This is the last pre-World Junior Championship Hot List, folks, so strap on your seatbelts.
There will be a lot of big names hitting Saskatchewan in the next few days and some of the Europeans even have local experience thanks to their time in the Western League.
That means no prisoners and no let-up from anybody, so let’s get to some of the players we’re excited to watch in the tournament and see in the NHL one day.
1. Taylor Hall, C – Windsor Spitfires (OHL): OK, so the knee thing against Sweden was a little scary, but we’ve all been assured Hall is good to go. Fairly or not, this is where Hall can put some distance between himself and fellow top prospect Tyler Seguin. It’s likely Hall’s only world juniors, so look for him to make the most of it. Draft eligible in 2010.
2. Jacob Markstrom, G – Brynas IK (Swe.): Canadians may not have liked his antics last year, but Markstrom is back and he’s tougher to beat than ever. The Swedish teen is second in the entire Elite League with a .924 save percentage and carries a very stingy 2.10 goals-against average. Oh, and three of his team’s eight regulation wins this year came on Markstrom shutouts. Drafted 31st overall by Florida in 2008.
3. Patrice Cormier, C – Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL): The jersey gets a little heavier when they stitch a ‘C’ on it, but that’s what Cormier has been tasked with in Saskatchewan. Based on his physical two-way play last year, Cormier has a good base of experience to work with and he can leave primary goal scoring up to some of the other talent. Drafted 54th overall by New Jersey in 2008.
4. Jyri Niemi, D – Saskatoon Blades (WHL): If the Finns get to the medal round (which they likely will), Niemi will be playing on home ice. But his responsibility will begin in Regina during the round robin. Finland’s prospects will peak next year, meaning the 2010 tourney will be decided by older juniors such as Niemi, who has improved on last year’s down season. Drafted 72nd overall by the Islanders in 2008.
5. Mikael Granlund, C – IFK Helsinki (Fin.): Yep, Granlund is still lighting up Finland’s top circuit, now standing at 19 points in 20 games. But the world juniors will be the true stage for a top prospect who must show he has the chops to survive in the North American game. Draft eligible in 2010.
6. Vladimir Tarasenko, RW – Sibir Novosibirsk (KHL): Expect Tarasenko to do big things in Saskatchewan, especially since he’s already been solid in the Kontinental League. The young right winger is boasting a plus-10 rating on a defensively shaky team and his 17 points in 28 games have come in just 12 minutes of average ice time. Draft eligible in 2010.
7. Matt Donovan, D – University of Denver Pioneers (WCHA): After a tremendous United States League career, Donovan has stepped right into an important role with the Pios, tallying nine points in 17 games on a veteran-laden team. The U.S. will need similar contributions at the world juniors. Drafted 96th overall by the Islanders in 2008.
8. Nazem Kadri, C – London Knights (OHL): With three assists against Sweden in a WJC tune-up, Kadri is clearly rarin’ to go. The kid’s got super hands and that creative mind will surely help if Canada finds itself in a shootout. This could also be Kadri’s only world juniors, so expect fireworks. Drafted seventh overall by Toronto in 2009.
9. Marek Viedensky, C – Prince George Cougars (WHL): The leading scorer on the Cougars with 24 points in 28 games, Viedensky brings size (6-foot-4, 185 pounds) and skill to a Slovakian team that also boasts top-liners Richard Panik and Tomas Tatar. Will there be enough depth for another spirited run, though? Drafted 189th overall by San Jose in 2009.
10. Igor Bobkov, G – Metallurg Magnitogorsk (Rus. Jr.): If the Russians want to get back to the gold medal game this year, they can’t just rely on their offense, so goaltending will be crucial. Bobkov was blitzed at this year’s Summit Series, but he’ll also have better mates this time around. The ability to handle a barrage of pressure is key. Drafted 76th overall by Anaheim 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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