Well, we've hit that part of the year, the casual sports fan laments. Football season is gone. Baseball season hasn't yet arrived. March Madness isn't until... well, March. The Winter Classic has long since faded in the rear-view. We enjoyed the All-Star games for a fleeting - and most pleasurable - moment, but like a box of Oreos 30 minutes after I open it, they're all gone and only crumbs remain.
So all we're left with is plain, old midseason hockey - and this is apparently supposed to be a problem. (Oh, and basketball. Go fantasy team!) It's these two grueling months that separate the contenders from the pretenders, the shining stars from the flashes in the pan, and Sidney Crosby from Eric Lindros. It's these two months in which Blue Jackets fans can catch up on their reading (like, say, about Nail Yakupov's knee injury), these two months in which Florida Panthers fans will be reintroduced to reality, these two months in which Flyers fans can learn how to chant “you suck” in Russian. Although I feel “We Want Leighton!” would be more insulting.
Boring? Come on. This is what we live for.
Tyson Barrie, D, COL - Barrie will play in his first NHL game Tuesday night against Chicago. The AHL All-Star has been a force this year, totaling 29 points in 46 games, but is undersized for a defender. With his high-end skating and shooting talents, Barrie will find himself a home on an NHL blue line, but he's no Ryan Ellis. Still, Barrie was particularly impressive over his final two junior seasons, totaling 30 goals and 130 points in 117 games. And I recently traded for him in fantasy; more on that below.
Tyson Sexsmith, G, SJ - Our second Tyson has one of hockey's best names - let's just say it again gratuitously: Sexsmith, heeheehee - and the '07 third-rounder is having a season to match, posting a sparkling .925 save percentage and 2.15 GAA for AHL Worcester. He's highly unlikely to make an appearance in what looks to be a short-lived role as Thomas Greiss's backup while Antti Niemi is on the shelf.
Louis Lebanc, C, MON - Leblanc's played in three games since his latest recall, notching an assist, three shots on goal and six hits in roughly 30 minutes of total ice time. The AHL hasn't treated the 2009 first-rounder too well, as he has a fairly modest 17 points in 25 games. As an NHLer, he's got six in 17 this year. He seems to still be on the path to becoming a good third-liner.
Leland Irving, G, CGY -The 2006 first-rounder has been quite solid as AHL Abbotsford's starter this year, posting a .913 save percentage to go along with a 16-8-0 record. Unless Miikka Kiprusoff hits a rough spot, it's unlikely that Irving will see the ice while Henrik Karlsson is down in Abbotsford to get some work in. He has been decent the few times he's been pressed into duty for Calgary, stopping 128 of 141 shots over four games for a .908 save percentage.
Aaron Ness, D, NYI - I don't really have a lot to say about Aaron Ness, but I thought I'd give you your money's worth. He's undersized and hasn't shown much scoring ability, but he has terrific pedigree: he was a second-round pick in '08, a former Mr. Hockey who played at the University of Minnesota. The book on Ness is still that he's an offensive defenseman, but he never exceeded 17 points in a season at Minnesota and has precisely 17 in 46 games for AHL Bridgeport this year. So here we have the curious case of the offensive defenseman who doesn't produce offensively. On the bright side, he's still only 21 years old, and the fact that he's been called up at such a young age is promising. So I guess I had some things to say about Aaron Ness after all.
Zack Kassian, RW, BUF - The big Ontarian turned 21 a couple weeks ago, just in time to pay a visit to Atlantic City for the AHL All-Star Game, then was immediately called up, but his latest stint with the Sabres lasted just four days. They did skate him plenty in his one game, Feb. 1 against the Rangers - 15:11 with 2:44 of power-play time - suggesting that they know exactly what they've got in Kassian and his full-time arrival may not be far off. With the Sabres in 13th place in the East, there could be some veterans on the move as the trade deadline approaches, making room for Kassian and others.
