Well, Vladimir Tarasenko has come as advertised. He looks like a star for the Blues, tied for the team lead in scoring despite playing on the second line. The sky's the limit; he could easily outperform my projection for him and jump into point-per-game stardom starting this year.
Justin Schultz has been similarly impressive as a rookie, continuing his AHL point-racking in the NHL, with two goals and four assists through four games. With all that scoring power up front and Schultz feeding it from the back, there's potential for a lot more points to come.
In general, I'm feeling really good about the guys I pimped in this space in the preseason. The only ones struggling along are Sven Baertschi (pointless in four games), Jonathan Huberdeau (three points in the first game, no points in four since), David Rundblad (has only played in one game) and Braden Holtby (displaced early on by Michal Neuvirth), and I have faith that those four have the skill to come around. If anyone wants to sell low on any of them, please let me know.
On a non-prospect note, Patrick Marleau's the talk of the league early on in this season, and rightly, as he's almost come out of nowhere (relatively speaking) with an incredible rush of scoring nine markers and 13 total points (tied with teammate Joe Thornton for the NHL lead) in just five games to start the year, thanks to multiple points in every game. When will it end? And will the Sharks ever lose with such a reliable offense?
Emerson Etem, RW, ANA It's hard to know what to make of Etem. Last year, he had one of the better junior seasons in recent memory, scoring 61 goals (!) and 107 points in 65 games for the WHL's Medicine Hat Tigers. He remained prolific in the playoffs, scoring seven goals in as many games and adding six assists, and he didn't look lost in six AHL games (four in the playoffs) at the end of last season. But the full-season pro transition hasn't been as kind Etem has 12 goals, but just two assists in 40 games with AHL Norfolk. The banner carrier for the new wave of Californian hockey players, the 20-year-old Etem isn't going to be asked to do a lot for the Ducks, but he's got the makeup of a big-time future star in the mold of a Jarome Iginla.
Sami Vatanen, D, ANA Not just good company for Etem's plane ride to Cali, Vatanen will presumably make his NHL debut this week after putting in three impressive seasons in his native Finland, where the undersized, but feisty and skilled blueliner put up some truly impressive point totals. Over the last two seasons, he piled up 25 goals and 73 points in 101 games, and he hasn't skipped a beat since coming to America, notching 23 points in 34 contests in the AHL. It's hard to see him contributing instantly or even finding much ice time but he's a good name for keeper-league owners to keep an eye on.
Jonas Brodin, D, MIN The 10th overall pick in 2011 is something of an unknown commodity in this young season. Although he won't turn 20 'til July, Brodin's already got two full professional seasons in his native Swedish league behind him; however, he never scored a goal and totaled a meager 12 assists in 94 SEL games. He's off to a much better start in North America, though, as he produced two goals and two assists in nine games with AHL Houston, then notched an assist in his NHL debut. Brodin's averaged nearly 19 minutes of ice time in his two games and certainly hasn't looked out of place for the Wild, but his fantasy upside is still up for debate.
Jordan Schroeder, C, VAN With Ryan Kesler out, Schroeder's been recalled and instantly granted important minutes, as he's averaging 4:33 of power-play ice in his three games, though he's tallied just one assist and no goals in that time. The 22nd overall pick in '09 has had an underwhelming AHL career, though he was in the midst of his best season there before being called up, totaling 19 points in 30 games. The 22-year-old Minnesotan lacks NHL size at 5-9, and he hasn't shown enough high-end skill to make up for that. His upside is likely that of a complementary player.
David Rundblad, D, PHO Sent down and then called back up within the space of the last week, Rundblad returned to the 'Yotes only to be scratched two more times, just as he had been earlier in the year. He's seen just one game of action with Phoenix, going minus-2 with two shots in the opener, but as I discussed previously, he's been doing fine work in the AHL, totaling 23 points in 32 games. The Coyotes need to stop jerking him around, though, lest they ruin his development; he put up 50 points as a 21-year-old defenseman in the Swedish league just two years ago, but between bouncing from one organization to another and the majors to the minors, he hasn't really had a chance to establish himself in North America.
Richard Bachman, G, DAL Christopher Nilstorp won the Dallas backup job initially, but a groin injury landed him on IR and reopened the door for Bachman, who did serviceable work as Kari Lehtonen's backup last season. At 25, his prospect days are drawing to an end, but Bachman is only three years out of college and just two years removed from a spectacular AHL season in which he racked up a .927 save percentage and 2.20 GAA in 55 games. Obviously, with Lehtonen entrenched as the big man, Bachman's upside remains limited, but Lehtonen has had brittle periods in his career, so that door may not remain closed.
