Welcome to the January edition of On the Rush, Hockey’s Future’s monthly look at NHL prospects who are either exceeding expectations or not quite living up to them.
In our first edition of the New Year, On the Rush examines several standout performances at the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship tournament, several first-round picks who have struggled of late, and yet another standout performance from a Colorado Avalanche rookie.
Leading the Rush
James vanRiemsdyk, LW – Philadelphia Flyers
2007, 1st round, 2nd overall
The transition to the professional game has been not without bumps for highly touted prospect vanRiemsdyk. However, the power forward’s recent high level of play suggests he will one day be dominant in the NHL. After a torrid start, where he averaged over a point-per-game for his first 15, the big winger, much like the rest of the team, struggled to score goals. vanRiemsdyk remained a solid two-way player though and did not deviate from his game. Recently, his production has picked back up as he has scored three goals, four assists in his past five games. The 20-year-old forward is fourth amongst rookies in points with 10 goals, 17 assists and tied for sixth on his team in scoring. As the young forward continues to assimilate to the more up-tempo style of play new head coach Peter Laviolette has employed, he should remain among the top rookie scorers for the remainder of the season.
Following a full four-year career at Boston University, including the Terriers 2009 National Championship, the expectations were high for Yip the second he signed with the Avalanche. However, a pre-season fight delayed the start of his pro career. The winger joined the Lake Erie Monsters on December 1st and scored two goals over the next six games. Called up on December 17th, Yip provided a shot in the arm to a slumping Avs squad, posting five goals and three assists in 11 games. The speedy winger is a smart skater who utilizes his strong stride to get behind opposing defenses and win races to loose pucks. He also has a strong work ethic when it comes to battling for pucks along the boards and a quick and accurate wrist shot. At 24, Yip is an older prospect but that experience has certainly been an advantage given his impressive statistical start and dependable defensive play.
Francois Bouchard, RW – Hershey Bears
Washington Capitals, 2006, 2nd round, 35th overall
Yet another offensively gifted forward developing in the Capitals system, Bouchard is experiencing a breakout year in his second full professional season. With 10 goals, 18 assists in only 38 games, he is fast eclipsing last season’s totals of 15 goals, 20 assists in almost half the amount of games. The 21-year-old looks to have overcome some of the consistency issues that plagued him last season as he has not gone more than three games without a point. However, it appears as though he will always be a streaky type of player as he posted 10 points in his past 10 games only to have posted three in the 10 before that. Still, with continued development, his inconsistencies further minimized and the forward can one day be a valuable secondary scoring threat for the Caps.
MacLean, now in his second pro season, plays in a top-six role for the Rampage and has been one of the team’s top forwards through the first half of the season. The 21-year-old’s 16 goals rank first on the team and is tied for 11th in the AHL. He rode a seven-game point streak from December 19th to January 2nd up to 27 total points through 36 games on the year. Though the Rampage are still in the basement of the competitive West Division, they have won seven of their last 10 thanks in part to MacLean’s improved production. The winger is easily on pace to surpass his rookie season totals of 21 goals and 40 points in 74 games. MacLean’s improvements this season are certainly helping his stock as he competes for potential NHL ice time alongside highly-touted forwards like Kyle Turris and Mikael Boedker.
Derek Stepan, C – Wisconsin Badgers (WCHA)
New York Rangers, 2008, 2nd round, 51st overall
The talk of the WJC was the United States prevailing over Canada, and at the center of attention was the performance of the tournament’s leading point-getter Derek Stepan. The 19-year-old amassed four goals, 10 assists in only seven games. It should not have come to too much surprise however as Stepan has been among the best players for the Wisconsin Badgers all season long. In 18 games leading up to the tournament, he posted five goals, 17 assists, including a hot streak through November and December that saw him post two goals, 15 assists in 10 games. He has also posted 10 assists on the power play and plays in many key situations. Although he will probably play another year in college, Stepan, along with fellow center Evgeni Grachev, represent a bright future for the Rangers at the center position.
A freshman for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Kyle Palmieri had a solid start to his collegiate career. Through 19 games the talented forward scored seven points, including five goals that are tied for third on the team. The highlight of the year though was a remarkable performance for the United States at the World Junior Championships where he provided plenty of skill and quickness for the potent U.S. offense. In a top-six role, he finished with one goal and eight points in seven games including an assist and three shots in the gold medal game. The tournament was an invaluable experience for the 18-year-old forward who will be eligible to return to the WJC again next year.
Luke Adam, C – Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL)
Buffalo Sabres, 2008, 2nd round, 44th overall
Among the league’s top point-getters throughout the 2009-10 season, Adam has already surpassed his previous season’s goal and point totals in 14 fewer games and has seen his stock continue to rise after a strong performance at the WJCs. Through 33 games with Cape Breton this season, Adam has posted 25 goals, 27 assists. His contributions are critical to the success of the Screaming Eagles as he has figured into 35 percent of the team’s offense. He is also tied for the team lead with nine power-play goals. However, his performance at the WJC is what put an exclamation point on the first half of his season. Through six games the 19-year-old posted four goals, four assists and provided a strong secondary scoring presence for team Canada.
