Welcome to On the Rush, where every month we feature players who are on the rise and those who’s stock may have recently declined. In the February edition, we look at two breakout performances in Hockey East, two SEL forwards who could be coming to North America next season, a multitude of goaltenders who have struggled at various levels, and much more.
North American Pro
Cam Atkinson, RW, Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL)
Drafted 6th round, 157th overall, 2008
Despite struggling to crack the score sheet in a pair of early-season recalls to Columbus, Cam Atkinson never quit producing at the AHL level. His five goals and four assists in nine February games helped Springfield stay within striking distance of a playoff spot and earned the speedy winger another stint in the NHL.
In his most recent call-up, Atkinson has provided a spark as one of only three Jackets players to register multiple shots in each of the past five games. He is averaging around fourteen minutes per game with the second line and on the power play in that span, with his first career NHL assist to show for the opportunity. Despite being listed at 5’7, he does not let his size deter him from attacking the net and competing against bigger NHL players.
With Columbus entering yet another rebuild at forward following the trade deadline, the 22-year-old Atkinson will have to maintain his strong play with and without the puck but he has earned the opportunity to stick in the NHL down the stretch of his rookie pro season.
Now in his second full season of the AHL, Mark Barberio has developed into an excellent puck-moving defenseman. Barberio currently leads all AHL defensemen with 51 points through 58 games, and is also among the league-leaders in assists. He has been a steady force for the Norfolk blue line, producing at a fairly consistent pace all season long, though he seems to have picked up his play as of late, particularly in the goal-scoring department. In 13 games through February, Barberio managed four goals and eight assists.
Though he does not appear to be quite ready for fulltime duties at the NHL level, expect the Lightning to give Barberio an opportunity to earn that role. Their powerplay has languished for much of the season and the organization has lacked a puck-moving defenseman who can run the powerplay since trading away Dan Boyle in 2008.
North American Juniors
Having spent a majority of the 2011-12 season on Brandon’s top line alongside the prolific Mark Stone (OTT), Michael Ferland has had a breakout performance in his third WHL season. The effort earned him an NHL contract with the Flames in December as well as an invite to Team Canada’s selection camp.
His production has only increased since then and the winger now ranks fifth in the WHL with 41 goals in 62 games and second behind Stone in scoring for the Wheat Kings with 86 points. Ferland has registered 23 goals since January 1st, tying his entire output from the 2010-11 season in exactly half the number of games. An eight-game point streak in early February finished in a flurry of scoring with six goals and eight points in a two-game homestand against Prince Albert. Held off the score sheet in only three of his 12 February games, Ferland’s consistency played a pivotal role in the Wheat King’s 7-2-0-1 record in their last 10 games.
Points in the standings are still at a premium for the Wheat Kings as they continue to jockey for playoff positioning over the season’s final three weeks. No doubt their top line production will continue to go a long way in deciding the team’s fortunes.
Patrick Holland, C/W, Tri-City Americans (WHL)
Drafted by the Calgary Flames, 7th round, 193rd overall, 2010
Acquired by the Montreal Canadiens, January 2012
Headed into February, Holland already surpassed his prior season totals in 22 fewer games, managing 67 points through 49 games. He had been playing with great confidence, and would frequently dominate games with his superior vision and playmaking ability.
No one however could have expected Holland to have the February he did. In 14 games, Holland managed four goals and 26 assists. He managed at least a point in all but one game over the month, including nine multi-point affairs. To date, Holland has 24 goals and 77 points through 66 games. He is currently riding a 14-game, 31 point streak that started on February 10th and has continued through March.
North American Amateur
Boston University has faced staggering losses this season, but not even the departures of Charlie Coyle (MIN), Corey Trivino (NYI), and Max Nicastro (DET) have knocked the Terriers out of the top five in the rankings. The team’s top forward line, upperclassmen Alex Chiasson and Chris Connolly, along with sophomore Matt Nieto (SJ), have provided consistent production and kept the offense among the best in the nation.
The combination of Chiasson and Nieto was especially productive in the team’s eight February games with the players scoring 13 points and 11 points, respectively. Chiasson, who leads B.U. with 38 points in 33 games, has garnered a little more recognition of late after assisting on both of the Terriers’ goals in their Beanpot final loss to rival Boston College as well has earned Hockey East Player of the Week honors. Eight of his last 13 games have been multi-point efforts.
Chiasson assisted on Nieto’s goal that led to a flurry of scoring for BU in the second period of their senior night victory over in-city-rival Northeastern. The Terriers head into the Hockey East tournament with the three seed and will open against the University of New Hampshire.