Benn Ferriero, RW, NYR We're really pushing the limit on who we call a prospect with the 25-year-olds here. A Boston College grad, Ferriero has had periods of impressive play in the AHL (50 points in 58 games in 2009-10; 20 in 20 last year) and has scored some big goals in the NHL it's a rare player who can claim that more than a third of his goals have been game-winners. Consistency and intensity have been issues for Ferriero, who's already on his fourth NHL organization, but he skated 12:40 in a depth-line role (working his way up as far as the second line!) in Saturday's win over Toronto. He should stick around for a while after the failed signing of Jason Arnott.
Jake Gardiner, D, TOR Gardiner should probably stay in the send-downs column, as the Leafs sent him down on Friday, but they called him back Monday presumably just to skate with the big team while the Marlies are in the midst of the AHL All-Star break. He was a surprising send-down, though, as Gardiner established himself as a key member of the Toronto blue line last year, skating big minutes and collecting 30 points in 75 games. Most likely, the team is bringing him along slowly due to the concussion he suffered in the AHL this year. Take note of his availability in your leagues before he makes his return to prime time.
Gustav Nyquist, C, DET All Nyquist's done since wrapping up a spectacular career at the University of Maine is dominate the minors with impressive talent and consistency, as he's played in 108 AHL games over the last two seasons and collected 108 points. The Wings called him up for one game last week, and he recorded two shots in 11:42 of ice time before being returned to the AHL for its All-Star festivities. Technically, Nyquist hasn't been returned to Grand Rapids, so he may stick with the Wings once that's done. However, Todd Bertuzzi (whose injury prompted the call-up) has returned, making it tougher for the 23-year-old Swede to crack the lineup. Generally, unless injuries hit hard, Detroit has no need to lean on Nyquist for offensive production this year, as it's still got plenty of firepower up front. The Wings tend to bring 'em along slowly, and you won't hear their fans complaining too much about that.
Robin Lehner, G, OTT The Senators, knowing they've got the best goaltending prospect in hockey at this point, sent the 21-year-old Lehner down to the AHL last week rather than have him ride the pine as Craig Anderson's backup. His numbers for Binghamton this year are unfair: 16-5-1, with a 1.80 GAA and .948 save percentage. In the last three months, he's lost three games in regulation and one in the shootout. He is, in a word, ridiculous. But until Anderson stumbles or is hurt, he's going to be stuck in the minors. No dice yet on the stumbling part Anderson's allowed just three goals in four games to start the year.
Quinton Howden, LW, FLA Howden got only one game in with the Panthers after being called up, and he made a mixed impression in his 9:29 of ice time, going minus-3 with one shot on goal and four hits in a blowout loss. first-round pick (25th overall) in 2010, Howden's seen his stock decline somewhat due to stagnation in his junior scoring and an unimpressive pro debut. With just 19 points in 41 AHL games this season, he hasn't shown he's ready for prime time, but at just 21 years old, there's still room for growth.
Drew Shore, C, FLA Florida's 2009 second-round pick got a bit more of a shot than Howden three games but the Panthers scored just one goal in each of them and Shore was held scoreless with a total of eight shots, two PIM, two hits and a minus-1. Not so bad, considering the team was outscored 14-3 in the three games. Shore starred for the last two years at the University of Denver, accumulating 99 points in 82 games, and has had a more reasonable start to his first AHL season, totaling 30 points in 41 games for San Antonio. A grinder with offensive upside, you can see Shore making progress along the road to fantasy relevance despite this demotion.
Peter Holland, C, ANA Holland's season debut lasted just 7:57, a short period of ice time in which the 22-year-old accumulated no fantasy stats whatsoever. And then back he went to the AHL. That's the bad news. The good news is that the Ducks' 2009 first-rounder has made his fine scoring totals in the OHL translate to pro hockey, as he totaled 60 points in 71 games last year for AHL Syracuse and has 31 in 34 (albeit an ugly minus-10 rating, thanks to the rest of the team being pretty horrible) for Anaheim's new affiliate in Norfolk this year. Holland's got real scoring ability and could fill in capably later this year if the Ducks' centers are hit by injuries.
The Future to Come
Every week in this space, Ill feature one amateur player making his mark in college or juniors.
This week's player is Nicolas Petan, a 17-year-old (18 in March draft-eligible!) center for the WHL's Portland Winterhawks. Coming off a relatively quiet debut season for Portland in which he registered just 35 points in 61 games while behind older players and big names like Sven Baertschi and Ty Rattie on the depth chart, Petan has stepped into a featured role this year and blasted off to the tune of 33 goals and 52 assists in 49 games. Both are league-leading stats - by one goal and three assists over teammate Brendan Leipsic, a third-round pick by the Predators last year. Petan is undersized at 5-9, but watchers have raved about his slick hands, ice vision and tough play. Size concerns will probably drop him out of the first round of the NHL draft this year, so he could be a big-time bargain in the second or third. Keep your eyes peeled for him in your dynasty drafts.
If you have any players youd like me to discuss in next weeks column, please direct all inquiries here, or feel free to discuss them in the comments.