As we prepare for the world juniors, let’s not forget that the prospect world is vast and ever-changing. For example, Buffalo recently sent Casey Mittelstadt down to the AHL’s Rochester Americans for the first time, after the talented center spent his entire 2018-19 rookie campaign in the NHL. But Sabres coach Ralph Krueger told me it’s not a bad thing for Mittelstadt’s career.
“For Casey, some reps in the AHL will do him well,” Krueger said. “His ice time will be high, he can get some power play and offensive time that he wasn’t able to get here lately. It’s all about reps for a 21-year-old that will only do him well. His attitude, his work ethic, the way he went through last summer was outstanding. This is nothing but a positive step for him, insofar as we’re doing what is best for Casey Mittelstadt.”
Part of the struggle for Mittelstadt has been the fact he’s a center, which brings more responsibility than a winger has to handle. Krueger likened the situation to a young defenseman coming into the NHL.
“There is so much speed in the league right now,” the coach said. “It is very difficult to play defensively without the puck on a consistent basis for a young player. We’d like him to continue to develop that side of his game. Before he came to the NHL he had the puck the whole game, so he didn’t have to play without it. We’re going to be doing some really good work with him down there.”
Hopefully, Mittelstadt dominates in Rochester and re-joins the Sabres, who have been hot lately and can fortunately afford to make sure one of their key youngsters gets back on track in the minors. Now let’s take a look at a prospect from all 31 teams in the NHL.
ANA: While Benoit-Olivier Groulx is staking his claim to a spot on Canada’s world junior team, the tenacious two-way center is also making headlines at home. He’ll be traded from Halifax to Moncton once the WJC is done, where the Wildcats are going for a QMJHL title.
ARI: The top-scoring rookie in Finland’s Liiga is left winger Matias Macelli. Coming back home from USHL Dubuque, the kid has 25 points in 26 games for Ilves, which also makes him the team’s second-leading scorer.
BOS: Center Curtis Hall is in the mix for Team USA’s world junior squad and if the Yale sophomore is going to earn a final spot, he’ll do so on the defensive side of the puck. Hall has great size, reach and penalty-killing acumen.
BUF: Speaking of AHL Rochester, rookie blueliner Jacob Bryson is picking up steam with points in three of his past four games. Bryson is a great puckmover out of Providence College.
CGY: Team USA’s goalie situation is pretty black-and-white this year: Spencer Knight is the guy. But Dustin Wolf has a chance to make his case as the backup and based on his numbers with WHL Everett, don’t count him out. Wolf leads the ‘Dub’ with a .941 save percentage and five shutouts.
CAR: The success of the OHL’s Sarnia Sting this season can be intimately linked to center Jamieson Rees. Nasty and skilled, Rees has 45 points in 24 games. Sarnia lost all six games after Rees was suspended for a head shot in the season opener vs. Hamilton. Once he returned, they won five straight.
CHI: The first year of pro can be tough for a youngster, but center Philipp Kurashev is finding his stride with AHL Rockford. The Swiss national has eight points in his past eight games after totalling just five in his first 16.
COL: Here’s Bowen Byram on Alex Newhook, the latter of whom was a controversial cut from Canada’s WJC team: “He’s an energetic guy, always buzzing around out there. He’s got a good skill set, too. We were together at a couple of camps in the summer and he’s a fun guy to be around. Hopefully we’ll see more of each other in the future.”
CBJ: Swiss D-man Tim Berni has been wearing the ‘C’ for the under-20 squad as the world juniors approach and he’ll be crucial for the team this year. Berni is playing in the Swiss League for Zurich, where he ranks second on the team in blueline scoring with eight points in 27 games.
DAL: Top goalie prospect Jake Oettinger is finding his footing in the AHL with Texas. The rookie pro has won three of his past four starts, giving up a total of just eight goals in that span.
DET: Defenseman Jared McIsaac will be a key returnee for Canada at the world juniors, but he had to get up to speed quickly. The QMJHL Halifax star played only three games for the Mooseheads before leaving for camp due to off-season shoulder surgery. McIsaac stayed in Detroit for his rehab, under the watchful eye of Red Wings brass. McIsaac will be traded to Moncton after the world juniors.
EDM: Here’s NCAA Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold on freshman Skyler Brind’Amour: “Skyler is off to a great start. He does a lot of little things well, from faceoffs to penalty-killing to being one of our better defensive centers. Great work ethic on and off the ice and he’s a good teammate. He looks like a coach’s son.” That, of course, would be Rod Brind’Amour.
FLA: I asked WHL Seattle owner/VP of hockey ops. Russ Farwell about center Matthew Wedman, who was traded to Kelowna just days later: “We have a really young team and ‘Weds’ has truly been a leader. He plays 25 minutes a night and he plays hard. He’s darn near an assistant coach in terms of the stature he has on our team.”
