On the Curve, February 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 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. This time around, the Pacific leads the pack with four selections, followed by a pair of prospects from the Central. The Northwest’s lone representation comes from a Vancouver Canucks prospect.

In the Eastern Conference, prospects from all three divisions are gaining our attention. The Atlantic and Southeast both have three prospects on the list, while a pair of Boston Bruins prospects are representing the Northeast.

Above the Curve

NHL


James Neal, LW – Dallas Stars
2005 – 2nd round, 33rd overall

After signing Fabian Brunnstrom in the off-season, many pegged this the year of the Swede in Dallas. But well past the halfway point of the 2008-09 season, it’s actually rookie left winger James Neal who’s the talk of the town. Over the last month alone, Neal has scored 11 points (5 goals, 6 assists) and he’s registered a plus-6 since Jan. 19. With Dallas finally surging, the former Plymouth Whaler has also positioned himself to contend for the Calder Trophy. His 18 goals are tied with Bobby Ryan (ANA) for the most by any rookie this season. He currently sits fifth in overall rookie scoring with 29 points.


Zach Bogosian, D – Atlanta Thrashers
2008 – 1st round, 3rd overall

Returning from a broken leg to take on a large role on one of the NHL’s most porous defenses can be a daunting task for any young player. Being reassigned to the AHL on a conditioning assignment can be tough as well. However, if Zach Bogosian has had any apprehension about the situation he is in this season, it has not been evident in his recent play. Going pointless in the month of October – before eventually sustaining a broken leg — Bogosian’s NHL debut wasn’t what he might have hoped. After returning to the NHL on Jan. 13, things have quickly turned around for the rookie. Averaging over 16 minutes of ice time, he’s posted a plus-7 ranking, and eight points (3 goals, 5 assists). The Thrashers management traded away defenseman Mathieu Schneider to rein in costs, which brings more responsibility on the 18-year-old New York native Bogosian.

Minor Pro


Cal O’Reilly, C – Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
Nashville Predators, 2005 – 5th round, 150th overall

When you’re playing for the top team in the West Division and winning has become commonplace, it’s really no surprise that Cal O’Reilly finds himself outperforming the majority of the competition. Like his teammate Mike Santorelli, O’Reilly’s play and scoring prowess has helped the Admirals remain a force this season. Since we last checked in, the third-year pro continues to be the key puck distributor for Milwaukee. In his last 11 games, he’s collected 13 points (5 goals, 8 assists). Just edging out Santorelli for the team lead in scoring with 55 points (11 goals, 44 assists) in 53 games, O’Reilly also ranks ninth overall in league scoring. He also ranks second in the league with assists — just five helpers off veteran Keith Aucoin’s lead.


Chris Bourque, LW – Hershey Bears (AHL)
Washington Capitals, 2004 – 2nd round, 33rd overall.

In the midst of his first nine-game point streak at the end of December, Chris Bourque earned a quick call-up and scored his first NHL goal on Dec. 30 against the Buffalo Sabres. Upon his return, he wrapped up the streak, and then followed it up with another nine-game scoring streak that ended against San Antonio on Feb. 7. Between the 18 games, Bourque quickly racked up 20 points (5 goals, 15 assists). And even before the first stretch started, the 23-year-old found time to post a goal and an assist in the AHL All-Star Game playing for PlanetUSA. In a good position, Bourque will remain on the shortlist of call-ups for the Capitals for the remainder of the season. 

Junior


Eric Tangradi, RW – Belleville Bulls (OHL)
Anaheim Ducks, 2007 – 2nd round, 42nd overall

In his third season with the Bulls, Tangradi is showing people he’s far from his first rodeo. Leading his team in scoring with 78 points (34 goals, 44 assists) over 48 games, Tangradi also ranks third overall in league scoring. On a torrid scoring pace over the last month, Tangradi racked up 21 points (9 goals, 12 assists) over his last 11 games. Of those, he’s had multiple points in six games and scored four points four of those six. If he continues to rack up points, the Philadelphia native might be able to buck Taylor Hall and John Tavares out of his way to take home the OHL scoring crown.


Justin DiBenedetto, C – Sarnia Sting (OHL)
New York Islanders, 2008 – 6th round, 175th overall. 

DiBenedetto has been among the most prolific scorers in the OHL this season, already close to matching last season’s goal output of 39 set last year. The 5’11 center has been a model of consistency, not going more than two games without a point for the season and having strung together four scoring streaks of seven games or more. DiBenedetto’s scoring pace continues to pick up as the season progresses, having already posted nine points in just four appearances in February alone. On the year, the overager is pacing the Sting with 77 points (38 goals, 39 assists) and ranks fourth in the OHL in scoring.

NCAA


Cade Fairchild, D – University of Minnesota (WCHA)
St. Louis Blues, 2007 – 4th round, 96th overall

Not a lot is going right for the Golden Gophers this year, but they still have a roster stocked with talent. One player who has remained consistent throughout the valley and peaks is sophomore defenseman Cade Fairchild. Many will notice that he’s having a career year point-wise at Minnesota. Not only is he leading the defense in scoring with 24 points (7 goals, 17 assists) in 26 games, but he also ranks fourth in team scoring. But the Blues 2007 pick hit our radar because of his poise and command on the ice. If the Gophers are going to finish off strong, they’re going to need Fairchild’s presence to help lead the younger squad make a run for the postseason.


