It must have been hard being Jack Eichel for the first two months of this season. Sidelined by an ankle injury suffered shortly before Opening Night, he sat out 21 games and watched the Sabres scuffle to a 7-9-5 record thanks largely to owning the league’s worst offense. Goalies Robin Lehner and Anders Nilsson owned .922 and .945 save marks, respectively, and yet both had losing records despite those sparkling stats.
But now that Eichel has made a king’s return, posting consecutive two-point efforts, the Sabres look like an entirely different team. The Buffalo skaters who took the Rangers down on Thursday night were confident, aggressive and dangerous – not a description we’d have given them just a week ago. An already dangerous power play can now be considered among the league’s top few units, as three of Eichel’s four points have come there. His return has changed the entire complexion of the Sabres and forced other teams to alter the way they match up to them. As great as Connor McDavid has been, the guy who went No. 2 to him in last year’s draft may reignite the old McDavid-or-Eichel argument in no time.
There hasn’t been a ton of prospect movement around the league in the last week-plus, but let’s check out the guys who’ve come across the transaction wire.
Comings and Goings
Mark Jankowski, C, CGY – Despite having been selected 21st overall in the 2012 draft, the 22-year-old Jankowski is only now in his first professional season. The early results have been strong at AHL Stockton – 12 points in 13 games – and that earned him a first taste of NHL ice in Monday’s game against the Islanders. However, he notched just 10 minutes of ice time and was promptly returned to the minors. Nonetheless, after last year’s 40-point campaign for Providence College and his strong early returns at the AHL level, you can be sure he’ll be back. He’s really grown into his 6-foot-4 frame, having put on 30 pounds since being drafted, and while he may not always be the most talented guy on the ice, he’s often the hardest-working.
Jakub Vrana, RW, WAS – It’s almost not even fair that the Caps have players like this coming through their system when they already have Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov. The 20-year-old Vrana got called up for his first taste of NHL action Thursday, firing four shots on net in a team-low 10:10 of ice time. He played on the “second line” with Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky and got no power-play time, so the Caps clearly aren’t ready to just hand Vrana a big role. He’s given them plenty of reasons to be hopeful for his future in AHL action, though, netting 16 points in 18 games for AHL Hershey this year on the heels of 34 in 36 last year.
Shea Theodore, D, ANA – One of my personal favorite prospects on the blue line, Theodore has nothing left to prove in the AHL; in his stints there over the last three seasons, the 21-year-old has racked up 55 points in 68 games. His success in the NHL has been spottier, but Theodore’s only enjoyed a major role for short spans, usually due to injuries elsewhere in the lineup. It’s been no different in his latest cup of coffee with Anaheim, as the 2013 draft’s No. 26 pick has an assist in two games while skating third-pairing minutes. With his appearances earlier this year having failed to result in any power-play points, Theodore’s even seeing his minutes in those situations dry up, which hurts his short-term value even more. A bit of added physicality wouldn’t hurt; Theodore’s sometimes a little too soft for the NHL game. But that’s a matter of approach, not talent.
Derrick Pouliot, D, PIT – Yes, he’s back! Freshly recalled from a conditioning stint in the AHL, the enigmatic young blueliner is with the Penguins again and could/should suit up soon. We all know the deal with Pouliot: He’s been an AHL dynamo (47 points in 68 games from the blue line over the last two seasons), but he’s had a lot of trouble earning a major role in Pittsburgh. Pouliot’s been trying to break in for a while, having been the No. 8 pick in the 2012 draft, but he’s still only 22 years old – it’s not nearly time to write him off yet. After all, there are plenty of same-aged guys like Jankowski who are only now starting out in the pros.
Prospect of the Week
Adam Brooks, C, TOR – The Leafs have so much incredible young talent, Brooks has flown entirely under the prospect radar despite his incredible success in the WHL. That’s because he’s an unusual sort of prospect who wasn’t drafted at age 18; instead, he fell into this season’s draft, getting taken in the fourth round by Toronto. As a 19-year-old last year, he led the circuit with 120 points – 38 goals and a ridiculous 82 assists – over 72 games, and he’s actually been even better this season. Through 17 contests this season, he’s collected nine goals and a somehow even more ridiculous 29 assists – those 38 points have him tied for fourth in the league in scoring despite the fact that he’s played fewer games than any of the other top 84 scorers in the league. Yeah, chew on that for a minute. Like a lot of inadequately respected young players, Brooks isn’t big at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, but as you may have figured, he’s a spectacular passer, a skill that certainly plays in the NHL. Equally importantly, he’s an opportunistic shooter with great ice vision and strong skating ability. It’s time to quietly add him in dynasty formats.