On the Curve, March 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. The Northwest leads the pack with four selections, followed by a pair of prospects from the Central and Pacific.

In the Eastern Conference, prospects from all three divisions show up. The Northeast and Southeast have a trio of players in this edition, while thee New York Islanders and the Pittsburgh Penguins represent the Atlantic.

Above the Curve

NHL


Drew Doughty, D  – Los Angeles Kings
2008 – 1st round, 2nd overall

Even though he’s just graduated from prospect status here at HF, no one is going to knock Drew Doughty as our top NHL performer. Averaging close to 24 minutes of ice time a night, the former first rounder hasn’t wavered. He has established himself as the bona fide blueliner the Kings felt they were getting just under a year ago at the draft. And even though he’s been more effective in his own end, the London, Ontario native still has found a way to lead all rookie rearguards in scoring with 21 points (4 goals, 17 assists). It’s definitely a part of his game that will improve over the next few seasons.


Kyle Okposo, RW – New York Islanders
2006 – 1st round, 7th overall

Okposo struggled mightily in the beginning of the 2008-09 season, posting only five points (2 goals, 3 assists) in his first 20 games. By the end of December, however, the 20-year-old found a groove, and rang off three point streaks of five games or longer. With many of the Islanders veterans having left by the Mar. 4 trade deadline, the Minnesota native has seen an increase in his ice time and responsibilities, playing on the top power-play unit, and seeing more time on the penalty kill. Currently, Okposo is amidst six-game point streak that includes four goals and 3 assists. He scores timely goals too, as the Islanders are 9-4-2 when Okposo scores in a game. With Bill Guerin having gone to Pittsburgh, Okposo now leads the Islanders with 16 goals.

Minor Pro


Cory Schneider, G – Manitoba Moose (AHL)
Vancouver Canucks, 2004 – 1st round, 26th overall

Sitting at the top of the standings in all of the AHL, the Manitoba Moose have tons of things to be thankful for this season. But one player who comes to mind is Cory Schneider.  Many say that taking a goalie in the first round is a kiss of death, but the second-year pro is working against that thinking.  Since we checked in last month, he’s posted a 5-3 record, 2.30 goals against average and a .917 save percentage. Schneider also picked up two shutouts during this stretch, which puts him one short of Manitoba’s regular season record of eight. If the former 2004 pick continues to excel, the Moose can expect a lengthy post-season run ahead.


Mark Letestu, C – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (AHL)
Pittsburgh Penguins, 2007 – signed as free agent

While many expected the 24-year-old Mark Letestu to continue developing as a player, it is safe to assume that his 52 points (20 goals, 32 assist) totals to date were not expected in only his second full season in the pros. After going pointless in his first seven games and failing to score a goal until his 15th game of the season, Letestu was looking shaky. In fact, up until Dec. 27, Letestu had only nine points (4 goals, 5 assists) in 22 games. However starting on that night, Letestu exploded offensively. Since then, he’s posted 43 points (16 goals, 27 assists) in 38 games. In the month of March alone, the pivot has scored 11 points (4 goals, 7 assists) in just eight games.

NCAA


Mark Olver, C – Northern Michigan University (CCHA)
Colorado Avalanche, 2008 – 5th round, 140th overall

It’s no secret Mark Olver has been a constant for the Wildcats all year long. But what caught our attention this time around is that the sophomore continues to factor himself into the equation even as the stakes continue to rise. With 11 points (6 goals, 5 assists) in his last nine games, Olver now leads the team in scoring with 35 points (16 goals, 19 assists), leaving fellow sophomores Gregor Hanson and Erik Gustafsson just a point behind. The Colorado Avalanche 2008 fifth-round pick also leads the team in goals. Having defeated Miami-Ohio in the CCHA Tournament, Olver with lead his team into battle next weekend against powerhouse Notre Dame for their semifinal series.


Viktor Stalberg, C – University of Vermont (Hockey East)
Toronto Maple Leafs, 2006 – 6th round, 161st overall

Among the top players in NCAA hockey, Viktor Stalberg currently leads the seventh-ranked Vermont Catamounts in scoring with 43 points (23 goals, 20 assists).
After two seasons in which the slick Swede posted 15 points and 23 points respectively, Stalberg exploded, eclipsing his career totals by the middle of February. Considered an early favorite for the Hobey Baker Award, the 6’3 Swede has been the model of consistency this season, held pointless on only eight occasions, never for more than two games in a row. On top of being a dynamic athlete, Stalberg has a reputation for being an excellent student and currently maintains a 3.6 GPA. Much of Stalberg’s on-ice success this season can be attributed to returning to campus two months early and training with the University’s fitness staff. 

Junior


Mikael Backlund, C – Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
Calgary Flames, 2007 – 1st round, 24th overall

If things weren’t going as planned for Mikael Backlund earlier this year back home in his native Sweden, it’s safe to say that the second half has been all that was hoped and more. Deciding to stay in North America after WJC’s in Ottawa has really paid off. The Calgary Flames 2008 first rounder joined the Kelowna Rockets in the WHL and has yet to flinch. He’s maintaining just over a point per game for the Rockets, and this past month is no different. The forward has 17 points (7 goals, 10 assists) and a plus-11 rating over the last 14 games.  Granted, it’s pretty hard to be bad on a team stacked with the talent the Rockets have upfront, but you still have to assert yourself. That’s exactly what Backlund has done and it’s showing up on the scorer’s sheet nearly every night. 


