While we wait for world junior camps to open, there has been a ton of great prospect hockey to watch lately. I had the chance to get out to a Toronto/Laval AHL game and a Mississauga/London OHL tilt last week, so in this edition of Prospect NTK, you’ll find some first-hand observations from those games, plus the usual assortment of nuggets on the players making their organizations look good right now.
As always, I’ve got something on one player from all 31 NHL franchises and with all development leagues in full swing, there’s a lot of material to draw from.
ANA: He hasn’t played as many games as others due to NHL camp and a two-game suspension for a head shot, but left winger Brayden Tracey has been prolific through 13 games with the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors. His 1.7 points per game rate is among the best in the league.
ARI: Center Jan Jenik has been unstoppable for OHL Hamilton. The Czech national is one of the top scorers in the league with 50 points in 23 games. Perhaps more impressive, however, is that he has tallied at least one point in every single game this season.
BOS: It can be tough going up and down from the NHL to AHL, but Urho Vaakanainen has the right approach. The defenseman was just named AHL player of the week on the strength of five points in two games for the Providence Bruins.
BUF: University of Minnesota freshman defenseman Ryan Johnson may not have an inside track for a world junior spot on Team USA, but don’t count him out either. According to one insider, Johnson has a track record of stepping up early – like at last year’s World Jr. A Challenge – and his puckmoving skills cannot be ignored.
CGY: One of the Flames’ top prospects, Jakob Pelletier is raising eyebrows with QMJHL Moncton. The tenacious and skilled left winger had six points in two games on the weekend, including a goal that he swatted out of mid-air on a 2-on-2 rush against Chicoutimi.
CAR: Right winger Kirill Slepets has been a fave of mine thanks to his speed and shorthanded prowess. The slim Russian had 15 points in 21 games for Buran in the KHL’s farm league, earning him a call-up to Dinamo Minsk. He’s getting decent minutes with Minsk and has two points in his first five games.
CHI: Defenseman Cole Moberg opened my eyes in Traverse City with his physical, defensive play at the rookie tournament. Now back in the WHL with Prince George, Moberg is on pace for his best offensive year yet with 14 points in 21 games. His career high is 40 points, established last season.
COL: Freshman Alex Newhook is starting to take off for the Boston College Eagles. The talented center has six points in his past five games after hitting the scoresheet for just one goal in his first six outings.
CBJ: Defenseman Tim Berni is having himself a nice little year in the Swiss League. The Zurich Lions rearguard has eight points in 23 games and is logging about 17 minutes of ice time per night for the first-place squad. Look for him to be big at the world juniors.
DAL: Here’s OHL Mississauga’s Cole Schwindt on teammate Thomas Harley: “He’s the backbone for sure. Everyone is looking to him to get things going for us and when things aren’t going our way, he’s the first guy everyone looks to. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll be in the NHL next year. We’re gonna use him while we have him.”
DET: Imposing right winger Elmer Soderblom is ripping up Sweden’s junior circuit, leading the Southern circuit with 35 points in 22 games for Frolunda. At 6-foot-7, 225 pounds, Soderblom is a load to handle and according to Red Wings director of player development Shawn Horcoff, the Swedish kid was one of the best at development camp when it came to physical testing.
EDM: Right winger Tomas Mazura got some USHL experience on the weekend with Omaha; here’s how Lancers coach/GM David Wilkie felt about the kid’s performance: “Tomas integrated immediately into our lineup and played top-six minutes. His hockey sense, playmaking ability and skill level are outstanding. He just needs to mature and strengthen his frame and he will continue his upward trend as an NHL prospect.” Mazura, a Providence College commit, will return to play prep at Kimball Union Academy again this year.
FLA: OHL Mississauga’s Cole Schwindt is happy to play against top lines this year and the 6-foot-3, 186-pound center has grown into the role. “My first year I came in a bit lanky and I didn’t know how to use my size and length,” he said. “Now it’s a big part of my game, using my reach to shut guys down.”
LA: Watching defenseman Kim Nousiainen at the World Junior Summer Showcase, the youngster struck me as a Torey Krug type: undersized, but feisty. Now playing with KalPa in Finland’s Liiga, the teen is getting nearly 18 minutes of ice time per game while facing older, stronger competition.
