• PROSPECT-UPDATE ARCHIVE
With the World Junior Championship behind us, the world of 2018 draft prospects went back to business on Saturday with games across North America and Europe. Needless to say, it wasn't easy to make this full list of 10 top performances
Late June still seems eons away from the present, but it can't get here fast enough. It will be a truly exciting day for longtime draft watchers, because the first three rounds will force teams to make some crucial decisions. You also have to wonder if this draft will set records for the number of defensemen and number of players under 5-foot-10 taken in seven rounds.
Enough looking ahead. Let's go back to Saturday, where seven major-junior players turned in top performances. Joining them on the list are two Americans from the high school and U.S. junior ranks, as well as one Canadian Tier II player. Take a look below:
BEN ALMQUIST -- This University of Wisconsin recruit is tearing it up at the Minnesota high school level, having moved up to sixth in the state's scoring race. On Saturday, Almquist had a hat trick in Victoria Holy Family's 5-1 win at Grand Rapids -- a rout of the defending state champs on their home ice. He opened the scoring with a power-play goal at 9:15 of the first period, scored the eventual game-winner at 1:08 of the second for a 2-0 lead, and closed his second hat trick of the season at 16:49 of the second to make it 4-1. Almquist has 21 goals and 36 points in 15 games, including seven points in the past two games. (Note: Second appearance on this list in 2017-18)
CEDRIC DESRUISSEAUX -- One of the smallest players in the draft pool will likely be passed over due to his size, but the 5-foot-7 Desruisseaux continues to make noise in the QMJHL. On Saturday, he scored a goal and assisted on two others in Drummondville's 11-3 cakewalk at Val d'Or. All three points came late in the game -- after the outcome was already decided. His first point was an assist at 2:04 of the third period on the goal that made it 7-2. He followed that with a goal at 7:38 and a primary assist at 16:12. With goals in back-to-back games and points in three of four, Desruisseaux now has 16 goals and 33 points in 39 games. (Note: Second appearance on this list in 2017-18)
AIDAN DUDAS -- Yet another undersized player who had a big night on Saturday, Dudas' draft chances will be limited, but he is punching way above his weight in this OHL season. Saturday saw him score two goals and add an assist in Owen Sound's 7-0 destruction of Kitchener. The game's No. 3 star scored at 3:21 of the second period to stretch the lead to 4-0, and got another point with the lone assist on a shorthanded goal at 5:17. He later scored at 15:32 of the third for a 6-0 lead. Dudas averages well over a point per game with 18 goals and 23 assists in 37 outings. Although this was his first multi-point game since Dec. 14, it also stretched his scoring streak to three games. (Note: Ninth appearance on this list in 2017-18)
JAKE GRICIUS -- Gricius, a Colorado kid playing the WHL with Portland, had his best major-junior game on Saturday with two goals and an assist in a 4-3 win at Everett. He was honored as the game's No. 1 star with good reason after picking up a point in each period. His first goal came at 17:41 of the opening period for a 1-0 lead. He notched the primary assist on a power-play goal that made it 3-0 at 1:39 of the second, and saved his best for last with the game-winner at 19:21 of the third. Nine of Gricius' 11 points this season are goals, including a pair of two-goal games. This was his first three-point WHL performance.
MATTHEW KELLENBERGER -- Coming off a two-goal game on Friday, Kellenberger picked up two assists in Oakville's 2-1 double-overtime win over Markham on Saturday. The Princeton-bound defenseman assisted on the opening goal at 17:07 of the first period and the final, game-winning goal at 1:06 of the second OT. Through 36 OJHL games, Kellenberger, who also played in the World Junior A Challenge, has seven goals and 36 points. (Note: Fourth appearance on this list in 2017-18)
PHILIPP KURASHEV -- After starring for Switzerland at the World Juniors, Kurashev has returned to the QMJHL with a bang. On Saturday, the crafty Swiss center earned No. 1 star honors on the strength of two goals, an assist, and five shots in Quebec's 4-1 win over Sherbrooke. Kurashev assisted on the opening goal at 13:42 of the first period, scored the eventual game-winner to make it 2-0 in the second, and notched a power-play goal to close the scoring at 3:22 of the third. He is now averaging more than a point per game with 10 goals and 36 points on the season. Five of those points have come in the two games following the World Junior, and he has points in eight of his last 10 overall. (Note: Sixth appearance on this list in 2017-18)
JACKSON LEPPARD -- Prince George's Leppard was the No. 1 star of Saturday's 6-5 OT shootout loss to Tri-City. The 6-foot-1 left wing had a three-point night, beginning with his primary assist on a goal at 8:51 of the first period for a 2-0 lead. In the second period, he scored on a power play at 11:24 to make it 3-1, and he added the lone assist on a goal at 3:30 of the third to push the lead to 5-3. Leppard, who has nine goals and 20 points in 37 WHL games, is on a three-game scoring streak. His totals are a world away from last season's four points in 35 games. (Note: Third appearance on this list in 2017-18)
RYAN ULLAN -- Ullan was in the U.S. NTDP program last season, and that experience has helped him become a goaltending force in the NAHL this year. On Saturday, Bismarck's netminder stopped all 23 shots he faced to shut out Brookings 7-0 and claim No. 1 star honors. Ullan was at his best in the second period, stopping 13 shots. He has won three of his last four games, allowing only two goals over the past two starts. This was his first NAHL shutout. Not bad for a player who is still eligible for a college scholarship, if he chooses to go that route. (Note: Second appearance on this list in 2017-18)
JOE VELENO -- Veleno is one of the more interesting potential first-rounders in 2018. The 6-foot-1 center, who made headlines in 2015 when he entered the QMJHL with "exceptional player" status, has had an up-and-down draft year. Following a trade from Rimouski to Drummondville, Veleno has taken a few games to get his footing. On Saturday, he broke out for the Voltigeurs with three assists in an 11-3 win at Val d'Or. Two assists came on first-period goals -- at 11:23 to make it 1-0 and at 19:54 for a 4-0 lead. His final assist, at 13:48 of the second, helped stretch it to 5-1. Assists are Veleno's specialty, as he has 29 of them through 36 QMJHL games. Saturday marked his first multi-point effort for Drummondville. (Note: Fifth appearance on this list in 2017-18)
DMITRI ZAVGORODNY -- On a Saturday that starred undersized players, Zavgorodny threw his hat in the ring with his first QMJHL hat trick in Riomouski's 4-3 OT win at Cape Breton. The game's No. 2 star scored on a power-play to make it 1-0 at 4:18 of the first period, but saved his best goals for last. His second tally, at 18:05 of the third, tied it 3-3. His final goal won the game at 1:18 of OT. Zavgorodny, a Russian forward taken seventh overall in last year's CHL Import Draft, has 14 goals and 26 points through 35 games of his rookie year. He is also riding a four-game point streak. (Note: Fourth appearance on this list in 2017-18)