Prospect Faceoff: Ho-Sang faces top 2015 goaltending prospect, Bulldogs spoil Nylander’s Marlies debut, and more

By David Hahn
Prospect Faceoff - Josh Ho-Sang - Niagara IceDogs; Mackenzie Blackwood - Barrie Colts

Photo: Niagara IceDogs forward Josh Ho-Sang (NYI) and Barrie Colts goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood (2015) go head-to-head in one of the more interesting NHL prospect matchups this weekend (courtesy of Aaron Bell/Terry Wilson/OHL Images)


This week’s Prospect Faceoff feature includes a look at weekend matchups that include a couple of top performers from the 2015 World Juniors, plus interesting NHL prospect head-to-heads in NCAA and SHL play. In addition, we look back at the matchups featured in last week’s PF offering, including the results of William Nylander’s first North American action.

Prospect Faceoffs for 1/30-2/1

Oliver Bjorkstrand (Portland) vs. Nikita Scherback (Everett) – WHL

The Portland Winterhawks will host the Everett Silvertips this weekend, as a pair of crafty Europeans will lead their respective teams into this event. The two teams are only separated by five points at the top of the U.S. Division, and both rely on European skaters to lead the way.

For Portland, Oliver Bjorkstrand is currently leading the team in scoring, despite missing a handful of games while he was playing for Denmark at the 2015 World Junior Championship. Bjorkstrand, a third round selection of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2013, is in his third season in the WHL where he has been scoring goals in bunches. He was recently named first star in a 7-5 win over the Tri-City Americans after completing a hat trick and adding an assist to extend his team leading point total to 61. Bjorkstrand has been playing with Team Canada standout Nic Petan and 2015 draft-eligible Paul Bittner, forming one of the most offensively potent lines in the league.

The offseason acquisition of Nikita Scherbak from the Saskatoon Blades has paid immediate dividends for the Everett Silvertips. Scherbak, the 26th overall selection of the Montreal Canadiens in 2014, has led the way for the Silvertips so far this season playing in front of a stingy defense. With Saskatoon, he led the WHL in rookie scoring in his first season of North American competition with 78 points. This season, he started off hot by producing 42 points in his first 27 games before an injury scare. He was selected by Russia to participate in the Subway Super Series, where he was held scoreless in two games. He was then a surprise omission from Russia’s WJC roster, where questions were raised over his two-way game. Scherbak now leads Everett in scoring, despite a recent slump where he has been held scoreless in three out of the last six games. The timing wouldn’t be better if he were to breakout against a strong Portland squad.

Jeremy Gregoire (Baie-Comeau) vs. Ivan Barbashev (Moncton) – QMJHL

The CHL recently released their BMO Top 10 rankings for the season, with the Moncton Wildcats coming in ninth, and the Baie-Comeau Drakkar right behind them in tenth. The two teams will face off against each other this weekend as one of the premier games in the QMJHL.

The Baie-Comeau Drakkar welcomed their captain back to the lineup recently as Jeremy Gregoire returned after missing the first 34 games of the season with a wrist injury. Gregoire was a sixth round selection of the Montreal Canadiens in the 2013 NHL Draft, and was named the QMJHL Scholastic Player of the Year last season. In 13 games this season, Gregoire has tallied 19 points in 13 games, adding an injection of energy to the Drakkar lineup. He was recently named CHL Player of the Week after recording eight points, scoring three goals and five assists in only two games.

The first overall selection in the 2012 CHL Import Draft, Ivan Barbashev, returned to Moncton this year after being selected early in the second round of the 2014 NHL Draft by the St. Louis Blues. Barabshev featured for a Russian team that earned a silver medal at this year’s WJC’s after a bronze medal effort the year before. With Moncton, Barbashev started off hot by scoring eight goals and 16 assists in 11 games, only being held off the scoresheet once. Since then, he has only had two multi-point games. Moncton will also look to second year draft eligible Jacob Sweeney, previously featured in our January “Off the Radar” feature.

