The playoffs are almost upon us in major junior, while the NCAA conference tournaments are in full swing. Since some teams have already been eliminated, early signing season has begun too, with Brandon Montour leaving UMass for Anaheim and Ben Hutton ending his career in Maine to ink a deal with Vancouver. More are sure to come, but until then, here’s a look around the world of prospects.
Joey LaLeggia, D – University of Denver Pioneers (NCHC)
Surely the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs had designs on going far in the NCHC tournament, but LaLeggia burned them to the ground, then salted the earth. The senior D-man assisted on the game-tying and game-winning goals in Game 1 of the series, then added an empty-netter to complete the sweep in Game 2. Not that any result is a surprise in the NCHC this year.
“It’s the best conference in college hockey,” LaLeggia said. “Every night is truly a battle and it’s special to be a part of it.”
The B.C. native could have left school after his junior campaign and signed with the Edmonton Oilers, but he felt there was still work to do. At 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, the talented blueliner was in no rush to turn pro.
“It was in my best interest to come back and round out my game,” he said. “My defensive assertiveness and aggression has completely changed and all the credit goes to coach Jim Montgomery and (assistant coach) David Carle.”
A Hobey Baker Award hopeful, LaLeggia prides himself on playing passionate hockey and possessing the ability to jump into the play to create offense without neglecting defense. He leads the Pios blueline with 13 goals and 38 points in 34 games and has loved his time in Denver, which makes his origin story all the more intriguing: Why college and not the WHL? Former Jr. A teammate Beau Bennett extolled the virtues of Denver, but there was star power from the other side, too.
“I considered it at 16 and 17,” he said. “Medicine Hat was coached by (future Vancouver Canucks bench boss) Willie Desjardins and he almost caught me. But at 160 pounds, my family and I didn’t think it was the best idea.”
Years later, LaLeggia and crew are gunning for glory and he doesn’t regret a thing. Drafted 123rd overall by Edmonton in 2012.
Remi Elie, LW – Erie Otters (OHL)
Yes, we’d all like to play with Connor McDavid, but Elie is making the most of his opportunity since coming over in a trade with Belleville. The power forward has 15 points during an eight-game streak and the Otters are 9-1 in their past 10, gearing up for what could be a long post-season run. Drafted 40th overall by Dallas in 2013.
Shane Eiserman, RW – University of New Hampshire Wildcats (Hockey East)
Strong, tenacious and able to handle the puck, the freshman power forward picked a great time to make an impact for the Wildcats. Eiserman plunked down two assists in a 2-1 OT win over Providence to secure a spot in the conference semifinal. Drafted 100th overall by Ottawa in 2014.
Samuel Morin, D – Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL)
The big, tough defenseman with the long reach has been upping his offensive game lately, with three points in his past four games and an increase in the amount of shots he is taking from the blueline. Morin will be a key stopper for Rimouski as the Oceanic have a league title in mind. Drafted 11th overall by Philadelphia in 2013.
Mitchell Stephens, C – Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
A fast player with skill who competes hard, Stephens isn’t the biggest kid, but he has come up huge for the Spirit lately. With Saginaw battling for a spot in the post-season, the talented pivot has six points in his past three games and sits second in team scoring overall. Draft eligible in 2015.
Gabriel Carlsson, D – Linkoping (SHL)
A big, mobile defenseman who makes a good first pass, Carlsson isn’t flashy, but he has earned enough confidence from Linkoping that the teen is playing in the Swedish League playoffs against men, even registering an assist in a Game 2 loss to HV 71. Draft eligible in 2015.
Guillaume Brisebois, D – Acadie-Bathurst Titan (QMJHL)
The Titan have officially missed the playoffs, but there is a silver lining – for Team Canada. With the world under-18s coming up in a month, the national squad will need talent and the 6-foot-2 blueliner can bring it with skating ability and puck skills. Draft eligible in 2015.
Daniel Vladar, G – Rytiri Kladno (Cze.)
Another player surely to suit up at the under-18s is Vladar, who played against men in the Czech Republic’s second tier this season with Kladno. Though he was used sparingly, the towering 6-foot-5 tender put up super stats, with a 1.97 goals-against average and .933 save percentage in eight appearances. Draft eligible in 2015.
Parker Wotherspoon, D – Tri-City Americans (WHL)
The Ams are in a dogfight with Kamloops for the final wild card spot in the ‘Dub’ and Wotherspoon has been pulling his weight lately with five points in the past three games. A poised blueliner who skates well and plays on Tri-City’s top pairing, he leads the team in scoring from the back end by a large margin. Draft eligible in 2015.
Steven Spinner, RW – Omaha Lancers (USHL)
Lightning-fast with a wicked shot, Spinner has been adjusting as a rookie to the United States League, but has caught fire at the right time. The University of Nebraska-Omaha commit has six points in his past three games for the Lancers, earning league co-forward of the week honors. Drafted 159th overall by Washington in 2014.