Prospect Faceoff: Ottawa prospects clash, Smirnov reaches USHL mark, Labanc, Brooks reach 100 points

By David Hahn
Denis Smirnov - Fargo Force; Tanner Laczynski - Lincoln Stars - Prospect Faceoff for 2/26/16

Photo: Two of the USHL’s top scorers, Fargo Force forward Denis Smirnov and Lincoln Stars forward Tanner Laczynski, will go head-to-head this weekend in a top USHL prospect showdown (courtesy of Mitch Highman/MJoy Photography and Brandon Anderson/BA Photos)



This week’s Prospect Faceoff is loaded with powerhouse matchups from around North America. The Ottawa Senators will be interested in the result from a game in Shawinigan this weekend, and scouts from the NHL will be on hand in Fargo as the Lincoln Stars pay them the Fargo Force visit. We’ll check-in with the most recent members of the 100-point club from the OHL and WHL, and an often discussed Calgary Flames prospect is in action as his NCAA career winds down.

Filip Chlapik (Charlottetown) vs. Gabriel Gagne (Shawinigan) – QMJHL

In this week’s Feature Faceoff, two Ottawa Senators prospects with far different styles clash as two QMJHL teams fight for playoff positioning.

Riding a five-game win streak heading into this weekend’s clash, the Charlottetown Islanders need Filip Chlapik to start his own scoring streak if they want to stay hot. Chlapik, who has not been finding the back of the net lately, is still contributing, but his drop in goal-scoring is alarming for a player with his pedigree. Despite the lack of goal scoring, Chlapik is a slick playmaker who often defers to teammates around the net. Selected 48th overall last year, the young Senators prospect is grinding through a difficult month of February where he only has two goals in his past 10 games. Facing one of the top teams in the league, the Praha, Czech Republic native is hoping to snap out of his sophomore slump.

Taken 12 picks ahead of Chlapik in the 2015 NHL Draft, Gabriel Gagne is a hulking power forward with a definitely contrasting style to most prospects in the Senators’ system. Standing at 6’5” and 185 pounds, Gagne adds a physical element to Shawinigan’s bottom-six and has been quiet lately in his own right. With only four points in his last 10 games, Gagne is a force at both ends of the ice who is certainly capable of producing at a far better rate than he has been. With Alexis D’Aoust and Dmytro Timashov (TOR) garnering most of the attention, Gagne will have an opportunity to take advantage of a softer defensive corps to light up the scoreboard against Charlottetown.

Tanner Laczynski (Lincoln) vs. Denis Smirnov (Fargo) – USHL

One prospect trending in the right direction ahead of his draft year is Lincoln Stars forward Tanner Laczynski. The young pivot began the season with the Chicago Steel, but joined Lincoln via trade in the midst of their run towards capturing the first seed in the USHL’s Western Conference. Laczynski, an Ohio State University commit, is third in USHL scoring with 18 goals and 36 assists, solid numbers for a player gaining momentum after playing in the 2016 USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. Projected as a potential fourth round pick by NHL Central Scouting, Laczynski would be best served going on a long playoff run with Lincoln as they chase the Clark Cup.

Despite his lack of size, Denis Smirnov is a fearless forward competing in his third and final year in the USHL. He has been one of the most consistent, too, as Smirnov recently became the fifth USHL player to record three 40-point seasons. Fargo is currently three-points back of a playoff spot, and will need Smirnov to continue his scoring pace if they hope to get in. Committed to Penn State University, Smirnov will join the Nittany Lions in Happy Valley next fall, but if he has his way, he’ll have a second Clark Cup championship on his resume before heading to Central Pennsylvania.

Alexander Nylander (Mississauga) vs. Kevin Labanc (Barrie) – OHL

Widely considered the favorite to win the Emms Family Award as OHL Rookie of the Year, Mississauga Steelheads forward Alexander Nylander is running away with the rookie scoring race. Nylander’s 28 goals and 42 assists are 16 points clear of Cam Dineen, the next highest rookie scorer in the OHL. The young Swede is carving his own path towards becoming a professional after his brother, William, was selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs out of MODO in the SHL. Much like his brother, Alexander is an incredibly gifted player with the puck, and should be a top-10 pick in the upcoming 2016 NHL Draft.

Kevin Labanc (SJS) enjoyed a special season last year alongside of Joe Blandisi, who recently joined the New Jersey Devils and is playing great hockey in his own right. Proving that he is more than just the product of one of the league’s elite playmakers, Labanc is closing in on a personal career record as the OHL’s overall leading scorer. Just one point shy of his 107-point campaign last year, the Colts forward already eclipsed the 100-point mark, becoming the third player in Barrie Colts’ history to post back-to-back 100-point seasons.

