The World Jr. A Challenge will take place Nov. 1-8 in Summerside, P.E.I., and rosters are already filtering through.
This tourney is a great opportunity to get to know kids who may be a little underexposed at this point and the fact Canada has two teams (East and West) will appease those who insist the nation could always ice a pair of squads.
With a couple nods to the challenge, here’s a look at some prospects we can’t wait to see in the NHL some day.
1. Brock Higgs, C – Kingston Voyageurs (OJAHL): Higgs will be suiting up for Canada East in Summerside and if his run in last year’s Ontario Junior League playoffs is any indication, the kid is great under pressure. Higgs tallied 22 goals and 39 points in 25 post-season games as the Voyageurs took the title. But like a good soldier, Higgs notes it was a team effort.
“Just the way the guys gelled was great,” he said. “There were no egos on that team.”
Higgs, who was drafted by his hometown Kingston Frontenacs in the OHL, is playing Jr. A while sussing out his NCAA options for next season. He hopes to make a decision in the next few weeks and isn’t worried about playing Jr. A during his NHL draft year.
“If you’re good enough, they’ll find you,” Higgs said. “There’s more than one option and I’ve always been good at school.”
The shifty pivot is also pretty good at hockey. Size had previously been an issue, but Higgs is now 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds and has 18 points through 13 games this season.
“Although I’m heavier, I don’t feel as heavy,” said Higgs, who weighed 165 pounds last season. “It’s a good weight.”
Modeling his game after Steve Yzerman (and whose No. 19 he wears in honor), Higgs still wants to hammer out his footwork, but believes he can be a well-rounded threat.
“I try to model myself as a player who sees the ice,” he said. “I act before reacting.”
â€¨Draft eligible in 2010.
2. Kirill Kabanov, LW – Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL): It has begun! Kabanov, the dazzling Russian winger, finally got his international transfer papers sorted out and got his Moncton career started. With nine points in five games, it’s safe to say he got it started right. Draft eligible in 2010.
3. Erik Gudbranson, D – Kingston Frontenacs (OHL): With initial 2010 draft rankings beginning to filter out, Gudbranson’s name is going to get a lot more prominent. At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, the Fronts blueliner has size and uses it to punish opponents. He plays in all situations and has a big point shot. Draft eligible in 2010.
4. Vladimir Tarasenko, RW – Sibir Novosibirsk (KHL): Several Russians will be highly coveted at the draft this summer and though some are playing major junior, Tarasenko is making hay in the Kontinental League. Averaging just 11 minutes of ice time per game for a struggling Sibir team, the 5-foot-10, 187-pound teenager has a solid five points in 13 games. Draft eligible in 2010.
5. Jeff Costello, LW – Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (USHL): Off to a big start in the United States League, Costello will also be an integral part of Team USA’s attack in Summerside. The solidly built left winger has nine points in six games for the RoughRiders, who are off to a blazing start. Drafted 146th overall by Ottawa in 2009.
6. Dustin Tokarski, G – Norfolk Admirals (AHL): Based on their goaltending so far this year, Tampa Bay may be looking enviously at its farm team. The last-place Admirals can’t score so far, but at least Tokarski is giving them a chance with a 2.27 goals-against average and .926 save percentage. With a Memorial Cup and World Junior Championship already under his belt, Tokarski has a bright future ahead of him. Drafted 122nd overall by Tampa Bay in 2008.
7. Beau Bennett, C – Penticton Vees (BCHL): To call the California native a power play specialist would be limiting, but nine of Bennett’s 10 goals have come on the man advantage. Coming along at a two-points-per-game clip, Bennett is making the most of his Jr. A experience and is the only non-USHL member of Team USA’s Challenge team. Draft eligible in 2010.
8. Toni Rajala, RW – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL): Delayed by a knee injury, Rajala wasted no time making his name known in the prairies, tallying eight points in his first six games with the Wheat Kings. His slight stature caused a drop in his draft rankings last year, but his early success in the Dub is a good omen for his future. Drafted 101st overall by Edmonton in 2009.
9. Willie Yanakeff, G – Sioux City Musketeers (USHL): The reigning goaltender of the week in the USHL, Yanakeff will also don the stars and stripes in Summerside. Playing for a Musketeers team that has scored just eight goals in five games, Yanakeff has kept up his end of the bargain with a 2.28 GAA and .928 save percentage. Draft eligible in 2010.
10. Samuel Carrier, D – Lewiston MAINEiacs (QMJHL): With seven points through 11 games, Carrier has nearly eclipsed his offensive totals from all of last year with the Quebec Remparts, when he had nine in 56 games. Now with Lewiston, the ‘Q’ first-rounder is shooting more, yet maintaining a solid rating with a plus-7. Draft eligible in 2010.
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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