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The Coming Thing: Back In The Big Time

Andrew Fiorentino

Managing hockey editor, talent wrangler, football columnist, FSWA's 2015 fantasy hockey writer of the year. Twitter: @akfiorentino

It's been a quiet week in prospect movements, with not much going down on the NHL front, so let's take a look at a couple guys who have been dominating at the AHL level.

You can read below about Brett Connolly getting the call to the majors, but his fellow Lightning prospect Nikita Kucherov is the one who's been lighting it up on the scoreboard with AHL Syracuse. Tampa's 2011 second-round pick, Kucherov averaged nearly two points per game in the QMJHL last year and has amazingly duplicated that result so far this year in pro hockey, tallying an incredible eight goals and seven assists in eight games for the Crunch. A quintessential Russian forward – that is to say, a lover of scoring – Kucherov's not much good on the defensive end, and that’s probably the main shortcoming that'll keep him in the AHL much of the year.

Some NHL teams have no goalies and little hope at the position (hi, Calgary!), but Anaheim's cup runneth over. Not only do they have Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth and impressive Danish rookie Frederik Anderson, but they have yet another goalie who's killing it at the AHL level in 20-year-old Pittsburgh native John Gibson. The Ducks nabbed Gibson in the second round of the 2011 draft, and after two dominating (if injury-shortened) seasons with OHL Kitchener, he's absolutely killing it over his first six AHL games. How's a 1.44 GAA and .953 save mark strike you? Amazingly, Gibson's managed to take three losses (two in the shootout) despite those sparkling numbers. With so many options in goal, though, it's worth wondering whether Gibson or one of his compadres will be traded around the deadline for a piece that helps Anaheim make that final push.

Notable Promotions

Brett Connolly, RW, TAM – It's been a slow start to the year in the minors for Connolly, who's managed no goals and one assist in six games for AHL Syracuse. That said, there are some positives on his stat line, as he's put 16 shots on goal and had a plus-2 rating. After a big-time season last year with Syracuse – 31 goals and 32 assists in 73 games – it was looking like this year would be Connolly's breakout campaign, but the ultra-talented winger has been buried on a Lightning roster that's quite thick at forward. This is his second taste of NHL action this year, as he was called up Oct. 16 and sent down Oct. 22, getting into one game in between. For now, he's going to play on the third line with Ondrej Palat and highly skilled center Tyler Johnson, so keep your expectations tempered.

Ryan Spooner, C, BOS – Despite being snagged in the second round in 2010, Spooner's flown largely under the radar as a prospect for the Bruins. Even after ripping off 17 goals and 40 assists to lead AHL Providence last season, Spooner was left off most top-prospects lists. But after another nice start in the minors this year – seven points in eight games – the playmaking center has received his second call to Boston. He made an immediate impact in his season debut Thursday, picking up his first NHL point, an assist on Carl Soderberg's first NHL goal. For now, he's on a line with the talented Soderberg and the grinding Chris Kelly, an intriguing line combo with a nice balance of grit and scoring ability. Spooner's developing into quite the distributor and should be widely owned in keeper formats.

Andy Miele, C, PHO – Miele's seen two games of action while Martin Hanzal's been suspended, and he's answered the bell with a pair of assists (both in the first game), a plus-2 and three shots. That's not far off what he was delivering in AHL Portland, where the undrafted center who starred at Miami of Ohio had racked up five goals and three helpers in six games to start the year. Yeah, Miele's small at 5-8, 175. But he's quick, he's smart and he can shoot, and those skills play at any level. That said, with Hanzal's suspension over, the 25-year-old Miele will likely be marginalized or sent down in the short term. If so, don't worry; he'll be back.

Petr Mrazek, G, DET – One of my favorite prospects in goal, Mrazek's going to be tasked with backing up Jimmy Howard this weekend after Jonas Gustavsson injured his neck. The Czech minder has been off to a slow start this year, managing just an .891 save mark in his first five games for AHL Grand Rapids, but his track record along with the way he's bounced back and forth between the minors and the Wings (this is his third recall in a month) makes that excusable. A fifth-round pick by Detroit in 2010, Mrazek delivered a shiny .916 save mark in the AHL and impressed in a two-game sample with the Wings last year. With Detroit playing back-to-backs Friday and Saturday, there's a chance he gets into his first big-league action of the year this weekend.

Prospect of the Week

Matt Murray, G, PIT – The Pens' third-round pick in 2012, Murray was a skinny 6-3, 159-pound project pick. Despite his projectable size, his numbers in his first three seasons with Saul Ste. Marie of the OHL were patently awful – he hadn't even managed a .900 save mark. But now Murray's starting to fill out and Penguins fans are getting a glimpse of what could be their future in net. The native of Thunder Bay – a city that's produced dozens of NHLers, including the Staal brothers and the Pyatt brothers – has grown two inches and gotten his weight up to 171 pounds, and he's still just 19. With more physical growth yet to come, Murray could end up challenging Ben Bishop, another former third-rounder who at 6-7 is the tallest goalie in NHL history, when it comes to size. Oh, and we haven't even gotten to the stats yet! All Murray's been able to do in his first 11 games this season is surprise the entire province of Ontario by going 8-1-2 while leading the OHL in GAA at 1.98 and in save percentage by a hearty margin at .934. So that’s pretty good.

2014 Draft Prospect of the Week

Sam Reinhart, C, Kootenay Ice – Considered one of the top candidates for next year's No. 1 overall selection before this campaign got underway, Reinhart has thus far endeavored to prove the experts right. Coming off an 85-point campaign for Kootenay of the WHL last season, Reinhart – who turns 18 next week – has dramatically increased his scoring rate, from last year's "good" to this year's "whoa." With nine goals and 19 assists through 16 contests, he's fourth in WHL scoring and set up for one of those hype-building 100-point seasons.

The brother of Flames prospect Max Reinhart and Islanders first-rounder Griffin Reinhart, Sam may be the youngest of the trio, but he could be picked the highest. Like his brothers, he has NHL size – 6-1, 183 and growing – and with his consistency as a scorer and willingness to go to the front of the net, he's sure to have a bright future wherever he lands (here's looking at you, Buffalo!). But it's worth noting that Reinhart's game is that of a power forward, not necessarily an explosive sniper, which – at least to me – throws his first-overall status into question. I suspect he goes top-5, but not No. 1.

Are there highlights? There are highlights, although YouTube hasn't yet collected a great amount of quality Reinhart video. It will.