Prospect Faceoff: Premier NCAA matchup in Boston, WJC participants ramp up in CHL action

By David Hahn
William Nylander - Mississauga Steelheads; Olli Juolevi - London Knights - Prospect Faceoff for 1/14/16

Photo: 2016 NHL Draft prospect Alexander Nylander of the Mississauga Steelheads and Olli Juolevi of the London Knights go head-to-head in an OHL match this weekend after both turning in impressive performances at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship (courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images and Terry Wilson/OHL Images)



Prospect Faceoff returns in 2016 with a huge home-and-home series in Boston, as two of NCAA hockey’s best programs play a pair of games this weekend. With the World Junior Championship now complete, a number of high-end players return to their regular lineups and are ready for a big second half. Among them, two high-end 2016 draft-eligible skaters go head-to-head, a blue-chip Philadelphia Flyers prospect returns to the WHL, and one of Switzerland’s finest has a new home in the QMJHL. Plenty more this week as Prospect Faceoff ramps up again!

Matt Grzelcyk (Boston University) vs. Colin White (Boston College) – Hockey East

In this week’s Feature Faceoff, Boston University and Boston College meet up for a home-and-home series. Boston University is happy to have their leader back, and Boston College counters with an exciting freshman prospect. It is a tremendous matchup, and truly one to keep an eye on this weekend as Boston College head coach Jerry York chases his 1,000th win.

The Boston University Terriers are used to deploying high-level defensemen in their lineup, and the recent return of team captain Matt Grzelcyk was a huge addition to an already strong group. Grzelcyk missed time at the beginning of the season, and once again through the entire month of December due to injury. But his return to the lineup was celebrated in a 6-5 win over Harvard, where Grzelcyk had one goal and one assist. Not to be outdone, he suited up against UMass and notched his first collegiate hat-trick, a natural one at that, over a span of 2:09 to earn a thrilling victory. As a result, the Boston Bruins prospect was named as the Hockey East Player of the Week and will look to continue his hot streak in a home-and-home against archrival Boston College this weekend.

Boston College counters with Colin White, one of the most exciting freshmen in college hockey. White recently returned from the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship, where he was a standout forward for the bronze medalists, the United States. Oddly enough, White is chasing only Kyle Connor (WPG) among freshman scoring leaders, who was one of the most notable players left off the U.S. roster. Back in Boston, White returns to a potent offensive lineup and will hope to improve on his season totals of 11 goals and 16 assists. White is not without recent accolades himself, having picked up his third Hockey East Rookie of the Week award after scoring three times and adding an assist in a 7-3 win over No. 3 and defending NCAA champion Providence College.

Alex Nylander (Mississauga) vs. Olli Juolevi (London) – OHL

Most of the attention during the World Junior Championship was focused squarely on the older brother to Alex Nylander and his Team Sweden teammate, William, a rising Toronto Maple Leafs prospect who unfortunately had his tournament end early due to injury. That said, Alex stepped up and did nothing but improve his draft stock with a fantastic seven-game performance. The 2016 NHL Draft-eligible forward scored four times and assisted on five others, finishing as one of Sweden’s top scorers. Back in the OHL, Nylander picked up right where he left off, and has continued on a torrid scoring pace. With 22 goals and 28 assists in just 34 games, Nylander is 14 points clear of the next challenger for the OHL rookie scoring lead. The young Swede is a consistent scoring threat, and is quickly climbing into most draft pundits top 10 lists.

Life is pretty good lately for London Knights defenseman Olli Juolevi. He just returned from the World Junior Championship with a gold medal after helping guide Finland to their fourth title overall and second in the last three years. Juolevi, a 2016 draft hopeful himself, notched nine assists to lead all defensemen in that category and was generally recognized as one of Finland’s top performers during the tournament. The Knights made an astute selection and are happy to have one of their best rearguards back in the lineup. In OHL action, Juolevi has four goals and 19 assists, but more importantly, he has a +23 rating so far, a staggering total good for first amongst all rookies in the league. He has shown a poised, calm demeanor both with and without the puck, and will be a big piece of the puzzle for the Knights who decided to stand pat at the trade deadline.

