Henri Ikonen has been absolutely remarkable over his two years with the Kingston Frontenacs. A native of Savonlinna, Finland, the same hometown as Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, Henri came to the Frontenacs as the 66th overall pick in the 2012 CHL Import Draft. Somehow, the highly-skilled former KalPa Kuopio forward had been passed over in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and it would prove to be advantageous for him if he came to North America. The Frontenacs had not had significant success with imports in recent years, goaltenders excepted, so Henri came with significant promise. It also happened that one of his national teammates, Nashville Predators prospect defenceman Mikko Vainonen, was coming with him. Henri opened his OHL career with assists in back-to-back games, followed quickly by his first two OHL goals on October 12, 2012. He truly asserted himself as a quickly acclimated player. In November 2012, Henri had twelve points (six goals, six assists) in as many games. Additionally, he enjoyed a six-game point streak in February 2013. He finished his first North American season with 51 points (22 goals, 29 assists), being named the Frontenacs’ most valuable player and voted the third most underrated player in the Eastern Conference. Henri was further rewarded by being selected in the sixth round, 154th overall, by the Tampa Bay Lightning at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. This season, Henri took his potential to a whole new level. He started the 2013-14 season on a nine-game point-scoring streak, recording 23 points (seven goals, sixteen assists) in that stretch. Eventually, he would have a fourteen-game point streak which ran from November 10, 2013, to January 12, 2014; during that streak, Henri had twenty points (five goals, fifteen assists). In the middle of that streak, Henri, joined yet again by Mikko Vainonen, represented Finland at the 2014 World Junior Championships, winning gold over Scandinavian rival Sweden. In February 2014, Henri became a human highlight reel. On February 9, he scored a one-handed penalty shot against Sarnia that was even shown on TSN. Fourteen days later, on February 23, he scored a coast-to-coast goal against Oshawa in which he skated through everyone and taking Daniel Altshuller’s goal stick into the boards. Henri finished the season with 70 points (25 goals, 45 assists), being ranked the second most underrated player in the conference.
CENTRAL: SAM BABINTSEV (MISSISSAUGA STEELHEADS)
Sam Babintsev may not pack the most offensive punch for the Mississauga Steelheads but that does not mean that he is not a special player. A native of Moscow, Russia, Sam came to North America early, joining the MWEHL’s Oakland Jr. Grizzlies, a midget team based in Michigan. The Steelheads took notice and made him the 30th overall pick in the 2012 CHL Import Draft. They also selected another Russian, goaltender Andrei Vasilevski, but Sam was the only one of the two to report. Sam scored his first OHL career goal on October 26, 2012, against the Brampton Battalion. It was one of only five goals he scored as a rookie but he showed that, despite not putting up a lot of points, he was invaluable. Sam became one of the best skaters on the Steelheads, rushing up and down the wing with great ease. He held his own defensively and did not take many penalties. Sam finished his first OHL season with eleven points and only 24 penalty minutes, which is quite remarkable for a tough division such as the Central. Going into this year, Sam took on a more increased role, especially on a young team. He started to play more on the powerplay in Mississauga, which resulted in two man-advantage goals. He also started to put together point-scoring streaks. By the time the new calendar started to pick up steam, so did Sam’s offensive output. He even managed to score his first OHL career hat trick on March 13, 2014, against Niagara. Sam finished the season with 25 points (twelve goals, thirteen assists). Out of those twelve goals, three were game winners. With an overage season possibly on the horizon in 2014-15, it would be nice to see what Sam is capable of in his last year of junior hockey.