LA: You love to see it: after missing so much time due to a lingering back injury, highly-touted center Gabe Vilardi has returned to AHL Ontario and made an immediate impact with the Reign. The big pivot has eight points in his first nine games and has worked well on the power play.
MIN: The Wild had high hopes for left winger Adam Beckman this year and the Spokane Chiefs sophomore is paying back that confidence. Beckman was just named WHL player of the week on the strength of nine points in three games. The Saskatoon native has 49 points through 30 games, using great instincts and soft hands.
MTL: Defenseman Gianni Fairbrother was seen as a potential sleeper pick in the 2019 draft and the Habs snapped him up in the third round. Now, we’re seeing why scouts were intrigued: the two-way defenseman has 21 points in 28 games for WHL Everett and the Silvertips are one of the best teams in the entire CHL.
NSH: Goalie Ethan Haider put his stamp on the World Jr. A Challenge with a 37-save performance in the bronze medal game for Team USA. The only goal that got past him in a 2-1 overtime victory over the Czechs? A shot that went in off D-man Mike Koster’s hand.
NJ: Here’s Ottawa 67’s coach Andre Tourigny on defenseman Kevin Bahl: “He didn’t have a great start to the season, but since then he’s been rock-solid. His speed is underrated. People are looking at him – 6-foot-7, 240 pounds – right away they have a question mark. But I have a chance to see him every night and his skating is really good.”
NYI: Huge add for Team USA with the Isles loaning right winger Oliver Wahlstrom for the world juniors. “Wahlstrom adds veteran experience returning from last year’s silver medal-winning team,” said Team USA GM John Vanbiesbrouck. “We look forward to seeing how the team comes together with the group of players we currently have in (camp).”
NYR: This may be a drastic understatement, but Igor Shesterkin’s first campaign in North America is going pretty well. The rookie netminder leads the AHL with a 1.81 goals-against average, while his .936 save percentage with Hartford isn’t too shabby, either.
OTT: Not only has Jacob Bernard-Docker made the final stage for Canada’s world junior team, but he has also helped the University of North Dakota rise to No. 1 in the national college rankings. JBD is a great two-way defenseman who has 14 points in 17 games as a sophomore.
PHI: Your NCHC rookie of the week is none other than Denver freshman Bobby Brink, who was key in the Pioneers’ sweep of in-state rival Colorado College. Brink set up the game-winner in Game 1 and scored the only goal in Game 2.
PIT: It will be interesting to see what kind of usage Calen Addison gets with Canada at the world juniors. Though the Canadians have a lot of mobile puckmovers, Addison is a right shot, something the team does not have an abundance of. He’s been nearly a point-per-gamer with WHL Lethbridge.
STL: Russia is bringing Nikita Alexandrov to the world juniors, where the QMJHL Charlottetown star will bring smarts and playmaking down the middle. This summer, Blues assistant GM Bill Armstrong told me that Alexandrov reminded him of current St. Louis stalwart Tyler Bozak.
SJ: The Chicoutimi Sagueneens are one of the best teams in the QMJHL right now and Artemi Kniazev has been their most productive defenseman. Kniazev is on pace to smash his rookie mark of 34 points – he already has 21 through 24 games.
TB: Right winger Nolan Foote has been great on the ice for Team Canada, but according to top draft prospect Quinton Byfield, that extends away from the rink, too: “He’s a great guy,” Byfield said. “He’s an older guy, so he’s been guiding me through this process. It’s really good to have him off the ice.”
TOR: Here’s recently called-up Timothy Liljegren on AHL Marlies defenseman Rasmus Sandin: “He played pretty well with the Leafs at the start of the season and he brought that confidence back to the Marlies. It’s his poise with the puck; he’s really calm out there. And more often than not, he makes the right play. He’s pretty mature that way.”
VAN: Northeastern sophomore Tyler Madden has not been shy when it comes to offense this year. The Huskies center (playing on a line with fellow Canucks pick Aidan McDonough) leads the conference in shots with 79 and is tied for tops in goals with 13 through 18 games.
VGK: Here’s NCAA Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold on defenseman Peter DiLiberatore: “Peter has so much talent. His main strength may actually be his confidence; he’s fearless. He’ll make plays with guys draped on his back, he’ll make plays in overtime – the next step for him is picking his spots more carefully.”
WSH: A big part of Connor McMichael’s success with OHL London this year? Increased ice time, sure – but also the confidence he picked up from being at camp with Washington in the summer. McMichael watched centers like Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Lars Eller, while a certain Norris favorite defenseman was there for him. “I talked to John Carlson a lot,” McMichael said. “He played for London and I’m there now.”
WPG: While Ville Heinola hasn’t been lighting up the scoreboard in Finland, he was getting something just as important in preparation for the world juniors: ice time. The smart, puckmoving defenseman has been on Lukko Rauma’s second pairing, averaging 18:37 of ice time in the Liiga.