I’m back from Finland and things are not slowing down. The home team took gold at the world juniors in one of the best games I’ve ever seen live and the talent overall was incredible in Helsinki. But a whole slew of trades have gone down in the CHL since we last gathered, while the USHL Top Prospects Game runs tonight in Omaha. Names to watch in Nebraska include Cam Morrison (Notre Dame commit), William Knierim (Miami) and Matt Filipe (Northeastern). As for everything else prospect, let’s get to the list.
Will Borgen, D – St. Cloud State Huskies (NCHC): Team USA was young once again at the world juniors, led by draft-eligible players such as Auston Matthews and Matthew Tkachuk up front and including fellow 2016ers Chad Krys and Charlie McAvoy on the back. But let's talk about the rise of Buffalo Sabres prospect Will Borgen.
Last year at this time, the smooth-skating defenseman was playing Minnesota high school hockey. Now he's returning to the NCAA's St. Cloud State Huskies with a bronze medal.
“It's the fastest hockey I've ever played," Borgen said. "That first game against Canada I was tired and I never even got stuck out there. It was just constant shifts. They were coming hard and it was fast hockey.”
Paired with the older Louie Belpedio (Minnesota), Borgen earned top-four minutes in Helsinki, picking up three assists in seven games and impressing his teammates. Borgen has a nice physical edge to his game and though he intended to play in the USHL this season, an 18-game, post-high school season stint with the Omaha Lancers last year gave him the confidence to jump to college early. So far, so good, as Borgen already has nine points in 18 games for the Huskies, who are flying high in the NCHC.
"It's been an uphill incline real quick, but no complaints,” he said. “It's been terrific. We have a lot of older guys, a lot of leaders on the team. We've had a pretty good start to the season and I like it a lot there.”
Borgen's skating skills were developed in high school, where 17-minute periods mean top players often play half the game. Scouts took note of his potential and Buffalo plucked the 6-foot-2, 195-pounder with the 92nd pick overall this past summer. The most amusing part of Borgen's history? The high school team he played for was the Moorhead Spuds. Where did that mascot come from?
“No idea," Borgen said. "We've got a funky nickname, but I like it. It's unique. I like being a Spud.”
Apparently, Borgen is a Spud for life. Other Moorhead alums include Matt Cullen, Jason Blake and Brian Lee – so that may be both a unique trait and a successful one.
In the Pipeline
Travis Konecny, C (Philadelphia): He was one of Canada’s best players at the world juniors (that’s a small group!) and returned to find himself on a new OHL team. Konecny was dealt by the Ottawa 67’s to Sarnia, where his grit and goal-scoring prowess will help the Sting try for a long playoff season.
Timo Meier, RW (San Jose): The world juniors were a disaster for Switzerland, but Meier can now focus on a playoff run with juggernaut Rouyn-Noranda after the Huskies acquired him from Halifax. The Swiss sniper posted five points in his first two games with the new squad.
Jake DeBrusk, LW (Boston): DeBrusk has been under a microscope ever since Boston reached for him in the middle of the first round this summer, but he is a very good prospect due to his smarts and 200-foot game. And thanks to a deadline trade from Swift Current, he’ll be in the Memorial Cup with host Red Deer, where he kicked things off with 11 points in his first eight games.
William Lagesson, D (Edmonton): I’m in the tank for Lagesson; I’ll admit it. He’s a nasty, competitive blueliner and showed well for Sweden at the world juniors. He has also quickly become a big part of the UMass Minutemen and ranks second in scoring among team D-men with seven points in 19 games.
Kyle Connor, C (Winnipeg): Connor’s USA world junior snub was big news, but the swift center simply took it out on the NCAA. The Michigan freshman leads the Big Ten in scoring with 31 points in 19 games (good for fourth in the nation) and has the Wolverines on a four-game win streak.
Alex Nedeljkovic, G (Carolina): Team USA needed a goalie to step up and Nedeljkovic was the man. He was my only other choice for tourney all-star team (I took Linus Soderstrom based on head-to-head) and will be key for OHL Niagara as the loaded IceDogs aim for a title. Nedeljkovic was recently traded from Flint.
2016 Draft Stars
Carl Grundstrom, RW – Modo (SHL): Not a lot of players seemed to try for Sweden in the bronze medal loss to Team USA at the world juniors, but Grundstrom stepped up. The youngest on the squad is known for being a hard worker and he’ll definitely play a bigger offensive role for the Tre Kronor next year.
Olli Juolevi, D – London Knights (OHL): Defense wasn’t a hallmark for the Finns early on, but they clamped down for the crucial WJC games and Juolevi led the way. He’s got size and offensive skill, but also uses his speed on the defensive side of things to break up chances.
Patrick Harper, C – Avon Old Farms Winged Beavers (Conn. HS): The prep schooler is leading his Avon Old Farms squad with 20 points in 10 games and he does it with intriguing speed and skill. A little undersized, Harper still plays in all situations and it will be interesting to see how NHL teams view him on draft day. He’s a Boston U. commit.