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Prospect Need to Know: Vitali Kravtsov returns to Russia

The Rangers first-rounder heads back to a Traktor team that could desperately use his scoring punch. Plus, Nashville GM David Poile on Jeremy Davies and an update on a prospect from all 31 NHL organizations.

It has been an exciting year for prospects and we’re not even out of October yet. The big news of late concerns New York Rangers star prospect Vitali Kravtsov, who recently decided to return to the KHL and Traktor Chelyabinsk after playing five games over here with AHL Hartford. If it means getting big minutes and lots of points, I’m all for the move. But I do think Kravtsov would have benefitted from playing more games on the smaller North American ice surface. He’s still just 19, so there’s not much concern here and Traktor is desperate for offense right now, but hopefully he can learn from his brief time in Hartford and build off it. In the meantime, another Rangers Russian is killing it with the Wolfpack. Let’s take a tour around the prospect world and check in on a player from every NHL franchise.

ANA: Center Trevor Zegras came into college with a lot of hype, but it hasn’t fazed the kid yet. The ninth overall selection in 2019 has five points in his first five games with Boston University.

ARI: I asked OHL Ottawa GM James Boyd about massive 67’s defenseman Kevin Bahl, now in his final year of junior: “Kevin is definitely a leader and a true defensive defenseman. He plays against top lines and is tough to play against. The offense is coming thanks to increased minutes.”

BOS: No one in the conference has faced more shots (215) than Jeremy Swayman this season, as the University of Maine junior has been busy. Luckily for the Black Bears, Swayman has been on his game once again, with a .940 save percentage and 202 saves.

BUF: The Sabres worked out Lukas Rousek at their own combine before the 2019 draft and clearly liked what they saw, grabbing the Czech in the sixth round. This year the right winger has six points (five goals) in 14 games for Sparta Prague in the Extraliga while logging a solid 15 minutes of ice time per game.

CGY: Dynamic playmaker Emelio Petterssen is picking up where he left off in college after a great freshman season with the University of Denver. Now a sophomore, the Norwegian national has six points in six games for the undefeated Pioneers.

CAR: I asked Hurricanes director of player personnel Darren Yorke about AHL Charlotte standout Morgan Geekie and here’s what he said about the center: “Morgan has improved his pace. That may have been a question mark for him in the WHL, but he put in a lot of work to increase his speed and quickness. He’s adding elements to his game. What you’re seeing now is his hockey sense and his ability to create and score.”

CHI: The Hawks just acquired D-man Alec Regula from Detroit for winger Brendan Perlini and in doing so, they get a big blueliner with range and some offensive upside. I see Regula having second-pairing potential and interestingly, the OHL’s London Knights have used him as a net-front presence on their power play.

COL: Goalie Justus Annunen set a new Finnish Liiga record last week by running a shutout streak for 14 periods. The 19-year-old’s clean sheet ran for 302 minutes and five seconds, beating the previous record by about 42 minutes. Needless to say, his stats are pretty good right now as Annunen is sitting on a .945 save percentage and four shutouts in nine appearances for Karpat Oulu.

CBJ: He may have been a seventh-rounder, but center Tyler Angle is making noise with the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires this year to the tune of 19 points in 13 games. Angle, who trained in the summer with Toronto prospect Mac Hollowell, has shown some great skill and creativity, even going behind his leg for one cheeky goal against London.

DAL: Defenseman Thomas Harley is doing everything for OHL Mississauga right now. Not only is he leading the team in scoring with 17 points through 11 games, but he also had his first fight after drilling Peterborough’s Nick Robertson with a big hit. Harley won the tilt with the Petes’ Hudson Wilson, too.

DET: Red Wings director of player development Shawn Horcoff was in Europe recently, so I asked him about undersized Finnish center Otto Kivenmaki: “He has an excellent skill set, great vision and he’s actually pretty strong for his size. He just needs to put on weight.”

EDM: The QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads have missed some of their drafted players due to injury, but power forward Raphael Lavoie has been healthy and productive. The big 2019 second-rounder leads The Herd with 24 points in 15 games.

LA: I asked WHL Spokane GM Scott Carter about his newest import, Czech goalie Lukas Parik: “He’s outgoing and his English is good. Very pro-active, he wanted to come over here quickly. Credit him and his agent, Allan Walsh, who set up his player to learn before he got here. In my time, Lukas has adapted better than anybody else.”

MIN: Saginaw center Damien Giroux has been added to Team OHL for the upcoming CHL-Russia series, which is a great opportunity for the fifth-rounder. Giroux is a hard worker with hockey sense who has 20 points in 16 games for the Spirit.

