Welcome to January edition of On the Rush, a column which features hockey players at the North American professional, junior, and amateur levels as well as those playing in the European pro leagues.
Players fall into two different categories, Leading the Rush and Trailing the Play. This month, we feature several mid-to-late round picks who have been lighting up the scoreboards as well as several key performers from the 2012 WJCs. We also feature several players who started the 2011-12 season strong, but have since tailed off.
Leading the Rush
North American Pro:
Andre Petersson, RW, Binghamton Senators (AHL)
Drafted by the Ottawa Senators
4th round, 109th overall, 2008
Heading into the month of January, Andre Petersson had already picked up his offensive pace, averaging around a point-per-game through the middle of November. That torrid pace continued into December as he posted four goals in five games before going down with a low-body injury, causing him to miss the remainder of the month.
Since his return in early January, Petersson has been one of the most dominant players in the AHL, a feat all the more extraordinary considering the middling season the Baby Sens are having. Through eight January games played, Petersson managed eight goals and seven assists, more than doubling his point total on the season. His numbers could have even been greater if he had not made his NHL debut on January 21st, skating five minutes in place of a banged-up Bobby Butler.
Expect Petersson to spend the remaining bulk of the 2011-12 season in the AHL, though likely see several more call-ups throughout the season, depending on injuries.
With the Blackhawks battling injuries on the wing, rookies Andrew Shaw and Jimmy Hayes have stepped in and made positives impacts over their first month of NHL hockey. Both have contributed to the physical game and created their share of chances in the offensive end.
Even the 6'6 Hayes has not quite overshadowed the impact of the 5'10 Shaw, who has been a consistent factor in all three zones in addition to providing support on the score sheet. Shaw, playing in his first pro season after going to the Memorial Cup with Owen Sound of the OHL last year, rattled off a four-game goal streak in January and has a total of five goals and seven points in 12 NHL games.
Shaw has earned opportunities on both special teams units because of his ability on the forecheck and the edge he plays with around the net. Though playing mostly on the wing, he has taken some faceoffs and even led a banged up group of Chicago forwards in ice time with 21:53 on January 25th.
There may still be room for Shaw even after the Blackhawks are fully healthy at forward. Daniel Carcillo has been shut down for the year with a knee injury, so Shaw's role in the Chicago lineup seems to be secure at this point as long as he keeps up the strong effort.
North American Junior:
Snubbed by USA Hockey to represent his country in the U20 WJCs, Shane Prince took whatever anger or frustration he felt and put together one of the most prolific stretches of hockey in his young career.
On December 28th, shortly after Team USA finished getting drubbed by upstart Finland, 4-1, Prince began a torrid offensive pace that would see him produce 14 goals and 13 assists over the next 14 games. He would do it with authority too, managing seven multipoint games and being held off the scoresheet only once during the stretch. His pace would be the most prolific of any OHL player during the month of January, producing 10 goals and 11 assists in nine games dating from January 8th to the 29th.
Why such a prolific offensive player would be left off the Team USA roster remains unclear, though there is ample speculation his absence from the roster was for political reasons, as he opted to play in Canadian Major Juniors rather than with USA Hockey.
Canada's starting goaltender was a hot topic in the months leading up to the WJC. Goalies Mark Visentin and Scott Wedgewood (NJD) alternated starts through the four preliminary games, but Wedgewood got the call for the semi-final game against Russia. He was pulled about midway through Russia's victory after giving up four goals on 13 shots. Visentin gave up a pair of goals of his own on 11 shots, but made some big saves down the stretch as Canada attempted the comeback. The host nation fell by a final score of 6-5, however, and Canada missed the gold medal game for the first time since 2001. Getting the call in the Bronze Medal game against the Finns, Visentin earned player of the game honors and his second win of the tournament over Finland.
Visentin parlayed that strong performance into an even better streak after returning to his junior club in Niagara with seven straight wins in January. Visentin has given up just six goals this month, all of which came in his first four games back. He has since registered three consecutive shutouts for the IceDogs and now has the OHL lead with seven shutouts on the season.
Niagara remains one of the OHL's top contenders and will be even scarier if Visentin can sustain his level of play through the end of the season.
North American Amateur:
Few players in NCAA hockey have been as dominant this season as Drew Shore. A junior with Denver, Shore had 29 points in 20 games headed into January, producing at a 1.45 points-per-game clip that was among tops in the nation.
Then the New Year rolled around and Shore exploded offensively. Through five games, he registered 10 points including a two goal and three assist performance on January 13th against Bemidji State. The performance elevated him to fourth in the nation in points and third in points-per-game.
He has been a model of consistency this season as well, being held off the scoresheet on only five occasions, never for more than two games in a row. He also has nine multi-point performances, including two in January.
Colgate University boasts one of the top offenses in the ECAC due in large part to the amazing play of forward Austin Smith. The senior currently leads the NCAA in goals and points with 26 tallies and 41 points through 26 games, accounting for nearly a third of his team's 81 goals on the season.
