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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Here come the little guys- 2011 edition (Part 3)

We're back with part 3 of the sub-6-foot player roundup. We realize there are more out there, but we'll just have to follow up with some of those guys as we get closer to the draft. This isn't a complete list, but at least serves to get the juices flowing.

We know there are others out there like Dylan Wruck, Colten St. Clair, Evan Rodrigues, Matt Peca, and Dylan Walchuk to name a few- we'll try to give them their due between now and June.

In the meantime, here's the next round of small guys to keep an eye on.

Zach Franko, LW Kelowna (WHL)- Another sleeper out of the Western League who is doing his level best to crash the draft party, Franko's status as relative unknown is pretty much behind him. He took some time to make the adjustment to the WHL after coming over from the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, but with his speed, hands and hockey sense, his production has taken off at the best possible time. Also in his favor is the belief among several scouts we've talked to that he still has some growing to do. His stats aren't super with 19 goals and 50 points in 68 games, but Kelowna has been giving him more and more of a role and he's proving he can handle it. Could be poised for a big breakout next season.

Austin Czarnik, C Green Bay (USHL)-This guy is extremely small, but has the prototype skill set you want in a diminutive center: speed to burn, very good hockey sense and the ability to beat guys 1-on-1. An energetic player who is always on the go, he's always doing something out there whether it be challenging defenses or hustling back to pick up his man. His size is an extreme detriment much like Rocco Grimaldi, but he plays with the same kind of passion and determination if not the elite level. This NTDP product and member of the Washington, Michigan hockey clan will be a dynamic collegiate player at Miami (Ohio) University, but his pro potential is questionable at this stage.

Cason Hohmann, RW Cedar Rapids (USHL)- This Boston University recruit and Texas native is a lot like Czarnik in terms of size and substance; his speed can kill and he loves to score. Another member of the U.S. Under-18 team in Slovakia last summer, he's been solid in the USHL, scoring 20 goals and 46 points in 43 games. He does have a difficult time beating bigger, stronger opponents when he goes into traffic (though at least he'll go there) and is going to have some real challenges physically as he continues to climb the ladder of his development. Hard-working kid wants to be a player, so anything is possible, but probably a late-rounder or draft longshot to be honest.

Reid Boucher, LW U.S. NTDP (USHL)- Highly creative and dangerous goal scorer had a terrific Five Nations tourney in February when he led all Americans in scoring, including Grimaldi. The Michigander will take his high octane offensive game to Michigan State and East Lansing with him. Not a blazer, but shifty/deceptively fast and quick hands plus the creativity to boot are what make him such an effective player at the USHL level, having tallied 13 goals in 21 games this season, quite the achievement for a late-Sep '93 birthdate and one of the youngest players in that circuit.

Linus Hultstrom, D Linkoping (SWE- Jr.)- This skilled offensive-minded defenseman is a draft sleeper because his numbers aren't all that great, but he's a very good skater with the hockey sense and puck skills to be a game-breaker; it just has yet to come for him. He could be another one of those Detroit steals in the mid-to-late rounds given his skill set, but it is intriguing to see whether his lack of size (5-10, 170) and production deters NHL clubs from taking a flyer on him.

Anton Zlobin, LW Shawinigan (QMJHL)- One of the more underrated Russian players who is in North America this season, his thunder stolen by the likes of Alex Khokhlachev and Vladdy Namestnikov. Quick, agile winger has a nice burst when he hits open ice and is a wizard with the puck. Slick and dangerous around the net; hasn't put up tremendous numbers for the Cataractes, but scouts realize the potential is there. Involved in the play and has made some jaw-dropping plays this season. Not very strong and still putting it all together, but another player with a lot of upside if a team is sold on his long-term potential and willing to take on the potential legwork involved in drafting a Russian.

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