Who’s staying and who’s going? Robby Fabbri returns to action, Eichel hits first scoring slump and a look around the development leagues at top performers.
Almost a month into the NHL regular season and we’re starting to get an idea of who’s going to excel as first year prospects, who’s teetering on the line of being reassigned and who’s been given a fair shake at proving their worth. With the nine-game played mark looming for many prospects still in the NHL, several teams will need to make decisions on top prospects.
One of the more difficult “to-keep-or-not-to-keep” decisions lies in the hands of the Vancouver Canucks. With Jared McCann and Jake Virtanen playing with the big clubs and approaching their important 10th games the ‘Nucks need to make a decision. I’ve been fairly vocal of my feelings on Jake Virtanen, a player I felt was drafted higher than he should’ve, but he has proved valuable in the sense that he’s added much needed speed and physicality to the lineup. With that said, the other 2014 1st round pick selection, Jared McCann, has been much more valuable to the team and can easily carve out a more impactful role this season. He leads the team in goals (4) and plays a sound two-way game that allows the coaching staff to plug him into roles up and down the lineup. If I were a betting man, it’s McCann who has the better chance of staying the season. Thomas Drance weighs in with his thoughts on the situation as well with a good piece.
Mikko Rantanen has already been re-assigned to the AHL after struggling to provide offense out of the gates, which isn’t too surprising given that the talented winger is playing in a new country on smaller ice. I’m not too worried about Rantanen moving forward because I think he’ll eventually round out into a very good player but I think he’ll take some time. See Nichushkin’s development in Dallas (aside from the injury).
With Joonas Donskoi returning to the Sharks lineup, Nikolay Goldobin was reassigned to the Baby Sharks. He was decent in his stint with San Jose and if you own him, stay patient with him because I do think he’ll be a gem to own in fantasy circles. Look at players like Ryan Spooner and Vincent Trocheck as similar development patterns for Goldobin. Both of those players are beginning to take off.
Despite being a healthy scratch versus the Red Wings Tuesday, It’s more than likely that Noah Hanifin remains an NHLer but I don’t expect him to be overly valuable in fantasy circles this season. The 5th overall selection has two assists in eight games.
Sam Reinhart has played nine games with the Sabres and despite missing practice Wednesday, it’s expected he’ll remain with the big club. He has one goal and four points in nine games hovering around 15 minutes per game.
With Hanifin and Reinhart, they’ll be two players to keep an eye on. If their seasons start to slip (doubtful but possible), it’s the 40-game mark that we will need to keep an eye on as players can be reassigned to prevent them losing a year of restricted free agency. I don’t expect either to really be sent down but it’s something to be mindful of.
For Connor McDavid (who’s already Edmonton’s best player), Jack Eichel (who’s in a bit of a slump but nothing alarming), Dylan Larkin and Nik Ehlers, all four players should stick the entire season with their clubs so take a breath.
One of my personal favourites Robby Fabbri returned to action on Tuesday after missing time with a concussion (concerning given his size challenges) and while he didn’t find the gamesheet, he was vital in setting up the only St. Louis Blues goal as they eventually won 1-0. Fabbri won a crucial faceoff that eventually found it’s way to the point where a shot was tipped in by Gomez. Biases aside, Fabbri is a special player but I am not sure the Blues should have him playing at the NHL level (they have other options). Fabbri has only played in three games giving St. Louis time to decide on this future star but if he were returned to the OHL, he’d be highly coveted by contending teams and would eventually be Canada’s main go-to offensive player at the World Juniors in Finland. My gut says that he will (and should be) returned to junior hockey.
It’s no secret that the Oshawa Generals aren’t the same powerhouse squad that took them to the 2015 CHL Memorial Cup but Michael Dal Colle (Islanders) has sure came out of the gates slowly with just six points (surprisingly, all assists) in his first dozen games. What’s shocking is that he sits tied for 8th in team scoring with only two NHL drafted players ahead of him (Anthony Cirelli, Coyotes, and Stephen Desrochers, Leafs). Even rookie Jack Studnicka has more points than the former high pick. Sure, Dal Colle will eventually kick it into high gear but it certainly doesn’t look like he’ll be in the OHL scoring race.
