The Coming Thing
by Andrew Fiorentino, RotoWire Writer
Woo, All-Star weekend! Anyone catch the AHL skills competition? I don't think there's a skill competition in any sport (okay, maybe the NBA) more boring than the pass-and-score challenge, in which three skaters go three-on-none against a goalie and have one shot to score. It sounds exciting until you see it.
For your viewing pleasure: the skills of Linus Klasen in the breakaway relay.
Corey Locke's domination of the AHL is absolutely ridiculous. His team succeeded two out of three times in the pass-and-score, thanks to him, and of course he put the puck in the net in the breakaway relay. He beat two legit goalie prospects in Mark Dekanich and Jake Allen, too. No surprise, though, as Locke has an AHL-leading 60 points, and would be running away with it if not for some time spent in the big leagues. Now going on 27, he appears to be, uh, locked in as a Quad-A guy, so he may as well set his eye on that AHL scoring record: 1,375 points, currently held by Willie Marshall. Locke's got 453, which is a good start.
The AHL All-Star game is tonight at 7:00 Eastern time. If you want to watch it, here's how. You'll get to see some big-time goalie prospects get lit up: Braden Holtby, Martin Jones, Allen and Dekanich. Some players to watch: Luke Adam, Bobby Butler, Johan Harju, Dustin Jeffrey, Kyle Palmieri, Rhett Rakhshani, Klasen, Brett MacLean, Linus Omark, Michal Repik, Sergei Shirokov and Brendan Smith.
Am I the only one who wished for Mats Zuccarello in the NHL breakaway challenge? Loved the flair from Alex Ovechkin and others, but we could have done better than Corey Perry and Evgeny Dadonov on the back end, although Perry did the lacrosse move nicely and Dadonov did nail his last one.
Lots of send-downs this week due to the All-Star break; I'm not going to write about guys who went to the AHL just for the break. Our focus here is on meaningful comings and goings, and there weren't many of them this week, so let's break with the format for a week and just discuss some interesting prospect names that haven't come up here yet.
Oskar Osala, LW, CAR - A fourth-round pick of the Capitals in '06, Osala was going nowhere in the Washington system, working on his second full season in the AHL and not doing much. Since being traded to the Hurricanes along with Brian Pothier in exchange for Joe Corvo, however, Osala has been an entirely different player, potting 10 goals in 16 games with Albany of the AHL last year and this season posting 40 points in 49 games with Charlotte. A big guy at 6-foot-4 and 217 pounds, the Finn struggled to adjust to the North American game, but signs are positive that he's figuring it out. He probably will never develop into a star, but he has speed and skill, and could provide size and scoring ability in a third- or fourth-line role. Carolina's deep with forward depth, however, so injuries will be the only way Osala sees NHL ice this year.
Kyle Beach, LW, CHI - A buzzy prospect before this season, Beach was taken 11th overall in 2008. Expected to use his size and talent to become a big-time power forward, he's sputtered at the AHL level this season, posting just 22 points in 44 games (along with 91 PIM), although he did put up nine points in nine games at the start of January (then went scoreless in the four games leading up to the break). At just 21 years old, Beach still has growing to do and the Blackhawks can afford to let him do it in the AHL. Like defensemen, power forwards can take time to develop; exercise patience.
Kirill Kabanov, LW, NYI - Perhaps the buzziest prospect to be taken outside of round 1 of this past draft, Kabanov is widely regarded as a kid with an elite skillset who's been held back by attitude and injury issues, including being left by his agent just three weeks before the draft. Have things improved? Well, he was traded from his original QMJHL team, the Moncton Wildcats, just two games into this season, to the Lewiston MAINEiacs, with whom he's recorded just five goals and 15 points in 21 games, hardly elite-level contributions. The upside for Kabanov is that he's just 18 years old and he has all the talent in the world, so he's got time to get right, but all the talk about his father's negative influence certainly hasn't been silenced by his play on the ice.
Eddie Lack, G, VAN - Lack has the poor fortune to be stuck behind two studs in Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider on the Vancouver goalie depth chart; on another team, he might be a starting goalie at the NHL level by now. Signed out of Sweden in the spring, Lack has dominated on American soil thus far, putting up a spectacular 1.98 GAA and .929 save percentage with Manitoba of the AHL. A big guy with long legs, "The Stork" could make an Anders Lindback-like splash if injuries open up a chance for him, but with Luongo locked in long-term and Schneider a budding star in his own right, Lack is going to need a trade to raise his value.
Evgeny Kuznetsov, RW, WAS - The Capitals' first-round pick in this past draft, Kuznetsov is an investment. He's made clear that he wants to play out his KHL contract with his hometown Traktor Chelyabinsk before making the jump to the NHL, but when he does finally come over, he's one of few guys who can make an Evgeni Malkin-like impact. Kuznetsov, just 18 years old, is second on his team in scoring - almost unheard of for a teenager in the Russian league. He was also dominant for Russia in the WJC, finishing second in tournament scoring with 11 points (his third time in double digits in an international tournament), including three assists in Russia's five-goal third period in the gold medal game.
Nazem Kadri, C, TOR - Between them, Kadri and Phil Kessel have what it takes to become an elite young point-scoring duo - Kadri, the outstanding and creative playmaker, feeding Kessel, the accomplished finisher. Kadri's first taste of the NHL didn't go too well, though: with no goals and six assists over 17 games, he failed to click with Kessel or anyone else in his time up with the Leafs. The AHL has been less of a problem, as Kadri has produced with consistency there this year, putting up a point per game over his 24 contests. After being drafted seventh overall in '09, Kadri had a spectacular final year of juniors, racking 93 points in 56 games as well as a ridiculous 27 points in 12 playoff games. Playing for Toronto is awful these days, but if any one prospect can help turn that franchise around, it's Kadri. I expect him to get an extended look in camp next year to form some real chemistry with Kessel and eventually break out as a star.
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 Jason Zucker of the University of Denver. Taken late in the second round by Minnesota, 59th overall, Zucker elected to go to college and showed off his electric scoring ability with a hat trick in his very first game, an exhibition outing against the U.S. Under-18 Team. His 17 goals have him 10th in the NCAA in that category and second in his conference, the WHCA. With his speed, work ethic and excellent, accurate shot, the Las Vegas native will make a great fit for the Wild when he eventually arrives in the NHL.
Our junior prospect of the week is Joey Hishon of the OHL's Owen Sound Attack. A guy who had a chance to be taken very early on, Hishon's draft stock fell due to an injury-shortened '09-'10 junior season that saw him put up a good, but not-too-special 40 points in 36 games. Still, the Avalanche used their first-round pick, 17th overall, this year, to take Hishon, and he's rewarded them by just crushing juniors. The 19-year-old has a ridiculous 66 points in 38 games, putting him seventh in OHL scoring despite everyone around him on that list having played between seven and 10 more games than him. The one knock on Hishon is his size (I like a prospect who lacks ideal size? No way!), but his great hands, sweet shot and high-energy style of play lend themselves well to future NHL success.
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.