The playoffs have certainly not disappointed at the prospect level so far. The Frozen Four had numerous overtimes and now the field is set for the final weekend, with North Dakota battling Denver and Boston College taking on Quinnipiac. In major junior, it's been just as crazy, with big upsets and a couple other underdogs taking the favorites down to the wire - Kelowna finally iced Kamloops, while Barrie and Mississauga needed seven games to determine a winner. We're also nearing the world under-18s in North Dakota, so look for more info on that in the near future. Here's what's going on in the world of prospects:
Auston Matthews, C – Zurich Lions (Swi.): Even though his Zurich squad was upset in the first round of the Swiss League playoffs by SC Bern, Matthews still had an incredible year as an 18-year-old. Squaring off against men, the powerful center tallied 24 goals and 46 points in just 36 games, while getting great development away from the puck.
"I had a lot of fun over there," said Matthews, who is now back in the U.S. "It was such a good group and for a younger guy, I was fortunate to have guys like Ryan Shannon and Robert Nilsson to help me adjust."
And though his Zurich experiment is over, Matthews does have more hockey this year, as he will be part of Team USA's World Championship team in Russia. For a kid who got into an exhibition game at last year's festivities, a bigger role is a dream.
"It's going to be unbelievable," he said. "To play against NHLers in that tournament format will be great."
And though he wasn't listed on the initial roster of 16 players, there is still the possibility that Matthews could play for the under-23 North American squad at the World Cup of Hockey, which will take place in Toronto in early autumn. There, his teammates would include fellow recent phenoms Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel.
"It looks like a pretty exciting roster," Matthews said. "Lots of speed and skill. If I make the team, it would be a huge honor. If not, that's OK too. I'll just keep preparing for my first NHL training camp. Whatever happens, happens."
Known for his cool confidence and creativity, Matthews will be welcome on a lot of rosters as his NHL career begins. And with the draft lottery coming at the end of the month, we'll know where he will begin that career soon.
In the Pipeline
Samuel Montembeault, G (Florida): Montembeault was the goalie of record for the Quebec League's biggest playoff upset ever, as his Blainville-Boisbriand Armada knocked off Val-d'Or in the first round. That's a 13 seed beating a four. The calm, athletic netminder made all the saves needed to allow teammate Philippe Sanche to win Game 7 in triple overtime.
Dmytro Timashov, LW (Toronto): A standout for Sweden at the world juniors, Timashov has continued his prolonged assault on the 'Q' as a member of the Shawinigan Cataractes. The talented and creative winger pumped in nine points in a five-game dusting of Sherbrooke in the first round.
Andy Welinski, D (Anaheim): Most recently of the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Welinski just signed his entry-level deal with the Ducks and will head off to sunny San Diego to join the AHL's Gulls. With size and skating acumen, he's one more asset for a deep organizational blueline pool.
Thatcher Demko, G (Vancouver): Demko has dominated the NCAA ranks this season, leading Boston College to a Frozen Four date with top-ranked Quinnipiac. Big and poised, the Eagles netminder has been a shutout machine and rocks a .936 save percentage.
2016 Draft Stars
Patrik Laine, LW – Tappara (Fin.): He was lightning at the world juniors and he has been excellent in the Liiga playoffs. Laine, the big, aggressive shooter, is squaring off against fellow phenom Jesse Puljujarvi in the semifinal, with Tappara ahead 2-0. Laine has five points in seven post-season games.
Matthew Tkachuk, LW – London Knights (OHL): The OHL player of the week, Tkachuk had 12 points in four games as his Knights shook off a pesky Owen Sound team in the first round. Smart, creative and hard-working, Tkachuk has been locked in at No. 4 in the draft rankings by scouts, behind Matthews, Laine and Puljujarvi.
Sam Steel, C – Regina Pats (WHL): It was a tough regular season for Steel, who seemed out of step to scouts. But the playoffs have been a different story, as the slick playmaker has gone off for nine points through five games for the Pats.
Ryan Lindgren, D – U.S. NTDP (USHL): He's not getting a lot of attention, but scouts are high on Lindgren, a University of Minnesota commit who plays a great two-way game. Mobile, competitive and a high-character kid, he'll get his due on draft day.
Connor Hall, D – Kitchener Rangers (OHL): The Rangers have been hurt by injuries to their blueline, but Hall has stepped up. Under the radar due to his own early-season injury, the gritty and tough D-man skates well and helped propel Kitchener past a very game Windsor squad in the first round.