As the playoffs come to a head in the junior ranks, leagues are beginning to replenish the ponds already. The United States League is in the middle of its two-part draft, while the Quebec League’s Central Scouting registry just released its final ranking – big right winger Nicolas Roy is No. 1. Out west, Vancouver shocked no one by taking gifted scorer Ty Benson with the first selection in the Western League bantam draft. And the World Championship is on, so let’s look at some of the prospects making noise these days.
Andrey Makarov, G – Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
It’s a weird time for the Blades, as they continue to wait for the Memorial Cup to come. The hosts from Saskatoon were swept in the first round of the WHL playoffs so they (like Shawinigan last year) have a long wait until the big CHL showdown.
“We’re just working hard every practice,” Makarov said. “And we’re watching the OHL and Quebec League playoffs.”
As they wait, the Blades are preparing as best they can, bringing in local pros such as ex-Carolina Hurricane Ryan Bayda and Boston Bruins draft pick Jordan Knackstedt to help on special teams drills.
“It’s good for us,” Makarov said. “Because we’re playing against guys with more experience and strength.”
Makarov himself has a good deal of experience thanks to his two medal-winning performances at the world juniors with Russia. A streaky goalie who can get hot and carry a team, he was an important piece for the national team. Both years, his squad took out Canada and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s all-time hockey,” he said. “They like to beat us and we like to beat them; it’s so simple.”
Only time will tell if Makarov can add a Memorial Cup to his resume. Signed by Buffalo as a free agent in 2012.
Nathan MacKinnon, C – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
The Mooseheads have still yet to lose a playoff game. At this point, MacKinnon is still the No. 1 forward available in the draft according to NHL scouts and his 29 points in 14 post-season games points to his sustained excellence. Now MacKinnon will face back-to-back games in Baie-Comeau, the team that drafted but could not sign him. But has pressure ever fazed him? Draft eligible in 2013.
Jacob Trouba, D – University of Michigan Wolverines (CCHA)
Trouba has played his last game in Ann Arbor and Winnipeg’s farm team didn’t make the AHL playoffs, so it’s a happy circumstance that Team USA decided to bring a cadre of youth to the World Championship. So far, Trouba has gained the coaching staff’s trust and has played more minutes than any defender other than Carolina’s Justin Faulk. Drafted ninth overall by Winnipeg in 2012.
Antti Raanta, G – Assat Pori (Fin.)
Currently starring for Finland at the World Championship after guiding Assat to an SM-Liiga title, Raanta is the latest buzzed-about Finnish goalie. Hidden as a backup and plagued by a lack of conditioning when he was younger, the quick netminder is now coming into his own. Raanta had a 1.85 goals-against average in the regular season and trimmed it down further to 1.33 in the playoffs. If he isn’t in the NHL next season, he’ll play for HIFK back home. Eligible for unrestricted free agency.
Jake Guentzel, C – Sioux City Musketeers (USHL)
The United States League’s rookie of the year, Guentzel posted 29 goals and 73 points in 60 games for Sioux City. Many of those snipes came from the University of Nebraska-Omaha commit finding the quiet areas in the offensive zone and unloading before the defense could track him down. Draft eligible in 2013.
Toni Rajala, LW – Oklahoma City Barons (AHL)
Size has been an impediment for Rajala as the years have gone by, but the 5-foot-10, 163-pound Finn has never lacked for talent. With the Barons heading to the second round of the American League playoffs, the skilled winger is pacing the squad with eight points in five games, largely in a playmaking role. Drafted 101st overall by Edmonton in 2009.
Demico Hannoun, C – Surrey Eagles (BCHL)
The Michigan Tech commit had two points in Surrey’s win over Alberta’s Brooks Bandits, securing a spot in the RBC Cup, Jr. A’s national championship tourney. A late birthday, Hannoun will follow cousin Alex Petan (brother of Portland star Nic) to Tech, where the Huskies will love his offensive talent. Hannoun was also one of the top scorers in the B.C. League playoffs. Draft eligible in 2014.
Tim Bozon, LW – Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
France may not be long for the World Championship, but at least the nation is contributing to the crafting of one of its rare NHL prospects. While Bozon isn’t getting big minutes, he does have an assist through three games and the level of competition will be a boon for his development. Drafted 64th overall by Montreal in 2012.
Evan Cowley, G – Wichita Falls Wildcats (NAHL)
Named to the North American League’s all-rookie team, Cowley can reflect back on a busy year. His 50 appearances tied for first in the league, while his 1,259 saves ranked fourth. Cowley’s 6-foot-4 frame and calm demeanor have inspired lofty comparisons to Carey Price and though he has a long way to go (Wichita Falls didn’t even make the playoffs), the uncommitted netminder also has a lot of time to develop. Draft eligible in 2013.
Andreas Athanasiou, LW – Barrie Colts (OHL)
The Colts hold a 2-1 lead over London in the Ontario League final and Athanasiou has shown an array of skills in the process. The offense has been clicking, but the nifty winger has also been dangerous on the penalty kill. Athanasiou is up to 19 points in 18 playoff games and has scored in all three contests so far in the final. Drafted 110th overall by Detroit in 2012.
The Hot List, a roundup of minor league, junior, college and high school players we’re excited to one day see in the NHL, appears every Tuesday on thehockeynews.com. A player is eligible for The Hot List until they play their first NHL game.
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