Carolina prospect Lucas Wallmark of the Charlotte Checkers is tied for the scoring lead so far in Calder Cup action.
There’s nothing like the crucible of playoff hockey to accelerate the development of young players.
This week, we examine a few prospects who are doing well early in the American Hockey League playoffs.
C Lucas Wallmark, Charlotte Checkers: Building on a promising North American debut that included 24 goals and 46 points in 67 league games, he is benefiting from the experience of three seasons in the highest tier of Swedish hockey. Blessed with tremendous hockey sense, good puckhandling ability and a strong work ethic, Wallmark has three goals and three assists in five games with the Charlotte Checkers for an early share of the AHL post-season scoring lead. If he can overcome so-so skating and modest (6-0, 176) size, the 2014 fourth-rounder might turn out to be a steal for the parent Hurricanes.
D Justin Holl, Toronto Marlies: A one-time second-round pick by the Blackhawks, the 25-year-old finished four undistinguished years at the U of Minnesota before getting into only two AHL games for Chicago’s AHL affiliate in Rockford and spending the rest of that season in the ECHL before the Leafs took a chance on him. After just 19 points in 72 games for the Marlies, the converted RW is showing signs of life in the Calder Cup playoffs with three goals and five points in five games for the Marlies. His most likely NHL path is as a steady if unexciting rearguard, although he still jumps into the play occasionally.
LW Samuel Blais, Chicago Wolves: One of three St. Louis Blues’ prospects tied for second place in Calder scoring with five points, the AHL first-timer is building on a solid 26-goal campaign that augmented his reputation as an offensive player. While his defensive play has needed work, he’s been adding muscle and the speedy winger could outperform his sixth-round draft status with proper AHL seasoning.
C Adam Musil, Chicago Wolves: The son of former NHL defender Frantisek Musil, brother of former (if just for four games) big-league blueliner David Musil and nephew of ex-NHL power forward Bobby Holik is carrying on the family’s hockey tradition. Most closely resembling Holik, Adam’s uses his size (6-3, 203) and strength to battle for pucks and take a toll on opposing blueliners. Joining the St. Louis organization after three seasons with the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels, Musil had a point-less two-game AHL tuneup before using above-average puckhandling and playmaking skills for a big man to roll up three goals and two assists in five Calder tilts so far. With more minor-pro seasoning, he’s got a good shot at a top-nine role with Chicago.
LW Kenny Agostino, Chicago Wolves: With 17 NHL games with Calgary and St. Louis under his belt, Pittsburgh’s 2010 fifth-rounder has some valuable experience at 25. The Yale grad has posted good AHL numbers with 43- and 57-point campaigns leading to his 83-point 2016-17 breakout. This is the first post-season appearance of his pro career, and he’s making the most of it. Three points in seven league games for the Blues indicates he could have a solid NHL future, although St. Louis has a slew of good players with LW experience and/or potential.
G Kasimir Kaskisuo, Toronto Marlies: As if the Maple Leafs didn’t have sensational young talent up front, their free-agent signing a year ago out of the U of Minnesota-Duluth is posting some eye-popping stats early in Calder Cup play. The husky (6-3, 201) Finn leads all netminders with an 0.96 GAA and .952 save percentage, has won both games he’s started and is making the best of an opportunity that arose when fellow Leaf prospect Garrett Sparks went down with a leg injury in his second game. Kaskisuo moves fluidly and quickly. He has time to cure a habit of overcommitting. His future looks bright.
Kasimir Kaskisuo smartly turns away an Albany shot in Calder Cup play:
G Jared Coreau, Grand Rapids Griffins: The gargantuan (6-6, 220) puck-stopper has won all three of his starts while posting 2.10 and .931 peripherals. Undrafted after one unimpressive USHL campaign and three seasons with Northern Michigan University, the late-blooming 25-year-old in his third substantial go-round with the Griffins uses his size effectively, augmenting it with enough athletic ability to give him hope of joining Petr Mrazek in the NHL.
G Mackenzie Blackwood, Albany Devils: Although you wouldn’t guess it from his 1-3 record, the 6-4, 215-pound second-round draft pick has strong peripherals of 2.13 and .928. Vying with Scott Wedgewood (out with a season-ending injury) to be New Jersey’s No. 1 netminding prospect, Blackwood is trying to erase the memory of a disappointing first AHL campaign. To do so, he has to maximize his size and not let shooters see much of the net.
Check in next Saturday for more of my musings about hockey prospects and on other days of the week for Ramblings by other Dobber writers. As usual, Hayden Soboleski follows me Sunday.