Brayden McNabb, D, BUF - Speaking of others, McNabb turned 21 three days before Kassian, but he did so with the big team. With his size and scoring ability (gotta love that 22-goal, 72-point junior season last year), McNabb is going to be a force for years to come. For now, he's a work in progress, but he gave the Sabres as much as they could ask from a 20-year-old rookie defenseman - five points in 20 games and a minus-2 rating. He's been more impressive with AHL Rochester this year, totaling a goal and 12 assists in 22 games, and has three assists in as many games since his return.
Kyle Palmieri, RW, ANA - After one whole game back with the big team, the Ducks sent Palmieri back to Syracuse to keep rocking the AHL, where he's got a nasty 25 goals and 38 points in 27 games. The 20-year-old's return to AHL action produced more of the same -- a pair of assists in his first game back, giving him nine points in his last five minor-league contests and 20 in his last 12. The Ducks are still 10 points out of a playoff spot, but they're red-hot, somewhat reducing the likelihood of a sell-off. Some action in Anaheim at the trade deadline would be great for Palmieri's odds of coming up and staying up.
Stefan Elliott, D, COL - Elliott just turned 21 on Jan. 30, but it was surprising to see Colorado send the kid down in favor of Barrie. It looked for all the world like he'd arrived to stay right around Thanksgiving, but apparently not. In all likelihood, though, the Avs are just giving Barrie a look for a couple games and will recall Elliott soon. If you own him in deeper fantasy leagues, he may bear holding onto.
Nazem Kadri, C, TOR - There's nothing quite like talking about your own fantasy trades. It's exhilarating just watching people's eyes glaze over. So let's talk about a trade I made around the deadline in the RotoWire Staff Keeper Hockey League: I dealt Carey Price and Flames prospect Ryan Howse for Kadri and the aforementioned Tyson Barrie. With the somewhat funny format of our staff league and the way that keeper prices work out, goalies aren't an extremely valuable commodity in our league. My team flailed as Joe Thornton, Michael Grabner, Dustin Brown and a whole host of other players failed to be remotely useful, so I went into sell mode, and for $29 Carey Price and a throwaway prospect to make space, I got two guys who figure prominently into their teams' plans for the future. Not bad, right? Anyway, Kadri's got an assist in two games since being sent down. That trade could turn ugly if he keeps failing to pan out.
Kevin Poulin, G, NYI - Poulin beat the 'Canes, as I noted last week, which necessitated another send-down, obviously. Evgeni Nabokov just keeps killin' it, though. Poulin lost his first game back in Bridgeport, allowing three goals on 29 shots.
Aaron Palushaj, RW, MON - Up came Palushaj and down goes Palushaj. He skated in two games, picking up an assist, and returns to AHL Hamilton, where he's taken his game to another level, as he's scored 28 points in 29 games. He went minus-2 in his first game back - clearly a sign of depression.
The Future to Come
Our prospect of the week is Hunter Shinkaruk, a 17-year-old center with the WHL's Medicine Hat Tigers. Shinkaruk turned 17 on Oct. 13, meaning he's not going to be eligible for the NHL draft 'til 2013, when some lucky team is sure to use a top pick on the Calgary native. Following last year's promising debut, he's exploded this season, dominating the league to the tune of 40 goals and 70 points in 54 games - good for third in the league in goals (his teammate Emerson Etem, a first-rounder by the Ducks in 2010, leads the league at a goal-per-game pace) and eighth in points. Shinkaruk has been compared to Patrick Kane as another slightly undersized forward with spectacular puck skills, but Kane is six years older than him and they're already about the same size. I know I wasn't done growing at 17; I suspect he isn't either. Shinkaruk just notched his fifth hat trick of the year on Saturday and doesn't seem inclined to slow down anytime soon. He's certainly developing into one of the elite options in what's shaping up to be a spectacular 2013 draft class. And you can even follow him on Twitter.
Something to ask? Something to say? Prospects you're dying to hear about? You can contact me here.