Welcome to the first edition of On the Rush for the 2014-15 season. For those unfamiliar, On the Rush focuses on prospects at various levels of competition who exceeded expectations or fell behind a bit in the past month.
In the first edition of On the Rush, we feature two outstanding youngsters who have burst onto the pro scene, a pair of sizzling forwards in juniors, and a mix of players trying to bounce back from last season’s struggles, along with some recurring names who remain caught in a rut.
Leading the Rush
Before the 2014-15 season, New Jersey’s plan was to have Jon Merrill, Eric Gelinas, and Adam Larsson become regulars on the team’s defense. Then Damon Severson forced his way into the lineup and stole the show from his fellow youngsters in October. In the first 19 games of the season, the young defensemen had four goals, eight points, 52 shots and was a plus-four. His anticipation with the puck and skill on the blue line has given the team a much needed boost in team scoring. He has also played very well defensively while paired with Andy Greene. The duo have logged heavy minutes and with the rookie outplaying the veteran on more than one occasion. The young defenseman has made some notable defensive plays already and is seeing consistent special teams play.
For his outstanding start, Severson was named Hockey’s Future’s Prospect of the Month for October.
As we enter deep November, the Manitoba native has begun to cool off. He is starting to draw the attention of the opposition and we are beginning to see some rookie mistakes arise. Nevertheless, Severson’s wide skill-set make him a player to watch and an early favorite in the Calder discussion.
When Vey came over to the Canucks from the Kings at the draft, it was partly due to the fact that the LA really had no place for the talented forward. His top-six minutes were limited, and his game was not suited for the bottom-six. Vancouver, however, has found a nice spot for Vey on the second line alongside fellow offseason acquisition Nick Bonino. He has also seen time alongside the Sedin twins. In addition to his play in the top-six, Vey has been receiving power play time on the first unit.
The 23-year old has nine points in his first 18 games of the year and as a Canuck. While not as apt in the defensive side of the game as some have hoped, Vey has still been a remarkable pickup for a rebuilding Vancouver squad. His play on the power play and at even strength has been a big reason why the Canucks have come out of the gate hot to start the year. At this point it seems like a second round pick well spent.
There is no other way to say it: Adam Erne is playing like a man possessed. In his final season of junior with the Quebec Remparts, he has taken his game to the next level. Through his first 18 games of the year, he already has 15 goals and 15 assists. Erne possesses a blend of size, speed and skill which allow him to play either a finesse or physical style, depending on what the team needs.
With the graduation of Nikita Kucherov, Erne is now Tampa Bay’s best right wing prospect. He appears to be another up-and-coming difference maker who could jump into the pros and hit the ground running. The winger will also play a big role for the United States World Junior team this December.
De Leo has been seemingly unstoppable through the first three months of the season, scoring 12 goals and 26 points in 22 games. He has been held off the scoresheet in only four games, and has taken just four minor penalties while still playing a gritty style of hockey. These numbers with Portland are even more impressive when you look at how few power play points De Leo has. With only four of his 16 points coming with the extra man, he has done the majority of his scoring at even strength. The Winterhawks are definitely struggling right now, but the line of Oliver Bjorkstrand (CLB), De Leo, and Nicolas Petan (WIN) are doing their best at hanging in.
Blake Coleman, C, Miami RedHawks (NCHC)
Drafted by the New Jersey Devils
3rd round, 90th overall, 2011
The biggest question facing Blake Coleman entering his senior season was could he repeat his breakout performance from last year. Through the first month of the college hockey season, that answer is a resounding yes. The Texas native has picked up where he left off as Miami’s spark plug. In 10 games played, he is second on the team in scoring with six goals, 11 points. He was named NCHC Offensive Player of the Week during Miami’s series split with Minnesota Duluth on October 31st and November 1st.
Coleman’s tenacity and high competitiveness make him tough to play against. His in-your-face style is effective at generating team offense and disrupting the opposition. He also possesses good skill with the puck, though he is more a finisher than a playmaker. Along with a talented top-six that includes Riley Barber (WAS) and Sean Kuraly (SJ), the Redhawks have a promising season ahead of them.
