Exciting Week for NHL hopefuls

By Paul Krotz/OHL

With the NHL schedule now in full swing, five OHL players are currently enjoying an extended stay in the big leagues after a whirlwind week of training camp and season openers.

Sarnia Sting forward Alex Galchenyuk, Niagara IceDogs defenceman Dougie Hamilton, Oshawa Generals forward Scott Laughton, Plymouth Whalers forward Rickard Rakell, and Barrie Colts forward Mark Scheifele all hope their play with the big clubs amount to more than just a short visit.

“It’s crazy what’s happened to me the last couple of months,” Galchenyuk told last week after learning he had cracked the Montreal Canadiens 23-man roster. “I started to produce really well in Sarnia, then I go win the gold medal at the World Juniors and now I’m playing my first NHL game tomorrow. I couldn’t be happier, that’s for sure.”

Galchenyuk, the third overall pick in 2012, collected his first NHL goal on Tuesday night as part of a 4-1 Habs win over the Florida Panthers, scoring the same night his former Sting teammate and first overall pick Nail Yakupov scored his first career goal with the Edmonton Oilers despite a 6-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks.

While Galchenyuk might be the only OHL player to score an NHL goal through the first couple of games in 2013, the other young rookies are still proving themselves to teammates and coaches.

“He played a really solid game,’’ Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara told the Boston Globe in reference to Hamilton, a first round pick of the Bruins in 2011 who was second to only Chara in time on ice in Monday’s 2-1 shootout win over the Winnipeg Jets.  “He seemed comfortable out there — great job by him.’’

Laughton’s Philadelphia Flyers might be winless through their first three regular season games, but the 2012 first round pick registered one shot on goal offensively in Saturday’s home opener and brought his physical game with four hits.

“I thought he played a strong game. He was responsible defensively and had about four or five good hits,” Flyers Head Coach Peter Laviolette said post-game. “He was strong on puck battles and had a couple opportunities at the net. I thought he did a nice job. It’s a tough situation to come into for a young kid, first game in Philadelphia but I thought he handled it very well.”

Meanwhile Rakell, a 2011 first round pick of the Anaheim Ducks, has been part of two victories in the early stages of his NHL career and has been surrounded by veteran presences such as Teemu Selanne and former London Knights’ star Corey Perry.

“It’s awesome,” Rakell told the Orange County register. “In a week, I’ve learned so much. You see all the great players that are here. Just being around is going to help me. It’s so much fun in all kinds of ways.”

Scheifele made his NHL debut last season with the Jets after being the club’s seventh overall pick in 2011 and played in seven games scoring one goal before being sent back to the Colts.  He returns for a second chance to crack the lineup once and for all.

“If he can be a contributing member of our team and stay in the lineup and play, that’s going to be the task,” Jets Head Coach Claude Noel told the Winnipeg Sun. “Yeah, I see maturity and I see more comfort. He’s a good player. I watched him play in Barrie and I liked him, I liked a lot of things he brought to the table. There’s a maturing process there.”

In addition to the five OHL players still competing for permanent NHL roles, WHL defenceman Matt Dumba (Red Deer / Minnesota), and QMJHL forwards Mikhail Grigorenko (Quebec / Buffalo), Jonathan Huberdeau (Saint John / Florida), and Stefan Matteau (Blainville-Boisbriand / New Jersey) round out the CHL talent.

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