1) Matt Herr – C, Washington’s 4th choice in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, 2000-2001: NHL – 22 games, 2 goals, 3 assists, 17 PIM, +3; AHL – 32 games, 21 goals, 12 assists, 42 PIM, +3Herr has always worked hard and steadily improved, but this is his year to shine. In the past, he floated from line to line, and played in every position but goaltender, but now he has settled into his role of center on the first or second line every night with the Pirates, and everything seems to have fallen in place. He has become a lot more physical on the ice, and plays a more defensive game. Right now he’s averaging a point a game, but if he stays with the Pirates another month without a call-up, that will increase and probably dramatically. Although he has always been well liked in Portland, his hard work was always overshadowed by players like Trent Whitfield, who are simply one in a million. Now every one, including Matt himself, is getting a good look at what he can do, and his time in the AHL is limited. Look for more stints with the Caps this season, and some time in the playoffs. Next year, full-time with the Caps is the goal.
2) Martin Hlinka – LW, Signed by Portland as a free agents on November 10, 2000, 2000-2001: AHL – 39 games, 11 goals, 16 assists, 30 PIM, +4Hlinka is the team’s workhorse, and watching him is a real treat. He has the complete package, though he is not a flashy player. Due to getting a last-minute contract sorted out, injury, and being a healthy scratch for a while, the beginning of the season was choppy, but he is now a vital part of the team and has accumulated his 26 points in the past 28 games alone. He is on all the special-unit teams, and is now making his game more physical. The Caps signing him to a three-year contract this summer. The Caps usually take players up for short stints before making them more or less full-time, so expect Martin to have a minimum of 10 NHL games under his belt by Christmas next year. He definitely has the makings of becoming a full-time NHLer.
3) Matt Pettinger – LW, Washington’s 2nd choice, 43rd overall, in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, 2000-2001: NHL – 10 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 2 PIM, -1; AHL – 41 games, 14 goals, 12 assists, 57 PIM, -1Pettinger is proving to not only be Portland’s best rookie, but also one of the best rookies in the league. Just 20 years old and he has already had a good stint with the Caps. He did not get any points, but got plenty of ice time and did well. He has fewer points than most top left wing prospects, but it is often his quick thinking that allows goals to be set up and scored. He is a good playmaker who clearly uses his head when playing. He is clearly focused right now, and his point totals are going to shoot up quickly. He will probably get another stint or two this season, and look for the Caps integrating him more and more next season.
4) Alexei Tezikov – D, Traded to Washington by Buffalo for Joe Juneau on March 23, 1999, 2000-2001: AHL – 49 games, 7 goals, 21 assists, 48 PIM, -4Tezikov is by far Portland’s best defenseman right now, and is clearly meant to be an NHL player. He is fast, will do almost anything to stop that puck, and is great at setting up goals, as shown by his 21 assists this season. He was not known for goals last season, but now his blue line shot is second to none in the league. One of his best assets is that he has proven himself to be excellent in overtime, and has scored several of this season’s overtime game winners. The only thing he needs to work on is situational awareness. His style of stopping/clearing the puck by any means is excellent, but he is not always aware of what is going on around him, and has helped the other team’s cause more than once. All he needs is to play a little less impulsively. Surprisingly he has not been called up this season, but look for stints during the remainder of the season and during the playoffs.
5) Glen Metropolit – C, Signed by Washington as a free agent on July 15, 1999, 2000-2001: NHL – 5 games, 0 goals, 2 assists, 0 PIM, -1; AHL – 42 games, 21 goals, 37 assists, 44 PIM, -8Metropolit ended last season with the most points for the Pirates (60), even with playing 30 games with the Caps, in which he recorded 6 goals, 13 assists, and a +5 rating. He is a great puckhandler, has good speed and a great shot. But lately, he has been too fancy and it is not helping any: too many flashy passes, too much puckhandling, not enough shooting. This has been especially true since he came back after a nasty concussion during a Worcester game, and it is obvious he is still not 100% with the program yet. While we all hope he will make a full recovery, he does one problem that will not go away, and that is he is small. Look for more call-ups this season, and it will be interesting to see what he will do this summer if he is not given a lot of time in D.C. during the remainder of the season.
6) Derek Bekar – LW, Traded by St. Louis to Washington for Mike Peluso on November 29, 2000, 2000-2001: NHL – 1 game, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 PIM, even; AHL – 53 games, 17 goals, 15 assists, 28 PIM, +3Bekar has certainly proven himself to be good under pressure, both on and off the ice. He came to Portland after Mike Peluso, arguably the number one fan favorite, was traded to St. Louis. No one had anything personal against Derek and knew he had no control over the trade, but the fans wanted Mike and many were not afraid to say so. Not a great situation to find yourself in, but Bekar has handled it well. On ice, he is definitely a pressure player. When the team has an off-night, he rallies and, on more than one occasion, is the only scorer on the night, sometimes with multiples goals. Even just when the team is having a bad period, he is often the one to set up the goal to snap them out of it, or put in a quick wrister. Bekar’s future is uncertain. He has good size, great speed, and can produce the goods, but consistency is a real problem. Being able to get a team out of a tight spot is great, but it probably won’t be enough if he wants to make it to the NHL full time. He was recieved into the team with some definite hostility, but has been improving greatly on becoming a team player and working better with his linemates. He is fortunate that his parent team, first St. Louis and now Washington, see his capabilities in him, and both called him up for short stints. He obviously works hard, and has been around long enough to see how it all works. Bottom line: Give him the rest of the season to sort it out. Come training camp this summer, it will be clear if he is destined to be an NHLer or an AHL veteran.