I had the chance to catch some high-end action last week when the CHL-Russia series rolled into Kitchener. Team OHL beat the Russians 4-1 and there were a lot of notable performances, but also some interesting spotlights being cast in terms of ice time. For me, it really seemed like the Canadian world junior brass wanted a long look at Los Angeles prospect Akil Thomas and San Jose pick Ryan Merkley. Both looked good in the game and it will be interesting to see what the final roster looks like. With notes from that game and some insights from insiders, let’s take a look around the world of prospects.
ANA: He was seen as a sleeper in the 2019 draft and it hasn’t taken long for center Trevor Janicke to prove that theory correct. The freshman has been hot for Notre Dame with seven points in his past five games, helping the Irish become one of the top-ranked teams in the NCAA.
ARI: Defenseman Victor Soderstrom returned to Sweden after the Coyotes nabbed him in the first round this summer and he’s getting the reps he needs. Soderstrom is playing on Brynas’ top pairing and the smooth operator has popped in four points in 10 games so far.
BOS: Recently I spoke to Steve Shields, who does player development for the University of Michigan. Here was his take on freshman center Johnny Beecher: “Look at the teams that played for the Stanley Cup, Boston and St. Louis: I’m looking at big players who can fly, but can also play from your first to fourth line. I see Johnny in that. He’s a big load who flies around and has a high ceiling. One of my favorite guys I ever played with was Brian Rolston and Johnny reminds me of him. He’s naturally gifted.”
BUF: The career trajectory for big left winger Brett Murray has been a roller coaster, from early entry at Penn State, then back to the USHL after a season and a half with the Nittany Lions. Now in his first pro season, he's getting results early with AHL Rochester, putting up five points through eight games.
CGY: One player who really helped his WJC cause at the CHL-Russia series was Dmitry Zavgorodniy. The diminutive and dynamic left winger had five points in two games against Team QMJHL – the league he usually plays in with Rimouski.
CAR: I asked Hurricanes director of player personnel Darren Yorke recently about defenseman Anttoni Honka: “You can talk about high risk/high reward, but not every player can see the things he can. He can make any type of play you want – carry the puck in, make the delay, find the man or be the shooter.”
CHI: Defenseman Jakub Galvas is getting a nice opportunity right now at the Karjala Cup, a prominent European tournament. Galvas is playing for the Czech Republic, which will be a nice sort of homecoming since he has been playing in Finland for Jukurit this season.
COL: It’s been a great year for Colorado goalie prospects so far. First Justus Annunen, now Trent Miner. The Vancouver Giants netminder earned WHL goalie of the week honors by stopping 53 of 55 shots in a weekend split with Portland that saw the Giants grab three points.
CBJ: Center Liam Foudy will get a long look for Canada’s WJC team and he’s hot with OHL London after starting late due to a shoulder injury. “He got hurt in NHL camp, so he just got back with us,” said London/Canada coach Dale Hunter. “But we need his speed.” Foudy has 14 points in nine games with the Knights.
DAL: For whatever reason, the Russians really seemed to target Canada center Ty Dellandrea for hits in Game 3 of the CHL-Russia series. Dellandrea still proved to be an effective player and at one point, he drilled Arizona pick Danil Savunov as if to say, I can dish it out too.
DET: Here’s AJHL Sherwood Park GM Kyle Chase on goalie Carter Gylander, who is 14-1-0 with a .922 save percentage for the high-flying Crusaders: “Carter’s a big guy. He needs to get stronger, but he’s athletic and he has a lot of confidence right now. It can be hard, not facing a lot of shots and then facing a five-bell chance – when we give up chances, unfortunately they’re glorious.”
EDM: One of AHL Bakersfield’s best scorers has been point-per-gamer Tyler Benson. Here’s teammate and goalie Dylan Wells on the talented left winger: “Just an awesome player. Good with the puck, good without the puck, good skater, good hockey sense. You can go down the list. Great guy off the ice and a really gifted player.”
FLA: Power forward Serron Noel was excellent at the CHL-Russia series for Team OHL, using his speed and huge frame to protect the puck and create chances. I’ve seen Noel play with an edge and if he can play that way on a more consistent basis, he’ll be a beast.
LA: I asked center Akil Thomas how much of a difference there is in his game since this time last year: “It’s huge. I definitely gained some weight and got a lot stronger. Having two camps really got me playing a different way - the little details from watching and playing with NHLers. I’ve matured a lot.” Thomas really honed in on Anze Kopitar, but also took lessons from young Blake Lizotte, who snatched a surprise roster spot by playing his best and not worrying about who was ahead of him. “That’s something I want to do next year,” Thomas added.