Drafted out of the OJHL as a 19-year-old, Scott Wilson is looking like a shrewd pick by the Penguins management and scouting staff. With 35 points through 32 games, Wilson has been one of the top offensive players in Hockey East this season and one of the top freshman in the entire nation.
He has been extremely consistent all season, going longer than one game without a point only twice, and managing 11 multi-point games. Through February, he was particularly prolific, amassing four goals and seven assists through eight games. He has wrapped up the regular season with three points in two games against Providence.
As is the case in many pro leagues around the world, the Swedish Elite League can be a difficult place for a young player to find adequate ice time. That was the situation for 21-year-old winger Sebastian Wannstrom through the better part of his professional career with Brynas.
His opportunity for an increased role finally arrived in February and Wannstrom responded with three goals and four assists in nine February games. Those seven points nearly doubled his career Elite League totals, as the winger had just five goals and 10 points in his first 96 games for Brynas over the last three seasons.
Wannstrom’s production spiked in part because of an opportunity to skate with Brynas’ top six forwards early in February. He averaged over 15 minutes a game in the second half of the month with Calle Jarnkrok (DET) out of the line-up due to a knee injury and may have finally earned a more prominent role as the club prepares for the Elite League postseason.
Signed to an NHL contract by St. Louis, Wannstrom is expected to debut in North America within the next two seasons.
Signed to an entry-level deal by the Ottawa Senators last May, Silfverberg returned to Sweden for his third and final season in the SEL. The move seems to have paid off for the 21-year-old Swede. He has exploded offensively with career highs in goals (24) and assists (28) through 48 games and is currently second in the league in points with 52.
The primary cause for Silfvergberg’s offensive explosion is at least partially due to simple physical maturity. The 21-year-old has added about five pounds of muscle over the last year and it shows, as he is very strong protecting the puck and battling for it in the corners.
Expect the talented forward to come to join the Senators organization for the 2012-13 season, where he could make an immediate offensive impact in the top-nine.
North American Pro
Jeremy Morin, LW, Rockford IceHogs (AHL)
Drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers, 2nd round, 45th overall, 2009
Acquired by Chicago in June, 2010
Jeremy Morin missed nine months due to the lingering effects of a concussion suffered in January 2011. He returned to the Rockford line-up a couple weeks into the 2011-12 season, but has been unable to duplicate his promising goal-scoring numbers from his rookie year.
With eight goals in his 22 AHL games as a rookie, Morin averaged .36 goals per game in his first taste of pro hockey in 2010-11, a season that also included nine NHL games in Chicago. This year, Morin’s goals-per-game average has fallen to .25 as he ranks fourth on Rockford with 13 goals in 52 games played. In 10 February games, Morin managed just three goals and zero assists despite skating shifts on Rockford’s scoring line. He is now tied with winger Ben Smith for fifth on the IceHogs with 31 points, but Smith has accumulated his points in only 38 appearances.
The concussion has not had an effect on Morin’s fearless style of play, as he has dropped the gloves and shown no hesitation in attacking the net. Morin even ranks third on Rockford with 95 penalty minutes on the season. Now with four goals in his last six games for the IceHogs, he has begun to turn chances into goals again.
After a fairly strong start to the first half of the season, Greening has gradually seen his production decline over the past month. He picked up only one point in the month of February, an assist on the 26th, and prior to that he had been held off the scoresheet 10 games in a row.
Some of his decline is likely due to wear and tear, as it is common for first-year NHL players to hit a wall around the mid-way point of the season. Much of it however is also due to a lack of confidence, and his decreased time on the ice is a reflection of that. Regardless of how he finishes his season however, Greening should be considered a solid top-nine forward in the NHL.
North American Juniors
With the Seattle Thunderbirds battling for one of the final playoff spots in the WHL’s Western Conference, the uneven play of veteran backstop Calvin Pickard has not helped the team extend their season. Long the backbone of the T-Birds, Pickard has struggled to a 5-17-1-0 record in 2012.
While he has not benefitted from playing behind one of the league’s lowest-scoring teams, Pickard’s recent run has seen him give up three or more goals in 17 of his last 23 appearances. He earned a pair of shutouts in February, both against teams in Kelowna and Everett also vying for a playoff spot, but those wins were offset by three disastrous outings in which the goalie gave up five or more goals.
Still a promising goaltending prospect, Colorado’s depth in net among the prospect ranks means plenty of pressure to perform every night. After getting off on the wrong foot in March by giving up 11 goals on 77 shots in the first two games, Seattle will need more out of their goaltender if they are to keep challenging for a postseason berth.
