The Hot List took a road trip to Gatineau on Friday to see Halifax take on the Olympiques in a barnburner of a game. Though the Mooseheads won 5-1 in the end, the game was kept close by Gatineau goalie Eric Brassard. Eventually, however, the Big 3 of Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin and Zach Fucale made their mark. The CHL Super Series is also on right now (we were on hand in Guelph), plus a few international tournaments also took place – the World Jr. A Challenge and the Four Nations under-20 and under-18 tournaments. Here’s who stood out in the world of prospects this week.
Valeri Nichushkin, RW – Chelmet Chelyabinsk (Rus.)
Traditionally, European prospects don’t like to big themselves up in interviews. So when Nichushkin was asked what the best part of his game was, he simply said “thinking.” What does he want to improve on? “Everything.” Such is the modesty of a player who brings a lot more than that to the table. At 6-foot-3, 196 pounds, Nichushkin has a great frame to build on and has demonstrated excellent speed and rushing ability during the CHL Super Series. Back home, he’s been promoted from the KHL’s junior league to the VHL, a sort of American League where he plays against men. He’s tied for the team lead with 10 points in 15 games.
“The guys there are smarter,” he said. “They don’t run around too much like they do over here.”
Through three games with Team Russia, Nichushkin recorded a plus-3 rating, but had yet to record a point. Nevertheless, he’s been enjoying his experience in North America.
“The rinks are smaller over here so the pace of the game is faster,” he said. “I like it here very much.”
Enough to come over full-time? That’s going to be the question NHL teams have when they interview him ahead of the draft.
“I wanted to come over this summer and I was thinking about it,” Nichushkin said. “But it so happened that I ended up signing a contract in Russia, so I stayed there.”
With his skills and upside, there will no doubt be a push to see him over here a lot more in the future. Draft eligible in 2013. Special thanks to Andrey Osadchenko for translating during the interview.
Nathan MacKinnon, C – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Seeing MacKinnon rush down the ice with the puck is like watching a plane land from the runway: he’s far away, then all of a sudden he’s right there. That speed and explosiveness – plus a physical side that saw him blow up Gatineau’s Tomas Hyka at mid-ice – is the reason he’s the top forward available this summer. His four-point, player-of-the-game performance in Game 2 of the Super Series didn’t hurt, either. Draft eligible in 2013.
Connor McDavid, C – Erie Otters (OHL)
Probably time to give this kid some pub, eh? McDavid became the youngest player ever to suit up in the Subway Series when he took on the Russians in Guelph and on two occasions, he proved why he’s the Otters’ best player at just 15 years of age. His speed and tenacity nearly broke open two rushes that had no business existing and that’s why McDavid is so special already. Draft eligible in 2015.
Linus Arnesson, D – Djurgarden (Swe.)
Sweden went undefeated at the under-20 Four Nations this weekend and Arnesson was the top defenseman. A sturdy shutdown blueliner, the youngster also showed off what he can do in the offensive end, tallying three points in three games to lead the tourney in scoring from the back end. Draft eligible in 2013.
Artturi Lehkonen, LW – KalPa (Fin.)
The leading scorer overall at the under-20 Four Nations, Lehkonen helped the Finns to a second-place record with four points in three games. No surprise, since Lekhonen is seen as a big-game player who can dominate with an array of offensive skills and creativity. Draft eligible in 2013.
Will Butcher, D – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
The Americans hosted their own Four Nations for the under-18 set and Butcher made sure the home team came away with the title. An offensive defenseman in the modern Ryan Ellis mold, Butcher’s rushing skills have scouts salivating and though he’s not the biggest player, he still makes an impact. He ended the tourney with three assists in four games. Draft eligible in 2013.
Vince Hinostroza, C – Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL)
On a small U.S. squad, Hinostroza stood tall with eight points in four games, including four in the final victory over Canada West at the World Jr. A Challenge. His efforts were rewarded with tournament MVP honors, too. A smart player with tremendous skill, the 5-foot-9 Chicago product is committed to Notre Dame and racking up points in Waterloo in the meantime. Drafted 169th overall by Chicago in 2012.
Troy Stecher, D – Penticton Vees (BCHL)
Playing for Canada West at the WJAC, Stecher proved why he is such a hot commodity for the NCAA. The one-man breakout was slated to join Nebraska-Omaha, but is now back on the market after de-committing when a new coaching staff came in. Interest in the offensive defenseman from CCHA powerhouses is apparently high right now. Draft eligible in 2013 (undrafted in 2012).
Ayrton Nikkel, D – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
There’s no other way to put it: when Nikkel drops the gloves, he turns into a wolverine. A granite-shouldered defenseman otherwise, Nikkel brings the brawn to Brandon’s talented trio of prospect D-men, which also includes the better-known Ryan Pulock and Eric Roy. Draft eligible in 2013.
Oscar Dansk, G – Erie Otters (OHL)
Double Otter week! Though the team has struggled mightily, Dansk is helping Erie into the win column lately with his stellar play. Only Guelph’s Garret Sparks has made more saves this year and he’s played four more games than the Swede, who is coming off back-to-back wins that boosted his save percentage up to .903. Look for him to shine at the world juniors. Drafted 31st overall by Columbus 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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