Two of the NAHL’s best players at their respective positions go head-to-head this weekend, while one OHL forward hosts his former team. Two top collegiate goal scorers duel in Ohio, unsung heroes vie for supremacy in the WHL and one intriguing QMJHL game in this week’s Prospect Faceoff.
Matej Tomek (Topeka) vs. Sebastian Vidmar (Lone Star) – NAHL
In the NAHL, two South division rivals will meet up for a pair of games this weekend. Separated by just five points in the standings, the Lone Star Brahmas are hoping that home ice will continue to be a major success as the first place Topeka RoadRunners come to town.
Slovakian goaltender Matej Tomek has been one of the most popular discussion points when looking at 2015 NHL Draft-eligible goalies. After starring at home for HC Slovan Bratislava, Tomek posted an incredible .953 save percentage over four games for Slovakia in the Under-17 Division. Tomek’s move to North America has proven to be a successful one, as he gained notoriety early in the season after posting back-to-back shutouts during the NAHL Showcase. He currently leads all NAHL goaltenders with a 1.59 goals-against average, while his .937 save percentage is good for second in the league. He also sits third in wins with 21, and leads the league with six shutouts. NHL Central Scouting ranked him fourth among North American goaltenders for the upcoming draft. Tomek recently committed to the University of North Dakota for the 2015-16 season.
The NAHL has seen an influx of Swedish players finding a home in the league, and Sebastian Vidmar stands at the head of the class. Vidmar, a Malmo, Sweden native, played in Malmo’s storied junior system before coming over to North America last season. There, Vidmar put up 25 points in 42 games, where he worked to make adjustments on both sides of the puck. This season, Vidmar has broken out to become the leading goal scorer in the NAHL, currently sitting with 25. He is second overall in scoring, where his 63 points sits just one behind the league leader, Chandler Madry. Vidmar’s biggest improvement, however, is his 50 point difference in plus/minus. After finishing -19 the year before, his commitment to defense has been admirable as he is currently +33, now best in the league. While he has not yet appeared on NHL teams’ radars, Vidmar’s remarkable performance this year and his commitment to the Union College Dutchmen may change that soon.
Jake Paterson (Kitchener) vs. Justin Bailey (Sault Ste. Marie) – OHL
For most teams, the trade deadline is a time where you clearly define the direction your club is heading. However, the Kitchener Rangers broke the mold when they traded their leading scorer in a clear sign of a rebuild, only to immediately acquire one of the best goaltenders in the league. The two teams meet up this weekend, where a loaded Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds squad will attempt to beat the rebuilding Rangers for the first time this season.
When the January trade deadline approached, the Kitchener Rangers sat outside of the playoff race in the OHL’s Western Conference. The team made a series of trades to get younger, moving out Curtis Meighan, Brent Pedersen (CAR), and Buffalo Sabres prospect Justin Bailey. Then, in a move originally labeled as questionable, the Rangers acquired overage goaltender Jake Paterson from the Saginaw Spirit. It was a strange move for them, but the results have been everything they could have hoped for. Since being acquired, Paterson has gone 9-5-1 for the Rangers while posting a .930 save percentage. The Detroit Red Wings prospect was named the Vaughan OHL Goaltender of the Month in January after going 7-2-1. Just two weeks ago, the Rangers welcomed the Greyhounds to town, winning in decisive fashion by a final score of 5-1. Paterson stopped 41 of 42 shots in the game, which demonstrated quite clearly that the Rangers will not be pushovers in the playoffs.
Unlike the Rangers, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds have consistently been near the top of the standings. Trade deadline acquisitions of Nick Ritchie (ANA), Anthony DeAngelo (TBL), and Justin Bailey have been key in keeping them there. Bailey, a second round pick of the Buffalo Sabres in 2013, has long been thought of as a big-bodied power forward that is responsible at both ends of the ice. However, a new offseason training regimen has resulted in an improved offensive game. Bailey has already passed his career highs in goals and assists, and has been a steady influence for the Greyhounds. Since being acquired, Bailey has 10 goals and 13 assists in 17 games. His 64 points on the season are only behind Sergei Tolchinsky (CAR) in Sault Ste. Marie, and is good for 16th overall in OHL scoring.
Dominic Toninato (Minnesota-Duluth) vs. Sean Kuraly (Miami) – NCAA
Two forwards who profile very similar to each other will lead their respective schools in a clash of NCAA top 10 teams this weekend. There are quite a few similarities between the two – they both lead their schools in goal scoring and other key categories.
Dominic Toninato’s sophomore season has been a successful one by all accounts. Playing in all situations, Toninato has taken a major step forward offensively for No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth. He has scored 14 goals this season, doubling his total from his freshman campaign. He has been a major contributor on the power play, combining with fellow Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Tony Cameranesi on many occasions. As the Bulldogs’ first-line center, Toninato’s +16 is good for second on the team. He has also scored twice shorthanded, displaying his dangerous ability to score off the break.
The No. 6 Miami RedHawks have won 18 games this season, and half of them have come thanks to a game-winning goal by junior forward Sean Kuraly. Those game-winning goals have him ranked second in the NCAA in that category, and he now sits alone with an all-time school record. The San Jose Sharks prospect currently leads Miami in goal scoring with 14, with five of those coming with the man advantage. Kuraly recently escaped a serious injury after having the back of his leg cut in an outdoor game against Western Michigan. Before leaving the game, Kuraly scored the game-winning goal in the RedHawks 4-3 win.
John Quenneville (Brandon) vs. Brendan Guhle (Prince Albert) – WHL
The Brandon Wheat Kings have been a machine this season, churning out a current streak of 16 games without losing in regulation. Brandon heads into the weekend tied with the Kelowna Rockets for first place in the overall standings, and an unsung hero has been a big part of their dominance. For a Prince Albert Raiders squad that has scored 103 less goals than the visitors, one young defenseman will hope to quiet a powerful offense.
