The Coming Thing
by Andrew Fiorentino, RotoWire Writer
We start this week with a discussion of perhaps my favorite prospect, Brayden Schenn. RotoWire reader Michael O. emailed me asking for some words on Schenn, and I'm only too happy to oblige.
So here it is: As far as I'm concerned, Brayden Schenn is the best forward prospect out of everyone in juniors, the AHL, college - anywhere. (I'm not counting unsigned/undrafted players here.) No, his second taste of the NHL, playing mostly on the depth lines (he averaged 11:15 of ice time), didn't go so well. That's alright; the kid doesn't turn 20 until August. Schenn has an unusual distinction this year, particularly for such a top prospect: If you count Team Canada in the WJC, he's played for five different teams this season - the Kings, their AHL team in Manchester (seven games, seven points), the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL (two games, four points) and now his hometown Saskatoon Blades of the WHL, where he's been flat-out dominant with 17 points in just eight games.
Schenn isn't particularly big, but he's got speed, a great shot, fantastic passing ability, and the ability to light opposing players up all over the ice. He's the complete package and the single most exciting young player for the Kings, a team that seems to be knee-deep in jaw-dropping prospects. The kid isn't afraid to mix it up with hits and fights, and he certainly isn't afraid to score, putting up better than a point per game in every season of juniors and absolutely destroying the WJC, putting up an MVP-garnering, national record-tying 18 points in the seven-game tournament. He's got hockey in his blood, too - older brother Luke is a fine young defenseman for the Leafs.
Schenn should return to pro hockey after the junior season is over, so he'll probably see a little more NHL action this year, but not very much. Next year is when things get interesting, as the Kings don't have a true No. 2 center (Jarret Stoll? Gimme a break) and Schenn has all the talent to take the job and run with it. Assuming he can stay healthy - he suffered a shoulder injury in the WJC, which didn't seem to affect him then, but kept him out for a couple weeks after - this kid is going to make a major impact in the NHL next year.
We move on to your regularly scheduled programming.
Eric Tangradi, LW, PIT - Tangradi is a big guy, a classic power forward with offensive skill, and the Pens have called on him for the second time this year thanks to a rash of injuries. He's done well, if not spectacularly, in the AHL, putting up 32 points in 42 games, but didn't carry that offensive ability over very much in his first NHL stint this year and hasn't gotten much of a chance to do it since returning either, as he's only seen about 26 minutes of ice time spread out over three games. Still, it would be nice to see him do a little more than absolutely nothing with that ice time; he's got no points, one shot and just three hits in those three games. Tangradi will be an NHL regular one day, but today is not that day.
John Moore, D, CLM - Considered one of the game's better offensive defense prospects, Moore hasn't flashed a ton of skill at AHL Springfield this year, collecting just three goals and 18 points over 47 games. He's the complete package as defenders go, though, a big guy who sees the ice well with plus passing and shooting ability. His NHL debut wasn't anything to write home about - 12 minutes, minus-1, a hit, a blocked shot - but Moore is just 20 and has a long way to go. By the time he's 25, he could be one of the biggest names on the blue line in the entire league.
Zach Boychuk, C, CAR - Well, look who's back. I've written enough about Boychuk, so let's not rehash old things too much. Everything I wrote before is still true. Boychuk got 16 minutes of ice time in his first game back with the ‘Canes, but that dropped to less than seven minutes the next game. He's not going to be fantasy-relevant without consistent ice time, and if he's not going to see consistent ice time in the NHL, he may as well go back to his first-line minutes in the AHL, where he's rocked the house to the tune of 39 points in 33 games.
Zach Hamill, C, BOS - Hamill's always been more of a playmaker than a scorer, but this season has been a bit ridiculous - just three goals (and 25 assists) in 44 games. The eighth overall pick in '07 after a 93-point junior season, Hamill has just not developed the way the Bruins hoped he would. He is fast, which helps him as a smaller player, but he's not very strong, and that's going to make the NHL very hard for him. The bright side for Hamill is that he's still only 22, so he has time to work at it and develop a game that plays in the big leagues, but he looks like a complementary player, not a top-six guy.
