Now that NHL pre-season games have begun, those youngsters looking to make an impact can do so on a more legitimate stage. Several prospects are already in the good graces of management and regular season play has begun in the Quebec League, so there’s a lot to cover. Once again, here’s a look at some of the players we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.
Tobias Rieder, RW – Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
Just cut from Edmonton’s camp, Rieder will head back to Kitchener where the second-year import will be expected to have a big offensive impact this season, particularly with Gabriel Landeskog gone. Fortunately, the Ontario town formerly known as New Berlin has been a soft landing place for the German native.
“I was talking to some German people there, it was really nice,” Rieder said. “They have Oktoberfest there, like we do in Germany, so it was cool to talk German in Canada.”
Not only that, but home cooking wasn’t hard to find, either.
“There are German restaurants,” he said. “And it tastes just like back in Germany, so I like to go there.”
With 23 goals and 49 points in his first Ontario League season, Rieder got off to a good start on a stacked team. But with players such as Landeskog and 108-point man Jason Akeson gone, he’ll have to step up his game. Small but determined, Rieder can be very difficult to hem in when he has the puck and points to NHL models with similar skill sets.
“I would say Claude Giroux or Jochen Hecht,” Rieder said. “Fast players who try to create something offensively and get pucks to the net. I think I play like that.”
With Germany playing down a rung at the world juniors this year, Rieder will have to come up big for his country in order to get the program up with the elite squads again. Drafted 114th overall by Edmonton in 2011.
Jonathan Huberdeau, C – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
Huberdeau has picked up right where he left off in the spring, when his well-timed offense helped the Sea Dogs win the Memorial Cup. In his first pre-season game with the Florida Panthers, the skilled pivot scored once and set up the tying goal during a come-from-behind victory over Nashville. Drafted third overall by Florida in 2011.
Jake Gardiner, D – Toronto Marlies (AHL)
The Leafs brought in John-Michael Liles as a bridge until the puck-moving Gardiner was ready for full-time duty, but the early returns suggest that won’t take long. Gardiner posted two assists in his pre-season debut, a win over the Senators. The fact he got some time with the Marlies after his season with Wisconsin finished last year certainly helped. Drafted 17th overall by Anaheim in 2008; traded to Toronto in 2011.
Anton Zlobin, LW – Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)
With a lot of top players still at NHL camps, leaderboards in the ‘Q’ can look a little skewed early on. Having said that, Zlobin is making opponents pay while the spotlight is there. The Russian import has seven goals in four games to lead the league and is making a statement about being passed over in the draft this past summer. Skating and shooting are his strong suits. Draft eligible in 2012 (undrafted in ’11).
Blake Kessel, D – University of New Hampshire Wildcats (Hockey East)
After an excellent career at UNH, Kessel is now trying to make a go as a pro and so far he’s impressed the Philadelphia Flyers. Solidly built and offensively inclined, Kessel had two points in Philly’s rookie game last week and survived the first big cut at training camp, when many junior players went home. Drafted 166th overall by the New York Islanders in 2007, signed as a free agent with Philadelphia in 2011.
Anthony Stolarz, G – Corpus Christi IceRays (NAHL)
After finding no suitors in the United States League, Stolarz hooked up with the IceRays and has paid early dividends. In his first two games, he had a 1.50 goals-against average and .939 save percentage, some of the best numbers in the North American League. He’s also listed at 6-foot-5, 200 pounds, but may actually be taller now. Draft eligible in 2012.
Nathan MacKinnon, RW – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
The Nathan MacKinnon Show has started early. The heir to the ‘Q’ crown has already put up 10 points in four games, largely as a playmaker (though he did score in his home debut). The fact the gifted youngster is doing it with fellow talented running mate Martin Frk on the shelf makes the outburst even more impressive. Draft eligible in 2013.
A.J. Michaelson, C – Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL)
One of the top-rated Minnesota kids this season, Michaelson left the Apple Valley Eagles to become a Hawk and so far he’s showing his worth. The speedy pivot has posted four points in his past two exhibition games and factored in on every goal in a 4-3 defeat at the hands of Cedar Rapids. He’s committed to the University of Minnesota. Draft eligible in 2012.
Vladimir Tarasenko, RW – Sibir Novosibirsk (KHL)
After his performance at the world juniors in Buffalo, there’s a lot of anticipation over Tarasenko’s NHL debut. And though it’s tough, Blues fans will have to wait a while longer, but at least there’s this: the gifted winger is off to a solid start for Sibir, with three points in three games, while averaging more than 17 minutes of ice time. Drafted 16th overall by St. Louis in 2010.
Etienne Marcoux, G – Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (QMJHL)
Being his draft year, naturally Marcoux wants to have a great season and he’s certainly off on the right foot. With a flawless 3-0-0 record andD 1.32 GAA, the Armada netminder is statistically the best goalie in the league right now. 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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