Mason Appleton, WPG – up from 502 to 169
There’s a very good reason why the Winnipeg Jets prospect is this month’s biggest riser. Picked in the sixth round in 2015 by the Jets, Appleton proceeded to ply his trade with the Michigan State Spartans for two years. For both of his seasons in East Lansing, the Spartans more or less served as whipping boys for the rest of the Big Ten. In his freshman year, Appleton scored five goals and added 17 assists and posted a team worst minus-30, a mark that placed him 1466 out of 1469 college players. He showed marked improvements in his sophomore year even though the team was actually worse than the year before. On a team that was bottom 10 in the NCAA in offense, he led the Spartans in goals (12), assists (19) and points with 31, besting his next highest teammate by 25%, and earned on point on 37% of his teams goals. He cut him plus-minus in half to a still terrible minus-15, but at least this was only the third worst mark on the team. At the conclusion of his second year he was named team MVP and signed his entry level deal with the Jets. His transitioned to professional hockey has gone better than anyone could have anticipated.
Appleton has been one of the best player in the AHL all season long and has earned AHL player of the week honours back in November. He’s tied with Jack Roslovic for the Manitoba Moose team lead in points with 35 and has a team leading 23 assists. He’s third on the team in goals with 12 and finds himself on the positive side of the plus-minus ledger for a change with a rating of plus-15. The rookie is tied for fourth in league scoring, leading all first-year players, and is third in the league with 92 shots on goal. Appleton’s been on a bit of a role as of late with 17 points over his last 15 games and has more than played himself into the call up conversation. He’s on the Jets radar, he’s on my radar, and he should be on yours too.
Jake Evans, MTL – up from 338 to 126
Things may be going in the tank for the Montreal Canadiens, but one bright spot in the system has been the emergence of Jake Evans. Selected with the fourth last pick in the 2014 draft, Evans was plucked from the St. Michael’s Buzzards of the OJHL where he played for two years. He posted respectable point totals of 44 and 63, but certainly not numbers, or from a league, that would get Habs fans excited. Committed to the University of Notre Dame, he posted 17 points in 41 games as a freshman which was 11th in the nation among U19 players. He doubled his production in year two by putting up eight goals and 25 assists (a team best mark), followed by his junior year in which he cracked the point-per-game barrier with 42 points in 40 games. In both seasons he finished second on the team in scoring behind current Boston Bruin Anders Bjork. Halfway through his senior campaign with the Irish, Evans has been bestowed the captaincy for the first time but the added responsibility hasn’t affected him on the ice. He’s on pace to best last year’s production as he already has collected seven goals and 21 assists in just 22 games, outscoring his next highest teammate by 10 points. The Toronto native has been hanging around the top of the NCAA scoring leaderboard all year and currently sits in a four-way tie for seventh with 28 points, but just two back of the lead.
Sean Burke and Co. took notice of Evans and gave him a de facto tryout for the Olympic team by selecting him as one of a few college players to play for Canada in the Spengler Cup. In the four tournament games he failed to register a point but did come away with a gold medal as the Canadians were crowned champions. And while a number of his Spengler Cup teammates were selected to go to Pyeongchang, Evans was not. As is always the case with four-year college kids the question of “will he or won’t he sign” looms over Evans. His coach seems confident that he will but Evans has been less committal. Montreal isn’t going down without a fight however as team brass have been a much more frequent visitor to the South Bend campus this year.
Boris Katchouk, TBL – up from 416 to 198
As if the Tampa Bay Lightning needed any more good news, their 2016 second-round pick Boris Katchouk is having his best junior season to date by a mile. A three-year veteran of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds program, Katchouk has shown promising progression year over year. As a rookie in 2015-16, produced at a rate of 0.81 PPG, stepped it up in year two nearly topping the point-per-game plateau with 0.97 PPG, and has exploded in 2017-18 with a PPG mark of 1.53, the eighth-best mark in the league. The Greyhounds assistant captain sits second on the team in scoring with 49 points and leads the team in goals with 28, four more than the next closest Hound Morgan Frost, despite Katchouk playing eight fewer games. He has registered a point in 28 of the 32 games in which he’s suited up and is currently riding a 10 games point streak, collecting 17 points along the way. As a reward for an outstanding first half, Katchouk was name part of the gold medal winning Canada squad at the 2018 WJC where he scored three goals and added three assists in seven games. Named by OHL coaches as the top penalty killer in the Western Conference last year, Katchouk is starting to take his offense to another level, and as a top notch two-way forward.
As always thanks for stopping by and checking out The Journey. Give me a follow on Twitter @BradHPhillips. Enjoy your weekend!
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