The West Division in the OHL is up for grabs, and two teams in the race are looking towards their top scorers to help secure a division title. In the WHL, Jayce Hawryluk just earned his first professional contract following an unbelievable month, and in the QMJHL, Cody Donaghey is settling into a new home after being traded in two different leagues this season. Also included this week, Hockey East serves up a high-quality matchup, and one rising Finnish superstar rounds out a stellar edition of Prospect Faceoff.
Christian Fischer (Windsor) vs. Travis Konecny (Sarnia) – OHL
In this week’s Feature Faceoff, two respective leading scorers guide their franchises into battle in a critical Western Conference matchup. The OHL’s West Division is up for grabs, and the newest Sarnia Sting, Travis Konecny, defends home ice against Christian Fischer and the Windsor Spitfires, who are one point ahead of them in the standings.
When the Windsor Spitfires are winning, Arizona Coyotes prospect Christian Fischer is found on the scoresheet. The catalyst behind a deep, veteran group of forwards in Windsor, Fischer has been an revelation in his first season in the OHL. After joining the team from the U.S. National Team Development Program, Fischer’s well-rounded game has put him squarely on top of the team’s scoring charts with 33 goals and 46 assists. He is not only excelling offensively, but he has worked his way into penalty killing duties under the tutelage of Spitfires head coach Rocky Thompson. Employed in various situations, Fischer has brought a calming presence to the team and meshed with a number of linemates this year.
If there was ever a trade that paid immediate dividends, Sarnia’s acquisition of Travis Konecny ignited a dormant offense, and created a powerhouse first line that OHL teams are having a difficult time handling. Since joining the Sting, Konecny has 19 goals and 25 assists in 25 games with the team, but more important is what Konecny meant to Pavel Zacha (NJD), who has been on a tear with Konecny on his wing. The duo is one of the hardest hitting and most difficult combinations to contain, as both players can be found using all 200 feet of ice to their advantage. Konecny, a Philadelphia Flyers prospect, nearly made the team out of training camp and is hoping to secure a division title before going on a long playoff run.
Brett Howden (Moose Jaw) vs. Jayce Hawryluk (Brandon) – WHL
Brett Howden and the Moose Jaw Warriors head into this weekend with an exciting home-and-home matchup against the Brandon Wheat Kings. Leading the charge is Brett Howden, one of the WHL’s best draft-eligible forwards. Brett is following in the footsteps of his older brother, Quinton, who carved out a successful four-year career with the Warriors before heading to the NHL with the Florida Panthers. Perhaps on their radar, the younger Howden is in line to be drafted, especially considering his upward development path and continued improvement this season. With 22 goals and 36 assists, Howden continues to add to his career-high totals in both categories as the former fifth overall pick in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft trends towards a new home in the NHL.
Brandon Wheat Kings forward Jayce Hawryluk is in the midst of the best season of his career and has one big reason to have a smile on his face this weekend. The Florida Panthers rewarded Hawryluk with a three-year, entry-level contract recently after an unbelievable month of February. He recorded 33 points in just 13 games last month, including 10 multi-point games and a career-high six-point performance against the Kootenay Ice. Going into the home-and-home series this weekend, Hawryluk has two goals and three assists against the Warriors this season, and will hope to set a new single-season career-high mark in goals after recently scoring the 100th goal and 250th point of his WHL career.
Blaine Byron (Maine) vs. Dylan Sikura (Northeastern) – Hockey East
Perhaps no player has meant more to his team this season than Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Blaine Byron has meant to the University of Maine. Byron is leading the Black Bears in scoring with eight goals and 14 assists this season, playing in a defensively structured system under Head Coach Red Gendron. Bryon’s end-to-end skill is apparent, as he works hard at both ends of the ice and is willing to do whatever it takes to help the team succeed. With a number of graduates now pursuing opportunities, Byron stepped into a leadership role and is contributing in a variety of fashions as the Black Bears are hoping to rally late in the season.
Very few NCAA hockey players have been as hot as Northeastern University’s Dylan Sikura over the last month. Sikura, a native of Aurora, ON and former Aurora Tigers standout is sixth in team scoring with nine goals and 14 assists. Of those points, 13 have come in the last month of the season, a remarkable turnaround after a tough start to the season. Sikura blends a unique and efficient skating stride with the hands to keep up, and he has been using those skills to his advantage on his current three-game point streak, his fourth such streak of the season. Sikura was selected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the sixth round of the 2014 NHL Draft, and with two more years of eligibility remaining, he will remain an underrated name for Blackhawks fans to keep an eye on.
Alex Barre-Boulet (Drummondville) vs. Cody Donaghey (Moncton) – QMJHL
With only three wins in their last 10 games, the Drummonville Voltigeurs have been slumping lately and have been carried by the play of Alex Barre-Boulet, a darkhorse candidate eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft this summer. On the verge of locking up a playoff spot, Drummonville has relied upon Barre-Boulet to produce offense and he has responded. Over the last two calendar months, Barre-Boulet has scored in every game except four, remarkably consistent production for a player in his second year in the QMJHL. Combined with Ajax, ON transplant Michael Carcone, the duo has combined to score a staggering 43 percent of the goals Drummonville has produced this season.
