The major prospect news this week involves Dylan Strome and his return to junior. Surely the big center would have preferred to stay in the NHL with Arizona, but the Coyotes have instead sent the OHL’s Erie Otters an early Christmas gift. We pretty much knew he would be loaned out to Canada for the world juniors already, but this makes it all but official. Strome needs to get stronger and while that won’t happen against teen-aged competition, he can use his prolific skills to win medals and championships for the rest of the season. That’s never bad for a youngster. And with the world juniors creeping up, let’s look at some of the other prospects making noise around the hockey world right now.
Connor Ingram, G (Tampa Bay): Coming from small-town Imperial, Saskatchewan, Ingram keeps it folksy. A positive and humble kid who went undrafted his first year of eligibility, the Kamloops Blazers star is now on the cusp of a world junior roster spot. He repped the WHL against the Russians earlier this month and in the summer, he played for Canada at the USA-hosted National Junior Evaluation Camp tournament in Michigan, starting against the rival Americans.
“That was amazing for me,” Ingram said. “To start that game was an honor and something I can tell my grandkids about.”
That game didn’t go well for the Canadians (they lost 5-1), but Ingram didn’t let it get him down. Back in the WHL this season, he has reverted back to fortress status, throwing up a .932 save percentage to lead the league among starters.
“I’m a little bit athletic, in maybe a Martin Jones way,” said the 6-foot-1 stopper. “I try to stay calm back there.”
The youngster also likes Marc-Andre Fleury and Braden Holtby. Ingram’s main mission lately has been “cleaning up” his game and trying to keep his glove on more pucks, but embracing his rising status may also come up eventually. Ingram didn’t expect to be drafted the first time and he wasn’t even sure about last year, so it was a big honor when the Tampa Bay Lightning tabbed him 88th overall.
“I hadn’t made any plans that day,” he said. “But now I look back at all the two-hour drives to practice, sleeping in the car – it’s something no one can take away from you.”
And if he can help Canada get back to golden status at the world juniors (fellow WHLer Carter Hart will be a favorite in the goalie mix, too), he’ll have an even bigger place in history. All before the age of 20.
In the Pipeline
Adam Fox, D (Calgary): The freshman has been a big hit at Harvard, where playmaking is reaching a new level. Fox has eight assists in his first seven games, using that great hockey mind he honed at the U.S. NTDP.
Shane Gersich, LW (Washington): As if North Dakota wasn’t dangerous enough, Gersich is catching fire now. The sophomore left winger has six goals in his past three games, vaulting him up the NCHC scoring charts. Quick hands and a willingness to play through traffic have helped.
Jeremy Bracco, RW (Toronto): Bracco is simply an offensive machine, but it’s heartening to see goals coming off turnovers he creates, too. The gifted winger with the silky mitts now has 40 points in 19 games for OHL Kitchener, making him one of the top scorers on the circuit.
Janne Kuokkanen, C (Carolina): Playing on a line with Cliff Pu and Max Jones, Kuokkanen has certainly been put in a position to succeed as a rookie with the OHL’s London Knights, but he pulls his weight. With nifty hands and a sharp hockey mind, the Finnish import has racked up 32 points in 20 games.
Brendan Guhle, D (Buffalo): He nearly made the Sabres out of the draft, but since then Guhle has continued to develop in the WHL. Now thanks to a recent trade, the sweet-skating puckmover will do so with Prince George instead of Prince Albert. The Cougars are one of the best teams in the league right now and clearly loading up.
2017 Draft Stars
Ostap Safin, RW – Sparta Praha (Cze.): Already 6-foot-4 and 191 pounds, Safin is up with Sparta’s top team right now, playing against men and drawing a regular shift. Thanks to his size, he can get up the ice very quickly and he’s willing to get back on defense. Safin scored his first goal at the men’s level on the weekend and now has two points in six games there.
Pierre-Olivier Joseph, D – Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL): A two-way presence who plays with energy, Joseph is one of the highest-scoring defensemen in the league with 24 points in 24 games. The younger brother of Tampa pick Mathieu Jospeh, Pierre-Olivier has also demonstrated great leadership skills with the Islanders.
Matthew Murray, G – Fargo Force (USHL): Undrafted last year out of Alberta Jr. A, Murray is still on the radar and playing better competition this season in Fargo. The UMass commit is coming off back-to-back shutouts and though he doesn’t have a lot of size, he does have nice athleticism.
2018 Draft Star
Quinn Hughes, D – U.S. NTDP (USHL): Described by one scout as a Kris Letang-type of project, Hughes has points in three straight games for the NTDP. The smart puckmover is a University of Michigan commit, but OHL Sarnia will be in hot pursuit, since his late 1999 birthday means an extra season waiting for the NHL draft.