One little visit to the West Coast set off a firestorm for Alec Baer, but now the Minnesota native is playing top minutes in the Western League. Learn about him and nine more NHL prospects in our weekly round-up.
With NCAA hockey officially in full swing, there is action aplenty to watch for in the prospect world. Boston University’s Jack Eichel and Erie’s Connor McDavid already seem to have a fantastic game of anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better going on, but who else should you be watching this season? Here are some of the other names making noise right now.
Alec Baer, C – Vancouver Giants (WHL)
It seemed innocent enough; in February of 2013, Baer was invited out to Vancouver by the Western League’s Giants to watch the team play a game after he had played well at rookie camp the previous summer. He was still playing for the powerhouse Benilde-St. Margaret’s high school team back in Minnesota, but the trip did not go over well with his coaches back home. Baer, a talented center, was then booted from the team, paving his way to Vancouver. Thankfully, the youngster has fallen for the Canadian city, where he is now a sophomore with the Giants.
“I love it,” Baer said. “My billets are awesome, they’re always there for me, basically family. It’s pretty easy: go to practice, go to school.”
The type of player who can really create when he’s in the offensive zone, Baer had a goal and two points at the All-American Prospects Game in Buffalo and has played on Vancouver’s top line back in the WHL. His enthusiasm for this season can partly be attributed to Giants bench boss Troy Ward, who came in from the American League.
“We have a new coach from Minnesota and a new game style that fits me more as a player,” Baer said. “So I’m very excited.”
A big fan of Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon, Baer is a bit undersized at 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, but he’s slippery and has a great set of hands. Back home, the flap with Benilde-St. Margaret’s still hasn’t really been resolved in terms of communication.
“I’ve got a lot of friends over there,” Baer said, “But nothing huge with coaches or anything.”
While it was a bit of a hiccup in the road, Baer found a soft spot to land and now he’s trying to make the most of his chances in Vancouver. Draft eligible in 2015.
David Pastrnak, RW – Providence Bruins (AHL)
A two-way player with offensive hops that reminded Boston of David Krejci, Pastrnak is already making a dent in the American League as an 18-year-old. The Czech national has three points in two games, including a great first goal that showcased his hands and creativity. Drafted 25th overall by Boston in 2014.
Blake Speers, RW – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
Speedy and very skilled, Speers isn’t a huge player but he has been getting the job done for the undefeated Hounds. The right winger has four goals and 13 points through seven games, putting him top five in the league. Consistency was something he has worked on since his rookie campaign and so far, so good. Draft eligible in 2015.
Daniel Vladar, G – Kladno Rytiri (Cze.)
Vladar moves well in his crease and has a great calm to his game, which already gives him some nice attributes before you even add on his size. At 6-foot-5, the Czech kid is towering in net and his 1.96 goals-against average and .938 save percentage are actually better than the starter’s numbers on his team in his country’s second division. Draft eligible in 2015.
Chris Bigras, D – Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
Though he was dismissed early from Colorado’s training camp, Bigras will be one to watch this year in Owen Sound, particularly when the world juniors roll around. He was a bit player last time, but his poise on the back end will be needed for a Canadian rebound. His eight points in eight games with the Attack so far sound useful, too. Drafted 32nd overall by Colorado in 2013.
Jake Guentzel, C – University of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks (NCHC)
A nifty player who has put up points at every level, Guentzel is looking like a steal for Pittsburgh already. In an opening weekend set against a very promising Minnesota State-Mankato squad, Guentzel posted five points in two games for the UNO Mavs. Drafted 77th overall by Pittsburgh in 2013.
Travis Sanheim, D – Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
One of the highest risers in last year’s draft, Sanheim became a first-rounder thanks to his great size and mobility from the blueline. Though he was a bit raw at the time, Sanheim had a wicked second half and has continued his success this season, with seven points in his first seven games for the Hitmen. Drafted 17th overall by Philadelphia in 2014.
Joel Ek Eriksson, C – Farjestad (Swe.)
A big winger who plays a responsible game, Ek Eriksson is off to a great start in Sweden’s junior circuit with eight goals and 12 points in 11 outings. The 6-foot-2 youngster shows a great maturity in his game and looks to be on the upswing development-wise. Draft eligible in 2015.
Alec Dillon, G – Tri-City Storm (USHL)
Dillon had himself quite the weekend, posting a 1.01 GAA and giving up just two goals – both on the power play. Another skyscraper of a netminder at 6-foot-5, Dillon is an R.P.I. commit with smarts and great raw athleticism. Overall, he has a .958 save percentage through five games. Drafted 150th overall by Los Angeles in 2014.
Adam Marsh, LW – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
The Sea Dogs have been a big surprise early on, leading a very competitive Atlantic Division that includes Halifax and Cape Breton. Part of the reason for their success is Marsh, a free agent rookie from Chicago who has posted six goals and 11 points in his first nine games. The left winger goes to the dirty areas and has a wicked shot. Draft eligible in 2015.