A superb agitator since his Junior A days with the OPJRA's Georgetown Raiders, Barch was finally rewarded for his hard work since a call-up January 15th. The native of Guelph posted his first career multi-point performance and first career game-winning goal in what Stars keeper Mike Smith called the best team effort of the season. Along with his two points, Barch picked up a minor penalty and more importantly the game's third star. With four points and 39 PIM in his last eight contests, and the news the Stars won't be seeking stretch run replacements for injured forwards Steve Ott, Eric Lindos, Brendan Morrow, Matthew Barnaby and Patrik Stefan, Barch is on the Stars to stay. With the burgeoning chemistry between he, Antti Miettinen and Jussi Jokinen, a few more points and a lot more penalties are in the cards. However, when the aforementioned individuals on the IR return, Barch's ice-time- and limited production- will tumble. Don't pick him up unless you think he may have value to someone else in your league.
On the topic of short-term replacements, take a look at Kyle Wanvig. Recalled to fill Andre Roy's spot on the Lightning following a three-game suspension, this may be the last opportunity the 25 year-old has to secure ice-time this season. And much like pugilist Nick Tarnasky did in his first NHL action of the year, the adrenaline many first-time call-ups experience could mean a handful points in the next three matches. There's even a chance Wanvig wins a roster spot if he can combine his flair for fighting with the offensive ability that earned him 101 points in his final year of WHL hockey.
Barch wasn't the only player to experience some memorable firsts this week. Two Edmonton Oilers defensemen tallied their first career goals in consecutive matches at key times.
On Tuesday, rookie blueliner Tom Gilbert made a heads-up play to go to the net with 20 seconds remaining in a game the Oil were losing 3-2. The pinch payed off, as Gilbert poked in the game-tying goal. Not a bad way to finish your first NHL game.
Then, on Thursday, well-received rook Ladislav Smid, a veteran of all of 58 NHL contests, opted to use his booming slapper on a quick cross-ice pass from Raffi Torres. Jackets goaltender Fredrik Norenna misread the shot selection, leading to the goal that would make it 3-0 and put Columbus out of the game.
Both Gilbert and Smid are smooth-skating, offensive-minded youngsters with great outlet passes and point shots. Smid's spot on the team has long been decided- he played just over 25 minutes against the Blue Jackets- but the dealing of Marc-Andre Bergeron opened up a roster spot that Gilbert is making efficient use of. Both players will bag anywhere from 30 to 45 points in the near future.
And how about Buffalo's crop of rookies with strong debuts? With Maxim Afinogenov on the shelf, 21 year-old right winger Drew Stafford saw his first NHL action since January 20th this week, and blew onlookers away. On February 17th, the nephew of Oilers equipment manager Barrie Stafford popped in his first goal and was named first star in a shootout loss to the Bruins. Then, after a pointless, -1 affair against the Flyers, Stafford came up big again- this time with 2 assists and the shootout winner in the now infamous brawl-filled contest with the Ottawa Senators two days ago. For the second time in three games, the Wisconsin native was first star.
If you haven't got him, it's probably too late. The frustrating keeper league asset had had inconsistent NHL and AHL performances before this week's affairs. If and when Afinogenov makes his return, the Sabres will still have room for Stafford's services as Chris Drury is the latest in the Buffalo lockerroom to suffer a major injury. Next year, expect the explosive two-way player to earn a permanent job in the top six. A lethal combination of soft hands, shot selection and defensive intelligence (Ice-Q?) will mean playing time in all situations and lots of points. Expect 35-35-70+ within three years.
This latest run of injuries has also meant ice-time for two more Sabres prospects:
This latest run of injuries has also meant ice-time for two more Sabres prospects: defenseman
Patrick Kaleta and winger Clarke MacArthur. Both players had firsts in the team's 6-5 SO win over Ottawa, with Kaleta picking up an assist in his league debut and MacArthur potting his first NHL goal in his fifth career game.
Kaleta, drafted for his drool-worthy combination of offense (102 points in his final two years of OHL hockey) and physical play (267 PIM in that time span), was made for Thursday's match. Along with the helper on MacArthur's goal, the fiesty 6'0, 200 lbs defender picked up 10 minutes in penalties. One of the most underrated prospects in hockey, the homegrown blueliner has terrific upside. Look for 20 points next year over a full season and 80+ PIM. A tremendous shooter- Kaleta had 24 goals in 2004-05- 50 points at the NHL level certainly isn't put of question.
MacArthur is a little more well-known, but is still on the down low in most leagues. A 3rd round selection in 2003, the Lloydminster native is a poor man's Stafford- good shot, good skating, good everything. A 70+ point player in Juniors, 25-25-50 a season isn't too far away- if the Sabres can afford him the proper ice-time.