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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
Jonathan Bernier
Bernier, Leafs Far Apart On New Contract
Jonathan Bernier, G, TOR
7/31/2015
News: Jonathan Bernier and the Leafs met with an arbitrator for about five hours Friday, reports Sportsnet.ca. The two sides are too far apart in terms of demands to come to a deal on their own.
Analysis: Jonathan Bernier and his camp asked for $5.1 million, while the Leafs countered with $2.89 million. The Leafs' offer would represent a pay cut for the twinetender -- he made $3.4 million last season. The two sides can still come to a deal together before Sunday's arb ruling, but they seem too apart right now.

Marcus Johansson
Johansson Inks One-Year Deal With Capitals
Marcus Johansson, C, WAS
7/31/2015
News: Marcus Johansson signed a one-year, $3.75 million contract with the Capitals on Friday, James Mirtle of TSN 1050 Radio reports.
Analysis: Marcus Johansson was a solid offensive contributor for the Capitals in 2014-15, racking up 47 points (20 goals, 27 assists) in 82 games, good for fourth best on the team. He will return to his role as a top-six forward with Washington this season, and will likely continue to be a part of the Capitals' top power-play unit. The 24-year-old is a versatile winger who, barring injury, should be similarly productive this season.

Cam Talbot
Oilers' Talbot Expects Battle For Starting Job
Cam Talbot, G, EDM
7/30/2015
News: Cam Talbot expects to battle for the starting job in training camp, according to the Edmonton Journal.
Analysis: One would think that Cam Talbot is just taking the high road here. Unless he performs miserably in camp he should be the starting goaltender once the season opens. He won't have anywhere near the defense playing in front of him that he had with the Rangers, so there will be off nights, but he's still better and offers much more upside than any other goaltender on the roster.

Alex Galchenyuk
Habs' Galchenyuk Re-Signs On Two-Year Deal
Alex Galchenyuk, C, MON
7/30/2015
News: Alex Galchenyuk re-signed to a two-year, $5.6 million deal with the Canadiens on Thursday, ESPN reports.
Analysis: Alex Galchenyuk will return to the Canadiens on a contract paying him an average of $2.8 million per year. During the 2014-15 season, he played in 80 games for the Canadiens, finishing with 20 goals and 26 assists, both of which were career highs for the forward. The former third overall pick will join the likes of David Desharnais and Lars Eller as depth at center behind Tomas Plekanec. He also could see some time on the wing behind Max Pacioretty.

Jakub Voracek
Voracek Inks Eight-Year Extension With Flyers
Jakub Voracek, RW, PHI
7/30/2015
News: Jakub Voracek signed an eight-year, $66 million contract extension with the Flyers on Thursday, Frank Seravalli of the Philadelphia Daily News reports.
Analysis: It isn't surprising that the Flyers opted to lock Jakub Voracek up long-term after his performance in 2014-15. He exploded last season, racking up a career-best 81 points (22 goals, 59 assists), good for fifth best in the NHL. While fantasy owners shouldn't expect the 25-year-old winger to top 80 points year in and year out, if he can continue to stay healthy, he should continue to be a top fantasy commodity for years to come. Voracek will return to his role on the Flyers' top-line and power play unit in 2015-16.

Brandon Gormley
Gormley Inks One-Year Deal With Coyotes
Brandon Gormley, D, ARI
7/30/2015
News: Brandon Gormley signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Coyotes on Thursday, Craig Morgan of FOX Sports Arizona reports.
Analysis: Brandon Gormley suited up for 27 games with the Coyotes in 2014-15, managing to tally four points (two goals, two assists) in those contests. He fared a little better in the AHL, registering 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 23 games with AHL Portland. He will get a chance to compete for a roster spot with the Coyotes in training camp.

Viktor Arvidsson
Preds' Prospect Arvidsson Hoping To Crack Roster
Viktor Arvidsson, RW, NSH
7/29/2015
News: Viktor Arvidsson could crack the Predators' roster this upcoming season, according to the Tennessean's Adam Vignan.
Analysis: In his first full season in the AHL, Viktor Arvidsson led the Milwaukee Admirals last year with 55 points, and also led the entire league with 272 shots on goal. If Arvidsson can secure himself a roster spot with the Preds, he could flourish under coach Peter Laviolette's uptempo, attacking system and provide the team some scoring depth. In deeper fantasy formats, Arvidsson is one player to keep an eye on.

Oliver Kylington
Flames' Kylington To Play In North America in 2015
Oliver Kylington, D, CGY
7/29/2015
News: Oliver Kylington will play in North America in 2015, Roger Millions of Sportsnet Calgary reports.
Analysis: The defenseman's team in Sweden allowed him to get his path to the NHL started this season, which is good news for both Oliver Kylington and the Flames. Calgary will likely let its second-round pick grow his game in the minors for a while, especially with its current depth on the blue line. Kylington has an abundance of hockey talent, but needs to put it all together to be a standout player.

Dainius Zubrus
Devils Release Veteran Winger Zubrus
Dainius Zubrus, RW, NJ
7/29/2015
News: The Devils terminated Dainius Zubrus' contract Wednesday, making him an unrestricted free agent, Frank Seravalli of TSN.ca reports.
Analysis: Dainius Zubrus had never been much of a top-flight offensive producer in his eight seasons in a Devils uniform, but he saw his scoring output completely fall off a cliff in 2014-15, as he netted just four goals and 10 points across 74 games. With the Devils looking to give some younger players an opportunity in their forward ranks and Zubrus' ice time likely to decline even further in the coming season, the team decided it wasn't worthwhile to keep him around at his $3.1 million cap hit. The 37-year-old could conceivably latch on in a depth role with another club, but no matter where he ultimately lands, an ascension to fantasy relevance probably isn't in the cards.

David Steckel
Ex-Duck Steckel Inks Deal With German Club
David Steckel, C, ANA
7/29/2015
News: David Steckel signed a contract Wednesday with the Nurnberg Ice Tigers of the German Elite League.
Analysis: The 33-year-old served as a depth forward for the Ducks at AHL Norfolk last season, producing seven goals and 23 points in 76 games. David Steckel is a veteran of 425 games, but considering his age and his impending move to Europe, we may have seen the last of him in North America.

 
 
 
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