After a long layoff, I'm finally back with The Coming Thing. Hope you guys missed me.
With the Olympics coming up, it's worth taking a look at the rosters for some of the teams that aren't stacked with NHL talent for intriguing prospects; while Team USA and Team Canada, among others, are loaded with veterans of pro hockey, the other teams provide an interesting mine of talent. Even Russia, largely chock-full of NHL (or KHL) players, has a young player worth notice: Viktor Tikhonov, grandson of the famous hockey coach and a 2008 first-round pick of the Coyotes. But the other teams, which have fewer superstars, present some opportunities for fantasy prospectors.
NHL fans have seen just 14 games of 21-year-old Red Wings prospect Tomas Jurco so far, but they'll see plenty more of him when he takes the ice with the Slovakian team in Sochi. Jurco's expected to start out on a depth line for Slovakia, but he might well be the most offensively talented player on this roster not named Hossa or Gaborik. Not that his fellow Red Wings youngster Tomas Tatar is chopped liver.
Sondre Olden has been a star in the Norwegian league this year, with 48 points in 34 games, and he'll be looking to make a second first impression on North American hockey minds after posting a physical-pain-inducing minus-40 rating (to go with 32 points) in 48 games for OHL Erie two seasons ago. A third-round pick by the Leafs in 2010, Olden's still only 21 and could yet return to North America, especially if he can turn some heads before the Norwegian team which features only one NHL player, Mats Zuccarello gets bumped from the tournament.
Latvia's backup netminder, Kristers Gudlevskis, is an up-and-coming prospect for the Lightning; though he's disappointed so far in his first AHL exposure, he's had good success in the ECHL and his size (6-foot-3, 189 pounds) is an asset, especially next to presumable starter Edgars Masalskis, who's 5-foot-8 quite tiny for any NHL player, never mind a goalie.
And finally, before we get into this week's NHL action, winger Reto Suri will suit up for Team Switzerland. Suri signed a contract with the Lightning last year, only to see it voided because the Swiss federation unexpectedly didn't sign off on the transfer agreement that would let him come to North America. He could show up next year, though, and with 32 points in 39 games so far in the Swiss National League A this year, the 24-year-old could find his services in demand, especially if he has some Olympic success to add to his resume.
Brandon Pirri, C, CHI I don't say this about a lot of players, but: Brandon Pirri is going to be a star. That said, the key words here are "going to be"; the 22-year-old has all the goods, but opportunity is another story. Jonathan Toews is quite entrenched as the top-line center, while Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Hossa join him as eaters of valuable power-play time. So even though Pirri got the call back to the big leagues this week, he's skated an average of 14:13 over his two games back, with all of 28 seconds of power-play time in total. Pirri gave a little preview of his ability in his time with the 'Hawks earlier this year, recording 11 points in 24 games despite abbreviated ice time. The Toronto native's already achieved stardom in the AHL, as he collected 75 points and 72 PIM in 76 games with Rockford last year. This year, he has a relatively disappointing four goals and 13 points in 16 games in the minors, but has had his season there abbreviated by his time in Chicago as well as a lower-body injury from which he just recently returned.
Jordan Schroeder, C, VAN Drafted 22nd overall in '09, Schroeder has disappointed the Canucks and his keeper-league owners by failing to break into the Vancouver lineup over and over again. This year, he finally was getting his shot, but had the start of his season delayed by injury, then was hurt again after only three games back. That ankle ailment kept him out from Oct. 19 'til all the way 'til Jan. 27, when he returned with a two-goal performance against Edmonton. Schroeder's shown some promise in the AHL he's got a 21-goal season to his credit and put up an attention-worthy 33 points in 42 games in the minors last year but has a total of only 11 points in 36 games at the NHL level so far. He's skated good minutes in his two games back from injury, though, so it appears the Canucks will give him every chance to prove himself.
Colton Sissons, RW, NAS Sissons isn't necessarily a well-known name among prospectors, but the 50th overall pick in 2012 is worth some attention. While it took him until his third WHL season to break out and score at a point-per-game pace, he's looked very good in his first professional campaign this year, totaling 28 points in 42 games with AHL Milwaukee, and is known for his two-way skills the kinds of skills that keep you in the big leagues. And, hey, he put up an assist in just 10:49 of ice time in his NHL debut Tuesday.
Christian Thomas, RW, MON Thomas turned a lot of heads in 2010-11, when he delivered 54 goals and 99 points in 66 games for the OHL's Oshawa Generals, then ripped off another 19 points in 10 playoffs games, but things haven't gone quite so well for him since. Not that he was bad in his next and final junior season, as he still totaled 34 goals and 67 points in 55 games. But his first full year in the AHL last season did not go well he managed just 35 points in 73 games with the Rangers' AHL affiliate before being dealt to the Habs in the offseason for Danny Kristo. He's been a little better for AHL Hamilton this season, with 14 points in 23 contests despite missing significant time due to injury. However, it doesn't appear likely that Thomas will join the top six in Montreal, at least for now.
Tim Erixon, D, CBJ It's hard to believe that, at just 22 years old (he'll turn 23 shortly after the Olympics) Erixon taken with the pick after Schroeder in '09 is on his third NHL franchise. Like Schroeder, he's failed to win a full-time role so far, having appeared in just 51 NHL contests (with all of zero goals and seven assists in that time). But Erixon has flashed some spectacular potential in the AHL, especially this season: 23 points in 25 games is nothing short of excellence, and he put up 62 points in 92 AHL games over the last two seasons. Unfortunately, his call-up ended in a send-down on Thursday without Erixon appearing in any further NHL action.
Prospect of the Week
T.J. Brennan, D, TOR If you thought Erixon's point totals in the AHL were impressive, well, he's got nothing on Brennan. The first pick of the second round way back in 2007, the New Jersey native is still only 24 years old and has a minor-league resume that would make most forwards jealous. Brennan's performed at a point-per-game pace in the AHL between this year and last, racking up 79 points (and 116 penalty minutes!) in you guessed it, 79 games. He's not just loading up on assists, either Brennan's scored 19 goals this year alone, easily good for the team lead. The Sabres, who drafted him, gave up on him, dealing him to Florida; the Panthers just let him walk as a free agent. So the odds are stacked against Brennan, but you just can't score that much from the blue line without getting your chance sooner or later. Right now, though, he's gonna need some injuries to Toronto's defensive corps to get his shot.
2014 Draft Prospect of the Week
Jackson Whistle, G, Kelowna Rockets Whistle was actually eligible for last year's draft, but wasn't selected a horrible oversight, in my view, considering the way he excelled in his first season with WHL Kelowna. Playing in 21 games for his hometown team, all Whistle did was go 15-2-1 with a 1.96 GAA and .931 save mark and yet somehow no one thought, "Hey, here's a guy I could spend a seventh-round pick on." Hell, I'd draft the kid just for his name alone. Still just 18 years old, he's killing it again for Kelowna this year despite again ceding starting duties to Jordon Cooke whom he's outplaying for the second straight season, but is going to have a hard time displacing on a team that practically never loses. (They're 40-7-0. Seriously. There's gotta be a rule against being that good.) Whistle's 11-3-0 with a .923 GAA over his 14 games this year. At 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, he has perfectly fine size for an NHL netminder, and clearly the skills are there. Mark my words: The team that snatches him up in this year's draft probably with a pretty late pick will be happy about it.