Welcome to the March 2015 edition of On the Rush, a monthly column featuring prospects at various levels of competition who are either exceeding expectations, or falling a little behind.
In this edition, we examine some stellar and struggling goaltending performances, two brothers on the same junior team going in different directions, a few late round draft picks that are making their mark, and some high draft picks trying to find their rhythm.
The change of scenery from Montreal to Anaheim has been very positive for the speedy winger. Sekac has been paired with Emerson Etem and Rickard Rakell to form a speedy and aggressive line that has tormented opposing defenses with puck pursuit and quickness. Although he has yet to score his first goal with the Anaheim Ducks, he has been effective in his role as a depth winger. ‘Sake’ has been a positive possession player since his move to Anaheim and had an impact with the minutes he has been given. While his spot may be challenged when players return from injury, Sekac has looked fantastic for the Ducks.
The unlikely story of Andrew Hammond has gripped the hockey world for the past month or so. Since his first NHL start back on February 16th, ‘The Hamburgler’ has stolen the show, going 15-1-1 in his first 17 starts. During that time, Ottawa has clawed its way back from being 14 points out of a playoff spot to being one point ahead of Boston for the final wild card spot for the postseason. Though Boston retook the lead when a small injury forced Hammond to sit a game out, Ottawa has yet to be mathematically eliminated.
Whether or not Hammond can help pull off this miracle run to the postseason, he has all but ensured that either the Senators or another NHL team will give him a chance to play next season. Hammond is obviously riding a wave of confidence and momentum with little to no scouting done on him prior to his call-up. Although his 1.65 goals-against average and .948 save percentage are not sustainable over a full season, “The Hamburglar” has stolen the hearts of Ottawa hockey fans.
There are a few things that can explain the great season MacDermid is having: He is playing as an overager on a stacked Erie team that also includes Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome. That being said, you have to give credit where it’s due—MacDermid has done well for himself this season. While remaining a physically imposing player, he has doubled his point output from last year. During the last month of play he has been particularly solid, as the 6’4” defenseman had 14 points in his last 17 regular season games. He and partner Darren Raddysh have formed a formidable pairing that has played big minutes for the Otters.
The Brandon Wheat Kings are a balanced team from top to bottom, and it all starts with their captain Peter Quenneville. The former seventh round pick leads by example with his competitive nature and two-way play. His versatility is useful; he can play all three forward positions, shows keenness in protecting the puck, and is useful on the special teams. It’s been a career year for Quenneville offensively—he is second on the team in scoring with 75 points.
In the past month, he has really picked up his game with 14 points in nine games through March—and he carried that momentum into the playoffs. This has benefited his linemate Tim McGauley who finished third in league scoring with 105 points. Peter’s brother John, who we will get to later, also plays for the Wheat Kings.
Gillies has had an outstanding college career so far. In three seasons at Providence, the 21-year old has a lifetime .931 save percentage and 2.06 goals against. He has been sparkling for a third straight season with the Friars, posting a .931 save percentage and a 1.95 goals against. To cap off another solid season, the Maine native posted a 6-4 record with a .930 save percentage and a 1.70 goals against in his final 10 games of the season. It is incredible how consistent Gillies has been, and he was honored with the Hockey East Goaltender of the Year award.
Danton Heinen, C, University of Denver (NCHC)
Drafted by the Boston Bruins
4th Round, 116th Overall, 2014
Danton Heinen was barely scouted (if at all) when he became draft eligible two years ago. After some minor success in the BCHL, Heinen was taken by the Bruins in the fourth round last summer. Now, it looks like they may have stumbled upon a late-blooming prospect with high potential.
The centerman had a strong finish in February with 15 points in seven games and ended up as the Pioneers’ leading scorer, with 16 goals and 29 assists in 38 games. The only freshman with more points than Heinen was Jack Eichel. He also led the NCHC in scoring and garnered All-Conference Rookie and Second Team honors. Though a dangerous scorer, Heinen doesn’t shirk his defensive responsibilities and plays a competitive two-way game—precisely the style of play that the Bruins look for in their forwards.
The shifty little center has had a very respectable year in Finland’s top level of competition. Not only was he third on the team in scoring, but he was also third in goals, assists, and shots taken. This is all coming at the young age of 21. He has also logged an average of almost 17 minutes a night on both Liiga’s second line and powerplay unit. The last month and a half of his season has been particularly solid. He has accumulated 12 points in his last 14 games. While his diminutive size and lack of physicality raise questions about his NHL utility, he has been a very good secondary player for the Espoo Blues.
The 19-year old Djoos is a skilled playmaker who plays with maturity and is aided by high hockey IQ. Like his father, who was a skilled offensive defenseman, Christian calls the shots on Brynäs’ power play. He also plays well inside his own zone. He does not make many mistakes, but when he does, he is able to bounce back strong. After 50 games with Brynäs, he has five goals and 12 assists. Although Djoos has an obstacle to overcome in his size, he has a high ceiling and will get the chance to bulk up in the AHL.
