Due to the trickle-down effect of the NHL lockout, the Wheeling Nailers
of the ECHL find themselves deeper than usual with quality prospects. Armed
with a new goalie with NHL experience, the Nailers have turned around a slow
start to now be tied with the
Johnstown Chiefs for second place in the North Division.
Currently Wheeling is being powered by a huge winning streak, victorious
for the sixth time in a row by beating the Toledo Storm on Saturday night. That
win improves the Nailers to 10-6
on the year. Their recent success has matched the super form of ex-Calgary Flame
goaltender, 24-year-old Dany Sabourin.
The Val d’Or native posted an amazing three
consecutive shutouts earlier this season, and has continued to be stingy ever
since. Sabourin has a record of 10-2, with a miniscule goals against average of
1.28. His GAA and save percentage are
good enough to rank second in the league.
Sabourin’s form has not gone unnoticed by the ECHL, twice awarding him
the ‘Saver of the Week’ award, given to the best performing goaltender. 2004-05
is fast becoming Sabourin’s best season as a professional, where he is almost
certain to smash his best results in all major categories.
Leading the way offensively among Penguins prospects is right winger Steve Crampton and young defenseman James Laux. Laux, a 24-year-old from
New Jersey is sitting second amongst team defensemen with eight points, and his
three goals put him fourth amongst all Nailers. Perhaps the most impressive
stat for Laux is his plus/minus rating, which leads the team with +6. Laux has
plenty of offensive upside, posting strong totals during his years in the NCAA
competition for Colorado College, where his best season saw him post seven
goals and 22 points in 36 games. He signed with the Flyers organization in
2003-04 for his first professional season, playing mostly with the Philadelphia
Phantoms of the AHL. In only 23 games, Laux posted four goals and three
Steve Crampton, an eighth round selection for the Penguins in 2000, is
playing his third season with the Wheeling Nailers. Crampton posted 19 goals
and 53 points as a sophomore in 2003-04, bettering his totals of 13 goals and
39 points in his rookie year. The 22-year-old combines his scoring touch with
toughness, and is not afraid to drop the gloves if the situation warrants.
So far in 2004-05, Crampton is steadily accumulating the points on a
Nailers squad that had been struggled for goals. He scored the game tying goal
on Friday night against the Trenton Titans with 12 minutes left in regulation,
allowing Ray DiLauro to score the game winner in overtime. His eight points
(two goals, six assists) put him equal fifth on the Wheeling roster.
Also performing well on the blue line for the Nailers is Pittsburgh
native Cliff Loya. Drafted by the Chicago
Blackhawks in the seventh round in 2000, the 23-year-old stay at home
defensemen has taken well to the pro game after a successful career at the
University of Maine. Loya spent his ECHL rookie season in 2003-04 as a member
of the San Diego Gulls, posting three goals and nine assists in 63 games.
Loya has been sidelined for two weeks with injury, but is now healthy
and set to return to the Nailers this week. Loya will look to continue his good
work so far in the season, where he has posted three assists in his 11 games.
Another promising young defenseman is 21-year-old Alex Rouleau. The 6’1, 180-pound Mont-Laurier
native was drafted by the Penguins in the third round, 96th
overall in 2001, and has split his pro career between the Nailers and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton
Penguins of the AHL. The hard-nosed defenseman spent his junior career in the
QMJHL, posting 41 goals and 74 assists over four seasons for Val-d’Or Foreurs and the Quebec Remparts. More significant
were his penalty minutes, racking up 503 during that period.
Rouleau’s pro career
has started in a similar vane, known much more for his toughness than his
offense. After 15 games this season, he has posted just the three assists,
along with 29 PIM.
Continuing the trend
of Penguins defensive prospects taking the ice in Wheeling is 1999 draft pick, Darcy Robinson. Robinson began this
season in Wilkes-Barre, but was assigned to the Nailers last week. Robinson has
spent most of the past two seasons in Wilkes-Barre, but this year finds himself
the odd man out amongst a deep core of defensemen there.
The big man (6’3, 230
lbs.) will receive much more ice time in Wheeling, after only seeing action in
five games at the AHL level in 2004-05.
Although scoreless, Robinson compiled a huge 31 penalty minutes in those
games. So far through three games for the Nailers he is without a point and
only has the single minor penalty to his name.
Another big man in the Wheeling lineup is 20-year-old Latvian center Armands Berzins. At 6’3 and 230 pounds,
the Minnesota Wild took him in the fifth round of 2002. Berzins then came over
from Latvia to play two seasons in the QMJHL for Shawinigan where he posted
decent numbers, topping out with 24 goals and 19 assists in 2002-03.
Last season Berzins signed his first pro contract and took the ice for
the Louisiana IceGators of the ECHL. He posted fair numbers in playing 67
games, with 14 goals and 12 assists, leaving him 11th in the team.
So far in 2004-05, Berzins finds himself lower on the depth chart and has
struggled to get decent ice time, posting a solitary assist in 14 games.
Rounding out the Penguins prospects based in the ECHL are enforcers T.J Reynolds and Pascal
Morency. Morency also began the season in Wilkes-Barre, but was swapped for
Mike Sgroi as chief fighter. That hasn’t slowed him down though, currently
sitting fifth in the league for penalty minutes by putting up 53 minutes in
only 12 games. The 22-year-old right winger has also managed to get his name on
the scoresheet a couple of times, posting a goal and an assist.
Reynolds, a 23-year-old from Kitchiner, Ontario is playing in his third
season for the Wheeling Nailers, where he has been the resident tough guy. In
season 2002-03, Reynolds fought his way to an eye popping 371 penalty minutes,
topping the entire ECHL. Since then the defenseman has been developing a much
more rounded game, reducing his penalty minutes to 247 in 2003-04, and
combining that with 20 points (four goals, 16 assists). So far this season,
Reynolds has managed a goal and an assist in 11 games, and has 44 PIM. Of note,
however, is his plus/minus rating, which ranks fifth in the team with +2.
Notes: Dany Sabourin and Darcy Robinson have been
promoted to Wilkes-Barre, with Andy Chiodo, Drew Fata and Cam Paddock sent down
to Wheeling. The swap of Sabourin and
Chiodo is temporary.
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