Major junior’s Europeans have travelled back home for camp, while Canada is sequestered in Calgary and the Americans are in New York. The World Junior Championship is fast approaching and there’s still a lot of intrigue over who will end up in Ufa, Russia. Here’s a look at some of the hopefuls and others around the prospect world making noise.
Mirco Mueller, D – Everett Silvertips (WHL)
For a kid coming all the way from Switzerland, Mueller had an easy landing in Washington state and it’s not just because his Everett teammates helped him get used to the lifestyle – the physical terrain itself is familiar.
“It’s actually very similar,” he said. “Lots of rain and forest and trees. I’m very confident and satisfied to be here.”
And the Tips are through the roof. Their 6-foot-4, 185-pound rookie has put up two goals and 18 points through 34 games, but more importantly has been there to fill minutes lost when superstar Ryan Murray went down for the season with shoulder surgery in late November. Not that Mueller is happy getting time at the expense of his teammate.
“It was a big loss,” he said. “We were all disappointed because he’s such a great guy. We will do our best, but you don’t want to see that happen to anyone.”
With his frame, it’s no wonder Central Scouting touted Mueller as the seventh-best prospect in the WHL. He wants to work on his stickhandling, but is more concerned with making the easy pass and keeping pucks out than ringing them in.
“I can see plays happen before they happen,” Mueller said. “So most of the time I’m in the right position to make a play. Scoring goals is another person’s job.”
At the world juniors, Switzerland will likely need him to do a bit of both, but at least the team has more depth this year. As Mueller knows, they’ve got a big mountain to climb. Draft eligible in 2013.
Brett Ritchie, RW – Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
There’s already talk of a Team Canada superline featuring Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jonathan Huberdeau and Mark Scheifele, which if true would pave the way for Ritchie to stay with his Niagara homeboy Ryan Strome on the second line. Ritchie’s big frame and sweet skills have netted him a league-high 27 goals in 32 games and he came into camp hot, finding the back of the net in five straight contests. Drafted 44th overall by Dallas in 2011.
Wiley Sherman, D – Hotchkiss Bearcats (Conn. HS)
At 6-foot-6, 196 pounds already, it’s not surprising that Sherman is being compared to Hal Gill. But besides the reach and ability to rub opponents out of the play, the Harvard commit has also demonstrated his great shot early on, scoring two huge goals for the Bearcats in a 4-3 upset of Salisbury over the weekend. Draft eligible in 2013.
Charles Hudon, LW – Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL)
Hudon just had a 13-game point streak snapped, but most of the news surrounding the talented winger is how much Team Canada coach Steve Spott is enamored with his game. Hudon appears to be in line for a key energy/shutdown role at the world juniors and hey, the offense is there if needed. Drafted 122nd overall by Montreal in 2012.
Mikael Wikstrand, D – Mora IK (Swe.)
With Oscar Klefbom and Jonas Brodin on the shelf, Sweden’s blueline corps got a lot thinner in a big hurry for the world juniors. That means players such as Wikstrand will need to step up and thankfully for the Tre Kroner, he’s having a great campaign. The young D-man currently sits third among all rearguards in Allsvenskan (Sweden’s second-best league) scoring with nine goals and 18 points through 29 games. Drafted 196th overall by Ottawa in 2012.
Petr Mrazek, G – Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL)
Hard to see the world juniors coming up on the calendar without recalling what Mrazek did last year, nearly backstopping the Czechs past the Russians in the quarterfinal before falling in OT. Now a pro, the lockdown keeper is rolling again. After starting the season with ECHL Toledo, Mrazek has put up a 7-2 record with a team-best 2.42 goals against average. Drafted 141st overall by Detroit in 2010.
Teemu Kivihalme, D – Burnsville Blaze (Minn. HS)
Burnsville had a tough schedule right out the gate, but Kivihalme has still produced consistently with two goals and five points through four games. The offensive defenseman has good size, but it’s his Phil Housley-esque skating that has scouts buzzing about the Colorado College commit. Draft eligible in 2013.
Tanner Richard, LW – Guelph Storm (OHL)
A consistent performer all year, Richard may have one of the oddest stat lines in hockey for a forward: Three goals, 36 assists. But add it up through 29 games and you’ve got a top-20 scorer and offensive leader on one of the best teams in the league. Switzerland will need his superb playmaking skills when the team hits Russia for the world juniors. Drafted 71st overall by Tampa Bay in 2012.
Connor Hellebuyck, G – Umass-Lowell River Hawks (Hockey East)
The conference defensive player of the week, Hellebuyck has posted back-to-back shutouts and has given up just two goals in his past four appearances. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound netminder is getting hot for the Hawks and in fact, has only experienced one big setback as a freshman – his first NCAA game ever, a 5-1 loss to Denver. Drafted 130th overall by Winnipeg in 2012.
Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW – Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
Not every prospect can play in the world juniors, but Bjorkstrand is currently attempting to get Denmark back to the top tier over in France. The diminutive Dane is atop the leaderboard with three goals and four points in two games at the world junior Division 1A tournament, with promotion on the line. An upcoming clash with Norway may prove to be the key. 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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