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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
Elias Lindholm
Lindholm Signs Two-Year Extension With Hurricanes
Elias Lindholm, C, CAR
8/27/2015
News: Elias Lindholm signed a two-year, $5.4 million contract extension with the Hurricanes on Thursday.
Analysis: Elias Lindholm was a solid contributor in his first full NHL season in 2014-15, registering 39 points (17 goals, 22 assists) in 81 games with the team. He will return to his role as a top-six forward with Carolina this season, and should have a great shot at improving upon his offensive numbers from a year ago as he continues his development as an NHL forward.

Patrik Berglund
Blues' Berglund To Require Shoulder Surgery
Patrik Berglund, C, STL
8/27/2015
News: Patrik Berglund aggravated a dislocated right shoulder while working out and is set to undergo surgery Friday, Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. He'll require at least four months of recovery time.
Analysis: Patrik Berglund first dislocated the shoulder in 2013-14, and required surgery last offseason to address the issue. The center was able to recover in time from that procedure to play on Opening Night last season, but given how late in the offseason calendar the setback occurred this time around, it looks like Berglund won't take the ice again until the calendar flips to 2016. His extended absence could allow prospect Robby Fabbri to claim third-line center duties out of training camp, with veteran Scott Gomez also in the mix if coach Ken Hitchcock prefers a more experienced option for that role.

Scott Gomez
Gomez Signs PTO With Blues
Scott Gomez, C, NJ
8/27/2015
News: Scott Gomez accepted a professional tryout offer with the Blues on Thursday, Andy Strickland of FOX Sports Midwest reports.
Analysis: After failing to garner a contract in free agency for the second straight offseason, Scott Gomez will again head to training camp on a PTO, as he did last season in New Jersey. Though he wasn't able to crack the Devils' Opening Night roster, he continued to work out with the team after the tryout period ended and was eventually signed to the team when injuries opened up an opportunity in late November. Gomez would end the season as one of the more productive contributors on the offensively challenged Devils, finishing third on the team with 34 points. The Blues boast a far deeper roster of forward talent, but with the news surfacing after Gomez's signing that Patrik Berglund would miss at least four months following shoulder surgery, an opening on the third line could exist for the 35-year-old.

Max Pacioretty
Habs' Pacioretty Still On Schedule With Rehab
Max Pacioretty, LW, MON
8/27/2015
News: Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said recently that Max Pacioretty (knee) remains on schedule in the rehabilitation process, Arpon Basu of LNH.com reports.
Analysis: Max Pacioretty sustained the knee injury while working out in Florida in early July, and was given a projected recovery timetable of 10-to-12 weeks. Given the length of the timetable, Pacioretty is expected to sit out all of training camp, and while his availability for the Oct. 7 regular-season opener in Toronto remains possible, he'd likely be subjected to limited minutes in the early going as he looks to build endurance. Once back to full health, Pacioretty should reemerge as the Habs' most dangerous offensive option after he potted 37 goals and a career-high 67 points in 2014-15.

Ladislav Smid
Flames Expecting Smid Back For Training Camp
Ladislav Smid, D, CGY
8/27/2015
News: The Flames' front office believes Ladislav Smid (neck) will be ready to skate during the team's first on-ice session at training camp in September, the Calgary Sun reports.
Analysis: Ladislav Smid's season came to an end last January when he required surgery on his neck, but his communication with the Flames to this point in the offseason suggests he has recovered well from the procedure. If healthy, Smid will compete in camp with Deryk Engelland for a spot as Calgary's sixth defenseman.

Sidney Crosby
Pens' Crosby Likely To Play Next To Kessel
Sidney Crosby, C, PIT
8/27/2015
News: Coach Mike Johnston said earlier this week that Sidney Crosby is expected to play next to Phil Kessel to begin training camp, CBS Sports reports.
Analysis: The Penguins have cycled in a number of right wingers next to Sidney Crosby throughout his career, and while Patric Hornqvist proved capable in that capacity last season, he's not nearly as prolific at finding twine as Kessel, a five-time 30-goal scorer. With his health concerns beginning to fade away after missing only seven games over the last two seasons, Crosby once again looks like a reasonable choice at No. 1 overall in fantasy drafts, even after scoring only 28 goals in 2014-15, his lowest total in any year he's suited up for at least 60 contests. Crosby probably won't come close to approaching the 51-goal peak he reached in 2009-10, but a slight uptick in his anomalous 11.8 shooting percentage coupled with the likely increase in assist opportunities with Kessel blitzing the net could make a return to 100 points conceivable.

Mike Richards
Charges Announced For Ex-King Richards
Mike Richards, C, LA
8/27/2015
News: Mike Richards was formally charged with possession of a controlled substance while entering Canada stemming from a June 17 border stop by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Manitoba, Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports reports.
Analysis: The Kings determined the incident gave them just cause to release Mike Richards for a "material breach" of his 12-year contract, a decision that prompted the NHL Players Association to file a grievance. The nature of the border stop likely won't affect the outcome of that legal battle, as both the NHLPA and the Kings were aware of the circumstances surrounding the incident. Currently a free agent, Richards is able to sign with any team while the grievance remains underway, but his steep decline in performance over the last few seasons coupled with this ongoing dispute probably has few organizations interested in his services.

Kyle Okposo
Isles Begin Contract Talks With Okposo
Kyle Okposo, RW, NYI
8/26/2015
News: Kyle Okposo and the Islanders have begun talks on a new contract, according to Islanders Point Blank.
Analysis: Both sides are hoping to get an agreement done before the start of the season but the parameters on a new deal could be difficult to negotiate. Kyle Okposo will make $4.5 million this season and could command a deal north of $6 million per year on the open market, a figure the Islanders may not be willing to approach at this time. If the two sides can't come to an agreement before the start of the season then Okposo's name will be one we will hear quite often in trade rumors.

Sami Aittokallio
Avs Re-Sign Aittokallio
Sami Aittokallio, G, COL
8/26/2015
News: Sami Aittokallio has re-signed with the Avalanche on a one-year, two-way contract, General Fanager reports.
Analysis: Sami Aittokallio appears to be the clear No. 4 goalie in the Colorado organization behind Semyon Varlamov, Calvin Pickard, and Reto Berra, so it's somewhat surprising he elected to commit for another year rather than bolt for Europe. Even so, Aittokallio's contract does at least include a clause for him to play overseas if he isn't guaranteed a roster spot with the Avalanche, potentially opening the door for him to leave the club if he's assigned to the AHL out of training camp, as expected.

Adam Cracknell
Canucks Ink Cracknell To Two-Way Deal
Adam Cracknell, RW, VAN
8/26/2015
News: Adam Cracknell signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Canucks on Tuesday.
Analysis: Mostly due to the Blue Jackets' array of injuries last season, Adam Cracknell saw 17 games at the NHL level, producing no goals and one assist. He'll function as an organizational depth piece for the Canucks, but will once again require several players to go down before skating in the NHL. Even if that materializes, he'd likely be limited to a bottom-six role with limited ice time.

 
 
 
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