It's great in some ways to see even your favorite prospects get sent back to juniors. These kids have all the upside in the world, and some of them are NHL-ready, but for reasons often financial, they get sent packing back to the junior teams where they made their mark. It may be hard to see them go, but you know it's good for their development.
After an NHL training camp and a handful of regular-season games, these kids who were already the best of the best get to take the experience they've earned in the pros and apply it to regular-season meetings against the Kitchener Rangers before they're tasked with doing so against the New York Rangers. As a result, the most promising such prospects tend to explode statistically against the now even-more-inferior competition. It may not be quite fair, but it sure is fun to watch.
Sometimes, as in the case of Brandon Saad, it means the kid really gets it. Saad looked promising last year, but he only put up 55 points in 59 games at 18 years old in his first OHL season. The Blackhawks saw something they liked, enough to take him in the second round, 43rd overall, and they gave him two games of NHL experience before sending him back to juniors. The result? Saad has been on a tear, racking up 13 points (eight goals, five assists) in just five games. Fellow top-pick send-downs Ryan Murphy and Ryan Strome haven't been as quick to get it going - perhaps not coincidentally because they never saw that real game action.
Brayden Schenn, C, PHI - One year after playing nine games and being sent down by the Kings, Brayden Schenn is the picture of what you want from your prospects after a taste of the NHL. Schenn rocked junior hockey for 53 points in 27 games, picked up seven in seven in the AHL, and started off this year by ripping off four goals and four assists in four games, enough to earn him a call-up to the big team. My love for Schenn is well documented - his only flaw is that he now plays for the hated Flyers. Schenn struggled a bit in his first game, going minus-3, but came back with a strong second game on Saturday. He went scoreless, but played serious minutes, broke even in plus-minus, and put four shots on goal. Never afraid to mix it up, Schenn also has nine hits in two games. The points? The points will come. In bunches. Schenn faced big brother Luke Monday in Philadelphia.
Nazem Kadri, C, TOR - Another of my favorite prospects, Kadri started this season out behind the eight ball thanks to a knee injury that he picked up in training camp, so despite being on the AHL Marlies' roster, he didn't play at all until his call-up. Kadri showed real NHL ability down the stretch for the Leafs last year, and the early reports out of camp before he got hurt were exceedingly positive. Unsurprisingly, he's been thrust into a major role right off the bat, totaling more than four minutes of power-play time in his first two games back. He hasn't produced anything with the man advantage yet, but he does have an even-strength assist - a very nice one, as he created his own shot, collected the rebound, and fed it to Dave Steckel for the goal.
Adam Henrique, C, NJD - Opportunity has knocked once more for Henrique, as Jacob Josefson broke his clavicle, suddenly making room on the Devils' roster. He was thrust right back into a major role, too, skating more than 15 minutes in his return Saturday against the Pens. I'm not altogether convinced of Henrique's ability to contribute much offensively in the NHL right now, but he should be good for leagues with stats like hits and blocked shots.
Justin Braun, D, SJ - Braun, a very solid college defenseman at UMass Amherst, split a year of solid work between AHL Worcester and the Sharks last year, earning 23 points in 34 games in the minors and 11 in 28 with San Jose. Now he's back, as Todd McClellan is trying to shake things up on the blue line. Braun skated 14:47 in his season debut Saturday at Boston, 44 seconds of that on the power play, but didn't record a shot. That's not much to go on, but Braun has room to carve out a bigger role for himself if he can be more active offensively.
Andy Miele, C, PHO - All that Miele, an undrafted free agent whom the Coyotes list at a generous 5-9 and 180, had to do to get to the NHL was lead all college skaters in points with 71 (11 more than the next-highest total) in just 39 games as a senior at Miami of Ohio, win the Hobey Baker Award, and notch seven points in four AHL games. Okay, the Coyotes were forced to say. We're convinced. Miele skated only 6:21 in Sunday's win over Anaheim, but it was an active 6:21 - 46 seconds of that was power-play time, and he picked up a hit, took a shot on goal, and was stuck with a hooking penalty. Miele's got high-end skill and he wasn't called up to play on the fourth line with Raffi Torres, so look for his minutes to increase.
John Moore, D, CLM - Moore was a hot prospect coming into last season, having been taken 21st overall in the 2009 draft and then going ahead and picking up a fine 47 points in 61 games for the OHL's Kitchener Rangers. Things didn't go so well last year, though, as he struggled mightily with AHL Springfield, putting up only 24 points in 73 games and going a horrific minus-27. Things haven't looked dramatically better so far this season, as he put up two points and a minus-2 in five games for Springfield before “earning” the call-up thanks to injuries on the Columbus blue line. Moore skated only 9:35 in his season debut, demonstrating the minimal trust that coach Scott Arniel has in him, and is really going to have to elevate his game to regain his top-prospect status. The good news: He's still not yet 21 years old.
