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Friends in high places

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

The Hot List took a field trip to Oshawa, Ont., Sunday for the clash of the titans: Steven Stamkos and his Sarnia Sting versus John Tavares and the Oshawa Generals.

The hometown Gens won 4-3 in a very entertaining tilt. And let’s give a shout-out to two recent Hot List graduates: Shawn Matthias scored two goals in his second NHL game with the Panthers, while Teddy Purcell finally got the call to play for the Kings.

But without further adieu, here’s this week’s list of player The Hockey News can’t wait to see in the NHL one day:

1. Steven Stamkos, C – Sarnia Sting (OHL):
"Stamer" pretty much did everything he could for the Sting on Sunday. Along with assisting on all three Sting goals, he threw some big hits and was a target for cheapshots all night. It’s tough at the top, but Stamkos is looking like the real deal. Draft eligible in 2008.

2. John Tavares, C – Oshawa Generals (OHL):
He’s not the fastest guy in the world, but Tavares stalks the net like a gator – take your eye off him for a second and something bad is going to happen to your team. His offensive skills are preternatural. Draft eligible in 2009.

3. Michael Del Zotto, D – Oshawa Generals (OHL):
Anytime Gens defenseman Michael Del Zotto needs advice or support, he doesn’t have to look far. The offensive blueliner is friends with Sarnia’s Steven Stamkos, Niagara’s Alex Pietrangelo and Oshawa teammate John Tavares, who is always nearby.

“We live together,” Del Zotto said of Tavares. “Last year I was nervous because I was drafted so high (Oshawa picked him 2nd overall in the 2006 OHL draft). He’s helped show me the ropes.”

And while Tavares must wait for 2009 to hear his name called at the NHL draft, Del Zotto will be walking on the big stage this year in Ottawa.

With a booming shot and good instincts, Del Zotto has a lot of intriguing tools to entice NHL suitors.

“I believe I’m a very strong offensive defenseman,” he said. “I like to create.”

And despite playing for the powerhouse Generals, Del Zotto also knows he must complete his game in order to take things to the next level.

“The coaches have harped on me about improving defensively,” he said. “And I harp on myself about it, so that’s definitely something I want to work on.”

In the meantime, Del Zotto is going about his business, putting up 45 points in 43 games. That pace would best an impressive 2006-07 rookie campaign, which saw him, tally 57 points in 64 games.

Draft eligible in 2008.

4. Jamie Benn, LW – Kelowna Rockets (WHL):
In his first year in the Dub, Benn has been a sharp sniper, tallying 27 goals and 56 points in 45 games for the Rockets. A plus-29 rating isn’t too shabby, either. Drafted 129th overall by Dallas in 2007.

5. Kyle Turris, C – Wisconsin Badgers (WCHA):
Wayne Gretzky’s favorite junior is scoring (24 points in 20 games) and proving he can play against top competition yet again. Ironically, he’s playing better competition because the Badgers aren’t great this year, currently sitting fifth in the conference. Drafted 3rd overall by Phoenix in 2007.

6. Nicolas Deschamps, C – Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL):
Deschamps is just trailing Halifax’s Tomas Knotek in rookie scoring in the Q and will get a shot at the national spotlight when he suits up in the CHL-NHL Top Prospects game Wednesday. Draft eligible in 2008.

7. Nikita Filatov, LW – CSKA 2 (Rus):
Filatov is outright demolishing the Russian junior ranks this season. As the top-rated draft eligible European, he’s living up to the praise, racking up 47 points in just 23 games. Draft eligible in 2008.

8. Mark Santorelli, LW – Chilliwack Bruins (WHL):
Santorelli is on a torrid pace with 69 points in 46 games, but he’s also turned his plus-minus around this season, which should make the Predators happy. Drafted 119th overall by Nashville in 2007.

9. Ben Bishop, G – Maine Black Bears (Hockey East):
Our favorite giant goaltender (6-foot-7, 210 pounds) posted a 41-save shutout on the weekend for his 50th collegiate victory. Drafted 85th overall by St. Louis in 2005.

10. Brandon Burlon, D – St. Michael’s Buzzers (OPJHL):
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Burlon has caught the eye of scouts and is getting his name known on NHL draft boards. He’s on pace to nearly double his offensive output from last season and he’s deadly on the power play. Draft eligible in 2008.

11. Harri Sateri, G – Tappara (Fin. 2):
Sateri made a name for himself at the world juniors this year and the buzz has carried over to the draft rankings. He’s playing the lion’s share of minutes on a weak squad, so an .897 save percentage isn’t too surprising. Draft eligible in 2008.

12. Toni Rajala, LW – Ilves (Fin. 2):
The Finnish wunderkind is still putting up more than a point per game and proving he has staying power despite being just 16 years old until March. Draft eligible in 2009.

13. Eric Ringel, D – Mahoning Valley Phantoms (NAHL):
Ringel is committed to Notre Dame next season and was just named to the North Division team for the NAHL’s Top Prospects Tournament in February. The blueliner has also been killer on the Phantom’s power play. Draft eligible in 2008.

14. Thomas Heemskerk, G – Kootenay Ice (WHL): The rookie netminder out of Chilliwack, B.C., hasn’t played starter minutes, but he’s certainly put up No. 1 numbers: Heemskerk is 11-3-3 with a shutout through 19 appearances. Draft eligible in 2008.

15. Ivan Vishnevskiy, D – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL): More than a point per game as a defenseman? That’s some nice work. Even more impressive? Only four of his 14 goals have come on the power play. Drafted 27th overall by Dallas in 2006.

The Hot List, a weekly roundup of minor league, junior, college and high school players we’re exciting to one day see in the NHL, appears every Tuesday, only on

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