The NCAA is oh-so-close to regular season play, with many college programs playing exhibition games against their Canadian counterparts, plus the odd early non-conference contest. But with so many teams already in full swing elsewhere, we’ll come back to that crowd later. In the meantime, here’s a look at some of the prospects we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.
Valentin Zykov, RW – Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)
Zykov was not a big scorer back in Russia, but perhaps it was just a matter of opportunity. Playing for Red Army’s junior team in 2011-12, he tallied just 11 points in 52 games, but had 105 PIM. Even though it would have been easy to stay home in the culture he knows, the sturdy winger decamped for North America and the Quebec League in order to show off his wares for the NHL draft.
“I had to prove myself and get better,” Zykov said. “For my game, I’m very happy that I came here. The coach was great and it was a great bunch of guys. The coach made the difference.”
Born in St. Petersburg and playing in Moscow, Zykov had seen big, metropolitan cities, but Baie-Comeau is a different experience altogether: The idyllic waterfront locale boasts a little less than 30,000 residents.
“It’s a smaller town,” Zykov said. “But people are nice and I like it there.”
His first QMJHL campaign was a smash, as the winger registered more than a point per game and helped the Drakkar to the league final. In the early goings as a major junior sophomore, Zykov has nine points through seven games as he continues to work on his skating, physicality and shot. He likes Pavel Datsyuk, but believes he plays a different style. The result is often the same, though.
“Put the puck in net,” he said. “Make scoring chances.”
Drafted 37th overall by Los Angeles in 2013.
Roland McKeown, D – Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
The Fronts are the only team in the Ontario League yet to lose in regulation and the wealth of draft-eligible talent that has been amassed in Kingston is a big reason why. McKeown is leading the charge from the back end with a goal and eight points in seven games, using his skating and confident puck-handling to lacerate the opposition. Draft eligible in 2014.
Conner Bleackley, C – Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
A mature player with a wicked wrister, Bleackley has the talent to become a high-end scorer in Red Deer and he’s off to the races this season. Through eight games, the High River, Alta., product leads the Rebels in scoring with five goals and 11 points. That puts him within striking distance of his entire offensive output from last season (18 points in 66 games) and also ranks him top 10 in the ‘Dub.’ Draft eligible in 2014.
Mitch Callahan, RW – Grand Rapid Griffins (AHL)
An underdog from the get-go, Callahan has begun his third pro season with promise after an exemplary junior career with Kelowna. The California native plays the game with grit and doggedness and has turned up the offense early in Grand Rapids with two goals and three points in two games. Drafted 180th overall by Detroit in 2009.
Nicolas Aube-Kubel, RW – Val-d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL)
Blessed with speed and sweet hands, Aube-Kubel has already posted four goals (including two game-winners) and 13 points in nine games for the high-flying Foreurs. He’s earning power play time and has only been held off the board twice this season. Draft eligible in 2014.
Gemel Smith, C – Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
Smith is all about speed and with the Attack needing him to have a big season, the swift pivot has responded. Smith leads the OHL with 10 goals and 14 points in seven games as Owen Sound attempts to stay above water in the Midwest, aka the toughest division in junior hockey. Drafted 104th overall by Dallas in 2012.
Ty Edmonds, G – Prince George Cougars (WHL)
There’s a full-on usurpation going on in Prince George, as the young Edmonds has been lights out for the Cougars, posting two shutouts in three games as his latest feat. The 17-year-old has all four of Prince George’s wins and his 1.68 goals-against average is just a bit better than his older partner, Brett Zarowny (6.95). Draft eligible in 2014.
Evgeny Voronkov, D – Krasnaya Armiya (Rus.)
Playing for Red Army’s junior team, Voronkov has been a catalyst for offense on the blueline with six assists in 12 games. At 6-foot-1, 191 pounds, he has decent size and is not afraid to shoot the puck – his 23 attempts lead the ‘D’ corps and he’s clearly getting more confident as he only had 43 shots on net all of last season. Draft eligible in 2014.Peter Cehlarik, LW – Asploven (Swe.)
A bit of a mystery prospect last season, the Slovakian Cehlarik parlayed a great second half into draft buzz. The kid’s got size and great hands, and on his new Asploven team (he was previously with Lulea), he’s been driving the bus early. Cehlarik leads the squad with four goals and nine points in nine games, while scoring at a scintillating 22 percent clip. Drafted 90th overall by Boston in 2013.Tanner MacMaster, C – Camrose Kodiaks (AJHL)
At 5-foot-10 and just 154 pounds, MacMaster has some filling out to do, but that’s what Jr. A and the college route can help a player accomplish. MacMaster is committed to Boston College and was named the Alberta Jr. League’s player of the week thanks to his scoring prowess, which now stands at a Camrose-best 12 points through 11 games. The kid’s got a great offensive toolbox and is real fun to watch when he has the puck. Draft eligible in 2014.