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Sarnia's Zacha, Korostelev impress in the OHL

by Mike G. Morreale

The Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League have a pretty formidable top line, with Czech Republic native Pavel Zacha centering right wing Nikita Korostelev and left wing Jordan Kyrou.

    Pavel Zacha (Courtesy: Czech Ice Hockey Association)

NHL Central Scouting's Chris Edwards, who evaluates players in the OHL, has liked what he's seen from the three. He particularly was impressed with Zacha, who is in his first OHL season after spending last season with Liberec in the top professional league in the Czech Republic as a 16-year-old. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound left-shot center had four goals and eight points in 38 games in the Czech Republic last season and was selected by the Sting with the No. 1 pick in the 2014 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft. He's considered a potential top-five pick at the 2015 NHL Draft.

"He's got a high-end skill set and is an excellent competitor," Edwards said of Zacha, who has four goals and six assists in 10 games this season. "He plays an excellent two-way game and broke up a couple of rushes in a recent game I saw him play against the Peterborough Petes. He's physical and solid on his skates and separates guys from the puck. He sees the ice well and can move the puck through traffic."

In addition to Zacha, here are three other players to watch in the OHL:

Nikita Korostelev, Sarnia -- The B-rated prospect on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary players to watch list was named the OHL Player of the Week for the period ending Oct. 13 after leading the league with three goals and seven points in two games. Korostelev, a right wing, had two assists in a 3-1 victory against the Saginaw Spirit on Oct. 10, and three goals and a career-high five points in a 9-2 victory against the Windsor Spitfires the next day.

"He has an outstanding wrist shot and is a high-energy guy," Edwards said. "He sure competes hard and gets involved, makes that top line go with Pavel Zacha and Jordan Kyrou. It's a heck of a line and they were good; Nikita has a good skill set."

The 17-year-old native of Moscow leads the Sting with 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in 10 games is in his second OHL season. Korostelev, chosen in the first round (No. 9) by the Sting in the 2013 OHL draft, had 17 goals and 38 points in 60 games as a rookie last season.

Lawson Crouse, Kingston -- A 6-4, 211-pound power forward, Crouse has four goals, six points and 18 penalty minutes in eight games for the Frontenacs. Crouse, an A-rated skater on Central Scouting's players to watch list, had 15 goals, 27 points and 64 penalty minutes in 63 regular-season games last season. Edwards believes he might just be one of the hardest hitters in the OHL.

"He's not a dirty player but can hit so hard using those shoulders; he's a man," Edwards said. "There isn't a defenseman in the OHL that will stop him when he decides he's going to take the puck to the net. He's a big-bodied guy, protects the puck and is solid on his skates. He can see the ice and barrels through everyone. He's got good hands to go along with that big body."

Matt Luff, Belleville -- The first-year right wing is not yet ranked on Central Scouting's preliminary list, but that could change soon. Edwards has liked what he sees in the 6-foot-1, 179-pound right-shot forward, a seventh-round pick in the 2013 OHL draft. In 10 games with the Belleville Bulls, Luff has two goals, eight points and a plus-6 rating.

"He's a big guy who is starting to earn more ice time and that's a hard thing to do in Belleville as a first-year player," Edwards said. "Like Crouse, he uses his size, fights through checks and has a real good wrist shot with quick release. He's starting to get some special teams play and I'm looking forward to watch how he develops. By end of the year he could work his way onto our list."


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