Can anyone stop Conor Garland from scoring? The diminutive forward is already 30-points clear of second place in scoring, and a veteran goaltender will be tasked with attempting to keep him off the scoresheet in weekend action. Also in this NHL Prospect Faceoff, Brendan Lemieux, Jack Roslovic, and Jansen Harkins from the Winnipeg Jets organization are all in action this weekend. Finally, two Swedish defensemen with vastly different skill sets are chronicled in SHL action.
Eric Brassard (Halifax) vs. Conor Garland (Moncton) – QMJHL
In this week’s Feature Faceoff, Halifax goaltender Eric Brassard is going to try to do something only two other goaltenders did this season – keep Conor Garland off the scoresheet.
After playing 14 playoff games with the Halifax Mooseheads last season, Eric Brassard gained valuable experience and confidence heading into this season. For the first time in his career, Brassard has been given the number one job and has done remarkably well behind a much younger and far less potent Mooseheads offense this season. The team traded the face of the franchise, Timo Meier (SJS), to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, effectively signaling that they were headed into a rebuild. Halifax dropped their last four contests, and will need Brassard to step up in a big way if they are to sneak two points out of Moncton.
One year after posting 129 points, Garland already surpassed the 100-point mark and is a good bet to secure the CHL scoring title. Garland’s production has been remarkably consistent as he has scored at least one point in all but two games. His 73 assists alone would be first in the QMJHL in scoring, but with 30 goals to go along with it, he has opened up an astonishing 30-point lead on second place in the scoring race. The Arizona Coyotes may have landed a late-round gem when they took Garland 123rd overall in the 2015 NHL Draft. If this pace keeps up, Garland may approach some league records, which is surprising considering the current landscape.
Max Jones (London) vs. Brendan Lemieux (Windsor) – OHL
The OHL’s Western Conference is known as an often rough-and-tumble group, and two of the that conference’s premier power forwards face off this weekend.
The London Knights deploy Max Jones as a direct, straight-line winger who drives the net with power, putting his 6’3”, 200-pound frame to good use on a nightly basis. Jones, who is not devoid of skill, has 20 goals and 17 assists so far while playing on a line separate from Christian Dvorak (ARI) and Mitch Marner (TOR). Jones is a relentless forechecker, and is virtually guaranteed to hear his name called on the first day of the 2016 NHL Draft.
While Jones works to earn his keep in his first season in the league, Windsor Spitfires forward Brendan Lemieux has already established himself as one of the most physically dominant power forwards in the league. Lemieux, who may have picked up a few tips on how to score and agitate at the same time from his father, former NHL forward Claude Lemieux, was acquired by the Spitfires in an early-December trade from the Barrie Colts. Possessing one of the purest shots in the OHL, Lemieux has scored on a goal-per-game pace with Windsor since being acquired and is a big reason why the team is on top of the West Division.
Danton Heinen (Denver) vs. Jack Roslovic (Miami) – NCAA
Entering this weekend’s matchup in Ohio, Denver University forward Danton Heinen is coming off back-to-back two-point games. This season, the Boston Bruins prospect has never gone more than three games without adding a point. One of the most productive players on the team, Heinen has joined forces with Dylan Gambrell, a surprising freshman forward, to create one of the most productive duos in NCAA hockey.
After tallying at least one point in 12 of his first 15 collegiate games, Jack Roslovic is looking to get back on track against Denver this weekend. Working through a six-game drought since January 2nd, Roslovic is still contributing at both ends of the ice for Miami University, an unusual story for an incoming freshman. The Winnipeg Jets prospect still leads the team in scoring with 18 points, and is also first in power play points (8) and game-winning goals (3).
Jansen Harkins (Prince George) vs. Brayden Point (Moose Jaw) – WHL
The son of former NHL center Todd Harkins, Jansen is a chip off the old block. Harkins, a Cleveland, Ohio native, has become a reliable and trustworthy option for the Prince George Cougars. He is a blue collar center who never quits on a play and has consistently been one of the best players on the ice for Prince George this season. Harkins has 15 goals and 25 assists on the season, slightly behind his 79-point pace from one year ago, but the team has relied upon him as an important piece of one of the best penalty-killing units in the league. He has been deployed against some of the top competition in the league, and will have a difficult matchup as he tries to contain one of the best forwards in the WHL this weekend.
