Welcome to On the Rush, Hockey’s Future’s monthly look at hot and cold NHL prospects at the major-league, minor-league, collegiate, and junior levels. Those who are exceeding expectations will be listed as leading the rush while those who are not meeting expectations are trailing the play.
In this edition, we look at two unlikely candidates for NHL rookie of the year, several immensely gifted defensemen on the cusp of the NHL, and three goaltenders who are struggling.
Leading the rush
Before the 2009-10 season began, few picked Bergfors to be a contender for the Calder Memorial Trophy, the award that goes to the NHL rookie of the year. While it would be fair to say he has stiff competition from the likes of John Tavares and Ryan O’Reilly, there is no denying the slick Swede’s impact on a Devils team that was supposed to be too old and injured to compete for a playoff spot let alone sit among the top of the conference standings. The 22-year-old forward has five goals, nine assists in 19 games this season and three goals, five assists in six games over the first half of November. He has played on the top-two lines in and his three power-play goals lead the team. With Patrick Elias continuing to struggle after returning from injury, Bergfors will be counted on to provide offensive punch for a defensively oriented Devils team.
Though the Avs hot start in October has waned a bit in November, the club remains among the best in the Western Conference thanks in large part to their first two picks in last June’s draft. Matt Duchene‘s presence has certainly been felt on offense, but he has been outdone by O’Reilly over the first quarter of the season. O’Reilly’s 15 points are tied for second in rookie scoring with all four goals, 11 assists coming at even strength. He has played a pivotal role on the league’s eighth-best penalty-kill unit. Still just 18, the former Erie Otter brings maturity and strong defensive play to the Colorado line-up while leading a team that struggles in the faceoff circle with a respectable 48.6 percent.
With standout rookie seasons from Rangers defensemen Michael Del Zotto and Matt Gilroy, it would be easy to overlook the stellar 2009-10 season defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti is putting together in the AHL. Now in his second full professional season, the 21-year-old has already matched his 2008-09 goal totals and is among the team leaders in points with six goals, 12 assists in 17 games. The 6’3 defenseman has also seen considerable time on the AHL’s top-ranked power play where he has potted three goals, six assists on the season. The New Jersey native has also developed into a more defensively responsible and well-rounded player this season and remains on the short list to get an NHL cup of coffee.
The Blues have yet another talented defenseman in the system in Junland, a 6’2 198 lbs Swedish blueliner who has dominated the AHL through 16 games. The Rivermen’s leading scorer has six goals, which is tied for the team lead, to go along with 10 assists. His four power-play goals have helped the unit to third-best power play in the league with a 23.6 percent success rate with the man advantage. The 22-year-old is yet another offensive talent in a pipeline full of gifted defenders.
Now in his senior season, the 6’3 defender has provided a great deal of on and off-ice leadership for a defense that is made up of freshman and sophomore players. In eight games, the 22-year-old posted three goals, five assists while playing big minutes on both special teams. On top of improving his play at both ends of the ice, Sneep has upgraded his skating and has shown a level of consistency previously not seen. The month of November has been particularly good to Sneep so far as he posted two goals, four assists in only five games, including two multi-point outings on Nov. 6 and 7.
Now in his senior season at Colorado College, the speedy Sweatt has stepped into a big offensive role for the first place Tigers. After three solid 20-point seasons, the Illinois-native is finally scoring at a pace more befitting his second-round status. Through the season’s first 10 games, the winger has notched six goals, nine assists. Thirteen of those points have come in WCHA match-ups, including a seven-point weekend against Michigan Tech. Such offensive success is an encouraging sign for a prospect with the wheels and aggressiveness demonstrated by the 21-year-old Sweatt.
Porous defense and a 9-15-2 team record have overshadowed what has been a stellar start to Sauve’s fourth year in the QMJHL. The slick-skating, skilled center has always been a consistent offensive contributor but this season has points in 19 of his 22 appearances all while upgrading his play on the defensive side of the puck. The 19-year-old started the season hot, collecting nine goals, nine assists in his first 10 games. Through Nov. 14, Sauve has 12 goals, 19 assists, in 22 games. In acknowledgement of his play, Sauve was selected to represent the QMJHL in the Subway Super Series with Russia.
The Hitmen have emerged as one of the top clubs in the CHL due in large part to the WHL‘s leading scorer Brandon Kozun. Coming off an excellent 108-point season, the 5’9 164 lbs winger has 11 goals, 32 assists for 43 points in 24 games to start the season. The 19-year-old actually improved his point per game from 1.5 last season to 1.79 this year. His scoring frenzy was stymied a bit when his 16-game point streak recently came to an end.
