Blues NCAA prospects update

By Kyle McMahon

The Blues have several notables playing in the NCAA this season, as well as five freshmen getting their first taste of college action.

T.J. Oshie, C

Junior, North Dakota

Former first-round draft choice T.J. Oshie continues to excel in his third year at North Dakota. The offensive center has continued to produce at over a point-per-game clip and is currently leading the Fighting Sioux and the WCHA conference in scoring.

Oshie’s play to begin the season was somewhat streaky. He bagged 11 points in his team’s first 10 games, aided by a hat trick against Michigan Tech, and a three-point outing versus Colorado College. Following his pattern of the 2006-07 season, Oshie has become almost a sure bet to record at least a point each time out as the calendar turns to the new year. He is currently in the midst of an eight-game point streak that has seen him total four goals and seven assists. In addition to his prowess on the score sheet, Oshie has been a physical presence and a valuable special teams player. His North Dakota team remains a contender, currently sitting in second place in their conference, and a 16-8-1 overall record.

But despite his solid play on the ice, the season has not been without controversy. Oshie was briefly suspended by UND for an off-ice altercation with a New Hampshire player that resulted in him being arrested. He was also arrested last season, along with then-teammate Jonathan Toews, for an under-age drinking incident. While both instances were minor, the Blues may be less than impressed with one of their future front-line players making headlines for the wrong reasons.

If the Fighting Sioux season were to end early enough, there’s a chance Oshie could sign a contract with the Blues for the final portion of the NHL season and playoffs, should St. Louis qualify. 

Ben Bishop, G

Junior, Maine

St. Louis’ other NCAA veteran, goaltender Ben Bishop, has maintained a pretty good level of play despite playing for a below average Maine Black Bears squad.

Bishop has a 2.55 GAA and a .916 save percentage thus far. Those numbers ought to give him better than an 8-11-3 record, but his team has given him woeful offensive support. Maine ranks second to last in the Hockey East standings, and has scored the second fewest goals of any team in their conference. Bishop enjoyed a strong stretch early in the season where he ran off four consecutive wins and only conceded nine goals in five games. He slumped soon after as far as the win column was concerned, but still played well in several close losses. Recently the young goaltender’s play has been up and down. He was pulled in a couple of games around the New Year, but turned in a 41-save shutout against Merrimack on Jan. 21, his only blank sheet of the season. Barring an unforeseen hot streak by the Black Bears, Bishop will fail to hit the 20-win plateau for the first time in his NCAA career. 

It has probably been a frustrating season for a netminder looking to continue to build on what had been a fairly impressive college resume. Bishop seems like a reasonable bet to turn pro for next season, but could return for his senior season if he feels Maine will feature a stronger squad in front of him.   

Jay Barriball, C

Sophomore, Minnesota

Center Jay Barriball proved a lot of doubters wrong last season, scoring 43 points in 44 games as a freshman. But in 2007-08, he’s been victim to the dreaded sophomore slump.

With just three goals all season, Barriball will likely finish a far cry from last year’s total of 20. He has clearly been snake bitten around the net with a shooting percentage of just 4.7 percent. As far as playmaking goes, Barriball has fared quite a bit better. He has 12 assists in 28 games, which is tied for the Minnesota team lead. The sophomore’s minus-10 rating is currently the lowest on his team, perhaps a little concerning, but understandable considering his offensive struggles.

Barriball started the campaign off not too badly, registering a couple of multi-point games in the early going, but his production has dwindled as the season has worn on. With just two points in eight games in the month of January, Barriball needs to pick up the pace if the Golden Gophers are to have any chance of turning around a season that has them sitting in sixth place in their conference at the moment.

Ryan Turek, D

Sophomore, Michigan State

Defenseman Ryan Turek has established himself on the Michigan State blue line this season, showing a clear improvement over last year.

Turek has played 24 games this season, filling a defensive depth role with the Spartan defense corps. He has some speed and a good skill set, developed during time he’s played as a forward. So far, Turek has recorded four assists and is a plus-8, second best among blueliners on his team. The native of Northville, Michigan, has played often on the penalty kill this season, and has also seen some power play time. Turek assisted on the opening goal both times in back-to-back wins over Mercyhurst in November.

The Spartans are in contention for first place in their conference, and continued strength on the back end from Turek will aid their push down the stretch drive.

