Not only do we have major junior playoffs and the Frozen Four in full swing, but the IIHF World Under-18 Championship has taken over Fargo and Moorhead on the North Dakota-Minnesota border. It’s prospect overload, so let’s once again count down some of the youngsters we can’t wait to see make it to the pros.
1. Victor Hedman, D – Modo (Swe.): Looking at the bottom of the NHL standings right now, it’s not hard to see at least half of the serious lottery contenders would be more than interested in a 6-foot-7 puck-moving defenseman, even if it meant denying center John Tavares the No. 1 spot. Whether it’s Denver, Tampa, Long Island or elsewhere, Hedman loves North America and the chance to prove himself on Western soil. And while J.T.’s Canadians won the world junior gold over Team Sweden in Ottawa this winter, Hedman knows his team could have played better. “We didn’t come up to our standard, but Canada was very good,” Hedman said. “Canadians always play full speed and I really like how they played.” Pundits have already thrown out a lot of lofty comparisons for the 18-year-old Swede, including names such as Chris Pronger and Nicklas Lidstrom, but why not go to the source himself for a scouting report? “Two-way defenseman who can be offensively producing,” Hedman said. “I like to join the rush, play on the power play…I really like to shoot the puck.” The youngster still wants to work on his shot and didn’t get a lot of power play time on a veteran-laden Modo team this year, but his upside is incredible, especially considering the skating acumen he has for a big man. “I don’t feel 6-foot-7 when I’m on the ice,” Hedman noted. If that’s not a warning for opposing NHL teams next year, what is? Draft eligible in 2009.
2. Dylan Olsen, D – Camrose Kodiaks (AJHL): For a Jr. A player, the under-18s are a great chance to boost profile for the NHL draft. Olsen got his name on the scoreboard early, as the 6-foot-2, 205-pound defenseman tallied Canada’s overtime winner in an exhibition tilt against Finland. Draft eligible in 2009.
3. Teemu Pulkkinen, RW – Jokerit (Fin.): Coming out on the other end of that 6-5 decision, Pulkkinen nonetheless showed why he is a top prospect for next year’s draft, scoring two goals and setting up the marker that put the Finns into overtime. Draft eligible in 2010.
4. J.P. Anderson, G – Mississauga-St. Michael’s Majors (OHL): Anderson is getting hot at the right time for the Majors, sporting a 2.15 goals-against average in the playoffs. That’s nearly a goal less than the regular season. The rookie’s .939 post-season save percentage is tops in the Ontario League and keep in mind he’s playing against the high-octane Brampton Battalion right now. Draft eligible in 2010.
5. Aaron Palushaj, RW – Peoria Rivermen (AHL): The newly signed St. Louis Blues prospect is already getting his pro game going in Peoria, where the Rivermen can enjoy the gritty skill game he honed with the Michigan Wolverines. Drafted 44th overall by St. Louis in 2007.
6. Andrei Loktionov, C – Windsor Spitfires (OHL): The Spits are still rolling thanks to a deep and deadly offense, this time with import Loktionov leading the charge. The first-year pivot leads the OHL in playoff scoring with 17 points in seven games. Drafted 123rd overall by Los Angeles in 2008.
7. Dmitri Orlov, D – Metallurg Novokuznetsk (KHL): Orlov didn’t get a lot of ice time or opportunity in the Kontinental League this season, so look for him to make his mark with the Russian under-18s. The sturdy defenseman had two assists in a 7-3 exhibition win over Switzerland. Draft eligible in 2009.
8. Paul Byron, C – Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL): The diminutive pivot is on fire for the Olympiques and doing it all with playmaking. Byron has 12 assists and 13 points through seven playoffs games, which is ironic since he led the ‘Q’ in post-season goals last year. Drafted 179th overall by Buffalo in 2007.
9. Scott Glennie, C – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL): Speaking of playmakers, Glennie is a mirror image of Byron in the Dub. Other than being 6-foot-1 instead of 5-foot-8, the Wheat King has 10 assists and 11 points through six post-season games to help Brandon to a flawless playoff record so far. Draft eligible in 2009.
10. Matt Gilroy, D – Boston University Terriers (Hockey East): As the Terriers take a run at the national title, consider this Gilroy’s final audition for salivating NHL GMs. After this weekend, the puck-moving defenseman will be snapped up by whichever team is willing to pay Gilroy’s (expected) hefty price tag. Eligible for unrestricted free agency.