Prospect Impressions: Opilka, Bracco on fire in Kitchener, NHL rookies get initiated, more from the AHL and Sweden

By David Hahn
Jeremy Bracco - Kitchener Rangers

Photo: Kitchener Rangers forward and Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Jeremy Bracco elected to end his NCAA career after five games to join the Rangers this past week (courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)



The Kitchener Rangers are off to a hot start thanks to a pair of former U.S. recruits. In the AHL, a pretty shootout move is only trumped by a goaltender who makes three saves in three seconds. In Sweden, a 15 year old prospect is raising some eyebrows with awe-inspiring moves of his own. Finally, the NHL is in full swing and Jack Eichel scored again, a pair of rookies have the ice to themselves, and Captain Clutch rocks out in Chicago.

The Kitchener Rangers skipped a trip through the gymnasium and quad, and are just plain going streaking. No team in junior hockey is as white hot as the Rangers, who haven’t tasted defeat since October 11th. On paper, you might not have expected much, but two key acquisitions have the team thinking they can go all the way this year. Luke Opilka, a fifth round pick of the St. Louis Blues in the 2015 NHL Draft, shunned the U.S. National Team Development Program in favor of Kitchener and is getting the bulk of available playing time in goal. The addition of Jeremy Bracco after he abruptly ended his collegiate career this week should further strengthen an already strong team, with Bracco making an immediate impact in Kitchener upon his arrival.

Mike Sgarbossa has been on the verge of an NHL opportunity on a number of occasions, and has been a consistent performer at both ends of the ice in his fourth AHL season. Sgarbossa once reached the 100-point plateau in junior, but hasn’t been much of a goal scorer as a pro. That said, he might be changing some minds as a dangerous shootout weapon. Take a look at this game-winning shootout effort where Sgarbossa channeled his inner Datsyuk.

Sticking with the AHL, Garret Sparks is off to a nice start with the Toronto Marlies after a full-year spent in Orlando of the ECHL. Sparks, a fan favorite wherever he has gone, is acclimating to life in the AHL quite well and is making the saves he needs to make in order to stay there. This sequence, where Sparks denies his opponent three times in three seconds, certainly shows why the young goaltender is full of promise.

At just 15 years of age, Rasmus Sandin is raising some eyebrows with his play in Sweden. Eligible for the 2018 NHL Draft, Sandin is a promising defender who brings plenty of skill to the table. His offensive production has improved despite jumping up to the next level within MODO’s junior system, and this goal is reminicesnt of Swedish great Peter Forsberg. If Sandin is doing this at 15, imagine what he might be capable of in his draft-eligible season?

In what has become a funny tradition around the league, rookies who are making their debuts are getting a rather special treatment in pre-game warmups. Brendan Gaunce is the newest member of the club, this just one week after Max Domi was given the same treatment. In Domi’s case, a game on the road in Toronto was extra special as the youngster hit the ice that his famous father once patrolled. Tie Domi approved of the debut, and even found time to smile after his son picked up the first goal of the game.

There’s no doubting that Jack Eichel helped change the identity of the Buffalo Sabres. He is also changing their place in the standings, as the Sabres are out of the basement and playing much more competitive with him in the lineup. Eichel is full of tremendous offensive ability, as referenced by this individual effort.

Hockey players are known for being creatures of habit, some having awkward pre-game traditions or superstitions. For Jonathan Toews, his habit is musically charged, as the Chicago Blackhawks captain can be found bobbing his head and having a good time on the bench with some of his favorite songs.


View last week’s Prospect Impressions feature

Follow Dave Hahn on Twitter via @DHahnHockey