Since I did a big NCAA dig on Monday, it’s time to focus on some other circuits. Major junior playoff brackets are set and there will be some barnburners – Quebec vs. Cape Breton is intriguing, while a potential second-round match between Erie and the Soo Greyhounds is dizzying to think of. But the big story right now is Youngstown of the United States League. The Phantoms just broke a USHL record by winning 17 straight – and Chicago gave them a good game in that last one. But enough about teams, here are the players making noise in the prospect world right now.
Casey Fitzgerald, D – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
Call it a stereotype, but Fitzgerald has a certain scrappiness that makes sense for a 5-foot-11, 186-pound kid from New England.
“I pride myself on my defense,” he said. “I’m a smaller guy, but I try to play like I’m 6-foot-5. I also take pride in my first pass – make sure it’s hard and tape-to-tape.”
Fitzgerald has amazingly thorough hockey bloodlines. Father Tom is an ex-NHLer who now works in management with the Pittsburgh Penguins, while brother Ryan is a Boston Bruins pick at Boston College. NHLers Jimmy and Kevin Hayes plus retired star Keith Tkachuk and his son Matthew (Casey’s teammate this year) are also relatives. So advice is easy to come by.
“I have great resources,” Fitzgerald said. “Any change I get I ask them for tips, it’s been a lot easier with them on my side.”
Fitzgerald does pretty much everything quick on the ice, from his skating to his puckhandling. He’ll also step up quick and throw hits on bigger players, which gets back to that scrappy factor. Next year, he’ll join brother Ryan at Boston College, though living arrangements haven’t been discussed yet. Roomies?
“I don’t know his thoughts on that,” Fitzgerald said. “Probably mixed.”
But if Casey can help the Eagles the way Ryan has, the older bro might make some space…eventually. Draft eligible in 2015.
Kyle Connor, C – Youngstown Phantoms (USHL)
The offensive leader of the Phantoms has been on his game lately, with eight points in his past five outings. The University of Michigan commit is big, fast and skilled, so expect to hear a lot from him in the future. Draft eligible in 2015.
Evgeny Svechnikov, RW – Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL)
Speaking of tears, Svechnikov had 22 points in the last 10 games of the regular season for Cape Breton. The big Russian import plays a Rick Nash style of power game, coupled with a great release and stickhandling prowess. Draft eligible in 2015.
Dylan Strome, C – Erie Otters (OHL)
A very smart player, Strome’s six point finale to end the regular season allowed him to topple London’s Mitch Marner for the OHL scoring crown. Strome is that big, No. 1 center that NHL teams crave and the fact he has grabbed some spotlight from teammate Connor McDavid is a huge credit to his talents. Draft eligible in 2015.
Jake DeBrusk, LW – Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
The Western League player of the week, DeBrusk notched eight points in three games to nudge the Broncos into the post-season. The son of ex-NHLer Louie DeBrusk uses hustle, smarts and a 200-foot game to make his mark on the ice. Draft eligible in 2015.
Axel Holmstrom, C – Skelleftea (SHL)
Holmstrom had a solid world juniors for Sweden and now he’s helping his club team through the playoffs back home with five points in a first-round sweep of Brynas. The competitive Holmstrom goes to the tough areas and has great hockey sense to go with his offensive skills. Drafted 196th overall by Detroit in 2014.
Ryan Gropp, LW – Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
Gropp, who chose the ‘Dub’ over the NCAA, ended the campaign in style with six goals and seven points in his last two games. Now the Thunderbirds face the rival Portland Winterhawks in the first round and Gropp’s combination of size, speed and soft hands will be needed. Draft eligible in 2015.
Zach Fucale, G – Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
With a Memorial Cup and a World Junior Championship gold already, Fucale has had himself one intense career so far. And while his numbers since being traded to the Remparts aren’t stellar, Fucale is made for pressure situations. With Quebec hosting the Memorial Cup this year, it’s his time to shine again. Drafted 36th overall by Montreal in 2013.
Linus Arnesson, D – Providence Bruins (AHL)
With Djurgarden done in Sweden, Arnesson has come over to begin his North American career and already has his first point with Providence. A tough D-man who makes a good first pass, Arnesson already has plenty of experience playing against men. Drafted 60th overall by Boston in 2013.
Jake Massie, D – Kimball Union Academy Wildcats (N.H. HS)
An intriguing prospect due to the fact he was playing Quebec high school hockey last year, Massie is a lanky blueliner with smarts who can really skate. He'll return to the Wildcats next season in preparation for college; he just committed to UMass recently. Draft eligible in 2015.