Lee Sweatt, D, VAN - I don't know why I love Sweatt so much, but I do. Horribly undersized for a defenseman at 5-8, the undrafted Sweatt played in Finland, Austria and Russia before being signed by Vancouver. Barely a prospect at 25, he's aiming for that Brian Rafalski-style undersized-undrafted-free-agent-defenseman-plays-in-the-Finnish-league-then-comes-to-the-NHL-and-becomes-a-star career path, and he even got off to a good start with it, potting a game-winning goal and adding an assist and a plus-4 rating in his three NHL games. Unfortunately, the blue line is crowded for the Canucks, and with guys getting healthy, Sweatt was sent back to the minors. He's not exactly having a barn-burning season with Manitoba - five goals and nine assists in 41 games - but as a guy with offensive talent who's very responsible in his own end, he could be a Kevin Bieksa type for Vancouver, scoring just enough points to be fantasy-relevant with a significant contribution to your plus-minus.
Alex Stalock, G, SAN - Stalock saw half a game of action in relief of Antti Niemi last week, stopping all nine shots that came his way as a suddenly energized Sharks team roared back from a 3-0 deficit with five unanswered goals to get the kid a win in his NHL debut. One of the more highly regarded, yet somehow simultaneously under-the-radar goaltending prospects in the game, Stalock hasn't broken out at the AHL level yet - that .907 save percentage in the minors isn't impressing anyone - but he's young for a goalie yet at 23 and will have time to develop with Niemi holding the starter's role down for the foreseeable future.
Evgeny Grachev, C, NYR - Grachev only got into two games with the Rangers before everyone got healthy all of a sudden and pushed him off the depth chart - not that he did much to make the decision difficult, as he's scoreless in eight NHL games this year, mostly playing on the fourth line. Back in the AHL, he's continued to be enigmatic, posting a two-assist game sandwiched among three scoreless efforts.
Cody Almond, C, MIN; Justin Falk, D, MIN - Here today, gone tomorrow - or, actually, if we want to be precise, here the day before yesterday, gone yesterday. Falk and Almond get grouped together because the Wild called them up together and sent them down the next day together. So it goes. At least they get to have some company on the plane ride. Almond is a big center with the potential to turn into a useful power forward, but for now, he's been less than impressive in the AHL, scoring 10 goals and 22 points in 46 games. Falk is a little more interesting for NHL purposes as a rather huge defenseman at 6-foot-5, but that doesn't do so much for fantasy, as he's shown almost no scoring ability.
Alexander Urbom, D, NJD - A big, strong defensive defenseman, Urbom does have a 12-goal WHL campaign to his credit, which is pretty much the only thing that gets him into this article. With one goal and 13 assists in 42 AHL games and seven scoreless with New Jersey, Urbom's got a long way to go. The upside is that he's just 20 years old and when guys with size develop good defensive responsibility that young, the offense can come eventually. Just don't count on it for a few years.
Colton Sceviour, RW, DAL - A minor prospect, Sceviour got his first taste of NHL action for one scoreless game last week. He hasn't distinguished himself in the minors, following up last year's 31-point AHL campaign with 25 in 47 this season - an improvement in rate, at least. Not blessed with remarkable size or talent, he does have a hard shot and the ability to forecheck and backcheck effectively, giving him potential to be a solid depth player at the NHL level. Think of a not-quite-as-talented Brenden Morrow.
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 senior Matt Frattin of the University of North Dakota. A fourth-round selection by the Maple Leafs in '07, Frattin has played out all four years of his eligibility in college, but really only broke out as a senior. His 21 goals are good for a tie for fourth-best in all the NCAA and he's scoring at a point-per-game pace for the first time in his college career. His skating is a question mark and guys who break out as seniors usually aren't ticketed for big-time NHL success, but Frattin has a good shot and could succeed in the big leagues in an energy role with the ability to contribute on both the power play and penalty kill.
Our junior prospect of the week is Jordan Weal of the WHL's Regina Pats, a third-round pick of the Kings in this past draft. Honestly, I'm not trying to focus on Kings prospects here; this just keeps happening. An itty-bitty little center at just 5-9, 165, Weal certainly plays big enough, as evidenced by last year's 102-point campaign and this season's 70 points (28 goals, 42 assists) in 53 contests. He certainly has the talent and the willingness to battle for the puck in the dirty areas, as well as the ability to finish. If the 18-year-old can add an inch or two and 20 pounds of muscle, you're looking at a top-six-quality NHL player on a team that's going to start looking absolutely stacked over the next couple of years. Weal plays center right now, but he seems more likely to end up on a wing in the NHL due to the spectacular organizational talent ahead of him in Los Angeles - Anze Kopitar, Schenn and Andrei Loktionov.
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.