Top Prospects’ Sign Deals at Last Minute

By Brandon LeBourveau
Top prospects Rick Nash, Jay Bouwmeester, Steve Eminger, Scottie Upshall and Carlo Colaiacovo all signed contracts with their respective teams on Monday, enabling them to play in the NHL this upcoming season. It is not necessarily set in stone whether or not all five will spend the entire year in the NHL, however. Each is allowed to play a maximum of 10 games in the NHL before their contracts for this season kick in, as well as other complicated stipulations for waiver draft eligibility and such.

Nash, the 1st overall pick this past June, has put on a show with the Columbus Blue Jackets during training camp and the pre-season. General Manager Doug MacLean told Nash that he wanted him on the team right after he was drafted, and it now appears that will happen. The Blue Jackets lack offensive depth, enabling Nash to step in and play a lot of minutes. If Nash plays on one of the top two lines and sees time on the power play, he could be a legitimate contender for the Calder Trophy next June.

Bouwmeester, the 3rd overall pick in 2002 and a highly-regarded defenseman since he was 15-years-old, will not be heading back to junior hockey with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL. Instead, the swift-skating defenseman will embark on a potentially outstanding NHL career. Bouwmeester is ready for the NHL and could play a prominent role on the Florida Panthers’ blue-line in 2002-03. Head coach Mike Keenan is perhaps the best possible mentor for Bouwmeester, having coached a young Chris Pronger back with St. Louis and ultimately helping Pronger turn into the dominant force that he is today.

Eminger, the 12th overall pick this past year, is one of the most surprising rookies to make the NHL this year. Eminger may lack experience, but he doesn’t lack skill nor hockey sense. He plays a smart, two-way game and could have an impact on the Washington Capitals’ blue-line. If Eminger adapts well and performs at a high level, he’ll find himself in the NHL for the full season. If not, he’ll be returned to the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL for another season of junior.

Upshall, the man they like to call “Devil Boy”, has won over the management of the Nashville Predators with his hard-nosed, two-way play. Drafted 6th overall in 2002, Upshall could have a similar impact to what fellow teammate Scott Hartnell did as an 18-year-old; developing and maturing at a high-level while providing a physical presence and chipping in the odd goal. Scottie is a hard-working, competitive player who will win over the fans in Nashville in no time, providing that he hasn’t already.

To the liking of the Toronto Maple Leaf faithful, 19-year-old defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo will start the season in the NHL. Colaiacovo, a smooth-skating defenseman who plays a smart game and has an offensive upside, made the final round of cuts. The only stumbling block to him appearing in Toronto this year was the agreement on a contract, but with that out of the way, he can now focus on the task at hand. The public opinion seems to be that Carlo will see a few games in the NHL before ulimately being returned to the Erie Otters of the OHL. Considering Toronto’s lack of stand-out defensemen, Colaiacovo could stick with the club providing that he proves he can play at this level. Time will tell, as it always does.

On a lesser note, although still an important one, the New York Rangers have come to terms on a contract with 19-year-old forward Garth Murray, a 3rd round pick in 2001. Murray, the captain of the Regina Pats of the WHL last season, is a heart-and-soul type player who will for sure see himself in the NHL in a couple of years. According to Rangers’ assistant General Manager Don Maloney, Murray is quite coveted around the league, as his name is one of the first to be brought up in trade discussions. Garth was injured during training camp and was unable to show his full potential, however he will now play this season with the Rangers’ top minor league affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL. Had Murray not been signed, he would have returned to Regina for his overage (fifth) year of junior hockey. Rangers’ fans can now breathe a little bit easier, as the potential was there for Murray to play out the season in Regina and then leave as an Unrestricted Free Agent come June 1st, 2003.