The Penticton Vees tied a British Columbia League record with their 29th straight win on the weekend and Tuesday night they had a chance to break that mark. With an inordinate amount of NHL draft picks on the team, the Vees are looking legendary. In the meantime, the Five Nations tourney in Finland starts up soon with the hosts playing alongside the Czechs, Russians, Swedes and Americans. It’ll be a huge scouting event, so here’s a look at some of the players from that tourney and around the prospect world that we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.
Brady Skjei, D – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
Coming out of the Minnesota high school system, Skjei (pronounced “Shay”) wasn’t exactly a student in his own end.
“I was all offense,” he said.
But with an eye on a fellow Gopher and time at the national team development program, Skjei is rounding out his game and playing a big role in several ways.
“Off the ice I’d say I’m a pretty good leader,” Skjei said. “I feel I’m a friendly guy for sure, cracking jokes and putting guys at ease.”
On the ice, the 6-foot-3, 203-pounder can count on his size and skating to make an impact. His uncle, Barry Karn, is an NHL skating consultant and with a high-profile defensive partner in 2013 top prospect Seth Jones, Skjei is never out of the spotlight.
“We’re really good buddies off the ice,” Skjei said of Jones. “He makes the game easier, that’s for sure.”
A big fan of Chicago’s Nick Leddy, Skjei actually faced the NHLer when both were playing Minnesota high school a couple years ago. Now, he’s slated to follow Leddy to the University of Minnesota, where the Gophers will get a blueliner who knows how to get the puck out of his own zone. If Skjei can help the team to a national title, he’ll even surpass Leddy’s legacy. Draft eligible in 2012.
Jonathan Drouin, LW – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Drouin started the year in midget, thinking he needed more time to develop before he hit the ‘Q,’ but the undersized winger has had no problem scoring at the next level since he got there. The young playmaker has 12 assists and 15 points in his first 15 games with the Mooseheads and looks to be an integral part of an evolving core. Draft eligible in 2013.
Nail Yakupov, RW – Sarnia Sting (OHL)
The Yak is back! OK, there is that silly two-game suspension for missing the CHL Top Prospects Game, but at least the favorite to go No. 1 this summer is healthy again. Yakupov has two points in three games since returning from his WJC knee injury and scouts love how he has added playmaking to go with his deft scoring touch this season. Draft eligible in 2012.
Austin Smith, RW – Colgate Raiders (ECAC)
To say Smith is hot would be an understatement. The Colgate senior leads the conference in goals and points with 30 and 45 respectively through 28 games. He’s also tops in plus-minus at plus-21 and has led the Raiders to a very sharp 15-10-3 record. Hip surgery slowed him down last year, but now the Texas native is all guns a blazin’. Drafted 128th overall by Dallas in 2007.
Ludvig Bystrom, D – Modo (Swe.)
Bystrom is patient as a defenseman and he’ll have to use that virtue off the ice now, too, as Modo has sent him back to junior after a stint with the big club. Injuries opened the door to the mid-sized blueliner, who passes well and has scouts impressed with his upside, but now he’ll get a chance to play every night and put up more points, so it’s not the worst thing in the world for him. Draft eligible in 2012.
Anton Slepyshev, LW – Metallurg Novokuznetsk (KHL)
Though he has just four goals and six points in 36 games this year, Slepyshev is averaging just 8:39 of ice time and less than 12 shifts per game playing against men in the Kontinental League this season. That’s par for the course for teens in Russia, but scouts can’t wait to see what the big winger will do at the Five Nations tournament in Finland this week, where he’ll get a chance to shine. Draft eligible in 2012.
Mathias Niederberger, G – Barrie Colts (OHL)
The Ontario League’s player of the week posted back-to-back shutouts for the Colts, but the German import has been solid since the calendar flipped over to 2012. Since that time, the North American rookie has only given up more than two goals once in seven starts and has five wins in that span. Look for him in the German net at the world juniors next season. Draft eligible in 2012 (undrafted in 2011).
Jay Dickman, C – St. Paul Johnson Governors (Minn. HS)
One scout described Dickman as a wrestler on skates and at 6-foot-5, 228 pounds, it’s not hard to see why. The big pivot will join the United States League’s Fargo Force once his high school season is done, where he’ll bring an offensive arsenal that has produced 34 goals and 50 points in 22 games, nearly twice the output of his nearest teammate. Skating is an issue right now, but his hands are smooth and footwork can be taught. Draft eligible in 2012.
Zach Yuen, D – Tri-City Americans (WHL)
It’s not just that the Ams have allowed the fewest goals in the Western League this season, it’s that no one is even close to their 127 through 51 games. With that in mind, Yuen’s league-leading plus-33 rating makes a lot of sense and with eight goals already, he has tied his career high. He’s also on pace for a career year in points. Drafted 119th overall by Winnipeg in 2011.
Chandler Stephenson, LW – Regina Pats (WHL)
A bit of a streaky scorer, Stephenson has three points in his past two games after tallying just one assist in the previous five contests. But scouts like his growth on the defensive side of the puck and his skill, speed and awareness make him dangerous on offense. Draft eligible in 2012.
The Hot List, a 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. A player is eligible for The Hot List until they play in their first NHL game.
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