It's been an oddly busy week, and so here I am, writing this column on Friday when the trade deadline was Monday. Fortunately, deadline day was about as boring as I expected, so you probably haven't been going crazy with anticipation. Without further ado, let's cover the best youngsters who changed addresses.
The prize of the day was Cody Hodgson, for whom the Sabres paid quite a serious price. With almost a full NHL season under his belt, Hodgson is no longer a prospect, but at 22 years old, he's just the kind of guy that the Sabres have been looking for - a young center with top-line potential. Hodgson was in the midst of a solid first full season in the league, collecting 33 points in 63 games, but his skills and pedigree promise much, much more. The 10th overall pick in 2008 has a pair of 40-goal junior seasons with the OHL's Brampton Battalion under his belt, and after struggling to adjust to the pro ranks in the AHL last year (just 30 points in 50 games and a minus-12 rating), he's found his stride this year. Health has been an issue - he's struggled to put full seasons together the last few years - but Hodgson is a terrific talent who sees the game well and can be a big-time playmaker. He's scoreless in two games thus far with Buffalo, but has received a lot of ice time, including on the power play, and has gone plus-1 in each outing.
Second prize goes to the centerpiece of the trade for Hodgson: Zack Kassian, a bruising power forward prospect and a first-round pick in his own right - No. 13 in 2009. Unlike Hodgson, Kassian has had no trouble with his transition to professional hockey, as he averaged a goal every other game for AHL Rochester and was named an AHL All-Star. A big-bodied (6-3, 228) native of Windsor, Ontario, Kassian is like a younger, bigger version of Dustin Brown - unafraid to lay plenty of hard hits, with the skill to go to the net and score. He's arguably a better fit for Vancouver than Hodgson, as the Canucks can be outmuscled by more physical teams; that was the case in last year's Stanley Cup Finals. In Kassian, the Canucks have found someone who can be to the Sedins what Todd Bertuzzi once was for Marcus Naslund. They've thrown the 21-year-old right into the mix, and although he's only averaging third-line minutes so far, Kassian has put five shots on goal and laid nine hits in two games since being traded.
Third prize is the Ottawa Senators' new goaltending prospect, Ben Bishop. I've covered Bishop plentifully in this space already this year, so let's just quickly recap: He fills the net while still being mobile, and he's grown into as confident a goalie as you'll see. At 25, Bishop is an older prospect - though not that old for a goaltending prospect - and he should at some point get a chance to play for Ottawa this year, as Craig Anderson is hurt, Robin Lehner is young (but just shut out the Bruins) and Alex Auld isn't much of an option. For now, though, Bishop will toil in AHL Binghamton, where he stopped 41 of 42 shots in his first game.
There's one more name to know: Carter Ashton, who the Leafs acquired for massive stay-at-home defense prospect Keith Aulie. Aulie comes with no offensive upside, so for fantasy purposes, this is a big win for the Leafs, who get a former first-round pick (No. 29 in '09) in Ashton who had a decent, if unspectacular, pro debut this year - 19 goals and 35 total points in 56 games with AHL Norfolk. The power forward prospect - like a much lighter version of Kassian - had a goal and an assist in his first game with Toronto's AHL affiliate, the Marlies.
I'm still a fan of the other Sabres player to be traded to Vancouver, Marc-Andre Gragnani. Western Canada could be a great setting for the 24-year-old defenseman to get back to his game, which is putting up serious points - particularly on the power play - while remaining solid in the defensive zone. That latter responsibility has given him some trouble, and as a result, Grags has seen some healthy scratches this year, so a fresh start seems like a good idea.
Finally, RotoWire user quidapida asked for the latest on his favorite son, Chris Kreider. The Boston College star's name was bandied about in the Rick Nash talks, but Glen Sather wisely made his 2009 first-round pick untouchable in trade discussions. Kreider had something to prove coming into this year, and to a degree, he's proved it, as he leads BC in points with 36 in 33 games, and he's complemented that with a healthy dose of physical play that's resulted in 56 PIM. As usual, Kreider has shown a knack for scoring in big situations, such as his late-second-period goal in the Beanpot tournament final that helped carry the Eagles to their (and Kreider's) third straight Beanpot title. He's cooled since then, though, totaling just one point (an assist) in four games.
The Rangers are talking seriously about burning a year of Kreider's entry-level deal to put him on the pro roster come playoff time, and although I doubt they'll get much in the way of contributions there, it's a strong move to get him accustomed to a higher level of competition. I would be remiss, however, if I didn't mention my concerns about Kreider's readiness - as a top-line winger for a mighty BC team, I expected more from him than a tie for 25th in the nation in scoring.
Well, this was long. Let's move on.
