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The Coming Thing: A Predictable Firing, Years Too Late

Andrew Fiorentino

Andrew Fiorentino

A degenerate fantasy player since the age of 13.

Not to say that I'm an NHL power broker, but within a day of my complaints at the horrendous player development practices of the Blue Jackets organization over the last couple years – prompted by the demotions of the talented-but-disappointing-so-far Ryan Johansen, David Savard and Jonathan Audy-Marchessault – Columbus GM Scott Howson got the axe.

Let's take a quick look at Howson's tenure with the Jackets, for the edification of future generations.

Howson was hired by the Jackets on June 15, 2007, eight days before that season's NHL Entry Draft – held on the Jackets' very own home turf.

His first pick, seventh overall, was Jakub Voracek, then of the QMJHL's Halifax Mooseheads, who's turned into a respectable second-line scorer and still has first-line upside in the long term. He's also not on the Jackets anymore, having been dealt away in the ill-fated Jeff Carter deal.

After that, it's a litany of disasters, some still with upside: Nikita Filatov (sixth overall; so brutally awful that he washed out of two talent-hungry organizations and fled to the KHL), John Moore (21st overall; has admirably settled in as a third-pairing defenseman with no edge to his game and no offensive production), Ryan Johansen (fourth overall; as previously mentioned, having his development completely ruined), no one (eighth overall; traded to the Flyers in the Carter deal and became Sean Couturier, who's arguably better than any current Jackets forward), and Ryan Murray (second overall; hurt, but you can hardly blame Howson).

Those draft positions tell you all you need to know about what Howson was able to do in free agency and trades to turn the Jackets into contenders. Good trades brought in Jason Williams and Antoine Vermette, but the Carter deal was a horror show (though salvaging Jack Johnson from that disaster was well played) and Howson failed to bring back any impact talent when he dealt Rick Nash to the Rangers. His record in free agency is abysmal – James Wisniewski and Vinny Prospal, hardly all-world talents, were the biggest names he brought in.

So I guess the lesson is, you'll eventually lose your job if you're bad at it for six years.

Only in the sports world.

Called Up

Chris Kreider, LW, NYR – Kreider was sent down for a one-game AHL stint sandwiched between two healthy scratches with the Rangers, then returned to skate 14:37 to a minus-1 rating with two shots on goal and four hits in Tuesday's loss to Montreal. He's a prime example of a guy who needs more AHL time, and I think at this point the Rangers are just manifesting a stubborn resistance to that concept for no good reason. Kreider's got a great shot when he uses it, and his other tools are wonderful too, but he needs more AHL time so the game can slow down for him.

Jason Zucker, LW, MIN – Though he skated just 11:09 in his season debut with Minnesota on Sunday, Zucker scored his first goal of the year. He's no stranger to the score sheet, having put up a very fine 41 points in 47 games for AHL Houston so far this year after concluding two terrific seasons at the University of Denver (45 goals and 91 points in 78 games). It'll be interesting to see how (and if) the Wild deploy Zucker in their next game, Thursday at Edmonton. The 21-year-old California-born, Nevada-raised hockey player could provide a spark to a Minnesota team desperately seeking offense.

David Rundblad, D, PHO – I'm almost as tired of writing about Rundblad as he's got to be of being jerked around by the Coyotes, but the kid hasn't done himself any favors in his latest stint, as he skated more than 12 minutes combined on the power play Thursday and Saturday, and he produced exactly zero points on two shots, not to mention a minus-3 rating. The 'Yotes dialed the 22-year-old Swede way back to almost no PP time on Monday, and he's seen so little total ice time the last two games (13:38 on average) that it'll be no surprise if they send him down again in a day or two.

Peter Holland, C, ANA – Holland collected his first point of the year in his fourth game Monday, scoring a goal against Columbus, but he's been limited to third-line duty with Anaheim, so his short-term fantasy upside remains quite limited. In the long run, however, the 22-year-old Ontarian has plenty of offensive ability, and he's manifested it into a lovely pile of points over the course of his AHL career – 101 in 113 games. If injuries open a spot in Anaheim's top six, it could be the polished Holland who steps in.

Sent Down

Emerson Etem, RW, ANA – Limited to an average of just 9:13 per game in his eight-game stint with the Ducks, Etem will benefit from more consistent ice time with AHL Norfolk. Though he went scoreless with Anaheim and has a horrible 15 points in 43 AHL games, the 29th overall pick in 2010 is a high-octane offensive talent who scored a ridiculous 61 goals in 65 games for Medicine Hat of the WHL last season. With his combination of speed and strength, Etem's going to be a big-time hockey player, but I think at this point that we're going to have to wait 'til next year at the minimum to see him really bust through.

Charlie Coyle, RW, MIN – After producing almost nothing – no points, a minus-1, six shots – despite averaging nearly 15 minutes a game with three minutes of power-play time over his first five NHL games, Coyle was returned to the AHL, where he needs to continue honing his craft. A terrific college scorer who dominated in his short stint in juniors last season, Coyle has all kinds of power-forward potential, but as I've discussed previously in this space, that kind of player tends to come along slowly. The Wild need to exercise patience with the Massachusetts native, who's still a week and a half from his 21st birthday.

Petr Mrazek, G, DET – Mrazek could be on his way right back to Detroit, as no sooner was he sent down to make room for Jonas Gustavsson than Jimmy Howard went down with an injury. Considering Gustavsson's history of iffy play, it's quite possible that if Howard misses a significant period of time, Mrazek could end up with the majority of the starts for the Wings in that span. He's looked great for AHL Grand Rapids this year, posting a .916 save rate and 2.26 GAA in 25 games, and he handled his first two NHL games very well.

Gustav Nyquist, C, DET – Nyquist got into just one game in his latest stint with Detroit, skating 13 minutes and going minus-1 with a shot before being returned to Grand Rapids, where he's been killing it to the tune of 45 points in 48 games this season. The 23-year-old Swede is ready for the big time; it's just a matter of the Wings finding him the minutes. Maybe they can start by recalling Nyquist and keeping him in the lineup consistently.

Andrei Loktionov, C, NJ – Called up for one game, then sent down, the former King skated just 9:31 in his Devils debut. Once a well-regarded prospect after posting 55 points in his first 63 AHL games, Loktionov's offensive performance has declined over the past two years, and when you play a relatively soft game, you can't afford to stop producing points. Loktionov's got a mediocre 22 in 37 games for AHL Albany this year, but at 22, he still has time to develop.


The Future to Come

This week's prospect is Oscar Lindberg, a center for Skelleftea HC of the Swedish Elite League and a 2010 second-round pick by the Coyotes, who dealt Lindberg's rights to the Rangers back in 2011. A big-time scorer in Sweden's junior league, Lindberg had yet to bust out in the SEL until this season, in which he's exploded for an impressive 16 goals and somewhere between 20 and 22 assists in 49 games – quite an improvement upon his previous career high of 14 points.

I should probably provide some clarity on that "somewhere between 20 and 22 assists" part. According to EliteProspects.com, Lindberg has 20 assists. According to HockeyDB.com, he has 21. And according to EuroHockey.com, he has 22 assists. The SEL's official site says 21, so I'm willing to settle on that figure.

In any case, Lindberg, a fine two-way forward who plays with an edge – rare among Swedes – has made a very positive impression on the Rangers, who are likely to strongly consider him for a depth-line spot right out of camp next year. Look at this hit – you just don't see those kinds of levelings take place very often in the extra-wide international rinks. Oh, yeah, and he has hands, too.

If you have any players you’d like me to discuss in next week’s column, please direct all inquiries here, or feel free to discuss them in the comments.

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