The big draft event of the week took place in Muskegon, Mich., as the United States League held its annual Top Prospects Game, but there’s still more concentrated action to come in early February with the Five Nations tournament in Sweden. And with talent coming back from abbreviated NHL stints, major junior just got tighter for the stretch run. Here’s a look at some of the names we’re following lately.
Darnell Nurse, D – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
When Nurse called me for our interview, he had just finished a math exam at school. It’s a strong subject for the Greyhounds defenseman and why not? He’s got great numbers himself. On top of the 30 points in 49 games, there’s also the 6-foot-5, 192-pound frame that scouts love. Coming into the Ontario League as the third overall pick in the draft, there was pressure on Nurse, but some talent hawks thought he might be even better than he was in midget, where his physical play would sometimes get him in penalty trouble.
“That’s a big point,” Nurse said. “You get away with more here and being a guy who is hard to play against is a big part of my game.”
Indeed, Nurse has always been billed as a Chris Pronger acolyte, particularly for his surliness on ice. Now the Soo star is looking at Shea Weber for inspiration.
“He’s so effective,” Nurse said. “The way he can turn a game with his two-way play is something I try to incorporate into my game.”
As a rookie, Nurse saw a lot of pine early in the Soo, which was fine with him because it gave him a chance to learn and fed his hunger to get better. Whereas last season he tallied just one goal and often played conservatively, this year he’s picking his spots offensively and has lit the lamp 10 times.
The son of a former CFLer, Nurse was raised in Hamilton but played midget in Toronto with the Don Mills Flyers. That meant big commutes. In the Soo, the defenseman can get anywhere in 15 minutes and loves his adopted town.
“Sault Ste. Marie I like to see as a mini-Hamilton,” he said. “Lots of hard-working people here.”
For a kid that puts in a lot of physical labor on the ice, that should be no surprise. Draft eligible in 2013.
Phillip Danault, C – Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)
Though Halifax is the class of the league, the Mooseheads will have to be leery of their Maritime rivals. Since Danault came over in a trade from Victoriaville, the two-way center has been on fire, posting three goals and 15 points in eight games, all of which resulted in Moncton wins. Drafted 26th overall by Chicago in 2011.
Matt Dumba, D – Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
Brent Sutter has brought his coaching magic back to Red Deer, where the Rebels are thriving yet again despite a roster bereft of big names. Even that will change now that Dumba is back in the fold after a stint with Minnesota, where the dynamic puck-rusher and minute-muncher did not play, but soaked up valuable NHL experience. Drafted seventh overall by Minnesota in 2012.
Eamon McAdam, G – Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL)
The signature moment of the USHL Top Prospects Game came off McAdam’s glove, when the Penn State commit absolutely robbed hometown hero Michael Brodzinski of the Muskegon Lumberjacks. McAdam was also at the All-American Prospects Game in Buffalo this fall and has won four of his past decisions with Waterloo. Draft eligible in 2013.
Andre Burakowsky, C – Malmo Redhawks (Swe.)
In what should have been a breakout season, Burakowsky has been held back by a management spat in Malmo, which curbed his contributions to the team and saw him miss the world juniors as a result of low production. But the Five Nations tourney begins next week and the offensively gifted pivot will have a chance to finally show his stuff. Draft eligible in 2013.
John Hayden, RW – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
Team USA’s lone representative at the USHL Top Prospects Game, Hayden had a busy night. The Yale commit potted the East’s only goal in a 2-1 loss and also fought Lincoln’s Dustin Woods in the second period. A big-bodied winger with skill, Hayden has tallied seven goals and 19 points in 38 games for the NTDP. Draft eligible in 2013.
Jesse Lees, D – Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
Playing for the defensive finishing school known as Kelowna, it’s no surprise Lees is developing his game nicely as an offensively inclined blueliner. Though he’s overshadowed by some of his teammates, the Calgary native boasts a sick plus-38 rating and 24 points through 47 games. Two of his past four outings have been multipoint affairs. Draft eligible in 2013.
Nick Baptiste, RW – Sudbury Wolves (OHL)
With 10 points in his past nine games, Baptiste is starting to heat up for the Wolves. A highly touted prospect coming into the OHL, the Ottawa product has excellent speed and a pretty decent NHL frame. He has already nearly doubled his goal output from last season. Draft eligible in 2013.
Martin Ouellette, G – University of Maine Black Bears (Hockey East)
In four of Ouellette’s seven losses this season, the Black Bears scored one goal or fewer. So look past the former New England prep star’s 5-7-4 record and instead concentrate on his past two wins – back-to-back victories over powerhouse Boston College – and overall goals-against average of 2.08, which is best in the conference. Drafted 184th overall by Columbus in 2010.
Ben Storm, D – Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL)
For a kid who measures 6-foot-6 and 213 pounds, Storm moved quite well during the USHL Top Prospects Game. Physically, he’s a punishing hitter on the back end and his offense with the Jacks is beginning to pick up. Storm is committed to St. Cloud State for hockey, but Michigan Tech for football. Last year he was playing high school hockey in northern Michigan. Draft eligible in 2013 (undrafted 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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