The world under-18s are in full swing in Slovakia right now and though I wish I were there, we’ve got a little issue called Draft Preview on the way and I couldn’t be happier to be churning out copy for it. While the rankings get down to brass tacks, there is still hockey going on and players that can move up and down. Here’s a look at some of the players on the positive end, plus other future NHLers we’re excited to see one day.
Owen Tippett, RW – Mississauga Steelheads (OHL): The talented Steelheads are on to the Eastern Conference final thanks to scorers such as Tippett, Nathan Bastian, Spencer Watson and the McLeod brothers. And while it’s a young group, Tippett says last year’s first-round loss to heavily favored Barrie set the tone.
“Last year really helped us out,” he said. “We took a great Barrie team to seven games – we weren’t expecting that – but it built chemistry. We were young last year and that built for this year.”
Tippett actually led the squad in scoring with 75 points in 60 games, despite the fact he’s just eligible for the draft this summer. His combination of skating power and a deadly shot make him a potent weapon. Now, it’s a matter of rounding out his game and being more responsible without the puck.
“It’s something I’ve always been willing to work on,” Tippett said. “My defensive zone play – if I can get that, I can change my game as a whole.”
While the youngster is not related to Arizona coach Dave Tippett, he is a cousin of Tampa Bay prospect Mitchell Stephens – whom he could still meet in the OHL final if Sauga plays London. Stephens helped convince Tippett to attend the PEAC academy in Toronto as a youth, a sports-centric private school that recently came under new ownership.
“My first year I had Ho-Sang, McDavid, Jordan Subban, plus my cousin was there,” Tippett said. “It was good to have those guys to look up to every day.”
Now Tippett can be a model for young Steelheads fans who watch him dazzle with the puck on his stick. The road to the pros is not an easy one, but with Tippett’s natural skills, he’s got a chance to do something special.
In the Pipeline
Jonathan Ang, C (Florida): The Peterborough Petes haven’t lost a playoff game yet this season and while balance has helped, the speedy Ang has definitely contributed. The skinny center has 11 points through eight games and his ability to play in all situations makes him all the more dangerous.
Mathieu Joseph, RW (Tampa Bay): Joseph has been great all year, but with his Saint John Sea Dogs rolling in the ‘Q,’ it feels like time for an update. The gritty and talented right winger has 15 points through eight games, with a shorthanded tally in there for good measure.
Connor Hobbs, D (Washington): The Regina Pats dodged a major bullet in the second round, with underdog Swift Current winning three of the first four games. But stars such as Hobbs turned the tide and the big-shot defenseman ended the series with a three-assist performance in Game 7 to kill the Cinderella story.
Ales Stezka, G (Minnesota): Stezka has been a rock for the Chicago Steel all year and the USHL playoffs have given him another opportunity to shine. The Czech national is rocking a .985 save percentage, giving up just one goal through two games. At 6-foot-4, he’s got the size to do damage at the next level.
2017 Draft Stars
Kristian Vesalainen, LW – Frolunda (Swe.): Finally, the floodgates have opened for Vesalainen. All year he has bounced from team to team in Europe and all year he was snakebitten. But the big, fast and talented power forward is dominating at the under-18s, putting up eight points in his first three games.
Max Gildon, D – U.S. NTDP (USHL): A solid shooter with great athleticism, Gildon has already made his mark at the under-18s, notching a hat trick from the blueline against the Czechs. The New Hampshire commit needs to continue working on his structure, but college will be great for that.
Cale Makar, D – Brooks Bandits (AJHL): The Bandits have Whitecourt on the ropes in the Alberta Jr. A final and as per usual, Makar has been a big factor. The UMass commit and potential top-five pick this summer has 16 points in 12 playoff games, using his excellent skating and passing skills to dominate.
Cody Glass, C – Portland Winterhawks (WHL): It didn’t take long for Glass to make an impact at the world under-18s. In his first game for Canada, the skilled and smart producer cashed in two goals and an assist. Hard to imagine, but the skinny kid from Winnipeg is only getting better with time.
Jack Studnicka, C – Oshawa Generals (OHL): Studnicka had a monster OHL post-season, but couldn’t get the Gens past a faster, more skilled Mississauga. No matter; the all-situations center has simply taken his game to the under-18s, where he has already put up offense for Canada.
Ivan Chekhovich, LW – Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL): Some scouts still need convincing on Checkhovich, who is not blessed with size but does have a generous helping of skill in his game. Playing on a big line at the under-18s with Alexei Lipanov and Andrei Svechnikov, the Russian left winger has put up five points in three games.