It seems like the NHL is just getting into a groove, but playoffs are already beginning in the prospect ranks. First on the slate is the Minnesota high school circuit, where all roads eventually lead to the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, where a sellout crowd is always pumped for the vaunted state championship tournament. Elsewhere, playoff races are on in major junior, so let’s take a look at some of the kids making noise in the world of prospects.
Aleksander Barkov, C – Tappara (Fin.)
Talk to scouts and they’ll tell you ‘Sasha’ is having a season for the ages. Barkov’s impact as a 17-year-old in Finland’s top league has eclipsed similar feats by many notable contemporaries and the fact Finland couldn’t find its footing at the world juniors is not being held against him. In fact, like American Alex Galchenyuk, Barkov faced even more interview requests from the local press in Russia because he speaks the language fluently.
“I speak Russian very well,” he said. “But it was something new.”
The burly son of Alexander Barkov, a Russian who was a star in Finland for the same Tappara squad that Sasha plays for today, Aleksandr is a top-10 scorer in the SM-Liiga with 19 goals and 41 points in 45 games. He’s playing on the top line with ex-NHLer Ville Nieminen and making things happen.
“My strengths are my playmaking skills and I can pass very well,” Barkov said. “Skating is one thing I’d like to improve on.”
At 6-foot-2, 194 pounds already, it’s no surprise the kid is a load to handle. And while his family history puts a good deal of pressure on him, Barkov won’t buckle and prefers to stay on task during his draft year.
“I’m playing my second season in the Elite League,” he said. “I just try to do my best in every game and help my team win.”
Right now Tappara is fifth in the league. Barkov’s dad helped them to a title years ago - could Sasha elevate the franchise to similar heights? Draft eligible in 2013.
Jonathan Drouin, LW – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Sometimes it’s hard not to mention Drouin every week, but with linemate Nathan MacKinnon on the shelf, it’s worth noting that the brilliant offensive weapon has kept firing. In fact, the last time Drouin didn’t register a point for The Herd was back on Nov. 25. He’s now fourth in Quebec League scoring with 82 points, but with just 39 games played, he’s averaging more than two per contest. Draft eligible in 2013.
Teemu Kivihalme, D – Burnsville Blaze (Minn. HS)
The Burnsville captain ended the regular season in style with a goal and seven points in a 7-0 destruction of Lakeville South. Kivihalme is a swift-skating offensive defenseman and Colorado College commit. The Blaze will need his leadership and firepower as they navigate a tough regional playoff bracket en route to the state tourney. Draft eligible in 2013.
Reid Boucher, LW – Sarnia Sting (OHL)
Sarnia is surviving, though not exactly thriving in the Ontario League right now, but Boucher has been bringing the headlines. The sharp-shooting winger became the first player in the league to breach 50 goals and now has 77 points through 58 games, shattering last year’s totals. Drafted 99th overall by New Jersey in 2011.
JT Compher, C – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
A favorite of scouts, Compher was excellent at the Five Nations for Team USA with five points in four games. The University of Michigan commit always has his motor running and contributes in all three zones. The combination of skill and attention to detail make him very intriguing as a prospect. Draft eligible in 2013.
Hunter Shinkaruk, LW – Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)
Though injuries have dotted his campaign, nothing has been slowing down Shinkaruk when he is in the lineup. The burning-hot speedster is riding a 10-game point streak with The Hat, bringing his overall totals to 32 goals and 70 points in 52 games. Draft eligible in 2013.
Nikita Zadorov, D – London Knights (OHL)
Scouts love the package that Zadorov brings to the table, particular the 6-foot-5, 228-pound part. Along with that size, Zadorov can skate and plaster players into the boards. Offensively he’s been decent for the Knights, but the talent hawks know he has the capability to build on that for the future. Draft eligible in 2013.
Devin Shore, C – University of Maine Black Bears (Hockey East)
One of the leading set-up men in the conference, Shore has been hot of late for the Black Bears, with nine points in his past seven games. That accounts for half the freshman’s production this season, so he’s doing it at the right time. Drafted 61st overall by Dallas in 2012.
Martin Kokes, D – Litvinov (Cze.)
The Czechs got rocked at the Five Nations, but they were also a young team with plenty of upside. Kokes is a solidly built blueliner who had the unenviable task of lining up against the stars of other squads, but didn’t back down from the challenge. He plays a physical, nasty game and it wouldn’t be shocking to see him in major junior next season. Draft eligible in 2013.
Marcus Hogberg, G – Linkoping (Swe.)
When the stakes increase, Hogberg seems to pick his game up. It happened last year in the playoffs and now the big-bodied goaltender is at it again, usurping older starter Jacob Johansson while Linkoping plays in a top-10 circuit of junior teams in Sweden. Hogberg has a .925 save percentage and one shutout in eight games for a squad that hasn’t been providing a ton of offense the other way. Draft eligible in 2013.
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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