On the Curve, January 2009

By HF Staff

In On the Curve we take you around the sport to see how some of the prospects are faring. Those who are doing well are noted as above the curve. Those who are struggling, or just hitting an extended rough patch, are listed as below the curve.

Starting out in the NHL Western Conference, prospects from each of the three divisions gained our attention this past month. The Central leads the pack with four selections (two from Columbus), followed by three in the Pacific. The Northwest’s lone representation comes from an Edmonton Oilers prospect, who made quite the name for himself a couple weeks back.

The same can be said for the Eastern Conference this month, as there’s talk coming from all three divisions. The Atlantic has four selections (two from the New York Rangers), followed by three picks from the Northeast and a bright spot rising down in the Southeast.

Above the Curve

NHL


Steve Mason, G – Columbus Blue Jackets
2006 – 3rd round, 69th overall

If there is one thing the Blue Jackets needed since the franchise began, it’s a solid goaltender. Some seven seasons later, it looks like they’ve finally found their answer in Steve Mason. Since joining Columbus this season, the former 2006 third-rounder has been the talk of the town. Over the last month, Mason is red hot, backstopping the Blue Jackets to an 8-3-0 record, while posting a 1.82 goals-against-average, a .940 save percentage, including four shutouts. Overall, the rookie has a 17-10-1 record with a 1.91 goals-against-average, a .932 save percentage, with six shutouts. If can keep up the pace, chances are the Blue Jackets make their first postseason appearance in franchise history.


Michael Frolik, C – Florida Panthers
2006 – 1st round, 10th overall 

Making his NHL debut in 2008-09, Michael Frolik started slow, not registering a point until his 11th game of the season. It would be 15 games before the Czech would score his first goal and 20 games before he had a multi-point outing. Since that multi-point affair against the New York Rangers on Nov. 30, Frolik has produced 18 points (8 goals, 10 assists) in 22 games. The team’s record is also 11-3-1 when the Frolik registers a point. The shifty pivot has proven instrumental in the Panthers success and is a big reason why Florida remains in contention for their first playoff spot in nine years.  

Minor Pro


Daniel Larsson, G – Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL)
Detroit Red Wings, 2006 3rd round, 92nd overall

If you haven’t found one of the bigger answers for Grand Rapids early rise to the top of the Northern Division in the AHL, then you don’t have look any farther than goaltender Daniel Larsson. In his first year of North American professional hockey, the quick Swede has been quite the force between the pipes. Going 7-2-0 over his last 10 games, Larsson has also posted a 2.40 goals-against-average, a .930 save percentage, including three shutouts. On the year, he’s 14-4-1, a 2.45 goals-against-average, a .920 save percentage. His five shutouts are tied for the league lead. Larsson’s solid start has also landed him a spot on the 2009 PlanetUSA AHL All-Star team.


Artem Anisimov, C – Hartford Wolfpack (AHL)
New York Rangers, 2006 – 2nd round, 54th overall

The 20-year-old Russian has been a point-producing machine since the beginning of November and has only gotten better as the season as gone on. He has been held pointless only once in the past 14 games and has had three point streaks of five games or more. The 6’4 forward has already surpassed last season’s totals of 16 goals and 43 points. To date, his 44 points (19 goals, 25 assists) in 42 games makes him among the league leaders scoring. In addition to his obvious adjustments to the North American style of game, Anisimov has added a level of toughness to his game, already surpassing his 2007-08 total of 38 PIM. 

Junior


Jordan Eberle, C – Team Canada (WJC) / Regina Pats (WHL)
Edmonton Oilers, 2008 – 1st round, 22nd overall

John Tavares might have been Team Canada’s captain, leading scorer, and the tourney MVP at the 2009 WJC, but it was Jordan Eberle who stole the hearts of millions. With two monumental goals during a 6-5 shootout win against Russia on Jan. 3, the “junior” Captain Canada moved his team past the late surging Russian squad to get a shot at gold. Two nights later, Eberle dropped in a goal and an assist in a 5-1 win over Team Sweden for Canada’s fifth consecutive gold medal at the WJC’s. The 2008 first-rounder finished the tournament as the third leading scorer with 13 points (6 goals, 7 assists) and a plus-9 rating over six games.  Back in the ‘W,’ the Regina native hasn’t skipped a beat with the Pats either. He’s been good for six points (1 goal, 5 assists), a plus-4 in his first five games back.


