The puck has dropped world-wide on a new season of junior and European hockey. Who's the surprise name at the top of the KHL scoring race, and who has three hat tricks ALREADY this young season? Find out more in this week's Bugg Bytes.
The Kontinental Hockey League kicked off earlier this month, and despite the injection of international stars like Linus Omark, Sergei Zubov and Sergei Fedorov, an undrafted, un-noticed 22 year-old leads the league in both assists and points.
Although 5'10 1987-born Vadim Berdnikov has since cooled off, there wasn't a hotter player in Europe to start the season. Berdnikov potted three assists in Chekhov Vityaz's very first game of 2009-10, then followed it up with one- and two-assist performances. Despite having no points in his latest outing and no goals on the year, Berdnikov co-leads the KHL scoring race with six points.
Is Berdnikov worth watching? Well, unlike a lot of one-hit wonders, the diminutive center is not the product of a star import. In fact, Berdnikov hasn't even had a regular set of linemates. Vityaz coach Mike Krushelnyski (yes, that Mike Krushelnyski) has seen fit to use the gifted playmaker's talents to help out a wide range of wingers. The result is a league second-best 13 goals in four games. Look for an expanded article on Berdnikov later in the season.
Neither the Elitserien nor J20 seasons have started yet, but play in the Allsvenskan began two days ago. 2009 draftee Oliver Ekman-Larsson has already appeared in two matches for Leksands IF. After a dominant rookie camp, 'OEL' hasn't quite seen the same pop statistically as one might have expected. Through two games, the lanky rearguard has one goal and is a +2.
Opening weekend of the WHL season has been interesting, to say the least. No fewer than three players scored hat-tricks in their season debuts.
-Oilers rookie camp invite Stepan Novotny showed flashes of the skill that made him a potential NHL pick this past summer. However, Edmonton might regret not signing him when they had the chance. In mid-season form already, Novotny recorded a staggering four goals and five points during Kelowna's opening-day match against Vancouver on Thursday.
-Speaking of teams kicking themselves, Atlanta seventh round pick Levko Koper had a respectable 59 points in his third full season of WHL action in 2008-09. He looks poised to shatter that total after notching three goals for Spokane in a 6-3 win over Prince George.
-Finally, remember how the Calgary Hitmen were supposed to be on the down-swing last year? Some unknown names promptly stepped up and propelled the team to one of the most dominant campaigns in history. It's early yet, but it looks like the Hitmen should once again stump pre-season prognostications. The hero last night was undrafted, unsigned 1990-born left wing Tyler Fiddler. An energy winger who popped home 23 points as a rookie, Fiddler scored as many goals in Game 1 of 09-10 (3) as he did ALL of last season.
As for 1992s, Moose Jaw's Quinton Howden seems to have finally figured out his vast skillset and considerable frame, and just in time for his draft year. Mentioned in this space almost three years ago, the 6'3, 183 lbs winger was feverishly compared to Ryan Getzlaf throughout minor hockey. That comparison couldn't have looked more apt on opening night; Howden used his size and soft, soft hands to create space for he and his linemates, and it resulted in three assists during a heart-breaking 6-5 loss to Swift Current.
In net, Calvin Pickard is looking every bit as good as his brother during his draft year- and if he has many more performances like last night's, he might go even higher. The younger Pickard stopped 46 of 49 shots enroute to a 4-3 win over Everett.
The Windsor Spitfires were as dominant in pre-season as they looked last year, and those results have translated so far. Leading the charge is the dynamic duo of star forward Taylor Hall and rookie defender Cam Fowler. Both 2010 eligibles, the pair have a combined ten points in two games. The incredible- and scary- thing is that Windsor isn't even at full-strength yet. Both Richard Panik and Ryan Ellis are still away at NHL camps. Fowler could easily match Ryan Ellis' draft-year total of 89 points, and might even break 90. He's bigger, faster and arguably smarter.
Every year in the CHL, some 19 year-old surprises and busts out with huge numbers. There are two candidates right now: Belleville's Luke Pither and Kitchener's Jason Akeson. Both scored at least three goals on opening night- Pither 4- and both were born in '90 or earlier.
It's early yet and most of the league's biggest names are still at NHL training camps, but several players born in 1992 are making an immediate impact. Tyler Seguin- whom a certain TSN commentator named the third-best prospect in 2010 right now- Jeff Skinner, Austin Watson. Alexander Burmistrov, Michael Sgarbossa, Ryan Martindale and John McFarland are all in the top 30.
Burmistrov is an interesting case; unlike the last Ural product to tear up the Barrie Colts- one Denis Shvidki- Burmistrov has the skill and heart to fight his way into the top ten come June. Most importantly, he's made a quick adjustment. The 6'0, 170 lbs center recorded a goal and two assists during a 9-1 shellacking of Owen Sound.
Speaking of surprise veterans, the current Q scoring leader is 1990-born Marc-Olivier Vachon. Progressively more and more dangerous with each season- see 14 to 33 to 61 points- the 5'10 right wing has five goals and seven points in three games.
Overall, it's a good year to be named Marc-Olivier. Marc-Olivier Mimar is the current scoring leader amongst 2010 eligibles, with 3-3-6 in four games. At 6'1, 196 lbs, he has pro size to boot. One point behind is Czech import Denis Kindl. Significantly smaller at 5'11, 179 lbs, the highly gifted center has the same number of goals in one less game. He might not crack the top 30 in June, but the brother of Wings prospect Jakub Kindl is the classic European high-flyer that tends to excel in the QMJHL. Don't be surprised if Detroit makes a special points of drafting him.
The feel-good story of the year looks to be Montreal Juniors winger Trevor Parkes. The Q is no stranger to seeing a player become an impact player out of Quebec AAA, but the 6'1, 180 lbs Parkes spent last season in... get this... Ontario Junior B! Unwanted by every major junior team in his home province, Parkes made the Juniors as a walk-on and has five goals in his first three games. The 1991 born forward of course went undrafted last year, but that could very well change.
Every year- whether warranted or not- one Q goalie prospect is hyped as the next Roy/Brodeur/etc. etc. etc. This year's target of hype will be one Maxime Clermont. The Gatineau goaltender has been in the league since 2007-08, but is only draft-eligible this season. The 6'0, 201 lbs keeper will need to play better than his opening three games, though, to go any higher than Olivier Roy. Clermont allowed one goal on 26 shots in his first appearance of the season, but surrendered four goals on 28 shots two nights later.
Okay, so you've waited all article long to find out who this wunderkind with three three-goal performances is. If this had happened in a higher league to a higher name, you'd probably have heard about it. No such luck.
Probably more a cool story than a legit sleeper, Greg Carey of the CCHL's Burlington Cougars is the owner of probably the most impressive statline anywhere in Canada right now. The 1990-born opened the Ontario Junior A season with hat-tricks on consecutive nights. While Carey added just one goal the next night, he got back on track with a four-goal performance on Thursday. In total, Carey has 11 goals and 12 points in four games.
Hot on his heels- and in a higher league to boot- is Denver Manderson of the BCHL's Penticton Vees. Through three games, the 20 year-old forward has five goals and twelve points. Manderson is no stranger to such performances; he barely missed the 2 PPG mark in his previous two BCHL seasons. Manderson is worth watching; after all, Tyler Bozak recorded 128 points in 59 games at the same age, and we know where he is now.
Finally, we leave you with a legit sleeper. 6'3, 193 lbs left wing Cam Reid has ten points in four games, third-best in the BCHL. Undrafted last year during his first season of eligibility, the 1991-born is nevertheless already property of the University of New Hampshire, having committed in February. He'll play there next year.