CHL playoffs and the NCAA Frozen Four tournament kick off this week, so it's a big time for prospect evaluation. But there is also a lot of change in the air, starting at the University of Wisconsin, where long-time coach Mike Eaves was given his walking papers after two straight disastrous seasons. Recruiting and retention was an issue, as the Badgers could have had Brock Boeser (VAN), Luke Opilka (STL) and Jack Dougherty (NSH) in their lineup this year, but lost all of them. It's been a rough ride in Madison, but I'm sure Eaves will land on his feet. Elsewhere, Pittsburgh signed scorer Jake Guentzel once his season with Nebraska-Omaha was finished and there's rampant speculation about another NCAA product's future plans that I'll mention below. Let's take a spin around the world of prospects again:
Cam Morrison, LW – Youngstown Phantoms (USHL): It's not easy making the adjustment from the Ontario Jr. A League to the USHL, but Morrison has made it look like a breeze. Not only has the Youngstown rookie been scoring, but he has been one of the best in the league, notching 27 goals and 54 points in 55 games. That's good for fifth overall in what is known as a stingy circuit. Not bad for the ex-Aurora Tiger.
"I definitely noticed a change in speed and more systematic play," Morrison said. "It can be difficult to score goals because of the defensive play."
Which is why scouts are intrigued by the Notre Dame commit's success. Morrison is not blessed with speed, but he's a big body and he works the corners. One scout compared him to Andrew Brunette, while another liked his ability to score clutch goals. Despite playing high-level soccer for years, footwork is his focus right now.
"I need to work on my agility and edgework," Morrison said. "I've got the north-south speed, but I've been focusing on pivots, doing circuit drills after practice."
Luckily, Morrison has plenty of time to develop. The 2016 draft prospect is committed to Notre Dame and hasn't heard much lately from North Bay, the team that holds his OHL rights.
"Playing Jr. A last year exposed me to the NCAA," he said. "I visited the campus and it was everything I expected."
With the Fighting Irish in the national tournament now and already possessing some nice talent in Anders Bjork (Boston), Jake Evans (Montreal) and Connor Hurley (Buffalo), Morrison has a nice place to land in South Bend. And if he can keep up his scoring exploits at the next level, whichever NHL team drafts him will feel the luck of the Irish, too.
In the Pipeline
Jimmy Vesey, LW (Nashville): The darling of the pundit circuit right now, Vesey enters the Frozen Four tourney with 46 points in 32 games. So yeah, the Harvard captain can snipe. Much has been made of the fact his dad works for the Leafs, but keep in mind brother Nolan is a Toronto pick (actually, does that make the Toronto argument stronger? Hmm).
Zach Werenski, D (Columbus): Four points in a 5-3 Big Ten title win over Minnesota gives Werenski the nod this week, taking over for still-hot Michigan teammate Kyle Connor. An excellent all-around defenseman with an offensive lean, Werenski almost certainly turns pro once the Wolverines are done this year.
Axel Holmstrom, C (Detroit): Holmstrom needed to re-focus his efforts this year after he looked distracted early on, but the smart and competitive pivot has found his groove. Already one of the SHL's top junior scorers in the regular season, Holmstrom is at it again in the playoffs with four points through three games (all Skelleftea wins).
2016 Draft Stars
Tyler Parsons, G – London Knights (OHL): Parsons doesn't get much pub, given the high-powered team he plays for, but scouts have noticed. The netminder makes clutch saves and doesn't give up many bad goals. Oh, and the helping the Knights to the league's lowest goals-against average is nice, too.
Samuel Girard, D – Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL): An excellent offensive defenseman who uses his smarts to get around the ice, Girard ended the regular season en fuego, with seven points in his last two games. Defensive play is a concern, but his escapability is uncanny when he has the puck.
Mikhail Sergachev, D – Windsor Spitfires (OHL): I'm getting a big Ivan Provorov vibe from Sergachev. Scouts think he's one of the most NHL-ready players in the draft thanks to his size, skill and potential and he has done it all as an OHL rookie. Sergachev heads into the playoffs on a seven-game point streak, ending among the offensive leader for both rookies and blueliners.
Carsen Twarynski, LW – Calgary Hitmen (WHL): Twarynski succeeds more because of his hard work than his raw skill – and he's been working hard lately. The quick and energetic winger has 11 points in nine March games. It's a perfect time for him to get hot, as the playoffs begin in a few days.
Dennis Cholowski, D – Chilliwack Chiefs (BCHL): While Tyson Jost and Dante Fabbro have owned the BCHL headlines, Cholowski has put in an impressive campaign himself. The St. Cloud State commit has seven points in seven playoff games, using his skating, vision and all-around game to make plays.
2017 Draft Star
Juuso Valimaki, D – Tri-City Americans (WHL): A mobile puckmover, Valimaki is the latest in what seems to be a Finnish factory for such talents. With Tri-City missing the playoffs, it will be interesting to see if he can boost expectations at the world under-18s in North Dakota.
Injury Report: The essential Gregg Drinnan has some big injury news, a crucial one being top 2016 goalie prospect Carter Hart, who is dealing with a lower-body injury. Hart's Everett Silvertips start their post-season against high-scoring Portland on Friday and without the calm and controlled goalie, the Tips would be sunk.