To begin Black History Month, Ian Kennedy presents seven players highlighting the future of Black excellence in hockey.
Representation matters. When youth look at hockey, seeing people who look like them at the highest levels of the sport is crucial to building a more inclusive and diverse future in the game. In honor of Black History Month, we’re highlighting a bright future of Black excellence in hockey.
On the women’s side, players like Sarah Nurse, Saroya Tinker and Mikyla Grant-Mentis are already making a mark in the PHF. In the NHL, players, including Seth Jones, K’Andre Miller, and Quinton Byfield inspire the next generation.
But the next generation is close to emerging at the professional level, and there is plenty to be excited about. Here are seven players to watch now, and in the future, who are changing the face of hockey.
Malcolm Spence, Erie Otters, OHL
The second overall pick in the 2022 OHL draft has stepped into the Erie Otters’ lineup and made an immediate impact.
Spence has elite speed, a powerful shot and brings energy to the Otters every time his feet touch the ice. In short, he’s electric.
Spence is also a vocal leader on the ice and for equity. Mature beyond his years, when Spence speaks, it’s impossible to ignore the compelling forward who often uses his voice to spread messages of inclusion and equity and aims to open doors for other Black youth to excel in hockey. Not NHL draft eligible until 2025 because of his late birthday, Spence looks like a future high pick and an NHLer who will provide representation for the next generation.
Laila Edwards, Univ. of Wisconsin, NCAA
There is no bigger star on the rise in women’s USA Hockey than Laila Edwards. The 6-foot-2 forward is a rookie with the Wisconsin Badgers but is using her playmaking skills, vision and poise with the puck to dominate already.
The 2022 U-18 women’s World Championship MVP is one of the best in the world. When, not if, she makes USA’s senior national team, she’ll become the first Black woman in USA Hockey history to do so. It will be a monumental moment for not only Edwards but also for Black girls in hockey, who will see themselves represented at the highest level.
Jade Iginla, Brown Univ., NCAA
Iginla plays with pace and never stops. She was an impact player with Canada’s U-18 team, winning gold in 2022, and has stepped into a prominent role with Brown in the NCAA. Iginla has a powerful stride and is a good shooter, but it’s her persistent motor that allows those skills to shine.
At times in the past, it looked like Iginla was with the play but not in the play. But as her confidence has grown, her ability to assert herself in physical situations and to force defenders or win puck battles has increased substantially. The sky is the limit for Iginla, who will be a key player watched by Canada’s national team.
EJ Emery, USA Hockey National Team Development Program, USHL
Emery effectively uses his 6-foot-3 frame and reach to control play. He’s not putting up big numbers with the NTDP, but there are few who doubt his impact.
Eligible for the 2004 NHL draft, he’ll step out of the shadows next season and have his chance to show he can shut down and contribute offensively. He’s not afraid to use his size, and at worst, he projects as an effective defensive defender. At best, we see his offensive skills flourish and he morphs into the complete package. Born and trained at sports schools in British Columbia, Emery chose the USA for international competition over Canada, representing Team USA at the U-17 World Hockey Challenge.
Bill Zonnon, Rouyn-Nouranda Huskies
When Bill Zonnon was five years old, he saw P.K. Subban on television playing for the Montreal Canadiens, a moment that started his hockey career.
“I told my parents, ‘I want to be like him,’ ” Zonnon recalled in an interview with William Douglas on NHL.com.
The 6-foot-2 forward went sixth overall pick in the 2022 QMJHL draft.
“Combining fast hands and a high offensive IQ, he is able to make fast and reliable plays, while being able to score goals with a quick and smooth release,” said Huskies coach Brad Yetman in an email. He also praised Zonnon for his attention to detail and willingness to learn.
Zonnon opened his QMJHL career by being named rookie of the month, and as a late 2006 birth year, is not NHL Draft eligible until 2025. He’ll be a prospect to watch and a player youth can look up to like he looked up to P.K. Subban.
Tij Iginla, Seattle, WHL
The second Iginla on this list, Tij has a well-balanced skill set. He scored a point per game at the U-17 World Hockey Challenge, showcasing his soft hands and ability to create space for himself.
He’s not lighting up the WHL as a 16-year-old, but it’s only a matter of time until he finds his groove and gets more minutes. Not afraid to drive to the middle of the ice and go to the net, Iginla will score his share of tap-ins. He also can shimmy and shake his way through traffic deceptively and at top speed to score highlight reel goals. He’s a prospect to watch for the 2024 NHL draft.
If Tij and Jade’s father is any indication, who said “Things need to change,” and “We have to all work to try to improve the environment and the circle we are in,” when discussing racial equity, the Iginla family is going to make an impact on and off the ice for years to come.
Cayden Lindstrom, Medicine Hat, WHL
The towering 6-foot-5 forward is hard to miss in the WHL this season, as much for his skill as for his stature. Out of the gate, Lindstrom is off to a strong start in the WHL and has already claimed his spot as a player to watch for the 2024 NHL draft.
For his size, Lindstrom has deceptive hands and is a good skater. He can score from anywhere in the offensive zone with a quick and powerful release. He played for Canada White at the U-17 World Hockey Challenge and was one of the better players on the ice. Lindstrom is a fascinating player who has every tool to make the jump to pro hockey as his strength continues to grow.
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