It's been a slow week in hockey prospecting (except for the KHL All-Star Game - here's all you need to see from that, courtesy of Vladimir Tarasenko), so let's look forward. The All-Star break is coming up next weekend, and while I'm excited to see the fantasy draft Thursday night, the game itself is typically less than spectacular, lacking as it is in features like hits and defense.
That formula does, however, provide an intriguing perspective for your friendly neighborhood prospects guru, who will be at the AHL All-Star Game and skills competition this coming weekend, Jan. 29-30, in Atlantic City, N.J.
As usual, the rosters feature a wonderful collection of top prospects - and AHL veterans who never made it in the big leagues. Unsurprisingly, quite a few of those prospects have seen the NHL this year, and some, like Nazem Kadri, Ryan Ellis, Simon Despres (knee), Brayden McNabb and Matt Taormina, may not play in the game due to their presence on NHL rosters. Sadly for me, Mats Zuccarello, one of the two representatives of the Rangers' farm team, the Connecticut Whale, may miss the game with an injury that's kept him out for most of the last month-plus.
But for every player who might not be there, there are several more worth watching. The Whale's other All-Star pick, little Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, should find even more time and space to operate in the friendlier confines of the All-Star Game. The 5-9 forward has 36 points in 42 games this year - a feat made more impressive by the fact that he went scoreless for his first five games as he adjusted to the pro game.
It's barely worth watching goalies in any All-Star game, but I hope to get a good look at Sharks prospect Tyson Sexsmith and Kings prospect Jeff Zatkoff, who have torn through the AHL this season at the ages of 22 and 24, respectively. There's also 26-year-old Cedrick Desjardins (if he plays - he's been out with a lower-body injury), who made a fine debut in two games with the Lightning last year, signed with Colorado as a minor-league free agent, and has absolutely dominated with Lake Erie, posting a ridiculous .941 save percentage over 14 games.
On the blue line, I'll be watching 21-year-old Colby Robak (Panthers), who's already matched last season's 24-point total in 34 fewer games; 21-year-old power-play specialist Kevin Connauton (Canucks), whose big-time shot from the point has him leading all AHL defensemen in goals with 10; 20-year-old Isles prospect Calvin de Haan (shoulder - may be out), who made the roster despite a disappointing rookie season in which he's got just nine points and a minus-5; high-scoring 22-year-old Jets prospect Paul Postma, whose defensive game needs work, but whose offensive game is ready for prime time; and 21-year-old Lightning prospect Mark Barberio, a former sixth-round pick who's broken out this year, lighting up the league for 37 points in 40 games while staying responsible on his own end with a plus-16.
Audy-Marchessault isn't the only undersized forward to watch - with Zuccarello, Lightning prospect Cory Conacher, the Coyotes' Andy Miele, the Bruins' Carter Camper and the Jackets' Cam Atkinson, we've got a regular theme of aspiring Mighty Mites here. They may be small, but they sure can score, and the low-contact All-Star Game is a great venue for them to show off their skill.
Bigger forwards - in both size and pedigree - include top prospects such as Gustav Nyquist, Brandon Pirri, Joe Colborne and Kyle Palmieri, as well as the less-heralded Matt Fraser and Philippe Cornet.
Someone remind me to pick up a scorecard - that's a lot of numbers to keep track of.
Maxim Goncharov, D, PHO - It feels odd to call a fifth-round pick a bust, but that's what Goncharov has been so far in his pro career. Well-loved in prospecting circles, the 22-year-old Russian has great size at 6-4, 215, but also a reputation for being a good skater. Unfortunately, the production hasn't been there, as he has just 19 points in 96 AHL games since coming over from the KHL. Last year wasn't so bad, but this year has been a disaster - just four points and a minus-10 rating, so he didn't exactly earn his way up. Goncharov clearly needs to be coached up; his talent says he's better than this. Perhaps the chance to watch NHL defensemen ply their trade is just what he needs right now.
Zac Dalpe, C, CAR - Tell me if you've heard this one before: Dalpe was called up last week, then sent down Tuesday. He picked up one assist in three games in this particular stay with Carolina while averaging close to 13 minutes of ice time and more than two minutes of power-play time per game. I remain mystified as to just what the 'Canes think they're doing with his development. But who am I to question a 12th-place team?
Kyle Palmieri, RW, ANA - Eventually, the Ducks are going to part with one or more members of their forward core - Teemu Selanne, Bobby Ryan and Ryan Getzlaf - and when that happens, Palmieri may find his way onto the big team for good. 'Til then, he'll be riding up and down. The 20-year-old didn't play during his short call-up, but he's just kept on rolling for AHL Syracuse, scoring two goals in his first game back. He's racked up a simply nasty 23 goals and 10 assists in 24 games. See you at the All-Star Game, kid.
