This is the time of year that matters most. The Frozen Four bracket has been set, with Quinnipiac as the top seed overall but facing a stiff bracket with returning champs Boston College waiting in its regional. Michigan the university missed the tourney for the first time since 1990, while Michigan the state is without representation for the first time since 1979. Major junior playoffs are also underway, so let’s take a look at some of the prospects we’re watching these days.
Kerby Rychel, LW – Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
Rychel’s introduction to major junior was a controversial one. While there’s an unspoken rule that the kids of coaches and GMs are allowed to be picked by their dad’s teams in the appropriate round, Rychel was snatched by Barrie (who had a blood feud with Windsor at the time) late in the first before Spitfires GM Warren Rychel could take his son early in the second. A couple trades later and Kerby was in the Windsor fold, but maybe Barrie was right: the kid is looking like an NHL first-rounder now.
“It was definitely a weird situation,” Rychel said. “But it helped me prove people wrong. I’ve had back-to-back 40-goal seasons now and I feel I’ve silenced the doubters.”
Along with the offense, Rychel has been lauded by scouts for his other qualities, including toughness, character and two-way play.
“I’d like to be a Dustin Brown type,” he said. “Play in all three zones, be a leader. My versatility and ability to play in all situations are my strengths.”
Rychel would like to work on his skating and he’ll have a lot of time to do so. The Spits missed the playoffs and the left winger is a late birthday, so he’s too old to return to the world under-18s. One benefit of growing up around hockey is that Rychel has spent past summers working out with Windsor alum Adam Henrique, now with New Jersey. The downside is that his dad’s best buddy, Bob Boughner, also coaches the Spits, though Kerby doesn’t mind the added pressure.
“I’ve known him since I was a little kid,” he said. “They’re probably harder on me because they know I can handle it.”
And come June, one NHL team is going to get a battle-tested winger who knows all about the pro game already. Draft eligible in 2013.
Nic Kerdiles, LW – University of Wisconsin Badgers (WCHA)
It’s pretty simple arithmetic around Madison: when Kerdiles plays, the Badgers win. Wisconsin took the conference title and an automatic bid to the Frozen Four with a 3-2 win over Colorado College and Kerdiles had two points. Since his 10-game suspension to begin the year (for a snafu involving hotel room bills at the NHL draft), the freshman has been on fire. Regional No. 1 seed UMass-Lowell best beware. Drafted 36th overall by Anaheim in 2012.
Morgan Rielly, D – Toronto Marlies (AHL)
Talk about a baptism by fire. Since his Moose Jaw Warriors missed the Western League playoffs, Rielly jumped to the ‘A’ and promptly played three games in three days. The skilled and speedy blueliner notched a goal in his debut and most importantly, fired tons of pucks on net throughout the weekend. Drafted fifth overall by Toronto in 2012.
Joel Armia, RW – Assat Pori (Fin.)
The Aces are up three games to none on KalPa in the Finnish League quarters and Armia has been an important factor, notching three points in that span. The big kid with a boatload of talent needs to show a killer instinct consistently, but the playoffs are a nice time to get hot. Drafted 16th overall by Buffalo in 2011.
Bo Horvat, LW – London Knights (OHL)
Props are also due to Saginaw netminder Jake Paterson for turning aside 67 London shots in a Game 2 double-OT loss, but the spoils go to the victor and Horvat put two behind the Red Wings prospect, including the marker that sent the game to OT with 0.3 seconds left. And to think, Horvat also brings character, grit and special teams play to the table. Draft eligible in 2013.
Ludvig Bystrom, D – Modo (Swe.)
The puck-moving defender has his Modo squad into the semifinal of Sweden’s under-20 playoffs, with Frolunda as the next opponent on tap. Bystrom leads all blueliners in scoring with five points in five games, but two of the most important came in the deciding quarterfinal match against Skelleftea. Drafted 43rd overall by Dallas in 2012.
Martin Frk, RW – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
It’s hard to kick off your playoff run any better than Frk did. The Czech national blitzed rival Saint John for five goals and eight points in the first game of a series that likely won’t last too long. The sturdy winger has a booming shot and has also manned the point on the power play for the dynamic Herd. Drafted 49th overall by Detroit in 2012.
Will Butcher, D – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
After tallying just one point in his first 16 games versus United States League competition, Butcher has put it all together as the season nears an end. The offensive defenseman and University of Denver commit has 11 points in his past eight games to go with a plus-11 rating. Draft eligible in 2013.
Joel Edmundson, D – Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
The Blazers took care of business at home, claiming the first two games of their series vs. Victoria, and Edmundson was a big factor. The big, solid D-man who came over from Moose Jaw earlier in the campaign has five points in the post-season already, leading the league in offense from the back end. Drafted 46th overall by St. Louis in 2011.
Austin Wuthrich, RW – Notre Dame Fighting Irish (CCHA)
The tenacious Wuthrich was overlooked once in the draft before the Capitals picked him up, but he’s justifying the pick if you’re a Notre Dame fan. The Alaska native had the game-winner in the CCHA final, giving the Irish an automatic bid and ending Michigan’s season in the process. Drafted 107th overall by Washington 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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