A few Tuesday thoughts:
- So, post-concussion Sidney Crosby is pretty much still Sidney Crosby. Look at him just glide on by the poor Islanders defenders and then roof that first goal on the backhand. It doesn't even look like they're in the same league. Anyway, I guess that means we can stop with the 24-hour Crosbyfest, at least until he starts creeping up on the NHL scoring lead next week. It also means that my team in the RotoWire Staff Mock Draft league (which we decided to play out) looks ready to be a world-beater -contingent on Cam Ward and Ilya Bryzgalov remembering that they're supposed to be borderline elite goalies. I've got a long way to go to catch up to John Toperzer's league-leading club.
- Along with the return of Crosby, the "news" of Alex Ovechkin being uncoachable has come out again, and I have to wonder if the fundamental disconnect here is that Bruce Boudreau keeps trying to coach Ovechkin. I've thought about it, and I just don't buy into the concept that Ovechkin has become predictable in the offensive zone. Sure, it sounds very neat and easy to say that the league has "figured him out," but we're talking about a five-year run of utter domination. It doesn't take NHL coaches five years to map out any player's tendencies, even those of one as great as Ovechkin. Hard to blame it on conditioning either; Ovie has always been relatively soft-bodied. It seems more likely to me that his decline was precipitated by Boudreau deciding before last season that he would make the Washington offense (and especially the defense) more systemic rather than letting Ovechkin do his freewheeling thing. It also doesn't help that Mike Green, the feeder of many outlet passes that led to Ovechkin breakaways, has been injured and hardly himself for the last couple years.
- I'm constantly frustrated by the Rangers' schedule. I don't know if the fans of other teams experience this quite so often (you probably do - let me know in the comments), but the NHL seems to love to mess with the Rangers. First this year we had the Europe/West Canada road trip, but okay, you can write that off to the Madison Square Garden renovations. But why did they need to play back-to-backs in Europe, then take an entire week off until their next game (in Long Island)? And why the mid-November layoff? From Nov. 12-24 - a span of nearly two weeks - the Rangers are playing three games. But don't worry - turn the calendar to December, and they play three games in four days twice. Those peaks and valleys have to be really difficult to navigate. I can't think of another sport that alternates lulls and frenzies in the schedule so arbitrarily. Maybe the NBA, but who watches the NBA these days?
- More importantly, with the Knicks not playing, what is Spike Lee doing with all his free time? (Ostensibly, remaking the Korean horror/thriller Oldboy. But I prefer to imagine that he's concocting a sinister plan to get revenge on Reggie Miller.)
- I'd like to get some reader suggestions for players to profile - college, juniors, AHL, NHL fourth line - I want to give you the content you want to read. Some of you piped up back when I started this column last year, but I haven't heard much from you lately. By all means, comment on the article or send me an email - my address is linked below.
Those are my ramblings for today. Let's proceed.
Jacob Markstrom, G, FLA - Scott Clemmensen is banged up again, so Markstrom returns to the Panthers with a chance to see some short-term starts as Jose Theodore's backup. Bouncing from the NHL to AHL hasn't done him any favors, though, as Markstrom put up only an .879 save percentage in five games with the San Antonio Rampage. That said, the Rampage are an awful team, which doesn't help.
Joe Colborne, C, TOR - I covered Colborne extensively two weeks ago, so of course he got hurt and only played one more AHL game between then and now. But the Leafs recognized his newfound prowess (19 points in 13 games!) and called him up once he got right. Colborne's delivered an assist, four hits and a couple PIM in his two games with Toronto thus far.
Dmitry Orlov, D, WAS - One of the better defense prospects in the game, Orlov - a 2009 second-round pick - came over from Russia late last season after a disappointing campaign with the KHL's Novokuznetsk Metallurg. Just 20 years old, he's played 34 AHL games between last season and this one, recording a respectable 18 points. I don't expect Orlov to make an immediate impact - he skated about 12 minutes and went without a point or shot in his NHL debut Monday - but he's got NHL size and his long-term offensive upside is very high.
