Preseason success isn't always a good indicator of regular season success, however, for prospects it's one of the few times to make a significant impression. Introductions are in order for four prospects who have had outstanding training camps/preseasons and have likely earned themselves at least a few call-ups throughout the season if not a spot on the NHL roster.
Matt Read - Philadelphia
Read, 25, is tied for sixth in NHL preseason scoring with two goals and six points in six games to go along with a tidy plus 4. Formerly a centre in college, Read is comfortable on the wing where he'll likely play for the Flyers if he can oust Andreas Nodl from the third line left wing spot. Nodl suffered concussion problems in the 2011 playoffs and is currently injured. The Flyers haven't released the nature of the injury, but if Nodl's noodle is concussed, look for Read to grab his spot and his points on the third line. Read's cap hit is similar to Nodl's so the Flyers are auditioning him for Nodl's spot giving him an average of 18 minutes of ice time a game. Read was a two-way, point per game player for Bemidji State University (Minn.). In March, Read signed a three-year free agent deal worth $2.7 million with a cap hit of $900,000 this season. The Flyers thought enough of him to give him a three million dollar deal, he's producing well in the preseason and his fellow line mates will be Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn. There is a potential for 40 points for the 5'11, 185 pound winger this season.
Evgeny Grachev - St.Louis Blues
Grachev is following the typically slow development of a power forward. He seems to have been a prospect forever but the 6'4, 225 pound Russian is still only 21. It's time to pay attention to him as Grachev is starting to produce, albeit only in the preseason. Grachev has four points in four games (all wins). He was first star in two games, is plus 2 and the Blues are giving him 17 minutes of ice time a game. After being transitioned from centre to wing, Grachev was groomed to play a power game and with three goals in four games he's starting to play that way. With left winger David Perron passing his baseline (concussion) testing Sept. 29th, he appears to be on the mend, but there is still no timetable for Perron's return. That's important for Grachev owners because Perron's return would likely send Grachev back to the minors. That might not be all bad for the big winger's offensive development as he scored only 16 goals and 38 points in 73 games for Connecticut in the AHL. Whether that happens or not, Grachev has had an amazing camp and has served notice that he'll be playing in the NHL sooner rather than later.
Jake Gardiner - Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto President and General Manager Brian Burke gave Jake Gardiner a ringing endorsement on the FAN 590 Sept. 28th.
"He's not that strong yet, but boy can he skate," said Burke.
When Burke traded for Gardiner he told him he would put him in the minors as he's done with other high picks including Dustin Penner and Bobby Ryan.
"I normally put my guys in the AHL," said Burke. "I said (to him) he'd be in the minors but not for very long."
Burke said he'd like eight defensemen on the roster but only wants to dress six. That's going to make it difficult for Gardiner to make the team no matter how well he has played in the preseason.
"Jake has to play if he's going to be here. If he does stick, that's (Komisarek) probably going to be his partner." said Burke.
The Leafs have veterans Keith Aulie, Cody Franson, Carl Gunnarson, Mike Komisarek, John-Michael Liles, Dion Phaneuf and Luke Schenn set to join the NHL roster. That doesn't bode well for Gardiner making the team unless there is a consistent rotation. Gardiner has certainly proven his offensive prowess with two goals and seven points in five games. He's getting the minutes too, playing an average of 22 minutes a game. His even plus minus despite all of his scoring shows where his weakness lies. He needs to play the game better defensively, and once he does, he'll get more ice time and become a big point producer. If Liles or Phaneuf go down, expect Gardiner, 21, to get more ice time and put up a few points. If not, wait another year and he'll get 25-30 points. In two to three years he'll be a consistent 40 point defenseman.
Jared Cowen - Ottawa
Forgotten in all of the offseason hoopla surrounding David Rundblad and Nikita Filatov, Cowen, 20, has made a significant mark at Ottawa's training camp. Nobody would have mentioned Cowen's name on a fantasy site until last season when the 6'5, 230 pound defenseman notched 18 goals and 48 points in 58 WHL games for Spokane. While still very much a stay at home type in camp, there is some hope that down the road Cowen will develop an NHL scoring touch along the same lines as Zdeno Chara. In six games Cowen has been a rock on Ottawa's blue line, often babysitting the defensively confused Rundblad. Despite that, Cowen is plus 4 in six games with two goals and one assist. He's been getting top pairing defenseman's ice time averaging 23 minutes a game. That says a lot about where the Senators think he'll be playing this season. He's a lock to make the team and although he shouldn't get more than 20 points, keep an eye out for offensive development or power play time. He should develop a decent offensive game at the NHL level in time.