The biggest news out of the prospect world in the past week was 2015 draft eligible Ryan Gropp signing with the Western League's Seattle Thunderbirds. Originally committed to the University of North Dakota, Gropp is a highly skilled forward who will join a suddenly burgeoning movement in Seattle alongside Mathew Barzal and Ducks pick Shea Theodore. While the CHL-NCAA recruiting war continues, let's take a look at some of the other players we're excited to see in the NHL one day.
Alex Nedeljkovic, G – Plymouth Whalers (OHL)
With Tom Wilson officially staying in Washington and Connor Carrick also bound to the pros, Plymouth has lost two of its top players for the year. If the Whalers are going to maintain their high standards of excellence, Nedeljkovic will be a big reason. After all, he did go 19-2-2 last season before leading the team throughout the playoffs. Not bad for a kid who had just turned 17 that January.
“I felt really comfortable,” Nedeljkovic said. “Being a rookie, the guys weren't sure what to expect, but they gained confidence and I gained confidence. There was a lot of trust.”
This season, Nedeljkovic (Na-Dell-Kovitch) is facing a lot more rubber. In his past two games, the Ohio native has made 84 saves and though the Whalers have struggled, the second-year netminder still boasts a .923 save percentage.
“I try to approach every game the same way,” he said. “I want to stop as many pucks as I can.”
And though Nedeljkovic would surely like more wins this year (he's 6-6-0), he does like the rhythm of playing in games where he's been peppered. He wants to work on his depth in net and challenge shooters more, though he's not a stay-at-home goalie.
“Playing the puck is one of my strongest assets,” he said. “The communication between me and the defense is really important.”
Considering his calm manner has kept Plymouth in many games, some of that communication coming from the defense should probably be “thank you.” Draft eligible in 2014.
Kevin Roy, C – Northeastern Huskies (Hockey East)
He was sensational as a freshman, so there's really no surprise that once again the talented Roy is leading the Huskies' offensive attack. The sniper leads the conference with five goals and nine points in four games, all wins for Northeastern. Drafted 97th overall by Anaheim in 2012.
Derrick Pouliot, D – Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
His poise and command with the puck helped Pouliot get a long look from the Pittsburgh Penguins this fall, but ultimately it was back to Portland for one more season. Pouliot hasn't let that slow him down and has registered an impressive nine assists and 11 points in seven games. He'll be key to Canada's world junior team. Drafted eighth overall by Pittsburgh in 2012.
Hudson Fasching, C – University of Minnesota Golden Gophers (Big Ten)
Maybe Fasching just needed to realize his dream. Though he was underwhelming in his draft year, the Minnesota native has gotten off to a great start as a college man with the hometown Gophers, registering two goals and six points in four games to tie him for second in the conference. The budding power forward has hit the scoresheet every match so far. Drafted 118th overall by Los Angeles in 2013.
Danny Kristo, RW – Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL)
A prolific scorer in college with North Dakota, Kristo has now brought his speedy and skilled game to the pros. The right winger finds himself second in American League rookie scoring with four goals and seven points in six games. Don't be surprised if the Rangers call him up at some point this season. Acquired by New York from Montreal in 2013.
Johan Gustafsson, G – Iowa Wild (AHL)
Highly decorated back in Sweden, Gustafsson was a frequent national team star who won world junior gold in Calgary. Now he's making his North American debut and the early returns are great, as the rookie boasts a 0.50 goals-against average and .984 save percentage through two games. His big frame and smooth movements certainly help. Drafted 159th overall by Minnesota in 2010.
Kevin Fiala, LW – HV71 (Swe.)
Fiala is a Swiss national with Czech roots, so of course he's playing in Sweden, right? Playing in the northern nation's junior ranks, the left winger has five goals and 14 points through 13 games, using his devastating shot and excellent vision to make up for his smaller 5-foot-9 frame. Draft eligible in 2014.
Juuse Saros, G – HPK (Fin.)
In a battle with Joonas Korpisalo for the rights to Finland's net at the world juniors this year, Saros was excellent on the international stage last season and is playing incredible in his nation's top home league now. Currently ranked third overall with a 1.64 goals-against average, he may not have ideal size, but his fire and athleticism make up for it. Drafted 99th overall by Nashville in 2013.
Sonny Milano, LW – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
A wizard with his stick, Milano is one of the most exciting players to watch this year, not only on the NTDP, but throughout the prospect world. In United States League play, he's been on fire with two goals and nine points in just five games. The New York state native is committed to Notre Dame and also stood out at the All-American Prospects Game. Draft eligible in 2014.
Jeremy Gregoire, RW – Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)
One of the youngest players drafted last season thanks to his early September birthday, Gregoire doesn't play like a kid. His hallmarks are grit and character, though he's also off to a great offensive start for the Drakkar, posting 12 goals and 22 points in just 13 games. Drafted 176th overall by Montreal in 2013.
(Photo by Rena Laverty)