Casey Pierro-Zabotel, LW
– Vancouver Giants (WHL)
Pittsburgh Penguins, 2007 – 3rd round, 80th overall 

The British Columbia native has been an easy pick for On the Curve all season long. He has been a model of consistency, having been held off the scoresheet only five times in 44 games and never for more than one game at a time. He has gone on three scoring streaks that have lasted ten games or more. His latest streak ran from Dec. 14 until Jan. 13, when he posted 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists) in 10 games. Criticisms about his inflated production surfaced because he was playing alongside top prospect Evander Kane. But Pierro-Zabotel hushed detractors when Kane was injured and he produced at an even more prolific pace. He has 23 multi-point outings and currently leads the WHL in points (78), assists (54), and plus/minus (50).

NCAA


Austin Smith, RW – Colgate University (ECAC)
Dallas Stars, 2007 – 5th round, 128th overall

Colgate University might be in the cellar of the ECAC, but Dallas native and Stars draft pick has tried to change that single-handedly. Smith has been the driving force behind Raiders, as he’s exploded out of the holiday break by dropping 11 points (6 goals, 5 assists) in his last eight games. He was named to both the Florida Holiday Classic and the Catamount Cup All-tournament teams. Most recently, Smith took ECAC Rookie of the Week honors for the week ending Jan. 5. On the year, he now has 22 points (split evenly), and is averaging a point a game.


Louie Caporusso, F – University of Michigan (CCHA)
Ottawa Senators, 2007 – 3rd round, 90th overall

Among the goal-scoring leaders in all of college hockey, Louie Caporusso is in the midst of a breakout year. Already surpassing last seasons point totals, the healthy forward has 28 points (18 goals, 10 assist) in 24 games for the Wolverines. Along with St. Louis draft pick Aaron Palushaj, the pair of sophomores have filled a void left by departing seniors Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik. The 5’10 forward had difficulty in certain match-ups last season, often being overpowered by bigger and stronger players. This season, while he has filled out a little, he has adapted his game to better fit the NCAA style game. Since returning from holiday break, the Ontario native has recorded seven points (4 goals, 3 assists) in six games. 
 

Below the Curve

 
NHL


Brian Boyle, C – Los Angeles Kings
2003 – 1st round, 26th overall

Last year, when the Kings pulled up Brian Boyle on their eastern road swing, the hulking forward sprinted out of the gate, earning five points (4 goals, 1 assist) in the first eight games of his impending NHL career. However, fast-forward one year later, and it appears the former BC Eagle is in a lackadaisical jog. Just demoted after his second stint with the upstart Kings, Boyle hasn’t born any resemblance of the erstwhile forward who put people on notice last winter. In 20 games this year, the Hingham, Massachusetts native has only scraped together a goal and an assist and leads the team with a minus-11. It’s no secret that head coach Terry Murray runs a defensive-minded system, but Boyle has simply looked out of place. 


Matt D’Agostini, RW – Montreal Canadiens
2005 – 6th round, 190th overall 

After being called up in late November, D’Agostino caught fire. He posted eight points (6 goals, 2 assists) in his first 11 games and had figured prominently into the middle of the Canadiens lineup. Since the Habs contest against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Dec. 27, the 22-year-old has been cold, having scored only one goal over the last 11 games. If he hopes to have a strong second half, the young forward needs get out of the vicious cycle of reduced ice time and lack of production.
 
