Welcome to the second installment of On the Rush for the 2014-15 season. This month we feature a diverse group of players, including two goalies from the same pipeline, an outstanding young Swiss league player, and a junior talent who has overcome health concerns. Several prospects who are currently representing their countries at the 2015 World Junior Championships are also featured this month.
Leading the Rush
After several years mired in the middle of the Western Conference pack and just missing the playoffs, it looks like the Jets may be a playoff team. With new coach Paul Maurice at the helm the Jets are playing inspired hockey and giving tough opponents a run for their money. One major reason the team has had success so far this year is the goaltending tandem of Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson. The latter has been absolutely outstanding for the Jets. Hutchinson has appeared in 13 games with the Jets so far and has posted a 1.67 goals against and a .937 save percentage. Pavelec struggled last year and the team had to rely on Al Montoya for several games last season. The team acquired Peter Budaj in the offseason to replace the departed Montoya, but Hutchinson has all but secured his spot as an NHL goaltender with his fine play. His journey has been equally as impressive, as just a year ago the 6’3 netminder was out in Southern California with the ECHL Ontario Reign.
There are always concerns over smaller, more offensively oriented defensive prospects. Mainly how they will adapt to the professional game and whether or not they can be relied on in their own end. Pouliot seemingly put both of those concerns to rest fairly quickly this year. He has been one of the most productive defensemen in the AHL and was relied on by Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins head coach John Hynes to play in all situations prior to his callup to the NHL.
Pouliot wasted no time making an impact at the NHL level either, scoring a goal on the first shot in the first game of his NHL career. With the Penguins defensive ravaged by injury at the NHL level, Pouliot has seen top-four duties in his last two games, logging around 18 minutes per game. As the Penguins defense gets healthy, Pouliot will eventually be returned to the AHL, but the young defenseman has definitely raised his profile.
On the season, Pouliot has 20 points in 23 AHL games and two points in three NHL games.
The Jets had not one, but two outstanding goaltenders this month. Eric Comrie was fantastic for the Tri-City Americans over the last month, posting an 8-5 record, a 2.29 goals against average, and one shutout. This includes a couple of games throughout the month which Comrie was absolutely peppered with rubber. Although he recorded losses in these contests, Comrie faced 57 shots against Spokane while only conceding two. Later in the month he faced 42 shots from Portland while giving up three. The Americans have done him very few favors this season as he faces around 32 shots a night. Outside of his outstanding WHL month, Comrie is also a member of Team Canada’s 2015 World Junior Championship roster.
The hockey community was pulling for Tim Bozon when he entered his bout with a severe form of meningitis left him in a medically-induced coma last season. He faced a tough road to recovery, but by the end of the summer, he was practicing with his Montreal teammates. He was then able to participate at Montreal’s training camp and eventually reassigned to juniors for his final season in the WHL.
As it currently stands, Bozon’s comeback story is going well. With him and Buffalo top draft pick Sam Reinhart (BUF) sidelined, Kootenay sank in the standings without their star players. It is no surprise then that upon their return, the Ice began to turn their season around. Since returning to Kootenay in late October, Bozon has 27 points in 20 games, including a seven-game, 11 point scoring streak scoring streak stretching from November 23rd to December 7th.
Sophomore John Hayden has really upped his game this year for the Yale Bulldogs. In his freshman season the big power forward put up a respectable numbers with 16 points in 33 games. However, this year he has upped the ante and is scoring at a point per game pace with 10 points through 10 games. He is currently leading Yale in points and has been a big all-situations player for Coach Keith Allain. He has also remained on the ice, as he has visited the penalty box just once this year. Not bad for a physical power forward. The scoring is going to have to come from a lot of different places for the Bulldogs this year in a tough ECAC conference which includes Quinnipiac, Union, Colgate, and a resurgent Harvard squad. If Hayden can keep up his excellent point pace it would go a long way in Yale improving upon 2013-14.
Hayden, an American, is one of several prospects featured in this month’s On the Rush who is representing his country at the 2015 World Junior Championships.
