The Atlanta Thrashers have 10 prospects competing in the NCAA this season, three of whom are seniors. Beyond Brett Sterling, who is a candidate for the 2006 Hobey Baker award, it is the defensemen who look the most promising at this point.
Nathan Oystrick, D
Northern Michigan (CCHA), senior
7th round, 198th overall, 2002 NHL Entry Draft
Oystrick missed two Wildcats games in December due to a hand injury, but still leads team defensemen in points with five goals and 13 assists in 24 games for the 14-11-1 Wildcats. His game-winning goal came in December over Ferris State. He does see time on the power play, with two power play tallies.
Oystrick’s game is more about defense than offense, however. He is tied for third in plus/minus on the team with a +5. He typically pairs with Geoff Waugh (DAL), also a senior.
In the CCHA captain’s poll, held in December, Oystrick was named a first runner-up in two categories: hardest hitter (defenseman) and most respected player. He had three first-place votes in the most respected category.
Look for Oystrick to join the AHL Chicago Wolves when Northern’s season is complete.
Grant Lewis, D
Dartmouth (ECACHL), junior
2nd round, 40th overall, 2004 NHL Entry Draft
A mostly offensive defenseman, Lewis has very good size at 6’3. He is second in defensive scoring on Dartmouth behind Ben Lovejoy with nine points in 19 games and has two power play goals. He recorded his first multiple-point game of the season against Yale on Nov. 19.
Lewis is one of two Thrashers second round picks playing in the NCAA, and the highest selection overall. Dartmouth is struggling a bit this year, at 8-10-1. If they don’t make the NCAA tournament, it’s possible Lewis will be another early departure for the pro game. The Thrashers have already said they would like to see him come out early.
Mike Vannelli, D
Minnesota (WCHA), junior
4th round, 136th overall, 2003 NHL Entry Draft
As well as Vannelli handles and moves the puck, you’d expect him to have even more assists than he does. He has eight on the year to go along with four goals in 25 games. Three of his goals have come on the power play, where he is a fixture. His game has been coming on lately this season and he’s getting plenty of ice time for Minnesota, paired with Derek Peltier (COL), his partner since last year. Vannelli scored two goals on Jan. 13 in a win over North Dakota.
Excellent defensively, Vannelli holds a very impressive +10 on the year. Vannelli plays the penalty kill equally well as the power play. Thrasher fans would recognize a style similar to Niclas Havelid in his game. Sufficiently physical, he is able to eliminate the opposition cleanly, taking only 30 minutes in penalties. His skating has only gotten better, playing on the Olympic-sized ice for the Golden Gophers.
Vannelli has missed just one game this season for the No. 4 ranked Minnesota. While he looks like he could have a good professional career, there’s no reason to think he won’t finish out his time at Minnesota first.
Brett Sterling, LW
Colorado College (WCHA), senior
5th round, 145th overall, 2003 NHL Entry Draft
If you lose sight of the 5’7 Sterling on the big ice of Colorado College, just look near the net. The scoring machine has 22 goals and 18 assists in 28 games, good for tied for second in the nation in points, and first in goals. Eleven of those 22 goals have come on the power play, and five have been game winners.
Sterling is scoring at a 1.43 point per game pace, just off his 1.50 pace from 2004-05, when he was a top-three finalist for the 2005 Hobey Baker Award, given yearly to college hockey’s top performer. And he’s doing this despite being separated from last year’s Hobey Baker winner Marty Sertich in mid-November with only occasional reunions. He has been playing on a line with Chad Rau (TOR) who was the USHL Rookie of the Year in 2004-05, and Joey Crabb (NYR).
Sterling, who leads Sertich by five points this season, is an early favorite for the 2006 Hobey. His main competition, Wisconsin goaltender Brian Elliott (OTT), is out three to four weeks with an ankle injury, opening the door for Sterling to grasp the prize.
Colorado College has struggled lately, however, which could make the feat difficult. They began the year 11-2-1 and then dropped of precipitously. Their 9-1 loss to top-ranked Wisconsin last week was the worst in 13 years.
Looking towards the pro game, Sterling needs to work harder away from the puck and avoid simply floating, awaiting offensive opportunities. He’ll have to work harder to remain elusive on a smaller ice surface amongst bigger players. He’ll bring some much-needed scoring punch to the Chicago Wolves either later this season or next.
