With Great Britain returning to the top group of International Ice Hockey for the first time since 1994, and Liam Kirk being drafted into the NHL, it’s an exciting time for British Ice Hockey, so what better time to examine each EIHL teams top prospect.
Now to define “top prospect” I’ll be looking at players who are on either a one-way or two-way deal with an EIHL team currently and are 23-years-old or younger, and British. If you want to see more about the top young stars of the EIHL from all nations, click here to see our countdown from 25 – 11, and here to see our countdown from 10 – 1 of our list of the top 25 players aged 25 or younger.
Belfast Giants – Lewis Hook
The Belfast Giants don’t really have much in the way of young British talent, in fact they have the oldest average age in the league, and Lewis Hook is actually the only player on their roster who qualifies for this list. Now that sounds like I’m taking things away from him, but far from it. The 22-year-old is on his third team in the league after stints with one game with Coventry Blaze and a full season for the Milton Keynes Lightning (including more in the EPIHL with the team) and over the years he’s proven himself at the lower levels and now he’s taking the step forward to really announce himself on the EIHL stage. Last year he managed 26 points for the Lightning, and through 26 appearances for the Giants and his 9 points, and while he’s not on pace to beat his EIHL career high, given his lower status and lower minutes on the team in Belfast, he’s actually having a good season. He projects to be a great energy third liner, but every guy on the ice counts and he’s a good guy to keep an eye on as he reaches his prime.
Cardiff Devils – Sam Duggan
Finally on an EIHL roster after he’s surely been on many teams radar for a couple of years now, 20-year-old Sam Duggan is having a great start to his professional career. He left junior hockey behind to join up with the junior system in Örebro where during his four-year stay he captained the U18 side, as well as heavily featuring for both the U18 and U20 sides, and featured for the GB junior and senior sides. In his early days for the Devils he’s already showing exactly why he’s been such a sought after player, and he’s tenacity has been surprising as he’s shown a real physical bite to his game, something that’s working well on the Devils energy line, while he’s also getting on the scoresheet more regularly, and it won’t be long until he’s a leading British force in the Devils forward ranks.
Coventry Blaze – Jordan Hedley
Over the years the Coventry Blaze have seen some great young Brits play for them, Ross Venus comes to mind and the most mindblowing thing about him is that he’s a year too old to be eligible for this list and he’s played over 400 games. Now it’s time for a new waive of players to come in for the Blaze, and while they have some great young talents like Oliver Lord and Ed Knaggs for example, backup goalie Jordan Hedley has been impressive when called upon as the Blaze have had some goalie issues with injury this year. A a good sized netminder who may end up being a career backup in the EIHL, Hedley could see himself move into position to be third string in the national side if he can continue to develop his game. He’s great with his legs and very difficult to beat down low, and in pressure situations plays as cool as they come. In his first year for the Blaze after backing up for the Lightning last year, Hedley could make a decent name for himself coming in to relieve a struggling goalie midway through the game, or starting in the middle of a long stretch to give the starter a rest, but for the Blaze, they’re comfortable whenever he’s in net. He’s got medals at the GB U20 level, and while he’d need a shock surge in performances to challenge for game time in the senior squad, he’s going to be among the conversation to take away as the injury reserve goalie.
Dundee Stars – Jordan Cownie
A product of the Dundee Stars junior system, Jordan Cownie has really burst onto the scene this season in his second full year in the league. After very brief stints over the years with the Braehead Clan and Nottingham Panthers, Cownie returned to the league last year to put up a 24-point season, after two highly successful years for the Milton Keynes Lightning during their EPIHL years. His time with the Lightning really set him up for what is becoming a bright future, which has seen him have a great start on Stars team that recently went on a 6 game unbeaten run in league action. The 23-year-old has already beaten his goal totals from last season, and over the course of a 60 games season is on pace for 33.6 points, beating his previous point totals and there’s little doubt he’ll see his point pace increase over the years as he starts to reach his prime years, and could see himself a regular in the GB set up as early as April of 2019, and I definitely think he’s done enough to earn a look from Pete Russel.
Fife Flyers – Jordan Buesa
Injury has limited his availbility this season but there’s no denying that 18-year-old Jordan Buesa may have a big future in the EIHL. He’s already playing his third year after making his debut for the then Braehead Clan during the 2016/17 season, and now with the Flyers he finds himself on a great team in a position to learn from some very experienced forwards around him to grow his game even further. 18-year-olds don’t set the EIHL on fire and nobody is expected Buesa to do that right now, but given the right opportunities to develop and round out his skills, he’s going to be a good talent. He’s already a great player for the GB junior systems and will no doubt be a leading man for the U20 side in January, and it’s those experiences that are going to help define his junior career and shape him into a great professional, whether it’s with the Flyers or another EIHL outfit, they’ll be better for having him on the ice.