When Florida drafted Zach Hyman in 2010, the right winger was coming off a solid draft year in Junior A where he led the league in scoring. The organization hoped that his skills would incumbent better in the college ranks than in the CHL. Panther’s management has been really patient since Hyman started at Ann Arbor, but finally, he is showing his offensive potential in his senior season. Through 15 games, Hyman has already matched his career high from last season with seven goals and 10 assists.
Part of the reason is the chemistry he has developed with his Michigan linemates. Freshman Dylan Larkin (DET) and sophomore Alex Kile are both speedy skilled forwards that work off Hyman’s gritty, possession play. The trio has been so good for the Wolverines this season that they are the top 1-2-3 in team scoring. They are also one of the best lines in college, combining for 48 points total.
While the National League of Switzerland maybe is not the most competitive league in the world, you have to recognize a good season where it happens. Minnesota Wild draftee, Christoph Bertschy is having a strong campaign with SC Bern. With former NHL coach Guy Boucher at the helm, SC Bern is a much improved team. Bertschy in particular has elevated his play from a 14 points 37 game campaign last season, and currently has 24 points in 31 games. Not only has the speedy winger improved statistically this season, he is also one of Bern’s alternate captains this year. Bertschy contract with Bern is up at the end of the season and if he continues to shows improved steps in leadership and on-ice ability, he could come to North America to try his hand at the AHL as soon as next season.
Buchnevich is has impressed this season in the KHL. Playing an average of 16:16 minutes a game, the left winger is having a career year with 21 points through 32 games. Buchnevich is currently with Team Russia at the 2015 WJCs.
The winger is a talented playmaker who can open up defenses with his speed. He is someone that will fit nicely into Alain Vigneault’s system that allows players to use their skill. However, he is still a young man who needs to improve his defensive play while bulking up some more to prepare for the rough and tumble nature of the NHL.
Trailing the Play
Faksa has been one of the more exciting all-around center in the OHL the last several seasons. His physical play, aggressive style, and smooth puck-handling and playmaking ability has had many folks in Dallas excited at his potential. However, like many young players, the transition to the AHL has been a challenge. The offense has been tough to come by, as Faksa managed only two points in his first 19 games. He has picked it up in December, with six points in 10 games, but he has struggled to adjust to the professional level. Through 29 AHL games this year, Faksa has eight points and a minus-14 rating.
Dylan McIlrath, D, Hartford Wolfpack (AHL)
Drafted by the New York Rangers
1st Round, 10th Overall, 2010
McIlrath has struggled in his third season of professional hockey. He has played in 28 games for Hartford but has only contributed four assists, with 53 penalty minutes and is a minus-12. He was recalled to New York on November 2nd and played the next night against St Louis. His season debut saw him on the ice for 8:02 while racking up nine penalty minutes, which included a fight against Ryan Reaves. That was his only game as he was quickly returned to the AHL.
A snarly defensive defenseman when New York drafted him, McIlrath was projected to become a piece of New York’s core on defense. Unfortunately, he suffered a terrible knee injury during the 2011 preseason that forced him to miss the entire year. Since then, he has had to catch up on the year of development he lost. Defensemen usually take longer to develop, but McIlrath has never looked the same since the injury.
There are so many high draft junior players out there having good seasons that it is difficult to come across one that is not playing well. However, Mason McDonald is no doubt wishing his 2014-15 was going differently. He 2014 had a difficult start to his career to his junior career with Acadie-Bathurst Titan, and a move to Charlottetown has done him no better. The QMJHL is definitely not an easy league for goaltenders, especially ones like McDonald. The 6’4″ Halifax native uses his size and positioning to make saves rather than athleticism. However, with such a wide open style of offensive-oriented play being emphasize in the Q, goalies can be often left out to dry. Charlottetown is currently a .500 team and allows among the most goals in the league.
