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On the Wings of Tomorrow

Three Wings prospects making an impact for B.U., Veleno and McIsaac golden at world juniors and more in the January prospect report

by Bob Duff @asktheduffer / Special to

PLYMOUTH -- Facing the USA National Team Development Program Under-18s at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, the Boston University Terriers were down to their third turn in the shootout, in need of a goal to clinch a 4-3 victory.

Naturally, they turned to their stay-at-home defenseman to seal the deal. 

Junior Kasper Kotkansalo skated in and zipped a low shot into the net under the left pad of U.S. netminder Drew Commesso.

Kotkansalo, selected in the third round, 71st overall, by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, hasn't scored a goal since he was a freshman, a drought encompassing 48 games and two years.

Apparently, though, Kotkansalo is a Finn who knows how to finish.

"He's really good on breakaways," explained Terriers coach Albie O'Connell.

Evidently, Kotkansalo is also an effective lobbyist.

"I asked (forward Ethan) Philips if he wanted to go and he said, 'Sure,'" O'Connell said. "And then Kasper was like, 'I got this.' So we put him in.

"He used to be a forward. He scores all the time on our goalies in practice when we do shootouts or showdown, or whatever."

Kotkansalo acknowledged his sniping prowess when he's in alone on a netminder.

"That is true," he said. "I used to be a forward until U16s back home. I grew up playing forward, so I got some breakaways back then.

"I was kind of begging to get that chance."

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound rearguard displayed his all-around versatility earlier this season, filling in at center for a couple of games at O'Connell's request when Boston was left shy of forwards due to a rash of injuries.

"I looked at the roster and we were missing so many forwards, especially the older guys," Kotkansalo said. "I knew I could play the centerman's role fine.

"I ended up playing only playing two games but still it was a good time."

Kotkansalo, 21, may go third in shootouts but he was the first of three Red Wings draft picks to arrive on the BU campus. He's played 98 games for the Terriers.

Forwards Robert Mastrosimone (54th, 2019) and Phillips (97th, 2019) are both freshmen but they've combined to make an instant impact for the Terriers.

"If we didn't think they could, we probably would have left them in juniors," O'Connell said. "I think young guys, they can step up."

He's given the two first-year players plenty of responsibility in their first NCAA season. They've been linemates every game this season.

"We've played them together a lot," O'Connell said. "They've gained some chemistry together."

Mastrosimone, who was in camp with USA Hockey's world junior team this season, has skated on both wings.

Phillips has worked on the right wing and at center.

"We definitely found chemistry right away," Phillips said. "I think that the chemistry was there from the first practice.

"We're pretty similar players. I think we have a lot of the same strengths in our game and I think we use it with each other to help make each other better, and I think it helps make the team better overall."

They also share similar physical traits. Phillips is 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds. Mastrosimone is also undersized at 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds.

"They are both fearless, they are both quick," O'Connell said. "They both have a good way of making people miss. They're not afraid to get in and out of traffic.

"They're good. They're competitive."

Playing the game with a chip on their shoulder just comes naturally to the duo.

"I think both of us being smaller, we don't have a choice," Mastrosimone said. "If we're not going to be willing to take hits, or throw a couple of hits, we're not going to be effective at all. We can't afford to play soft.

"I guess it's become part of our identity together. We're small but we're not going to shy away."

Accepting that larger players will try to punish them physically, they utilize their speed and elusiveness to escape the pounding.

"Being smaller, that's what's going to happen," Phillips said. "You're going to get hit by bigger, stronger guys. You just kind of have to bounce off no matter what.

"We're not going to be effective if we can't throw a hit every now and then and bounce off hits."

Mastrosimone, from East Islip, N.Y., got off to a fast start at Boston. He scored on his first NCAA shot -- with assists going to both Phillips and Kotkansalo -- and was named the first Hockey East Rookie of the Week for the 2019-20 season.

"Off the start, I didn't really know what to expect," Mastrosimone said. "I hadn't played any college games, or anything like that.

"I definitely feel comfortable now. Going through the first few games I was a little nervous. From the USHL, it was just a step higher, a step faster and all the guys were bigger. It definitely took a few games to get used to it but I think now we're up to speed."

They've settled into their roles as regulars with the Terriers, finding their comfort zone growing with each passing game.

"Phillips, he's pretty dangerous," O'Connell said. "He plays smart, plays hard.

"Mastro, normally, he's electric. Mastro's got a whole other level. He can be one of the best players on the ice."

Mastrosimone scored goals in Boston's last two games prior to the holiday break. He's fifth in team scoring with 4-7-11 totals through 18 games.

Phillips, who calls Dartmouth, N.S. home, has registered 1-6-7 numbers, good for eighth on the team.

"I think for both of us our confidence with the puck is growing every game," Phillips said. "You watch tape from the first couple of weekends to where we are now, you can see it in our play. We're just making more plays, we're stronger on the puck and seeing guys better.

