The Coming Thing
by Andrew Fiorentino, RotoWire Writer
Possible No. 1 overall picks Sean Couturier and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins faced off in the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game last week, and the 17-year-old Nugent-Hopkins got the best of it, posting two assists and being named player of the game.
Nugent-Hopkins is in the midst of a tremendous second full junior season, showcasing his elite speed and playmaking ability with 60 points in 46 games - although he has just 13 goals, a low figure for a top prospect.
Couturier, 18, known as a two-way player with elite offensive ability, has 65 points in 39 games with Drummondville of the QMJHL. He was the captain of the losing team in the Top Prospects Game, but we won't hold that against him.
Gabriel Landeskog, considered another candidate for the top selection, has piled up 45 points, including 25 goals, in 32 games. He's missed time - including the Top Prospects Game - with injury. If the 2011 NHL Draft happened today, who would you take first? The current pick order would be Devils- Oilers-Isles, but it's close.
Braden Holtby, another call-up from this week who I couldn't squeeze into this article, gets a go at the Rangers tonight. His horrible season numbers in the NHL (.897 save percentage in seven games) mask the fact that he's been awful effective in outings against the admittedly horrendous Islanders and Leafs since being called back up with both Semyon Varlamov and Michael Neuvirth hurting. His AHL numbers, meanwhile - spectacular. In 18 games, he has a Tim Thomas-like 1.82 GAA and .937 save percentage.
There were a lot of notable call-ups, but not a lot of notable send-downs, this week. So it goes.
Jacob Markstrom, G, FLA - The soon-to-be-21-year-old Markstrom made his NHL debut Sunday in relief of Scott Clemmensen and stopped 12 of 14 shots in a loss to the Devils. One of the most highly regarded goaltending prospects in the game, Markstrom has actually had a less-than-inspiring year with Rochester of the AHL, going 13-91-1 with a 3.14 GAA and .902 save percentage, but he was called upon to assume the backup role while Tomas Vokoun (undisclosed) is out. Markstrom, the first pick of the second round in '08, put up sparkling numbers as a teenager in the Swedish Elite League the past two years. He's got a world of potential, but he's clearly not ready for prime time. Vokoun's name has come up in trade rumors; if he goes, Clemmensen will start for Florida and Markstrom may back him up for the remainder of the season. I'm not sure if that would help or hinder his development.
T.J. Galiardi, LW, COL - Galiardi had a promising first season as a pro last year, posting 39 points in 70 games as a 21-year-old, but slumped to just 13 in 29 this year, prompting a send-down to the AHL to get his game together. As fate would have it, however, Tomas Fleischmann came down with a pulmonary embolism, so Galiardi played just one AHL game (and got an assist!) before being promoted back. Despite these struggles, Galiardi is a very promising offensive talent. It's questionable what he'll contribute this year, but he makes a great name to file away for next year's drafts.
Marc-Andre Gragnani, D, BUF - Gragnani has now played in nine NHL games (three this year) without a point, so on the surface, the 23-year-old defenseman (less than two months away from turning 24) doesn't look like a great fantasy player. The good news, however, is that he should develop into one. Gragnani has been stuck on the bus between the AHL and NHL since the 2007 season. That year, he scored 52 points (with 14 goals) as a 20-year-old in the AHL, and he's continued to produce right up ‘til today, as he's ripped off an impressive 30 points in 38 minor league games this year. He has the size and the talent to contribute to an NHL power play and put up points. It's always been hard to stick on the Sabres' blue line, but there are weaknesses there now, and if Gragnani gets his shot, he could help a lot of fantasy teams this year.
Andrei Loktionov, C, LOS - Loktionov surprisingly made the Kings out of camp, scored two points in seven games, and ended up back in the AHL, where he showed off his impressive playmaking skills to the tune of 31 points in 31 games. Promoted back up with the injury to Marco Sturm, Loktionov has gone scoreless in his first two games back, but he's skating major minutes (including on the power play). Just 20 years old and a little undersized, Loktionov has some maturing to do yet, but he's the kind of guy who, if he can get going, has the capability and opportunity to put up fantasy-relevant points this year.
Nick Leddy, D, CHI - The 19-year-old Leddy, picked No. 16 overall in this past draft, is already entering his third stint with the Blackhawks this year, picking up a goal in 13 games - in fact, he's been sent down and called up since my last column. A bit undersized, Leddy still has the strength to play a physical game and the offensive ability to put up some points, but at his age, he has no business being on an NHL roster. Leddy is a terrific prospect, but not the sort of hockey prodigy who should be playing on the blue line on the NHL level as a teenager.
Bobby Butler, RW, OTT - Butler's been called up, sent down and called up again over the last week. Still scoreless at the NHL level, Butler's production in the AHL has fallen off dramatically from its early-season levels, a decline that coincides with the roster rollercoaster he's been riding. Butler still has 19 goals in 41 AHL games, but just 30 total points, and he's got nothing to show for seven games with the big boys. On the bright side, he got a lot of run in his last game pre-demotion and managed six shots on goal, and with the Sens buried deep in the cellar, a veteran sell-off could be coming, meaning Butler may have a line on some more meaningful playing time.
