This week, I take a look at why Josh Bailey is producing, Minnesota's second best prospect, the Hodgson/Kassian swap, and more.
1. Over the next few months, I will be compiling my 2012 keeper league rankings. The first up – the top 10 prospect defensemen. Here is my list from last year. Using my 25 NHL games of experience as a cut off, the following players will graduate from the 2011 list: Stefan Elliott, David Rundblad, Ryan Ellis (needs three more games), Dmitri Orlov, John Moore, Jon Blum, Jake Gardiner, and Roman Josi. Lots of fresh blood for this year’s list. Any guesses? My rankings are assuming a keeper league with an emphasis on offensive production.
2. Minnesota signed Charlie Coyle last week. I’d expect him to be on the team next year, and he could find his way into the top six quite quickly. Coyle is currently playing with the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs, alongside another Wild prospect, Zack Phillips. Coyle is already 6’2” and over 200 pounds. He’s a great skater and he plays a direct game, and his shot is one of the best in junior hockey.
3. The Rangers will likely attempt to sign Chris Kreider after his college season wraps up. The mammoth 230-pound speedster is having a fantastic season at Boston College. The knock on Kreider has been related to his hockey sense (or perceived lack thereof), but he is able to use his supreme size and speed to dominate against his college competition (19 goals in 34 games). Kreider has one year of eligibility left, but playing in the AHL would be a logical next step for his development.
The Rangers have a nice collection of young forwards, and Kreider could be the next one to have an impact. He was likely the centerpiece of any potential package for Rick Nash, as well. He doesn’t have the upside of Coyle (in my estimation, at least), but he is one of the most NHL ready fantasy-relevant prospects out there.
4. The ramifications of the Hodgson-for-Kassian swap will be really, really fun to track for the next few years. Hodgson is going to be groomed as Buffalo’s future top line center, as Derek Roy has never been and will never be that guy. Hodgson needs to work on his skating, but he already has improved leaps and bounds in terms of speed and quickness compared to only a season ago. In the short term, he is going to get exposed a bit against bigger, stronger, and faster forwards. He is a very smart player though, and Buffalo would be wise to pair him with defensively conscious wingers.
Kassian is also in a great situation in Vancouver. The Canucks, before acquiring the potential power forward, had almost zero in the way of big young wingers. Recent 1st round pick Niclas Jensen is intriguing, but he is still very raw. On the professional club, David Booth is probably the closest thing to a power forward (mostly due to the fearless nature of his game). I have a hunch Kassian will see some time with the Sedin twins sooner than many think, as Burrows and Kesler have excellent chemistry and could be put together to get a second offensive attack for the postseason (and potentially beyond). If I owned either player, I’d be thrilled with the new opportunities for each of them on their new teams.
On Saturday night, Kassian had two points and a whopping seven hits against his former team. He had a great early season stretch with the Sabres before cooling off, and the jury is still out whether he can carry his strong play on for more than a few games.
5. An interesting point was raised on the DobberHockey message boards over the weekend. Randy Carlyle is known as a coach who lets his players run the dressing room (different than Ron Wilson). This worked in Anaheim with veterans like JS Giguere, Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer, and Teemu Selanne. However, the Leafs are the youngest team in the league, leadership group included. Do they have the maturity to handle things without a lot of direct input from Carlyle? It will be a fascinating couple of weeks in the Center of the Hockey Universe.
6. New Jersey’s top prospect is Michigan defenseman Jon Merrill. Merrill had a tough start to his season, as he was suspended by the team for the first 12 games for a violating team rules. If you want to figure out what those rules were, you can consult the internet. I wouldn’t delve into it here. Merrill has returned to the team, and has 10 points in 14 games this season. He scored seven goals and added 18 assists in 42 games last year. He’s an enticing package of size, speed, and offensive ability. The Devils would love to have him on their team next year, but he may also be their most valuable asset if they are looking to trade for a young goaltender. Merrill turned 20 only a few weeks ago.
7. Colorado picked up a few interesting prospects from San Jose in the Daniel Winnik/TJ Galiardi trade. One of them is OHL scoring star Michael Sgarbossa. Sgarbossa had a five point game on Friday night, and he now trails Kings prospect Tyler Toffoli by only one point in the OHL scoring race (as of Saturday afternoon). Sgarbossa is a feisty, undersized forward with obvious offensive talent. The Avalanche will be patient with him, but he’s got enough upside to make him worthwhile to put on your radars for the next few years. He was named OHL player of the month for February, as well.