Stephane Da Costa, C, OTT - The 22-year-old Frenchman didn't see any playing time between his call-up Friday and send-down Sunday. The undrafted Merrimack College star returns to AHL Binghamton, where he's posted a quite respectable 20 points (evenly split between goals and assists) in 22 games. In his two years at Merrimack, Da Costa racked up 90 points in 67 games, so there's very real offensive talent on that stick. His troubles are in the defensive zone - Da Costa still needs to add more muscle.
Mattias Tedenby, LW, NJD - After he spent the first half of the season in New Jersey's bottom six, the Devils finally wised up and sent Tedenby down to the AHL to play more than the 10:45 he was averaging for the big team. (Alexei Ponikarovsky made him expendable - there's something you won't hear too many times in your life.) The speedster picked up two assists in his season debut for Albany, showing a flash of the promise that made the Devils select him in the first round (No. 24) in 2008. The book on the soon-to-be-22-year-old Swede is that he's going to harness that high-end skill and turn into another version of Martin St. Louis. I'm not holding my breath, but he certainly has time to develop.
Jordan Caron, RW, BOS - Last week's call-up is this week's send-down. Caron and Dalpe should start their own club. Get matching hats or something. The 21-year-old has a goal and an assist in three games with AHL Providence since heading on down.
David Savard, D, CLM - The offensively gifted Savard has managed five assists and a minus-1 in 15 NHL games and limited ice time this year, which isn't bad at all for a team with some of the worst scoring and goaltending in the league. But the Jackets signed Brett Lebda (obviously the answer to the woes of an ailing franchise) and sent Savard to the minors, where he's got an assist in two games and 12 points overall in 25 contests. He was an 11-goal, 43-point scorer last year, so there's a lot to like here.
Casey Wellman, C, MIN - Wellman has been modestly productive for the Wild this year, totaling seven points in 14 games, although he had just three points in eight games in this most recent stint. The undrafted Californian is on a point-per-game pace for AHL Houston, and he's picked up right where he left off before his call-up, ripping off four points in three games. At 24, he's a fringy prospect, but his production speaks for itself.
Paul Postma, D, WPG - Another of your AHL All-Stars, Postma got to ride the bench with Winnipeg for a spell before being sent back down. He's got just an assist in three games since returning to AHL St. John's, but with 28 points already in the bank this year, the soon-to-be-23-year-old defenseman is allowed a miniature slump. Even though his own-zone game isn't great, it remains surprising that the Jets can't find room in the rotation for him. Perhaps, with those defensive deficiencies, Postma might be better served with a conversion to forward.
Tomas Kubalik, RW, CLM - Kubalik put a couple points on the board over eight games with Columbus, including his first NHL goal back on Jan. 13. He returns to the AHL seeking to bounce back from a disappointing first half of the season, but hasn't yet appeared since the send-down.
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 international prospect - as I said last week, I'm mixing it up - is 22-year-old Frederik Andersen, a Danish goaltender and seventh-round pick by the Hurricanes in 2010. After three seasons in Denmark, Andersen is plying his trade in Sweden this year, and he's been arguably the best goaltender in the SEL, putting up absolutely disgusting numbers - a 1.70 GAA, .937 save percentage and five shutouts in 32 games (27 starts) for Frolunda. He's second in the league in all three categories - barely. A big guy at 6-4, 238, Andersen naturally fills the net like few goalies can, and he complements that size with terrific lateral agility, composure and puck skills. The guy can shoot, too. He's the complete package in goal, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him challenge for the backup job in Carolina as soon as next season.
Our junior prospect of the week is 19-year-old Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, a defenseman for Rimouski Oceanic of the QMJHL and a third-round pick by the Sabres in 2010. A spectacularly talented offensive defenseman, Gauthier-Leduc is second on his team and first in the league among defensemen this season with 54 points in 43 games. This is no puck-mover riding on his teammates' laurels - Gauthier's got 21 goals of his own, thanks to a cannon of a shot from the point that he somehow makes look effortless. The kid's got NHL size, too, standing at a solid 6-2 with room to grow yet. The Quebec City native is buried behind a lot of terrific talent on the Buffalo blue line, but the crème de la crème tends to rise to the top, and he's certainly that. RotoWire's No. 29 NHL prospect could rise further up that list with a big showing in the AHL when he turns pro next season. Maybe I'll see him in next year's AHL All-Star Game.
Something to ask? Something to say? Prospects you're dying to hear about? You can contact me here.