River Rats prospect update

By Grethe Kvernes

Last year’s cellar-dwelling AHL Albany River Rats shocked their fans by starting out the 2004-05 season in spectacular fashion. In their season opener, they beat their fiercest rival, the Binghamton Senators, by a 6-2 score. In the next two home games, they posted decisive victories over the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and the Providence Bruins.

But those few opening games are long since history. Not unexpectedly, the River Rats have started their slow descent towards a familiar spot: the bottom of the standings. The team has not posted a regulation win since October 24th, and they have only collected six points in their last 11 games. While there is plenty of talent in the River Rats squad, their youth and inexperience has cost them in critical situations. Furthermore, their defense continues to be a big problem, averaging 31.94 shots against per game.

Not everything is bleak and depressing, though. Some of the youngest prospects have had very good individual seasons so far, and continue to do well offensively despite the overall struggles of the team. Rookie winger Aaron Voros leads the team in points with eight goals and seven assists in 17 games. After posting four goals and three assists in only four games, Voros was named AHL player of the week for the week ending October 24th. The towering, yet feisty British Columbia native has also collected 53 penalty minutes and is a respectable -1.

Fellow rookie Zach Parise has also been quite good so far. The highly touted young center scored his first goal on his first shot in his first game, and he has not slowed down much since. Parise is currently second on the team in scoring with four goals and nine assists in his 14 games. Parise began the season centering a line with second-year Finnish wingers Ilkka Pikkarainen and Tuomas Pihlman but has since played primarily with Voros and seasoned veteran Dean McAmmond. He is also –1.

The third player on the team scoring list is also a prospect, second year winger Aleksander Suglobov. Last year, Suglobov recorded 21 points in 35 games with Albany. This year the 22-year-old has six goals and six assists in 14 games. The skilled Russian winger loves to shoot the puck, especially from the right point on the power play. However, he must improve his defensive game if he wants to earn a regular spot on the Devils. He currently has one of the worst plus/mins records on the team at -5.

Russian rookie center Ivan Khomutov, the youngest player on the team at just 19, scored a goal in his first game. He has struggled since then and has received little ice time. Recently, mainly a result of injuries to other players, the 6’3 Khomutov has played much more and has seized the opportunity to make an impression. Centering a line of Suglobov and Pikkarainen, Khomutov has had a point in each of the last three games.

The most invisible of the forward prospects so far has been second-year winger Tuomas Pihlman. Pihlman, who led the River Rats’ prospects in scoring last year, only has two goals and two assists in 17 games. The 22-year-old Finnish winger was recently moved to the checking line where he has been playing with fourth-year pro Ryan Murphy as well as River Rats captain Pascal Rheaume.

Notes: oft-injured center Adrian Foster is sidelined indefinitely with a shoulder injury.

Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.