Prior to the NHL lockout, there was an enormous amount of talk regarding the free agent status of a young player who hadn’t even played in an NHL game. A second-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks in 2008, Justin Schultz became the most sought after off-season free agent when he was left unsigned following a stellar collegiate career at the University of Wisconsin. And where would you expect a young phenom to land these days? With the Edmonton Oilers, of course. The 22-year-old signed a two-year deal with the club that already features an embarrassment of under-23 future superstars.
Although it’s not the league Schultz hoped he would be playing in, he has had absolutely no problem adjusting to his first season as a pro. In seven October games with the Oklahoma City Barons, Schultz took the AHL by storm scoring an impressive six goals from the blueline and adding six more assists. More surprising is that it is not teammates like Jordan Eberle or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins that everyone is chasing in the early season scoring race, but rather the defenseman Schultz whose 15 points overall currently leads the league.
In just one month of action, the Kelowna, B.C native has proved that the buzz surrounding his free agency was well worth the hype. An exciting two-way defenseman with elite offensive abilities, Schultz is making it difficult for fans who would much rather be watching him play in the NHL for what could potentially be the league’s most exciting young team.
For his strong showing in the first month of the 2012-13 season, Schultz has been named Hockey's Future's Prospect of the Month for October, 2012.
A seventh-round selection of the Colorado Avalanche in 2012, Colin Smith and his Kamloops Blazers teammates are simply tearing up the WHL. With a record of 17-1-0-1, the Blazers are thus far running away as the top team in the CHL with the play of Smith being a big reason why. The 19-year-old center enjoyed a sparkling month of October, scoring 11 goals and totaling 32 points in 13 games.
One third of junior hockey’s most dominating trio, Smith currently ranks second in the WHL in scoring with 39 points, one behind teammate JC Lipon and eight points ahead of the line’s third member, Tim Bozon (MTL). The three players have combined for an astounding 53% of the Blazers' goals this season with Smith often playing the role of facilitator as the line’s center.
The starting goalie for Owen Sound’s OHL Championship team two seasons ago, Binnington and the Attack once again appear to be primed for another run at the title. The 19-year-old has performed as the OHL’s best goaltender through the season’s first month and has helped backstop the club to first overall in the Western Conference. A third-round choice of the St. Louis Blues in 2011, Binnington is among the league leaders at his position, including a goals-against average of 2.09, a save percentage of .935, and a win-loss record of 10-1-1-2.
One of the OHL’s top goaltending prospects over the past couple of seasons, Binnington’s strong play is surely putting him in the mix for Canada’s World Junior team. If he can continue to play at a high level, he will be in good shape to land an invite to December’s try-out camp where he will then need to impress even further if he is to lock down one of the two spots between the pipes.
Jon Gillies (CGY)
Providence College – Hockey East
A third-round pick of the Calgary Flames in 2012, Gillies has gotten off to a sparkling start in his freshman season with Providence. With a 4-3-1 record in eight games played, the 18-year-old has been a workhorse between the pipes, playing all but one period so far for the Friars. His 1.80 goals-against average and .930 save percentage rank him as not only one of the nation’s top first-year netminders, but one of the best in all of college hockey.
At 6’5” and 200 pounds, Gillies is quickly showing why he was a third-round NHL Draft pick. Although his size is certainly an advantage, his upright style forces him to rely on his quickness and athleticism, two attributes that he takes great advantage of. Look for this talented young goalie to continue to make an enormous impact as a freshman where he will also hope to crack USA’s World Junior team.
Oscar Lindberg (NYR)
Skelleftea – SEL
A young player who has already had his NHL rights traded, Lindberg’s hot start to the 2012-13 campaign has been a very pleasant surprise for the team that currently holds his rights, the New York Rangers. Having developed his all-around game as more of a two-way player the past three seasons with Skelleftea in the Swedish Elite League, Lindberg has found his offensive game this year and then some. In 20 games, the 21-year-old center is among the league leaders in scoring with 20 points and leads his club with eight goals.
Forming a strong chemistry with linemates Bud Holloway and Joakim Lindstrom, Lindberg has already established new career highs in every major offensive category and is looking like an excellent acquisition by the Rangers, who acquired him from the Phoenix Coyotes in May of 2011.