Josh Ho-Sang (Niagara) vs. Mackenzie Blackwood (Barrie) – OHL

The Niagara IceDogs got off to one of the worst starts in franchise history this season in the OHL, with one major early season acquisition being part of that team’s turnaround. Meanwhile, the Barrie Colts made one trade deadline move to bolster their defense ahead of a young goaltender. The two teams face off this weekend in an intriguing Central Division game.

Niagara acquired Josh Ho-Sang from the Windsor Spitfires in a rare November blockbuster. He has gone on to score nine goals and 27 assists in Niagara for a total of 55 points on the season. Ho-Sang, one of the most talked about players in the league thanks to his electric offensive ability, changed the dynamic for the IceDogs along with Carter Verhaeghe and Brendan Perlini. The New York Islanders made Ho-Sang their first round draft pick last summer, and he has worked to ignore his critics. The IceDogs have gone undefeated in regulation over their last 10 games, and will hope to continue that streak against a very disciplined Barrie Colts team.

Barrie has been on top of the Central Division for most of the season, an example of their consistency and developing chemistry. The Colts added defenseman Ben Harpur and Chadd Bauman from the Guelph Storm at this year’s trade deadline, adding to a very responsible defensive corps. One player who appreciates that group is goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood, the top North American goaltender available as ranked by NHL Central Scouting for the upcoming draft. Blackwood, named to the OHL All-Rookie Team last season, has improved on both his goals-against average and save percentage this year while showcasing his consistency.

Zane McIntyre (North Dakota) vs. Jake Guentzel (Nebraska-Omaha) – NCAA

The University of North Dakota recently moved into first place in the USCHO poll of the top 20 teams in the nation. Meanwhile, the University of Nebraska-Omaha climbed to fifth in the same poll, their highest ranking since 2011. The two will play a pair of games in Omaha this weekend in a rare matchup of top-five teams.

North Dakota has been paced by junior goaltender Zane McIntyre, who leads NCAA D1 goaltenders in wins while also ranking in the top 10 in both goals-against average and save percentage. He has twice been named the NCHC Goaltender of the Week, including this month’s 41-save effort against Minnesota-Duluth and a 15-save shutout over Niagara. While Boston Bruins fans may point to Malcolm Subban as the future of the team in net, McIntyre, a sixth round selection of the team in 2010, has been consistently improving for North Dakota. He has increased his save percentage in each consecutive season with the team, cementing him as one of the top college goaltenders in the nation.

Another NHL prospect who enjoyed a prosperous beginning of the season is Pittsburgh Penguins talent Jake Guentzel. Guentzel isn’t a newcomer to success, as he has previously gone on a USHL record 21-game point streak resulting in being named USHL Rookie of the Year. He followed that effort up in his freshman season with the Mavericks by winning two NCHC Rookie of the Month titles, and finished second in NCHC Rookie of the Year voting to Colorado College defenseman, Jaccob Slavin. A third round pick of the Penguins in 2013, Guentzel is in his sophomore season in Omaha, where he is currently second overall in team scoring. He has been a true dynamic setup man on the power play with the Mavericks, assisting on nine of the team’s total 16 goals with the man advantage.

Andreas Johnson (Frolunda) vs. Ludvig Bystrom (Farjestad) – SHL

The SHL has seen some wild fluctuations in team standings this season, with Frolunda being one of the few consistent organization’s near the top. Frolunda has seen a breakout season by a Toronto Maple Leafs late round draft pick. Farjestad has been a team up and down the standings lately, but a young defense has kept them afloat this year. The two teams face off this weekend in their third matchup of the season.

Frolunda has been patient with the development of Gavle, Sweden native Andreas Johnson, having watched him come up through their junior system from the age of 16. Johnson has repaid that patience this year, who’s 16 goals is good for sixth overall in league scoring. Johnson, a seventh round selection by the Maple Leafs in 2013, has now posted back-to-back 15 goal seasons, a remarkable effort for such a young player. The 2014 SHL Rookie of the Year has Frolunda ranked as the second-best team in the league behind runaway title favorites, Skelleftea.