MIDWEST: OSCAR DANSK (ERIE OTTERS)
Oscar Dansk had been exposed to North American hockey quite early, spending three years at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, the Minnesota prep school that has also developed Sidney Crosby, Jack Johnson, Zach Parise and others. A native of Tumba, Sweden, after his junior year, the superlatively talented puckstopper went home to play in the system of Brynäs IF, becoming one of the best young goaltenders in his homeland. He was chosen 31st overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Not even two weeks later, he was chosen third overall by the Erie Otters at the 2012 CHL Import Draft. When he joined the Otters, he became the third consecutive import goaltender in their history, following in the footsteps of Jaroslav Janus and Ramis Sadikov. Oscar’s first season in the OHL was not exactly stellar but, to be fair, the Otters did not play that well in front of him. He recorded his first win on September 27, 2012, against Peterborough, a 47-save performance. Oscar had nearly a dozen times in which he faced 40 or more shots, including twice in which he faced 50 or more. He was also allowed to play for Sweden at the 2013 World Juniors, winning a silver medal. He finished his first OHL season with an 11-23-6 record, a 4.11 goals-against average and an .888% save percentage. For this season, the Otters completely imploded their coaching staff and brought in younger bench bosses to complement the youth movement on the team. What emerged happening was remarkable. The Otters had a complete turnaround. They went from a 19-40-9 record in 2012-13 to a 52-14-2 record in 2013-14. Oscar’s resurgence was a key reason why. He was 8-0-0 in October, a month in which he also recorded his first two OHL career shutouts. He had another eight-game win streak from December 6, 2013, to January 17, 2014. Despite having to miss time with the Swedish World Junior team, that streak got him three more goose-eggs. After losing the gold medal to Finland at the 2014 World Juniors, Oscar got revenge on Finnish national team members Henri Ikonen and Mikko Vainonen by beating them and their Kingston Frontenacs teammates in the eighth game of that streak. He finished the season with a 29-9-1 record, a 2.39 goals-against average, a .909% save percentage and six shutouts. His goals-against average was best in the OHL and his shutouts were tied for first. Thanks to eleven shutouts combined between Oscar and creasemate Devin Williams, they won the Dave Pinkney Trophy for the OHL’s lowest team goals against (akin to the NHL’s William Jennings Trophy), allowing only 170 goals against in 68 games.
WEST: SERGEY TOLCHINSKY (SAULT STE. MARIE GREYHOUNDS)
Sergey Tolchinsky has allowed for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds to be a great team for imports again. A native of Moscow, Russia, Sergey joined the Greyhounds after being chosen twelfth overall in the 2012 CHL Import Draft. There was some speculation on whether or not he would come to the OHL but, in the end, he made the right decision. He began to dazzle fans in both Sault Ste. Marie and across the OHL with his waterbug skating ability and his affinity for offensive production. Sergey showed that, despite his smaller stature (5’9″, 165 pounds) and his youthful appearance, he was capable of being a big-time player. He scored his first OHL career goal in his first game and he was just getting started. He started the 2012-13 season on a four-game point streak and he would go on to have several streaks throughout the year. One such streak had him recording points in seven straight games from February 16 to March 3, 2013. Sergey finished his rookie season with 51 points (26 goals, 25 assists), scoring an impressive eight times on the powerplay, and a big thanks for that came to his chemistry with fellow import Michael Schumacher. He finished tied for third in the OHL in scoring amongst rookies, trailing only countryman Nikolay Goldobin and exceptional player Connor McDavid. Perhaps due to his small size, Sergey was overlooked at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. He attended two NHL rookie camps, one with the New York Rangers and another with the Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes truly enjoyed what they saw and they signed Sergey to a free-agent, three-year entry level contract on August 22, 2013. Sergey went back to Sault Ste. Marie with even more confidence. He got four points in his first game of the new season and, in his third, he recorded his first OHL career hat trick. In October, he had the first of two nine-game point streaks he had during the 2013-14 OHL season. To make it even more remarkable, before the new calendar year started, Sergey had points in all but six games in 2013. His best game came on October 19, 2013, when he recorded five points — two goals, three assists — against Peterborough. Sergey finished the season with 91 points (31 goals, 60 assists), leading the Greyhounds in scoring and tied for eighth in the entire OHL. He also led the Hounds with an outstanding thirteen powerplay goals.