Zach Boychuk, C, CAR - It's lovely to see Boychuk back in the NHL after an extended exile in Charlotte, where the one-time consistent scorer has struggled this year. After putting up better than a point per game with the Checkers last year, Boychuk has slumped to just 32 points in 45 games in the minors and has failed to score a goal in 15 NHL contests this season. The issue here, one has to think, is confidence - the 22-year-old Albertan has seen half of his 2008 first-round contemporaries become NHL regulars, while he keeps riding the bus across North Carolina. Erik Karlsson, taken with pick 15 in that draft (one pick after Boychuk), is pulling his best Brian Leetch impression this year, while Boychuk still can barely crack the lineup. The hope is that playing time with the big club will do him some good - Boychuk has averaged a solid 15 minutes in his two games back with the 'Canes, including more than two minutes on the power play, although there have been no results to show for it.
Brendan Smith, D, DET - With Mike Commodore shipped out of town, Smith looks poised to finally become a fixture on the Wings' blue line, which means savvy fantasy owners (especially in deep leagues) should inquire into his services. He skated 13:15 Tuesday against Columbus, going plus-1 with a shot and a hit. The AHL hasn't been much of a challenge for the 23-year-old, who's put up double-digit goals there in both of his pro seasons since coming out of the University of Wisconsin. He's got 10 goals and 32 points in 47 games there, and has even managed a pair of assists in his four NHL games. As a nice fantasy bonus, he plays with an edge -- Smith's accumulated nearly 200 PIM over the last two seasons for AHL Grand Rapids.
Leland Irving, G, CGY - In a bit of an odd move, Irving was recalled despite there being no word of Henrik Karlsson or Miikka Kiprusoff being hurt. It seems unlikely he'll play, as this call-up was probably a precaution against an illness or some very minor injury. The Flames do play the second of a back-to-back set Friday night, so keep an eye out for news if you're looking for a plug-and-play goaltender. You could do worse than Irving.
Cam Atkinson, RW, CLM - All Atkinson's done all year for AHL Springfield is pour in goals - 29 of them to go with 15 assists in 50 games. The undersized former sixth-rounder has been seeing solid minutes since the call-up - including more than a minute of power-play time in each game - but hasn't found the back of the net despite firing 10 shots on goal in four games. He's also laid six hits, showing impressive moxie for a little guy. With the Jackets having nothing to play for, expect the AHL All-Star to have a lengthy audition.
Evan Oberg, D, TAM - Oberg was called up and played in a couple games - including some serious minutes with power-play time Tuesday against Montreal - but was shipped back down to Norfolk, where he's in the midst of an impressive campaign - 16 points in 24 games with a plus-10 rating. That plus-minus is admittedly largely contextual - he's only sixth on the team - but this has been a big growth year for the undrafted 24-year-old, who played his college hockey at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Once slender as a beanpole, the young Albertan has added significant muscle mass this year, and the results have shown on both ends of the ice.
David Savard, D, CLM - With the acquisition of Jack Johnson, apparently both Savard and Grant Clitsome were expendable - Clitsome was inexplicably waived, while Savard was shipped to the minors despite an impressive performance Feb. 21 against the Sharks in which he notched a goal and an assist on the power play. He's been solid in the AHL, totaling 15 points in 30 games, so presumably Savard will be back in due time. Savard's got an assist in two games since the send-down, so he's maintaining that point-per-two-games pace.
Michal Repik, RW, FLA - The Wojtek Wolski acquisition made Repik expendable (and just when he'd been called back up, too!), so he was shipped back down to AHL San Antonio, where he's been a modest producer (24 points in 37 games). Repik was playing fourth-line minutes for Florida when he played at all, so this is a good move for the 23-year-old former second-rounder's development. He's scoreless in two games since his return to the Rampage.
Louis Leblanc, C, MON - The 2009 first-rounder was sent down to make room for the newly acquired Blake Geoffrion, which pretty much says all that needs to be said for Leblanc's contributions to the Habs this year. He has just seven points in 26 games for Montreal while averaging just over 10 minutes of ice time, and it would certainly behoove him to find more of a scoring touch down in AHL Hamilton, where his 18 points in 26 games and minus-8 rating are not exactly the stuff of legend.
The Future to Come
Our prospect of the week is Reilly Smith, a right wing at Miami University of Ohio and a third-round pick by the Dallas Stars in 2009. The 20-year-old junior (he turns 21 on April Fools' Day), a native of Mimico, Ontario, is working on his second straight season of dominating scoring. Although his playmaking numbers have fallen off a bit from last year's surprising 54-point campaign, Smith has 26 goals in 34 games this year - just two off last year's total of 28, and good for second in all of college hockey. For comparison, Miami's next-best goal total is Blake Coleman's 11. Smith's been particularly hot of late, as he's recovered from an early-season swoon by rattling off a six-game points streak in which he's stacked up six goals and four assists. He's still slender at 6-foot, 160, so maybe Smith needs to see Evan Oberg's trainer, but if he can pack on enough mass to compete, he's got the potential to turn into a second-line scoring forward for the Stars.
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