MIN: Talk about a find: seventh-rounder Sam Hentges has quickly become one of the top scorers in the NCHC with 18 points in 12 games for St. Cloud State. The sophomore center has only been held off the scoresheet once this season.
MTL: I got the chance to see AHL Laval center Lukas Vejdemo live last week and he was impressive. Vejdemo’s speed and tenacity make him a real threat shorthanded, plus he can put the puck in the net. That versatility will help him in his quest for an NHL spot with the Habs.
NSH: Have to say, I really liked how Egor Afanasyev played at the CHL-Russia series, though the powerful left winger has been good all season for the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires. Afanasyev has 22 points in 21 games for a Spits team that has been firing on all cylinders.
NJ: The top-scoring junior-aged player in Sweden’s Allsvenskan (one rung below the SHL) is left winger Nikola Pasic, with 17 points in 21 games. Not bad considering he’s been playing on Karlskoga’s fourth line.
NYI: One of the top QMJHL players of the week, defenseman Samuel Bolduc put up four points in two games with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. At 6-foot-4 and 211 pounds already, Bolduc is hard to play against.
NYR: Freshman blueliner Simon Kjellberg is off to a great start with RPI, paired with senior Will Reilly (see PIT note). Here’s coach Dave Smith on the big Swede: “Simon’s a hockey junkie; his IQ is really high. He sees the ice and makes the simple plays. With his size, reach and range, he and Will complement each other really well.”
OTT: I got confirmation from the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers that goaltender Mads Sogaard will play for Denmark at the Division 1A world juniors in December. The towering Sogaard got rocked last year in Vancouver as Denmark got relegated (they also couldn’t score), so he’ll have plenty of motivation.
PHI: Playing for his hometown team, Wyatte Wylie continues to build up an impressive resume with the WHL’s Everett Silvertips. The smart, two-way defenseman is posting up a point per game in his final junior season.
PIT: Senior and captain Will Reilly came to RPI as a raw talent and has really blossomed. He has a point per game this year and coach Dave Smith is very happy with his evolution: “He always had power and strength to his game,” Smith said. “Now he’s added better positioning and game management – when you can skate like him, sometimes you cover too much ground.”
STL: Center Keean Washkurak is a massive pain to play against; quick and physical. He’s also taking on an important top-six role with OHL Mississauga as an 18-year-old, something coach James Richmond has been very impressed with. It’s also been necessary, given how young the Steelheads are this season.
SJ: Pivot Yegor Spiridonov has been an absolute beast in the faceoff circle this season. Playing for Stalnye Lisy in the KHL’s junior league, Spiridonov has won 65.1 percent of his draws while also contributing 16 points in 18 games.
TB: After playing just three games early in the season due to a lower-body injury, right winger Maxim Cajkovic has been on fire for the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs. The Slovakian import has 15 points in his past eight games and hasn’t been held off the scoresheet since his return.
TOR: Here’s AHL Marlies center Adam Brooks on his development curve in Toronto under Sheldon Keefe: “You go from playing 30 minutes in junior and focusing strictly on the offensive side of the puck to playing on the fourth line. During the playoff run that first year, our job (with Trevor Moore and Mason Marchment) was to play good defensively and create energy. So right there in my first year I had to learn the defensive side of the game.” Brooks has seven points in nine games since returning from a concussion.
VAN: One of the most exciting junior players in Sweden this year has been Nils Hoglander. The super-skilled left winger is one of top junior-aged scorers in the SHL with six points in 16 games for Rogle while playing a middle-six role.
VGK: Goalie Isaiah Saville has quickly put his stamp on the crease with the University of Nebraska-Omaha. The freshman already has wins over ranked teams Ohio State, Western Michigan and Wisconsin, while playing nearly every game for the Mavericks.
WSH: Here’s defenseman Martin Hugo Has on weaknesses and strengths: “Probably the physical game and being more mean on the ice. The plusses are shooting and overall competitiveness.” The Czech blueliner has been playing in Finland the past couple seasons after winning back-to-back junior titles at home. Look for him at the world juniors.
WPG: Some prospects take longer to break out, but it’s looking like the time has come for Jansen Harkins. The AHL Manitoba center is leading the Moose in scoring with 22 points in 20 games after tallying just 31 all of last season.
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