With the NHL trade deadline looming at the end of the month, media speculation has been heating up. It's been all quiet on the transaction front - unless you count the Riley-Holzapfel-for-Maxime-Macenauer blockbuster from earlier this week, or perhaps the early-February headline-grabber, Erik Christensen for Casey Wellman - but there are going to be some very real stars on the move. Names like Rick Nash, Teemu Selanne, Ryan Smyth, Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Ray Whitney and Evgeni Nabokov have been bandied about. Where they're involved, prospects will follow. Dougie Hamilton of the Bruins, Chris Kreider of the Rangers (god forbid) and other top young players may be on the move, and I'll be here to tell you everything you need to know about those deals once they go down.
Here's a sneak preview: Someone's going to get ripped off by Scott Howson and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
For now, let's talk about the transactions that have actually happened.
UPDATE: As I was writing this, a deal went down: Hal Gill to the Preds, Blake Geoffrion to the Habs. Gill's an old hand on the blue line, but Geoffrion is a person of mild interest who's been covered here before. He's obviously got the family name, but he's no Boom Boom. This has been a bad season for him - just nine points in 20 AHL games and three assists in 22 NHL contests - so perhaps the change of scenery will do him good.
Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.
Wojtek Wolski, LW, NYR - Because I'm an unabashed Rangers homer, let's talk about Wolski even though he's played in 402 NHL games. All those games - not to mention the fact that he's played for three organizations - may have helped you forget something: The guy hasn't even turned 26 years old yet, and he's got as shiny a pedigree as anyone. A one-time 128-point scorer (in 56 games!) with Brampton of the OHL, the Polish-Canadian winger turned in a 50-point rookie season for the Avalanche, plateaued, then broke out for 65 only two years ago. Since then, he's got 37 points in 91 NHL games. In short, I'm as confused as anyone about what the hell is going on with Wolski. This year, he's been slowed by injury and barely able to crack New York's lineup when healthy, recording just three assists in nine games. That brought about an AHL conditioning stint, and now he's back from that. He was scratched once again Thursday, though. Wolski's a guy who could be on the move at the deadline, a cheap (trade-bait-wise, not contract-wise) piece for a Western Conference team that doesn't need him to do the kind of dirty work John Tortorella demands of all his skaters.
Tomas Tatar, C, DET - Tatar got the call with Henrik Zetterberg looking iffy for Friday's game against the Preds. He'll play if Zetter can't go; if the vet is in the lineup, expect Tatar to get shipped back down to AHL Grand Rapids, where the '09 second-rounder has a passable 36 points in 49 games. He appeared in nine games with Detroit last year, totaling one whole goal and no assists.
Jordan Nolan, RW, LOS - Do you like penalty minutes? Good! Nolan has averaged very nearly three PIM a game for AHL Manchester this year, and he's chipped in 22 points in 40 contests as well. Since being called up, the 2009 seventh-rounder has played in three games, taking a penalty in each one, and scored his first NHL goal. You can never have enough versions of Kyle Clifford, right? Right?
Braden Holtby, G, WAS - Up came Holtby, in came five goals, down went Holtby. He took a loss to the Sharks in his season debut, stopping 30 of 35. After a slow start to the year, he's actually been a steady presence in goal for AHL Hershey, posting save percentages of .915 or better in each of the last three months. I'm willing to write the first two months of the season off to overindulgence in chocolate, although the scuttlebutt around Hershey is that a taste of stardom may have gone to his head a little.
Aaron Palushaj, RW, MON - The 2007 second-round pick (by the Blues) has had a terrific year for AHL Hamilton, totaling 28 points in 30 games, but the NHL level has not been so kind, as he has just an assist in 19 games while averaging only seven minutes and change. He's played twice since being recalled, going plus-1 with three shots and five hits in about 21 minutes of total ice time.
Tyson Barrie, D, COL - Barrie's stay in Colorado wasn't all that eventful, as he played in four games and saw minimal power-play time and went minus-2 while averaging 15:43 on the ice, not much for a defenseman. The undersized blue-liner will head back to the AHL, where he'll continue working on the defensive aspects of the game. At 20 years old, the 2009 third-rounder's got time to add some size and strength yet, too.
Slava Voynov, D, LOS - Voynov looked like he was going to become a fixture in the Kings' lineup, but a series of scratches was followed by a demotion. The '08 second-round pick looked mighty good for a rookie, totaling 11 points and a plus-4 rating in 33 games. He's got a big future ahead of him as a power-play quarterback. Voynov has gone scoreless in his first three games back in Manchester, but that's nothing to get worked up about.
Jacob Markstrom, G, FLA - Markstrom (knee) was assigned to the AHL on Monday, so perhaps the Panthers' goalie of the future is nearing a return to the ice. It hasn't happened yet, but the injury was supposed to be season-ending, so any signs of recovery are positive. He's skating and doing strengthening work, and a strong return would go a long way toward securing a roster spot for next year.
The Future to Come
Our prospect of the week is Nathan Lieuwen, a goalie with the WHL's Kootenay Ice and a sixth-round selection by the Sabres in 2011. The 20-year-old leads the WHL in GAA and is tied for the circuit lead in save percentage. At 6-5, he fills the net, and I can only imagine that he'll do that even more as his body fills out. Last year's WHL Playoff MVP for the Memorial Cup-winning Ice, Lieuwen was a sneaky draft choice at the 167th overall spot after three straight seasons of uninspiring numbers as Kootenay's netminder. The '10-'11 season was the first in which the Abbotsford, B.C., native got to start; although he only put up a .903 save percentage and 2.79 GAA, winning is everything, and he went 33-16-4 in the regular season. The confidence he gained there led to a huge playoff run, and that has in turn carried over into this year's impressive numbers: 24-13-6, .922, 2.28. That's good enough to make him next year's goalie for AHL Rochester, which is currently running out a pair of career minor leaguers between the pipes in David Leggio and Drew MacIntyre.
Something to ask? Something to say? Prospects you're dying to hear about? You can contact me here.