Luke Philp (Red Deer) vs. Ivan Provorov (Brandon) – WHL

After acquiring Jake DeBrusk (BOS) and Adam Helewka (SJS) in separate trades, the Red Deer Rebels concluded the WHL trade deadline by adding Luke Philp from the Kootenay Ice. After narrowly missing out on a number of opportunities to participate in the Memorial Cup, Philp will finally get his chance in his final year in the WHL. Joining the host team in Red Deer, Philp is a consistent scorer and a huge pickup for the Rebels. After posting 77- and 82-point seasons over the last two years, Philp was on pace to blow those numbers away, but experienced a lower body injury and has been on the sidelines for the last 6 weeks. Ready to return to the lineup, Philp looks to be the last piece of the puzzle for the Rebels as the high-scoring forward prepares for a quick climb up the scoring charts.

It would be difficult to watch a game that Ivan Provorov plays in and not recognize him immediately. One of the most talented defensemen in the WHL, Provorov often makes it look easy to break the puck out with an effortless skating stride and fantastic ability to move the puck up the ice. He excelled in international competition, as well, picking up eight assists through seven games at the recent World Junior Championship, resulting in his nomination as one of Russia’s best players. Now back with the Brandon Wheat Kings, the Philadelphia Flyers prospect is scoring at a point-per-game pace, and will be relied upon to play heavy minutes on the Wheat Kings’ blueline.

Timo Meier (Rouyn-Noranda) vs. Simon Bourque (Rimouski) – QMJHL

The Rouyn-Noranda Huskies are on top of the QMJHL standings, and recently added one of the top available players at the trade deadline. Shortly after returning from the World Junior Championship, Swiss forward Timo Meier was given a new address and will likely finish his QMJHL career taking a run at a championship with the Huskies. It is a huge pickup for General Manager Gilles Bouchard, who adds a highly-competitive and difficult player to contain to an already deep group of forwards. The San Jose Sharks prospect wasted no time acclimating to his new environment, scoring twice and adding an assist in his first game with the team. Meier has 11 multi-point games to his credit this season, but even if the puck isn’t going in for him, he plays a complete two-way game and often finishes checks, something he will need to do if the team is going to get past the Rimouski Oceanic.

Tasked with defending Meier and the rest of the Huskies forwards is Simon Bourque, one of the most underrated defensemen in the QMJHL. On a team starved for offense, Bourque’s eight goals and 22 assists is good for third in team scoring. Bourque’s offensive potential is starting to shine, and he has been an important piece of the puzzle for the Oceanic. The Montreal Canadiens prospect recently had his first multi-goal game of his career, scoring twice against Halifax in a 6-1 win just two games after recording an assist on all three goals in a 3-2 win over Drummondville. When Bourque is going, so too is Rimouski, and they will need him to be at his best in order to successfully defend home ice against Rouyn-Noranda.

Nathan Sucese (Dubuque) vs. Cameron Morrison (Youngstown) – USHL

The scoring leaderboard in the USHL is starting to bunch up at the top, and two players making serious runs at the scoring title line up in an important USHL matchup this weekend. Penn State University commit Nathan Sucese climbed the charts with a fantastic month of December, one which saw the team go a perfect 8-0, with Sucese recording six goals and 10 assists. The former Buffalo Jr. Sabres standout is competing in his second season in the USHL, and already surpassed his previous career-high of 27 points by the halfway mark. Sucese blends an explosive skating stride with good hands in traffic to create goals for his teammates, and will try to keep pace with Cameron Morrison and the rest of the USHL’s top scorers in the new year.

The Youngstown Phantoms hockey operations department did a tremendous job over the last few years, and while they are missing Kyle Connor this season, the next player in line has come in and lived up to expectations. Cameron Morrison, one of the youngest players in the USHL, is enjoying a remarkable rookie year. The 2014-15 CJHL Rookie of the Year has quietly gone about his business, and has generally been recognizable in most games he plays. With 17 goals and 17 assists, Morrison’s point-per-game pace has kept him at or near the scoring lead. Committed to the University of Notre Dame, Morrison will learn his NHL fate at the 2016 NHL Draft, where he has garnered attention as a “C” rated skater and was named to the 2016 USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.

Follow Dave Hahn on Twitter via @DHahnHockey