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Neutral Zone Wrap: Catching a shooting star

by | Rotowire.com
  •  

The lockout continues.

A prolonged period of inactivity will catch up to anyone, especially if the anticipation for a resolution exists at any moment. Unfortunately, that silver lining of hope is fading as the weeks pass and yet another tease of negotiations concludes with no known progress. There's no business like no business where there's no business at all. But who really needs the NHL when there are other hockey-related endeavors to follow?

Last time, this column discussed those to watch in the AHL and Europe. This installment will cover a related topic with players involved in the former organization. You want to know who the next big star coming up from the AHL (or other lower leagues). Over the years, we've seen many NHL stars start their quest to professional glory in The A. More recently, examples like Ryan Miller, Claude Giroux and P.A. Parenteau have translated farm-team prowess into big-league success (and eventually, major bankroll).

At the same time, you will also find those like Darren Haydar and Jason Krog who post gaudy numbers but never get a real taste of the high life. These guys either didn't fit the physical profile of an NHLer or lost what little opportunity was provided. Nothing against them, as they're obviously competent players. But there was just something missing.

So if we could predict the next wave of superstars emerging from the AHL, then it would look similar to the following. We'll also check who probably won't make it among the current producers and those who have a chance but the data is still too early to analyze. Anyone who was discussed a couple weeks ago (Justin Schultz, Sven Baertschi, Robin Lehner, Marc-Andre Gragnani) will be omitted so as to avoid redundancy. And we've set a limit of one prospect per NHL system, so keep that in mind:

Next-in-Line

Marcus Foligno, F, Rochester (Buffalo): Foligno made the most of his late-season call-up (13 points in 14 games) and received some power-play duty (three PPPs). He has continued that trend in Rochester (11 in 10). In junior, he was known for being a big, bruising winger who wasn't afraid to use his size. As his career has progressed, so has Foligno's offensive production. While he may never be an NHL star, you can pencil him in as a future consistent 60-point forward.

Mikael Granlund, F, Houston (Minnesota): Granlund stayed in Finland for two more years after his draft selection (9th overall in 2010) and looks to be well worth the wait. A hot start with Houston (an amazing 12 in eight) was cut short by a leg injury, but he should be back with the likes of Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker in no time. Granlund led his Finnish Elite squad in scoring last season as a 19-year-old and has already represented his country twice at the senior level, so there's no telling how high his ceiling can be.

Gustav Nyquist, F, Grand Rapids (Detroit): Unlike the previous two entries, Nyquist wasn't selected until the 121st pick of the 2008 draft. But we all know the Red Wings' luck with later selections (current members Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Holmstrom included), so it's no surprise the University of Maine prodigy (144 in 113!) is being touted as the next piece in the legacy. With Detroit's forward core aging, Nyquist can jump into a top-six role as long as long as he continues to work hard.

Tyler Toffoli, F, Manchester (Los Angeles); One of hockey's purest scoring machines (topped 100 points the last two junior stints) will fit in nicely with the defending Cup champs. Toffoli may not be getting the minutes yet but the stats don't lie (six in nine isn't shabby) and he has the ability to singlehandedly destroy an opponent. And to think he fell to #47 in 2010.

Road to Nowhere in Particular

Jordan Caron, F, Providence (Boston): Caron owns enough NHL experience (71 games) to dominate in the AHL but doesn't quite have the skills to do so (save for a hat-trick versus Manchester). At best, Caron is a third-line forward and/or a role player. But that shouldn't be taken negatively; he should still enjoy a decent career. It just won't be a great one.

Cory Conacher, F, Syracuse (Tampa Bay): Conacher was never drafted and only inked his first professional contract in 2011. The reigning AHL MVP and Rookie of the Year (80 points, 114 PIM) is once again killing it (12 in nine) but raw scoring alone will not ensure glory. While his height (5'8") may be obvious, it isn't his only diminished quality. Although inexperience and bad habits can be corrected over time. Still, it's asking for a lot for Conacher to excel -- let alone survive -- in the NHL.

Nazem Kadri, F, Toronto (Toronto): Ever since Kadri was anointed in Toronto as the can't-miss messiah back in 2009, the expectations have declined as a result of his multiple failed attempts at staying with the Leafs. While no one is complaining about his Marlies record (84 in 100), some have noticed a lack of motivation when pushed. Maybe a permanent move to the wing will relieve the pressure. Or perhaps a further regression awaits.