The big news hitting the prospect world yesterday was that Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Jeremy Bracco (61st overall, 2015) decided to bolt from Boston College (NCAA) in favour of joining the Kitchener Rangers. For followers of junior hockey, they’ll know that the Rangers are off to a blazing start (not really expected) and sit undefeated in regulation play. I have been a hugh supporter of Jeremy Bracco’s game, ranking him 17th overall in my draft rankings last season, because few players are able to see and control the game as well as Jeremy. In all honesty, he’s right up there with the Mitch Marners in terms of distribution. The controversy surrounding Bracco’s decision to leave was that it came just five games into BC’s season, where the young winger had three assists. The NCAA supporters are outraged attacking Bracco’s character and criticizing him whether he ever really gave it a real chance. For me, I always felt that Bracco should’ve chose the CHL route in the first place and now that he’s here, Toronto can keep a closer eye on him. He should step right into the lineup and leave his impact. He’s expected to suit up Friday night.
If you haven’t, I highly recommend Sportsnet’s Stephen Burtch piece ontakes an interesting look at the the trend of defensemen becoming smaller and smaller in recent years. It’s no secret that size has always been a coveted attribute but no longer are scouts willing to discredit smaller but talented puck movers. Mitch Vande Sompel, Ryan Ellis, Tyson Barrie, Ivan Provorov, Torey Krug and Sami Vatanen all come to mind from recent drafts. Looking towards the 2016 draft class, it’ll be littered with smaller puck moving defensemen as well with QMJHL leading defensive scorer Samuel Girard in the spotlight and Dante Fabbro, Victor Mete and David Quennville in the mix as well.
After a long wait, the Erie Otters received news that Los Angeles Kings prospect defender Erik Cernak will join the team. He suited up in Erie’s 7-3 win Wednesday night but didn’t find his way onto the gamesheet.
Here’s a good piece looking at Sean Day, the latest OHLer to be granted exceptional status, and his 2016 NHL Draft battle to move back into first round contention.
The quoted scout in the article, Mark Seidal, and I have had long conversations about Sean Day and both seem to agree – the kid has a tremendous skill set but the urgency, passion and drive must be ramped up. Even if his skating looks unenthused and lacksadaisical because it comes so natural to him, it’s his underlying ability to step up into the rush and dominate that we don’t see enough from him. While he has good moments of defensive containment, there are moments where he’s much too passive and at the next level, he’ll get eaten alive. Again, I critiquehis game only because I know that few prospects in the world own his tools. If he can put it together, there’s no doubt he’s a Top 20 pick. Until I see that though, I wouldn’t use a top round pick on him and I know that most scouts would agree.
Sticking with the 2016 NHL Draft, Patrik Laine has returned to action after missing time with a shoulder injury dating back to October 8th.
The lone draft prospect partaking at the Summer Junior evaluation camp, Julien Gauthier, is off to a remarkable start in the QMJHL with Cy Young type of numbers – 12 goals and one assist in 16 games with Val-d’Or. Look for Gauthier to be a top pick at next June’s entry draft. No, he is not the brother of Leafs prospect Freddy Gauthier.
Here’s a look at why Nikolaj Ehlers (Winnipeg) is the real deal and is a legitimate contender for the Calder Trophy. He’s a special player with NHL superstar potential so colour me ‘not-surprised’ with his debut. Four goals and seven points in his first nine NHL games isn’t too shabby for the speedy Dane.
No one ever doubted Max Domi’s offensive skillset and while he was always pegged to play a prominent role as a rookie with the Coyotes, I personally did not expect to see him get off to this type of start. It’s still very early and I am sure his numbers will come back down to earth but the coaching staff leans on the gifted puck distributor a lot so he should remain one of the most valuable rookies all season long. Domi has racked up four goals and 10 points in as many games has only been held off the scoresheet three times. He sits tied with Connor McDavid in rookie scoring. It was nice to see Domi score in his return to Toronto, where he spent most of his childhood cheering on his dad Tie.
