All Hail the Eden Prairie Eagles, winner of the Minnesota State High School tournament’s top-tier championship. And while you’re at it, get ready to start hailing some other teams, too, as major junior playoffs begin this week.
The NCAAs are already in post-season fighting form, so let’s get to our weekly roundup of players we can’t wait to see in the NHL someday.
1. Nick Leddy, D – Eden Prairie Eagles (Minn. HS): Let’s see…the school’s first-ever state title, plus Leddy is named Mr. Hockey as the best player in Minnesota and will likely be a first round draft pick to the NHL this summer. But did he finish his homework over the spring break? Draft eligible in 2009.
2. Matt Duchene, C – Brampton Battalion (OHL): It’s pretty fair to say Duchene is looking forward to lacing ’em up in the big leagues in the near future.
“Before I started skating I dreamed of playing in the NHL,” he said.
And thanks to his preternatural speed, quick hands and faceoff acumen, Duchene will likely see that dream come true sooner than later. His play this season has cemented his status as a top-10 draft pick this summer and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the flashy young pivot step right into an NHL uniform next year.
As a key member of the powerhouse Battalion, Duchene’s most pressing mission is to help his team go for a Memorial Cup, alongside other stars Cody Hodgson, Evgeny Grachev and Thomas McCollum.
“We have more confidence this year,” Duchene said. “We know we can beat anybody.”
And while it has become well-known lore by know, Duchene’s relationship with the older Hodgson (drafted 10th overall by Vancouver last year) has been a boon to his development.
“I see the path you end up taking to be good,” Duchene noted.
And whatever Hodgson has taught him has worked, as Duchene tallied 31 goals 79 points in 57 games this year and is poised to do even more damage in the playoffs. How far the Battalion goes in the post-season will depend in part on his play. Draft eligible in 2009.
3. Jaroslav Janus, G – Erie Otters (OHL): John Tavares and his London Knights will be heavily favored going into their first round series with Erie. If only the Otters had a netminder capable of staging monumental upsets… Draft eligible in 2009 (undrafted in ’08).
4. Joel Champagne, C – P.E.I. Rocket (QMJHL): Champagne’s season took off after a trade from Chicoutimi and that’s good news for the Rocket. The burly pivot has 40 points in 24 games for P.E.I., including 26 assists. He’ll need to be good against a hot Montreal squad in the first round of the Q playoffs. Drafted 129th overall by Toronto in 2008.
5. Dmitri Kugryshev, RW – Quebec Remparts (QMJHL): The Q’s official rookie scoring race ended with three Russians followed by two Czechs. On top of the pile was Kugryshev, who proved his totals with Red Army last season weren’t just a result of playing with Nikita Filatov. The Caps pick ended up with 74 points in 57 games. Drafted 58th overall by Washington in 2008.
6. Chad Johnson, G – University of Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks (CCHA): The ‘Nooks take on powerhouse Michigan in the CCHA semis and once again they can thank their goaltender. Johnson made a season-high 43 saves in a series-clinching 1-0 shutout of Ohio State over the weekend. Drafted 125th overall by Pittsburgh in 2006.
7. Collin Bowman, D – Kelowna Rockets (WHL): On a team with impressive giant Tyler Myers and offensive wiz Tyson Barrie on the blueline, it was Bowman who led the Rockets in plus-minus this year, registering a tight plus-32. What’s more, the 6-foot-2, 192-pound youngster did it with defense, as his 26 points in 70 games proves. Draft eligible in 2009.
8. Ben Hanowski, LW – Little Falls Flyers (Minn. HS): Hanowski’s Flyers left the state tournament without a title in the small-school circuit, but the explosive winger did pick up his 196th career goal to end his high school career with an all-time state record of 403 points, passing ex-Toronto Maple Leaf John Pohl. Draft eligible in 2009.
9. Ben Scrivens, G – Cornell Big Red (ECAC): Leading his team to a conference semifinal date with Princeton, Scrivens will be a sought-after free agent this summer. The junior netminder posted up a league-best .936 save percentage and a stingy 1.74 goals-against average, plus he has a good frame at 6-foot-2, 180 pounds. Eligible for free agency this summer.
10. Blake Geoffrion, LW – University of Wisconsin Badgers (WCHA): Boom Boom’s grandson had the game-winning goal and a helper to push the Badgers past Minnesota State-Mankato and into the WCHA’s Final Five tourney. The junior had 27 points through 33 games. Drafted 56th overall by Nashville in 2006.
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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