Ian Cole, D

Freshman, Notre Dame

A first-round selection at the most recent NHL entry draft, Cole struggled to meet expectations initially, but his play is rounding into form as the season continues.

In the early going, Cole was suffering from defensive breakdowns and was spending too much time in the penalty box. In seven games in October, Cole was a minus-5 and took five minor penalties. Early difficulties aren’t uncommon for young defensemen moving up to a new level of hockey, and Cole was no exception. He rebounded with a strong month of November, when he scored four points and cut down on the penalties. This helped him get selected to Team USA for the World Junior Championships, where he enjoyed a solid but unspectacular tournament for the Americans.

Cole recently got back on the score sheet, scoring the winning goal in a Jan. 26 game at Bowling Green. The freshman defender’s stat line now reads three goals, five assists, and 22 penalty minutes. The standings are close atop the CCHA conference, meaning Cole’s fourth place Fighting Irish still have a shot at capturing the conference title.

Aaron Palushaj, RW

Freshman, Michigan

Palushaj has gotten his NCAA career off to an excellent start with the Michigan Wolverines.

The first-year forward ranks third on the team in points, with 25 in 26 games. His 19 assists are tops among Wolverine scorers. Palushaj didn’t waste any time making his presence known, stringing together five-game and six-game point streaks in October and November. His first career NCAA points were a pair of assists in a victory over Northern Michigan early in the campaign. Palushaj was on fire for a couple of nights in December. He bagged three assists on the first of the month in a 4-2 victory over Ohio State. Later on, he had another three-point output in a 6-0 shellacking of Providence.

Palushaj has teamed with seniors Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik to form a dynamite power play combination. One goal and 12 of his assists have come with the man advantage. Several of his helpers have been on game-winning goals. With Palushaj and company piling up the points, it’s little wonder that Michigan is having another strong season. They have an impressive 22-3-1 overall record, and sit in second place in the CCHA conference. 

Cade Fairchild, D

Freshman, Minnesota

A young blueliner with an offensive touch, Cade Fairchild has made a solid debut at the University of Minnesota.

The native of Duluth, Minnesota, has taken care of both ends of the ice in 2007-08. His plus-4 rating is one of the better marks on a Golden Gopher team having an off year by their standards, and he has a chance of being the leading defenseman scorer on the team. So far, he has two goals and eights assists, a large chunk of those points coming during a hot streak in November. In one game against Minnesota State, Fairchild scored and added two assists in a 5-3 victory. He followed that up with five assists in his next six games, putting him on a roll heading into the World Junior Championships in Sweden. At the tournament he recorded just one assist, but was a positive presence on the American blue line nonetheless.

Since the tournament, Fairchild has been unable to rediscover his offensive abilities. Despite 52 shots on goal, he has just two tallies to his credit. Still, his performance this season has been promising and he has shown flashes of what’s to come as he matures at the college level.

Matthew McCollem, LW

Freshman, Harvard

A high school scoring star at Belmont Hill, forward McCollem hasn’t yet been able to translate his offensive game to the NCAA.

With just two assists and 17 shots on goal in 17 games with Harvard, the Massachusetts native has plenty of room for improvement in the offensive zone. But McCollem, a sixth-round draft pick in 2006, is a strong skater and isn’t shy about getting physical. The 6’1, 205-pound winger is third on the Crimson in penalty minutes with 22. He currently sports a minus-7 rating.

McCollem’s good work ethic should aid him as he continues to improve and develop at Harvard in the coming seasons.

Andy Sackrison, LW

Freshman, Minnesota State – Mankato

Freshman forward Sackrison has been one of Minnesota State’s better producers in 2007-08.

A graduate of the USHL’s Tri City Storm, Sackrison has two goals and nine assists this season. He is tied for sixth in team scoring, and is tied for third on the team in assists. He has a plus-3 rating, and a very low penalty total, with just four minutes spent in the box. He has done the majority of his scoring at even strength, with one goal and a helper coming on the power play.

Sackrison’s first career NCAA point was an assist that helped the Mavericks salvage a 2-2 draw with Alaska-Anchorage. He has had three two-point games this season, and his team has won all three of those games. Sackrison has picked up the pace as of late, registering seven points in his last eight games. Unfortunately for his team, they remain near the bottom of the conference. It appears as though Sackrison can be one of the leaders at Minnesota State if he continues to improve at an encouraging pace.