While Dan O’Regan of the Sharks had an equally as impressive month in NCAA hockey, Mario Lucia has been absolutely ridiculous when it comes to goal scoring. The 6’3 winger has eight goals in his first 12 games of the season. That is already half of his total from the entire 40-game 2013-14 season. He scored in all but two October games, which included a hat trick against Lake Superior. Lucia currently leads all NCAA drafted players in goals and his play earned Hockey East player of the month honors.
Notre Dame has been impressive in their non-conference games but they will need Lucia to remain hot as they start diving into the conference games.
A roller coaster 2013-14 season saw Joonas Korpisalo loaned out to four teams with mixed results. Between Kiekko-Vantaa, LeKi, Jokerit, and Ilves, he was unable to develop consistency. His longest and most successful loan was with the latter, which is where he has started 2014-15. Now solidified as the team’s full-time starter, Korpisalo has gotten off to a great start. Nine games into the 2014-15 year and he has a 1.63 goals-against average and .936 save percentage. Being fully healthy has also allowed him to use his full athletic ability again and reassure Ilves he is in peak condition to compete. Playing a full season with one team will pay dividends for his development as he plans to go to North America in the near future.
It cannot be stressed enough how difficult it is for a player aged 18 to step into a full professional league and look comfortable. Nashville Predators second round selection, Vladislav Kamenev, has done that this year and has looked like a wily veteran in the process. His full 200-foot game has been impressive while playing in all 25 games for Metallurg this year. While he only has seven points and four goals on the season, he only has eight penalty minutes along with an even plus-minus.
The penalty minutes are particularly impressive since one of the knocks on Kamenev going into the draft was his penchant for ill-advised penalties and undisciplined play. He is showing an exceptional amount of maturity at a young age in the KHL and that is a very positive sign for his NHL future.
Trailing the Play
Since turning pro, Petr Mrazek has been a consistent competitor, backstopping the Red Wings AHL affiliate to the top of the league and deep into the postseason. It is not farfetched to assume the 22-year-old keeper will be in the NHL soon, as he has performed well when called-up to the Motor City. Receiving the lion’s share of starts for the Griffins was supposed to show if Mrazek was ready for a promotion, but he struggled to start the season.
Grand Rapids is off to a weak start at 6-6-1 and sit second to last in the Midwest Division. Mrazek should not shoulder the full burden but he has been part of the issue. So much so that he has only played in six games and is 3-2, with a 3.25 goals against average and a .876 save percentage.
Mrazek was recently recalled to the NHL, despite his early season struggles. When Jonas Gustavsson was lost to a shoulder injury, Detroit recalled Mrazek to back-up Jimmy Howard. The Czech goaltender could make his 2014-15 NHL season debut November 20th against the Winnipeg Jets.
Last year, Baertschi made the trailing list twice for our On the Rush feature and he has wasted no time joining it again this year. The struggles of 2013-14 seemed to have carried over into the 2014-15 campaign, as Baertschi failed to register a goal in the month of October through the first three weeks of November. Although he is primarily thought of as a pass first player, Baertschi has been off the score sheet the majority of games he has played.
The opportunity is there for the 22-year-old, as Calgary is a young team with plenty of spots up for grabs. With Josh Jooris and Johnny Gaudreau likely surpassing him on the depth chart, a change of scenery (or new beginning) could be the best option for Baertschi at this point.
After two solid years in the SuperElit league in Sweden, Markus Soberg made the move to North America. Starting out in Windsor, he has struggled to assimilate to the confined, physical nature of the North American game. Through 16 games, he has accumulated two goals, five assists, six penalty minutes and a minus-seven rating. This slow start should not force anyone to worry though. Europeans that play their first season in North America usually struggle initially. He should come into his own as the season progresses.
However, this has exposed Soberg’s flaws that he will need to improve before he enters the pros. As was the case in Sweden, he needs to improve his play away from the puck and be more responsible. While his creativity and speed make him difficult to contain, he needs to learn to play in tight spaces as well as bulk up to avoid being knocked off the puck as easily.
