I must offer my apologies, folks, for not publishing last week, but I lost my grandfather, so, well, you understand.
Because I have no other soapbox to stand on: My grandfather rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Army despite being Jewish - quite a drawback in those days. He was a war hero, an artillery commander who fought in World War II from the Black Sea to Berlin. At the age of 60, he bribed his way out of Soviet Russia and brought my mother and my grandmother through two foreign countries and to America. He didn't speak English, but he learned it well enough to get by - better, I'd say, than Artem Anisimov has. A little man at 5-3, he made up for it by being the mentally strongest man I've ever known, as well as the kindest. Naturally, like most Russians, he loved to watch hockey. I like to think that he'd want me to keep writing about it in his memory.
Jacob Markstrom, G, FLA - Sent down last week, Markstrom was called back up again Monday with Jose Theodore ill. He's just backing up Scott Clemmensen, but if Theodore stays out a bit, could be he'll see a start. Between his many call-ups and send-downs this year, the 21-year-old Markstrom has been less than stellar in the AHL (.889 save percentage), but you can forgive him for that when he's been bounced around so much.
Kevin Poulin, G, NYI - Another year, another rash of injuries for the Isles' goalie corps. That'll happen when Rick DiPietro keeps collecting paychecks year after year … after year. Poulin was a revelation last season at age 20, putting up a .932 save percentage over 15 games in the AHL and then a .924 in 10 NHL games before suffering a knee injury. He hasn't been the same so far this year, as he's sporting a 3.37 goals-against average and .892 save percentage through 13 games for Bridgeport, suggesting that he may not be back at full speed from the injury. In any case, he's getting a short-term call-up with the Islanders thin between the pipes, and it's quite possible he won't make an NHL appearance until he gets his game together.
Matt Hackett, G, MIN - Yet another 21-year-old netminder, Hackett made his NHL debut in relief Tuesday after Josh Harding left early with an injury and he certainly impressed, stopping all 34 shots he faced to propel Minnesota to a comeback win in San Jose. With Backstrom and Harding both a little banged up, the former third-rounder could stick around a few games. His body of work in the AHL is certainly quite solid, as he's allowed only 2.11 goals per game and has a .927 save percentage, numbers that look even better on top of last year's solid professional debut (23-16-4, 2.37, .916 in 45 games for AHL Houston).
Leland Irving, G, CGY - A first-round pick way back in '06, Irving seems like he's been around the Calgary organization forever, but he's still just 23. He'll forever have a place in the team history of the WHL's Everett Silvertips for his legendary '06-'07 season - 34-9-3 with a 1.86 GAA and .929 save percentage in a scorer's league. Irving hasn't come close to replicating that success either in the AHL or ECHL, but he has a .914 save percentage for AHL Abbotsford this year and posted a .913 last year. He'll get the rather easy job of backing up Miikka Kiprusoff while Henrik Karlsson remains out with a knee injury. With Karlsson not expected back until well into the new year, Irving's going to have a chance to prove he belongs in the NHL.
Mike Murphy, G, CAR - Recalled on an emergency basis after Brian Boucher's injury in practice, Murphy ended up making his NHL debut in Tuesday's loss to Calgary thanks to yet another Cam Ward disaster. He only played about eight minutes and was tasked with making just two saves, but ended up with a tough-luck loss because the Flames scored an empty-netter when he was the goalie of record. The 22-year-old former sixth-rounder has stood out in the AHL for three straight years and is in the midst of his best season yet, as he's got a 2.44 and .922 in 15 games for the Charlotte Checkers this year. He's probably a short-timer, but there's always the chance that Murphy earns himself some more run with the way Ward has struggled.
Simon Despres, D, PIT - The Pens took Despres on spec with the 30th pick of the '09 draft, gambling that the big young defenseman would develop some offensive touch. He ended up doing just that last year in his final season with the QMJHL's Saint John Sea Dogs, picking up 13 goals and a total of 41 points in 47 games, good enough to be named the league's top defenseman. He also played for Canada in the World Junior Championships, collecting three assists in seven games. The scoring hasn't carried over much to the pros yet, as Despres managed just seven points in 22 games for AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and has an assist in three games with the Pens, but he's a polished defender with a bright future. Don't expect much for now, as his ice time is limited and he's not getting in on the power play yet.
