• PROSPECT-UPDATE ARCHIVE
Here come the Americans. Friday night marked the start of the USHL season, the first big weekend of NCAA hockey, and the second game of the year for the U.S. NTDP Under-18 team. Now that all nations' prospects are in on the action, it's even tougher to make this daily stars list. However, Friday was a pretty average day with no off-the-chart performances. Hopefully, this will be the exception and not the rule.
A full HDC complement of 10 star performances are listed here for Friday's games with several newcomers to this list:
JUSTUS ANNUNEN -- Annunen just might be the hottest of all the 2018 draft-eligible goalies right now. The Finnish netminder stopped 30 shots for a 4-3 win in Oulu's U20 game vs. Turku. Annunen has quietly built up a perfect record in 2017-18. He has won all seven of his starts with a .919 save percentage. Playing on a good team helps, but Annunen is clearly having a breakout season in his draft year.
ZACHARY BOUTHILLIER -- A shutout is always impressive, particularly in the high-scoring QMJHL. On Friday, Bouthillier was perfect with 29 saves in Chicoutimi's 4-0 win over Victoriaville, and earned No. 1 star honors. It was his first win of the season, following a hard-luck loss earlier in the year, when he was a No. 1 star in defeat. (Note: Second appearance on this list in 2017-18)
ANTOINE CRETE-BELZILE -- It was a surprise when Crete-Belzile went undrafted in his first year of eligibility last June. But the defenseman could end up as the Morgan Geekie of the 2018 draft -- an undrafted player who is impossible to ignore the second time around. Crete-Belzile was on fire in the latter stages of the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada's 5-4 overtime win at Bathurst. He forced the overtime by scoring with 6:13 left in the third period before winning it for his team with a goal at 1:56 of OT. These were his first two goals of the season -- already matching his total from 2016-17.
GABRIEL FORTIER -- Fortier picked up a goal and assist in Baie-Comeau's 3-2 shootout win at Rouyn-Noranda. His goal, at 15:17 of the opening period, pulled the Drakkar into a 1-1 tie. He then assisted on a goal for a 2-1 lead at 17:12 of the second period. Through six QMJHL games, Fortier already has seven points. (Note: Second appearance on this list in 2017-18)
QUINN HUGHES -- Hughes is one of the top-rated American prospects, and he showed why in his NCAA debut with the University of Michigan. Playing quarterback on the power play like he's been doing it all night, Hughes noted the game-winner for a 2-0 lead in the Wolverines' 3-1 win at St. Lawrence. The goal, at 4:16 of the second period, was the defenseman's first in the NCAA, but even more impressive was his poise at the college level.
JAKE KUCHARSKI -- We last saw Kucharski at the All-American Prospects Game. The goaltender's first USHL season is now under way, and he wasted no time on Friday, registering his first USHL win for Des Moines. Kucharski backstopped the Bucs to a 6-2 victory at Madison, making 23 saves in the process. He could up being the best U.S. goalie prospect not playing for the Under-18 team this season.
JACKSON LEPPARD -- Leppard picked up No. 3 star honors with a goal and an assist for Prince George in the Cougar's 7-6 OT loss to Kelowna. He scored at 14:32 of the second period to make it a 5-3 Prince George lead after earlier assisting on a goal to tie the score 1-1 at 12:27 of the first period. With two goals and four points, he has already matched his totals from 35 WHL games in 2016-17.
DEV McCABE -- Only one goal was scored in Lincoln's USHL-opening-night shutout of Muskegon. McCabe got that goal on a penalty shot -- of all things -- at 9:58 of the third period to break through what had been a goaltending duel. It was a stellar USHL debut for McCabe, a center who spent last season at Minnesota's St. Paul Academy, as he earned No. 2 star honors. He'll be3 playing college hockey at Minnesota-Duluth.
KAREL PLASEK -- Even though he is undersized, it's time to start taking Plasek seriously as a potential pick in the 2018 draft. On Friday, the Czech left wing scored twice for Brno's U20 squad, helping the team to a 5-4 overtime win at Olomouc. His first goal, at 18:41 of the second period cut the lead to 3-2. His second, at 18:40 of the third period, forced the overtime, where fellow draft prospect Adam Gajarsky scored the winner. Plasek has four goals in his last two games and six in his last eight games. (Note: Second appearance on this list in 2017-18)
JAKUB SKAREK -- The Czechs have two great goaltenders available in this draft in Skarek and Lukas Dostal. Skarek could be the first goalie taken by any NHL team. After all, he already has considerable experience playing against men in the Czech Extraliga, and he continues to prove he belongs there. On Friday, he had 20 savesto help Jihlava beat Litvinov 4-1. Over his last three starts, he has stopped 70 of 75 shots for a .933 save percentage. In the Extraliga, Against men, remember? (Note: Second appearance on this list in 2017-18)