Beyond Tomorrow, November 2008

By Leslie Treff

One of Hockey’s Future’s newest monthly features, Beyond Tomorrow looks at promising prospects not eligible for the NHL entry draft until at least 2010. Each month we will feature one prospect in his 16th or 17th year who has caught the attention of scouts. We will also be giving a brief mention to several other skaters and netminders who are playing well in their respective leagues in North America and Europe.

This month’s featured player is the Ontario Hockey League’s leading scorer, left winger Taylor Hall. A veteran of the 2008 U18 WJCs and the 2008 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, Hall is the early favorite to be the No. 1 selection in the 2010 NHL entry draft. Two weeks into his 18th year, Hall is a “late-91,” and will get the benefit of an extra season before becoming draft-eligible. Thus, Hall will miss competing with Victor Hedman and John Tavares for the first overall spot in the 2009 NHL entry draft.

Even 18 months from draft day, NHL scouts are already abuzz about the 6’0, 180 lb Kingston, Ontario native.  According to E.J. Maguire, Director of NHL Central Scouting, “While we can’t say definitively that he will be the No. 1 pick overall in 2010, he is a great candidate for that spot. Scouts are guardedly excited, because we don’t want to put an inordinate amount of pressure on him, but he just looks better and better as he competes against better and better competition.”

The International Scouting Service, which puts out preliminary rankings more than a year from draft day, currently predicts Hall to be the top overall selection in 2010. ISS’s Chief Scout, Michael Oke explains that, ”Hall has a solid two-way game, and is a good skater, with speed.” Oke paid Hall a high compliment when he said, “you can definitely speak about Taylor Hall and John Tavares in the same sentence.”

After completing a highly successful minor midget career with the Greater Kingston Predators of the Ottawa District Minor Hockey Association, Hall was drafted second overall by the Windsor Spitfires in the 2007 OHL Priority Draft. He immediately fit into the team last fall, and in his first OHL regular-season game, Hall scored two goals, including the game-winner. He went on to post 84 points (45 goals, 39 assists) in 63 regular season games during the 2007-08 campaign, including eight game-winning goals. Amazingly, Hall recorded four game winners in the last eight regular-season contests.

Not surprisingly then, it was Hall who won the Emms Family Award for the OHL Top Rookie as well as the CHL Rookie of the Year awards for his play during the 2007-08 CHL season. The winger also did well in 2008 international tournaments. At the 2008 Under-17 World Hockey Challenge last December/January, Hall scored eight points in five games for Team Ontario. In Kazan, Russia, this past April, Hall was instrumental in helping Canada to win the gold medal at the U18 World Junior Championships. Finally, in the 2008 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in August of 2008, Hall tied with top WHL prospect Brayden Schenn to lead the gold medal-winning Canadian team with six points in four games.

Thus, Hall came into the 2008-09 OHL season with a lot of expectations resting on his shoulders. The Spits were early favorites to compete for the OHL championship and perhaps for the Memorial Cup.  Non-plussed, Hall has responded with eight points in Windsor’s first four games, and he has never looked back. Currently leading the league in total points, Hall was the only non-2009 NHL entry draft eligible player to play for the OHL in the Canada Russia Challenge this past week.

Known as the go-to guy in Windsor this year, Hall raises his game as the competition gets better. If he stays healthy, expect the lanky winger to eclipse his excellent point totals of 2007-08, and make a run at the title of OHL’s leading scorer for the 2008-09 season.

Beyond Tomorrow Prospect Radar

Jordan Weal of the WHL Regina Pats is the top scoring rookie in the league. A standout at every level in which he has played, the center’s production has slowed some this month, but he has still tallied more than a point a game for the season and was the WHL Player of the Week during the first week of the season. At 5’8”, 158 lbs, Weal is small, but the 1992 has until 2010 to show NHL teams that in his case, size does not matter when deciding who to draft.

For winger Brett Connolly of the WHL Prince George Cougars, size is not an issue. The 6’0” tall left winger is playing in his hometown and loving every minute of it, as he continues to post more than a point a game over the last two and a half months. 

Kelowna Rockets netminder, Adam Brown is tearing up the WHL with a 9-2 record, including two shutouts and a seven-game win streak that ended earlier this month. A late-91, Brown is a rookie

Ryan O’Connor, the OHL Barrie Colts rookie blueliner, was drafted sixth overall in last summer’s priority draft. A character player, who despite his small size, does not avoid contact, O’Connor has started to really post points this month. Still working on his positioning in his own zone, in 11 November games, O’Connor has one goal and seven assists.

Brandon Hynes is one of the leading rookies in the Q, with 14 goals (and five assists) in 29 games for the Victoriaville Tigres. Drafted third overall in the 2008 QMJHL entry draft, Hynes is undersized at 5’8”, 170 lbs, but he has a September 1992 birthday and great hands. 

Jordan Escott, formerly of the Amherst Ramblers of the MJAHL is now a member of the QMJHL PEI Rocket. He had 24 points in 19 games with the Ramblers, before deciding to forego his scholarship to Cornell and join the Rocket last week. Thus far, Escott has 1 point in 3 games with PEI.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, a 1993 forward of the Vancouver Northwest Giants was named by British Columbia Major Midget Hockey as the Player of the Month for November. A first round 2008 Bantam Draft selection of the WHL Red Deer Rebels, Nugent-Hopkins leads the league in total points with 35 (17 goals, 18 assists) in 16 games.

Seth Ambroz, a forward on the USHL Omaha Lancers, has tallied nine points in 15 games, including five points this month. Ambroz, who is a 1993-born player, has already given a verbal commitment to the University of Minnesota for the Fall of 2011.

Vladimir Tarasenko is a late-91 playing for Novosibirsk Sibir of the KHL. Still honing his skill and seeking more ice time, Tarasenko is a very good two-way player, who can skate and works hard with and without the puck.

Guy Flaming, Alessandro Seren Rosso, and Jeff Dahlia contributed to this article.