Trailing the play
After making the NHL roster out of training camp, Kennedy seems to have settled nicely into a third-line role with the Buffalo Sabres. His tenacious style of play along with his ability to opportunistically jump into the play have gelled nicely with what the Sabres are trying to accomplish as a team. He is also playing good defensive hockey on one of the most defensively stingy teams in the NHL. Having said that, the 23-year-old has been offensively snake-bitten, posting only one goal, four assists on a team that scores an average of only 2.82 goals per game. The most telling statistic, however, is Kennedy’s 3.2 shooting percentage; he is getting the chances, they are just not finding the back of the net. Right now there is not a great deal of pressure on Kennedy to produce offensively as the Sabres have a good hold on their division. However, if that lead in the division slips, expect Kennedy to be one of the first forwards taken to task for not producing enough offensively.
Detroit’s veteran-laden roster has kept the team afloat but much more was expected of the 26-year-old Leino coming into this season. He was expected to bring secondary scoring and more skill to Detroit’s power play. His three goals, one assist through the first 17 games was not exactly what the team hoped for from the Finnish forward. Though his struggles have already resulted in one benching this year, there have been some encouraging moments in both ends of the ice during this young season. Still, more was expected of Leino especially considering the rash of injuries that has hit Detroit on the wings this year.
A forward who was acquired with Matt Lashoff at the 2009 trade deadline, Karsums was brought to Tampa Bay for depth at forward and to contribute offensively. After posting almost a point per game the last two seasons for the Providence Bruins, Karsums was expected to contribute more this season than the one goal, three assists he has post through 14 games. Still, the 23-year-old has been solid defensively and will likely get at least a cup of coffee in the NHL this season.
Though Hickey has been projected to provide ample offense from the blueline for the Kings in the near future, his first full professional season is off to a slow start. The 20-year-old posted seven points in seven games for Manchester at the end of last season and made a positive impression during Kings camp this year. Hickey was assigned to the AHL to get ice time but so far has just three assists in 13 games on the season. The 6’0 190 lbs defenseman has an impressive offensive reputation following a productive career for Seattle in the WHL but has yet to find any traction yet this season.
After a fairly successful freshman campaign that ended with 10 goals, 21 assists in 40 games, more was to be expected of Colborne in his sophomore season. In eight games, Colborne has shown up on the score sheet only three times for a total of three goals, two assists. While some of Colborne’s struggles can be attributed to a fractured index finger in mid-October, he has been outplayed and outworked by less skilled teammates Rhett Rakhshani (COL)and Tyler Ruegsegger (TOR).
The struggles of Millan are maybe the most surprising thing on a Terriers team that has experienced difficulties gelling and get on a roll. The 20-year-old has a 2-6 record through eight games with a 3.15 goals against average and .876 save percentage. Much more was expected of the sophomore after 29 wins last season and a stellar performance during BU’s Frozen Four championship run. Millan will need to find his form from a year ago with the Terriers eighth in Hockey East if they have any hope of defending their national title.
Now in his fourth junior season, the 20-year-old Killeen has struggled in his role as the team’s undisputed starter. In 20 starts, he has a 8-9-2-1 record, a sub .900 save percentage, and a goals against average of 2.88. In the 6’5 goaltender’s defense, he has not had much help up front as the Battalion lost a ton of pop up front with Evgeny Grachev (NYR) and Matt Duchene going pro and Cody Hodgson (VAN) sidelined with a back injury. Regardless, Killeen has struggled with consistency so far this season, allowing three goals or more on 12 of his 20 starts. A strong second half to his 2009-10 season will go a long way in determining whether Pittsburgh should sign Killeen to a contract or not.
Jean-Francois Berube, G – Montreal Juniors (QMJHL)
Los Angeles Kings, 2009, 4th round, 95th overall
The 18-year-old Berube was expected to challenge one of the Quebec League’s best goalies, Jake Allen (STL), for the starting spot in Montreal. Berube impressed in limited action behind Allen during his first year in the league but has yet lay claim to a bigger role during in his sophomore season. Appearing in nine games so far this year, Berube has a solid 4-3 record with a .891 save percentage but his 3.40 goals against average is significantly higher than Allen’s 2.71 mark. Montreal is a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of goals for and against so a hot streak from Berube could really help the team keep pace in the Western Division.