clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Prospect Watch: Matt Bradley thriving with new opportunity

Matt Bradley starts to heat up, Noah Juulsen continues his impressive play, and Hayden Hawkey makes his first start in 11 months.

Getty Images
Matt Bradley's window of opportunity has opened. The Medicine Hat Tigers began the season poorly following an explosive 2014-2015 campaign, leading to the trade of Trevor Cox to Vancouver, last year's WHL assist leader. Meanwhile, Cole Sanford, who scored 50 goals last year, went down with injury and is listed as week-to-week. These two events have combined have created an opportunity for Bradley.

Bradley has been buried in the Medicine Hat Tigers' lineup this year, often switching from centre to wing and playing with a revolving door of linemates, up until three games ago. The 131st pick in 2015 has taken the reins as the team's second-line centre, scoring three goals in three games, and stringing together three fantastic performances.

While the only consistency in Bradley's linemates is that they are consistently different, he has shown the skill and smarts that made him a scoring threat last November and January. His defensive play has been as advertised; efficient and effective. Furthermore, he has excelled defensively while facing top lines and defensive pairings, culminating in a brilliant performance against Red Deer's Michael Spacek, who has 22 points in 16 games.

What has really been encouraging is Bradley's production. Three goals in the past three games, mixed in with countless scoring chances. What got his streak going was a nice goal against Saskatoon, demonstrating his speed and on-ice awareness.

The game that Bradley really impressed in was his most recent vs. Red Deer. Down 5-1, Medicine Hat scored four straight to tie the game. He was instrumental in the goal to bring the team within one, and then tied it by deflecting a point shot with just one second remaining.

Bradley's tremendous third period continued into overtime, where he utilized his excellent skating and hockey sense to exploit the open ice. Although Red Deer went on to win 6-5 in a shootout, Bradley nearly scored there as well with a deceptive shot that rang off the iron.

Here's a quick example of what he does quite often:

Here, Bradley demonstrates his best assets: speed, resiliency, and puck handling. Although initially starting behind in the foot race, he wins it, gains body positioning on Kayle Doetzel, extends his reach to flatten a bouncing puck, and finishes by getting a decent shot off.

Through 11 games so far, Bradley has a respectable, yet underwhelming seven points. His skill level indicates that is capable of much more at the junior level. What Bradley lacks in flash, he makes up for in sheer determination, demonstrated through his aggressive drives to the net, and ability to win puck battles. With more ice time and opportunity than ever before in his major junior career, Bradley has thrived.

No Cause For Concern With Juulsen

After a scorching start start with five points in just four games, Noah Juulsen has since gone pointless in his last five. While his production has dipped, his overall play has most certainly not.

The excellent two-way defender continues to log huge minutes night-in and night-out, while shutting down some of the WHL's very best players, including Paul Bittner, Dominic Turgeon, Jayce Hawryluk, and Mathew Barzal. Those four have a combined for just two goals in six games versus Everett, and Juulsen has been integral in shutting them down.

Juulsen continues to excel in his own zone, making tremendous defensive plays in all situations. His smooth-skating, reach, and high-end smarts make him the complete package of defensive skills. While he hasn't been as physical as last year, he still averages around one bone-crushing hit per game.

It's a testament to Juulsen's talent that his best abilities continue to be demonstrated with the puck on his stick. His breakout pass is among the WHL's best, and he has been successful in his switch from powerplay trigger-man to quarterback.

With limited offensive options on the Silvertips' roster, Juulsen handles the puck a ton. While he has made some poor rushes, for the most part his puck moving ability is excellent, as shown here (pay close attention to how he gets back into the play):

Juulsen is right up there with the WHL's best defenders in terms of overall play, which is quite significant as most of his opposition is either in their fourth, or overage year of junior.

Hayden Hawkey Makes First Start in 11 Months

Last season, then-reining USHL Goaltender of the Year Hayden Hawkey was struggling after a tough start. However, the tough start soon became nightmarish, as he tore his ACL, forcing him to miss the remainder of the season.

Before the injury, it all seemed to be lining up for the 20-year-old netminder. After a historic season in the USHL, he would play one more year before going to Providence College, where he would take the reigns from one of the very best goaltending prospects in the world, Jon Gillies. However, it just wasn't meant to be.

This year, Hawkey has (understandably) played backup to Nick Ellis, despite owning a superior portfolio. With five minutes remaining a 7-1 game, Hawkey was finally given a chance. With the win already in the bag, Hawkey saw his first action in 11 months, stopping all seven shots he faced.

The following night, Hawkey was given the start. He managed to stop 24 of 27 shots during a 4-3 victory in his first NCAA start. An impressive debut for the rookie.