It’s an exciting time of year for Prospect Faceoff, as the 2015 NCAA Frozen Four comes to a conclusion with the championship game featuring NHL prospects from two Hockey East schools. Meanwhile, all three CHL leagues have advanced to the second round of the playoffs as a trio of games are worth a look.
In the WHL, a pair of former teammates go head-to-head in a battle of top defenseman. The QMJHL game features a goaltender looking for redemption from a difficult first half, while another veteran forward hopes to make it further in the playoffs before graduating to the next level. Finally, two OHL role players with different styles will need to contribute if their teams want to move on.
Jack Eichel (Boston University) vs. Jon Gillies (Providence) – NCAA
Boston University missed the NCAA Tournament entirely the last two years, but a resurgence elevated by a freshman sensation has made believers in Boston. New England rival Providence College looked like a team destined for the Frozen Four just six weeks ago, when they really started to put things together. Part of their success can be attributed to a workhorse goaltender.
Ten fearsome Boston University freshmen have combined for 147 points this season. Of those, top-flight prospect Jack Eichel leads the way with 70 of them, leading the nation in scoring. Not only did Eichel accomplish that feat, but he also leads all NCAA players in assists with 44; points with the man advantage with 23; and plus/minus with an astonishing +51 rating. Eichel contributed two goals and one assist against North Dakota, perhaps a look ahead for NHL teams needing a franchise pivot. The winner of the Hobey Baker Award, Eichel and the Terriers ride an eight-game win streak into the finals.
The Calgary Flames recent struggles with injuries in net have left some media members speculating if Friars goaltender Jon Gillies was available. Gillies had other plans, leading the Friars to the Frozen Four for the first time in 30 years. The junior netminder has racked up a 23-13-2 record so far, with a 1.98 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage. Gillies has four shutouts this season, in addition to eight other games where he gave up just one goal. In the Frozen Four semi-finals, Gillies stopped 25 of 26 to send the Friars to the finals. Providence plays a systemically sufficient defensive system, something that will need to be executed properly if Gillies wishes to go out on top before perhaps advancing to Calgary.
Joe Hicketts (Victoria) vs. Madison Bowey (Kelowna) – WHL
One look at the top of the scoring charts for WHL defensemen causes two familiar names to immediately pop out. These two players have ties to each other, as well, having both been members of this year’s Canadian WJC team. Matching up in the second round of the playoffs, both defenseman are major contributors for their respective teams.
Looking back just two years ago, Joe Hicketts was completely off the radar. But the hockey sense and competitiveness displayed by the undersized defenseman led to a meteoric rise to relevance. The Detroit Red Wings recognized Hicketts as a free agent, offering him a contract shortly after an impressive camp. This season, Hicketts finished the regular season with 12 goals and 52 assists, good for second overall in WHL scoring by a defenseman. With Canada, he added three assists in seven games with a +3 rating.
Finishing four points behind Hicketts with 17 goals and 43 assists, the Kelowna Rockets’ Madison Bowey will lead his team into matchup against his national teammate. The Rockets are known as a defensive prospect factory, churning out numerous NHL talents, and Bowey is no exception. The Washington Capitals prospect has controlled play from the back end this season, impressing on both sides of the puck. The Kelowna captain scored one goal and three assists with Canada’s WJC squad.
Francois Brassard (Gatineau) vs. Chris Clapperton (Rimouski) – QMJHL
Two QMJHL veterans were big parts of first round playoff wins for their respective teams, and that hot run of play will need to continue if that trend is to continue.
Coming into this season, Francois Brassard was a veteran of 150 QMJHL games with the Quebec Remparts. But the first half of his season with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles was a clear aberration from his usual success, and the team released him in January following a .867 save percentage. Brassard signed one week later with the Gatineau Olympiques, and his game turned around just as quickly. The former Ottawa Senators prospect finished 13-4 with the Olympiques, and improved his save percentage to .907. He didn’t stop there, however, as Brassard backstopped Gatineau to a first round playoff win with a .934 mark.
