Is it too early for world junior speculation? Never! Unfortunately, the speculation comes at the expense of Team USA hopeful Steven Santini. The New Jersey prospect has been sidelined with a wrist injury that will keep him out of the tournament, but there may be a name or two below who can pick up the slack. Check out this week’s round-up of who to know in the world of prospects.
Dylan Strome, C – Erie Otters (OHL)
It’s funny to think of Strome as a second-line center, since he has an incredible 31 points in just 12 games. But when you’re on the same team as Connor McDavid, that can happen. Fortunately for Strome, he is his own man and on top of the scoring, he can also play his role responsibly around the ice.
“When you’re out there and you make a good defensive play, guys respect it just as much as a good offensive play,” he said. “It’s really fun. Every guy is buying in right now and we’re having a good time.”
Strome has many good times under his belt already. In the summer he trained with players such as John Tavares, Jason Spezza and P.K. Subban at the Athlete Training Centre in suburban Toronto, plus he gets to keep up on the latest from younger brother Matthew (1999 birthday) and older brother Ryan (New York Islanders), who has been known to call Dylan ‘Beans,’ on Twitter.
“We were watching some movies and I think it was in ‘The Sandlot,’ they called each other ‘Beans,’ ” Dylan said. “It’s a little family nickname we have going.”
And while Dylan keeps tabs on his family, he’s also a student of San Jose’s Joe Thornton, who gives Strome a nice template as an emerging big center.
“Obviously he’s one of the greatest passers in the game,” Strome said. “I like the way he takes faceoffs and he’s a good leader on the ice. I love the way he sees players when they’re open. He’s the least selfish player on the ice when he’s out there.”
With 21 assists so far, Dylan knows how to move the puck around. Ryan went fifth overall in 2011 and if Dylan keeps it up, he might match or even surpass his brother in the draft. He’s eligible this summer.
Jake Virtanen, RW – Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
So much for an injury hangover. Virtanen just came back from shoulder surgery and hadn’t played since last season, but he kicked off his campaign with five points in his first three outings, hitting the scoresheet in each game. The winger brings an enviable combination of physicality, speed and scoring talent. Drafted sixth overall by Vancouver in 2014.
Noah Hanifin, D – Boston College Eagles (Hockey East)
His partner Santini is done for the calendar year, so Hanifin will have to be even better for Boston College, but it’s been pretty smooth so far for the 17-year-old freshman. Hanifin has three points in four games and has brought the calm, collected game expected of him. Draft eligible in 2015.
Daniel Audette, C – Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL)
Audette hung six points on Moncton the other day and now boasts 12 goals and 26 points in just 15 games. Short but feisty and willing to stick up for himself, Audette has great offensive talent and has even improved on faceoffs as the season has matured. Drafted 147th overall by Montreal in 2014.
Zach Werenski, D – University of Michigan Wolverines (Big Ten)
Like Hanifin, Werenski is a 17-year-old freshman blueliner at a big-name college program. His game tilts a little more to the offensive side overall and Werenski has proven it by tallying two goals and six points in his first five games, putting him one off the team lead and tied for tops among defensemen in the conference. Draft eligible in 2015.
William Nylander, C – Modo (SHL)
Though he has also played on the wing, Nylander is lining up at center for Modo right now and getting the job done in impressive fashion. Even with the extra responsibilities that pivots take on, the flashy youngster has put up seven points in five games against the best men in Sweden. Drafted eighth overall by Toronto in 2014.
Ben Blacker, G – Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (USHL)
One of the most intriguing young goaltenders out there, Blacker has been demolishing the United States League in his rookie year with a .951 save percentage and 1.71 goals-against average in seven appearances. The Western Michigan commit is only 5-foot-9 and that’s a big question mark, but he has great quickness in the crease and his height hasn’t slowed him down yet. Draft eligible in 2015.
Filip Chlapik, C – Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL)
The rookie import from the Czech Republic has been a key driver for the Isles so far, centering an incredible dangerous line with fellow 2015 prospect Daniel Sprong. He’s nearly a point-per-gamer through 16 contests and has excellent vision as a playmaker. Draft eligible in 2015.
Graham Knott, LW – Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
Though his team was rocked in Buffalo, Knott stood out thanks to his offensive skills for the Dogs. Deceptive with the puck, the left winger changes speed with ease, which creates space for him to work and opens up time for his quick and accurate shot. Draft eligible in 2015.
Will Reilly, D – North York Rangers (OJHL)
A mobile defenseman with great size at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, Reilly has been a demon on the power play for the Jr. A Rangers, notching all four of his goals with the man advantage. The young blueliner has been hot lately, with five points in his past five games. Draft eligible in 2015.