Maxim Goncharov, D, PHO - Offensively, the 22-year-old Goncharov is more of a long-term project offensively than his countryman Orlov, but he's a big load at 6-3, 215, and scouts have loved his improved skating, shooting and defensive awareness. Phoenix won't ask too much from him for now, but this call-up is another positive step forward in Goncharov's development.
Justin Faulk, D, CAR - Faulk's return to the ice in Carolina has been accompanied by a massive spike in ice time and, surprisingly, a defensively improved Hurricanes team. In Monday's game in Philadelphia, Faulk skated a season-high 24:04, and although he went minus-1, he's broken even over a three-game stint since being recalled and picked up his first NHL point, an assist, Sunday against Toronto. Oddly, he'd been cold for AHL Charlotte, as he'd collected only one point (a goal) in six November games over which he'd gone minus-2. Only time will tell whether Faulk has suddenly achieved some measure of maturity; my guess is he hasn't, but the 19-year-old is certainly showing flashes of high-end ability.
Anders Nilsson, G, NYI - Nilsson, making his first NHL start Monday, drew the unhappy assignment of playing foil to Sidney Crosby in his return to the ice, and it went about as well as you'd expect - he was bombarded with 36 shots and gave up five goals in a shutout loss. The 21-year-old Swede has great size (he's 6-5) and talent (he put up a .918 save percentage over 31 games for Lulea HF of the Swedish Elitserien last year), but he's way too raw to play goal in the NHL right now. Crosby absolutely dominated him on his first goal and he gave one up from the top of the key to Brooks Orpik - the kind of goal that a good goalie just can't give up in the NHL. Nilsson had only eight games of North American experience behind him before Monday (seven games in the AHL in which he put up a mediocre .908 save percentage and one NHL relief appearance), so he's best served heading on back down to the minors to hone his craft.
Allen York, G, CLM - York ended up getting busted all the way down to the ECHL's Chicago Express (with whom he delivered one very good game) before an injury to Steve Mason prompted his recall once again. He'll back up Curtis Sanford as the Jackets continue to desperately wish for Mark Dekanich to get healthy.
Tomas Vincour, RW, DAL - A fifth-round pick in '09, Vincour was living up (or, well, down) to his draft status up until this season. All of a sudden, after a 12-point campaign for AHL Texas last year (along with 24 impact-free NHL games), Vincour has 13 points (including 10 goals) in 15 games with Texas this year. This prompted a return to Dallas, but Vincour skated only eight minutes Monday against Edmonton, recording a shot on goal and a blocked shot. He did see a minute of power-play time, which is somewhat promising.
Michal Repik, RW, FLA - Repik has been very good in the AHL for the last two seasons, piling up 98 points in 113 games, but he's never found his stride in the NHL (15 in 57 in parts of four seasons). Still, at not quite 23, the New Year's Eve-born Czech has room to grow. He's skated minimal minutes in his two games back with Florida (eight, then less than seven), but has made something of an impact with four shots on goal despite not seeing any PP time.
David Ullstrom, C, NYI - The Isles took Ullstrom in the fourth round in '08 and let him play in Sweden for a couple seasons during which his impact was best described as mild. His North American debut went quite solidly last season, though, as the lanky Swede put up a respectable 17 goals and 24 assists for AHL Bridgeport. He's built on that so far this season, flipping last year's minus-10 into a plus-1 through 17 games and ripping off a startling 12 goals to go with a couple assists. Blessed with both size and speed, Ullstrom is going to get a chance to make an impact for the Isles in an offensive role. He skated a respectable 13:30 in his NHL debut in the aforementioned Crosby return game, and although he went minus-2, he put a couple shots on goal, laid four body checks and skated more than three and a half minutes on the man advantage. That's quite noteworthy.
Matt Calvert, LW, CLM - A limited role in Columbus wasn't doing wonders for Calvert, who had just three points in 13 games while averaging just over nine minutes (and falling) of ice time with almost no power-play opportunities. He'll play heavy minutes in Springfield instead, although he's scoreless in four games there. It's certainly been a struggle for Calvert to regain last year's magic.