Minor pro


Joel Gistedt, G – Arizona Sundogs (CHL)
Phoenix Coyotes, 2007 – 2nd round 36th overall

When the Coyotes walked away with Joel Gistedt in the 2007 draft, they were sure they got a steal in the Swedish netminder. After suiting up for the Frolunda Indians in the SEL last season, the former second-rounder decided to make the jump to North America this year. With goalie tandems established in the NHL and AHL for the franchise, Gistedt was regulated to the Arizona Sundogs of the CHL. After seeing action in 16 of the Sundogs 39 games, the 21-year-old is struggling. He’s posted a 4-10-0 record with a 4.57 goals-against-average and a .857 save-percentage. For some Europeans, that first transition year can be a hard one, but it’s safe to say that this isn’t near what Gistedt or the desert dogs expected.


Dale Weise, RW – Hartford Wolfpack (AHL)
New York Rangers, 2008 – 4th round, 111th overall

After impressing enough in his first training camp to earn an entry-level contract and a spot on the Rangers A
HL
team, Dale Weise started the season strong, earning four points in his first eight games. In the 34 games to follow though, the winger has scored only five points (1 goal, 4 assists). Worse yet, only two assists in his past 25 games. While some of his drop in play can be attributed to him having typical rookie struggles, it does not help that the Wolfpack has a large crop of talented young wingers and only a limited amount of ice time to go around. Also, the Rangers relative health this season has helped prevent any possible ascent through the depth chart for Weise. 
 
Junior


Akim Aliu, RW – Sudbury Wolves (OHL)
Chicago Blackhawks, 2007 – 2nd round, 56th overall

Things haven’t gone well this season for Akim Aliu and there seems no sign of relief in the immediate future. Out of touch with the London Knights as the new year began, Aliu was traded before the OHL deadline back to the Sudbury Wolves. You can’t blame the Knights for going after Tavares, but it really makes you wonder why a capable player like Aliu wouldn’t want to be a part of what should be undoubtedly a solid and memorable cup run for London. Instead, the winger is back for a second spin with Sudbury and things are dragging along. The former second rounder has only a goal, an assist, 13 penalty minutes and a minus-4 rating in his first five games since he last played Dec. 19. He’s got the tools and swagger to lead the Wolvers into the postseason. He just needs to dig deep and find his game.


Michael Hutchinson, G – Barrie Colts (OHL)
Boston Bruins, 2008 – 3rd round, 77th overall

The Colts goaltender and Barrie native has run hot and cold all season. However in his last five games, he’s running a tad bit cold. Hutchinson has posted a 1-5-0 record, a 3.53 goals-against-average and a .901 save percentage. The Bruins prospect is close to eclipsing his game total last season (32), but needs to show a greater level of consistency in his game. Barrie might be in last place of the Central Division, but they’re not out of the playoff picture. If Hutchinson can help backstop a surge, the Colts can go from being a fringe Eastern Conference team to bona fide lock for the postseason.

NCAA


Sean Collins, C – Cornell University (ECAC)
Columbus Blue Jackets, 2008 – 7th round, 187th overall

As the blue chip recruit of the freshmen class for Cornell, the Big Red was anxious to get a firsthand glimpse of Sean Collins’ scoring prowess this season. Coming off a sensational year where the pivot scored 115 points (51 goals, 64 assists) in 60 games for the Waywayseecappo Wolverines in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, Collins transition hasn’t been as fruitful. In 14 games for Cornell, the former MJHL All-Star just scored his first goal of the season on Jan. 16 against RPI. Even though the freshman was the last of his class to register a point this season, the drought hasn’t come because a lack of effort. Collins has been working hard, but things have just seemed to come up short for him this year. The Big Red – like many – are hoping that since Collins has got the monkey off his back, he’s ready for a late-season revival.


Doug Rogers, C – Harvard (ECAC)
New York Islanders, 2006 – 4th round, 119th overall

After two progressively strong seasons – when he finished second in team scoring both years – junior Doug Rogers offensive flair seems to have disappeared early-on. It’s no secret that the Crimson are also off to a slow start, but head coach Ted Donato was counting on the third year player to be a big offensive leader this season. Through 14 games, Rogers has a total of seven points (all assists).  If Harvard has any hopes of breaking a two year NCAA tourney drought, Rogers is going to have to turn it up.

Jeff Dahlia, DJ Powers, and Ian Altenbaugh contributed to this article.