MTL: Swedish defenseman Mattias Norlinder was a bit of a late-bloomer, but he’s proving the Habs made a good call grabbing him in 2019’s third round. The talented and mobile blueliner has nine points in 14 games for Modo, which is playing in the Allsvenskan, one rung below the SHL.

NSH: Preds GM David Poile got blueliner Jeremy Davies as part of the PK Subban trade, so I asked him for his first impressions on Davies: “Really good. He got into three pre-season games and appears to be that modern-day defenseman. Great skating and speed, he wants to rush the puck and he wants to have the puck.” Davies is learning the pro game with AHL Milwaukee, where Poile believes the schedule will be good for him.

NJ: So right winger Tyce Thompson is making me look bad. I didn’t include the Providence College sophomore on my 100 NCAA players to watch preview and now he’s lighting it up. The competitive little brother of Tage Thompson has 11 points in six games for the Friars.

NYI: Though he hasn’t played yet this season due to an ankle injury, Bode Wilde was recently assigned to AHL Bridgeport. The Sound Tigers would be a great challenge for the 19-year-old defenseman, as he definitely has the physical tools to face men, but needs to prove his decision-making is up to snuff.

NYR: Star goalie prospect Igor Shesterkin had his ups and downs at the Traverse City prospects tournament, but it was probably the best thing for him. The Russian stopper got to see how the North American game is played on the smaller ice and so far with AHL Hartford, Shesterkin has dominated. Undefeated in five starts, he’s rocking a 1.18 goals-against average and .955 save percentage.

OTT: Right winger Drake Batherson is still getting used to the pro lifestyle with AHL Belleville and part of that means cooking for himself. When he was with Ottawa he lived with Colin White, who knows his way around the kitchen. In Belleville, Batherson has to fend for himself. “I have four or five meals that I can probably crush,” he said. “My mom is still teaching me. If I ever have any questions, I usually FaceTime her.”

PHI: With Joel Farabee playing for the big club, center Morgan Frost now becomes one of the most enticing kids playing for AHL Lehigh Valley. The talented center has six points in seven games for the Phantoms, utilizing his hands, vision and instincts.

PIT: Left winger Samuel Poulin is having himself quite the start with QMJHL Sherbrooke. The powerful presence and team captain has 25 points through 14 games with the Phoenix, buttressed by an eight-point explosion against Shawinigan.

STL: In his third year with AHL San Antonio, center Klim Kostin seems to be hitting another level. The big Russian kid – still only 20 years old – has five points in his first eight games with the Rampage

SJ: The Sharks recently signed 2019 second-rounder Dillon Hamaliuk to his entry-level contract and GM Doug Wilson was happy to get the power forward under contract. Hamaliuk missed a good chunk of last year due to injury with WHL Seattle, but an off-season trade brought him to Memorial Cup host Kelowna, where he has put up 10 points in 12 games for the Rockets.

TB: Swedish netminder Magnus Chrona has been one of the biggest early surprises in the NCAA. The towering goaltender is undefeated in six games while rocking a .930 save percentage for the University of Denver. Not bad for a freshman.

TOR: While Rasmus Sandin looked pretty good for the Leafs, he’s been outstanding for the AHL Marlies since getting sent down in mid-October. Not only does the defenseman have four points in five games, but he has been exploding opponents with big hits on a consistent basis.

VAN: Utica has been the best team in the AHL so far and goalie Michael DiPietro is doing his part. The athletic and competitive netminder has a 3-0 record, a 1.62 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage while platooning with veteran Zane McIntyre.

VGK: Rookie Lucas Elvenes just continues to exceed expectations. The Swedish national leads the AHL in scoring with 13 points in eight games, largely on the strength of his playmaking skills for the Chicago Wolves.

WSH: I talked to AHL Hershey coach Spencer Carbery about the responsibility right winger Brett Leason has been given early as a rookie pro, which has included penalty-kill duty and a lot of defensive zone starts for the former WHL Prince Albert star: “He PK’d quite a bit last year in P.A. and was successful. I don’t focus on scoring for young guys – he has so far to go and producing in this league is challenging. It’s about the details in his game if he wants to have a long NHL career. He has to make quicker decisions, quicker reads. He’s going to play both sides of the puck here. Hopefully he can be a PK guy and a power play guy in the NHL.”

WPG: It’s early, but University of Minnesota-Duluth defenseman Dylan Samberg is on pace for his best college season yet. The junior, who brings a great physical element to the table, has four points in six games for the Bulldogs. Now, can he win a third straight national title? Dating back to high school, Samberg has won it all the past four years.

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