We're really getting into some fun stuff now, folks. Today, Team Canada names its December camp roster for the world juniors, so the season is upon us. I'll have coverage of that tomorrow morning, for those interested. In the meantime, the Minnesota high school season has kicked off and the one to watch is Eden Prairie's Casey Mittlestadt. The University of Minnesota commit was lightning in the USHL and now we get to see if he can dominate like Blaine's Riley Tufte did last season. In the meantime, let's get to some of the prospects making noise around the hockey world right now.
Tage Thompson, RW (St. Louis): I'll admit, I was skeptical of the Blues' first-round selection in Buffalo, as some of the scouts I had talked to before the draft worried about Thompson's killer instinct. But when the 6-foot-5 winger blew up Team USA's National Junior Evaluation Camp tournament in the summer, I knew it was time for a reappraisal. Turns out, the kid went into that world junior primer with his doubters in mind.
"Just to prove some people wrong," Thompson said. "There were questions about me being a bubble player."
By crashing the net and popping in a ton of goals at the NJEC, Thompson got himself to another level and he is continuing the success at UConn, where his sophomore campaign is going even better than his freshman outing (which was also pretty good). His 16 points in 15 games leads all Huskies and he's scoring more 5-on-5 goals than he did last year. What hasn't changed is his chemistry with San Jose prospect Maxim Letunov.
"A lot of it is natural," Thompson said. "We know each other's tendencies and our style of play complements each other."
Before UConn, Thompson was a lanky role player at USA Hockey's National Team Development Program, playing for the same edition that featured Auston Matthews, Matthew Tkachuk and Jack Roslovic. A skinny kid, Thompson couldn't battle down low at the time, but that strength is building and he dedicated most of his summer to powering up. Now, he's trying to get UConn to the next level in the murderous Hockey East conference.
"We've been building progress and individuals and as a team," he said. "Last year we were just hanging on at times. This year we feel we can sweep series and teams are respecting us."
And woe is the team that doesn't respect how Thompson has grown.
In the Pipeline
Jonathan Ang, C (Florida): Though he made his name as an offensive player, Ang is also a great penalty-killer thanks to his speed. Once he disrupts the play and goes for a skate, he’s got some pretty sick moves, too.
Joel Eriksson-Ek, C (Minnesota): Since heading back to Frolunda in the SHL, Eriksson-Ek has two goals in three games. He has quickly developed into a big-time threat thanks to his tenacious two-way play and the pivot will be crucial to Sweden's world junior medal hopes.
Brendan Leipsic, LW (Toronto): Anguish over the Maple Leafs' fourth line has become a contact sport in Toronto, so how long until Leipsic gets a crack? The gritty and talented left winger leads the AHL in scoring with 22 points in 17 games and he's even staying out of the penalty box.
Charlie Lindgren, G (Montreal): The St. Cloud State alum was signed as a free agent by the Habs and he has not disappointed so far. Lindgren is rocking a .933 save percentage with the AHL's St. John's IceCaps and bumped second-rounder Zach Fucale down the organizational depth chart.
Alexandre Carrier, D (Nashville): Using his vision and mobility, Carrier was always a great offensive threat in junior. Now, he's doing it on the pro stage, as he leads the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals in blueline points with 14 in 17 games. That also ranks him second overall on the team and top-five among all AHL defenders.
2017 Draft Stars
Juuso Valimaki, D – Tri-City Americans (WHL): Finland will need some players to step up at the world juniors if they want to repeat and Valimaki would be a great addition to the bluelie. He’s got size and mobility, plus a great offensive arsenal that allowed him to score a natural hat trick Wednesday against Vancouver.
Stelio Mattheos, C – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL): A first overall pick in the WHL bantam draft, Mattheos has been a bit overshadowed on some great Wheat Kings squads, but he’s hot now. Puck protection is a great asset and Mattheos is operating at nearly a point-per-game clip.
Nick Suzuki, C – Owen Sound Attack (OHL): Suzuki is a solid two-way player who can do a bit of everything and that includes putting points on the board. No first-year draft-eligible player has more points than him, as the Attack pivot has rung up 34 through 27 games. Hockey sense is a huge plus for him and he’s deadly when killing penalties.
Paul Washe, C – Tri-City Storm (USHL): A power forward in the making, Washe has a solid frame and a really quick release. The Western Michigan commit has 15 points through 19 games, tying him for second on a struggling Storm squad.
2018 Draft Star
Philipp Kurashev, C – Quebec Remparts (QMJHL): A late 1999 birthday, Kurashev is nonetheless Quebec's leading scorer with 23 points in 27 games. Not bad for a rookie, but what really impressed me about him was how Kurashev used his speed to help shut down fellow Swiss import Nico Hischier in a recent game against Halifax - which the Remparts won in a shootout.