At this point it is hard to tell whether McDonald is having a bad year or if his style just does not mesh with the Q. He has been facing an average of just about 30 shots a game and still ranks fifth overall in save percentage with a .899. He had decent October totals but definitely saw his play dip in mid to late November and on into December, as he has allowed five or more goals in five of his last nine starts.
Jake Paterson, G, Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
Drafted by the Detroit Red Wings
3rd Round, 80th Overall, 2012
The past two years have seen Jake Paterson prove himself with back-to-back winning seasons for the Saginaw Spirit. Following training camp, he was sent back to juniors for an overage season because Petr Mrazek and Tom McCollum had the two AHL jobs firmly in hand. Paterson’s fifth OHL season has not gone as expect as Saginaw is in the middle of a rebuild, resulting in inconsistent performances. Most concerning is the defense, as the Spirit has surrendered 125 goals, the fifth most in the OHL. All of it should not fall at the feet of Paterson, but he is not in the same groove he had the past two years.
The numbers do not lie as Paterson has a 10-10-1 record with a 3.32 goals against average and .909 save percentage along with one shutout. In 13 contests, he has allowed three or more goals. He has also been barraged by 35 or more shots in 10 games.
Despite Paterson’s name being thrown around the rumor mill of being traded, it is unlikely to happen before the OHL’s trade deadline. He will have to be patient and play out the rest of the season then see where he stands in the offseason in Detroit’s depth chart.
Kevin Roy is still having a pretty decent year for the Huskies, but after his outstanding 2012-13 as one of the top collegiate players he is leaving a lot to be desired. Roy recorded three goals for Northeastern through all of October and November, and is going to have to pick up the pace if he wants to match his goal totals from previous seasons. After putting up 19 in 37 games last year, Roy has only five goals in 16 games this season, two of which came in a five-point game on December 16th. While he is still putting up assists, the Huskies are very light on offense and even strength scoring this year, scoring the third fewest goals in the conference overall.
Now in his sophomore season, Fasching is not struggling per se, but he is not performing at the level he played as a freshman, when he put up 30 points through 40 games. It seems his intensity level sometimes is not the same on certain nights. Through 14 games, the Minnesota native has scored five goals and seven points. Inconsistency is a common issue amongst prospects, but it can become a stigma if not improved upon. Fasching is also spending more time in the penalty box with 14 minutes already before the New Year. It comes with the territory to expect a power forward to see the penalty box, but for someone with his skills and intangibles, he is better served killing a penalty than watching it unfold.
Fasching is playing for Team USA at the 2015 WJCs.
Emil Molin, C/W, Rögle (Allsvenskan)
Drafted by the Dallas Stars
4th round, 105th overall, 2011
Molin has had an interesting career arc since his draft date. He had an unbelievable career with Brynäs U-20 team in the SuperElit, and was playing in the SHL with the senior club at the age of 19. He also played on the Swedish U-20 World Junior Championships team in 2012-13 and had a strong tournament. Since then, however, he has seen a downturn. He played a second year with Brynäs’ senior club but after being ineffective was loaned to Rögle in the Swedish second division, the Allsvenskan. Although his play picked up a bit with Rögle at the end of 2013-14, he is back to ineffective ways in 2014-15. The 21-year old has not scored in 32 games and has five assists.
Coming off a good 2013-14 season where he scored 32 goals and 58 points with the Quebec Ramparts of the QMJHL, Herzog returned to his native country of Switzerland to play in the NLA. It was a bit of a surprise considering he had made promising in-roads in North America. Now he has gone from playing among players in his age group to competing against men. He is not the first prospect to choose an older league over juniors, but it is a difficult adjustment, especially for a player of his age and caliber.
Thus far, he had some success, but has had to fight for consistent ice time. It is a good sign though that he has played in most of Zug’s games. Herzog is skilled player, who at 6’2, 195 pounds, can play in a top-six role. However, he lacks the natural offensive instincts that are expected from a dependable scorer. In 32 games played, he has scored six goals and one assist.
Herzog is currently representing Switzerland at the 2015 WJC.
Article was written by Jason Lewis and John Iadevaia.