Tough decisions are happening daily in the NHL right now as the opening rosters are whittled down to their final drafts. Florida already made the call on third overall pick Jonathan Huberdeau, sending him back to Saint John, so look for both the Sea Dogs and Canada’s world junior team to benefit. Meanwhile, Swedes Adam Larsson, Mika Zibanejad and Gabriel Landeskog all look like they’re sticking in the NHL, so it will be interesting to see what effect that has on the WJC. College hockey has started pre-season as well, so there are a lot of players to round up that we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.
Kenny Agostino, LW – Yale Bulldogs (ECAC)
Yale was quite strong last season and though they couldn’t solve another set of Bulldogs in the East Regional finals (eventual champs Minnesota-Duluth), it’s fair to say they’ll be solid again. Agostino will be key for the Yalies and his freshman totals of 11 goals and 25 points in 30 games bode well for his sophomore campaign.
“Last year it really was a privilege for us freshmen to have the seniors we had,” Agostino said. “I just wanted to be a sponge and learn as much as I could.”
The New Jersey native nabbed three state high school titles with Delbarton before coming to New Haven and left as the Green Wave’s most prolific scorer ever. Jumping to the ECAC was something else, though.
“You can’t compare the two levels,” he said. “It took me the first half of the year to adjust.”
But adjust he did and now he’s poised to carry even more weight for the Bulldogs offense.
“I work pretty hard,” Agostino said. “I’d say I’m a playmaker more than anything else. Physically, I want to get faster and my defensive game needs work.”
As an academic All-ECAC pick last season, Agostino has the smarts to make it work. The only thing left is figuring out how to get Yale its first national championship. Drafted 140th overall by Pittsburgh in 2010.
Cam Atkinson, RW – Springfield Falcons (AHL)
The fact he had an exemplary career with Boston College before putting up five points in five games for the Falcons last season means Atkinson shouldn’t be that much of a surprise, but he’s been big for Columbus in the pre-season. In fact, the diminutive goal-scorer has earned a top-six spot ahead of Derick Brassard and Ryan Johansen. Drafted 157th overall by Columbus in 2008.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C – Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
This will be the last appearance on The Hot List for ‘The Nuge,’ because the Oilers can’t wait to see him opening night. Edmonton’s leading scorer in exhibition play, Nugent-Hopkins has shown he can take a big hit at the NHL level, as evidenced by his recovery from a thunderous Victor Oreskovich check in Vancouver. The offense will take care of itself. Drafted first overall by Edmonton in 2011.
Ryan Murphy, D – Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
Murphy may not stick with Carolina for the season opener, but he’s been tremendously impressive nonetheless. His offensive flair from the blueline has never been questioned and his ability to use his stick to defend has shown size is not as big an issue for him at the pro level as first thought. A Murphy-Huberdeau power play combo at the world juniors would be sick. Drafted 12th overall by Carolina in 2011.
Roman Horak, C – Chilliwack Bruins (WHL)
Who says the Flames are devoid of youth? Horak, the main prize in the embarrassingly forced Tim Erixon trade with the Rangers, is proving to be a great catch for Calgary and the Czech playmaker is actually making some veteran pivots in Cowtown expendable. The fact Erixon was cut by New York makes the deal look a lot more decent for GM Jay Feaster. Drafted 127th overall by the New York Rangers in 2009; traded to Calgary in 2011.
Raphael Bussieres, LW – Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)
With 13 points in nine games, Bussieres is on pace to more than double his production from last season. His early plus-10 rating is also a stark contrast to the minus-31 he posted as a sophomore and with a good frame and a gritty mindset, he’ll be an interesting prospect to follow this year. Draft eligible in 2012.
Pontus Aberg, LW – Djurgarden (Swe.)
A late birthday makes Aberg one of the oldest draft eligible players this season and that extra gestation period is showing early. Not only is the left winger tied with Red Wings prospect Calle Jarnkrok for the junior-aged scoring lead in Sweden’s top league with four goals and six points in eight games, but he’s top-15 overall. A two-way player with speed and hands, Aberg has a high ceiling. Draft eligible in 2012.
Matt Murray, G – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
Listed at 6-foot-4, 159 pounds, Murray definitely has some lank to him, but as a goaltender that’s not the worst thing in the world. What’s most important is how Murray has been playing. Since a first-game loss to Belleville, the second-year Hound has been excellent, with a 2.25 goals-against average and .923 save percentage overall. He has given up just five goals in three wins over Oshawa, Windsor and Kitchener – all decent teams. Draft eligible in 2012.
Martin Gernat, D – Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
Much like fellow Slovak tower Martin Marincin last year, Gernat has adapted to the ‘Dub’ game quickly, posting three goals and seven points in his first four games. At 6-foot-5 he takes up a good amount of ice, but his slick skating cannot be overlooked, either. Drafted 122nd overall by Edmonton in 2011.
Mark McNeill, C – Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
McNeill made an excellent impression at Chicago’s main camp and even though he didn’t stick, the effort has carried over back in Prince Albert. The burgeoning power forward has five assists and seven points in five games and will once again be counted on to be a leader for the Raiders. Drafted 18th overall by Chicago in 2011.
The Hot List, a roundup of minor league, junior, college and high school players we’re excited to one day see in the NHL, appears every Tuesday only on thehockeynews.com. A player is eligible for The Hot List until they play in their first NHL game.
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