The CHL playoffs are getting intense already, with Cape Breton pushing the Memorial host Quebec Remparts to a seventh game in the first round, thanks to an overtime victory in Game 6. Some fantastic individual performances have already been logged and with the Frozen Four this week and the world under-18s on the horizon, things will only get crazier. So let's take a look at some of the prospects we're excited to see in the NHL one day.
Linus Soderstrom, G – Djurgarden (Swe.)
It's been a wild year for Soderstrom, a 6-foot-4 netminder who was thrust into the spotlight at the world juniors before bouncing around Sweden's top leagues. The teenager played for Djurgarden's under-20 team this season, but was also loaned out to Sodertalje and Almtuna in the Allsvenskan, just below the Swedish League. But his start at the world juniors was particularly eye-catching.
“Before the tournament, our coach told us that we don’t have a first goalie because none of us had played too much,” Soderstrom said. “So the one who played best in training camp would get the nod. I got sick before the tournament, then I got to start against the Czech Republic.”
As his battery mates got shelled in exhibition play, the path cleared for Soderstrom and he played quite well before faltering a little in the medal round. The Swedes actually looked like more of a threat for next year's tourney since many of their best players will return, so even getting reps at that level will be helpful for Soderstrom's development.
“I think I have very good technique and I read the play well,” he said. “Combined with my size.”
In terms of NHL role models, Soderstrom goes straight to the best in the business and coincidentally, two stars who faced off in last year's Stanley Cup final; Henrik Lundqvist and Jonathan Quick.
“Lundqvist I’ve followed a long time,” he said. “I would take all his moves when I was a kid. If I look at him and look at me, I try to play my game like him, but I also have my own style. With Quick – no goalie plays like him in the NHL, he’s so aggressive. His splits and his mobility are just amazing.”
One of several promising netminders in the New York Islanders system, Soderstrom wasn't aware that his new GM, Garth Snow, was an NHL goalie himself. But the young Swede was stoked when he saw his name called at the draft this past summer. Back in Sweden, he had been following the draft online, but when he stepped out of the room for a second, the feed crashed and he had to load up the NHL website. That's when he saw his name on the crawl and the rest is history. Drafted 95th overall by the Islanders in 2014.
Mitch Marner, RW – London Knights (OHL)
Sublimely talented, Marner just missed out on the Ontario League's scoring crown thanks to a last-minute flurry by Erie's Dylan Strome, but no doubt Marner would be happy to take the playoff race. So far, the quick-at-everything winger has eight goals and 15 points in six games as the Knights prepare for Round 2 against Strome's Otters. Draft eligible in 2015.
Colton Parayko, D – Chicago Wolves (AHL)
A two-time WCHA defensive player of the year with Alaska-Fairbanks, Parayko has gotten his pro career off to an excellent start with three goals and four points through 10 games. At 6-foot-5 and 218 pounds, Parayko has great size and can be potent on the power play. Drafted 86th overall by St. Louis in 2012.
Brock Boeser, RW – Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL)
Aggressive with a big shot and a willingness to play at both ends of the ice, Boeser has been one of the leading scorers in the United States League all season. With another hat trick on the weekend, the University of North Dakota commit has 34 to lead the circuit and he has 65 points in 55 games overall. Draft eligible in 2015.
Nick Ritchie, LW – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
The Hounds acquired Ritchie at the deadline for scoring and he has delivered. The big power forward with the nice hands has paced the Soo so far in the post-season with three goals and eight points in four games. Ritchie, a Canadian world junior gold medallist, has been aces in past playoffs with Peterborough, but this could be his year to go all the way. Drafted 10th overall by Anaheim in 2014.
Will Borgen, D – Omaha Lancers (USHL)
Scouts are always interested to see how high schoolers cope with the jump to the USHL and Borgen appears to have done just fine. In 16 games since his campaign with Moorhead High School in Minnesota ended, the St. Cloud State commit has a goal and six points for Omaha. Skating is the blueliner's top trait, but he can also throw the body. Draft eligible in 2015.
Nicolas Aube-Kubel, RW – Val-d'Or Foreurs (QMJHL)
The Foreurs needed Aube-Kubel to step up this year due to the vacuum left by Anthony Mantha turning pro and the right winger did just that, upping his offense and continuing to play tenacious, competitive hockey. In the playoffs, he has been even better, ending Val-d'Or's first-round series over Rouyn-Noranda with a hat trick and ranking second in league scoring with 10 points in six games. Drafted 48th overall by Philadelphia in 2014.
Greg Chase, C – Victoria Royals (WHL)
Hard-nosed and edgy, but with skill mixed in, Chase was another player who ended a playoff series with a hat trick. His came at the expense of Prince George and all told, the nephew of ex-NHLer Kelly Chase is one of the leading post-season scorers in the Western League with five goals and seven points in five games. Drafted 188th overall by Edmonton in 2013.
Pavel Karnaukhov, C – Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
A big, strapping center who is not afraid to stand up for himself physically, Karnaukhov had a pretty stellar rookie season with the Hitmen. The Belarus product has also been very productive in the playoffs so far with six points through seven games for Calgary. Draft eligible in 2015.
Yakov Trenin, LW – Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)
Big and talented, Trenin has ideal NHL size at 6-foot-2 and he can easily add to his 179 pounds as he develops. His rookie season in North America was full of learning experiences, particularly in the defensive zone, but he showed improvement and the offense has always been there. Trenin has eight points through six playoff games. Draft eligible in 2015.