No Corey Perry, Rob Schremp, Sergei Kostitsyn, Patrick Kane or Sam Gagner. No problem. Predicted to be bottom-feeders heading into 2007-08, three written off prospects have taken the reigns of the CHL's most successful squad- and they haven't missed a beat.
Patrick Maroon, LW
6'4, 225 lbs
Drafted: 2007 (6th round, Philadelphia)
The Edmonton Oilers could have saved themselves a lot of money- and draft picks- had they scouted the North American Hockey League, a tier-III Junior A circuit in the United States. There, they would have undoubtedly Patrick Maroon. Beyond his 6'4 frame, Maroon, 19, was the NAHL's MVP in 2006-07, posting a staggering 95 points and 152 PIM in just 57 games. Derided for his poor skating, bad conditioning and age in a poor league, Maroon sat on the board until pick #161. And while the Philadelphia Flyers should be commended for doing their homework- Maroon lost 35 pounds last off-season- it's the Hunters who thought enough of the winger to draft him in the OHL Priority Selection earlier in the year.
On July 9th, Maroon made the decision to forgo a scholarship to Ferris State in order to join London. So how's he been?
Well, just one season removed from Junior A, Maroon leads the Knights in points with 59 in 39 games. His 23 goals, 36 helpers and +/- rating of 9 leads all Knights forwards. League-wide, Maroon sits 12th- the only rookie to crack the top forty in scoring. A dazzling stickhandler that makes most of his magic happen standing still, defter-than-advertised skating and outstanding vision make the big man a prospect worth snapping up in your keeper league.
Scouting Report: Baby-soft hands and elite-level anticipation; often beats the same player twice on the same drive. A formidable force in front of the net, and has learned to be there to collect garbage from his skilled linemates.
Upside: Top-six LW, 27-38-65, 100 PIM
Akim Aliu, RW
6'3, 219 lbs
Drafted: 2007 (Round 2, Chicago)
It looked to be all over before it began for Akim Aliu. The Nigerian-born forward was a dazzling underager for the Windsor Spitfires in 2005-06 when an off-ice indicent made headlines across the country. After refusing to engage in a hazing ritual on a bus carrying the Spitfires, Aliu grew further and further apart from the players in charge until notorious agitator and teammate Steve Downie cross-checked the rookie in the face during a practice. Only a post-incident investigation from the league brought the hazing incident to light, and the result wasn't pretty: fined $35,000 in addition to the team's GM being suspended, Downie- Windsor's best player- was traded to Peterborough for an overager in his last year of junior hockey. Finally, Aliu himself would be traded, going to the Sudbury Wolves.
While in a new environment, it shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone that Aliu's play suffered. Quickly going from the victim to being labeled lazy and selfish himself, Aliu managed a meager 55 points in 82 regular season games with the Wolves. A dire 2006-07 playoffs in which he notched only six points in twenty-one games didn't help matters. Skilled enough to earn a second-round selection by the deep Blackhawks, Aliu's future was very much up in the air when the Hunters came a-calling.
Since being given a fresh start in London, Aliu has been the team's most electrifying player. Capable of turning defenders inside and out off the rush with big-league speed and moves, the 18 year-old's ability to find the open man ignites the team's attack. In 40 games, Aliu's 40 points are just two shy of his total all of last season, and he projects to score more points this year than he has in his OHL career to date.
Scouting Report: Blazing speed and acceleration; burns defenders to the outside by combining that speed with fantastic hands. Elite vision and passing ability. Never gives up on the play.
Upside: Top-six RW, 30-45-75
Phil McRae, C
6'2, 192 lbs
Drafted: Eligible 2008; London's pick, 20th overall, 2006 Priority Selection
With all the success the Knights have had at turning rough rocks into diamonds, it would have been unfathomable to see the team make a mistake with a first round pick in the OHL Priority Selection. But prior to 2007-08, that's what appeared to have happened. Considered the best '90 born American on the planet in 2006, budding power forward Philip McRae was the youngest member of the US U17 program at 15. Lured away from the U18 program, McRae was hyped endlessly on the same level as Steve Stamkos and Drew Doughty. But when the dust settled on McRae's 2006-07 rookie season in the O, the results were not positive. Underweight and unable to compete along the boards, the then-16 year-old managed just ten points in 63 games.
2007-08 didn't look to be much better. After scoring a lone goal in pre-season, McRae tallied just six points in the month of October. But something funny happened: development. On November 9th, the 17 year-old posted his first-ever four-point game, and put up nineteen points over nineteen games. Sixth in goals, assists and points on the squad, McRae seems to finally be enjoying the fruits of his vast skillset.
Scouting Report: Tremendous speed and acceleration for a bigger forward; great shot arsenal, including a pinpoint slapshot. Can be rough when the game requires it, and doesn't shy away from contact. Soft hands and deceptive quickness side-to-side.
Upside: Really, really poor man's Yzerman or bust. 40-40-80.