As hockey’s midseason arrives at all levels of the sport, so do the customary NHL prospect rankings.
ESPN.com’s Corey Pronman released his latest top 50 on Tuesday (subscription required), giving Pittsburgh hockey fans more than one reason to smile.
First of all, Penguins prospect Derrick Pouliot made the Pronman’s list at No. 23. The eighth-overall selection in the 2012 NHL Draft at Consol Energy Center, Pouliot is in his fourth full season with the Western Hockey League’s Portland (Ore.) Winterhawks, where he has put up dazzling offensive numbers from the blueline.
Pouliot, 19, has 30 points (9g, 21a) in 29 games with Portland this season, increasing his junior totals to 165 points in 217 regular-season WHL contests. The gifted defenseman recently played for Team Canada at the World Junior Championship, where he netted a goal and four assists in six games.
Pouliot has also come through in the WHL playoffs, racking up 37 points over the Winterhawks’ past two postseasons. He suited up in one playoff game for the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins last spring and participated in NHL training camp in September, but the organization determined he needed more seasoning at the junior level.
Pouliot is the kind of defender you want controlling the puck at all times, because he makes smart plays. He’s a fantastic skater who is agile and fast and difficult to check. He can make flashy plays stick-handling, while also moving the puck at a quick pace.
Pronman also notes the 6-foot Pouliot could afford to improve his defensive game, but that his offensive skills have helped bump him up from a preseason ranking of No. 68.
Another player who’s made a huge jump – at least in Pronman’s eyes – is Washington, Pa., native Riley Barber. The 19-year-old Team USA captain at the recent World Juniors has 32 points (14g, 18a) in 20 NCAA tilts in his sophomore season for Miami (Ohio) University.
Barber, a sixth-round pick of the Capitals in 2012, was unranked in the preseason by Pronman, who compliments Barber’s “fast, smart, skilled, gritty” game at right wing.
Finally, Pittsburgh-born Panthers prospect Vince Trocheck made the ESPN.com list at No. 34. A teammate of Barber’s on last year’s USA junior team that won gold, the 20-year-old center is having a successful first pro season for the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage, with 12 goals and 14 assists in 36 games.
Trocheck was named the most Ontario Hockey League’s most outstanding player last season, during which he scored an incredible 109 points in 67 games between two teams. While with the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit, Trocheck was a linemate of Gibsonia’s Brandon Saad, now a second-year standout for the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
Judging by their results so far, Trocheck and Barber could easily become the next native Pittsburghers to make their marks on the NHL.