Maxime Sauve, C – Val-d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL)
Boston Bruins, 2008 – 2nd round, 47th overall

Although his team missed the playoffs, the 2008-09 season was one of immense personal success for Maxime Sauve. Currently 19th in scoring with 76 points (27 goals, 49 assists) in 64 games, Sauve also led his team in points by a wide margin, with second-place Samuel Morneau having only 54 points. The native of Tours, France has played consistently all season, registering at least one point in 47 of his 64 appearances. And the 6’2 forward never went more than one game on two occasions without a point. Sauve had a torrid finish in March, posting nine points (3 goals, 6 assists) in the four games leading up to the season finale against Montreal. Sauve is far from a finished product, however. As the primary offensive catalyst on his team, Sauve needs show more discipline, improve in the face-off circle, and score more timely goals.

Below the Curve

NHL


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

We loved him early in the season and we still do, but where has Patrik Berglund’s game gone? As the St. Louis Blues are making a late surge, the Swedish forward’s offense has been M.I.A. Only three points out of the final playoff spot, the Blues could sneak in the back door if they keep it up. But Berglund has to awake to make anything worthwhile. The team is 6-3-1 in their last 10 games. But the 21-year-old has only picked up a meager four points (1 goal, 3 assists) over the last month and is only playing close to 12 minutes a night. His time has fluctuated over the year, but when things were good, the Blues were giving him about four more minutes a night.


Max Pacioretty, LW – Montreal Canadiens
2007 – 1st round, 22nd overall

After initially being called up, Max Pacioretty scored in his Jan. 2 debut against the New Jersey Devils, and posted a pair of goals and assists in his first five games. A native of New Canaan, Connecticut, Pacioretty saw regular time on both special teams. Since March though, Pacioretty has gone dry, posting only a lone assist in his last five games and is stuck in a vicious cycle of dwindling production and ice time. Currently, Pacioretty has 11 points (3 goals, 11 assists), which ranks 13th among forwards on the team. Although he has struggled lately, the slick winger remains in the Canadiens long-term plans and will be integral in replacing some of the many free agents destined to leave Montreal at the end of the season.

Minor Pro


Jean-Philippe Levasseur, G – Iowa Chops, (AHL)
Anaheim Ducks, 2005 – 7th round, 197th overall

Although he’s been splitting time in the crease, goalie Jean-Philippe Levasseur hasn’t been able to put much together for the Iowa Chops for quite some time. After looking like he was about to settle in during the month of December, things got a bit shaky. He held his ground for a bit, but as things progressed the second-year pro’s play regressed. Over the past month he saw action in seven games, going 1-3-0-1 and posting a 3.13 goals against average and a .885 save percentage, though that has been in line with his season totals of 3.18 GAA and .884 save percentage.. Levasseur is going to have to find his game from earlier in the year if he wants to help Iowa into the playoffs.
   

Oskar Osala, LW – Hershey Bears (AHL)
Washington Capitals, 2006, 4th round, 96th overall

Playing for the Eastern Conference leading Bears, Oskar Osala’s professional career in North America is separated by two distinct chapters. In his first 46 games in the AHL, Osala posted 31 points (19 goals, 12 assists). However, Since Jan. 17, Osala has posted only four points (2 goals, 2 assists) over the next 24 games including only one goal, and an assist in March. Since his slump, Osala’s ice time has dwindled and he has seen less time on the man-advantage. Still, his difficulties should not be too great of a long-term concern. Because of the long season and physical style of game, players traditionally hit a wall around the middle point of their rookie season.

Junior


Philip McRae, C – London Knights (OHL)
St. Louis Blues, 2008 – 2nd round 33rd overall

No doubt Philip McRae is sitting pretty now that he’s inked an entry-level contract with the St. Louis Blues. But we still have to ask, where has his touch gone? After blazing a trail early in the year where he put up 57 points (27 goals, 30 assists) in 44 games, the 2008 second-round pick looked relentless with the London Knights.  While his team seems to be unstoppable yet again, McRae has been in a little funk. Since February, his point production nosedived. The second-year OHLer has only three points (2 goals, 1 assist) and posted a minus-4 rating over the last 15 games. London has already reserved its place in the postseason; perhaps McRae can turn it back on by then.


Adam Comrie, D – Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
Florida Panthers, 2008 – 3rd round, 80th overall

On Feb. 11, Comrie carelessly shot a puck into the stands during a halt in play. The puck struck a woman in the head and Comrie was suspended until Mar. 3. While this was not the first time Comrie had shot the puck into stands during a halt in play, it was the first time that doing so caused injury. Since returning, Comrie’s defensive game appears to have regressed as he is frequently caught behind the play. His offensive game has also sputtered as the talented blueliner has only four assists in the last 10 games since returning from suspension.

NCAA


Michael Carman, C – University of Minnesota (WCHA)
Colorado Avalanche, 2006 – 3rd round, 81st overall

Going into his junior season with the University of Minnesota, one would have thought that it was Mike Carman’s time to take center stage in the maroon and gold. While he has played his part for the Gophers this season, his offensive output really hasn’t taken off. With the regular season winding down and the team shifting its attention to the WCHA Tournament, Carman’s stick has been silent. The pivot has only been able to muster up one assist over the last eight games. He’s an excellent two-way player for Minnesota, but as the team continues on in the postseason, Carman is going to have to break the slump.


Vinny Saponari, F – Boston University (Hockey East)
Atlanta Thrashers, 2008 – 4th round, 94th overall

The first player to have been locally developed in Georgia and drafted in the NHL, Saponari is currently in his freshman season at Boston University. Buried on the depth charts behind higher profile prospects like Colin Wilson (NSH) and Nick Bonino (ANA), Saponari produced at the beginning of the season, but would disappear off of the score sheet for long stretches. Most notably during the month of February, he posted a single goal and assist in eight games. Although March started off better for forward as he posted two assists in a game against Providence on the 6th, he has been pointless in his last three games.

Jeff Dahlia, Kevin Forbes, and Ian Altenbaugh contributed to this article.