The NHL season starts Thursday, which means final decisions have been made and the rest of the American League and major junior rosters can shake out. While some youngsters made great impressions, but were cut for the purposes of seasoning (Brayden Schenn, John Moore), others hung on, including some dark horses. Along with some early major junior standouts, here’s a look at those players. Once again, this is a list of kids we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.
1. Tyler Seguin, C – Plymouth Whalers (OHL): For those who would deem the Ontario League to be a Windsor-then-everyone-else circuit, the Whalers wish you would reconsider. And while the Spits are led by potential 1-2 prospects Taylor Hall and Cam Fowler, Plymouth boasts Seguin (rhymes with Reagan), who will make noise himself in the draft this summer thanks to his strong offensive skills and responsible overall play.
After a strong playoff run last year, Seguin has picked up where he left off, putting up 11 points in his first four games – including a win over Windsor, who knocked the Whalers out of the post-season last year.
“We gave ’em a good run,” Seguin recalled. “We took them as far (six games) as any team took them.”
Despite losing top players Chris Terry and Matt Caria from last year’s roster, Seguin is confident Plymouth can pile up the wins.
“This year we’ll have two new top scorers,” he said.
And likely, he’ll be the one at the top: “My goal is to take my game to the next level and play a more complete game.”
As for the draft race, the Whalers pivot hopes to keep his attention on the ice, even if he and Hall are locked in a scoring race.
“Of course I’ll go on the website to check it out,” Seguin said. “But you don’t think about it when you’re out on the ice.” Draft eligible in 2010.
2. Viktor Stalberg, LW – University of Vermont Catamounts (ECAC): The rare Swedish collegian, Stalberg led the NHL in pre-season goals with six in eight games. And while exhibition stats aren’t always good indicators of future NHL success, Stalberg’s size, speed and nose for the net certainly are. Drafted 161st overall by Toronto in 2006.
3. Mika Pyorala, C – Timra Red Eagles (Swe.): Who is Mika Pyorala? Flyers fans are about to find out as the long shot Finn looks to have cracked the Philly roster and has skated with Mike Richards and Simon Gagne. Pyorala can certainly put up points, but it’s his all-around game that will keep him in the league. Signed as a free agent by Philadelphia in 2009.
4. Maxime Clermont, G – Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL): A late birthday, Clermont will be one of the most sought-after players from the ‘Q’ at this year’s draft. He played the lion’s share of Gatineau’s games last year and has shot out of the gates this time around, with a 1.85 goals-against average and .935 save percentage. Draft eligible in 2010.
5. Cam Fowler, D – Windsor Spitfires (OHL): With eight assists in five games, it’s pretty clear Fowler has instantly become comfortable with his new Windsor teammates. The slick puck-moving blueliner is now officially part of a sick Spits offensive machine. Draft eligible in 2010.
6. Michael Parks, RW – Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (USHL): Parks, who was great for an undermanned Team USA at the Ivan Hlinka, is already burning up the United States League, tallying six points in three games during the league’s Fall Classic tournament. The Riders went undefeated and were named champs of the showdown. Draft eligible in 2010.
7. Brock Beukeboom, D – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL): All of a sudden the Greyhounds are looking tough and Beukeboom is doing more than his share. The hard-nosed blueliner already has seven points in five games to go along with his Dion Phaneuf-like physical game. Draft eligible in 2010.
8. Stepan Novotny, RW – Kelowna Rockets (WHL): Having seen him play live, I still believe Novotny could be magic with the right linemates, thanks to his vision. The Czech import, who has been over here for several years now, has nine points in his first four games this year and will need to consistently put up big numbers to attract attention. Draft eligible in 2010 (undrafted in 2009).
9. Jakub Culek, C – Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL): The ‘Q’ has really been a great training ground for European teens lately (Alexander Radulov, Jakub Voracek, Dmitri Kulikov) and Culek may be the next beneficiary. He’s got size (6-foot-4, 195 pounds) and skill with eight points in six games. Draft eligible in 2010.
10. Nathan Lieuwen, G – Kootenay Ice (WHL): At 6-foot-5, 192 pounds, Lieuwen has the big frame that is so in vogue for young goalies right now. Playing for a Kootenay team that doesn’t score much, Lieuwen is doing his part with a 1.96 goals-against average and will certainly use his Ivan Hlinka experience this summer (where he won a gold medal) to his advantage. Draft eligible in 2010 (undrafted in 2009).
The Hot List, a weekly 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.
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