NHL Prospects Standing out Early in Junior Hockey Season
Early in the new hockey season, there are plenty of rookies making an impression in the NHL.
At the junior level, some unlikely faces are tearing it up. Rather than seeing dominance from 2013 top-10 picks like Jonathan Drouin of the Halifax Mooseheads or Bo Horvat of the London Knights, other players are taking advantage of their time to shine.
Here's a look at six junior players from age 16 to 19 who have been at the top of their game through the first part of the year.
Anthony Mantha: Val-D’Or Foreurs (QMJHL)
Status: Drafted 20th overall by the Detroit Red Wings in 2013
You can't start a season much better than the current CHL player of the week. Right-winger Anthony Mantha has been on fire since re-joining the Val-D'Or Foreurs after spending his first NHL training camp with the Detroit Red Wings.
Mantha leads the entire CHL in scoring with 16 goals and 12 assists for 28 points in just 10 games. On October 11 and 12, he recorded back-to-back five-point games, helping the Foreurs to build a five-game winning streak. Mantha had two goals and three assists against the Drummondville Voltigeurs on Friday, followed by a hat trick and two more assists on Saturday against the Sherbrooke Phoenix.
The 6'5'', 204-pounder has always had a deft scoring touch. He was the only 50-goal scorer in the QMJHL last year, with 89 points in 67 games.
Detroit quickly inked Mantha to his three-year entry-level deal following his offensive outburst last weekend. Renowned for their strong scouting, the Red Wings may have found themselves another gem.
Brandon Whitney: Victoriaville Tigres (QMJHL)
Status: Drafted 191st overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2012
The CHL's top goaltender last week also came from the Quebec League. Victoriaville's Brandon Whitney outdueled all other goalies by allowing just one goal on 52 shots during a 2-1 win last weekend over the Gatineau Olympiques and a 3-0 shutout of the Shawinigan Cataractes.
The 6'5", 193 pound native of Kentville, Nova Scotia has been a revelation this season. So far, he's putting up the best numbers of his junior career, with a 6-3-1 record, 2.72 goals-against average and .919 save percentage.
Drafted in the seventh round, the Chicago Blackhawks will be keeping a close eye to see if Whitney can maintain his impressive new performance level as the season wears on.
Brendan Perlini: Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
Status: Eligible for 2014 NHL draft
With his NHL draft date approaching, Brendan Perlini is picking a great time to step it up.
Ten games into his season, the 6'2", 182-pound left winger is tied for the OHL scoring lead with his linemate, Carter Verhaeghe and Connor Brown of the Erie Otters. Each has 22 points in 10 games.
Considering Perlini logged just 10 points in 27 games last season, to say he has taken a big step forward would be an understatement.
The video above shows highlights of the night of Perlini's first career hat trick as he and Verhaeghe each score five points against the Owen Sound Attack.
Perlini started the year relatively unheralded. If he can keep up this scoring pace, he could work his way into the top 10 on NHL scouts' lists by the time the 2014 draft rolls around next summer.
Connor McDavid: Erie Otters (OHL)
Status: Eligible for 2015 NHL draft
The buzz is heating up for 16-year-old Connor McDavid of the Erie Otters. Not eligible to be drafted for two more years, he's being called a once-in-a-generation talent. From the Toronto Star, Sidney Crosby himself has said that watching McDavid play "reminded me of myself."
McDavid was granted "exceptional status" by Hockey Canada to come into the OHL as a 15-year-old last season—the third of only four players ever to receive such an honor. Three are still in the junior ranks while the fourth, John Tavares, was a Hart Trophy finalist last year for the New York Islanders.
Just one year on, there's speculation that McDavid has already outgrown the league. “There’s nights when this level looks below him now,” said one NHL scout.
McDavid currently sits 11th in OHL scoring with 15 points in 10 games. He has also sparked older linemate Connor Brown, who's right at the top with the league leaders.
If the 6'0", 182 pound center can make this much of a difference at age 16, the sky's the limit for him when he's drafted into the NHL.
Sam Reinhart: Kootenay Ice (WHL)
Status: Eligible for 2014 NHL draft
Sam Reinhart is the No. 1 prospect for the 2014 NHL draft, according to the International Scouting Service (via isshockey.ca).
Reinhart is tied for second in WHL scoring with 21 points in 10 games, but is even better known for his shifty sense on the ice. He has a strong hockey pedigree—his dad was former NHL defenseman Paul Reinhart and his older brothers Max and Griffin have already been drafted.
Last year, Reinhart had 85 points while playing all 72 games for the Kootenay Ice, showing his durability, his hockey sense and his playmaking abilities. In terms of style, the 6'1", 183-pounder has been compared to another man with a strong hockey family, Eric Staal (from yahoo.ca).
The spotlight has been on Sam Reinhart since he started his junior hockey career. One could argue that he's faced it all his life. The top spot in the 2014 NHL draft is his to lose.
Cole Bruns: Omaha Lancers (USHL)
For our final hot prospect, we turn to the Omaha Lancers of he US Hockey League. What could be more impressive than a goalie leading his team to a perfect record through five games—with five shutouts?
Bruns stopped 117 shots in leading the Lancers to a 5-0-0 start—destroying the previous record of two consecutive shutouts by a goalie in the league.
Until now, Bruns has been a relatively normal goaltender. Last season, he posted a goals-against of 2.81 and a .904 save percentage in leading the Lancers to an 8-8-0 record in 18 games played.
Head coach Brian Kaufman told yahoo.ca that the streak is a product of more than just Bruns' skill. "It's kind of been a crazy streak—a mix of a lot of hard work by our players and Cole and a few lucky bounces, a few posts here and there."
The streak extended for a total of 309 minutes and 41 seconds before Bruns finally allowed a goal to the Waterloo Blackhawks on Thursday night.
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