Magnus Paajarvi, F, Oklahoma City (Edmonton): As was the case with Kadri, Paajarvi hasn't necessarily justified his first-round selection. But unlike the lazy Leaf, the slick Swede has given significant effort while possessing quick hands and tireless legs. The problem with Paajarvi lies with the depth ahead of him at forward in Oil City. Even at OKC, his steady stats (six in 10) are lost amongst Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and even Teemu Hartikainen.

Fence Sitters

Cam Atkinson, F, Springfield (Columbus): Received attention during his abbreviated shift in Columbus (14 in 27, which included five goals in his final two) and a superb overall 2011-12 (58 combined points). A little short (5-foot-7), but that didn't stop him from his initial run. Whether Atkinson can carry this to an 82-game schedule is another question altogether.

Jonathon Blum, D, Milwaukee (Nashville): Going into last season, Blum was touted as a rising star who would continue Nashville's storied lineage of young blueliners. But then reality hit and it was clear the American had a lot to learn. A return trip to Milwaukee obviously helped him focus on his offensive game (four goals, 22 assists in 48). And although Shea Weber is along for the really long ride, the vacancy left by Ryan Suter is there for the taking.

Roman Horak, F, Abbotsford (Calgary): Horak surprised many by making the Flames roster to begin last season. While the speedy Czech didn't excite on the scoresheet (11 in 61), he impressed many by showing a maturity well beyond his age. Centering Jarome Iginla may exist only as a pipe dream for Horak, but it may serve as incentive to improve. And wouldn't you know it, the kid is currently leading the league with 10 goals.

Kyle Palmieri, F, Norfolk (Anaheim): You've probably heard the name. U.S. development/national team legend. World Juniors All-Star. After two legit years at Syracuse (109 in 113), the younger Palmieri seems to be ready to make the leap. Scouts have tabbed him for success, claiming the 21-year old is the complete package: skill, speed, grit, and brains. However, it's not clear whether Ducks management feel the same way.

OK, you may have noticed that of the 12 players mentioned, all but one (Blum) is a forward. That either says the other positions are light on talent or the AHL is not the true barometer for eventual NHL stardom. (I'm going to go with a little bit of both statements. Other rationales are welcome.)

Now that another non-NHL section has been covered, we can only hope the real game starts soon. Stay tuned for more Fantasy analysis and updates, provided we don't run out of material. Help us, Donald Fehr, you're our only hope.

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Player News
Cam Ward
Canes' Ward Gets No Offensive Support In Loss
Cam Ward, G, CAR
1:24 AM
News: Cam Ward stopped 28 of 29 shots Wednesday, but received no offensive support in a shutout loss to Florida.
Analysis: Tough break for Cam Ward, who did his best to try and earn just his second win in six games. While he was excellent Wednesday, Ward has still allowed three or more goals in three of his last four starts. The 30-year-old is now 6-8-1 this season with a 2.61 GAA and .907 save percentage. Judging by his superb play against the Panthers, Ward will get back into the win column soon.

Darcy Kuemper
Wild's Kuemper Expected To Start Wednesday
Darcy Kuemper, G, MIN
12:54 AM
News: Darcy Kuemper is expected to start Wednesday's game against the Kings.
Analysis: After going with backup Niklas Backstrom on Monday night, coach Mike Yeo will turn the net back over to Darcy Kuemper, who seems to have put his early-November swoon behind him. Since being pulled from a Nov. 13 outing against the Sabres after allowing goals on the first two shots he faced, he's won in three of his four appearances, yielding only five goals during that time.

Matt Cooke
Wild's Cooke Showing Improvement
Matt Cooke, LW, MIN
12:49 AM
News: Matt Cooke (hip flexor) has begun skating without full gear this week, Rachel Blount of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: Matt Cooke has missed the last 12 games with the ailment and appears set to sit out several more contests, since he'll some time to make up for the lost conditioning work. Nonetheless, the Wild seem to be encouraged that he's at least back on the ice after he had failed to make much progress with his recovery over the last couple weeks.

