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Merrill will be U.S. lynchpin

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

I’m back from Saskatoon and filled with interviews and impressions on a bunch of top prospects, so look for The Hot List to have an international flair in the weeks to come.

In the meantime, let’s look at a few players who moved before major junior’s trade deadline and other kids we can’t wait to see in the NHL some day.

1. Jon Merrill, D – U.S. NTDP (USHL):
Team USA took the WJC crown in Saskatoon and there’s no reason to believe they can’t repeat in Buffalo next year. That’s because the stream of talent coming from the NTDP continues to flow and Merrill can be counted in that number. Chances are good we’ll see the blueliner in for the 2011 tourney and he’s excited for the chance.

“It would be an honor,” Merrill said, “and it comes with a lot of pressure to continue the success the U.S. has had.”

Merrill, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound Michigan native, will be a sought-after commodity in the draft this summer, but don’t expect a lot of flash out of him.

“I’m a simple, steady, stay-at-home defenseman,” he said. “I want to play mistake-free, never-get-beat hockey.”

Merrill still wants to work out the subtleties of his game and get stronger, which is easy now that the NTDP plays in the United States League.

“It’s amazing the USHL allows us to play in a league like that,” he said. “The competition is stiff, guys are bigger and stronger…every team in the league can beat any other team.”

And with Merrill, who is committed to the University of Michigan, Team USA will have the same opportunity next year.

Draft eligible in 2010.

2. Philipp Grubauer, G – Windsor Spitfires (OHL):
The German national is coming off a cracking performance at the WJC’s Division 1 Group A showdown, where he posted a 0.64 goals-against average and two shutouts in five games as his team was promoted back to the top rung. The Spits grabbed him from Belleville for Richard Panik and will get an uptick in net en route to another Memorial Cup effort. Draft eligible in 2010.

3. Travis Hamonic, D – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL):
Formerly of the Moose Jaw Warriors, Hamonic brings world-class talent to the Memorial Cup hosts and Canada missed him when he went down to injury at the WJC. With 39 points in 31 games, he’s well on his way to his best season ever. Drafted 53rd overall by the New York Islanders in 2008.

4. Scott Winkler, C – Colorado College Tigers (WCHA):
Since we’re showing love to the Division 1 crew, how about Winkler’s 14 points in five games to lift Norway up to the top rung in Group B? The 6-foot-2, 194-pound pivot hasn’t had much luck with the Tigers so far, but maybe this is a turning point. Drafted 89th overall by Dallas in 2008.

5. Derek Stepan, C – University of Wisconsin Badgers (WCHA):
Stepan’s play alongside Jerry D’Amigo at the world juniors was exceptional and the Team USA captain’s 14 points in seven games led the tourney. Back in Madison, the speedy Stepan is progressing nicely with 22 points through 18 games. Drafted 51st overall by the New York Rangers in 2008.

6. Austin Watson, RW – Peterborough Petes (OHL):
Watson has intrigued me for a while, since he has essentially been in Taylor Hall’s shadow for the past two years. Traded to the Petes from Windsor, it’s time to see what he can do. Watson has the frame (6-foot-3, 171 pounds) and skill (34 points in 42 games, without top-line minutes) to be a force down the road. Draft eligible in 2010.

7. Steven Delisle, D – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL):
The Huskies made several big moves, including the landing of Rimouski’s Patrice Cormier and Jordan Caron, but in terms of stature it’s hard to beat the 6-foot-6 Delisle. Formerly of the Gatineau Olympiques, Delisle is having his best offensive season yet, with 24 points in 41 games. Drafted 107th overall by Columbus in 2008.

8. Alexander Burmistrov, C – Barrie Colts (OHL):
On a disappointing Russian squad, Burmistrov still gave his all and showed off some really sweet moves. In Barrie, he’s more of a playmaker, but he showed off the full range in Saskatoon, netting three goals and four points in six games. Draft eligible in 2010.

9. Evgeny Timkin, RW – Avangard Omsk (KHL):
Another Russian I thought played well in the medal round, Timkin was a nasty force when he was on the ice, meting out a punishing, physical brand of hockey. The right winger was also so defensively responsible I kept mistaking him for a blueliner. Draft eligible in 2010 (undrafted in ’09).

10. Marek Viedensky, C – Saskatoon Blades (WHL):
Hopefully the Blades let Viedensky know he was no longer a Prince George Cougar when he was still in town for the world juniors (though I guess he’d need to pack back home, anyway). Either way, the Slovakian national brings excellent size (6-foot-4, 185 pounds) and scoring to Saskatoon. Drafted 189th overall by San Jose 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

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