In the final edition of On the Rush, we look back at some of the most notable performances of the season, including Logan Couture‘s breakout rookie season, several collegiate players who were Hobey Baker finalists, and much more.
Leading the Rush
North American Pro:
Logan Couture, C – San Jose Sharks (NHL)
Drafted by the San Jose Sharks
1st round, 9th overall, 2007
One of the NHL’s three Calder Trophy finalists, Logan Couture’s contributions to the San Jose lineup go far beyond the scoresheet. The 22-year-old center brought great composure and poise to the Sharks forward corps and solidified the team’s depth down the middle. A tenacious and competitive forward, Couture exceeded expectations in nearly every facet of his game.
In 79 games, Couture ranked second among rookies with both 32 goals and 56 points. Despite San Jose’s prolific offense, the team actually finished the regular season with the fourth most turnovers in the league. Couture was the team’s surest player with the puck, though, accounting for 24 more takeaways (49) than giveaways (25) to lead the team. The team’s third center behind Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, Couture won 53.4 percent of his faceoffs in the regular season, helping the Sharks to the second best faceoff percentage in the league at 53.7 percent.
Couture’s solid play at both ends of the rink helped him find success in any role he was asked to play in his first year. Towards the end of the season and in the playoffs he centered one of San Jose’s most potent lines between Ryan Clowe and Dany Heatley, finishing tied for second on the team with five points in the team’s six-game series win over Los Angeles. He scored his sixth and seventh points of the postseason, assisting on each of the game winning goals in the Sharks’ first two games against the Red Wings.
Possibly the top goaltender who didn’t play in the NHL this season, Thiessen led the AHL this year with 35 wins in 46 starts. He also managed a 1.94 goals against average and seven shutouts which were both second best in the league, and a .922 save percentage that ranked ninth. His eight losses is also the fewest among goaltenders who played a minimum of 1560 minutes (Thiessen played 2567).
Stats aside, Thiessen was an embodiment of consistency. He didn’t register his first loss until November 19th and never lost two in a row. He allowed four or more goals on only seven occasions, at which point his record still remained respectable at 2-3-1.
Some of his success can be traced to playing behind one of the league’s best defenses. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins posted a 58-21-0-1 record and allowed only 183 goals on the season. But Thiessen clearly outplayed goaltending partner John Curry, registering 12 more wins and allowing half a goal less per game than Curry.
Thiessen will be a restricted free agent this upcoming off-season, and considering the Penguins are set in goal at the NHL level, he will likely not have the opportunity to compete for an NHL roster spot next season. Instead, expect him to start next season as the undisputed starter in the AHL, with a chance to sneak in a few NHL starts if either starter Marc-Andre Fleury or backup Brent Johnson suffers an injury.
North American Junior:
The 6’3 center built on his strong rookie season and emerged as one of the league’s most lethal and well-rounded players. He has been one of the primary reasons for Portland’s success this season, especially since returning from a great performance for Canada at the WJC.
Johansen scored 40 goals and 52 assists in 63 regular season games as the Winterhawks’ top line center. His 92 points and plus-44 rating led the team, while he finished second in goals behind Nino Neiderreiter’s (NYI) 41 tallies. Johansen averaged just over two points per game over the final two months of the regular season, scoring 16 goals and 41 points in his last 20 games. In the playoffs, he has continued to lead the team with nine goals, three of which were game-winners, while one of the team’s primary options at even strength and on both special teams units.
With a year of junior eligibility remaining, Johansen could return to lead the Winterhawks next season. He will compete for a job in Columbus with the chance to spend next season with the Jackets. His versatility and ability to play well at both ends of the rink could help him sneak into the NHL lineup soon, but it is only a matter of time before Johansen becomes a regular for the Jackets.
The son of former NHL spark plug Steve Thomas, Christian possesses many of the same qualities as his father, from his diminutive height and sturdy frame to his ability to outwork opponents and find the back of the net.
The forward opened up his third season of OHL play with a bang, posting eight goals in his first four games and 11 in his first twelve. His goal-scoring pace never really slowed either, and he finished the season with 54 goals in 66 games (a .81 goals a game pace). Of the 54 goals he potted, 19 were on the man-advantage and nine were game-winners.
Turning only 19 on May 26th, Thomas will have to return to the OHL for one more season if he does not make the Rangers out of training camp. His offensive game is already fairly polished, and he kills penalties, so the forward doesn’t have much left to do as far as diversifying his game at the OHL level. He could stand to add a little weight to his 5’9 170 pound frame though.
North American Amateur:
With all due respect to the fantastic freshman seasons of Jaden Schwartz (STL) and T.J. Tynan, sophomore Reilly Smith turned in the top season from an underclassmen in the NCAA this year. One of Miami’s big three forwards, Smith was a fixture on the squad’s top line alongside the nation’s leading scorer Andy Miele (PHX).
In 38 games, Smith scored 28 goals and 26 assists for 54 points. He played in all situations for Miami coach Enrico Blasi and brought a consistent performance to the rink each weekend. His strong finish to the regular season and in the conference tournament helped lift Miami to the CCHA championship, where his two goals in the final game helped put away Western Michigan. In his last seven games heading into the NCAA tourney, the winger scored seven goals and nine assists to help push his team into the NCAA field.