Ivan Nikolishin (Red Deer) vs. Adam Brooks (Regina) – WHL

Ivan Nikolishin’s trade from the Everett Silvertips to the Red Deer Rebels opened a whole new world of possibilities. The enigmatic playmaker often preferred to pass the puck, but under Red Deer head coach Brent Sutter, Nikolishin is shooting more often and playing with a new level of confidence. The diminutive Russian has yet to get the attention of NHL clubs, but career-highs in goals, points, and plus-minus rating have Nikolishin thinking he can follow in the footsteps of his famous father, Andrei Nikolishin.

Among players who were not selected during last year’s NHL Draft, Adam Brooks used the snub as motivation to turn his career around. The term “late bloomer” could be used to describe Brooks, who burst onto the scene this season by becoming the first player to surpass the 100-point plateau in the WHL. One of the league’s fastest skaters, Brooks plays a speed game and is often found blowing by defenders to create scoring opportunities for himself and his linemates. Riding a 12-game point streak, Brooks is hitting his stride just in time as the Regina Pats try to secure a playoff spot.

Mark Jankowski (Providence) vs. William Lagesson (Massachusetts) – Hockey East

The Calgary Flames went a little off the board when they famously selected Mark Jankowski with the 21st overall pick at the 2012 NHL Draft, but since then, Jankowski has continued to improve and mature into one of college hockey’s most complete players. Jankowski is confident at both ends of the ice, already tying a career mark in goals with 13 while in the midst of his best season in his senior year at Providence College. He has been hot lately, with points in eight of his last 10 games, including a current five-game point streak.

When William Lagesson left Gotheborg, Sweden in favor of North America, it signaled that he was going to take the long road to the NHL. The road went through Dubuque, Iowa where he played for the Fighting Saints of the USHL before joining the University of Massachusetts this season. Ever confident in his defensive abilities, Lagesson is a steady defender who is a major bright spot during a dismal season for the Minutemen. Selected in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Draft by the Edmonton Oilers, Lagesson is hoping to help turn things around for a team that has only two wins out of their last 15 games.

Prospect Faceoffs from 2/19-2/21

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

Happy Valley’s Penn State Nittany Lions played host to the Ohio State Buckeyes for a pair of games this weekend, with Penn State coming out ahead by a decisive 6-1 score on Friday. David Goodwin was one of five players who had a multi-point game with one goal and one assist. Ohio State’s offense was quiet on Friday, but awakened the next night, turning the tide in a 7-4 win. Dakota Joshua (TOR) picked up an assist in the win while teammate Nick Schilkey enjoyed a career-high four-assist game. Goodwin again tallied a goal and an assist, showing why he is garnering NHL attention.

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

Powered by an early goal and three others later on in the game, the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies stayed hot by defeating the Saint John Sea Dogs by a final score of 4-1. Newly acquired from Halifax, Timo Meier (SJS) scored once and added two assists to take first star honors. Rouyn-Noranda goaltender Chase Marchand stopped 43 of 44 shots to pick up his 26th win of the year. Saint John captain Spencer Smallman (CAR) scored the lone goal for his team, his 17th goal this season.

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

In a classic, high-scoring Midwest Division matchup, the Erie Otters snuck away with a 6-5 victory after Dylan Strome (ARI) scored the only shootout goal. Eight Otters managed to find the scoreboard, but Erik Cernak (LAK) was held without a point while playing his physical brand of defense. For the Kitchener Rangers, team captain Ryan MacInnis (ARI) scored twice and added an assist to increase his team-leading point total to 73. Jeremy Bracco (TOR) missed the game, as he had two games added on top of his suspension for cross-checking Erie’s Hayden Hopkins last week.

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

After Jesse Lees and Nolan Patrick traded first period goals, John Quenneville (NJD) went coast-to-coast early in the second period to score his 20th goal of the season. Fueled by a pair of third-period markers by Jordan Tkatch and Parker Kelly, the Prince Albert Raiders snuck away with a tidy 3-2 victory last weekend. Reid Gardiner picked up an assist, but Raiders goaltender Rylan Parenteau was the big story, keeping his team in it by stopping 35 of 37 shots for his 21st win of the year.

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

TCF Bank Stadium played host to the latest installment of the Stadium Series, with the Minnesota Wild picking up their first outdoor win in franchise history. Matt Dumba opened the scoring a little over three minutes into the game, sending the crowd into a frenzy that the hosts fed off of the rest of the way. From there, the line of Nino Niederreiter, Erik Haula, and Jason Pominville accounted for three additional goals in the Wild’s 6-1 romp over the Chicago Blackhawks. Artemi Panarin was held completely off the scoresheet, with none other than Patrick Kane scoring the lone Blackhawks goal.

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