Jordan Caron, C, BOS - Caron keeps riding the bus to Providence and back, as he was sent down late last week and recalled Monday, skating a relatively impact-free 10:34 against Winnipeg. Caron has put up four points in the three AHL games he's been around to play, but his contributions in the big leagues have been lacking thus far. Still, at 21 years of age, he's developing and just learning to put that 6-2, 202 frame to good use.
Carl Klingberg, LW, WPG - The former second-rounder was called up without much fanfare three games ago after a decent showing in 20 AHL games (nine goals, seven assists). Still just 20 years old, the Swedish winger has size, speed and grit that make for good two-way potential, but the Jets are sticking him with fourth-line minutes at the moment. It seems likely that his stay will be a short one.
Louis Leblanc, C, MON - A first-rounder in '09, 18th overall, LeBlanc has had an unusual hockey career, as he played one season in the USHL, then went to Harvard (smart kid), where he played through one decent season before moving on once again, this time to the QMJHL, where he recorded 58 points in 51 games for the Montreal Juniors. Although that part of his resume could be more intriguing, he does have a solid WJC performance - seven points in seven games - to his credit from last season. His pro performance has been a mixed bag, as he collected a respectable 10 points in 14 games for AHL Hamilton, but also went minus-7. Still, not bad for a guy coming off shoulder surgery. Four NHL games thus far have yielded one assist in limited ice time. Leblanc is likely headed back to the AHL when the Habs get healthier for more development.
Carl Hagelin, LW, NYR - Hagelin made an immediate impact upon being called up, sparking a rather heated argument between me and ESPN's fantasy hockey support staff when it took four NHL games (at a point per game) before he got added into the player pool. Naturally, he's scoreless in two contests since then and saw his ice time drop dramatically in the Rangers' loss to Toronto on Monday. After playing 10-13 minutes per game, he only skated eight in that one. A standout scorer at the University of Michigan, where he collected 99 points in 89 games over the last two seasons, Hagelin has a solid 13 in 17 for AHL Connecticut this year. He brings an element of speed to the table that the Rangers have been missing, along with the grit that John Tortorella loves - qualities that may keep him in the lineup even if he doesn't show up on the scorecard for a few games running.
Zack Kassian, RW, BUF - Though his ice time is still limited, the young power forward has made an impact in his first five NHL contests, scoring two goals - including this beautiful make-your-own breakaway conversion on Saturday - and adding an assist. He's coming off a strong AHL debut, putting up seven goals and seven assists in 18 games, and sure is looking like the guy the Sabres thought they were getting when they drafted him 13th overall in '09.
Ben Scrivens, G, TOR - Just one notable send-down, and it's Scrivens, the not-quite-ready-for-prime-time netminder who finally got to return to the AHL with James Reimer back from injury. The undrafted rookie's final numbers for this NHL stint: 2-4-1, .904, 2.96. Not a horrible start, but at 25, you have to wonder how much development Scrivens has left in him. The Spruce Grove, Alta., native took a loss in his first game back in the AHL, giving up four goals on 39 shots.
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 Brock Nelson, the 30th overall pick by the Islanders in 2010 and a sophomore at the University of North Dakota. The 20-year-old power forward has blown up in his second college season, as he's already exceeded last year's 21-point full-season output with 14 goals and eight assists in just 16 games, an impressive number boosted by nine power play goals, the highest mark in all of college hockey. Not bad for a guy who had to be removed from the ice on a stretcher after slamming into the boards in last year's Frozen Four. A hard worker and a tough guy, Nelson has taken his game to another level this year and appears to be yet another big-time Islanders prospect. Now if only those prospects could combine to win some actual hockey games.
Our junior prospect of the week is Emerson Etem of the WHL's Medicine Hat Tigers. The rare Californian to be drafted, Etem was claimed by his hometown team, the Anaheim Ducks, one pick ahead of Nelson in 2010. It's been a journey of steady improvement for the 19-year-old, who made his way onto the radar with a 65-point debut as a 17-year-old, kicked it up to 80 points (in seven fewer games) last year, and this season has exploded for 28 goals and 30 assists in 31 games, good for second in the WHL in goals and a tie for second in points. After an explosion like this, it wouldn't be surprising to see the lightning-fast Etem challenge for a roster spot in Anaheim next fall. He'll have a chance to really boost his cred with a big performance in the WJC this year, where he's expected to be one of America's top forwards. And oh yeah, he's totally a hockey player who surfs. If that's not the coming thing, I don't know what is.
Something to ask? Something to say? Prospects you're dying to hear about? You can contact me here.