Blue Jackets' prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand is prospering in the
Calder Cup playoffs as an AHL rookie.
Considering six Monsters are among the top 10 AHL playoff scoring leaders, it’s no surprise Lake Erie is poised to win the Calder Cup, possibly completing a four-game sweep today (June 11).
Including 4-1, 5-3 and 3-2 (in OT) wins over the Hershey Bears in the championship series so far, right winger Oliver Bjorkstrand is tied with Lake Erie teammate and fellow Columbus Blue Jackets’ prospect Lukas Sedlak for third place in AHL post-season scoring. The Dane and the Czech center each have 15 points and are tied for the league goal-scoring lead at nine.
Bjorkstrand, an AHL rookie and the more heralded of the two after the Jackets drafted him in 2013’s third round, overcomes unimpressive skating and size with outstanding hockey sense, a sniper’s mentality, a good shot and above-average hand-eye co-ordination. Sedlak is raising eyebrows after three pedestrian AHL regular seasons.
Zach Werenski, a 2015 first-round pick and Columbus’ top prospect, is posting some impressive numbers from the back end. He’s tied with teammate Ryan Craig for seventh in playoff scoring at 13 points, although AHL newbie Werenski is a blueliner and Craig a left wing veteran of six AHL campaigns.
Prized Columbus prospect Zach Werenski lasers a goal from the point:
Lake Erie right wingers Josh Anderson and Daniel Zaar are tied with 12 playoff points each. Anderson, a 2012 fourth-rounder taken by the Jackets, is in his first season with the Monsters after coming from the Springfield Falcons. Zaar, a 2012 sixth-round pick of Columbus, is an AHL rookie after coming across the Atlantic this season from Sweden.
Overall, the Blue Jackets have to be encouraged by Lake Erie’s post-season success and one of the best five prospect pools among NHL teams.
Even a cursory glance at the AHL’s current best playoff scorers indicates the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins also have reason to be encouraged about their prospect lists.
Dynamic Czech left winger Jakub Vrana of the Hershey Bears is tied with Jake Guentzel of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at 14 points each.
Vrana, the 13th overall selection of the Washington Capitals in the 2014 entry draft, makes up for average size with awesome skating, a superior shot and a high degree of creativity. He’s bouncing back from wrist surgery that took him out of action for three months. Vrana needs to get stronger and improve his play without the puck, which could keep him in the AHL a little longer.
Guentzel, Pittsburgh’s third-rounder three years ago, is coming off three outstanding seasons at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. After totalling six points in 11 regular-season games in his AHL debut, the versatile forward has upped the ante in the playoffs with five goals and 14 points in just 10 playoff games. To make it in the NHL, Guentzel will have to get stronger to overcome a lack of size, and must earn a role among a deep cast of Pittsburgh forwards.
Although the NHL Penguins have already promoted a slew of prospects for their convincing Stanley Cup drive (including Matt Murray, Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust and Tom Kühnhackl) from their AHL affiliate, veteran forwards Tom Kostopoulos and Carter Rowney from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton are among eight players with 12 points apiece in the Calder playoffs.
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As part of an effort to overhaul the NHL’s worst goaltending, the Flames signed 6-4 free-agent David Rittich. The undrafted 23-year-old has played for MK Mlada Boleslav in the top Czech league the past two seasons, dramatically improving his stats from 2014-15. Calgary will likely acquire some experienced NHL help through trading/free agency and let Rittich learn the North American game in the AHL and/or IHL.
The Habs re-signed versatile if unspectacular Swiss forward Sven Andrighetto to a one-year extension. The 5-10 speedster has some offensive flair but has managed only a modest 20 points in 56 games with Montreal over the past two seasons. He must prove he can produce more offense against larger NHL defenders.
Dallas gave slow-to-develop power forward Brett Ritchie more time to evolve with a one-year extension. The 6-3, 220-pounder has just 10 points in 39 NHL games during the past two seasons after the Stars chose him 44th overall in 2011. He needs to make better use of his size if he’s to get into more NHL games.
The Stars also extended Mattias Bäckman by one year. Originally taken by Detroit in 2011’s fifth round, the 6-2 offensive blueliner has yet to play in an NHL game, and likely never will unless he gets stronger and injects even a hint of physicality into his game.
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Several more players signed European contracts this week, including 23-year-old center Max Reinhart with Kolner Haie of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga in Germany. While his brother Sam has a promising career ahead of him with the Buffalo Sabres and other brother Griffin is in the Edmonton Oilers’ system, things didn’t pan out with the Calgary Flames for Max, son of former NHL defenseman Paul Reinhart. Max totaled a mere five points in 23 games during three NHL seasons and spent the entire 2015-16 campaign in the AHL.
In other Euro signings, veteran netminder Niklas Backstrom will return to Finland to join HIFK in Helsinki, longtime LW Steve Tambellini will play for Djurgardens IF in Sweden, smallish defenseman Mark Cundari will play for the Ausberger Panther in Germany and 24-year-old Czech winger Jiri Sekac will join AK Bars Kazan of the KHL.
Until next weekend…