Farjestad has one of the youngest group of defenseman in the SHL, with smooth skating Ludvig Bystrom among them. After participating in the Traverse City prospect tournament with the Dallas Stars this summer, Bystrom returned to Farjestad where he has displayed his confident defensive game in helping Farjestad maintain their positioning as one of the final playoff teams. Bystrom, a second round selection for the Dallas in 2012, has occasionally been paired with Oliver Kylington, another young defenseman who NHL Central Scouting ranked as the top European skater for the 2015 NHL Draft.

Prospect Faceoffs from 1/23-1/25

William Nylander (Toronto) vs. Jacob de la Rose (Hamilton) – AHL

The Hamilton Bulldogs did not play the role of gracious host for William Nylander’s professional debut. In the first of back-to-back games, the Bulldogs were led by a pair of goals from captain Gabriel Dumont and a 30-save shutout by Mike Condon en route to a 3-0 victory over the Toronto Marlies. Bulldogs forward Jacob de la Rose, featured in last week’s PF feature, picked up an assist on the first of Dumont’s two goals. The next night in Toronto resulted in another loss for the Marlies, with the previously mentioned Canadiens prospect Sven Andrighetto scoring the game-winning goal in a 4-3 overtime victory. Nylander was held without a point in the weekend series, though numerous reports from the game noted that he did look comfortable and displayed good vision.

Dylan Larkin (Michigan) vs Jack Dougherty (Wisconsin) – NCAA

Former USA Hockey teammates Dylan Larkin and Jack Dougherty went head-to-head last weekend with Michigan coming away with both wins. In the first game, a pair of Jack Dougherty assists helped to put Wisconsin ahead by a 4-1 margin early in the second period. That lead wouldn’t hold up, however, as Larkin’s surging linemates Zach Hyman and Justin Selman were instrumental in Michigan’s six unanswered goals to finish off a 7-4 victory. The next night would be all in the Wolverines favor as Larkin and company cruised to a 6-0 win. Larkin extended his point streak to seven games, while Hyman and Selman earned second and third star of the week honors respectively in the Big Ten.

Nikolaj Ehlers (Halifax) vs. Anthony Duclair (Quebec) – QMJHL

The Quebec Remparts, led by newly-acquired goaltender Zach Fucale and a five-point effort from Adam Erne, got the best of the Halifax Mooseheads in a decisive 6-1 victory. Fucale faced his former team for the first time, stopping 24 of 25 shots. Erne had one of his best days in recent memory, scoring one goal and helping on four others as his counterpart, Anthony Duclair, notched a pair of assists in the game. On the other side of the coin, the dynamic duo of Nikolaj Ehlers and Timo Meier both assisted on the lone Mooseheads’ goal of the game, extending their respective lengthy point streaks.

Sam Reinhart (Kootenay) vs. Tristan Jarry (Edmonton) – WHL

Tristan Jarry of the Edmonton Oil Kings faced 38 shots, turning aside 34 of them in a closely contested, 5-3 loss. Edmonton jumped out to a 3-1 lead thanks to two goals from Brett Pollock, who recently returned from an injury. Four unanswered goals from Kootenay put this one in the Ice’s favor, led by Tim Bozon who finished off a hat trick in the third period that included the eventual game-winning goal. Sam Reinhart added one assist in the game for the Kootenay Ice.

Nick Paul (North Bay) vs. Michael Dal Colle (Oshawa) – OHL

The Oshawa Generals defended home ice effectively, thanks to a three-point night from newly-acquired Matt Mistele in a 5-3 win. Mistele scored back-to-back goals, and Michael Dal Colle added the eventual game-winner for the Generals. Nick Paul answered back for the North Bay Battalion late in the third period, only to see a late, empty net goal by the Generals’ Cole Cassels seal their fate.

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