Michal Birner, LW
Saginaw Spirit, Age: 20
4th round, 116th overall, 2004 NHL Entry Draft
After opening the 2005-06 season with 10 goals in his first six games, Birner closed his regular season campaign in similar fashion by recording a point in 13 out of the final 16 games including seven straight games in February.
Birner finished with a total of 31 goals, 54 assists and a +23 rating in 60 games played, doubling his scoring rate from last year. He was Saginaw’s second-leading point scorer behind center, and linemate, Ryan McDonough (2006). Joe McCann also played with the duo. He also played the point on the power play.
Birner was ranked sixth on the Spirit in penalty minutes with 91, more than double last year’s total.
The Spirit finished second in the OHL Western Division before being swept by Guelph in the first round. Birner scored a goal and three assists in the series.
Nicholas Drazenovic, C
Prince George Cougars, Age: 19
6th round, 171st overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft
In what was by far his best season to date, Nicholas Drazenovic finished No. 20 in point scoring in the WHL with 30 goals and 33 assists in 71 games. He was second on the Cougars behind center Eric Hunter (CHI). Drazenovic’s total includes 17 points in October and 14 in January.
“Nick has been a go-to guy for us all season long,” head coach Mike Vandecamp told Hockey’s Future in January. “He’s still a relatively young man in the WHL and I think his defensive play was where we wanted to focus first to help him become an even more complete player.
“Getting drafted is maybe step one, but now we have to help to get him there,” added Vandecamp. “He’s working very hard. I still believe his top end skill level offensively will be his bread and butter, but we all know you have to be a complete player to play at the professional level and that’s what he’s working hard to do.”
The Cougars finished three points ahead of Kamloops for the fourth and final playoff spot in the B.C. division. They were eliminated by Vancouver in five games.
Mike Gauthier, D
Prince Albert Raiders, Age: 19
6th round, 169th overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft
By all accounts, Mike Gauthier remains a work in progress. He remains a very physical defender with a knack for enforcement in front of the net. He led the Raiders with 169 penalty minutes including a game misconduct and instigator following a Feb. 19 fight with Brandon Wheat Kings captain Teegan Moore.
With four goals and eight assists, Gauthier’s offensive output, though still minimal, is up from previous years. The Raiders have played Gauthier in their second defensive unit, often alongside Evan Schafer (FLA).
Gauthier has added eight pounds to his 6’3 frame for a total of 193 pounds.
Scott Jackson, D
Seattle Thunderbirds, Age: 19
2nd round, 37th overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft
Scott Jackson bounced back from two knee surgeries to help the Thunderbirds finish second in the U.S. division. The cartilage-removal operations forced him to miss 14 games during which time the Thunderbirds were only 5-for-92 (5.4 percent) on the power play. When Jackson was healthy, Seattle’s power play was successful 13.6 percent of the time.
Jackson is part of the Thunderbirds’ top defensive pair alongside Clayton Barthel (WSH). He scored a total of three goals and 23 assists in 57 regular season games played. He had a +4 rating on the year including +5 in March. Jackson scored a goal and nine assists in the last two months of the season.
Jackson was invited to the summer evaluation camp for Canada’s national junior team, but was not invited to the December camp due to his injury.
In the playoffs, Jackson scored a goal and two assists in the first game of Seattle’s first round series against Portland.
Ryan Reaves, RW
Brandon Wheat Kings, Age: 19
5th round, 156th overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft
As the son of a former CFL MVP, Ryan Reaves plays a physical style of hockey that seems to have come straight from the gridiron. He hits early and often and forechecks with intensity. He was Brandon’s fourth most penalized player with 91 penalty minutes, but did not fight often.
Offensively, the 6’2 205-pound Reaves contributed 14 goals and 14 assists during the regular season campaign.
He led the Wheat Kings in hits during the playoffs, including four in game 5. Brandon lost their first round series to Moose Jaw 4 games to 2.
Glen Erickson contributed to this report. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.