This edition of The Journey will recap the recently completed prospects tournaments, and dig past the McDavid’s and Eichel’s to highlight some prospects who shined.
Traverse City, MI
Teams: Detroit, Columbus, Carolina, Dallas, St. Louis, Chicago, Minnesota, New York Rangers
Oliver Bjorkstrand (33rd in Top 215 Prospects) and Kerby Rychel (44th) – Columbus Blue Jackets
Bjorkstrand and Rychel led a stout Columbus prospects group to their second title in as many years. Combining on a line with former 3rd rounder T.J. Tynan, the group compiled an astonishing 20 points in four tournament games. The Danish-born Bjorkstrand led the tournament in scoring with eight points (4G, 4A), and Rychel turned heads with consistent play over the four days. Both prospects have an eye on making the Blue Jackets roster in 2015. If not, they will star in Cleveland with the Lake Erie Monsters of the AHL.
Haydn Fleury (23rd D in Top 215 Prospects) – Carolina Hurricanes
While it has been newly drafted teammate Noah Hanifin grabbing the headlines this summer, Fleury was quietly the best defenseman at Hurricanes Prospects Camp in Raleigh. He built on his solid offseason in Traverse City, tallying six assists in four games guiding the Hurricanes to a 4th place finish in the event. His six points led all defensemen in the tournament. Although there likely isn’t room on the NHL roster for Fleury to start the season, he will be a mainstay on the Canes blueline after a couple more seasons of development.
Julius Honka (5th D in Top 215 Prospects) – Dallas Stars
After a year with Texas Stars of the AHL, Honka was looked upon to be a leader for the Dallas Traverse City squad. Playing in all situations, he recorded three points and a plus-4 rating at the tournament. Keep an eye on Honka in training camp, his successful rookie year in the AHL could propel him to a roster spot sooner rather than later.
Jake Paterson (3rd Round Pick in 2012) – Detroit Red Wings
Paterson was a rock for the Red Wings in Traverse City, manning the net four times in five days and leading Detroit to a runner-up finish. The former third-round pick shut out the Hurricanes in the Red Wings opening game, making 22 saves in a 1-0 win. Overall, Paterson was 3-1 in the tournament with a 2.80 goals against average. Likely to spend time in the ECHL and AHL this season, Paterson needs to become more consistent to eventually crack the NHL.
Penticton, BC – Young Stars Tournament
Teams: Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg
Jake Virtanen (37th in Top 215 Prospects) – Vancouver Canucks
Virtanen was a one-man wrecking crew who got the hockey world buzzing with his monster hit on Connor McDavid in the first game of the tournament. With 13 shots in his three games, the young winger was noticeable in each game and scored the game-winner in overtime versus Calgary on the final day of the tournament. Virtanen brings a style of play that Vancouver needs, and he has a chance to make the professional club with a solid camp.
Rasmus Andersson (2nd Round Pick in 2015) – Calgary Flames
By many accounts, Andersson was Calgary’s best defenseman in the Penticton tournament. He received rave reviews from the coaching staff for his play in his two games, most notably for dropping the gloves with Edmonton defenseman Darnell Nurse. Although Andersson is a couple years away from the NHL due to Calgary’s blueline depth, the Flames rewarded him with an entry-level contract on the final day of the tournament.
Buffalo, NY – Sabres Prospects Challenge
Teams: Buffalo, New Jersey Devils, Boston
Nicholas Baptiste (162nd in Top 215 Prospects)
Although all the talk around the Sabres Prospects Challenge was about how Jack Eichel would perform, Nicholas Baptiste turned heads for Sabres fans and coaches alike. Playing on a line with Eichel and the undrafted Evan Rodrigues, Baptiste showed off improved skating ability to go with his always lethal finishing. He wasted no time getting involved, finishing off a Eichel cross-crease pass 25 seconds into the Sabres first tournament game. Often considered a fringe NHL prospect, Baptiste appears to be trending up after his solid prospect tournament showing.
Teams: Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Pittsburgh
Matt Puempel (94th in Top 215 Prospects)
Puempel put on a Senators sweater for the first time since a high ankle sprain ended his short but successful NHL rookie campaign with Ottawa in March. Playing in his fourth prospects tournament and serving as the teams captain, Puempel provided leadership and scoring in London. He should push for a roster spot in camp this year, with fellow forward prospects Shane Prince and Nick Paul.
Daniel Sprong (144th in Top 215 Prospects)
Sprong was terrific in his first prospect showcase for the Penguins. Scoring twice, including an overtime winner against Montreal, Sprong showed off his immense offensive ability. Taken in the 2nd round of the 2015 draft, the Dutch born winger could end up being a real steal down the road.
Give Kevin a follow @kleblanchockey for NHL prospect talk and happenings.
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