Like Brassard, Chris Clapperton is in his fourth season in the QMJHL. After scoring 35 goals and 41 assists in the regular season, good for third on the Rimouski Oceanic in scoring, Clapperton has continued to contribute in the playoffs. The Florida Panthers prospect led the team with four goals and three assists in their first round sweep over Victoriaville. As a veteran of over 40 playoff games, Clapperton is hoping to advance past the semi-finals for the first time in his career.
Mike Amadio (North Bay) vs. Kevin Labanc (Barrie) – OHL
If there was ever a tale of two polar opposite teams, the second round matchup between the North Bay Battalion and Barrie Colts tops them all. North Bay’s defense-first trap system has stifled many opponents, but one troop in particular took a major step forward offensively. Meanwhile, the Barrie Colts boast three players over the 100-point mark, including one late-round gem.
Battalion forward Mike Amadio is used to the rough-and-tumble Eastern Conference, and for good reason. The defense-first forward is a trusted penalty killer and faceoff winner for North Bay, but it is his offensive surge that has the troops positioned for success. After posting 19- and 38-point seasons over the last two years, Amadio’s 24-goal and 47-assist season surprisingly led the team in scoring. The Los Angeles Kings prospect added seven points in a sweep over the rival Kingston Frontenacs, but the Colts provide a much tougher challenge, making this an intriguing matchup.
Along with Joe Blandisi (NJD) and second-year eligible Andrew Mangiapane, Kevin Labanc represented the Colts in the 100-point club. After a 35-point campaign in his first year in the OHL, Labanc burst onto the scene with 31 goals and 76 assists in a full 68-game season. Despite his lack of size, the San Jose Sharks prospect is a slippery player to contain and is not afraid to drive the net. With only two assists in their first round win over Belleville, Labanc will be looking to break out in a big way.
Graham Knott (Niagara) vs. Travis Konecny (Ottawa) – OHL
With the series all squared at two, the Niagara IceDogs took a stranglehold on the series with an 8-3 win in Game Five. Ottawa attempted to rally from an early 4-1 deficit with goals from Travis Konecny and Travis Barron but fell short when Niagara’s offense came to life. Brendan Perlini (ARI) and Carter Verhaeghe (TOR) each had three points, and Graham Knott added a late goal to propel Niagara ahead in the series. Konecny’s one goal and +1 rating led the 67’s before he succumbed to injury. In game six of the series, Ottawa couldn’t overcome the loss of Konecny and Niagara advanced with a 4-3 victory.
Shea Theodore (Seattle) vs. Nic Petan (Portland) – WHL
With Seattle somewhat surprisingly drawing even heading into Game Five, Portland’s offense awakened to take command of the series in a 5-3 win at home. Nic Petan assisted on a Keegan Iverson goal early in the first period before Paul Bittner (2015) scored twice and Oliver Bjorkstrand (CBJ) put up three points of his own. Shea Theodore’s power play goal drew Seattle within one, but Portland continued to stay ahead in a crucial victory.
Jakub Vrana (Linkoping) vs. Sebastian Aho (Skelleftea) – SHL
Linkoping was able to avoid elimination for one additional game thanks to an effort from the well-traveled Jacob Micflikier. His two goals helped put Linkoping ahead, and former AHL veteran Broc Little added another goal to go up 3-0. Jakub Vrana was quiet in the game, picking up one penalty, but finishing with a +1 rating. Sebastian Aho finished without a point in the game. Skelleftea was aided by a late five-minute power play, picking up a pair of goals before time ran out on a 3-2 Linkoping victory. The success wouldn’t last long, however, as Skelleftea advanced to the finals with a 3-1 win in Game Six.
Brendan Harris (Wenatchee) vs. Wes Michaud (Corpus Christi) – NAHL
With a spot in the playoffs on the line, Wenatchee forward Brendan Harris chipped in one goal as the Wild looked to go ahead in their best of three play-in series. Wes Michaud answered for Corpus Christi just two minutes later, sending the game into overtime all square at two. Wenatchee’s Chris Jones played hero in overtime, ending the game during the second shift in the extra frame. Wenatchee ended up advancing the next night, doubling down on another 3-2 win to enter the playoffs.
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