So, I filled out two brackets for March Madness, and on both of them I had Kansas going to the Final Four. Unfortunately, that's the only one of the four that I got right, so I guess basketball isn't my thing. Good thing I write a hockey column instead.
While seemingly all of America watches college basketball, there is that subset of people that huddles in a corner to watch some of the most entertaining hockey of the year - the NCAA Men's Ice Hockey Championship, captured as you've rarely seen it before: in full HD. The Canadians (and Washingtonians and Oregonians) have it better, though, as the junior playoffs are just getting ramped up. As you'd expect, the playoffs even in the amateur ranks have extra intensity to them. With all the stats wiped clean, the regular season's big scorers have to do it again, but this time against the best teams. Big playoff runs (or big playoff busts) can make or break a prospect's value, so this is the best time of year to watch junior hockey.
Of course, that'd be easier to do if I wasn't so swamped with fantasy baseball drafts. I'm in eight leagues this year. Eight. I have a problem.
Nonetheless, I'll be sure to keep you updated as the NHL's next generation proceeds through the playoffs.
Simon Despres, D, PIT - Despres would probably not appear in this space if these weren't such lean times for call-ups, but he does have an opportunity again with Kris Letang on the shelf once more. Despres will get into his first game back with the Pens on Tuesday night. His offensive game has come around a little in the minors, as he's got five points in eight games, so the big defenseman's worth watching.
David Savard, D, CLM - Savard's surprisingly seen heavy time since being recalled from AHL Springfield, skating 19 minutes in three of the four games since coming back to the Jackets while averaging more than two minutes of PP time, but he's managed just six shots, no goals and one assist. Worse, the 6-foot-1, 217-pound blueliner has only laid four hits in that span. On the bright side, he is plus-2. The 21-year-old has been stone cold for the Falcons, going without a point in five straight games; last season's 11 goals and 43 points made a promise that Savard has not been able to deliver on this year.
Kyle Palmieri, C, ANA - In a bit of a surprising move, Palmieri was sent down Monday despite collecting five points in seven games since being called back to Anaheim. Bruce Boudreau did say that the reassignment was "not a demotion," so take from that what you will. Apparently, Boudreau and the rest of the Ducks brass want Palmieri and their other youngsters to get some playoff experience; they won't find that in Anaheim this year, but the Syracuse Crunch sit in the No. 8 playoff position in the AHL's Eastern Conference.
Brendan Smith, D, DET - If you watched the Red Wings play the Rangers last Wednesday, you probably heard Doc Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire rave about the play of Smith, who's more than held his own in 14 NHL games this year (seven points, plus-3 despite only averaging 15 minutes of ice time). Naturally, then, the University of Wisconsin product hasn't played since and was returned to AHL Grand Rapids. The 27th overall pick in 2010 was victimized by the return of Niklas Lidstrom and Jakub Kindl to Detroit's blue line. Well, that'll happen. On almost any other team, the 23-year-old Smith would probably be skating top-four defense minutes with heavy power-play time. Instead, he'll go back to making things look easy in the minors, where he's racked up 10 goals and 32 points in 47 games.
Nazem Kadri, C, TOR - Kadri was recalled Thursday, got into just two games (scoring a goal), and was sent back down Sunday. All that up-and-down movement this year has made it hard for Kadri to get into a rhythm in the minors. He's got a decent, but unspectacular six points in nine March games. The seventh overall pick in '09 seems like he's been around long enough to be a bust, but Kadri remains one of the game's brightest prospects. He's still just 21 years old, and these are the Leafs, after all, so stay patient.
Matt Hackett, G, MIN - Hackett got a bit of run with Niklas Backstrom on the shelf, but it didn't go so well - he's lost four straight (and six of seven) thanks to a stretch of inconsistent play. Barring further injury to Minnesota's two big guys - certainly not outside the realm of possibility - Hackett will keep tuning up with AHL Houston. They're headed to the playoffs, too.
Brayden McNabb, D, BUF - Even while Tyler Myers was suspended, McNabb was able to get into just one NHL game - the one I mentioned last week. He was scratched for a few games, giving him the unique opportunity of watching some NHL games from the press box. Too bad, too - Ryan Miller's been playing so well, McNabb would almost certainly be a good source of plus-minus at the minimum.
Dustin Tokarski, G, TAM - If Tokarski proved anything in his time with Tampa, it's either that he's not an NHL goalie or that the Bolts don't play NHL-quality defense in front of anyone. Could be both; after all, look how Mike Smith's career took off after he was liberated from the Lightning nets. Tokarski's five-game stint produced the following statistical wonderland: 1-3-1, 3.44 GAA, .879 save percentage. On the bright side, he's still only 22 and he's been a winner, if not exactly a star, in goal for first-place AHL Norfolk this year.
The Future to Come
Our prospect of the week is Mikhail Grigorenko, a right wing playing for the QMJHL's Quebec Remparts. The 17-year-old Russian will be eligible this coming June for the NHL draft, where he's been projected as high as the No. 2 pick. Grigorenko's first year in North America has been a smashing success, as he ripped off 40 goals and 85 points to help lead the Remparts to the fifth-best record in the Q - and two wins in two games thus far in their first-round playoff series against Drummondville. Grigorenko's been a key as usual, collecting four points thus far in the playoffs. The 6-2, 191-pound winger has NHL-ready size and NHL-ready talent, and you're likely to hear about his name bandied about as an impact rookie before next year's fantasy drafts - although it depends where he ends up. If Columbus takes him with the top pick because of Nail Yakupov's injury, you won't see me snapping him up on draft day.
Something to ask? Something to say? Prospects you're dying to hear about? You can contact me here.