On the Curve, December 2008

By HF Staff

Starting out in the west, the Central and the Pacific Divisions take up all the ink in this edition of On the Curve. Both the St. Louis Blues and the Los Angeles Kings have a pair of prospects making noise. While the Blues players are off and running, the Kings have one player on each side of the line.

Back east, each Conference is well represented, where the Buffalo Sabres and the Tampa Bay also have a pair of players on this list. While the Sabres are split, a pair of Lightning prospects are struggling to find their way.


Above the Curve




NHL


Patrik Berglund, C – St. Louis Blues
2006 – 1st round, 25th overall

Even though the St. Louis Blues are heading in the wrong direction, Patrik Berglund has been going well. The Swedish pivot is making things work with a roster filled with holes. In the month of December, he’s seen an increase in his ice time and it appears to be paying off.  The rookie had a four-game point streak this month on the way to registering nine points (6 goals, 4 assists) in 12 games. As a result, his stock is on the rise and he’s inching his way into up in the Calder race. With 22 points (12 goals, 10 assists) in 29 games, Berglund is currently second in rookie scoring, just four points off the leader, Chicago’s Kris Versteeg.


Blake Wheeler, RW – Boston Bruins
Signed as Free Agent, 2008

The season got off to a slow start for the Minnesota native as he had only two points in his first 10 games. As November rolled around though, Wheeler started looking more comfortable and his hands started catching up with his feet. It was not until 7-2 romp on against the Islanders on Nov. 28 that Wheeler had his NHL coming out party, finishing with a goal, an assist, and a plus-3. In the 11 games since then, Wheeler has nine points  (4 goals, 5 assists), and is a plus-9. He’s averaging 12:23 minutes of ice time, usually on a line centered by David Krecji. He’s also seen his duties on the man-advantage increase as the season has gone along.


Minor Pro


Mike Santorelli, C – Milwaukee Admirals
Nashville Predators, 2004 – 6th round, 178th overall

The Milwaukee Admirals rise to the better the half of the AHL’s West Division is really no fluke. Especially when you have players like Mike Santorelli chipping in points with consistency. As the month of November wrapped up, the second-year pro went on a tear. As a result, he rode a 14-game point streak deep into this month. During that span, the Predators sixth-round pick from 2004 picked up 26 points (9 goals, 17 assists). He currently had his flash snapped, but hasn’t stopped working away because of it either. So far on the season, Santorelli’s 32 points (10 goals, 22 assists) puts him at seventh in the AHL scoring race.


Claude Giroux, RW – Philadelphia Phantoms
Philadelphia Flyers, 2006 – 1st round, 22nd overall

Because of a glut at forward, the Philadelphia Flyers had no need to rush one of their top prospects into the NHL. So far, the patience has paid dividends. Giroux’s first full professional season began relatively slowly, as the slick winger posted a modest four points in the month of October. However, with a rash of injuries at the NHL level, the Flyers started looking to their AHL club for help. As a result, Giroux saw his responsibilities and ice time at the AHL level dramatically increase. Since November 7th, the former first-round pick has posted 26 points in his last 20 games, including 10 multi-point outings. As the season goes along, Giroux should remain among the top scorers in the AHL and could see a cup of coffee before the NHL season has ended.

Junior


Brett Sonne, C – Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
St. Louis Blues, 2007 – 3rd round, 85th overall

There has been heavy praise for the Blues front office because of their organizational depth when it comes to prospects. And the Calgary Hitmen’s Brett Sonne is just another piece of that big puzzle. Playing on the WHL’s top team, the veteran pivot has helped the rebuilding process in Calgary exceed its deliver date. Leading the team with 55 points (23 goals, 32 assists), Sonne has been red hot since the puck dropped on the 2008-09 season.  For all his hard work and perseverance, the Maple Ridge, B.C. native got an early Christmas present when he was named to Canada’s National Junior Team.


Paul Byron, C – Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)
Buffalo Sabres, 2008 – 6th round, 179th overall

The latest member of what seems to be a growing fraternity of offensively brilliant but undersized forwards in the Buffalo system, Paul Byron has to have Sabres management smiling with his current 18-game, 35-point streak. The of
fensive explosion that began in November does not tell the story of the forward’s emergence this season however. Byron currently leads his team in points (44), assists (31), and shootout percentage (66.7) playing mostly on Gatineau’s second line. His 31 assists already surpass previous career totals and his 48 points in 34 games put him on pace to have over 90 points and 60 assists this season. Even more telling is Gatineau’s 10-6-2 record over the course of Byron’s scoring streak. A team that had all but been written off by the end of October, the Olympiques are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games and continuing to remain in playoff contention. 

NCAA


Garrett Roe, F – St. Cloud State (WCHA)
Los Angeles Kings, 2008 – 7th round, 183rd

For those who have seen Roe over the last few years going back to the Indiana Ice in the USHL, it’s known he can put up points.  In his second season at the St. Cloud State, the sophomore continues to generate offense and stack the points. Already on pace to eclipse his freshman totals, Roe has 25 points (9 goals, 16 assists) in 18 contests. At 10-8-0 overall and 5-7-0 in WCHA play, the Huskies know they have to pick up the pace. With Roe charging to front of the pack, this shouldn’t be a problem. If the Huskies can tighten up their backend, the 2008 pick can help push the team to the top of their league.


Chad Johnson, G – Alaska Nanooks (CCHA)
Pittsburgh Penguins, 2005 – 5th round, 125th overall

After a forgettable 2007-08 season that saw Johnson go winless while battling through an ankle injury, the Calgary native has bounced back in 2008-09. Johnson’s stats are stunning as he currently has a 1.59 goals-against-average, a .941 save percentage, three shutouts, and only five losses in his 16 starts.  Also, his 7-5-4 record already surpasses his previous career highs in wins. As a reward for his efforts, Johnson was named CCHA Goalie of the Week two weeks in a row, first on November 24th and later on December 1st. The 6’2 netminder has been an integral part of the Nanooks’ success thus far and has been among the top collegiate goaltenders this season.