Roland McKeown, D, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
Drafted by the Los Angeles Kings
2nd round, 50th overall, 2014
After being passed up in the first round, the LA Kings swooped on Roland McKeown as he fell into the late second. While considered a tremendous all-around defenseman with a lot of tools, the defenseman still slid down in the draft. Largely considered a steal at that selection, he has been off to a slow start on the season, managing seven assists through his first 18 games.
While these are not terrible numbers by for a defenseman, the Kings are hoping that McKeown can build a better all-around game and play a better positional game. No question there is a lot riding on his shoulders as captain of the Frontenacs this season. Everyone will be looking for a bigger and more inspired month of November from the very promising young defenseman.
Cristovol Nieves, C, Michigan Wolverines (Big Ten)
Drafted by the New York Rangers
2nd round, 59th overall, 2012
Coming off a minor sophomore slump, Cristovol ‘Boo’ Nieves was expected to return to form to help a young Michigan squad for 2014-15. Not only has that not occurred, but the Wolverines sit 4-5. Defense has been the main culprit bleeding 32 goals, but the offense also struggled early in the season. As coach Red Berenson has juggled the lines to find some sort of spark, Nieves has fallen somewhat on the depth chart. He is off to a similarly slow start from last year with one goal four assists. He has looked uncomfortable on the ice, lacking chemistry with some of his linemates, yet the same can be said for most of Michigan’s forwards right now. While his overall game has improved, his offensive skills have not grown at the pace the Rangers were hoping for from their hopeful top-six centerman. It has come more so in flashes than on a consistent basis which is troubling for an upperclassman at this point in his career.
Jack Dougherty, D, Wisconsin Badgers (Big Ten)
Drafted by the Nashville Predators
2nd round, 51st overall, 2014
Wisconsin is 0-6-0 to start the year and have given up a staggering 20 goals while scoring just seven. Jack Dougherty, the former second round pick of the Nashville Predators, has registered a minus-eight rating in those six contests and has a solitary assist. The freshman has looked like a boy amongst men at times, and Wisconsin as a whole has struggled mightily out the gate. The product of the USNTDP is one of three freshmen on the blue line for the Badgers, and if his play does not pick up, he may find himself on a rotation with other defenseman to the press box.
Vitek Vanecek, G, HC Benatky nad Jizerou (Czech2)
Drafted by the Washington Capitals
2nd round, 39th overall, 2014
Washington has been rather good at developing goaltenders for NHL duty. While some have found homes outside the organization over the years, credit the scouting department for finding new talent at that position. This past summer saw the Capitals select Vitek Vanecek in the second round of the NHL draft. Young and raw, Vanecek possess incredible athleticism, reflexes, and tons of potential that make him a possible future starting goaltender down the road.
However, Vanecek right now is inconsistent between the pipes. One night he is making highlight reel saves that energize his teammates, the next night might see him give up a soft goal that kills his team’s momentum. Thus far in seven appearances, he has a 2.88 goals against average along with a .898 save percentage. Because of this, he has been loaned to Bili Tygri Liberec U20. The move appears to be working as through two games he has posted a 2.00 goals against average and .947 save percentage. He was recalled back to HC Benatky nad Jizerou and has fared well since his return. It would not be surprising if he
He should remain in the Czech league for a few years before he comes to North America.
Noah Rod, RW, Genève-Servette (NLA)
Drafted by the San Jose Sharks
2nd round, 53rd overall, 2014
Rod was a bit of an interesting selection by the Sharks. The Swiss forward has very little offensive upside, but instead projects as an energy line checking forward who likes to agitate his opponents. While that seems reasonable, for a second round pick it seems like a bit of reach. Rod has stayed in his home country of Switzerland to play in the NLA with Genève-Servette. Last season in 28 games, he had just one goal and three points. So far this season in 23 games he has no goals and three assists.
Take into consideration that Rod is just 18-year-old and playing in a professional league, but nonetheless, he is showing no signs of having any sort of offensive ability in a league where goals tend to be scored a decent rate. Maybe more of a concern is that he has not shown any improvement from his 2013-14 totals. There is still plenty of time for him to come around however.
Article was written by Jason Lewis and John Iadevaia.