The Coming Thing
by Andrew Fiorentino, RotoWire Writer
I've been watching a lot of "The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr." lately. If you've never heard of it - and most people haven't - it's a relatively short-lived sci-fi-ish Western starring Bruce Campbell as the titular character, a bounty hunter (with a Harvard Law degree) who's been hired by a group of robber barons to track down and arrest the gang that was responsible for the death of his father.
Besides seeking revenge and justice, Brisco remarks in several episodes that he's also returned to the West in search of what he calls "the coming thing." Since the show's set in 1893, there are a lot of potential "coming things" - the diesel engine, motorcycles and the ubiquity of automobiles, for example.
In fantasy, we're always looking for the coming thing, too. Riding around the West is a bit of a drag, though, so instead we pore over stats from the OHL, the QMJHL, the Swedish Elitserien, looking for that guy no one knows about yet who's going to push our teams over the top. Sergei Bobrovsky, Anders Lindback, Jeff Skinner, Derek Stepan - these guys and many more have made a real impact this season both in fantasy and reality.
If you didn't get in on them, don't worry; there are plenty more coming things to come. In fact, some of them are already here.
Linus Klasen, LW, NAS - Klasen made his NHL debut Oct. 30 for one game, then returned to the NHL the day after Christmas. He's only 5-foot-8 and scoreless in four games, but his other numbers - a point per game in the SEL last season and no trouble adjusting to the North American game with 15 goals and 27 points in 29 games in the AHL this year - point to plentiful scoring ability. Check out this goal from 2008. He was 20 years old then, but he wasn't playing in a junior league - the SEL is a professional league, full of veterans and not a few former NHL players. Look at the speed through the zone, the moves, then the quick flick shot - Martin St. Louis couldn't have done it better himself.
Mats Zuccarello, RW, NYR - Like Klasen, Zuccarello is short and hails from the Swedish league. The 23-year-old, a Norwegian with Italian ancestry, put up 104 points in 90 games over the last two years in the SEL, including a league-leading 64 points last season. Then the Rangers signed him and stuck him in the AHL to ease his transition to the smaller rink and the more physical play. He struggled initially, putting up just two points in his first 12 games, but after about a month, Zuccarello adjusted and piled up 23 points in his next 21 outings - good for a call-up to the NHL, where so far he's got an assist and a sweet game-saving shootout goal in five games. There's room for the Norwegian Hobbit Wizard to move up into the Rangers' top six.
Zac Dalpe, C, CAR - Dalpe made the Opening Day roster for the 'Canes, but was returned to the Charlotte of the AHL after picking up just an assist in seven games. The former Ohio State star thrived in the minors, racking up 23 points in 23 games - good enough to get him back in the big leagues on New Year's Day, when he scored this vicious goal that turned out to be the game-winner. Unlike our SEL stars, Dalpe has size (he's 6-1 and will likely fill out with some more weight) and pedigree (as a second-round draft pick), and he's going to do a ton of scoring in the NHL.
Vladimir Zharkov, RW, NJD - This being the Devils, we've got to lower our standards for "the coming thing" a little bit. Zharkov is a spectacularly fast skater with good hands, a good shot and some grit, but the offensive numbers have never quite been there - not in the KHL, not in the AHL and not last year in the NHL. On the bright side, Zharkov did hold his own in the NHL last year at age 21, and two years ago in his North American debut, he put up a very shiny plus-23 rating with the Lowell Devils of the AHL despite a middling 34 points in 69 games. The talent is there; the conversion rate hasn't been. If he can find a way to turn his skill into goals - and I think he can - he could be just the coming thing that the Devils need.
Nathan Lawson, G, NYI - With Dwayne Roloson dealt to Tampa Bay, Lawson has returned to the NHL and become the backup to Rick DiPietro seemingly by default. The 27-year-old undrafted netminder starred in the AHL the past two years, posting save percentages in the .920s, but has had a horrendous season so far this year, sporting a gag-worthy 3.49 GAA and .898 save percentage. That said, he had a credible NHL debut back on Dec. 18 against Phoenix, stopping 32 of 35 shots in regulation and OT before allowing goals on all three shootout attempts. Lawson is in a tough spot - Rick DiPietro is the present and still has seventy years or so left on his contract - and he was pushed aside by rookie phenom Kevin Poulin in the AHL, so it's safe to say that Lawson isn't the coming thing, but that doesn't mean you can't roll him out if you're desperate in goal in deep leagues.
Dale Weise, RW, NYR - Weise is an energy player cut from the mold of another Ranger, Ryan Callahan, another fourth-round pick who has been able to make good on hard work and a little bit of a scoring touch. Weise scored 28 goals for Hartford of the AHL last year and had 12 points in 16 games there this season after returning from an early injury. He's scoreless in three games in the NHL, although he had what seemed like a perfectly good goal disallowed - famously followed by this unfortunate accident. He has the skill and work ethic to make his temporary stay in place of Erik Christensen into a permanent one - if he sticks, at the very least he may be the coming thing in the PIM category.
Brett MacLean, LW, PHO - MacLean has had a very successful NHL career so far - one game, one goal, and it was the game-winner Dec. 29 against Los Angeles. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to keep him in the big leagues. Nonetheless, MacLean is a major talent - a two-time 100-point scorer in juniors including a 61-goal, 119-point season in '07-'08, a 30-goal scorer last year in the AHL, 31 points in 34 AHL games this year - and just turned 22 on Christmas Eve. He's probably one of the top five talents in the AHL right now. In short, he's the coming thing and a must-own in any keeper or dynasty league.
Linus Omark, LW, EDM - Omark is the rare hockey prospect to become semi-famous in his first game, thanks to this shootout winner that, for some ridiculous reason, angered the Tampa Bay Lightning because, um, apparently you're not supposed to put your best move on in the shootout? Either way, Omark impressed in his eight-game stint in the NHL, putting up five points and justifying a certain fantasy hockey writer's glowing words. For now, he's in the AHL, where he's racked up 31 points in 28 games. Like Klasen and Zuccarello, he's quite small, but his offensive talent is sky-high.
Andrew Gordon, RW, WAS - Gordon is well on his way to a reputation as a career AHLer, which is a shame. Just recently (mid-December) turned 25, Gordon has rocked the AHL this season, putting up 34 points in 29 games, and is coming off a 71-point campaign there last year. He's not super-flashy and he's always been behind the eight ball as a former seventh-round pick, but he has some speed, good hands and the ability to finish around the net - all on display in his first NHL goal. He's also a loving teammate. Gordon managed two points in eight NHL games this year before being sent down and missing the Winter Classic, but he'll be back and could eventually work his way into a steady role as another Ryan Callahan-type player.
Cedrick Desjardins, G, TAM - Desjardins was fantastic in winning his first two NHL games, allowing just one goal in each for a save percentage of .968, and was rewarded with a trip back to the AHL after the Bolts acquired Dwayne Roloson. Desjardins, undrafted after four not-so-impressive seasons of junior hockey, has had a very good AHL career, although this season he's managed just a .900 save percentage to go with a 12-5-1 record. A few short days ago, he looked like he could be the coming thing; now, back in the minors with two solid veterans ahead of him and prospect Dustin Tokarski coming up from behind, Desjardins might not end up being any sort of thing at all.
By the way, hello, everybody. I'm going to be writing about hockey prospects for RotoWire, so if you've got any questions, comments or concerns about the coming thing, send 'em my way.