Also categorized under “feel-good” story is the fact that Darnell Nurse scored his first career goal (video below) in his first NHL game and it was a pretty nice goal – typical of what the big lanky defender is capable of. He was a force in the OHL last season and while it will take some time at the NHL level (and maybe some stints in the AHL) he’ll eventually become Edmonton’s most valuable defensive piece. The kid works hard and is always looking to better his game. Nurse logged nearly 20-minutes in his first NHL game (no powerplay time).
Around the prospect world…
Blues prospect defenseman Jake Walman, who holds duo-citizenship with USA and Canada, is off to a blistering start with Providence (NCAA) scoring six points in five games to lead Hockey East in defensive scoring. It also appears he’s set to represent the United States internationally despite being born and raised in Toronto.
The Canucks can breathe easier after dealing away Corey Schneider to land Bo Horvat at the 2014 NHL Draft because Thatcher Demko, drafted with it’s 2nd round pick (36th) in Horvat’s draft year, is sparkling in his third season with Boston College sitting with a 0.60 GAA and stiffling .974 save percentage (2nd in country). It appears that he’s recovered from his hip surgeries. With Virtanen, McCann and Demko all trending upwards, it appears the Canucks scouting staff did very well at the top of the 2014 draft.
Leading the QMJHL in scoring is Arizona prospect Conor Garland rallying off 11 goals and 31 points in 13 games. Nashville pick Anthony Richard (16GP-13G-26P), Sens prospect Francis Perron (13GP-12G-25P), Habs future forward Daniel Audette (14GP-8G-25P) and Tampa 3rd rounder Dennis Yan (11GP-14G-23P) are all off and running finding spots among the league leaders.
Out in the WHL, Lightning energy prospect Brayden Point (10GP-10G-24P) and undrafted skater Reid Gardiner (14GP-10G-24P) pace the Western league scorers while rookie import Michael Spacek (Jets; 14GP-7G-21P) and Panthers pick Jayce Hawryluk (13GP-9G-19P) chase the leaders. Flyers prospect Travis Sanheim sits tied in the scoring lead for defensemen with 17 points, including five goals, in 14 contests. Leafs 2015 pick Andrew Nielsen and Flyers first round selection Ivan Provorov have 15 points each as well.
2016 NHL Draft prospect Alex DeBrincat has shrugged off any people who said his gawdy rookie production was a factor of McDavid by scoring an astonishing 15 goals and 22 points in 11 games to lead the Ontario Hockey League. Flyers second 1st rounder, Travis Konecny, has came flying out of the gates and tapped into his playmaking abilities to register 18 assists and 22 points to share the league’s scoring lead. Import rookie and top 10 NHL Draft prospect Alex Nylander has been impressive and currently sits 3rd in scoring with 19 points in 13 games. Other notable OHL scorers include San Jose’s Dylan Sadowy (12GP-9G-17P), Flames prospect Andrew Mangiapane (12GP-8G-16P), Coyotes Ryan MacInnis (11GP-6G-16P) and Leafs JJ Piccinich (10GP-8G-15P). Rookie blueliner and Red Wings prospect Ville Saarigarvi (12GP-2G-16P) has established himself as the most lethal defender early on.
I will touch more on 2016 NHL Draft eligibles in future ramblings but it’s good to note that Max Jones and Jakob Chychrun have started to find the scoresheet. Previously, their hard work and uncontested efforts were not being rewarded with production.
In the NCAA loop, Kyle Connor, a player who shockingly fell much farther than I expected (including being passed by the Bruins three times), is red hot leading the Wolverines in scoring with three goals and five points in a trio of games to open the season. Teammate and Blue Jackets 1st rounder, Zach Werenski, leads Michigan in scoring from the blueline with four assists in three games. Blues 2014 second rounder Maxim Letunov shares the scoring lead in the nation with 11 points in five games with Connecticut including four multipoint games.
Darnell Nurse scores his first NHL goal:
Thanks for reading,
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