MIN: Here’s some great news for Wild fans: Alexander Khovanov is on fire. The QMJHL Moncton star was huge for Russia at the CHL-Russia series and he’s been just as good with the Wildcats posting 34 points in 16 games.
MTL: You love to see it: after an injury-ravaged 2018-19, jack-of-all-trades center Cam Hillis has returned to the OHL’s Guelph Storm with a vengeance. The captain was named OHL player of the week with seven points in two games, adding to his season totals of 27 points through 16 games.
NSH: Boston University lost some talent over the summer, but offensive defenseman David Farrance is upping his game in response. The junior blueliner leads the Terriers in scoring with 14 points in nine games, which is also good for tops among conference defensemen.
NJ: Last summer at the draft combine, I asked a bunch of NTDP kids who the most underrated player on the team was and they all said Patrick Moynihan. True to form, the gritty left winger is making a difference as a freshman with Providence College, playing up and down the lineup and contributing six points in 10 games.
NYI: Right winger Simon Holmstrom is starting to gain traction in the AHL. The 2019 first-rounder has three points in his past six games, which is not bad for a teenager who never played in North America before. Last year, Holmstrom was hampered by injuries early, but his creativity could not be ignored.
NYR: When Vitaly Kravtsov headed back to KHL Traktor, the obvious hope was for him to get a big role and so far, he’s right on track. Kravtsov has two points in three games and ranks second among Chelyabinsk forwards in ice time with an average of 18:34 per outing.
OTT: Defenseman Jonny Tychonick is super-fun to watch and also a great interview, so it’s fun to see him find his place with the University of North Dakota. The swift-skating D-man got his first multi-point game of the year against Miami and he has already surpassed his freshman total of four points as a sophomore in just seven games.
PHI: He could have gone to Western Michigan last year, but defenseman Ronnie Attard wanted a little more seasoning in the USHL and had a great campaign with Tri-City. Now that he’s a freshman in Kalamazoo, Attard is contributing right away with four goals and five points through 10 games.
PIT: The Penguins took a late flyer on winger Valtteri Puustinen this summer at the draft and the 20-year-old is showing promise. With 14 points in 18 games, Puustinen has already set a career-high for points in Finland’s top Liiga as a member of HPK.
STL: I liked Tyler Tucker’s performance at the CHL-Russia series with Team OHL. He was the safety blanket on a pairing with rushing D-man Ryan Merkley and Tucker showed off some nice hand-eye co-ordination in keeping pucks in the zone. With size and offensive potential of his own, Tucker was a nice seventh-round pick for the Blues.
SJ: Speaking of Ryan Merkley, he got a long look in Game 3 of the CHL-Russia series and here was coach Dale Hunter’s assessment: “He played really well. He moved the puck and made some good passes. He played his game. I thought all the ‘D’ played solid.” Merkley plays for Hunter with OHL London.
TB: Another franchise that seems to have good goalie luck lately, Tampa has a hot netminder in Hugo Alnefelt. The calm and quick netminder has been lights-out for HV71, rocking a .925 save percentage and 1.77 goals-against average in six appearances. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was Sweden’s starter at the world juniors.
TOR: It’s beginning to look like a monster season for blueliner Filip Kral. The third-year import with WHL Spokane has 20 points in 17 games for the Chiefs; not bad for a kid whose previous high was 36 points for an entire campaign.
VAN: Here’s Michigan’s Shields on another Wolverine, this time right winger Will Lockwood: “Will is all-in. He separates guys from the puck and has a high degree of skill, which makes him a formidable player. When he first got here, he hit a lot more before he realized he had a lot of skill. He’s a gamer.”
VGK: Though the Russians didn’t bring a ton of high-end guys over for the CHL-Russia series, it was impossible not to see the talent flowing through the hands of center Ivan Morozov. The kid’s got some excellent creativity to his game.
WSH: Here’s Dale Hunter on another OHL London star and Team Canada hopeful, Connor McMichael: “He’s always been a top-end forward, going back to minor midget. The first year here is tough at 16, but he keeps getting better every year and that’s what you want to see.” McMichael is slaying for the Knights with 41 points in 16 games.
WPG: Minnesota State is tied for first with Denver in the NCAA national rankings and center Nathan Smith is doing his part with eight points in eight games. The Mavericks freshman is known for his speed and his vision.
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