NHL Entry Draft Hopefuls Making Strong Cases with LumberjacksNovember 11, 2018
The Muskegon Lumberjacks split the weekend games with the Youngstown Phantoms. The rivalry runs deep for the Phantoms and Lumberjacks. The Phantoms own the longest winning streak in USHL history (17 games). Conversely, Muskegon had owned a five-game streak against the very same Phantoms until Saturday. Having only their second loss of the season, the Lumberjacks are still in excellent shape. Throughout their successful regular season, several of the current roster skaters are NHL Entry Draft eligible and making strong cases.
As a team, the Muskegon Lumberjacks currently do not have a single player at a minus rating on the team; a tremendous accomplishment.
Keegan Karki Makes Regular Season Debut
Keegan Karki, recovered from injury, got his first start of the regular season. Unfortunately, the loss against the Phantoms will stand against him, but Karki’s overall performance was well executed. Karki’s netminding teammate, Brandon Bussi, has been maintaining the pipes in his absence. Keegan picked up right where he left off in the 2017-18 regular season. He maintained a 3.20 GAA throughout 41 games played.
Karki became NHL Draft eligible this past season and was on the docket for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Though not selected, Keegan is already making a strong case for some NHL attention. Though both of the games played, one as a relief, are averaging out to a 4.89 GAA, Karki will certainly have time to improve upon that. Looking confident all night, Karki stopped a few odd-man rush opportunities by the Phantoms. He staved a messy bouncing puck which resulted in a scramble in the crease by bodies from both teams and kept his cool. In spite of the loss, Karki is looking just as confident as he was last season which is encouraging coming off of injury.
Mikael Hakkarainen Tallies a “Hakk-Trick”
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Hakkarainen. The 2018 NHL Entry Draft Chicago Blackhawks selection, has been a superstar since returning the USHL. Tallying his first hat trick of the regular season on Friday night, Hakkarainen has been unstoppable.
Most notably about Mikael is the fact that he owns a 1.89 points per game record – 8th in the league overall. In just nine games played since his return, Hakkarainen has tallied 17 points. Bobby Brink and Martin Pospisil own the lead with 26 points apiece. Hakkarainen is not far behind the pack, and likely will catch up quickly. Easily earning the most ice time among forwards, outside of linemates Egor Afanasyev and Alex Gaffney. As an overager (20yrs), this is Mikael’s last season in juniors before he must either pursue college or seek the NHL route if the Blackhawks permit it. Either way, his work in juniors isn’t done yet and we haven’t seen the last Hakk Trick.
Matt Staudacher Breakout Season
Staudacher was nominated as the Alternate Captain alongside Captains Nolan Sullivan and Colby Bukes. The additional letter on Staudacher’s jersey has evidently changed his game. In an exclusive interview with Access Hockey MI, Matt stated that the nomination changed his game entirely. With the new responsibility of leadership, Matt was determined to play like a leader. So he is. Already surpassing his 2017-18 record of 3 points in 54 games, Staudacher has 8 points (6A, 3G) in 13 games played.
Staudacher has developed into a strong instigator net-driver. As a defenseman, he possesses a growing two-way game which has propelled every line he’s been on. Matt is currently 14th in the league among defenseman for points. Luke Johnson of the Sioux City Musketeers holds the number one at 16 points. However, Staudacher is first in the league for +/- rating at a +12.
As the season progresses, Staudacher will no doubt climb closer to the top of the list following former teammate, Marc Del Gaizo’s footsteps.
Notable Mentions – Egor Afanaysev and Alex Gaffney
Alex Gaffney is one of the smallest players for the Muskegon Lumberjacks (5ft 6in) – but he doesn’t play like it. At only 16, and won’t be NHL Draft Eligible for a while, he’s earned a spot with the top line consisting of Hakkarainen and Afanaysev. Gaffney has been putting up a massive fight. He’s extremely fast, becoming more physical, and knows how to find the net. Much like Joe Hicketts of the Grand Rapids Griffins, Gaffney is learning how to use his size to his advantage. Training with Assistant Coach, Josh Nelson, he’s honed in his skating and how to respond along the boards. Gaffney tallied his first multi-point game (1G, 1A) on Friday against Youngstown.
Egor Afanaysev is always worth a mention and is kicking the door in on NHL scouts watching from afar. Egor will soon be entering his first year of NHL Entry Draft eligibility. Afanasyev is currently 18th in the league with 14 points – the total points he tallied during 2017-18. Egor has blossomed in the absence of many of the leaders from the season before, like former Captain and USHL point leader Anthony Del Gaizo. Having more ice time and higher responsibility, Afanasyev has embraced the challenge. He’s already tallied four multi-point games including a four-point game against the Fargo Force where he earned a hat trick and assist.
At only 17 years old, Egor has much room for growth. He can remain in the USHL for another few seasons, but as a commit to Michigan State University, they may call him to the NCAA following 2018-19. He is undrafted and ranked #64 among 2019 draft-eligible skaters. Realistically, he’s a second or third rounder and that projection is bound to improve.
Defensive Upswing – Alex Yakovenko
Russian defenseman, Alex Yakovenko, had a very strong weekend. In his second year in the USHL, and an overager at 20, Yakovenko is already on track for a breakout season. Once again, due in large part to having more ice time without the top lines from last season. Alex finished out 2017-18 with 17 points in 31 games. After only 13 games, he already has 11 points and given this weekends’ play, is well on his way to far more.
He’s very strong and uses his body in every situation. Making critical decisions, including making a save that Keegan Karki couldn’t get to, Yakovenko seems to be in the right place at the right time. He was eligible for the NHL Entry Draft in 2016 along with current Griffins/Walleye skater Jordan Topping and Red Wings pick, Jack Adams. Yakovenko will have a big year and will be one that folks will want to keep their eye on.