2 Phantoms among draft’s top prospects

Staff report


Two Youngstown Phantoms are ranked among the nation’s top 200 draft prospects.

Center Maxim Letunov was ranked as the 68th overall North American-based skater, according to NHL Central Scouting’s midterm ranking list of draft-eligible prospects. Right wing JJ Piccinich is 164th on that list.

Letunov’s ranking carries a third-round projection, while Piccinich’s is accompanied with a sixth-round grade.

“Both [Letunov and Piccinich’s] statuses have risen since the beginning of the season,” Phantoms coach Anthony Noreen said. “It’s something both of them have earned, and something both of them should be involved in and recognized for. Both of them have bright futures, not only in our league, and in college hockey, but in professional hockey down the road.”

Letunov, 17, has 27 points in 31 games this season, his first in the USHL after being drafted by the Phantoms in the second round of the 2013 Phase II draft. The Boston University recruit began his Youngstown career with a six-game point streak in his first six games and is tied for 20th in the USHL in scoring.

“Max is a special kid,” Noreen said. “Off the ice, he’s one of the most determined kids I’ve ever been around to be a pro. He’s going to do whatever it takes to make sure that he’s successful here, and at the next level, wherever he goes. He puts the extra time in, he does things the right way, he works appropriately, and aside from that, he’s also extremely gifted and talented. He thinks the game as well, or better, than any player we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

Piccinich, also 17 and a Boston University commit, leads the USHL in power play goals, with 10. He ranks second on Youngstown and is tied for ninth in the League in total scoring, and his 19 goals tie him for fourth in the League.

“JJ is a guy who, right now, is reaping the rewards of the attitude and the buy-in he showed last year,” said Noreen. “Last year, we asked him to play a little bit different of a role than from what he was used to, and I think he learned how to play a 200-foot game, and how to be responsible in all three zones.”

The NHL entry draft is June 27-28 in Philadelphia.

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