Zach Boychuk, C, CAR - It's just depressing to see Boychuk wallow on the fourth line in Carolina, so it's good to see him get sent back to the AHL, where he can continue to rack up points until the 'Canes figure out how to use him. He's got six points in seven games in the minors despite being bounced back and forth between Charlotte and Raleigh.
Zac Dalpe, C, CAR - Speaking of being bounced back and forth from one North Carolina city to another, Dalpe was sent down on Thursday, called up on Saturday, and shipped back down on Monday. He was scoreless in nine NHL games, also mostly on the fourth line. It's starting to get to the point where both Boychuk and Dalpe could use a change of scenery.
T.J. Brennan, D, BUF - Brennan cemented his place as a blue line prospect of interest with last year's 15-goal, 39-point output over 72 games with AHL Portland - a big improvement over the previous season's 23-point total, and more in line with his solid output for the St. John's Fog Devils of the QMJHL, where he scored 16 goals twice back in the day. Brennan got the call on Thursday, but didn't appear in a game before being sent back down to Buffalo's new AHL affiliate in Rochester, where he's got seven points in 17 games this year.
Casey Wellman, C, MIN - The shockingly successful Wild (tied for first in the West!) called up Wellman for depth, but didn't play him before shipping him back to AHL Houston, where the 24-year-old centerman has been killing it with 11 goals and 17 points in 18 games. An undrafted free agent out of UMass Amherst, the California native has played in 27 games over the last two NHL seasons, recording only six points, but the offensive upside is obviously there. Still, he's dangerously close to falling into that dreaded "career AHLer" category.
Eddie Lack, G, VAN - Lack got a quick call-up to back up Corey Schneider while Roberto Luongo was banged up, but apparently Bobby Lou is well enough that Lack was sent back down to AHL Chicago, where the 23-year-old undrafted Swede has continued to build his prospect status from the ground up. Last year's breakout in the minors (.926 save percentage, 2.26 GAA over 53 games) is hard to duplicate, but he's been plenty solid with a .918 and 2.47 in the early going this year. Unfortunately, he's going to need a major injury or a trade (whether it's Lack or one of Vancouver's two NHL-level studs who gets dealt) to approach fantasy relevance.
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 Jaden Schwartz, a first-round pick by the St. Louis Blues in 2010 and a standout center for the Colorado College Tigers. In the 19-year-old's short hockey career, he's been responsible for breaking his high school team's scoring records (held by some guys named Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards), put together a dominating season for the USHL's Tri-City Storm (83 points in 60 games at age 17), and tied for 17th in college scoring last season despite only playing 30 games - the fewest of anyone in the top 50. As a freshman last year, Schwartz averaged 1.57 points per game, the third-best rate in the nation, for a Colorado College team that had few other players ticketed for the NHL. It's been a similar story this year for Schwartz, who's played just nine games, but ripped off six goals and seven assists, again good for one of the top points-per-game marks in the nation. A fractured ankle knocked him out of the World Junior Championships last year and contributed to him missing a third of the Tigers' games, but Schwartz shouldn't be considered overly injury-prone - the reason that he's only played nine games this year is that his team has only played nine games this year despite other teams having skated in as many as 14 contests.
Our junior prospect of the week is Tanner Pearson, a 19-year-old left wing for the OHL's Barrie Colts and the leading scorer on a points-per-game basis in all of junior hockey. Twice the OHL Player of the Week already this year, Pearson has racked up an eye-opening 51 points (18 goals, 33 assists) in only 22 games with Barrie - that's 2.32 points per game, almost a Crosby-esque pace. Those are stunning numbers from a player who flew completely under the radar before this year. He had a decent, but unimpressive 42-point major junior debut in 66 games last year, but this year has been, well, a revelation - and, better yet, Pearson isn't one of those undersized kids that I so love. He's grown up - way up - since being selected by Barrie in the midget draft in 2008. Back then, he was a little kid at 5-9, 155, but today, Pearson is a robust six feet tall and weighs nearly 200 pounds. Pearson was eligible for the 2011 NHL draft, and was passed up by every single team, but if he keeps up anything resembling this scoring rate, he could find himself taken in the first round in 2012, just one year after no one wanted him.
Something to ask? Something to say? Prospects you're dying to hear about? You can contact me here.