While a player like Sekac has done well in his new surroundings and role, Joel Armia has struggled to find his feet with St. John’s in the AHL. Part of the blockbuster deal that sent Evander Kane to the Sabres, the talented Finn had hopes of re-establishing himself in the Winnipeg pipeline. Through fifteen games with St. John’s, Armia has just four assists with a minus-4 rating. He has also dealt with a minor injury, and has skated among the team’s bottom six forwards. The Jets hope he can turn it around and live up to his billing as a play-generating power forward.
Martin Frk was once a great scorer in junior hockey, and was considered a peer among the likes of Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin. Since then, he has had a hard time adjusting to the pro level. After playing 50 games in his first season for Grand Rapids, the winger has only dressed in 19 games while only contributing four goals. As a result, Frk has been demoted to Toledo of the ECHL.
His scoring ability is not the issue, as made apparent by his 38 points in 29 games for the Walleye. Frk’s weaknesses are his poor stamina and skating. This has been known since he was drafted by Detroit, but his inability to improve has been troubling. The Red Wings will continue to work with him because of his potential with the puck. However, the ceiling will be too high to reach unless Frk fully commits to improving his weaknesses during the offseason.
Pollock has been a streaky player for the Oil Kings. Although he has scored at a near point-per-game pace, he has endured frequent multi-game droughts. February in particular was difficult, with Pollock posting just three points in nine games. He registered points in six straight games at the beginning of March, but went cold immediately afterwards, posting just one goal in the next four games. While the big center definitely has a worthwhile offensive game, consistency is going to be something Dallas will want to see ironed out moving forward. He is a big piece of the Oil Kings offense, and they need him firing at all times.
John Quenneville is having a difficult time for the Wheat Kings, unlike his brother Peter. The Devils believed he could become an Adam Henrique-type player—a top-six forward with a complete game. However, throughout 2014-15, Quenneville has been plagued by various injuries which have hampered his performance.
The big forward has shown a willingness to battle in the greasy areas and retain puck possession, but it has been his offense that has disappointed fans and management. In 56 games, he has 17 goals and 28 assists. The Wheat Kings are good enough not to need John to be a leading goal scorer, but it is concerning to see a player’s offense plateau while he is still in junior—especially for an offensively starved organization like New Jersey. In February, he added just four points before succumbing to another injury.
Mark Jankowski, C, Providence College (Hockey East)
Drafted by the Calgary Flames
1st round, 21st overall, in 2012
Flames GM Jay Feaster traded up in a deep 2012 draft to select Jankowski, but the young center has had a tough time living up to his draft position. In his junior year with Providence, the big center has had a modest start to his college career. Sandwiched between Scott Laughton and Olli Maatta, Jankowski has logged a career low in goals with just six. He also had just two goals in his last 11 games and only three points dating back to February 7. The forward has shown minimal progression as the year has progressed. Calgary is currently loaded with young centers, and Jankowski is going to need to make some noise to once again be relevant in the system.
Although Adam Wilcox posted back-to-back sub-2.00 goals-against averages in his first two seasons with Minnesota, the junior has not been as sharp this year. The team in front of him is relatively the same, but his play has suffered. Last year he boasted a .932 save percentage, but near the end of February, it had dropped to .907—despite his 17-9-3 record. Fortunately for the Gophers, the Minnesota native rediscovered his form at the right time, as he helped Minnesota win the Big Ten Championship.
Though Tryamkin gets a pass for his streaky performances due to his value as a young shutdown defenseman in a competitive KHL, he has taken his knocks as of late. The former third round pick had a rough final month of the season, seeing his ice time slip to under 12 minutes a night on numerous occasions, and logging a minus-3 rating in his final five games. He was also scratched for two games during Yekaterinburg’s final stretch. He averaged around 16 minutes during the course of the season, so his dip in play towards the end may have simply been fatigue.
Linus Ullmark, G, MODO (SHL)
Drafted by the Buffalo Sabres
6th Round, 163rd Overall, 2012
Last season’s SHL Goaltender of the Year, Linus Ullmark, has developed into one of Buffalo’s best goaltending prospects. After nearly guiding the offensively-starved MODO to the postseason last year, there were hopes in 2014-15 that they could get over the hump. Alas, MODO has played poorly and has cratered in the standings, leaving them vulnerable to face relegation to the lower level.
Ullmark has shared in his team’s struggles with a 3.12 goals-against average and .905 save percentage in 35 appearances. His inconsistencies have let his grip on the starting job slip away. Despite the down year, Ullmark has already signed a contract with the Sabres and will join the organization next season. Management does not appear to be distressed with his dip in performance, but next year will be telling if the big goaltender has the potential to compete in the pros.
Article written by John Iadevaia and Jason Lewis