Below the Curve



NHL


Jakub Voracek, RW – Columbus Blue Jackets
2007 – 1st round, 7th overall

The Blue Jackets were happy when they got ready to start the 2008-09 season for many reasons. But one of the bigger reasons had to do with the influx of fresh young talent set to hit the roster. However, not all over their high-octane rookies have sustained a strong presence. After getting off to a good start, Jakub Voracek has practically been invisible for Columbus. Dating back to the Blue Jackets Nov. 14 game against Buffalo, the rookie has only managed to register four points (1 goal, 3 assists) in his last 17 games. With the team sliding in the Central (along with losing Brassard to season-ending surgery), Voracek cannot afford to continue his slide. 


Steven Stamkos, C – Tampa Bay Lightning
2008 – 1st round, 1st overall

It has been a tumultuous rookie season for wunderkind Steven Stamkos. After failing to score a goal in his first eight contests, the OHL phenomenon finally registered a two-goal game against the Buffalo Sabres on October 30th. Not only would this prove to be Stamkos’ only multi-goal affair, but it also proved to be the first of only three games where he has been on the plus side of the score sheet. Since that game, the 18-year-old has been held pointless on 17 occasions, has only 9 points over the past 21 games, and is a minus-9. Much of Stamkos’ difficulties can be attributed to the environment in which the center from Markham, Ontario has played in — it has been far from nurturing. Still, many cannot help but be reminded of another first overall pick that struggled mightily 10 years ago for the very same team.


Minor Pro


Gabe Gauthier, C – Manchester Monarchs
Signed as Free Agent, 2006

The Manchester Monarchs woes continue this season not because of defense, but because a lack of offense. Part of that equation has to do with Gabe Gauthier. Before going out to injury, the pivot had a mere a five points in his last 10 games. But the most frustrating part of all of this is the fact the third-year pro seems to have lost his touch around the net. With only three markers on the year, Gauthier is well off the mark he set last year (23). Not to kick the guy when he’s down, but his numbers prior to upper body strain are part of the reason Manchester is sitting in the bottom the of the AHL’s Atlantic Division. Since this isn’t his first rodeo, more should be expected of the California product when he returns.


Juraj Simek, RW  – Norfolk Admirals
Tampa Bay Lightning – Acquired via trade with Vancouver

Initially projected as scoring forward, Simek has seen his stock slowly tumble since entering the AHL a year ago with the Manitoba Moose. A trade from Vancouver to Tampa Bay at the beginning of the season gave the Slovak a fresh start and he initially responded well, scoring two goals in seven games during the month of October. As the season has worn on however, the 6’2 winger has struggled to produce offensively, having posted a single assist in the month of
December. Now a regular healthy scratch for the Admirals, Simek is going to have to become more physical and responsible in his own end if he ever expects to break into the NHL.


Junior


Logan MacMillan, LW – Halifax Mooseheads/Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL)
Anaheim Ducks, 2007 – 1st round, 19th overall

After getting off to a good start, the injury bug hit Logan MacMillan. But as the Anaheim Ducks 2007 first-round pick returned to the Halifax Mooseheads after missing the month of November, he couldn’t get things going for his young junior squad. In his last six games this month, MacMillan has only put up two assists and he’s a minus-7. Prior to his absence, the Charlottetown native was producing just under a point a game. The thing is, the Mooseheads have been able to muster up the points this season even though they’re in the basement of the QMJHL. But with the lack of MacMillan’s production and with his trade value still high, Halifax was able to ship him off to Rimouski for a prospect and draft picks.


Colby Robak, D – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
Florida Panthers, 2008 – 2nd round, 46th overall

It has been a season of hot and cold streaks for the 18-year-old from Manitoba. Robak started the season right with 12 points in his first 15 games only to register four assists over the next 14 games. While the skilled defenseman has already passed his previous career high in goals with six, he has been snake-bit as of late — his last tally coming in a November 1 loss against the Vancouver Giants. Despite Robak’s cold streak the Brandon Wheat Kings have won 10 of their last 15 games. However, if the Wheat Kings hope to make a splash in the playoffs, they are going to need their top defenseman and power play stud to score with greater regularity. 

NCAA


Richard Bachman, G – Colorado College (WCHA)
Dallas Stars, 2006 – 4th round, 120th overall

At 11-6-5, the Colorado College Tigers are a better team than they appear. But they can’t be better than stated if they don’t score and they don’t stop opposition scoring. It’s a pretty simple concept. While the team seems to have addressed their offensive woes, the latter still remains an issue. Richard Bachman’s inability to be consistent has hindered the Tigers efforts, especially when they should be atop the WCHA with conviction. Yet the Dallas Stars’ 2006 draft pick continues to struggle, so this isn’t happening. Over the last seven games, the sophomore has posted a 2-3-2 record with a 5.89 goals-against-average and a .831 save percentage.


Justin Jokinen, RW – Minnesota State (WCHA)
Buffalo Sabres, 2008 – 4th round, 101st overall

As the highest drafted NHL prospect on his team, the freshman from Cloquet, Minnesota has struggled in his adjustment to collegiate level hockey – scoring a single goal in 11 appearances. The 6’2 winger’s difficulties are at least in part due to a lack of opportunity as he is playing on a team that is primarily made up of juniors and seniors. Still, if Jokinen expects to live up to his projection as a top-six winger, he needs to add muscle to his 165lb frame and become stronger on the puck.

Jeff Dahlia and Ian Altenbaugh contributed to this article.