The world under-18s are going full-bore in North Dakota right now and there is some fantastic talent assembled. Sure, Russia's under-18s were pulled out because of a drug scandal, but youngsters such as Klim Kostin and Andrei Svechnikov just get to make their impressions a year earlier. And with Jesse Puljujarvi joining Finland, the Americans will have several rivals to fend off if they want to defend their gold medal from last year. We've also got CHL playoffs getting serious and a special guest star from the coaching ranks in this week's prospect round-up.
Cliff Pu, C – London Knights (OHL): It’s hard enough to face London in a series when you know you’ll have to deal with the trio of Mitch Marner, Christian Dvorak and Matthew Tkachuk. But as Owen Sound and Kitchener both found out in the OHL playoffs, you can’t sleep on Pu, either. The second-line center has seven goals and a helper through 10 playoff games, carrying some great momentum in his draft year.
Acquired from Oshawa in the Michael McCarron trade, Pu entered his second OHL season with some uncertainty. The Knights had once again loaded up on talent, with Tkachuk, Max Jones, Kole Sherwood and J.J. Piccinich all new arrivals to the forward corps. Where did he fit in to coach Dale Hunter’s plans?
“I honestly couldn’t tell you,” Pu said. “My agent told me to trust Dale, he’ll play you if you play well and Dale has rewarded me. I’ve played on the second line almost all year, so it’s been real fun.”
A fast player with nice vision and good size, Pu looks to Jeff Carter as an NHL role model and the youngster has been a high-rising prospect thanks to his second half, which saw him tally eight points in his final eight regular season games.
“I like to use my speed and find my teammates,” he said. “But it’s all about the team and whatever I need to do, I’m down for it.”
Pu still wants to round out his game, but in the meantime he has become a fan favorite in London. During the playoffs, the crowd has started chanting “Puuuuuu” when he gets the puck, just like NHL fans have chanted “Luuuu” for Roberto Luongo.
“At first I didn’t know they were doing it,” Pu said. “(goalie) Emanuel Vella told me after one of the games and by the last game of the Owen Sound series I started hearing it a lot. It’s pretty funny – and it’s better than them booing, so it’s all fun and games.”
In the Pipeline
Jonas Siegenthaler, D (Washington): Though he was overshadowed by another NHL prospect on Zurich this season, Siegenthaler made some nice progress of his own. As coach Marc Crawford told me: “He’s going to be a No. 3 or 4 shutdown defenseman that can make plays to the middle and has vision for the game. Really good at closing guys off.”
Crawford would like to see Siegenthaler get more of chance at the offensive end so the youngster can improve his shot and get reps in that role. Will that be with AHL Hershey (where he is now that Zurich’s season is done) next year, or Switzerland?
Artturi Lehkonen, LW (Montreal): The fast Finn really hit his stride in Sweden this season and has his Frolunda squad in the SHL final. Lehkonen, a 2013 Habs pick leads the playoffs in points with 14 through 13 games. His Indians are battling Skelleftea for the title.
John Quenneville, C (New Jersey): He boasts so many good qualities, from smarts to a physical edge, but Quenneville also has offense in his arsenal. Seven points in a five-game series win over Moose Jaw is pretty good and the Devils pick leads WHL Brandon in scoring with 16 in 11 playoff games.
2016 Draft Stars
Alex Nylander, LW – Mississauga Steelheads (OHL): It’s been a huge week for Nylander, who was named the OHL rookie of the year and then got some nice, cold revenge on Switzerland at the under-18s. It was, after all, a Swiss player who knocked his brother William out of the world juniors with a dirty hit – so Alex hung six points on their U18s in an 8-1 dismantling.
Connor Hall, D – Kitchener Rangers (OHL): A nasty shutdown defenseman with size, Hall was a revelation for Kitchener in the second half, coming back from an early injury to rocket up the depth chart. The OHL rookie played against top lines in the playoffs and is now with Canada at the under-18s.
Kieffer Bellows, LW – U.S. NTDP (USHL): Bellows may not be the most complete player in the draft, but his goal-scoring acumen is top-tier. He has already struck three times in three games at the under-18s, with five points total. Bellows is a Boston University commit.
Tyson Jost, C – Penticton Vees (BCHL): Because of where he plays, Jost has been forced to prove himself over and over again to some pundits this season. Well, the University of North Dakota commit leads Canada in offense at the under-18s with eight points in three games, so that should probably do it, right?
Adam Fox, D – U.S. NTDP (USHL): Though is not blessed with size, the 5-foot-10 Fox has caught the attention of scouts because the kid creates big offense from the blueline. A Harvard commit, Fox has six points through three games at the under-18s and excels thanks to his vision, creativity and puck poise.
Filip Gustavsson, G – Lulea (SHL): Sweden got a huge boost when Gustavsson arrived for the under-18s and he has proven to be a great international performer in the past. Big, fast and structured, he’ll be one of the top netminders available this summer.
2017 Draft Star
Kristian Vesalainen, RW – Frolunda Indians (SHL): Though his team is still in the SHL final, the youngster had only played in five of 13 games, so it made sense to send the Finn to the under-18s. Big, talented and powerful, Vesalainen already has four points in three tourney games, tying him for the team lead.