Michael Del Zotto, D, NYR - Del Zotto responded very well to his send-down to the AHL, showing the ability on offense that he's lacked for the Rangers this year by picking up seven assists in eight games. Now, with Dan Girardi's ribs hurting, Del Zotto gets a chance to come back and earn his way back into John Tortorella's good graces. To do that, he's going to have to play responsibly on defense and contribute on the power play. If his lesson has been learned, Del Zotto has the ability to be a fantasy force in the second half.
Evgeny Grachev, C, NYR - Grachev is still trading on his 40-goal, 80-point OHL season, as far as prospect status goes. He managed just 28 points in a full season at the AHL level last year and hasn't improved dramatically this year, with 18 points in 40 games. Nonetheless, he's back with the beat-up Rangers for the second time this year as they look for some talent to contribute on the back end. The 20-year-old Grachev has the build and skill to become a big-time power forward one day, but he hasn't realized that potential even in the minors yet.
Paul Byron, C, BUF - The Sabres seem to have no end of young players to plug in. Byron, called up from the AHL after a credible, if not impressive, 31 points in 43 games, had an assist in his NHL debut. Absolutely tiny at 5-9 and 170 pounds, Byron has a 99-point junior season under his belt (as well as a 32-point playoff performance the season before) and has put on some muscle over the past year, but he's no Tyler Ennis. Lindy Ruff likes to roll four lines, though, so Byron will have a chance to contribute if he can stick.
Timo Pielmeier, G, ANA - Pielmeier was called up to back up Jonas Hiller with Curtis McElhinney's wife going into labor. A third-round pick by San Jose in '07, he hasn't had a very good AHL season, going 10-12-1 with a 3.25 GAA and .904 save percentage, but he's just 21 and still could develop. He's unlikely to see much, if any, time on the ice right now.
Kyle Wilson, C, CLM - I carried Wilson on my roster in a (very) deep league for a couple extended periods of time this year, hoping that his occasional offensive outbursts would become more regular, as they have been in his four (four!) seasons at the AHL level. Unfortunately, no. Wilson, now 26 years old and not a prospect anymore, posted 11 points in 33 games with Columbus and, of course, has four points in two games since being sent down. Here's a Quad-A player for you.
Marcel Mueller, LW, TOR - I had high hopes for Mueller before this season started, as he put up an impressive 56 points in 53 games playing pro hockey in Germany last season before being signed by Toronto in the offseason. Unable to break camp with the big team, Mueller has underwhelmed even at the AHL level, scoring just 22 points in 41 games. Still, he's just 22, he has size and offensive ability, and the entire Toronto organization seems to be allergic to scoring for the past couple years, so there's still potential for Mueller to make good on his talent.
Zach Boychuk, LW, CAR - There's still plenty to love about Boychuk despite his demotion back to the AHL. He's chipped in with only five points in his 16 games with the big team this year, but Boychuk's pedigree (as a first-round pick) and ability (as a first-rate scorer) are without question. He's responded to his demotion as you'd expect: with production, scoring goals in each of his first three games back in the minors, including a hat trick Sunday. The kid's gonna be alright.
The Future to Come
Every week in this space, I'll feature one college player and one junior player who are making their mark.
This week's college prospect is freshman forward Charlie Coyle of Boston University. Coyle, taken out of Thayer Academy, the high school that has produced Jeremy Roenick, Ryan Whitney, Brooks Orpik and Mike Mottau, was drafted in the first round (28th overall) by the Sharks this year and headed to BU, where he's has a very impressive freshman season, scoring 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) in 22 games. As I noted last week with T.J. Tynan, that kind of production from a kid playing against older competition is quite rare. Coyle has the size (he's already 6-2, 202 at just 18 years old) and skill to become a truly outstanding NHL power forward. I expect him to travel a route to the majors similar to that of Derek Stepan; another year in college, and if he's dominant, NHL time. I recently dealt Coyle along with a draft pick for Milan Hejduk to gear up for a playoff run in my main dynasty league, and despite the necessity of the move, I miss him already.
Our junior prospect of the week is Linden Vey of the WHL's Medicine Hat Tigers. Vey, a 19-year-old right wing, is yet another great prospect for the Los Angeles Kings. A fourth-round selection in '09, he's in the midst of an enormous year in juniors, putting up 31 goals and 79 points in 44 games. Vey has terrific offensive ability and still time to grow into some more height and muscle, although he could probably play in the NHL at his current size (6-0, 161). A gritty player with leadership ability, terrific on-ice vision and a good shot, Vey scored at a point-per-game pace the last two years before this season's big breakout.
If you have any players you'd like me to discuss in next week's column, please direct all inquiries here, or feel free to discuss them in the comments.