Glasgow Clan – Mac Howlett
Another player who has taken a fairly unusual route into the professional game after leaving the junior set up of British hockey to join Finnish side SaiPa to play for their U18 and U20 teams over the past two-seasons. He grabbed his first professional point with an assist in his debut season, and there is very little doubt that 18-year-old Howlett has a lot of potential. While he’s logging very low minutes right now, and could benefit from a bit more time to develop in either the NIHL or SNL before becoming a true EIHL regular, what he has shown so far is a great skillset, but it’s what he can do with his feet that sets him apart from the rest. A naturally gifted skater, he’s quick and agile which I hope he continues to be as he continues to grow into his 5’10” frame. Time is certainly on his side at just 18 and he’ll get plenty of time and opportunities to grow his game to suit the EIHL and become an impact player, but what he has shown in limited ice time this year has been enough to impress most, and he’s definitely an interesting player to watch develop over the next few years.
Guildford Flames – Josh Waller
There’s something about this group of prospects and heading to Europe at a young age, and Josh Waller is the next one on this list who’s done that. After playing fanatically for the Bracknell junior system, that including time with the Bracknell Bees and Hornets at the senior level, but in 2016 he packed his bags and moved to the Czech Republic to continue his development. After two-years, he’s back in the UK and playing for the Guildford Flames where he’s got a goal and an assist in his opening 24 professional games in the EIHL. A smaller guy at 5’9″, he has to add some weight to his fframe to really be able to hold his own, but at his age he still has time to do that.
Manchester Storm – Declan Balmer
We all know how good the Manchester Storm academy is (it even made news for the wrong reasons) but the senior team does have some good young Brits under contract, and Declan Balmer may be the one who stands out because of his exposure as a regular in the line up compared to others like Adam Barnes. The 23-year-old defenseman had a rocky start to the year but is really setling down now as a solid player in his own zone, and also able to use his 6’3″ frame to his advantage physically, a staple of what you expect from a team coached by Ryan Finnerty. He’s not going to become a star or the next great British blueliner, but he’s definitely got a role to play in this league. He was a great young star in the EPIHL, now’s his time to take that next step.
Milton Keynes Lightning – Owen Griffiths
Cole Shudra would be the obvious choice if he wasn’t on the Steelers books and loaned to the Lightning, so the next kid up is 22-year-old Welsh centreman Owen Griffiths. A product of the Cardiff junior set up, he initially spent time with his home town Devils but over the last few years has spent time with a few teams before landing back in the EIHL with the Lightning. At 22-years-old he is one of the older players on the list, and while his ceiling isn’t as high as some of the others on the list, he’s got a big role to play as a depth centre
Nottingham Panthers – Jordan Kelsall
He’s currently not with the Panthers as they loaned him out to the Dundee Stars to get more regular ice time, but Jordan Kelsall has a bright future ahead of him as a key forward for the Panthers and potentially Team GB. At 19-years-old I think he’s going to have more time to develop and become a better prospect than Oliver Betteridge who’s a fantastic British prospect in his own right. Time is certainly on his side at just 18 and he’ll be a key guy to watch for at the World Juniors in January as a leading forward alongside Liam Kirk. While he’s et to bag his first point of the season, he did manage two for the Panthers in six games last year, and finished his time with the Swindon Wildcats with 13 points in 17 games in the NIHL 1 South. Through his career so far he’s proven himself as an incredible talent at the junior level, and performed well at the pro level. He won’t become an overnight sensation and may take some time to really grow into the player I think he’ll become, but all signs are pointing in the right direction for their to be yet another great British talent in the Nottingham Panthers system.
Sheffield Steelers – Kieran Brown
Gone are the days of Liam Kirk being the top prospect not just in the Steelers organisation, but also in the league, and now it’s time for Kieran Brown to step into that role for the Steelers, and he’s got a good enough claim to be one of the best prospects signed to an EIHL contract right now. He’s been sent down to the Blackburn Hawks for the season to continue to develop, but after posting 40 points in just 17 games for the Hawks last year, and 7 in five this year, it’s fair to say Brown may deserve more of a shot in the EIHL, much like what the Steelers have done with Cole Shudra. At 17-years-old though, Brown has plenty of time to grow his game and will get plenty of chances to prove himself at the EIHL level while his game develops into what the Steelers expect it to, and there’s little doubt he’ll be a member of the GB senior squad in his future.