Well, here come the junior playoffs. The OHL and QMJHL playoffs start on Thursday, and the WHL playoffs on Friday. Excitement? You bet! Intrigue? Heck yes! A lot of prospects can make their names in these playoffs, improving their draft stock or at the very least showing their potential for next year, so it's always interesting to keep track of the results. Anyway, let's move on to the progress reports on the final 10 first-round prospects from the 2010 NHL draft.
21. Riley Sheahan, C, DET - Five goals and 20 points in 37 games as a sophomore at Notre Dame - just a three-point improvement over last year, and actually a goal short of his freshman performance. Not the development the Wings were hoping to see from the power forward prospect.
22. Jarred Tinordi, D, MON - One goal and 14 points in 63 games with London of the OHL. A huge kid at 6-7 and a defensive presence, but almost no offensive ability, not even the upside of a Dylan McIlrath. Not much fantasy value to be found here.
23. Mark Pysyk, D, BUF - Six goals and 40 points in 63 games with WHL Edmonton - a nice improvement over last year's 24 in 48, but hardly dominant. Still has some filling out to do; I see a couple seasons in the AHL in his future. Puck skills and leadership will get him to the NHL eventually.
24. Kevin Hayes, RW, CHI - Unremarkable four goals and 13 points in 30 games as a freshman at Boston College. This pick was a reach and the players taken after him make it look particularly bad. If you like pedigree, though, he's cousins with Keith Tkachuk.
25. Quinton Howden, LW, FLA - 40 goals and 79 points in 60 games; showing good development with Moose Jaw of the WHL. Named team MVP. Five points in seven games in the WJC. If the 2010 draft was held again today, I'd expect him to go in the top 20.
26. Evgeny Kuznetsov, C, WAS - What's with the league letting the Caps get away with highway robbery drafting these Russian players? The 18-year-old Kuznetsov may end up being the best player to come out of this draft. His 17 goals and 32 points in the KHL are better than Alex Ovechkin's numbers in his 18- and 19-year-old seasons in Russia. He also tied with Vladimir Tarasenko for second in WJC scoring with 11 points. That's why he's rocketed up to No. 4 on the RotoWire Top 100 NHL Prospects.
27. Mark Visentin, G, PHO - He's flown under the radar a bit, but Visentin has had a terrific development year with Niagara of the OHL, posting NHL-like numbers: .917 save percentage, 2.52 GAA - he's second in the league in both categories. You don't see numbers like that from goalies in juniors too often. He also played exceptionally in the WJC except for the third period of the gold medal game - overall, .923 save percentage in the tournament.
28. Charlie Coyle, RW, SAN - Seven goals, 26 points in 37 games make for a successful freshman year at BU. Also six points in six games in the WJC. He's raised his stock tremendously and is a player to watch for a major breakout next year.
29. Emerson Etem, RW, ANA - How about 45 goals and 80 points in 65 games? Who says Californians can't play hockey? Just one point in six WJC games doesn't look very good, though. Also hates Buffalo. Not really relevant, just funny.
30. Brock Nelson, C, NYI - Seven goals and 19 points in 39 games as a freshman at North Dakota; one point in five WJC games. You could ask for more from him as a guy who's an older freshman at 19 years old. There were plenty of kids taken in rounds two and three who I'd grab over Nelson. Still, not a terrible freshman performance and we'll see if he builds on it.
Not a lot of notable prospects moved around last week, but here are the ones who did.
Nazem Kadri, C, TOR - We all know the resume: seventh overall pick in '09, 93-point junior season in '09-'10, 41 in 44 in the AHL this year. Just eight points in 21 NHL games thus far, but he just had arguably his best game yet on Saturday against Boston, scoring his first NHL goal (a fluky one that had to be video reviewed, but he'll take it) and adding an assist. There's a perception that Kadri is overhyped because he's on the Leafs, but there's a lot to love about his game. Four more NHL games and he'll graduate from our prospect list, where he occupies the No. 3 spot.
Aaron Palushaj, RW, MON - Palushaj was a terrific playmaker in college, but didn't carry that ability over to the pro ranks, at least initially, earning himself a ticket out of the Blues organization and over to Montreal. He's looked much better this year, though, tallying 44 points in 57 AHL games and earning himself an injury-replacement call-up. In three games since being called up, he's got no points on three shots while averaging 8:31 of ice time. Hard to say where the 2007 second-round pick's development is heading; I'm not convinced he has top-six skills right now.
Erik Gustafsson, D, PHI - Called up and sent down was Gustafsson, who got into three games with the Flyers and went scoreless. Thirty-six points in 59 AHL games show a flash of the undrafted Swede's offensive potential, and Peter Laviolette wasn't shy about deploying him in big moments while he was up, so the Flyers clearly have confidence in his defensive game as well.
T.J. Hensick, C, STL - At least he ended this NHL stint on a high note, scoring his first goal of the year on Saturday before being sent down. It's not good that Hensick still can't stick on a big-league roster, though.
Braden Holtby, G, WAS - Holtby's been a bit rough in his two outings since being returned to the AHL, giving up eight goals, but his overall numbers in both the AHL and NHL this year are nothing short of spectacular. Washington is flush with young, talented goalies, and with Semyon Varlamov finally healthy again, Holtby didn't have a spot. He'll be back. With a vengeance.
Justin DiBenedetto, LW, NYI - After managing just a lone point in eight NHL games, DiBenedetto was sent packing back to the AHL. He's picked up where he'd left off in Bridgeport, tallying a couple goals and an assist in four games. His long-term outlook is still brighter than ever.
Jim O'Brien, C, OTT - The 2007 first-rounder did little to distinguish himself in college or juniors, but he's just 22 and finally putting together credible results in the pros, picking up 20 goals and 47 points through 64 AHL games. He was pointless in six with the Sens before being sent down. O'Brien's ceiling is quite high if he can continue to develop into the power forward that Ottawa was hoping for when it took him 29th overall.
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 Reilly Smith, a right wing with Miami of Ohio and a third-round pick by the Stars in '09. After an okay freshman year (20 points in 44 games, a decent debut for a kid, but nothing to write home about), Smith has blown up as a sophomore, racking up 28 goals (tied for fourth-best among college players) and 54 points (sixth-best). He's certainly improved his stock dramatically as he's filled out his six-foot frame a bit and earned a reputation as a guy who never takes a shift off. Hardworking players with high-end talent like Smith's tend to succeed in the NHL, so he's certainly one to watch.
Our junior prospect of the week is Peter Holland of the OHL's Guelph Storm, a first-round pick (15th overall) by the Ducks in '09. Now 20 years old, Holland has scored 88 points in 67 games this season, including 37 goals. That's nice, but you would have liked to see him build on his previous season, which he really hasn't done - actually scoring at a marginally lower pace than last year. Usually, top-end talents like Holland are supposed to blow the competition away in their final junior seasons. Still, his combination of size, finishing ability and physicality make him a fine prospect, and with that first-round pedigree, he's going to get every chance to advance through Anaheim's organization.
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.