Albany River Rats rookie review

By Grethe Kvernes





Rookie Review


 

The Albany River Rats had a
dreadful season. They were eliminated from playoff contention almost a month
before the end of the regular season, and finished with a league-low 62 points
(21-39-11-9). The River Rats were shut out a record 13 times, and allowed 257
goals while only scoring 182. Eight players on the River Rats roster can count
this season as their AHL rookie year, and while it’s safe to say none of them
had a great and memorable first year, they all made progress in most areas.

 

Forwards

 

Finnish import Tuomas Pihlman
may not have put up as many points as he would have liked to, but the offensive
numbers do not do justice to his contribution to the team. The hardworking and
versatile 21-year-old winger was one of the River Rats best penalty killers, he
played well on the power play, and he was also used in all forward positions at
some point during the season. Pihlman made his NHL
debut for the Devils against the Washington Capitals on New Year’s Day, 2004,
and played one more game before being returned to the River Rats. Pihlman
recorded his first AHL goal October
13, 2003
, vs. Craig Anderson of the Norfolk Admirals.

 

Season

GP

G

A

PTS

PIM

+/-

2003-04

73

10

19

29

59

-11

 

Russian right winger Aleksander Suglobov
missed a large part of the season due to a wrist injury he suffered during his
first NHL game in January. Before his
injury, the 22-year-old Suglobov averaged almost a point per game, and despite
missing over two months, his 11 goals still lead all River Rats prospects. The
highly skilled winger also led all AHL rookies in shooting percentage (.172),
and was chosen as the River Rats representative to the AHL all-star game.
Suglobov’s first AHL goal came in his very first AHL game: October
11, 2003
, vs. David LeNeveu of the Springfield Falcons.

 

Season

GP

G

A

PTS

PIM

+/-

2003-04

35

11

11

22

54

-9

 

Former first-round draft
pick center Adrian Foster
had an up-and-down season. The 22-year-old Alberta native played more games
than in the previous two seasons combined, but still missed a fair amount of
time due to injuries. Foster probably would have put up better numbers had he
not been played part of the season as a checking-line center, a role that
limited his offensive potential. When he was allowed to play in a more
offensive role, he recorded several multi-point games, including a three-point
night (2 goals, 1 assist) in the season finale.

 

Season

GP

G

A

PTS

PIM

+/-

2002-03

9

3

0

3

4

-5

2003-04

44

8

13

21

25

-9

 

Feisty Finnish winger Ilkka Pikkarainen
found himself in the penalty box more often than on the scoreboard.
Collecting 118 penalty minutes, most of them minor penalties, Pikkarainen
clearly is not the most disciplined player. At the same time his tenacity and
in-your-face style is quite effective at bringing opposing goaltenders off
their game. Pikkarainen did not record his first AHL goal until January
28, 2004
, vs. AHL all-star Wade Dubielewicz of the Bridgeport Sound
Tigers. He will turn 23 next week.

 

Season

GP

G

A

PTS

PIM

+/-

2003-04

63

8

10

18

118

-19

 

Canadian winger Ahren Nittel struggled
for most of the season, but finally came into his own right under new head
coach Robbie Ftorek. Ftorek often asked the young 20-year-old winger to play
center, a role the OHL graduate filled quite admirably. Nittel set an AHL
season record when he put an astonishing 13 shots on goal in a game against Syracuse
in March. The Ontario native
waited even longer than Pikkarainen to finally collect his first AHL goal: February
28, 2004
, vs. Alex Auld of the Manitoba Moose.

 

Season

GP

G

A

PTS

PIM

+/-

2003-04

42

4

3

7

24

-11

 

 

Defensemen

 

Minnesota
native Matt DeMarchi
registered the last goal of the River Rats season; an empty-net goal with about
30 seconds left in the final game. The physical blueliner had a respectable
first year: he missed a number of games due to injuries, and he finished with
the worst plus/minus rating of all rookies, but he also chipped in more offensively
than expected. DeMarchi had one game-winning goal, and recorded his first AHL
goal November 30, 2003,
vs. Hannu Toivonen of the Providence Bruins. 
He turns 23 in May.

 

Season

GP

G

A

PTS

PIM

+/-

2003-04

51

4

10

14

78

-19

 

Manitoba
native Phil Cole
played in almost every game since being recalled from Cincinnati of the ECHL. Cole,
who is by no means a fighting heavyweight, collected numerous fighting majors
while defending his teammates.  The 21-year-old
defensive defenseman also played a solid game, and finished as a -3, which is
impressive considering the other defensemen on the team averaged a -14. Cole
recorded his first AHL goal on March
27, 2004
, vs. Andy Chiodo of the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins.

 

Season

GP

G

A

PTS

PIM

+/-

2002-03

4

0

0

0

6

0

2003-04

39

1

3

4

80

-3

 

Former Montreal Canadiens
draftpick Tyler Hanchuck
was an off-season free agent signing. Hanchuck did not get a lot of icetime
because the River Rats had eight defensemen on their roster for most of the
year. The 22-year-old former Sarnia
captain still put up good numbers for a defensive defenseman, but was the only
rookie not to record a goal.

 

Season

GP

G

A

PTS

PIM

+/-

2003-04

30

0

2

2

37

-7

 

 

Notes:
Towards the end of the season, the Devils signed former draft pick right wing Aaron Voros
and assigned him to Albany. The
22-year-old played 9 games, registering 2 goals and 1 assist along with 14
penalty minutes. The River Rats also offered tryout contracts to Devils draft
pick right wing Kenny Magowan, also 22, out of Boston University (5
games, no points), and free agent Andy Burnes, a 22-year-old defenseman out of
the University of Michigan (2 games, no points).