We’re truly in the thick of it now. Mock drafts are popping up, Central Scouting watch lists are out and high-profile events such as the CHL-Russia Summit Series are approaching fast. A lot of prospects are looking to get their names mentioned in the hockey world and here’s a sampling of players we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.
Darcy Kuemper, G – Ontario Reign (ECHL)
No matter where Kuemper has played lately, he’s put up solid numbers. Early on in his ECHL experience, it’s been more of the same as the former Red Deer Rebels netminder has posted a 1.92 goals-against average and .925 save percentage - some of the best stats in the league. Striving to be elite, Kuemper wants to make the jump to the pro ranks, but respects where the Minnesota Wild have placed him, particularly with Matt Hackett eating minutes in the American League.
“You want to play at the top level,” he said. “But the organization felt it would be better for me to get starts.”
The reigning CHL goaltender of the year, Kuemper is blessed with a 6-foot-4 frame, but doesn’t solely rely on size to get him through a game.
“I see the puck through traffic very well,” he said. “And I position myself well.”
He’d like to work on the quickness in his hands and feet and the fast pace of the pros should help him hone it. Ontario has also given Kuemper the chance to learn what it’s like to live on his own, meaning his responsibilities and freedoms off the ice have both increased. The fact his pro career has started off in California is a pretty nice bonus, too.
“You wake up every day and see palm trees,” Kuemper said.
ECHL shooters just see a redwood in the Reign’s crease. Drafted 161st overall by Minnesota in 2009.
Mikael Granlund, C – HIFK (Fin.)
The sublime Finnish center likely could have made an impact in the NHL this season, but wanted one more year back home to fine-tune his game. Hard to argue with Granlund’s logic at this point since the brilliant playmaker is tied atop the SM-liiga leaderboard with 15 assists and 21 points in 16 games. Drafted ninth overall by Minnesota in 2010.
Dalton Thrower, D – Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
When your name is Thrower, you better know how to use your fists and Dalton certainly does. Though he’s far from a goon, the brawny blueliner has taken on several of the Dub’s enforcers already this year and handled himself well. With eight points in 14 games, he can also get on the scoresheet the traditional way. Draft eligible in 2012.
Bill Arnold, C – Boston College Eagles (Hockey East)
Always a goal-scorer, Arnold has taken the conference by storm so far this year, leading Hockey East with six goals and 12 points in eight games. The Eagles are undefeated when he scores and with his six-foot, 215-pound frame, it’s not hard to project a bright future when he eventually turns pro. Drafted 108th overall by Calgary in 2010.
Egor Malenkikh, D – St. Petersburg 1946 (Rus.)
Playing in the top Russian junior circuit, Malenkikh doesn’t wow you with his point totals, but is still a plus-4 early on this season and is known to make the smart play when he’s on the ice. At 6-foot-4 and 202 pounds, he moves well for a big body and was lauded for his play at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament this summer. Draft eligible in 2012.
Gemel Smith, C – Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
On last year’s league-champion squad, Smith was a depth player. This season, he and fellow prospect Jarrod Maidens have more time to operate and both are taking advantage. Smith is particularly hot lately, notching 11 points in his past five games to vault into the OHL’s top 30. He brings both quick hands and some toughness to the table. Draft eligible in 2012.
Stuart Percy, D – Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors (OHL)
The lure of Percy’s game is how patient and smart he is, but stats are nice too. That’s why his upward-projecting numbers are nice to see. The Majors blueliner is ahead of his 2010-11 pace in goals, points and even plus-minus, though you can’t really have a “pace” in that last category. Drafted 25th overall by Toronto in 2011.
Justin Kloos, C – Lakeville South Cougars (Minn. HS)
The Upper Midwest High School League is the ramp-up to the Minnesota high school season and a pretty good indicator of who the top kids will be for the draft this year. Kloos eviscerated the field, hitting the scoresheet in all 27 games he played and helping Team Southeast to the tourney title. He had 18 goals and 50 points overall and is known for his speed and agility. Draft eligible in 2012.
Ryan Berlin, LW – St. Albert Steel (AJHL)
As a sophomore in the Alberta Jr. A League, Berlin is already halfway to his goal total from last season and has even become a threat shorthanded for the Steel. With 12 points through 19 games, he’s on pace to nearly triple his rookie-year production. Draft eligible in 2012.
Denis Kamaev, RW – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL)
Offensively gifted with a quick mind and quick skates, Kamaev and fellow import Sven Andrighetto have been at the forefront of Rouyn-Noranda’s attack this season. Kamaev has already tallied 14 assists and 21 points in 20 games, though on the bottom-feeding Huskies, his minus-12 rating was practically inevitable. Draft eligible 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 only on thehockeynews.com. A player is eligible for The Hot List until they play in their first NHL game.
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