While other names may be in the spotlight, John Quenneville has quietly gone about his business. Now in his third season in the league, Quenneville has been a key in the Wheat Kings’ penalty kill efforts as a valuable role player. He has totaled 16 goals and 21 assists in 45 games played, recently missing a stretch with a suspected concussion. Quenneville is a streaky player, prone to bouts like his recent stretch of six games without a point. That said, the New Jersey Devils‘ prospect has remained a staple on the Wheat Kings power play, scoring seven times with the man advantage.
It has been a disappointing season in Prince Albert, where goal scoring hasn’t come naturally to a young team. However, Raiders defenseman Brendan Guhle has pulled fans out of their seats thanks to his tremendous skating ability. Having participated in all 57 games, Guhle has already doubled his point total from last season, netting three goals and 17 assists this season. Thanks to his improved offensive game, he was ranked as the 76th skater by NHL Central Scouting for the 2015 draft.
Samuel Montembeault (Blainville-Boisbriand) vs. Nicolas Aube-Kubel (Val d’Or) – QMJHL
In the QMJHL, two young prospects will go head-to-head in an intriguing matchup. Both teams have some parallels this season and have relied upon one player to carry the load.
In his first full season as a starting goaltender, Samuel Montembeault got off to a hot start. He was named the Vaughan QMJHL Goaltender of the Month after posting five wins, maintaining a 1.83 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage as the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada won eight of 10 games. A nine-game win streak early on in the season set a franchise record, putting Montembeault on the map for the 2015 NHL Draft. NHL Central Scouting ranked him third overall among North American goaltenders eligible for the draft, high praise for a player who owns the best goals-against average in the QMJHL. Montembeault’s Armada have given up only 149 goals, best in the league by a wide margin.
The Val d’Or Foreurs have had an up-and-down season so far, and when they have succeeded, so too has Nicolas Aube-Kubel. The Philadelphia Flyers prospect was cold at the beginning of the year, being held scoreless in nine of his first 22 games. Since then, Kubel has registered 12 multi-point games during two separate eight-game point streaks. Over his last seven games, Kubel has 14 points and the Foreurs have gone 5-1-1 in that stretch. If Val d’Or is to succeed in the playoffs, Kubel will have to be a major part of their success.
Conor Garland (Moncton) vs. Laurent Dauphin (Chicoutimi) – QMJHL
Laurent Dauphin (ARZ) opened the scoring just a few minutes into the game for the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, but the QMJHL’s leading scorer, Conor Garland, took over from there in a 4-3 Moncton Wildcats’ victory. Garland, who tallied assists on two back-to-back Ivan Barbashev (STL) goals, added an unassisted shorthanded goal in the win. This was the second of three straight three-point games for Garland, who became the first CHL player to reach 100 points on the season. For Chicoutimi, Dauphin’s goal matched his career high of 25 and extended his team-leading 59th point of the season.
Danton Heinen (Denver) vs. Mark MacMillan (North Dakota) – NCAA
In the first of two games, a pair of Michael Parks (PHI) goals led the way for North Dakota as they finished ahead by a final score of 4-2. Mark MacMillan (MTL) was held without a shot on goal and finished -1 on the night. Danton Heinen (BOS) setup a power play goal for the Pioneers, and a late Quentin Shore (OTT) goal drew them even before a Denver defenseman batted the puck into his own net. That goal was credited to Nick Schmaltz (CHI) and held up as the game winner. The next night, Denver fell behind by two goals at the end of the second period, but a late Trevor Moore goal secured at least one point for the Pioneers. Moore went on to score the only goal in the shootout for the 4-3 win. Heinen picked up another assist on Moore’s game-tying goal. For North Dakota, Mark MacMillan was held scoreless again, but linemate Drake Caggiula extended his career high point total to 29 in only 29 games played.
Giorgio Estephan (Lethbridge) vs. Haydn Fleury (Red Deer) – WHL
Lethbridge and Red Deer met up in a defensive struggle that resulted in only 46 shots being sent on target between the two teams. The Hurricanes captain, Jamal Watson, scored his 21st goal of the season and added a shorthanded assist to pace Lethbridge in a 2-1 win. Giorgio Estephan was held without a point, but engaged in just his second career fight against Austin Adamson in the second period. Red Deer’s lone goal was scored by Presten Kopeck on the power play. Haydn Fleury (CAR) was beaten twice during this game, finishing without a point and -2 rating.
Pavel Zacha (Sarnia) vs. Tyler Bertuzzi (Guelph) – OHL
The Sarnia Sting shot early and often on Justin Nichols, but fell short in a 4-3 shootout loss. The Sting unleashed a staggering 61 shots on goal, with 2015 NHL Draft-eligible Nikita Korostelev scoring just 1:33 into the game. The Storm’s Tyler Bertuzzi (DET) was busy during the game, scoring his 39th goal of the season in addition to adding another assist, being stopped on a penalty shot, and the netting the game-winning shootout marker. Pavel Zacha (2015) was a late scratch for the Sting.
William Lagesson (Dubuque) vs. Kyle Connor (Youngstown) – USHL
Kyle Connor’s goal and two assists led the way in a 6-4 Youngstown win in the first of two games. St. Louis Blues’ prospect Maxim Letunov’s 18th and 19th goals of the season matched a career high for him. In the second game, Connor (2015) added another assist as Lukas Craggs’ pair of goals helped Youngstown sneak away with a 3-2 win, despite being outshot 44-24. William Lagesson (EDM) was held without a point in both games, but was a major factor on the penalty kill during the second game as Dubuque went a perfect six for six.
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