The most impressive part of Smith's season has been the consistency with which he has shown up on the scoresheet. He has been held without a point in only two games all season and there has been only one instance where he was held without a goal in two consecutive games. That sort of consistency has been key for a Colgate team that is attempting to build off a strong finish in 2010-11 to compete in the ECAC.
The Dallas-native Smith has again taken a step forward in his development as a senior, which should make him a prime candidate for a pro contract from the Stars after his season ends. His overall game has improved and he continues to be depended upon in every situation for Colgate, but it is the impressive goal-scoring numbers that will have him in the Hobey Baker conversation by season's end.
Headed into the WJC the main goal for Team Finland was to not only avoid relegation but play the roles of spoiler and potential upset team. With victories in the round robin games against the US, Denmark, and Czech teams, not to mention a fourth place finish behind Sweden, Russia, and Canada, it is safe to say they did just that.
Among those at the forefront of Finland's offense was forward Joel Armia. He finished second in goal-scoring on the team with five goals through seven games though it was the timeliness of his offense that made them so important. In the December 28th victory against the United States, he first assisted on the opening goal scored by Miika Salomaki (NAS) as well as scored the closing goal. He also scored the opening goal of the quarterfinal game against the Czech Republic. His best however was saved for the semifinals against rival Sweden. Through three regulation periods, an overtime, and a shootout, Armia managed two goals, one in the second period and another in the shootout, and finished the game with six shots on net.
Upon his returning to Assat, Armia went on a tear, posting four goals and eight points in his next six games. Through 39 games he has 12 goals and 14 assists.
Another large part of Finland's success at the WJCs was due to having one of the most potent offensive lines in the tournament, featuring Mikael Granlund centering his younger brother Markus (CGY) and sniper Teemu Pulkkinen (DET). The trio combined for 28 points in Finland's seven games, taking the Finnish team to the medal round for the third straight year.
While Markus has enjoyed a strong rookie year with his brother on HIFK and Pulkkinen remains among the league's top goal-scorers, Mikael Granlund has emerged as one of the top hockey prospects outside of North America this season. He ranks second in the SM-liiga in both goals (19) and points (45) in 38 games. Since returning from World Juniors, the center has kept up the pace with three goals and seven points in his first eight games back.
Granlund's club, HIFK, is in position to defend their SM-liiga title from 2011, currently ranking fourth in the league standings. The Minnesota Wild prospect may have another long playoff run at home, but a late season appearance in North America should not be ruled out.
Trailing the Play
North American Pro:
Starting out the season with 11 points in 11 games, 20 in his first 32, it seemed like a forgone conclusion Luke Adam was going to contend for the Calder Trophy, given to the NHL's rookie of the year.
Things have changed dramatically since December however. Since December 17th, Adam has failed to register a point. And while he is not the only player on the Sabres roster suffering through offensive woes, he seems to have drawn the ire of coach Lindy Ruff on more than several occasions, frequently benched for shifts and relegated to playing primarily third or fourth line minutes. He was even a recent healthy scratch.
The Sabres have won only eight of their last 27 games, struggling at both ends of the ice, so Adam's problems are more a microcosm of the problems the organization is going through than a personal reflection on him. Still, for a player who started the season at a point-per-game clip while centering a top line of Thomas Vanek and Jason Pommenville, his decline has been swift and dramatic.
Adam is a talented player with an NHL caliber skill-set so while he has suffered some setbacks in his development this season, there is every reason to think he has a long, promising NHL career ahead of him.
David Rundblad, D, Portland Pirates (AHL)
Drafted 1st round, 17th overall, 2009 by St. Louis
Acquired by Phoenix in December, 2011
After putting up 50 points in 55 games last season for Skelleftea in the Swedish Elite League, David Rundblad's arrival in Ottawa this season caused much excitement. He struggled to adapt to the NHL level right away, however, registering only one goal and four points in 24 games with the Sens and skating to a minus-11 rating.
Ottawa had originally acquired the prospect in a straight-up trade with St. Louis for the 16th overall pick in 2010 (Vladimir Tarasenko), but the emergence of young defenseman Jared Cowen and continued progression of Erik Karlsson, made Rundblad expendable. The Sens traded him for the more immediate help at forward in Kyle Turris, who held out for much of this season for a richer contract than Phoenix was willing to offer. Ottawa got a second-line center in Turris out of that trade, giving them the edge in the short-term, but gave up a talented, if still developing, defensive prospect in the process.
Rundblad registered a pair of assists in his first two NHL games with Phoenix before he was assigned to the AHL with Portland. Through six games in the AHL, he has rediscovered some of his offensive flare with three goals and four points..
North American Junior:
It might be time to lower expectations for Kirill Kabanov. A once highly touted offensive player out of Europe, considered to have dynamic hands and uncanny offensive sense, Kabanov hasn't been terrible in 2011-12. But with his third team in three seasons of QMJHL play, he has not done much to warrant any notoriety either.
Through 33 games he has 16 goals and 21 assists, solid numbers on paper, however given his pedigree, more should be expected in the high-scoring QMJHL. His biggest issue has been consistency. He has scored only six goals in his last 20 games, three in January.
