Canada eked out a 1-0 win at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament on the weekend, but the fact Team USA got to the final speaks very well for America’s hockey future. You see, the Yanks don’t send the traditionally strong NTDP kids to the Ivan Hlinka. Instead, they use the Czech/Slovakian showdown as a sort of reward for other young Americans affiliated with USA Hockey.
So basically, the competition got dusted by some very good – but not all of the very good – players from the U.S. But there’s plenty of news from the prospect world to catch up on, so here’s a look at some of the kids we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.
1. Erik Gudbranson, D – Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
With new GM Dale Tallon still putting his stamp on the team, there’s a lot of opportunity on the Florida Panthers blueline right now. And despite the fact last year’s first round pick, defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, went straight to the big club from junior, there’s a lot of buzz about another teenager joining the ranks.
Gudbranson, a 6-foot-4, 195-pounder, knows his NHL dream can start very soon.
“Absolutely,” he said. “It’s gonna come with a lot of work this summer; put on a lot of weight, polish up some skills and habits that will make me a pro. I’m going to have to work hard this summer and hopefully make the jump.”
The Frontenacs stalwart had an up-and-down season due to various maladies, but there’s no overlooking the fact he still had 23 points and a plus-11 rating (second on the team) from the blueline in 41 games.
“I was out for about 11 weeks in total with the knee injury and mono so I really had to start a second season,” Gudbranson noted. “It was tough mentally, but I think I played well after that and didn’t use it as an excuse.”
Based on his frame, skill set and attitude, Gudbranson has the chops to go straight to the NHL.
“I think I’m a good skater for my size,” he said. “I play with an edge, I can intimidate guys and potentially change the pace of a game. I want to be a leader on the ice and off the ice. If somebody needs me to drop the gloves I’m the first guy to do it. Whether it’s a fourth-line player or a first-line player, I’m there for my teammates.” Drafted third overall by Florida in 2010.
2. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C – Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
Before we crown RNH as the No. 1 pick for 2011 based on his Ivan Hlinka heroics, let’s not forget fellow frontrunners Sean Couturier and Adam Larsson were too old to participate (late birthdays). Nevertheless, ‘The Nuge’ had the only goal in the gold medal game, added a hat trick against Switzerland and generally terrorized the field. So yeah, he’s up there. Draft eligible in 2011.
3. Cason Hohmann, C – Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (USHL)
Undersized at 5-foot-7 and 150 pounds, Hohmann hasn’t let his frame become an issue yet. The playmaking pivot led Team USA in scoring at the Ivan Hlinka with six points in five games and can stickhandle like a demon. He’s committed to Boston University in the future. Draft eligible in 2011.
4. Louis Leblanc, C – Montreal Juniors (QMJHL)
The Quebec League got a big boost when Leblanc left Harvard recently for the Juniors. He’s a French-Canadian Habs pick playing in the province’s biggest city and gives Couturier competition for the league scoring title. The question now is how fast he graduates from maroon to bleu, blanc et rouge. Drafted 18th overall by Montreal in 2009.
5. Jarred Tinordi, D – London Knights (OHL)
Between arrests and departures, it’s been a rough couple of years for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Tinordi���s switch to London is another toughie for South Bend. But if you’re a Knights fan, it’s great news to have a talented and imposing blueliner to complement the youthful skill of Scott Harrington. Drafted 22nd overall by Montreal in 2010.
6. Lukas Sutter, C – Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
Yep, he’s one of those Sutters, but the talented center is from Montana, which is why he suited up for Team USA at the Ivan Hlinka. Sutter was an offensive force at the tourney, with his two goals against Sweden in the semifinal looming the largest. Draft eligible in 2011.
7. Joachim Nermark, C – Linkoping (Swe.)
Nermark was all over the Swedish scoresheets at the Ivan Hlinka, helping his squad to bronze with three points in a 6-1 demolition of the Czech Republic. The young center has produced numbers at every level, despite usually playing up an age group. He played for Leksand last year, but is now with Linkoping. Draft eligible in 2011.
8. Seth Ambroz, LW – Omaha Lancers (USHL)
Ambroz is coming off a successful Ivan Hlinka with Team USA, but his full impact will be measured by what he does back in Omaha this season. Ambroz has top-five draft potential and decided not to go to the University of Minnesota this year because ample ice time was not guaranteed. The kid’s big at 6-foot-3, 208 pounds, so watch out for him this season. Draft eligible in 2011.
9. Nail Yakupov, RW – Sarnia Sting (OHL)
The Russians finished out of the medals at the Ivan Hlinka, but the future is bright. Yakupov, who will join fellow countryman Alex Galchenyuk in Sarnia this year, found the scoresheet twice in a round-robin shootout win over the U.S. despite being one of the younger players in the tourney. Draft eligible in 2012.
10. Ryan Murray, D – Everett Silvertips (WHL)
Some see the next Scott Niedermayer in Murray, who captained the Canadians to gold at the Ivan Hlinka. He’s a puckmoving wizard and his 27 points in 52 games with the Tips last year were pretty smooth for a rookie – especially one who had just turned 16 when the season began. Draft eligible in 2012.
The Hot List, a weekly roundup of minor league, junior, college and high school players we’re excited to one day see in the NHL, appears regularly throughout the off-season only on thehockeynews.com. A player is eligible for The Hot List until they play in their first NHL game.
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