The Redhawks ran into a tough New Hampshire squad in the first round, which was able to neutralize Miami’s top line for much of the night and held Smith without a point. With the Hobey Baker winner Miele and Carter Camper (BOS) graduated and signed to pro contracts, Smith will be relied on heavily next season to keep producing at a high level for Miami.
In the summer of 2009 Matt Frattin was arrested twice in two months, saw his scholarship taken away, and was dismissed from the UND Hockey program. After several months out of school he eventually returned to the program, although this time without a scholarship or promise of playing in a game. The forward worked his way into the lineup and finished with 19 points in 24 games.
Instead of signing a pro contract at the end of the season Frattin decided to return to the University of North Dakota for his senior year. The decision paid dividends as Frattin was among the top players in the nation in 2010-11, posting 36 goals in 44 games (a .81 goal per game clip), finishing as a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, and helping UND to an appearance in the Frozen Four.
Upon completing his senior year, Frattin signed an entry-level contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and even appeared in an NHL game before the season ended.
Considering the Maple Leafs struggled to score goals this season, Frattin’s addition should be welcome. It’s likely he will never score goals at the ridiculous clip he was at the collegiate level, but he appears to have all of the tools to be a capable top-six winger.
While Pulkkinen’s talent alone ranked him among the top European players on many draft boards, questions surrounding his overall game and injury history caused the Finnish winger to slide into the fourth round. In typical Detroit fashion, Pulkkinen has made his selection look like a steal this season. The 19-year-old winger was one of only two rookies to rank in the top 50 SM-liiga scorers.
He finished fifth in Finland‘s top pro league with 54 points in 55 games. His 18 goals ranked second on the team while he led the entire league in assists, playing alongside the league’s leading goal scorer Janne Lahti. His 36 assists broke Teemu Selanne’s rookie record, set in his time with Jokerit during the 1990-91 season. Pulkkinen also suited up for Finland at the WJC, finishing with three goals and nine points in six games. He led the team in scoring, but they still finished a disappointing sixth place.
Pulkkinen appeared in only three of Jokerit’s six playoff games due to a kidney infection, registering one assist in that time. He will likely be a top player for the squad again next season, with eyes towards North America in the next couple years. Detroit would like to see him continue to develop his overall game before making the transition.
Arguably the top hockey player not playing in North America, David Rundblad has accomplished about as much as he could in his third full season playing in the SEL. He managed 11 goals and 50 points over 55 games, both of which are top in among SEL defensemen. He also averaged 22:49 in ice-time, ninth most in the league.
Aside from the gaudy stats, Rundblad has displayed a calm and collected demeanor on the ice. He can carry the puck and distribute it up ice with equal ease. He also can handle the puck on the powerplay and possesses a hard, accurate shot from the point.
The knock on him is the same with most 20-year-old puck-moving defensemen. He often tries to do too much which can lead to overplaying the puck, needs to play more physically, and of course has to improve his defensive game.
Trailing the Play
North American Pro:
Schroeder has struggled to find consistency in his first pro season. Though he is one of Manitoba’s most offensively-gifted forwards, he mustered only 10 goals and 28 points in 61 games as a rookie. He did not produce very many chances on a game-to-game basis, finishing the season with 87 shots on net and falling to a minus-seven rating.
The 5’8 pivot certainly felt the affects of the longer pro season after two years at the college level with the University of Minnesota. He managed only one goal in his last 27 games of the year and was held to two shots and a minus-3 rating in four April games. He was a healthy scratch late in the season as well, both as means to serve as a wakeup call and to give the 20-year-old forward some rest.
Schroeder should continue to get plenty of ice time next season as he seeks to rebound from a poor finish to his rookie season. Older prospects like Billy Sweatt and Sergei Shirokov are likely ahead of him on the organizational depth chart at this point, but Schroeder has the potential to surpass both of those players thanks to his excellent hockey sense and playmaking ability.
The season was not supposed to go this way. After a 2009-10 season where Markstrom led the SEL in save percentage (.927) and goals against average (2.01) there was some expectation that he would make a fairly smooth transition to North America. Instead, his 2010-11 season would be plagued with problems ranging from a nagging knee injury to front-office conflict between the Rochester Amerks and the Florida Panthers. In 37 starts the 6’3 goaltender posted a 16-20-1 record, a 2.98 goals against average, and a .907 save percentage.
Eventually, the knee injury became too much and in early February, Markstrom hung up his skates for the season and underwent surgery in March. It was considered successful and he should be ready for the Panther’s training camp next year.
North American Junior:
Landon Ferraro, C – Everett Silvertips (WHL)
Drafted by the Detroit Red Wings
2nd round, 32nd overall, 2009
Many expected Landon Ferraro to benefit from the change in scenery while playing his first season in Everett. After being traded from Red Deer, the center stepped onto the Silvertips’ roster as the team’s captain and was expected to be a leader on the scoresheet as well.
