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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
Anders Lee
Islanders' Lee Likely Scratch Saturday
Anders Lee, C, NYI
4/26/2015
News: Anders Lee is likely to be a scratch for Game 6 on Saturday, Zac Boyer of the Washington Times reports.
Analysis: Anders Lee will likely be replaced by Eric Boulton in the lineup. The 24-year-old had been ineffective through the first five games of the Islanders' series and all signs point to Lee sitting out for Game 6.

Tom Gilbert
Habs' Gilbert Scores First NHL Playoff Goal
Tom Gilbert, D, MON
12:27 PM
News: Tom Gilbert scored his first career NHL playoff goal in Friday's Game 5 loss to Ottawa.
Analysis: While it was a nice milestone for Tom Gilbert, the Habs are in trouble, having lost two straight games. The 32-year-old isn't a big offensive producer, having registered just one point in these playoffs, but he's logging decent minutes and has posted a 45-point season in his past. Don't expect many more goals, but he does play on the second power-play unit, so he could rack up a few more points if the Habs make it out of the first round.

Mika Zibanejad
Sens' Zibanejad Dishes Out Two Assists In Game 5
Mika Zibanejad, C, OTT
12:15 PM
News: Mika Zibanejad contributed a pair of helpers in Friday's Game 5 win over Montreal.
Analysis: It was the second multi-point outing of the playoffs for Mika Zibanejad, who has collected four points in five games. Trailing the Canadiens 3-2 in their first-round series, the Senators will be looking to Zibanejad's line of Bobby Ryan and Milan Michalek to have another strong showing in Sunday's Game 6 in Ottawa. With Ryan snapping a 16-game goalless drought Friday, Zibanejad's production could increase by association if Ryan is able to parlay the effort into something more.

Mike Hoffman
Sens' Hoffman Collects Two Assists
Mike Hoffman, LW, OTT
12:10 PM
News: Mike Hoffman collected a pair of assists in Friday's Game 5 win over Montreal.
Analysis: After scoring the game-winner in Game 4, Mike Hoffman stepped up his offensive involvement again Friday. Over the last two games, the 25-year-old has fired off seven shots on goal and recorded three points to help the Sens fend off elimination. Hoffman will try to keep the wave of production going Sunday, when the Senators will take on the Canadiens in Game 6 at the Canadian Tire Center.

Ryan Pulock
Islanders' Pulock Out Saturday
Ryan Pulock, D, NYI
11:56 AM
News: Ryan Pulock is not in the Islanders' lineup Saturday, Arthur Staple of Newsday reports.
Analysis: There had been some indication that Ryan Pulock could be in the Islanders' lineup for Game 6 after a glut of injuries along their blue line, but that won't be the case Saturday. Pulock could be available should the Islanders extend their series to Game 7.

Jori Lehtera
Blues' Lehtera (Lower Body) Skates In Full
Jori Lehtera, C, STL
11:27 AM
News: Jori Lehtera (lower body) skated in full on Saturday, Lou Korac of NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Jori Lehtera was held out of Friday's Game 5 with a lower body injury, so the fact that he was able to skate in full on Saturday bodes well for his potential availability for Game 6 of the series. The Blues will confirm his status prior to puck drop on Sunday.

Jake Allen
Blues' Allen To Start Sunday
Jake Allen, G, STL
11:16 AM
News: Jake Allen will be in net in Sunday's Game 6 against the Wild, Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
Analysis: Despite his poor performance in Game 5, in which he allowed four goals on 19 shots, Jake Allen will get the call again for Game 6 on Sunday. It's hardly a surprise, however, as Friday's Game 5 marked the first time since March 1 that Allen allowed more than two goals. He'll need to be better in Game 6 for the Blues to have a shot at staving off elimination.

Alexander Steen
Bues' Steen Has Assist In Game 5 Loss
Alexander Steen, LW, STL
10:38 AM
News: Alexander Steen picked up an assist on the power play Friday in a 4-1 loss to the Wild. He took four shots and added two hits and a blocked shot in the contest.
Analysis: Alexander Steen has four points and 13 shots in the series despite being held off the score sheet in the previous two games. It's tough to say the Blues are down three games to two because of anything Steen has or hasn't done, but facing elimination they need even more from their second-leading regular season scorer.

Joe Colborne
Calgary's Colborne Set To Play Saturday
Joe Colborne, C, CGY
10:32 AM
News: Despite missing Saturday morning's skate for maintenance reasons, Joe Colborne will be in the lineup in the evening for Game 6 vs. Vancouver, Pat Steinberg of Sportsnet 960 reports.
Analysis: Joe Colborne has been a physical force in the series, helping push back against a tough Canucks team. He has also chipped in a pair of points and will be called upon heavily in a pivotal Game 6 Saturday.

Jiri Hudler
Flames' Hudler Rests For Morning Skate
Jiri Hudler, LW, CGY
10:27 AM
News: Jiri Hudler did not participate in Saturday morning's skate, but will be in the lineup for Saturday evening's Game 6 against the Canucks, Pat Steinberg of Sportsnet 960 reports.
Analysis: Jiri Hudler has struggled in the series so far, with two points to go with a minus-5 in five games. He hasn't appeared completely healthy since a rough night against the Kings back in early April, but neither of his linemates have played particularly well in the series either. They'll look to turn it around and close out the Canucks on Saturday night.

 
 
 
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