NHL Prospects Off to Incredible Starts in Junior Hockey Season

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistNovember 12, 2013

NHL Prospects Off to Incredible Starts in Junior Hockey Season

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    Each summer as the NHL draft draws near, scouts and experts lay down their gospel about the year's top hockey prospects. The highest ranked are as close to a sure thing as any gambler can hope for, while later picks are seen to be long shots with only a slim chance of making the show.

    Four months after the 2013 conclave, several members of this year's group are plying their trade at the NHL level while most of their peers are slogging through another year of junior hockey.

    Here's a look at a few members of the class of '13 who are tearing it up early in the CHL season. The list begins with the lowest-drafted players first.

Cole Cassels: Oshawa Generals (OHL)

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    Drafted: 3rd round, 85th overall in 2013 by Vancouver Canucks

    The son of former NHL center Andrew Cassels, 18-year-old Cole is having a breakout season with the Oshawa Generals. 

    His team is leading the Ontario Hockey League with a 16-4-0-1 record, and Cassels has climbed to 14th in OHL scoring with 28 points in 21 games.

    Now a top-line forward, Cassels is playing on the wing as well as his usual position at center, with great results. On November 5, he scored four times in the Generals' 7-1 rout of the Ottawa 67s. 

    A third-round draft choice last spring, Cassels is making noise among the very best in the OHL.

Nicolas Petan: Portland Winterhawks (WHL)

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    Drafted: 2nd round, 43rd overall in 2013 by Winnipeg Jets

    Nicolas Petan is an undersized center from Delta, B.C. who has put up points at every level he's played.

    Just 5'9", Petan logged 120 points in 71 regular-season games for Portland in his draft year. He put up another 28 points in 21 playoff games—and was a plus-13—as the Winterhawks reached the Memorial Cup Final. Petan watched his teammate Seth Jones get chosen in the No. 4 spot but had to wait till the 43rd selection to hear his own name called.

    This year, Petan's off to an even more torrid start. He has 40 points in 21 games and is a plus-17 as Portland once again sits at the top of the Western Hockey League standings. Acclaimed as a player with big league skills, Petan's putting himself in good position to take a real run at the NHL next year.

Emile Poirier: Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)

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    Drafted: 1st round, 22nd overall in 2013 by Calgary Flames

    Emile Poirier was named the QMJHL's second star of the month for October. A versatile left-winger who plays a complete game, he has 54 penalty minutes and a plus-13 ranking to go along with his 34 points, which are good for fourth in the league.

    The Calgary Flames had three first-round picks in 2013 and appear to have used their opportunities wisely. Sean Monahan made the big club as an 18-year-old, and both Poirier and 28th pick Morgan Klimchuk have started off well with their junior teams.

Anthony Mantha: Val D'Or Foreurs (QMJHL)

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    Drafted: 1st round, 20th overall in 2013 by Detroit Red Wings

    Anthony Mantha hasn't stopped making noise since he was returned to junior by the Detroit Red Wings late in their training camp.

    The 6'5" right-winger got off to an unbelievable start back in Val D'Or. He continues to lead the QMJHL scoring race with 22 goals and 49 points in just 20 games. Mantha has earned well-deserved Star of the Month honors from the league for both September and October and is maintaining his torrid pace into November.

Darnell Nurse: Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)

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    Drafted: 1st round, 7th overall in 2013 by Edmonton Oilers

    As the Edmonton Oilers sit 30th in the NHL in goals-against, does Craig MacTavish regret his decision to send prospect defenseman Darnell Nurse back to junior for another year of seasoning?

    Nurse has captained his Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds to a division-leading 15-2-0-2 record while recording 20 points of his own in 18 games. Nurse's hard work to improve his shot has paid dividends on the Greyhounds' power play, but the physical component of his defensive game remains his most important asset.

    Nurse was close to being NHL-ready at this year's training camp and is still getting better. The Oilers have another good prospect here.

Jonathan Drouin: Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)

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    Drafted: 1nd round, 3rd overall in 2013 by Tampa Bay Lightning

    As he settles back in with the 2013 Memorial Cup champion Halifax Mooseheads, Jonathan Drouin has helped ratchet his team back to the top ranks of the QMJHL.

    In just 14 games, the shifty forward has 29 points, averaging better than two points a game. The Mooseheads are on a four-game winning streak and have gone 8-2-0-0 in their past 10 games.

    Drouin is showing why he was such a highly touted prospect in the 2013 NHL draft. With Steven Stamkos' gruesome injury on Monday, is there any chance that Steve Yzerman might turn to Drouin to help shore up his offense as an emergency injury replacement?

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