Team USA is once again on top of the world thanks to a decisive tourney victory at the under-18s in Belarus, while the Ontario League’s Windsor Spitfires are still alive after erasing a three-game deficit to beat Kitchener in seven. The stakes can’t get any higher these days, so let’s take a look at some of the kids we’re excited to see in the NHL some day.
1. Dylan McIlrath, D – Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL): In THN’s upcoming Draft Preview special, one scout gave McIlrath the nickname ‘The Undertaker,’ thanks to his fighting record. YouTube the 6-foot-5, 215-pound defenseman and you’ll see why.
But McIlrath is no goon.
“I see myself as a shutdown defenseman,” he said. “I play physical, stand up for my teammates and make a good first pass.”
Citing NHLers Shea Weber and Willie Mitchell as influences, McIlrath was given a lot of offensive opportunities after star blueliner Travis Hamonic was injured, then traded to Brandon. In fact, 16 of McIlrath’s 24 points came after the calendar flipped over to 2010 and his power play time greatly increased.
“It was nice to see the coaches have that confidence in me,” McIlrath revealed. “Hopefully next year I’ll have a bigger role.”
But there will always be a place for McIlrath thanks to his imposing nature. He has taken boxing lessons as well as fight training with Neil Barker, father of NHLer Cam Barker.
“It’s more about making room for myself and my teammates, striking fear in the opposition” McIlrath said of his punching prowess. “I’ll have fighting in my back pocket, but hockey is my first priority.”
As for the online highlights, the Moose Jaw Warrior admits to logging on to watch his latest donnybrooks.
“I like to watch them right after the game,” he said, “critique them.”
It’s always good to be studious, right? Draft eligible in 2010.
2. Adam Clendening, D – U.S. NTDP (USHL): Named to the media all-star team at the under-18s, Clendening has a verbal commitment to Boston University, which has been churning out D-men lately (Matt Gilroy, Colby Cohen, Kevin Shattenkirk). The Niagara Falls, N.Y., native led the tournament in scoring by defensemen with 10 points in seven games, not to mention a plus-9 rating. Draft eligible in 2011.
3. Victor Rask, C – Leksand (Swe.): The excellence of blueliner Adam Larsson is already known in these parts, but Rask is another Swede to watch for in next year’s draft. The 6-foot-1, 194-pound center had five points and a plus-6 rating in six games at the under-18s and has already impressed scouts with his skating, hard work and faceoff acumen (he worked at a 60.8 percent clip in Belarus). Draft eligible in 2011.
4. Justin Shugg, RW – Windsor Spitfires (OHL): The Spits are loaded with big names such as Taylor Hall, Cam Fowler and Ryan Ellis, but secondary scoring hasn’t been a problem thanks to players like Shugg. A late birthday, Shugg flirted with 40 goals this season and has been nearly a point-per-game player in the post-season. Draft eligible in 2010.
5. Brandon Kozun, RW – Calgary Hitmen (WHL): The recently-signed Kings draft pick is leading the Dub in post-season scoring with 26 points in 18 games, largely thanks to his playmaking abilities. The Hitmen will need Kozun to keep the party going as Calgary takes on the defensively stout Tri-City Americans for the league title. Drafted 179th overall by Los Angeles in 2009.
6. Stephen Johns, D – U.S. NTDP (USHL): At 6-foot-3, 216 pounds, Johns is already a beast on the blueline and he had three points in seven games for the gold-medal Americans in Belarus. More newsworthy, however, is the fact there’s a recruiting war for his services going on between Notre Dame and the Windsor Spitfires. The Spits won the last round when they got Cam Fowler; can the Fighting Irish hold serve? Draft eligible in 2010.
7. Simon Despres, D – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL): The Sea Dogs will clash with the Moncton Wildcats in the Q’s first all-Maritime final and Despres will be a key part of the Saint John effort. The big defenseman leads the league in post-season scoring from the blueline with 17 points in 15 games. He’s also a strong plus-19 so far. Drafted 30th overall by Pittsburgh in 2009.
8. Chris Carrozzi, G – Mississauga St. Mike’s Majors (OHL): On a team more known for defense than scoring, Carrozzi kept his troops in it and finished his season with some great stats, enough to earn him OHL goalie of the year honors. Carrozzi’s 2.14 goals-against average and .928 save percentage ranked among the best in the post-season, despite falling to Barrie in the semis. Drafted 154th overall by Atlanta in 2008.
9. Sahir Gill, RW – Vernon Vipers (BCHL): The Vipers are headed to the Jr. A Canadian national championship, the RBC Cup, and one player to watch is Gill. The youngster was part of last year’s national title team, then left for the United States League’s Chicago Steel. Gill was successful in Chi-town, but felt Vernon was the place to be, so he returned late in the season and was terrific in the playoffs, scoring 15 points in 19 games. He’s heading to Boston University next year. Draft eligible in 2010.
10. Brendan Shinnimin, C – Tri-City Americans (WHL): Shinnimin more than tripled his offensive production this year, posting 82 points after registering just 25 in 2008-09. Fortunately for the Americans, it was no fluke, as the Winnipeg native leads Tri-City in playoff scoring with 22 points through 17 games. 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. A player is eligible for The Hot List until they play in their first NHL game.
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