The playoff fields are now set in major junior and the NCAA is already in full swing, so there’s a lot of important hockey in the works. Not only that, but the NHL debuts are coming fast and furious with Jarred Tinordi, Tyler Toffoli and Mark Pysyk amongst the newbies, while Mikhail Grigorenko and Stefan Matteau were sent back to junior by their NHL teams, making the Quebec League’s tourney a lot more interesting. Here’s a look at some of the other kids we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.
Eric Comrie, G – Tri-City Americans (WHL)
Though a hip injury shut down his season after 37 appearances, Comrie is still one of the top-rated goaltenders in the draft. The first round is not out of the question, though the youngster knows that netminders aren’t taken in any sort of orthodox pattern. Nevertheless, thanks to a busy rookie year in 2011-12, there’s a great book on Comrie, something he thanks Tri-City GM Bob Tory for.
“He believes in young goalies,” Comrie said. “He lets them play and get experience. That way, they’re used to pressure when they get to higher levels.”
It should be no shock that a team partially owned by Olaf Kolzig is pro-goalie, which is why it was such a thrill for Comrie when alumnus Carey Price spent part of the lockout with the team.
“That was absolutely unbelievable,” Comrie said. “He’s one of my favorites and probably one of the favorites of most young goalies. What I really noticed was how nice and respectful he was off the ice – those things really make a professional.”
Comrie knows all about pros; his half-brother Mike Comrie was an NHLer for a decade, but now it’s Eric’s turn to shine. The netminder brings energy, athleticism and great reflexes to the crease, but doesn’t just rest on his physical tools.
“I know my angles,” he said. “I know where to be in the net. If I had to choose one specific thing to work on, it would be puckhandling. Watching the NHL, I’ve seen how important that has become.”
And with his gifts, it’s not hard to picture Comrie in the NHL down the road. Draft eligible in 2013.
Jani Hakanpaa, D – Peoria Rivermen (AHL)
A physical specimen at 6-foot-5, 218 pounds, Hakanpaa has caught on with the Rivermen after a successful campaign with the Espoo Blues back in Finland. The big blueliner plays a nasty game and his skills should translate nicely to the American League. Drafted 104th overall by St. Louis in 2010.
Hunter Shinkaruk, LW – Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)
The gifted speedster ended the regular season on a tear, notching points in every March contest including eight in his final three appearances. The Tigers will need Shinkaruk to be at his most elusive in the playoffs, as they draw the loaded-up Memorial Cup hosts from Saskatoon in the opening round. Draft eligible in 2013.
Reid Boucher, LW – Sarnia Sting (OHL)
One OHLer I talked to recently called Boucher the most dangerous player in the league, as if his 62 goals weren’t evidence enough. But the Sting will need the sniper and his lethal shot to be hot when the team takes on powerhouse Plymouth in the first round of the playoffs. Drafted 99th overall by New Jersey in 2011.
Gustav Possler, RW – Modo (Swe.)
A mid-sized forward who thinks the game well and knows where to find scoring opportunities, Possler has continued a strong offensive campaign into the under-20 playoffs. He leads Modo with three points in two games and a plus-4 rating as the team heads into a quarterfinal series with Skelleftea. Draft eligible in 2013.
Tyler Hill, LW – Chicago Steel (USHL)
It’s pretty simple math right now: when Hill gets on the scoresheet, Chicago wins. The 6-foot-6, 225-pound beast has three points in his past five games and is starting to get comfortable after spending most of the year at Hotchkiss Prep school in Connecticut. Hill isn’t afraid to play mean and his overall physical tools will be intriguing for NHL teams this summer. Draft eligible in 2013.
Jan Kostalek, D – Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL)
The Czech native brings a little bit of everything to the table for a young and talented Rimouski defense corps. His plus-17 leads all Oceanic blueliners , while his 18 points in 48 games as a rookie prove he’s got some offensive upside. The youngster also plays on the edge, throwing some big hits during the season and dropping the gloves a couple times. Draft eligible in 2013.
Connor Hellebuyck, G – UMass-Lowell River Hawks (Hockey East)
The River Hawks head into the conference semifinal as the No. 1 seed and with Hellebuyck pairing with Doug Carr in net, it’s not hard to see why. The big-bodied netminder finished off his freshman regular season with a 16-2 record, winning 10 of his past 11 starts and recording a 1.49 goals-against average, best in Hockey East. Drafted 130th overall by Winnipeg in 2012.
Dillon Simpson, D – University of North Dakota (WCHA)
Simpson’s freshman season may have been about getting his feet wet and tempering expectations, but the offensive side of the puckmoving blueliner’s game is steadily evolving and he had a hand in both winning goals as North Dakota got past Michigan Tech in its opening playoff round. Now it’s on to the Final Five for Craig’s kid. Drafted 92nd overall by Edmonton in 2011.
Matt Buckles, C – St. Michael’s Buzzers (OJHL)
Through two rounds of the post-season, Buckles has been held off the scoresheet just twice in 11 games. So not surprisingly, the Buzzers are going places. The Cornell commit is a big-bodied battler who can also dot the highlight reel and though the road to a title will be tough, Buckles is one to watch in the Ontario Jr. A circuit playoffs. 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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