8. A couple of the CHL’s best forwards went toe-to-toe on Friday in Vancouver. Medicine Hat forward Emerson Etem scored twice and he now has 55 goals on the season. He has been dominant all season long, and the Ducks have to love how NHL ready he looks. For the Giants, Brendan Gallagher continues to build off of a strong training camp and World Junior tournament. He is such a smart, aggressive, feisty player, and his skill set is obvious. He is one of those rare players that uses his lack of size as an advantage (Patrick Kane, Martin St. Louis, and Brian Gionta come to mind).
9. Tuukka Rask injured his knee on Saturday, and could be out for a while (he left the arena on crutches). This isn’t the end of the world for Boston, as they still have Tim Thomas to lean on. However, their schedule the rest of the way is pretty difficult, and they were likely going to lean on Rask more than they had up to this point in the season. Assuming Craig Anderson is back soon, this could open the door for Ottawa to take the Northeast Division lead. The Bruins recalled 22-year-old Michael Hutchinson from the AHL to back Thomas up (for now). The Bruins are 12-13-2 in their last 25 games.
10. Josh Bailey is having a very nice couple of months. He is proving once again that he is much more effective as a winger at the NHL level. He’s skating with David Ullstrom and Frans Nielsen right now. Bailey was rushed to the NHL as a prospect, but he is turning the corner and looks to be back on track as a future top six forward. The Islanders foolishly kept trying to stick him back at center. He still needs to shoot the puck more, but playing with a smart, reliable center like Nielsen has allowed his offensive game to improve. Bailey has quietly developed into a solid penalty killer, something that doesn’t show up on the score sheet.
11. It is quite obvious that the Edmonton Oilers need to add a young defenseman to build around. But who, and how? Some excerpts from the Copper & Blue:
“There is also the possibility of using the pick to draft the best player available, which, given the current standings and weighted lottery odds, would potentially be Mikhail Grigorenko. As Willis states, Grigorenko brings with him a level of size down the middle in the top six that the Oilers don't currently have, which would open up the possibility of trading Sam Gagner to get the blueline help the team is searching for.”
“The other option to explore is that of trading the lottery pick itself in a deal to acquire the illusive blueline help. In his story, Jonathan Willis makes a valid point that it can be easier to deal the pick because, as fans, we do not yet have an attachment to the player, and while I agree with the sentiment, the inverse is also true in that the team would benefit for a team where they are able to acquire a significant piece on the back end without sacrificing one of its current offensive contributors.”
The Oilers could target a team like Nashville (depending on what happens with Ryan Suter). Would the Predators accept a deal involving Gagner or Magnus Paajarvi for Jon Blum? The article brings up Oliver Ekman-Larsson, but I don’t think the Coyotes move him unless Hall or Eberle is coming back the other way (in other words, a non-starter for either side). Ekman-Larsson could be Phoenix’s top defenseman in a year or two (and yes, that includes Keith Yandle). The Coyotes have a few other prospects who could interest Edmonton, including Brandon Gormley and David Rundblad.
12. Calgary fans are already well aware of star prospect Sven Bartschi. Fans of other teams will be very shortly. Bartschi is annihilating WHL goaltenders this season – through Sunday, he has 31 goals and 96 points in 46 games. I repeat – 96 points in 46 games. His linemate (and St. Louis prospect) Ty Rattie’s numbers are also extremely impressive – Rattie has 54 goals and 108 points in 62 games. Bartschi projects as a top line physically and offensively dominant winger (Marian Hossa isn’t a bad compaison, and he’ll be on the Flames full time next season.
13. Boston tried Brian Rolston out on a line with Marchand and Bergeron against New York on Sunday. He had a solid game, playing close to 20 minutes, and firing two shots on goal (and another that broke a pane of glass). He finished with a minus-two rating, though. The Bruins have tried a variety of wingers in the top six, and Rolston will probably get a bit of a longer leash because of his track record. It will be interesting to see if he has the legs to keep up (although Bergeron does a lot of the heavy lifting anyway).
14. Had he been drafted into an organization other than Detroit, Brendan Smith would likely be an NHL regular by now. He has acquitted himself nicely with the Wings during the past week, and he will be a big part of their defensive core for the next decade. He plays the game a lot like Kris Letang – perhaps with even more of a physical edge.
15. A funny video to start the week off – Kevin Bieksa’s interview from After Hours on CBC last night. He spends the 20 minutes making fun of Scott Oake, for the most part.