Alex Tanguay
Avs' Tanguay Likely To Play Wednesday
Alex Tanguay, LW, COL
12:45 AM
News: Alex Tanguay (fractured jaw) is considered likely to play Wednesday against the Blackhawks, Adrian Dater of the Denver Post reports.
Analysis: Alex Tanguay appeared set to play Tuesday night in Arizona, but the Avs ended up scratching him after he was still suffering from blurred vision during the team's morning skate. This latest report would seem to indicate that Tanguay's being held out Tuesday was a precautionary measure, so assuming that he's now experiencing some improvement, it looks promising that he'll suit up. The veteran forward is tied with Matt Duchene for the team lead with seven goals on the season.

David Booth
Leafs Activate Booth
David Booth, LW, TOR
12:41 AM
News: David Booth (foot) has been activated from injured reserve in advance of Wednesday's game against the Penguins, James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail reports.
Analysis: David Booth will make his Leafs debut Wednesday after the broken foot cost him nearly eight weeks of action. He figures to slot in among the Leafs' bottom-six forwards this season, which won't allow him to gain much traction in fantasy circles.

Joffrey Lupul
Leafs Activate Lupul
Joffrey Lupul, RW, TOR
12:38 AM
News: Joffrey Lupul (hand) was taken off injured reserve in preparation for his return Wednesday versus the Penguins, James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail reports.
Analysis: The broken hand cost Joffrey Lupul approximately four weeks, but lengthy absences aren't new for the forward at this stage of his injury-riddled career. Though his track record suggests he'll miss time later on this season due to another injury, Lupul has been a productive player when he's been able to suit up. He collected two goals in his first nine games this season before suffering the broken hand.

Brandon Dubinsky
Jackets' Dubinsky Not Expected Back Friday
Brandon Dubinsky, C, CLB
12:16 AM
News: Brandon Dubinsky (abdomen) is not expected to be ready to play in either of the Blue Jackets' games over the weekend, Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: Brandon Dubinsky first returned to the ice Monday following a recent setback in his recovery from abdominal surgery, so he'll still need several more practices to get back up to full speed. The Blue Jackets have dealt with a number of lengthy absences due to injury this season, but few have been more significant than Dubinsky's. While not an elite scorer, Dubinsky is sound in just about every phase of the game and will represent a welcome addition to Columbus' top-six once he's healthy.

Brian Elliott
Blues' Elliott Week-To-Week With Knee Injury
Brian Elliott, G, STL
12:11 AM
News: Coach Ken Hitchcock announced after Wednesday's practice that Brian Elliott is considered week-to-week with a suspected knee sprain, Lou Korac of NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Though Brian Elliott will miss multiple games as a result of the injury sustained Tuesday night, he appears to have avoided a more serious issue, as the Blues determined surgery won't be necessary. Still, the week-to-week timetable will make it tough to pin down an expected return date for the netminder. Jake Allen is expected to carry the load for the Blues as the No. 1 netminder and should make for an upper-tier fantasy option in the interim now that he won't have to share duties with Elliott.

Justin Faulk
Canes' Faulk Registers Six Shots In Loss
Justin Faulk, D, CAR
11/26/2014
News: Justin Faulk recorded six shots on goal in Wednesday's loss to Florida, but was held off the scoresheet for the fourth time in five games.
Analysis: It was a decent outing for Justin Faulk, but the Hurricanes couldn't score on any of their 33 shots Wednesday. Although Faulk has 12 points (two goals) in 21 games this season, he is a minus-4 over his last two games and a minus-9 on the season. Don't worry, however, as Faulk once again led the team in ice time Wednesday (22:57) and is generating lots of offensive chances. His defensive play could use some improvement, but Faulk is a workhorse in Carolina and should record 40-plus points in 2014-15.

Pavel Datsyuk
Wings' Datsyuk Scores Twice In Win
Pavel Datsyuk, C, DET
11/26/2014
News: Pavel Datsyuk notched two goals in Wednesday's 5-2 win over the Flyers.
Analysis: Wednesday's game was Pavel Datsyuk's first since Nov. 16 due to a nagging groin injury, but the center proved once again that he's still an elite fantasy producer when healthy. His second goal was also the game winner, and moved his point total to 13 through 11 games this season.

 
 
 
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