"It just takes time to get used to that. There's an adjustment period. I think we've kind of come over that and now we're just trying to get better each week and help any way we can."

For Kotkansalo, moments like his shootout winner are rare. His game is stalwart, reliable. The spotlight doesn't generally shine on him.

"Kasper's pretty solid all game," O'Connell said. "Solid, strong, smart. He's got enough skill but doesn't try to overdo it.

"He plays a pretty solid game."

During Detroit's summer development camp, Kotkansalo expressed personal dissatisfaction with his performance as a sophomore.

But he feels much better about his efforts this season.

"I think pretty good," Kotkansalo, from Espoo, Finland, assessed of his season to date. "I think I've been relatively consistent the whole time.

"I've brought a lot more to my game than I had during my freshman and sophomore years. Confidence-wise, I've been really good."

He's also served as a sounding board for Boston's newcomers.

"If they have any questions, and not only these two but any of our freshmen, any upperclassman wants to help a freshman," Kotkansalo said. "I think this year what we've done a better job of, I hope at least, is to just let them be themselves.

"For me, it was a big jump to come and play college with older guys. It's fine to be who you are and you're accepted as that."

Kotkansalo quickly became someone that Phillips and Mastrosimone knew they could count on as a mentor.

"He's definitely a leader on the team," Mastrosimone said. "He keeps everybody focused. He pushes the pace in the gym and in practice with his compete.

"Seeing him work hard, it sets an example for the younger guys to follow."

WORLD JUNIORS: Detroit prospects came home empty-handed from last year's World Junior Championship in terms of medals, but this year two future Red Wings mined gold.

Both center Joe Veleno (30th, 2018) and defenseman Jared McIsaac (36th, 2018) were part of Canada's gold medal-winning squad.

Veleno served as an alternate captain.

Tweet from @JokkeNevalainen: Jared McIsaac (DET) from Dylan Cozens (BUF) and Joe Veleno (DET).

McIsaac and Veleno were both with last year's Canadian club that lost to eventual tournament champion Finland in the quarterfinals.

Detroit's prospects on the Swedish team -- goaltender Jesper Eliasson (84th, 2018) and center Jonatan Berggren (33rd, 2018) -- picked up bronze medals.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Congrats to @Jberggren48 and @Jespereliassonn on their 2020 IIHF #WorldJunior Bronze! 🇸🇪 x #LGRW

Though he came home without a medal, defenseman Moritz Seider (6th, 2019) served as Germany's captain and turned in an impressive performance.

He skated an average 25:20 of ice time per game and was on the ice for just three even-strength goals against.

Tweet from @JokkeNevalainen: Moritz Seider (DET) makes a big hit.

Seider dished out six assists, including three helpers in Germany's win over the hosts from the Czech Republic, and put 21 shots on goal.

Hockey Hall of Famer Igor Larionov, a three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Wings, was an assistant coach with Russia's silver medal-winning team.

SODERBLOM BLOOMING: Left-winger Elmer Soderblom (159th, 2019) is tearing up the SuperElit League, Sweden's top junior loop.

Playing for the Frolunda Juniors, with 19-19-38 totals through 23 games, Soderblom is leading the league in scoring.

Soderblom's 1.65 points per game average is also No. 1 in the league. His 19 goals are tied for second in the SEL.

OFFENSE FROM THE DEFENSE: Defenseman Antti Tuomisto (35th, 2019) leads all rearguards in goals and points in Finland's Jr. A SM-liiga.

Tweet from @lassialanen: Antti Tuomisto scores his 14th goal of the season versus TPS. #PioneerTogether

Tuomisto is averaging a point per game with 13-20-33 numbers in 33 games for Assat U20.

Tweet from @lassialanen: Second goal of the game for Antti Tuomisto. Showcasing his booming slap shot from the point. #PioneerTogether #��ss��t

GYLANDER SHINES: Goaltender Carter Gylander (191st, 2019) continues to provide stellar netminding for the Sherwood Park Crusaders of the Alberta Junior Hockey league.

Tweet from @SPcrusaders: VICTORY!! 🚨🚨🚨Your Crusaders take down the Pontiacs 4-2 on the road to move to 36-4-0 on the season!Between the pipes, Carter Gylander made 26 saves to pick up the win! #OneCru | #AJHL

Gylander owns a league-leading .926 save percentage. Among goalies who've logged at least 1,000 minutes, Gylander is first in goals-against average (2.00) and third in wins (21).

He's lost just two of 23 decisions.

GRITTY GREWE: Forward Albin Grewe (66th, 2019) is tied for sixth in Sweden's SuperElit League with 60 penalty minutes.

If that doesn't seem impressive, then consider this -- Grewe has only played nine games for Djurgardens IF U20 squad.

That works out to almost seven PIM per game.

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