His production was not there, however, and Ferraro struggled through his worst goal-scoring output of his junior career. Ferraro notched 10 goals and 17 assists in 41 games in his fourth junior season, which was shortened by lingering groin and sports hernia injuries. He managed three assists when Everett was swept in the first round by the Portland Winterhawks. In perhaps his final junior game, Ferraro took a major penalty and game misconduct for a crosscheck after a whistle.
That competitiveness is going to be a key to the 5’11 165-pound Ferraro adjusting to the pro level. If he can focus that aggressive play on the ice along with his excellent skating and offensive ability, the 19-year-old wing/center could be versatile forward down the road for the Wings. He is likely to spend plenty of time in Grand Rapids next season where he will look to bounce back from the down year.
Josh Birkholz, RW – Everett Silvertips (WHL)
Drafted by the Florida Panthers
3rd round, 67th overall, 2009
It would be safe to say Josh Birkholz’s first season in the WHL was something of a disappointment. Through 68 games he managed only 18 goals and 11 assists while playing top-six minutes for Everett. The stats don’t tell the entire story either as Birkholz often looked disinterested on the ice and would relegate himself to playing a perimeter game.
Opting to take the CHL route after being suspended from the University of Minnesota, Birkholz will force the Panthers to make a decision on him sooner than if he had played in the USHL and maintained his NCAA eligibility. If the Panthers decide to not sign him to a contract, he’ll have to either find a WHL team with an open overage slot or a mid-level pro league to play in like the Central Hockey League.
North American Amateur:
Goaltending was expected to be a strength for the Huskies entering this season after the duo of Mike Lee and Dan Dunn (WAS) helped the squad to third in the WCHA’s regular season and second in the league tournament last year. Both netminders got off to a slow start, however, and St. Cloud remained among the bottom teams in the WCHA throughout the year.
Lee emerged as the team’s primary netminder towards the end of the season, finishing with a solid .910 save percentage and 2.77 goals against average. Certainly not terrible numbers to finish the season, but neither were as good as his freshman totals. His 11-14-4 record shines a little more light on the team’s offense than anything, but Lee was unable to steal many games for the club, registering just one shutout on the season and allowing fewer than two goals in only five starts.
St. Cloud drew Minnesota-Duluth in the first round best-of-three series in the league tournament this season, falling in two games to the eventual National Champs. Lee did not make it easy, however, saving his best performance of the season for the team’s final game, a 60-save effort keeping his team in the game into the third overtime. Lee will be a favorite to get a majority of the starts again next season for St. Cloud and will look to stand out more among the Coyotes’ deep goaltending prospect pool.
Ben Hanowski, C/W – St. Cloud State (WCHA)
Drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins
3rd round, 63rd overall, 2009
Although he tied for the team lead in goal-scoring this season, Ben Hanowski’s sophomore year has to still be considered something of a disappointment. Drafted in 2009 for his goal-scoring prowess at the Minnesota high school level, Hanowski displayed moments of brilliance during his freshman season and increased expectations of a breakout sophomore campaign.
Instead his play hit a plateau. He continued to be a dominant force on the powerplay, notching six of the 13 goals he scored on the man-advantage, but disappeared when playing at even-strength. Furthermore, he was often caught flat-footed in the defensive zone and finished the season with a team worst minus-13.
One of the key things he needs to address is his skating. His skating without the puck, as well as his decision making in those situations, leaves a lot to be desired. He also needs to play better in the defensive zone, get back on defense quicker, and play in his own end with a greater level of determination.
Several top forwards at St. Cloud such as Garret Roe (LAK) and Aaron Marvin (CAL) have graduated, so Hanowski will be put in a position to earn more ice-time and possibly have a breakout junior campaign.
Sergei Andronov, RW – CSKA Moscow (KHL)
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues
3rd round, 78th overall, 2009
Andronov joined CSKA Moscow during the 2009-10 season with eyes for more ice time after escaping the financially unstable Lada Togliatti. Despite Moscow’s trend towards veteran forwards, his ice time remained consistent after the move. The winger notched five goals and three assists in that 19 game stint with the club.
In his first full year with the club, however, Andronov has been limited to 10:41 minutes of ice time per game. In 53 KHL games this season, he was unable to outscore his total with Moscow last year, finishing with five goals and seven points to go along with a minus-nine rating. His checking role limited his offensive opportunities significantly, and the winger registered just 50 shots on goal over the course of the season.
The 21-year-old winger will likely continue playing in Russia with the hopes of a bigger role at the KHL level. Drafted after an excellent performance at the 2009 World Junior Championships, Andronov will look to prove he can have that same success against professionals.
Suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon in September, Joonas Nattinen saw his season derailed early on. After eventually recovering from the injury, he bounced around Finland, lacing up for six different teams and appearing in several international tournaments. A generously sized player at 6’1 and 170 pounds, Nattinen struggled offensively this season. In fact, the only three goals he scored the entire season came during the WJC U20 tournament.
While he is likely never going to be a major offensive contributor, Nattinen still needs to gain some strength, especially if he hopes to be an effective forechecker at the North American professional level.
On the Rush was written by Brad Gardner and Ian Altenbaugh.