Petr Kalus has lived up to, if not exceeded, expectations in his first season on North American soil. Kalus completed a 60-game rookie season, capped off in a tie with teammate Garret Festerling as the top scorer for the Regina Pats at 58 total points. The 18-year-old Czech is a slippery skater, and while he is adept at maneuvering in and out of traffic, he can be extremely dangerous on a breakaway. While he may be a headache for the opposing team’s defenders, his hockey intelligence, drive and natural scoring ability have made him a key part of Regina’s offense. Kalus ranked second among all rookies in the WHL for total points, tops among all rookies with 15 power-play goals, and he finished ninth in the league for goals scored with 36. He had nine multiple point games, including an amazing three goals and three assists early in the season in a game against the Red Deer Rebels.
Saskatoon Blades captain Wacey Rabbit had some ups and downs after suffering a concussion and missing games at the midpoint of the season, but fortunately he was able to finish the season on a high note. The 2005 Bruins draft pick compiled 56 points (28 goals, 28 assists), a +12 and 45 penalty minutes in 64 regular season games. He’s a strong all-around player with exceptional speed and skating ability, and while he’s on the small side, he plays without fear and shows no hesitation playing the body. Rabbit is strong on both the power play and the penalty kill, where he’s scored more than half of his goals. He had a total of 11 power-play goals on the season, and led the league with eight shorthanded goals.
Ashton Rome was traded early in the season from the Red Deer Rebels to the Kamloops Blazers, but it didn’t stop him from putting together one of his strongest seasons in the WHL. For the first time in his WHL career, his team will miss the playoffs, but individually, Rome averaged nearly a point a game, finishing at the top of his team and 18th overall in the league for scoring with 64 points (30 goals, 34 assists) in 65 games. The 20-year-old is a natural leader who isn’t afraid to deal out a jarring hit or stick up for his teammates, but he’s able to back that up with his ability to put points on the board. Rome scored 11 of his goals on the power play, three shorthanded, and he had 15 games with two or more points. The fourth-year WHL’er wraps up his career in the WHL and will be looking for a pro contract next season.
At 6’4 210 lbs, Czech forward Lukas Vantuch has all the tools to be a dominant physical presence on the ice. Though he won’t shy away from physical contact, he doesn’t seek it out, either. More of a playmaker than scoring forward, Vantuch is a good skater for a man of his size, with a rocket of a shot. He’s struggled with inconsistency on the Calgary Hitmen, but something to take into consideration is that Vantuch has just completed his first season in North America, and has needed the time to adjust from the European style game. In 68 games, he totaled 19 points (4 goals, 15 assists) and 70 penalty minutes.
Kris Versteeg swapped spots with fellow Bruins prospect Rome early in the season and landed with the Red Deer Rebels. He played 71 games between the two teams for a total of 48 points (16 goals, 32 assists) and 127 penalty minutes. The skilled winger had nine games with two or more points and a total of five power-play goals. It wasn’t his highest-scoring season in the WHL, but then again, Versteeg spent more than a third of the season playing defense for the Rebels. He still has a lot to learn, but has made improvements, and Versteeg is a highly competitive, versatile young forward. He recently earned a tryout contract with the Providence Bruins.
After bouts with illness and injury, Matt Lashoff finally had a solid stretch of playing time and pulled off a decent overall season with Kitchener. The Bruins top draft choice played in 56 games where he totaled 47 points (7 goals, 40 assists) and 146 penalty minutes. Lashoff is a smooth skating playmaker, who is equally adept at creating scoring opportunities as he is in his own end of the ice. Further emphasizing his playmaking abilities is his work on the power play, where he collected 28 of his assists. Lashoff has improved his strength, and at 19 years of age and with three years playing in the OHL, has impressed the Bruins brass enough to be offered an entry-level contract.
Anton Hedman was a bit of a surprise in that many didn’t know what to expect of the 6’3 220 lb Swede in his first OHL season. Boston’s eighth round draft pick from 2004 attracted significant attention playing for the Sudbury Wolves with ability to plow through opponents. A tireless worker, Hedman goes all out every shift, brings considerable offensive ability, as well as a dominant physical game. Sudbury’s rookie import played 60 regular season games and totaled 34 points (18 goals, 16 assists) and 126 penalty minutes.
An ankle injury that would eventually require surgery kept 19-year-old Martins Karsums away from the ice longer than anticipated, but the resilient winger finally returned to the Wildcats lineup in mid-October. Though still bothered by occasional ankle pain, Karsums quickly shook off the rust and resumed his seemingly innate ability to find the back of the net. He only played in 49 regular season games, but contributed a total of 65 points (34 goals, 31 assists), with 16 of his goals coming on the power play. Karsums was also a member of Team Latvia in the 2006 IIHF U20 World Junior Championship, where he put up a total of six points (3 goals, 3 assists) in six games. He’s a fiery little winger who can back up his point production with strong awareness in the defensive zone and willingness to play the body. Unfortunately, that ankle pain would come back to haunt him off and on for most of the season, causing him to miss a number of games, and one has to wonder if that will continue to be an issue in the future. Still, Karsums has been a powerful presence in the Wildcats lineup, and his willingness to battle through only makes his accomplishments this season that much more admirable.
David Krejci completed his second year in the QMJHL with another impressive run for Gatineau. Despite some injury troubles earlier in the season, Krejci managed to put together a strong 55-game campaign where he totaled 81 points (27 goals, 54 assists) and 54 penalty minutes. He posted 16 power-play goals, five game winners and ranked 13th among all centers in the league. Krejci is a solid all-around player who has quickly developed into a team leader. He served as assistant captain with the Olympiques and was part of the Czech team for the 2006 IIHF U20 World Junior Championship. Though the Czech Republic was unable to finish in the top three, Krejci compiled a total of six points (3 goals, 3 assists) in six games. Gatineau meanwhile, finished fourth in the Western Division of the QMJHL with a 40-23-4-3 record.
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