Next Gen Prospects: Joel Hofer re-adjusting to life after winning gold

Joel Hofer of the Portland Winterhawks. (Keith Dwiggins/Portland Winterhawks)

Joel Hofer has been to a variety of places over the last month, from singing the Canadian national anthem in Czech Republic to touring a jail.

Yes, Hofer is back to regular life in the Western Hockey League with the Portland Winterhawks where he takes a pair of courses on the side — criminal justice and public speaking — which include occasional prison tours (which aren’t anything like what you see in TV shows, he says).

It’s been a crazy journey the past few weeks for Hofer ever since he won gold at the World Junior Championship.

“With the whole world junior thing, it was unbelievable and everything I dreamt of it being,” he said Thursday from Portland, Ore. “Definitely after we got back from Czech there it was a little bit of buzz and little bit of media but it’s kind of cooled down now and just getting back into the swing of things in Portland.”

Canada’s goaltender Joel Hofer stops Germany’s John Peterka during second period action at the World Junior Hockey Championships on Monday, December 30, 2019 in Ostrava, Czech Republic. (Ryan Remiorz / CP)

Hofer came on in relief last month for Canada at the world juniors during the country’s second preliminary round game against Russia and shined ever since.

He started the following five-straight games and won them all as the Canadians went on to beat Russia in the gold medal game. Hofer finished the event by leading all goaltenders in save percentage (.939) and goals-against average (1.60).

“It was kind of a tough spot to go into,” Hofer said of the eventual 6-0 loss to Russia in the preliminary round. “We were down I think 4-0 and my mind set was just go in there and make a big save and try and switch the momentum in our favour.

“We got the revenge and it was all worth it in the end.”

Hofer was drafted in the fourth round of the 2018 NHL Draft by the St. Louis Blues and has been having a stellar season with the Winterhawks — his first full season with the team after coming over in a trade with Swift Current last year.

His stats have seen a jump since the deal with his save percentage improving to .928 — among the league leaders — and posting a 26-4-3 record. Portland has also seen success with Hofer in net, sitting first place in the U.S. Division with a 35-6-5 record despite having nine rookies on their team.

Hofer credits the improvement in numbers to getting more playing time along with good coaching with the Winterhawks. He hasn’t made any significant changes to his game and has already logged nearly as much ice time this year as he has in his two previous WHL seasons despite missing a month due to the world juniors.

(Credit: Keith Dwiggins/Portland Winterhawks)

Working under Blues development coach Dave Rogalski at camps has also helped and seeing St. Louis hoist the Stanley Cup last spring was exciting.

“I think I watched every game,” Hofer said. “Definitely really nerve wracking. I’m really happy they ended up winning it.”

The Winnipeg native’s hockey trajectory can somewhat be traced as similar to that of current Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington, who saw plenty of success in junior, including a trip to both the world juniors and Memorial Cup.

Although Hofer hasn’t yet reached a Memorial Cup he said he likes plenty of aspects surrounding Binnington’s style of play.

“The thing I admire the most is when he got his opportunity, he made the most of it and I think that goes a long ways,” Hofer said. “You never know how long you’re going to be in the NHL, even if you’re going to make it in the NHL, so when you get that opportunity you want to make the most of it and I think he did that.”

Here are 10 other hockey prospects who have impressed over the past couple months:

Ty Dellandrea, C (DAL – 2018, 1st round)
Current team: Flint (OHL)
Stats: 36 GP | 28 G | 32 A | 60 PTS

Talking about Canadian world junior players, Dellandrea has been lighting it up entering Friday night with five-straight two-goal games, totalling 18 points over that span.

Cole Caufield, RW (MTL – 2019, 1st round)
Current team: University of Wisconsin (NCAA)
Stats: 24 GP | 16 G | 10 A | 26 PTS

After a pair of scoreless matchups against Michigan State, Caufield rebounded for his first career NCAA hat trick at Notre Dame. The rookie now has 16 goals on the season after being held to two points in five games at the world juniors.

Keith Petruzzell, G (DET – 2017 3rd round)
Current team: Quinnipiac University (NCAA)
Stats: 16-8-1 | 2.13 GAA | .917 SV%

Petruzzell’s work load has almost doubled compared to previous seasons and he’s lived up to the challenge so far with two shutouts on the season. If he continues to make nice saves like this (see below), maybe a late-season pro appearance is in the cards.

Jack Quinn, RW (2020 NHL Draft Eligible)
Current team: Ottawa 67s (OHL)
Stats: 46 GP | 41 G | 26 A | 67 PTS

Quinn’s draft stock is on the rise and a good showing at last month’s CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Hamilton helped his cause as well. He scored in that game and leads the OHL in goals with 41.

Chris Wilkie, RW (OTT – 2015 6th round)
Current team: Colorado College (NCAA)
Stats: 24 GP | 17 G | 8 A | 25 PTS

Wilkie appears to have finally found his groove offensively during his fourth NCAA season. He hadn’t topped six goals in his previous three seasons until this year and leads the NCHC in goals. He was acquired by the Senators earlier this season from Florida.

Alex Laferriere, RW (2020 NHL Draft Eligible)
Current team: Des Moines Buccaneers (USHL)
Stats: 34 GP | 16 G | 21 A | 37 PTS

Not to be confused with the projected No. 1 selection at this June’s draft, Alexis Lafreniere, although Laferriere is having a solid rookie season with Des Moines. The Harvard commit is among the league leaders in USHL scoring and had a goal and seven shots (game high) during the recent All-American Game.

Brogan Rafferty, D (Undrafted)
Current team: Utica (AHL)
Stats: 44 GP | 6 G | 33 A | 39 PTS

Rafferty’s first full professional season has gone quite well as he leads all AHL defencemen in scoring with 39 points. He got a pair of games in with the Canucks last year after wrapping up three years with Quinnipiac University.

Jack Studnicka, C (BOS – 2017 2nd round)
Current team: Providence (AHL)
Stats: 46 GP | 17 G | 18 A | 35 PTS

Studnicka has received a call-up earlier this season with Boston and had an assist in two games. He continues to improve in his first pro season and was recently named the AHL player of the week after five points in two games.

Adam Beckman, LW (MIN – 2019 3rd round)
Current team: Spokane (WHL)
Stats: 48 GP | 36 G | 42 A | 78 PTS

Beckman’s impressive year feels as though it’s slipped under the radar despite the fact he leads the WHL in both scoring and goals scored. As his Chiefs try to work themselves into the playoffs, Beckman could turn out as a draft steal.

Yegor Guskov, G (2020 NHL Draft Eligible)
Current team: Loko-Yunior Yaroslavl (NMHL)
Stats: 3-0-0 | 1.06 GAA | .959 SV%

All the buzz surrounding the future of Russian goaltenders centres around projected first-rounder Yaroslav Askarov, but Yegor Guskov is coming off an impressive showing for his country at the World Junior A Challenge in Dawson Creek, B.C. He led the tournament in both goals-against average and save percentage as Russia beat Canada East in the final.

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