Brayden Point (TBL) returned to the WHL after captaining Canada to a disappointing sixth place finish during the IIHF World Junior Championship. Perhaps motivated by the disappointing finish, Point appears ready to guide the Moose Jaw Warriors into the playoffs. Since his return to the lineup, Point has five multi-point games, including a recent four-point effort in a rivalry victory over the Calgary Hitmen. Point has the highest point-per-game average in the league, on pace for 147 points if he played a full 72 game season.
Gustav Forsling (Linkoping) vs. Emil Johansson (HV71) – SHL
Two of the SHL’s best young defensemen go one-on-one this weekend in SHL action. Gustav Forsling, a puck-moving, mobile player that prides himself on his ability to create offense, is the top-scoring rearguard among U20 defensemen. He has three goals and 12 assists through 34 SHL games and has been proficient in international competition as well. At the U20 World Junior Championship, Forsling scored twice and added an assist as the top defenseman for Sweden. Originally drafted by the Vancouver Canucks, Forsling is now property of the Chicago Blackhawks after being acquired in exchange for the well-traveled Adam Clendening.
Opposing him is Emil Johansson, another talented young defender cut from a different cloth. Where Forsling prefers to rush the puck and create offense, Johansson is a very simplistic defenseman with a solid skill set. He is often seen breaking up plays and using his above-average skating stride to defend, but where Johansson really excels is in the defensive zone. Wise beyond his years, the Boston Bruins prospect relies upon his positioning and calming presence to rack up an impressive +12 rating.
Alex Nedeljkovic (Niagara) vs. Alex DeBrincat (Erie) – OHL
Despite launching 28 shots on Alex Nedeljkovic (CAR), the Erie Otters came up short in a 4-1 loss to the Niagara IceDogs this weekend. Nedeljkovic put on a show, stopping 27 of 28 shots, coming away with second star honors while improving his record to 6-3-0-1 since joining the IceDogs. It was a disappointing night for Erie’s top line of Dylan Strome (ARI) and 2016 draft-eligibles Taylor Raddysh and Alex DeBrincat, who all finished without a point and a -3 rating.
Hunter Fejes (Colorado College) vs. Drake Caggiula (North Dakota) – NCAA
There were plenty of goals to go around in the 5-5 draw between Colorado College and the University of North Dakota. Hunter Fejes (ARI) exploded offensively, scoring twice and adding two more assists in one of the best games of his college career. Luke Johnson (CHI) and Rhett Gardner picked up two goals of their own for North Dakota. The next night, North Dakota’s offense continued their hot streak, scoring five additional goals in a 5-1 victory. Gardner again scored twice, but Fejes was unable to respond the second time around. Hobey Baker-nominated forward Drake Caggiula missed the game due to injury, and is expected to return this weekend.
Ryan Gropp (Seattle) vs. Dominic Turgeon (Portland) – WHL
Seattle Thunderbirds forward Ryan Gropp (NYR) had an up-close view of linemate Keegan Kolesar‘s (CBJ) two-goal, one-assist performance in their 3-0 victory over Portland. Gropp assisted on one of those goals, his 43rd point of the season. Seattle goaltender Landon Bow stopped all 30 shots he faced, his third shutout with the team since being acquired from the Swift Current Broncos. Dominic Turgeon (DET) was unable to respond, as the Portland Winterhawks offense was uncharacteristically quiet.
Dmytro Timashov (Shawinigan) vs. Dmitry Zhukenov (Chicoutimi) – QMJHL
Shawinigan and Chicoutimi played a tight game, trading goals throughout the game to finish regulation tied at two. Dmytro Timashov (TOR) stayed hot, adding an assist on Danny Moynihan’s 31st goal of the year to tie the game up in the third period. Dmitry Zhukenov (VAN) was held without a point in regulation, but was entrusted with the game on the line in the shootout and was not able to convert. Then, needing a goal to pick up the extra point for Shawinigan, Timashov beat Chicoutimi goaltender Julio Billia with a gorgeous move to secure the victory.
Dominik Simon (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) vs. Kyle Rau (Portland) – AHL
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and Portland Pirates met up for a pair of games this weekend, with the teams splitting the games in very defensive fashion. AHL veteran Mike McKenna stopped 38 of 39 shots in Portland’s 2-1 win on Friday, before Tristan Jarry (PIT) responded the next night by stopping all 34 shots in the Penguins 5-0 victory. Despite his linemates’ production, Dominik Simon (PIT) was not able to add to his 31 points on the season, while Kyle Rau (FLA) was also blanked in both games for the Pirates.
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