Now with his third team in four years of OHL play, John McFarland‘s development seems to have hit a wall. Starting the 2011-12 season with the Saginaw Spirit, McFarland was off to a point-per-game start, but his overall play was still substandard for someone of his age and talent level, and he was soon passed on the Saginaw depth chart by younger players such as Vincent Trocheck (FLA) and Brandon Saad (CHI).
A week into February, McFarland was traded to the Ottawa 67s, where so far he has struggled offensively. His defensive game has improved, but in 12 games with Ottawa he has been held off the scoresheet seven times, and has only nine points to show for his efforts.
Already signed to an entry-level deal, McFarland will likely join the Panthers organization for 2012-13.
North American Amateur
Steven Michalek, G, Harvard University (ECAC)
Drafted by the Minnesota Wild
6th round, 161st overall, 2011
Highly-touted prep goaltender Steven Michalek took the reigns early in his freshman season with Harvard. The goaltender has started to lose his grasp on the starting role in February, however, after limiting sophomore back-up Raphael Girard to only four appearances over the first four months of the season.
Michalek has just one win in four February starts to go along with a 5.60 goals against average .835 save percentage. Girard started back-to-back games for the first time in his college career against St. Lawrence and Clarkson in February, improving his monthly totals with a 3-0-2 record, 1.75 goals against average, and .944 save percentage and earning the ECAC’s Goaltender of the Week honor. Michalek, on the other hand, got the hook in three of his four starts and showed his first real sign of troubles at the collegiate level.
The season is far from over for either goaltenders as Harvard awaits the winner of the Yale-Princeton match-up in the first round of ECAC tournament play. Like many freshman in the NCAA, Michalek hit a rough patch but will have plenty more opportunities ahead of him, whether in post-season play this year or through the rest of his college career.
Drafted in the seventh round following a freshman season in which he played 20 minutes of hockey, it is safe to say that Cody Rosen was selected as a long-term project. Nonetheless, almost two years after the fact, his development has to be at least mildly disappointing.
Now in his junior season with Clarkson, Rosen has one 60 minute start under his belt, coming November 26th, 2010. Aside from that start, he has appeared in 79 minutes over three seasons, playing exclusively in backup or relief to starter Paul Karpowich (STL).
Some of his issues of lack of ice time are due to injury, but really, much of it has to do with the fact Rosen has been behind a solid netminder in Karpowich and simply hasn’t done anything to earn more starting time. With Karpowich graduating this season, Rosen will have a chance to earn a crack at the starter spot for 2012-13.
Power forward Maxim Kitsyn was a force on several different stages during the 2010-11 season, leading Russia‘s Super Series club in scoring and leading the gold medal winning WJC team with five goals in seven games. After turning heads in half a season with the OHL‘s Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors in 2010-11, including 19 points in 20 playoff games for the OHL champs, the 6’2 winger returned to Russia to play out the remaining two years on his KHL contract with Metallurg Novokuznetsk.
The 20-year-old Kitsyn has seen limited action, averaging just over 10 and a half minutes of ice time per game. With only one goal and two assists in 32 games played, the burly winger has struggled to make much of an impact for his offensively-challenged club. His minus-17 rating is the worst on the team and he has been snake-bit, averaging over one shot per game with a 2.6 shooting percentage on the season.
Kitsyn’s combination of size and skill will almost certainly keep him on the radars of NHL teams, but there is no question his season in the KHL has put a damper on some of the positive reports that he garnered in the 2010-11 season.
Washington Capitals fans have probably grown weary of hearing bad news this season but more of it came in late February when forward Yevgeni Kuznetsov went down with a bruised knee in a match against HC Spartak. He was on the receiving end of a collision in the corner boards that resulted in him writhing on the ice for several minutes before being taken away on a stretcher. Several days later, his agent stated that the injury wasn’t as severe as initially thought, and Kuznetsov could possibly return for Traktor’s playoffs. That news would prove to be false however, as several days later Kuznetsov would have his leg further examined and be declared out for three to five weeks.
Regardless of whether Kuznetsov returns this season, his future with the Washington Capitals appears to be muddy. He was offered a one-year contract extension last week by Traktor which he rejected and went on to say that his future would be decided at the end of the season. Reports out of Russia vary from him suggesting he would explore other possibilities in Russia, to him almost assuredly coming to North America for 2012-13. Regardless, it doesn’t appear as though anyone will find out until the off-season.
Article was written by Ian Altenbaugh and Brad Gardner.