Tasked with defending Barre-Boulet and the Voltigeurs top line will presumably be Cody Donaghey, a Ottawa Senators prospect who is settling into his new home in Moncton. Not only was Donaghey traded at the NHL level in the Dion Phaneuf deal, he arrived in Moncton at the trade deadline and has been a huge part of the Moncton Wildcats defense. Donaghey immediately assumed number-one duties patrolling the blueline, and increased his offensive production as a result. With four goals and 13 assists in 23 games since joining the team, Donaghey has been one of the most productive defenseman over that stretch.
Sebastian Aho (Karpat) vs. Patrick Virta (TPS) – Liiga
The Carolina Hurricanes may have added pure gold when they selected Sebastian Aho early in the second round of the 2015 NHL Draft. Aho, who captured a Liiga championship last year with Karpat, is hoping to secure back-to-back championships, and if they are going to do it, the task is going to fall squarely on his shoulders. Aho tore up the World Junior Championship this holiday season, adding 14 points in seven games as Finland captured the gold medal. Since then, Aho returned to Karpat and is currently 12th overall in scoring with 17 goals and 22 assists despite missing 15 games. With a handful of games remaining this season, Aho still has a shot at finishing in the top-10 in Liiga scoring, an impressive feat for a second-year player.
One player garnering attention recently is Patrik Virta, who will be eligible for the NHL Draft in June. Virta gained notoriety last year when he guided HPK’s U20 team to a silver medal in their Junior A playoffs, thanks in part to his 10-goal, five-assist performance during their playoff run. Stepping up to the big stage of professional hockey with TPS Turku, Virta has been in the lineup consistently, despite not hitting the scoresheet as often as he did in junior. He was on the outside looking in during the World Juniors, but made some noise recently as a solid bottom-six player for TPS who is willing to use all of his 5’10”, 170-pound frame to finish checks.
Filip Chlapik (Charlottetown) vs. Gabriel Gagne (Shawinigan) – QMJHL
The Alexis D’Aoust show continued this weekend, and Gabriel Gagne (OTT) played a major role in helping D’Aoust notch his 39th and 40th goals of the year. Sparking a rally, Gagne stripped a defender of the puck and fed D’Aoust with a pretty assist to log the game-winning goal in Shawinigan’s 3-1 win over Charlottetown. Shawinigan goaltender Philippe Cadorette stopped 33 of 34 shots to log his 12th win of the season. The dynamic duo of Daniel Sprong (PIT) and Filip Chlapik (OTT) each finished with a disappointing -2 rating.
Tanner Laczynski (Lincoln) vs. Denis Smirnov (Fargo) – USHL
The Scheels Arena in Fargo, North Dakota was home to a barn-burning, two-game weekend, with the Fargo Force’s high-powered offense coming out ahead in both games. On Friday, Denis Smirnov was a force to be reckoned with, scoring four times and assisting on another in Fargo’s thrilling 8-5 victory. Tanner Laczynski also got in on the action, leading the charge for the Lincoln Stars with one goal and two assists in the loss. Following Smirnov’s first five-point performance in his USHL career, he again found the scoresheet quickly on Saturday, leading the Force to a decisive 2-0 win.
Alexander Nylander (Mississauga) vs. Kevin Labanc (Barrie) – OHL
The Barrie Colts offensive machine kept firing on all cylinders this weekend, blowing out the Mississauga Steelheads by a final score of 8-0. The Colts scored three in the first, and five in the second to put the game away early. In the midst of all the scoring, Kevin Labanc (SJS) set a new career-high in points and surpassed his previous high of 107 with his 36th goal and a two-assist effort. The Mississauga Steelheads were stymied, unable to gain possession of the puck, and Swedish sensation Alexander Nylander was held off the scoresheet, a rare event this season.
Ivan Nikolishin (Red Deer) vs. Adam Brooks (Regina) – WHL
The Red Deer Rebels visited Regina in a Monday matinee, and came away with a hard-fought two points in a tight-checking, 2-1 win. Ivan Nikolishin assisted on Evan Polei’s 15th goal of the year to kick-start the scoring, and Jake DeBrusk’s 18th of the year was enough to get by the Regina Pats. Adam Brooks stepped up from the half boards to make a nice pass to setup a goal by Sam Steel, but that was all the Pats offense could muster in a losing effort.
Mark Jankowski (Providence) vs. William Lagesson (Massachusetts) – Hockey East
Mark Jankowski (CGY) last weekend played a part in demonstrating why Providence College is one of the nation’s best college hockey teams. In a home-and-home series against the University of Massachusetts, Providence pulled off two easy victories, 4-1 on Friday and 6-0 on Saturday. Jankowski was heavily involved in both games, picking up a pair of assists in the first game before adding two goals and two assists on Saturday. William Lagesson (EDM) was in tough against the Friars, but was only a combined -2 while tallying his fifth assist of the year.
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