It's getting down to crunch time in the prospect world, as the most wonderful time of year is upon us. College hockey has already entered the conference playoff stage while major junior is down to jockeying for berths in the post-season. The high schoolers in Minnesota are already finished and the story of the winners is pretty compelling. Meet the captain of that squad, plus nine other NHL prospects making noise in our weekly round-up.
Jack McNeely, D – Lakeville North Panthers (Minn. HS)
Last year, the Panthers got all the way to the state final before getting drubbed by perennial powerhouse Edina. This season, they would not be deterred. Buttressed by McNeely, fellow defenseman Jack Sadek and the three Poehling brothers among others, Lakeville North went a perfect 31-0. They beat an always-tough Duluth East team in the final, becoming the first large school (the state’s tourney has two divisions) to go undefeated since 1993.
It’s a great capper for McNeely, who began the season by playing in the All-American Prospects Game – and he was the only Minnesota high schooler invited.
“It was a really cool experience,” he said. “Noah Hanifin was my roommate and Eddie Olczyk was my coach – he was really cool.”
McNeely is expected to spend some time with the USHL’s Tri-City Storm for the rest of this season before heading out to the University of Nebraska-Omaha next year, an exciting step for him.
“I visited on an off-week,” McNeely said. “They have a brand-new rink next year and the program had everything.”
A fan of Nick Lidstrom and Ryan Suter, McNeely wears No. 20 in honor of the Minnesota Wild workhorse. The nearly 6-foot-3 teen wants to work on his overall strength (the USHL will be a good test) in order to move out encroaching attackers, which will balance out his cerebral strengths.
“I see the ice really well,” he said. “My strengths are being calm and solid in the defensive zone. I like to take control of the game and I try to hold on to the puck.”
He and the Panthers certainly know how to hold on to a lead and now they have a pretty sweet state title trophy to hang on to as well. Draft eligible in 2015.
Sam Bennett, C – Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
Back in the saddle after a nearly season-long injury absence, Bennett has scorched the Ontario League for five goals and 11 points in six games. This is great news for the Fronts heading into the playoffs, as Bennett brings high-end skill and jam down the middle. Drafted fourth overall by Calgary in 2014.
Daniel Sprong, RW – Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL)
In terms of puck skills and skating, not many players can match Sprong at his age and he has been proving that lately with four straight multi-point games. The Amsterdam product leads the Isles with 78 points in 63 games overall, putting him top 20 in the Quebec League. Draft eligible in 2015.
Jack Roslovic, RW – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
Fourth in Team USA scoring with 57 points in 51 games, Roslovic is a speedster who goes to the net and has a good amount of finish to his game. The Miami University commit has been sizzling lately with nine points in his past five games, four of which were wins. Draft eligible in 2015.
Cal Petersen, G – University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Hockey East)
The Irish had a real fight on their hands against UMass in the opening round of the conference playoffs, but Petersen did his part. The former Waterloo Black Hawks standout made an NCAA record 87 saves in a Game 1 five-OT loss, then rebounded with two straight wins, including a series-ending shutout. Drafted 129th overall by Buffalo in 2013.
Mikko Rantanen, RW – TPS (Fin.)
Despite being a teenager, Rantanen is one of TPS’ top scorers this season, tied for second with 24 points in 54 games for the struggling squad. The big winger was great for Finland at the world juniors where he used his effective shot and great size to create offense. Draft eligible in 2015.
Dennis Gilbert, D – Chicago Steel (USHL)
A swift skater who can run a power play and create offense from the back end, Gilbert leads Chicago’s blueline corps with 18 points in 47 games. The big Notre Dame commit has made an easy transition from Jr. A and is also smart in his own zone. Draft eligible in 2015.
Jansen Harkins, C – Prince George Cougars (WHL)
A huge offensive driver on the Cougars, Harkins continues to be one of the top scorers in the Western League with 78 points in 64 games. Combining good hands, hockey sense and compete level, Harkins probably actually plays too much right now, but that’s a nice problem to have. Draft eligible in 2015.
Vince Dunn, D – Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
A prototypical modern offensive defenseman, Dunn is a fantastic skater with some nice flair on the offensive end of the ice. The playoff-bound Dogs are hot of late and so is their slick blueliner – he’s got five points in his past two games. Draft eligible in 2015.
Mackenzie MacEachern, LW – Michigan State Spartans (Big Ten)
The Big Ten has been a roiling cauldron of uncertainty this season and as of right now, the Spartans are on top of the heap. MacEachern has been a solid contributor, using his size and an array of offensive talents to put up 24 points in 32 games, good for second on the squad as they head into a crucial season-ending series with Michigan. Drafted 67th overall by St. Louis in 2012.