Though he stuck with the Blues out of training camp, Pietrangelo appeared in just nine games for the team through the first three months of the season. He scored just one goal and one assist in those appearances. Mostly, though, the 20-year-old defenseman learned about the NHL life and spent time with the team he’ll surely be joining again very soon. The offensively-gifted Pietrangelo was released by the Blues in order to join Canada at the World Junior Championships. He turned in a stellar performance in both ends of the ice, leading all defensemen in the tournament with 12 points and helping Canada to the silver medal. He notched three goals from the blue line and tied for the team lead with a plus-nine rating. His great shot was especially put to use on the power play where the King City, Ontario native occupied the trigger spot in the high slot. Pietrangelo was sent back to his junior team in Barrie to finish out the season.
Trailing the Play
Although he made the NHL squad out of training camp, Erik Karlsson’s stay was short as he was reassigned to the AHL by the end of October. The stint in the AHL proved short as after only 12 games, Karlsson was recalled to the NHL to stay. His return has not been without bumps in the road however as the 19-year-old has struggled to produce offensively despite averaging around 19 minutes of play time, including considerable time on the man-advantage. In 30 games to date, Karlsson has one goal, six assists, including two on the power play. Despite his offensive woes, the slick Swede has played fairly well on the defensive side of the puck, and has shown a willingness to sacrifice his body along the boards and block shots.
O’Reilly fired out of the gate, earning a "Leading the Rush" nod in November, and paced the rookie scoring race with 15 points through the first 20 games of the season. The letdown to this initial burst has lasted the 27 games since, in which the 18-year-old pivot has just one goal and two assists. The scrappy center was leading his team in the faceoff department, converting over 48-percent through the opening surge, but his faceoff percentage has decreased recently well with a 41 percent success rate over the last 12 games. Over that same stretch only about a quarter of O’Reilly’s faceoffs came in the offensive zone, showing that he has been used in a largely defensive role. Considering the amount of hard work and energy he brings to the line-up, the points should soon return.
After beating out teammate Riku Helenius for the starting job, rookie Tokarski posted an 8-7 record and a 2.47 goals against average in his first 15 games. However, in his past nine, his record is 3-6 and his GAA is 3.00. While a young goalie having his ups and downs through the regular season is normal, the Admirals are offensively anemic and often times disorganized on defense, leaving Tokarski to face as many as forty shots in some evenings. Being shelled by opposition night in and night out can not only wear down a rookie player physically, but mentally as well.
Almond has missed some time due to injury through the beginning half of his first pro season. Still, in the 21 appearances, the pivot has just two goals and three assists to show for it. He went scoreless in 10 December games. For a power forward prospect with offensive capabilities, it has still been a slow start to his pro career. In four junior seasons with Kelowna in the WHL, the 20-year-old increased his scoring each year to a near point-per-game pace last season. The Wild’s prospect pipeline is not exactly bursting with talent, so Almond should still see plenty of opportunities as one of the organization’s top forward prospects. With four points in his past five games, it seems the 6’2 center may be playing closer to full strength.
A forward who brings both size and skill to the ice, Shore has struggled to find consistency in his freshman season, posting three goals, seven assists in 22 games. The 18-year-old has shown that the offensive ability is there, two of his goals and three of his assists came with the man-advantage, he just needs to bring it on a more consistent basis. If or when he learns to better utilize his large wingspan and long reach, he could be an imposing forward for the Pioneers and maybe one day the Panthers.
Sophomore goaltender Karpowich once again won the starting job for the Golden Knights over fellow sophomore Richie LaVeau. He has struggled through his first 15 starts and currently has a 4-8-3 record. The 21-year-old has a 3.39 goals against average and .894 save percentage this year. He has allowed fewer than three goals in just four of his starts thus far. His counterpart LaVeau has started just six games but has achieved slightly better numbers with a 3.12 goals against and .902 save percentage. Clarkson as a team has struggled defensively having given up 72 goals in 20 games, more than any other team in the ECAC. Though Karpowich may have already been a long shot for the NHL, some improved play between the pipes would be a big boost to a struggling Clarkson squad.
After missing a large part of October to a shoulder injury, 18-year-old Kassian has struggled to regain the physical dominance that is the signature to his game. If anything, his offensive struggles have led to him play over the edge, as he was suspended for a slew-foot early in the season and amassed 58 penalty minutes in 33 games. The eight goals, 19 assists, and only one power-play goal tell much of the story for the former captain of the Peterborough Petes. His play continued to dip as the season wore along too. In his final 10 games with Peterborough, he had only four assists and was a minus-10. However, there are greener pastures for the big forward as he was recently traded to the Windsor Spitfires for forward Austin Watson and several draft picks. A change of scenery, let alone to a perennial contender, should benefit the physically gifted winger.
Holland is maintaining the point-per-game pace that he posted in 2008-09. Through 32 games this season, 20-year-old has 10 goals and 22 assists. Though he may not crack 30 goals this year after coming close with 28 last year, his goal total is still tied for fourth on the team. However, normally prospects take a big step forward in production at this age, and his defensive play is still a weakness and his minus-17 rating is the second-worst mark on the squad. He has also been called on a handful of hooking and other weak minor penalties. Holland is even getting outplayed by two teammates selected by Nashville in the third round of the 2009 draft, Taylor Beck and Michael Latta.
Ian Altenbaugh and Brad Gardner contributed to this article.