Already inked to an entry-level contract, Kabanov will undoubtedly join the Islanders organization at the end of the season and how he responds to the more competitive, highly structured nature of the professional game will be interesting. When playing his game, Kabanov has the tools to be a dynamic offensive force.
Expectations were high for Team USA at World Juniors, in large part because of the presence of goaltender Jack Campbell in net. He finished off Team USA's gold medal game in 2010 and was the key component to 2011's bronze medal team. Campbell was named Best Goaltender of the tournament in 2011 with a 1.70 goals against average and .941 save percentage in six games.
At this year's tournament, Campbell struggled along with the rest of Team USA. He finished the tournament with three wins in five starts, ranking seventh among goalies with a .907 save percentage. Team USA finished a disappointing seventh in only their second ever appearance in the tournament's relegation round.
The news has not gotten better since Campbell returned to Sault Ste. Marie in the OHL, going 2-3-1 in seven appearances since his return. The Greyhounds have won only twice through 10 January games and they have not been helped by the prized goaltending acquisition. Campbell carried a 4.63 goals against average and .859 save percentage through his first five starts back in the OHL, but has since started to turn things around with a win over lowly Erie and forcing division-leading Plymouth to a shootout.
Soo is dangerously close to falling out of the Western Conference playoff picture with a record of 20-24-2-3 on the season. They will need more from Campbell if they are going to stick around with the likes of Saginaw, Windsor, and Guelph all hovering around .500 of late.
North American Amateur:
Drafted out of the Minnesota prep school circuit with the idea he would be a long-term project, it is safe to say at this point Jason Clark has yet to meet expectations as a collegiate hockey player. Buried on a fairly deep Wisconsin team, it's no great surprise that as a second year player, he has yet to produce much in the way of offense. That said, Clark was expected to produce more than the single assist he has thus far through two seasons, 28 games, of NCAA play.
Many of his woes can be attributed to his ailing hips, as both were operated on during the 2011 off-season, one in June the other in July. Consequentially, he did not start the year with the strength he needed to play a high level of hockey and has been in and out of the lineup for all of 2011-12.
Assuming his hip issues are behind him, expect Clark to try and finish his sophomore season on a strong note.
The American WJC entry has boasted a lot of depth on the blue line over the past few years, but that depth was tested this season. With stalwart Justin Faulk playing in the NHL with Carolina and a key member of that depth, 17-year-old Seth Jones, going down to injury just prior to the tournament, Derek Forbort became one of the key blueliners on the team thanks to his international experience and defense-first mentality.
Forbort did not have his best tournament, however, and was part of a porous defense that allowed Finland to beat backup goaltender John Gibson 4-1 and give the U.S. their first loss of the tournament. Forbort was on the ice for both of Joel Armia's (BUF) third period goals and committed the turnover that led to Armia's game-winning breakaway goal.
He would get knocked out of the tournament with a knee injury in the team's next game against the Czechs, but it is a tribute to the 6'5 defenseman's normally steady play in his own zone that Team USA missed that presence even after the subpar outing against the Finns.
Forbort only recently returned to the ice, skating as North Dakota's sixth/seventh defenseman during the team's two games against Wisconsin. With only five points in 20 games with the Sioux this season, will have to earn anything bigger than the checking role he has played of late.
Filatov was granted a new lease on his North American hockey career this past off-season when he was traded from the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Ottawa Senators. The logic was sound, he would finally have an opportunity to play with a world class playmaker like Jason Spezza not to mention play in a market where hockey reigned supreme. Filatov instead lasted nine games in Ottawa and another 15 in the AHL before the Senators loaned him to CSKA Moscow, where he eventually worked out a contract and is currently playing. Through 12 games in the KHL, he has two goals and two assists.
Though the Senators say Filatov has a future with the organization, there is evidence to suggest it could be closer to the end than the beginning, the most obvious being he is slated to become a restricted free agent at the end of the season.
Ivan Vishnevskiy, D, Atlant Moscow (KHL)
Drafted 1st round, 27th overall, 2006 by Dallas
Acquired by Chicago in July, 2010
Once a highly-coveted defensive prospect, Ivan Vishenvskiy bounced around with a few clubs in his three seasons of North American pro hockey before returning to the KHL for the 2011-12 season. That move has allowed him to see more ice time than he received with Rockford in the AHL last year and he now skates over 20 minutes per game for Atlant Moscow.
Vishnevskiy has had a consistent second-pairing role behind the oft-used veterans Janne Niskala and Andrei Zubarev. The smooth-skating defenseman has struggled to rediscover the offensive spark that made him such an intriguing NHL prospect and he has eight points in 46 games this year. Normally aggressive in getting the puck to the net from the back end, Vishnevskiy has been snakebitten with just two goals on the season despite averaging close to two shots per game. He has also had his struggles in the defensive end of late with a minus-seven rating in 10 January games.
As an RFA last summer, Chicago retained Vishnevskiy's rights by submitting an offer sheet. He does not appear to be in the club's plans, particularly considering the number of defensive prospects in the Blackhawk system, so a return to North America is not imminent.
Article was written by Brad Gardner and Ian Altenbaugh.