You want hockey? We got hockey. Sure, August isn’t quite finished yet, but the Quebec League is already playing exhibition games and European club teams have done the same. And although it’s way too early to be picking up dark horse stars from these games, some kids have the lineage to back up the returns. Here’s a look at some of the players we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.
Tim Erixon, D – Skelleftea (Swe.)
As a highly-touted first round pick of the Calgary Flames in 2009, Erixon was one of the few gems the Flames could point to when the future was discussed. Problem was, he hadn’t signed his entry-level deal yet and with the deadline approaching, Calgary was in danger of losing him for nothing. So instead of seeing Erixon re-enter the draft, the Flames dealt him to the Rangers. New York was a great fit considering the Blueshirts once employed a Swedish left winger named Jan Erixon – Tim’s father.
“It was a big surprise, but it feels great, what with my dad playing for them,” Tim said. “I was two years old when we moved back to Sweden. I’ve visited a few times, but it’s a big city and quite a bit different from what I’m used to back home.”
Home being Skelleftea, a factory for young defensemen lately with Erixon, David Rundblad and Adam Larsson all playing together. The squad went all the way to the Elite League final last season before falling to Farjestad.
“We had a good run,” Erixon said. “We couldn’t make it all the way, but it was a good experience.”
One of the reasons Erixon’s camp couldn’t find common ground with the Flames was the backlog on Calgary’s blueline, but New York also has a pretty decent core for him to compete with. Now in North America, Erixon just wants his shot.
“I think I can play in both ends, I play a two-way game,” he said. “I’ll play wherever the coach needs me.” Drafted 23rd overall by Calgary in 2009; traded to New York in 2011.
Mikhail Grigorenko, RW – Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
Pretty workmanlike effort for Quebec’s latest Russian import, as Grigorenko popped in four assists in his first two games for the Remparts. Playmaking is naturally a strength of the youngster, not to mention size and skill. Draft eligible in 2012.
Martin Frk, RW – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
When you see him in person, Frk doesn’t look that imposing – he’s six feet tall at best. But the Czech import is also stocky at nearly 200 pounds and running into him is like messing with mortared brick. With a new cast of skilled mates joining him in Halifax, look for big numbers from the right winger. He already has four points in two games. Draft eligible in 2012.
Nicklas Jensen, RW – Oshawa Generals (OHL)
Denmark’s under-20 team is touring the ‘Q’ in preparation for its spot in the top division of the world juniors this year and Jensen will no doubt be a key component of December’s squad. He certainly was against the B.B. Armada, tallying two goals and four points in a 5-4 loss. It will be interesting to see what the power forward can do back in Oshawa this season. Drafted 29th overall by Vancouver in 2011.
Brandon Whitney, G – Victoriaville Tigres (QMJHL)
As a rookie earning spot duty behind starters David Honzik and Antonio Mastropietro last season, Whitney got bruised by the competition. But he’s been lightning as a sophomore so far, wielding a 3-0 record with a 2.00 goals-against average and .931 save percentage in pre-season. Using his 6-foot-5 frame to his advantage will no doubt be key to Whitney’s development. Draft eligible in 2012.
Teemu Pulkkinen, LW – Jokerit (Fin.)
The European Trophy, a pre-season pan-continental gathering, is in full swing right now and Pulkkinen is your junior-aged scoring leader with six points in six games. A sniper who is continuing to work on his all-around game, Pulkkinen will be served well by another year back home before he contemplates North American duty. Drafted 111th overall by Detroit in 2010.
Boone Jenner, C – Oshawa Generals (OHL)
The Gens have a new captain in Jenner, who will helm the legendary junior squad for their 75th season. A tireless two-way player with a lot of leadership in him, Jenner has the chance to be that guy the other teams hate when Canada heads to the world juniors this season. Drafted 37th overall by Columbus in 2011.
Alex Gudbranson, D – Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
Going back to last week’s NHL R & D Camp, it’s not hard to see Alex fitting into the mould of older brother Erik. And while ‘Big Guddy’ is likely going to be a Florida Panther this year, ‘Little Guddy’ will get a chance to make a name for himself in Kingston, where his skilled and surly approach will be a crowd-pleaser. Draft eligible in 2012.
Vladislav Shalimov, LW – Val d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL)
OK, OK, one dark horse. Shalimov is actually in his second season over here, spending last year with the new North American Prospects League as a member of the Detroit Falcons. In his first three exhibition games with the Foreurs, the big left winger charged out of the gates with seven points to lead the ‘Q’ in scoring. Draft eligible in 2012.
Mikael Granlund, C – HIFK (Fin.)
Another big stage, another big goal. Granlund pulled the Forsberg stamp move during the shootout at the European Trophy tournament as HIFK dusted Slavia Prague in extra time. The young pivot has five points in six games at the tourney and, sorry Wild fans, but he’s staying in Finland for one more year. Drafted ninth overall by Minnesota in 2010.
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 only on thehockeynews.com. A player is eligible for The Hot List until they play in their first NHL game.
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