Steven Stamkos and John Tavares faceoff this weekend in Oshawa, so for now they’re still in The Hot List (The Hockey News’ weekly roundup of players we can’t wait to see in the NHL) Hall of Fame.
In the meantime, we drop in on Niagara’s top dog and shine the spotlight on a few more top defensemen while we’re at it.
1. Alex Pietrangelo, D – Niagara IceDogs (OHL): For 6-foot-4, 210-pound defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, the key to success – and the high draft ranking that often follows – is playing a balanced game.
“I think that’s what teams are looking for,” he recently told thehockeynews.com. “Worrying about both ends (of the ice) is something I like to work on.”
After a rookie OHL season in which he scored 52 points in 59 games while garnering a staggering plus-40 rating, Pietrangelo is at it again with the IceDogs. Through 36 games the blueliner has 33 points and is plus-22. This all comes from a sound on-ice philosophy.
“If you take care of your own end,” he said, “the offense will follow.”
And the offense certainly followed when the IceDogs made their first trip back to Mississauga earlier this year to face the new residents of the Hershey Centre, the archrival St. Michael’s Majors.
“It kind of felt weird going back to the old barn,” Pietrangelo said.
Obviously his squad got over it quickly, though; Niagara romped St. Mike’s 10-2 in a game that featured a fight one second after the opening faceoff.
Despite the hostilities, the crowd gave the IceDogs a great deal of support; no surprise considering many of the players were part of last year’s Mississauga IceDogs team.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys who still live there, so there were family and friends,” Pietrangelo said. “And fans came up from St. Catharines. I think it was one of (St. Mike’s) best crowds.”
Another big audience will be on hand when Pietrangelo suits up for the CHL Top Prospects Game in Edmonton in a week, where he’ll play alongside other elite draft-eligible talents such as Kyle Beach, Drew Doughty and Steven Stamkos.
And, of course, the audience in Ottawa will be pretty big this summer when the IceDogs defenseman hears his name called by an NHL team.
Draft eligible in 2008.
2. Kyle Okposo, RW – Bridgeport Sound Tigers (AHL): Wondering how Okposo’s decision to leave the University of Minnesota looks in the early going? Pretty darn good. The Isles’ favorite prospect tallied five points in his first three games for the Sound Tigers. Drafted seventh overall by Islanders in 2006.
3. Michael Del Zotto, D – Oshawa Generals (OHL): A candidate to go quite high in the NHL entry draft this summer, Del Zotto has been an assist machine for the Gens, racking up 33 through his first 43 games. Draft eligible in 2008.
4. Christopher DiDomenico, C – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL): The Leafs probably wish they could pluck DiDomenico for their roster right now, but they’ll have to wait a little longer for the Q’s second-leading scorer. Drafted 164th overall by Toronto in 2007.
5. Anton Gustafsson, C – Frolunda Indians Jr. (Swe): Who doesn’t like big, skilled Swedish pivots? Gustafsson comes in at 6-foot-2 and is closing in on 200 pounds, plus he puts up a point per game. Draft eligible in 2008.
6. Claude Giroux, RW – Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL): Giroux is doing everything he needs to do en route to an NHL roster spot in the near future; he’s putting up big points for the Olympiques and boasts a sturdy plus-19 in 34 games. Drafted 22nd overall by Philadelphia in 2006.
7. Dustin Tokarski, G – Spokane Chiefs (WHL): If you’re looking for stingy numbers out west, Tokarski’s the man. Spokane’s last line of defense is fronting an outstanding 1.84 goals-against average and has lost just three games in regulation this season. Draft eligible in 2008.
8. Jeremy Morin, LW – U.S. NTDP (NAHL): Morin has been getting crazy buzz lately based on where he’s going to play next (major junior? NCAA?), but right now he’s concentrating on leading the NTDP team in scoring as a 16-year-old and watching his future stock skyrocket. Draft eligible in 2009.
9. Jan Stransky, LW – HC Plzen Jr. (Cze): Stransky has been assaulting the Czech junior ranks this season, putting up a fantastic 50 points in just 29 games for a Plzen team loaded with high-ranking talent. Draft eligible in 2008.
10. Jan Kovar, C – HC Plzen Jr. (Cze): Right alongside Stransky is Kovar, who has 49 points this year to go with a plus-28 rating. Kovar is also listed with Stransky on the NHL’s mid-term draft ranking. Draft eligible in 2008.
11. Aaron Ness, D – Roseau Rams (Minn. HS): You can read all about Aaron and his mates in THN.com's Year of the Ram series, but it’s time to recognize the blueliner with 38 points in 13 games. Hat tricks? Check. Plus-34 rating? Check. Just four minutes in penalties despite getting tons of ice time? Checkmate. Draft eligible in 2008.
12. Erik Condra, RW – Notre Dame Fighting Irish (CCHA): It’s a dogfight at the top of the CCHA this year and Condra leads the Irish in scoring with 27 points in 26 games. The Michigan native has had sparkling numbers going back to his USHL days in Lincoln. Drafted 211th overall by Ottawa in 2006.
13. Marco Cousineau, G – Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL): The Drakkar is flying high this season and Cousineau is pacing them in net. The 18-year-old is posting a 2.54 goals-against average (that’s one of the best in the league) and is tied for first in shutouts with four. Draft eligible in 2008.
14. Jason Bast, C – Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL): If you’re 5-foot-9 and thriving in the Dub, you must be doing something right. Bast has smashed his points total from last season (51 already after 39 last year) and is a respectable plus-10 to boot. Draft eligible in 2008.
15. Ryan Ellis, D – Windsor Spitfires (OHL): Ellis just turned 17, but he’s scoring nearly a point per game from the blueline for a Windsor squad still making hay in the tough OHL West Division. Draft eligible in 2009.
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 thehockeynews.com.
For more great prospect profiles and news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.