It’s been a controversial week in the prospect world, as the CHL-NCAA talent war reached DEFCON 1. First, Toronto pick Jeremy Bracco departed Boston College for OHL Kitchener, then days later Carolina prospect Warren Foegele jetted from New Hampshire for OHL Kingston. This didn’t sit well with social media’s college boosters, but in the end it’s up to the players. As for Kingston, the Frontenacs just traded for Maple Leafs pick Stephen Desrocher, who won a Memorial Cup with Oshawa last year. He'll add size and a big shot to the blueline of a team clearly going for it all. With that in mind, here’s what you need to know about the world of prospects right now.
Carter Hart, G – Everett Silvertips (WHL): Goaltenders always stand out thanks to their equipment and their outsized importance to a team, but Hart gets noticed off the ice, too. That’s because the Silvertips goalie is a New York Yankees fan and has no problem wearing his team’s gear to Seattle Mariners games, despite what the home fans may think.
“They’re not too pleased,” Hart said. “But it’s all in good fun.”
Folks in Washington State have plenty of other reasons to cheer Hart, however. The Edmonton native and 2016 draft prospect is one of the top netminders in the WHL, rocking a .930 save percentage and 2.18 goals-against average as Everett’s starter. At 6-foot-1, he’s not a monster, but he also won’t let his frame dictate his worth.
“You have to be aware of it,” he said. “It’s all about crease management; managing your depth and using speed to your advantage.”
Hart would like to improve on his puckhandling ability, but otherwise he has a lot of nice attributes. The youngster prides himself on his calm in the crease and he plays a reactive hybrid style. Hart also helped Canada win gold at the summer’s Ivan Hlinka tourney, platooning with buddy Dylan Wells of OHL Peterborough, who is also up for the draft.
“It was definitely my best hockey moment so far,” Hart said. “It was an incredible honor to throw on the Maple Leaf.”
And if he continues his excellent play in the WHL, he will get another great moment this summer when the draft unfolds in Buffalo. Hart is one of many potential options to be the first North American netminder off the board, along with Wells and London's Tyler Parsons, who was just named OHL player of the week on the strength of two shutouts in three straight wins.
In the Pipeline
Jake DeBrusk, LW (Boston): The 2015 Bruins first-rounder is really heating up – and he wasn’t cold to begin with. Debrusk has six multi-point games in his past eight outings while also getting better defensive results in the past week or so.
Matt Barzal, C (NY Islanders): The WHL’s player of the week with 10 points in three games, Barzal is already living up to the promise that was truncated due to a knee injury during his draft year. A strong, gifted pivot taken by the Islanders in the first round last summer, Barzal is averaging two points per game for Seattle.
Adam Huska, G (NY Rangers): The USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers may not be a top-tier squad right now, but they’re getting elite netminder from Huska. The Slovakian national and 2015 Rangers seventh-rounder has won four straight, ceding no more than two goals in any of those starts.
Jack Roslovic, RW (Winnipeg): We knew Roslovic would be a fun freshman to watch at Miami and sure enough, the speedster has been great for the RedHawks early on. The 2015 Jets first-rounder has eight points through eight games to lead all NCHC freshmen in scoring.
Deadly Duo: As mentioned earlier, Bracco is now a Kitchener Ranger. He immediately jumped to the first line with center and Arizona pick Ryan MacInnis and the results have been magic: Bracco, the right winger, is actually the playmaker and MacInnis the finisher. In three games, the two have combined for 12 points.
2016 Draft Stars
Otto Somppi, C – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL): Fast and skilled, Somppi has been a point-per-gamer so far in his debut season with The Herd. The Finnish import has also been quite good in the faceoff dot, particularly in the past two weeks.
Markus Niemelainen, D – Saginaw Spirit (OHL): Another Finnish import, Niemelainen comes with a tantalizing 6-foot-6, 195-pound frame. The blueliner has good feet, an active stick and plays with an edge. His mobility and confidence with the puck also helps on the power play. He has 11 points through 15 games.
Trent Frederic, C – U.S. NTDP (USHL): Frederic will be an intriguing player to watch as the season progresses, as coach Danton Cole is helping the Wisconsin commit realize what he can do with his solid frame and skating ability. Best-case scenario is Frederic becomes a David Backes-type of center. He’s already showing well against NCAA competition.
2018 Draft Star
Ty Smith, D – Lloydminster Bobcats (Alta.): Here’s a good sign for the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs – the kid they took first overall in the 2015 bantam draft was one of the best players at the recent Western Canada U16 Challenge Cup. The offensive defenseman made the tourney all-star team while helping Team Alberta to the gold medal.
Injury Report: Top 2016 prospect Auston Matthews is on the shelf right now with a back injury, but it doesn't sound too serious. His agents, Pat Brisson and Judd Moldaver, tell me that the ZSC Lions star is day-to-day with the minor ailment.
Edited to correct Ty Smith's current team.