We are only a few days away from 2016 and it is time to have a look back what the hockey year 2015 offered in terms of prospects. It was a big year for prospects, especially with “McEichel” taking over the show and new highly touted players Auston Matthews and Jesse Puljujarvi/Patrik Laine entering the NHL market soon. Let’s have a look at the five top prospect moments of this year:
Colin White Wins It in OT for U18 Gold
The U18 World Championship in Lucerne and Zug, Switzerland has been one of the more dominant tournaments for the U.S. U18 team. The team led by Matthews won all games except the preliminary round battle against rival Russia, where Capitals prospect Ilya Samsonov made 49 saves and secured the Russian win with a stellar performance.
They crushed the Czech Republic 7-2 in the quarter-final and sent Canada into the bronze medal game with the same result in the semi-final. The game against Canada was still tight after two periods but was decided by the U.S. team within seven minutes when they scored five goals to make it 7-2. “The USA has a great hockey team and we didn’t give ourselves a chance to win because we didn’t move our feet and we didn’t pressure the puck,” said Canadian coach Tim Hunter after the devastating loss.
Colin White's last international goal won a gold medal for the US at the U18 tournament in April.
— jake (@baskincase) December 26, 2015
They were facing a Finnish team that featured top 2016 prospects Jesse Puljujarvi and Patrik Laine in the gold medal game. The U.S. dominated most of the game but trailed early after Ducks prospect Julius Nattinen scored just 17 seconds into the game. As the game went on, Finnish netminder Veini Vehvilainen drove the U.S. forwards crazy and made 60 saves. Jack Roslovic tied the game with 12 minutes left on the clock and sent the game into an overtime thriller. The U.S. kept dominating and in the 73rd minute it was Colin White who finished the game in favour of team USA burying a Jeremy Bracco pass.
Watch the gold medal goal here!
Matthews Debuts in Switzerland
Matthews was breaking new ground with his decision to spend his pre-draft year in Europe. Because of work-permit issues, he could only play his first game with the ZSC Lions once he turned 18, which happened on Sept. 17, one day before making his first pro game.
On Sept. 18, the wait was finally over when US wunderkind Auston Matthews was slated to make his debut in the highest Swiss league. The likely first overall pick of the 2016 NHL Draft didn’t waste a lot of time and scored in his first game against Fribourg-Gotteron. He rushed through the neutral zone with the puck before a give-and-go with winger and former Edmonton Oilers camp participant Chris Baltisberger, which he finished off for the 3-2 lead, leading to “Auston Matthews” chants from the crowd.
Matthews has arrived in Switzerland from the very first game on and is now having scored 25 points in 22 games which means he is currently the second best scorer for ZSC. He won’t return to Switzerland until early January as he is trying to win a medal at the World Junior Championship in Helsinki.
Eichel, McDavid Get Their Draft Party
The 2015 NHL Entry Draft in Florida was one of the most anticipated draft as it featured the selection of Canadian and American standouts Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. While there was no big surprise that both have been selected first and second overall, the excitement among hockey fans was felt already weeks before the actual draft took place.
When the Edmonton Oilers won the NHL-Lottery in April it was clear that McDavid will wear the Oilers uniform and Eichel will be the new face of the Sabres franchise. Watch Oilers General Manager Peter Chiarelli making the announcement of the selection of McDavid in the video below.
Canada Captures U20 Gold at Home
The World Junior Championship 2015 took place in Toronto and Montreal and therefore the goal for the Canadian U20 selection was clear from the beginning – Only the gold medal would satisfy the home crowd. The team featured by players like Max Domi, Sam Reinhart, Anthony Duclair and others won all of their games with only allowing five goals against ahead of the gold medal game.
— xavier ouellet (@The_XMan16) January 6, 2015
The final game in early January against rival Russia was a wild one. Canada looked like the winner half-way through the game as they were leading 5-1 but Russia fought back and scored three quick goals to make it 5-4. Russia tried everything in the dying seconds of the game but Zachary Fucale and Canada hold on to the win.
First NHL Goals
The start of the 2015/2016 NHL season was the debut for some highly anticipated prospects. Domi, Dylan Larkin, Artemi Panarin and of course McDavid and Eichel are just some worth a mentioning. The race for the Calder Trophy was meant to be a head-to-head duel of McDavid and Eichel, but turned into one of the most balanced races in history. McDavids long-term injury opened the race for the Calder Trophy even more and current point leader among all rookies is Chicago’s Panarin with 31.
Having so many strong rookies in the league means also that there have been a lot of first NHL-goals scored already. Easily over 20 players have managed to score their first goal in the big league this season already, and it is not even January yet. Among them are also hyped McDavid’s and Eichel’s first goals, the ones that are probably spread out among media the most.
Byron Froese. Former @WHLsilvertips forward buries a rebound, makes it 5-0. First career NHL goal.
— LA Kings Insider (@lakingsinsider) December 20, 2015
Eichel scored his first NHL goal in the Sabres season opener against the Ottawa Senators. Of course a very special moment in Jack’s young life: “Yeah, it was a pretty special moment for me,” the 18-year-old said. “Today was my Dad’s [55th] birthday. I have a lot of family in town, so it was a special moment for me to score my first one today.
It took McDavid a bit longer to score his first, but in the third game he deflected a shot to tie the game in Dallas. “I was excited but a lot of it was relief,” McDavid said. “It’s just the pressure out there these days. It felt good.”
Independent Scout covering European Hockey and Prospects for TheHockeyWriters. Located in Switzerland and blogging on www.scouting-factory.blogspot.com. Opinions on blog are my own