 points in seven games, second in the tournament to Puljujarvi – so scoring wasn’t an issue, either.
“I played pretty well with Puljujarvi and Laine,” Aho said. “Of course when you score, it makes the game easier.”
Just as impressive as that line’s performance was the whole Finnish team’s showing in the medal round. They knocked off three world powers in Canada, Sweden and Russia, with the Russians posing as the immovable object that Aho and company pushed over to win gold.
“They had a really good team,” Aho said. “We had some problems, but we trusted ourselves to win.”
Aho has continued to play well back home with Karpat Oulu. The team just lost the pan-European Champions League final to Sweden’s Frolunda and locally sits second in Finland’s Liiga right now. Most impressively, Aho leads Oulu in scoring with 37 points through 41 games. Not bad for the local kid.
“First of all, Oulu is my hometown and Karpat is a big thing,” he said. “It was my dream to play for Karpat my whole childhood. When I got to play for them, it was huge.”
And next on the agenda may be the NHL. Carolina will give Aho the chance to seize a roster spot next season and based on how quickly the kid has developed, I wouldn’t bet against him. The left winger proved at the world juniors that he can play center and even if he’s not a pivot right away with the Canes, that diversity will help in the future.
It certainly helped Finland win gold this winter.
In the Pipeline
Julius Nattinen, C (Anaheim): The big Finn has been held off the scoresheet just twice all month and has eight points in his past four games for the OHL’s Barrie Colts. Nattinen is a creative playmaker on a very good Colts team; next mission is to get better in the faceoff circle.
Ilya Sorokin, G (NY Islanders): Sorokin caught some spotlight at the world juniors last year in Toronto, but he is really humming back home in Russia right now. The athletic netminder was a top KHL goalie during the regular season and now he’s killing it in the playoffs, with a 0.99 goals-against average and .959 save percentage through four games with CSKA Moscow.
Riley Barber, RW (Washington): Never doubt Riley Barber. That’s where we’re at already. The right winger has made a career out of surprising folks and as a rookie pro, the NCAA Miami product is already putting up numbers for Hershey. A natural goal-scorer, Barber is one of the top freshmen in the AHL with 19 goals and 43 points through 55 games.
Max Letunov, C (Arizona): The Coyotes have assembled quite the deep pool of prospects up front and Letunov is not one to sleep on. Originally drafted by St. Louis and acquired in the Zbynek Michalek trade, the creative and skilled Russian freshman is now blowing up at UConn, where he is leading the Huskies in scoring with 39 points in 34 games.
2016 Draft Stars
Noah Gregor, RW – Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL): Before the season, some scouts weren’t even looking at Gregor – but he has forced their hand. The fast-skating right winger makes smart plays with the puck and competes hard. Playing with Brayden Point (Tampa) and Dryden Hunt (just signed by Florida), Gregor has rung up 64 points in 63 games – not bad for his first ‘Dub’ campaign.
Logan Brown, C – Windsor Spitfires (OHL): The OHL player of the week, Brown is a towering center with a nice shot, though he is primarily a playmaker. The son of ex-NHLer and current OHL Ottawa coach Jeff Brown, Logan posted seven points in three games to earn the league-wide honor.
Linus Lindstrom, C – Skelleftea (Swe.): A two-way player with smarts who takes care of details on the ice, Lindstrom has been one of the top scorers in Sweden’s under-20 Super Elite circuit with 20 points through 15 games. He needs to get stronger, but moves the puck well and is very good defensively.
Pierre-Luc Dubois, LW – Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL): Scouts are making must-see appointments for Dubois’ games lately and he has not disappointed. A high-end two way player with an edge, Dubois hung five points on a very good Val-d’Or team the other night and is now up to fourth in league scoring with 87 points in 57 games.
2017 Draft Star
Max Gildon, D – U.S. NTDP (USHL): The University of Wisconsin just got a big commitment in Gildon, a Texas native who will likely be one of the first blueliners taken in the NHL draft next year. The NTDP kid has pro size and an in-your-face physical style to go on top of it, plus he can contribute on the offensive end.
Injury Report: Tyler Benson has officially been shut down for the season by the WHL’s Vancouver Giants, due to a lingering lower body injury. It’s been a rough year for the 2016 prospect, who was also bothered by a cyst on his back earlier. Now scouts will have to determine his worth based on a small sample size of 28 points in 30 games. Benson is very smart, but he’s not a good skater – so which wins out, the positive or the negative?