Benn Ferriero, RW, SJ - Ferriero showed some offensive ability in last year's 33-game stint with the Sharks, but started this year with AHL Worcester, where he'd played for most of the last two seasons. He'd looked good in a tiny two-game sample to open the year, scoring two goals and an assist, and got called up for this past weekend's games - making an immediate impact by scoring the game-winning goal in his second game, Saturday in his hometown of Boston. Even better, he played 14:02 in that game after skating just 9:25 the day before. There's certainly deeper-league upside here.
Jordan Caron, RW, BOS - Another former first-rounder, Caron was snagged by the Bruins at No. 25 overall two years ago on the back end of a good-but-not-spectacular career with Rimouski Oceanic of the QMJHL. Thrust right into NHL action last season, he played mediocre depth-line hockey for Boston through the first two months of the season before being sent down for AHL seasoning. His AHL results were better, but with 28 points in 47 games, he didn't show himself to be someone worth writing home about. After a pointless first four, he was sent down to the AHL last week, where he got to play all of one game, recording an assist, before being called right back up to the Bruins. It could be that Caron would produce with top-six minutes, but there would have to be a lot of injuries for him to see those minutes.
Justin Faulk, D, CAR - Faulk is one of Carolina's better defense prospects, but a minus-6 rating in the first three games of the year got him sent down to the AHL, where he picked up a goal and an assist (and a minus-2) in three games. But now the 19-year-old is back already, and the plan is apparently to give him playing time. Faulk looked very good last year while putting up 33 points in 39 games for the University of Minnesota Duluth. He's going to need some time to develop his defensive game, but assuming he sees good minutes, Faulk could potentially produce numbers in line with Michael Del Zotto's rookie year - good points, bad plus-minus.
Mark Scheifele, C, WPG - So highly regarded and so productive in the preseason, Scheifele wasn't able to carve out consistent ice time for himself in a seven-game trial with the Jets - it doesn't help that that team appears to be going nowhere - so he was returned to the Barrie Colts, where he scored 75 points in 66 games as a 17-year-old last year. With some NHL experience under his belt now and an attitude that coaches love, Scheifele should tear up the OHL this season. I'd be concerned if he didn't.
Matt Calvert, LW, CLM - Calvert made a name for himself last year in late February, when he scored six goals in a four-game span after injuries created a top-line spot for him. He was unable to generate much offense in limited ice time to open this season, though, as he managed an assist and all of one shot on goal in five games, averaging 8:32 of ice time. He's scoreless in three with a minus-3 rating so far in the AHL. At just 21 years old, Calvert has some solid potential as a complementary scorer, but I don't necessarily see him becoming a first line-type guy. Still, he's provided great return for a fifth-round pick.
Zac Rinaldo, C, PHI - Rinaldo is a prospect really only for penalty minutes and hits, as he's never scored much in any level of hockey. He was sent down to make room for Schenn, but could in theory make his way back and play enforcer minutes at some point.
Patrick Maroon, LW, ANA - Maroon didn't get into an NHL game in his short stint, but he picked up right where he left off with his AHL scoring, as he's now sitting on eight points in five games. Like Matt Beleskey last year, he's an intriguing under-the-radar guy; watch his status in deeper leagues.
Aaron Palushaj, RW, MON - Palushaj made the Habs out of training camp, but went scoreless in four games and took a trip back on down to Hamilton when Montreal acquired Petteri Nokelainen. He hadn't been playing much anyway, so he'll be better served with more minutes in the AHL, where he notched two assists in his season debut.
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 left wing Erik Haula, a seventh-round draft pick by the Wild in 2009 currently playing for the University of Minnesota, where the 20-year-old sophomore is off to a huge start with 14 points in just six games so far this season. The Finnish import is already more than halfway to last year's 24 points, but in 28 fewer games. Thought of simply as a playmaker, Haula has shown the ability to finish this year. Urged on by his coaches to fire the puck more, he's tied for the team lead in shots and has shown more confidence. It's a rare seventh-round pick who turns out to be an NHL player, but Haula looks like he could be a diamond in the rough for both the Golden Gophers and the Wild.
Our junior prospect of the week is Ottawa 67's goalie Petr Mrazek, a fifth-round pick by the Red Wings in 2010. The 19-year-old Czech, in his third OHL season, has made quite an impact in North America, as he's developed into one of the circuit's top netminders. Last year, Mrazek led the OHL with a .920 save percentage, and he's only built on that so far this year, as he's posted a 2.43 GAA (sixth in the league) and .927 save percentage (fourth in the league) through 11 games so far. With a far inferior backup in Shayne Campbell, Mrazek is expected to be the workhorse for Ottawa this year. Mrazek also just signed an entry-level deal with the Wings, so it's likely that he'll be tending the nets for AHL Grand Rapids next year. And after that? Well, Jimmy Howard should watch his back, but even if Howard continues to look as strong as he has early this year, Detroit needs a solid backup, so Mrazek could rise through the organization quickly next year.
Something to ask? Something to say? Prospects you're dying to hear about? You can contact me here.