Prospect Faceoff: Leafs’ Bracco, Dzierkals, Joshua in action, Gardiner approaches milestone, Stadium Series continues

By David Hahn
Matt Dumba - Minnesota Wild; Artemi Panarin - Chicago Blackhawks - Prospect Faceoff for 2/19/16

Photo: Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba and Chicago Blackhawks forward Artemi Panarin go head-to-head this weekend in a Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN (courtesy of David Berding/Icon Sportswire and Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)



This week in Prospect Faceoff, three Toronto Maple Leafs prospects are in action, with each facing stiff competition. Two of the WHL’s most consistent and well-liked players go head-to-head with the division crown still hanging in the balance, and the NHL’s Stadium Series writes a new chapter with two of the NHL’s brightest young stars facing off.

Dakota Joshua (Ohio State) vs. David Goodwin (Penn State) – Big Ten

In a matchup more commonly discussed on the gridiron, Ohio State travels to Pegula Ice Arena in central Pennsylvania for an important pair of games in the Big Ten. The two teams split a pair of games at Ohio State just three weeks ago, and will renew a rivalry in this weekend’s Feature Faceoff.

Dakota Joshua joined Ohio State University after two highly successful years in the USHL with the Sioux Falls Stampede. He helped guide the Stampede to a Clark Cup Championship, and has been a key contributor lately for the Buckeyes. With points in four of his last six games, Joshua is being given extra responsibilities, including a stint on the team’s second power play unit. Joshua is a Toronto Maple Leafs prospect, taken in the fifth round of the 2014 NHL Draft. His path to the NHL may take the long road, but he is a fine prospect worth keeping an eye on as the season draws to a conclusion.

Penn State University counters with their leading scorer, David Goodwin, who is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Casey Bailey, who signed an NHL contract as a free agent shortly after completing his junior season. Goodwin has been a jack of all trades for Penn State, but has been especially helpful in the offensive zone where he has created a number of quality scoring chances for his teammates. The Nittany Lions are hoping Goodwin can find the back of the net, too, as the team is 6-1-0 when he scores. Goodwin has been particularly dangerous on the power play, picking up nine points with the man advantage, making him the go-to guy in Happy Valley.

Spencer Smallman (Saint John) vs. Martins Dzierkals (Rouyn-Noranda) – QMJHL

Carolina Hurricanes draft pick Spencer Smallman is in action this weekend, where he hopes to continue a recent hot streak. Taken by the Hurricanes in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL Draft, Smallman is a consistent two-way forward for the Saint John Sea Dogs and one of their most reliable players. To date, his offensive production is slightly behind his career average, but Smallman is contributing on special teams, including five goals with the man advantage and three shorthanded tallies. He shoots the puck more often, which has resulted in 16 goals, just seven short of his previous career-high, a mark he will hope to obtain by the end of the season.

Opposing Smallman and the Sea Dogs is Martins Dzierkals, the pride of Latvia and one of the QMJHL’s highest-scoring rookies. His first season in North America has been a bona fide success as he currently sits third in rookie scoring with 21 goals and 29 assists, including a staggering 11 power play goals. He has points in four of his last five games, and has become one of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies’ fan favorites with his infectious style of play. As a draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Dzierkals would do well to close the season with consistent efforts if he hopes to earn an entry-level contract.

Erik Cernak (Erie) vs. Jeremy Bracco (Kitchener) – OHL

Despite a three-game losing streak, the Erie Otters are still on top of the BMO CHL Top 10 Rankings thanks in part to the defensive acumen of Erik Cernak. One of the most feared defenders in the OHL, Cernak brings an imposing 6’3”, 200-pound presence to the team. Though limited to 26 games due to his participation at the World Junior Championship for Slovakia along with a pair of injuries, Cernak is back in action and has three goals and six assists to his credit. His impact won’t often be found on the scoresheet, but Cernak is learning the finer points of defending in North America and is one of the Otters trusted with significant amounts of ice time.

In Kitchener’s 5-4 win over Erie just one week ago, Jeremy Bracco was a buzzsaw that created a number of scoring chances for the Rangers. That effort encapsulates what the Boston College transplant is all about: speed, creativity, and passion. Bracco famously departed Boston College in favor of the OHL, where he has quickly transitioned and fit in well. Since joining Kitchener in early November, the young Toronto Maple Leafs prospect has 17 goals and 35 assists in 41 games. He is the type of player that is hard to catch, and against Cernak and the Otters, it is a classic case of brute strength versus speed as the OHL’s second half starts to wind down.

John Quenneville (Brandon) vs. Reid Gardiner (Prince Albert) – WHL

The WHL’s Eastern Division is up for grabs, and the Brandon Wheat Kings are going to need John Quenneville to continue scoring if they want to maintain their six-point lead in first place. After missing a month due to his participation with Canada at the 2016 WJC, Quenneville returned to the Wheat Kings lineup and has at least one point in all but six games. On pace to break his career-high point total of 58, he is gaining confidence and playing the best hockey of his career. Quenneville has been heralded as one of the WHL’s best penalty killers, showing off his versatility and full 200-foot game.