Joe Colborne, C – Denver University
Boston Bruins, 2008 – 1st round, 16th overall

The 6’5 center is among the most recent members of an ever-growing fraternity of big-bodied forwards in the Bruins system. Starting out his freshman season, Colborne initially struggled to adapt to the faster, tighter style of game played in the college ranks. However, Colborne has been one of Denver’s most productive forwards by late November and has not looked back. He can play off the rush, distribute the puck on the power play, and is not afraid to mix it up. His dominant play can most recently be highlighted in performances against Minnesota-Duluth and Colorado College in which he was all over the ice, and figured in with two points in each game. As a result, he’s tied for third in team scoring with fellow freshman and defenseman Patrick Wiercioch with 25 points (8 goals, 17 assists).

Below the Curve

NHL


Kyle Turris, C – Phoenix Coyotes
2007 – 1st round, 3rd overall

On this list for the second time this season – a first here since the series started – Kyle Turris continues to struggle in his first year with the Phoenix Coyotes. The future remains bright for the youngster, but the foreground is rather bare. Of the 175 players eligible for rookie status this season, Turris is stuck in the basement with John Mitchell (TOR) with a minus-12. To boot, the New Westminster, B.C. native hasn’t registered a point in his last six contests dating back to Jan. 20. As a result, Turris was recently demoted to the AHL where the team hopes he gains some confidence and gets his scoring touch back.


Matt Hunwick, D – Boston Bruins
2004 – 7th round, 224th overall

What started as pointless streak during the entire month of December has festered into an uncomfortable situation for Matt Hunwick. As a result, he’s been a healthy scratch for much of the last month. And when he’s seen action, he really hasn’t figured himself into the play. For a player who was scoring at a point-per-game clip in November and December, this is a considerably long dry spell to be going through. Although Hunwick’s slump has not affected the Bruins success, it is interesting to note that when he registers a point, the Bruins are 10-1. But going pointless and having a minus-4 in his last five games is going to keep him off the ice.

Minor Pro


Ben Bishop, G – Peoria Rivermen (AHL)
St. Louis Blues, 2005 – 3rd round, 85th overall

Just when it appeared that the Rivermen and Bishop were turning the corner this year, the team and netminder have fallen on tough times. Since our last installment, Bishop has gone 2-6-0 in his last eight games played. He’s also posted a 3.53 goals against average and a .872 save percentage. It also doesn’t help that the Rivermen are one of the most penalized teams and have one of the weaker penalty-killing units in all of the AHL. Of the 27 goals Bishop has given up over the last eight games, 13 have been power-play. Bishop is going to have to tighten his game up if Peoria wants to even think about the postseason.


Riley Holzapfel, C – Chicago Wolves (AHL)
Atlanta Thrashers, 2006 – 2nd round, 43rd overall

Holzapfel seemed to have finally found his offensive touch in November and through December playing a strong-two way game and chipping in 13 points in 25 games. Since the middle of January, however, Holzapfel’s offensive touch has gone away. He’s only registered four points (3 goals,
1 assist) over his last 13 games. Holzapfel has continued to play a fair two-way game, but needs to get bigger and stronger if he expects to be a consistent offensive force.

Junior


Linden Rowat, G – Regina Pats  (WHL)
Los Angeles Kings, 2007 – 5th round, 124th overall

After turning in two progressively strong seasons with the Regina, Linden Rowat and the Pats are headed in the different direction this year. Things actually got off to a good start, as the fourth-year netminder went 11-5-1-1 heading into November. After he rode out a rough patch to end 2008, things looked up as the calendar hit January. However, over the last month, the Pats are in a nosedive and Rowat has gone 1-7-0-1 over his last nine starts with a 3.44 goals against average and a .885 save percentage. If the former 2007 pick helps right the ship, Regina should be able to snag one of the last playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. It’s a far cry from last season’s finish, but it beats closing up shop early.


Alex Grant, D – Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)
Pittsburgh Penguins, 2007 – 4th round, 118th overall

Although his role has changed since being traded to the Cataractes, Alex Grant started with a flurry, posting eight points (1 goal and 7 assists) in six games. Since Jan. 22, Grant went into a prolonged slump, having gone pointless over the past seven games. With the Saint John Sea Dogs, Grant was the primary offensive catalyst, running the power play, and figuring into a great deal of whatever success Saint John experienced. Since joining the Cataractes, Grant is still expected to contribute offensively. The only difference is, he’s not their first option. Regardless, the prolonged slump has to be frustrating for both Grant, and the organization that traded for him.

NCAA


Pat White, C – University of Minnesota
Vancouver Canucks, 2007 – 1st round, 25th overall

Already in his second year at the University of Minnesota, it was anticipated that it would be Pat White’s turn to finally take the lead in guiding the Gophers towards the top of the WCHA. But like a lot of things, that hasn’t transpired, White’s play-making ability is still missing in action. With just eight points (5 goals, 3 assists) through 27 games, the Grand Rapids, Minnesota native output just isn’t cutting it. He should surpass his paltry 10 points from a season ago, but it’s not a clip that you expect from a former first rounder.


Daniel Hobbs, F – UMass-Amherst
New York Rangers, 2007 – 7th round, 198th overall.

A two-way forward with offensive ability, Daniel Hobbs has struggled to adapt his game to the NCAA level of hockey. The most obvious evidence of this can be found on the scorer’s sheet. After developing in the USHL for the two prior seasons (with the now defunct Columbus Junior Blue Jackets), he showed an ability to mix in with the offense. This year is quite the opposite, as he’s only accounted for a goal and an assist the entire season. Often caught behind the play, Hobbs has also racked up a series of  interference and hooking penalties. It is often difficult for freshman players to adapt to NCAA hockey but with Hobbs’ size and two-way ability, more was expected from an offensive standpoint this season.

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