Colton Fretter, RW
Michigan State (CCHA), senior
8th round, 230th overall, 2002 NHL Entry Draft
Last year was Fretter’s breakout year, and though he hasn’t been able to match his previous point a game pace, he has continued with good production in his senior year with 22 points in 28 games. He’s second in goals with nine behind Bryan Lerg on a team that has struggled to score. He’s an alternate captain for the Spartans and has played in every game.
Small and quick, Fretter’s best attribute is scoring in the clutch. Of his nine goals this season, four have been game winners. His latest game winner was this past Friday against Nebraska-Omaha, when he stripped a defenseman of the puck in the offensive zone and scored in overtime to win 4-3. In the CCHA captain’s poll, Fretter was named second runner-up for shooting accuracy. Scott Parse (LA) of Nebraska-Omaha won the award.
Fretter can stand to get better defensively – he’s even on a generally plus team. Turning 24 in March, he’ll be looking to turn pro after this season. The Spartans will be looking to make some noise again in the NCAA tournament first. They are currently 14-9-5.
North Dakota (WCHA), freshman
2nd round, 53rd overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft
Kozek is off to a bit of a slow start at UND, with just 10 points in 28 games as a freshman, coming off a year when he scored 97 points in 60 games in the BCHL. Part of a large and decorated freshman class, he didn’t score his first collegiate goal until Dec. 2 against Michigan Tech. Kozek scores opportunistic goals, he just needs to create more of these opportunities for himself and his line.
Kozek has been playing mostly on the fourth line lately, and getting a bit of power play time. He typically does not kill penalties, in fact he often serves other players’ penalties because he’s a threat coming out of the box, but he does have one shorthanded goal this season. He is the youngest of the Thrashers prospects playing in college at 19.
Mitch Carefoot, C
Cornell (ECACHL), junior
8th round, 237th overall, 2004 NHL Entry Draft
Carefoot is a defensive specialist who manages to do his job without taking many penalty minutes, just 18 in 17 games. He has a bit of a goal scorer in him as well, with four goals and one assist on the season. He is the team’s top penalty killer and has one shorthanded goal. Statistically he’s on pace for similar production compared to last year.
Carefoot missed two games this season due to an undisclosed injury.
Cornell is a very impressive 13-4-2 this season.
Matt Siddall, RW
Northern Michigan (CCHA), sophomore
9th round, 270th overall, 2004 NHL Entry Draft
Siddall, who plays at Northern Michigan along with Oystrick, is one of four Thrashers NCAA prospects who played in the BCHL before moving on to college. Though he has already surpassed his freshman point total of eight, with nine points in 22 games, the –7 for this checking forward is troubling.
Mike Hamilton, LW
Maine (Hockey East), junior
6th round, 175th overall, 2003 NHL Entry Draft
Hamilton missed over a month of playing time due to arthroscopic surgery following a knee injury nine games into the season, as well as a four-game suspension for an off-ice brawl he and other Maine players were involved in on Nov. 13. He had been playing on a line with Michel Leveille and Greg Moore (CAL).
Hamilton has played three games and has one assist since his return, for a total of four assists in 12 games. He is on pace for his lowest rate of production in his three years.
Maine, who made it to the NCAA championships in 2004, is doing well again this year at 15-9-0.
Rylan Kaip, C
North Dakota (WCHA), sophomore
9th round, 269th overall, 2003 NHL Entry Draft
Kaip returned to the UND lineup this season after sitting out 10 months with post-concussion syndrome, which included headaches and trouble focusing.
A physical checking forward who plays on the penalty kill, he’s even on a generally plus team and has just two assists in 24 games. He had just four assists last season. Kaip is a teammate and occasional linemate of Kozek at UND.
Kaip has played in all but four of UND’s 28 games, but doesn’t see a lot of playing time per game. His skating needs work, both on agility and speed.
|Brett Sterling||LW||21||Colorado Coll.||28||22||18||40||n/a||50||11||0||5|
|Colton Fretter||RW||23||Mich. State||28||9||13||22||0||20||2||0||4|
|Nathan Oystrick||D||23||N. Michigan||24||5||13||18||+5||40||2||0||1|
|Mike Vannelli||D||22||U. of Minn.||25||4||8||12||+10||30||3||0||2|
|Andrew Kozek||F||19||North Dakota||28||4||6||10||+7||10||0||1||1|
|Matt Siddall||RW||21||N. Michigan||22||4||5||9||-7||35||1||0||1|
|Rylan Kaip||C||21||North Dakota||24||0||2||2||0||46||0||0||0|
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