Prospect Impressions: Dramatic goals from NHL youngsters, Strome carves up Niagara, SHL goalie’s lighter side

By David Hahn
Rickard Rakell - Anaheim Ducks

Photo: Anaheim Ducks forward has already established career highs in goals (16) and points (34) in 58 games in the 2015-16 season (courtesy of Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

 

 

Throughout the NHL, young players are making a major impact for their franchises as teams are relying upon youth to lead their teams into the playoffs. In this week’s Prospect Impressions, Rickard Rakell, Joel Armia, and Robby Fabbri are featured with highlight-reel goals. Nashville Predators forward Craig Smith has his shot blocked and you won’t believe who did it. Plenty more highlights including a fun look at Dan Girardi’s pirate impression, and one SHL goalie who likes to have some fun post-game.

Would you be surprised to know that Rickard Rakell currently sits fourth in team scoring for the Anaheim Ducks? Ahead of a number of powerhouse veterans, Rakell has quietly elevated his game, something the Ducks desperately needed to turn their season around after an abysmal start. You could consider Rakell as somewhat of a saving grace for the team, as his ability to play up-and-down the lineup has been a critical element to the Ducks’ recent eight-game win streak. With the game on the line against the Edmonton Oilers, Rakell danced through the defense and dramatically notched his 16th goal and fifth game-winner of the year.

Ever since Evander Kane was traded one year ago, Winnipeg Jets fans have clamored for a playmaking forward capable of making a flashy play when called upon. Enter Joel Armia, who is looking more comfortable in the NHL by the game. He certainly wasn’t the biggest name in the deal, but Armia has been a steady influence on the Jets roster since he earned a spot in mid-December. With three goals to his name this year, Armia’s fourth was a thing of beauty and perhaps a glimpse at what to expect in the near future.

At the beginning of the season, there was an impression out there that the St. Louis Blues were going to send Robby Fabbri back to junior hockey. In this case, Fabbri’s play stood out and he simply forced his way into the lineup, where he has been a consistent threat for a team blessed with a deep group of forwards. Fabbri recently cracked the top 10 in NHL rookie scoring, and with 15 goals and 13 assists, he has added his name into the equation for a Blues team expecting to make a long playoff run.

It was the worst of times, then it was the best of times for Nashville Predators forward Craig Smith. With the game all square late in the third period, Smith found himself wide open at the side of the net and took a hack at the puck. Then, amazingly, Smith made the save on himself in one of the most unlikely plays you will ever see. Luckily for Smith – who is no stranger to epic whiffs – he was presented with an immediate opportunity for redemption in the shootout, and he wasted little time cashing in.

If Dylan Strome (ARI) is a hot knife, the Niagara IceDogs played the role of butter as Strome carved up the Dogs defense in spectacular one-on-four fashion. The Erie Otters captain opened the scoring against Niagara by doing it all himself, one of the finest goals of his OHL career. Strome currently sits fifth in OHL scoring with 92 points, and is trying to catch Barrie Colts forward Kevin Labanc (SJS) as he chases his second scoring title.

In the hockey hotbed of Minnesota, they take their high school hockey seriously. With a final spot in the Minnesota Boy’s Class AA State Hockey Championship on the line, 3,400 fans filled the Aldrich Arena in Minnesota Stillwater take on Hill-Murray. With the game knotted up in overtime, Stillwater junior forward Noah Cates sent his team into hysteria with a spin-o-rama goal that will be remembered in Minnesota hockey lore for a long time.

Somewhere in Welland, Ontario, there is a minor hockey coach smiling as Dan Girardi did exactly what he was taught growing up: keep an eye on the puck at all times. Channeling his inner pirate, Girardi got a puck stuck in his visor in a hilarious play that will be etched in the minds of fans for a while.

Hockey can often be a tough business, but for three-time Slovakian Extraliga champion Julius Hudacek, life on ice is more than just a song and dance. The grind of a long season often wears on goaltenders, but Hudacek’s postgame antics in Orebro, Sweden has become one of the most popular sights to see in the SHL. Some teams wouldn’t be keen to let him relax and show off after games, but Hudacek’s performance last year as SHL Goaltender of the Year and Most Valuable Player suggests Orebro is just fine letting Hudacek take a load off.

 

Follow Dave Hahn on Twitter via @DHahnHockey