Another player who is enjoying a career-year is Reid Gardiner, who currently sits fifth in WHL scoring with 35 goals and 41 assists. Both numbers are career-highs, as Gardiner is driving the Prince Albert Raiders offense in what could be his final season in the WHL. He needs just two goals to reach the 100-goal plateau, which would be a phenomenal accomplishment for one of the league’s most consistent scorers. Over his last 10 games, the undrafted Gardiner has six goals and five assists, including four multi-point games.

Artemi Panarin (Chicago) vs. Matt Dumba (Minnesota) – NHL

The latest edition of the Coors Light NHL Stadium Series continues this weekend from TCF Bank Stadium in Minnesota as the Minnesota Wild host the Central Division rival Chicago Blackhawks. It’s the first-ever outdoor game held in Minnesota, and it features two of the games brightest young athletes competing head-to-head.

Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman struck gold when he signed Artemi Panarin in April. Since then, Panarin has developed instant chemistry with the team and has been the surprise name in the Calder Trophy race as the NHL’s best rookie. Panarin has scored at a nearly point-per-game pace alongside of Artem Anisimov and Hart Trophy candidate Patrick Kane, credit for what he has done to elevate their game. The duo of Kane and Panarin has been particularly good together, as only three of Panarin’s 20 goals have not been assisted by Kane.

Throughout his four-year WHL career, Matt Dumba developed a reputation as a bruising defender that leveled opponents with thunderous hits, but it is his offense that has begun to blossom in Minnesota. Dumba is an important part of the Wild’s power play and recently passed his career-high in points with his 17th of the year. The Wild are undergoing a change behind the bench as Mike Yeo was dismissed and John Torchetti was introduced as the new bench boss. It will be interesting to see if Dumba’s usage will increase, and what the talented young defender does with any potential additional opportunities.

Prospect Faceoffs from 2/13-2/14

Callum Booth (Quebec) vs. Daniel Audette (Sherbrooke) – QMJHL

Quebec Remparts goaltender Callum Booth (CAR) suited up for his 36th appearance of the season, and found himself on the bench after a disastrous first period in which he gave up three goals. Evgeny Kiselev came in after Booth and cleaned up the mess, stopping all 28 shots he faced. Facing a three-goal deficit, Quebec stormed back to take the game in overtime on Aaron Dutra’s third goal of the year. The Sherbrooke Phoenix was led by Nicolas Poulin, who logged one goal and one assist in the loss. Despite playing on the team’s top line, Daniel Audette (MTL) didn’t register a point and finished with a -2 rating.

Austin Poganski (North Dakota) vs. Quentin Shore (Denver) – NCAA

The USCHO rankings took a big swing when the University of Denver successfully defended home ice against the University of North Dakota in a pair of games this weekend. On Friday, Danton Heinen’s (BOS) five-point effort led Denver past North Dakota by a 6-4 score. Quentin Shore (OTT) scored once and added an assist in the first victory. The next night, Heinen again started and picked up a pair of assists as Denver cruised to a 4-1 win. Austin Poganski (STL) managed an assist in the first game, and scored the only North Dakota marker on Saturday, his eighth and ninth point in the last 10 games.

Brayden Burke (Lethbridge) vs. Keegan Kanzig (Calgary) – WHL

The Lethbridge Hurricanes and Calgary Hitmen clashed in an important Central Division matchup, with the Hurricanes coming out ahead by a final score of 4-2. Jordy Bellerive scored his fifth goal of the season and added two assists to pace Lethbridge. Brayden Burke stayed hot by assisting on the game-tying marker near the end of the second period, his tenth point in his last four games. Monster defenseman Keegan Kanzig (CGY) didn’t find the scoresheet, but played an important role in holding Burke to just one point.

Mikhail Sergachev (Windsor) vs. Dante Salituro (Ottawa) – OHL

Goaltending was the order of the day between the Windsor Spitfires and Ottawa 67’s this weekend, with 67’s netminder Leo Lazarev stopping 26 of 27 shots in the team’s 2-1 win. Windsor’s lone goal was scored by Jalen Chatfield, his eighth of the year. Mikhail Sergachev didn’t have a great night, as he was on the ice for both Ottawa goals. Midway through the third period with the score knotted up at one, Dante Salituro tossed a saucer-pass right behind Sergachev to find Jacob Middleton (LAK) for what ended up being the game-winning goal.

Jakub Vrana (Hershey) vs. Philip Samuelsson (Springfield) – AHL

The Hershey Bears and Springfield Falcons locked up for a top-notch clash of two of the AHL’s hottest teams. The game would need extra-time to decide a victor, with the Bears taking it in a shootout. Jakub Vrana (WSH) was held without a point for only the third time since he joined the team, but it was Connor Carrick’s defense and shootout goal that decided it. Philip Samuelsson (ARI) enjoyed his best game in recent memory, logging his fourth goal of the year to go along with an assist.

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