Gentle giant

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Nolan De Jong is a tall offensive defenseman in the BCHL. (Kyle Robinson Photography)

The last of the prospect circuits are getting underway now. The first weekend of Minnesota high school play is in the books, while high school hockey in New England kicks off this week. Both areas are traditional hotbeds and even with the rapid growth of major junior and Jr. A hockey in recent years, the high schools still churn out NHL prospects. Let’s take a look at that whole world once again, shall we?

Nolan De Jong, D – Victoria Grizzlies (BCHL)

Coming off a silver medal at the World Jr. A Challenge, De Jong is in a good place. And despite a loss to Team USA in the final, the 6-foot-2, 180-pound defenseman was happy with his international experience and the atmosphere in Yarmouth, N.S.

“Right from the tryouts to the last day, we were treated like royalty,” De Jong said. “It was like being a celebrity.”

Celebrities often find themselves on lists and De Jong is no exception. He cracked Central Scouting’s list of Jr. A players being watched for the draft on the strength of his two-way play from the blueline, where he has 12 points in 20 games for the Grizzlies.

“I like to be offensive,” he said. “But I take pride in my defense. I’d say my stability, my size and reach are my strengths. I like to be as active as possible, but I want to work on my positioning.”

De Jong would also admit he’s not the most physical out there, but has a pretty good role model right now in locked-out Colorado Avalanche rearguard Ryan O’Byrne, who is a volunteer coach for his hometown Victoria squad while the NHL is on ice. De Jong also worked out with O’Byrne and Jeff Compton, whose clients include several NHL and Western League franchises, in the off-season.

Next year, De Jong heads to Michigan after his plans to attend Cornell were scuppered by a technicality in the financial aid package.

“The history they have and the academic program was perfect for my family,” he said of Michigan. “It was nothing against Cornell.”

So he won’t join the Big Red, but De Jong can still be a big man on campus. Draft eligible in 2013.

Ryan Strome, C – Niagara IceDogs (OHL)

The kind of heroics Strome showed on the weekend are exactly what Canada will want from the skilled pivot when the world juniors roll around again. Strome tallied four assists with a little more than five minutes to play in regulation to turn a 5-1 deficit to Sudbury into a 6-5 shootout win. Strome leads the Ontario League with 51 points in 27 games, but if there’s a miracle needed at the world juniors, he could qualify for sainthood. Drafted fifth overall by the New York Islanders in 2011.

Connor Hurley, C – Edina Hornets (Minn. HS)

With four points in two games, including a shorthanded marker, Hurley is off to just the start everyone was looking for. The talented pivot is the top player to watch in Minnesota high school play this season and has already helped knock off perennial troublemakers Wayzata, plus Holy Family Catholic, featuring phenom Shane Gersich. Draft eligible in 2013.

Madison Bowey, D – Kelowna Rockets (WHL)

Bowey has great speed from the back end and can really crank a shot when given space – something he proved in an 8-2 shellacking of Everett Sunday night. The young defender is beginning to heat up, with four points in his past three games, while the Rockets are rolling in the win column. Draft eligible in 2013.

Juuse Saros, G – HPK (Fin.)

A smaller goaltender who doesn’t mind facing a lot of shots, Saros has been a big-game player in his young career and impressed at the recent Four Nations in Ann Arbor, Mich. He leapfrogged Ville Husso as Finland’s top-rated netminder in Central Scouting’s latest rankings and boasts a 1.88 goals-against average and .929 save percentage back in Finland’s under-20 circuit. Draft eligible in 2013.

Taylor Cammarata, LW – Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL)

Your new scoring leader in the United States League is Cammarata, the pint-sized terror whose motor never stops running. The question now is will NHL GMs learn from past mistakes? After all, John Gaudreau, of similar frame, fell to Calgary in the fourth round before killing it at the next level with Boston College. Cammarata’s 11 goals and 31 points in 14 games eclipses Gaudreau’s pace from his final USHL campaign, so be forewarned. Draft eligible in 2013.

William Nylander-Altelius, C – Sodertalje (Swe.)

Michael’s son just got special clearance from the IIHF to suit up for Sweden internationally, even though his globetrotting childhood muddies the waters. To celebrate, the phenom with the magic hands continued to eviscerate the Swedish junior ranks, leading the South half of the under-20 circuit with 10 goals and 32 points in 21 games. Draft eligible in 2014.

Anthony Duclair, LW – Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)

After returning from an ankle injury, Duclair decided to get back into the draft debate by lighting the league on fire, earning the skilled winger second star of the week honors. Duclair has seven goals and 18 points through 12 games – a pace that would have put him second in team scoring behind Mikhail Grigorenko had he not missed any time. Draft eligible in 2013.

Mike Reilly, D – University of Minnesota Golden Gophers (WCHA)

Reilly finally has a goal to go with all his assists, but no one in Minnesota is going to complain about what combination the blueliner puts his points up by. A smooth operator with the puck, the Shattuck-St. Mary’s alum will have a great shot at cracking Team USA’s world juniors blueline, which will be stacked with talent. Drafted 98th overall by Columbus in 2011.

Valentin Zykov, RW – Baie Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)

Tenacious and creative, Zykov has been fantastic for the Drakkar this season and now has 18 goals and 30 points in 27 games. The imported Russian rookie has been getting more consistent in his scoring as the season goes on as well, which finds him currently riding a four-game point streak. 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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