There are a lot of scouts throughout the NHL who will tell you that the San Jose Sharks have the best group of young defensemen in their system than any other team in the NHL. Included in this list are players such as: Brad Stuart, Scott Hannan, Andrei Zyuzin, Mike Rathje, and more… What makes San Jose’s defensemen so appealing, is not only that they’re good, not only that they have more than a few of them, but that they have all different types, for a well rounded defense as well. While every team wants to have a specific direction, you also want some variety. They have big guys, smaller guys, and everything in between. What I intend here is to go through some of San Jose’s main defensive young guys, and let you know what to possibly expect in the future from them.
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Welcome to the February edition of the Buffalo Sabres Top 20 prospects. This update features the removal of one name from the prospect list (Erik Rassmussen), the addition of another (Brad Moran) and some general upward or downward movement amongst the other prospects.
The removal of Erik Rassmussen was a tough call on my part. There are those that would insist that Erik, because he has spent a good portion of this season with the Sabres, should now be considered a bona fide big league hockey player. While this is a good point in general, anyone who has seen Erik play over the last month realizes that he is nowhere near being ready for prime time. I would argue, in fact, that the best place for him at this time would be Rochester, where he can better develop his offensive game. My point of view is probably not the popular one, though, so, in the interest of bipartisanship, I am removing Erik from the Top 20.
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JONATHAN HEDSTRÖM: A LOOK AT A LONGSHOT PROSPECT
After having covered many of the more talked about Swedish prospects in this column, it’s now high time to mention some longshot prospects. Every now and them, a long-shot prospect arrives from nowhere and makes it to the NHL.
When you’re picked 221st overall, no one – perhaps not even the management of the team that drafted you – expects you to make it. But there’s a small chance, and with enough determination you might just make it.
Determination is not in short supply for 21 year old Division 1-team Skellefteå AIK left winger Jonathan Hedström, who was picked by 221st overall by the Leafs in the 1997 Draft. After having a sub-par season by his standards in 1997/1998 (scored only 5 goals and has 5 assists in 32 games), he has emerged as a solid point-producer and leader for his team this season while playing the powerforward role that made him a regular on the team in the first place. In 29 games, he has scored 13 goals, and he has 23 assists, to go with a team-best +24 rating. To go with that he has a solid 50 PIM.
Despite the almost one assist per game average, he is not a playmaker. His assist come mainly from hard work along the boards and digging out pucks before feeding passes to his linemates. His shot is average, and that has to improve.
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Why would any team trade their best player for Alexandre Daigle? Jacques Demers sure answered that question when he said he was capable of being the first-line winger in his first game. He has the potential to be a highly touted superstar in this league? Sure fooled anyone who thought he’d excel in Philly. Is this a joke, or does Jacques have something up his sleeve for Alex? It is the third time this year the new GM has dealt with the Flyers, picking up Chris Gratton again, Mike Sillinger, and Petr Svoboda. He must know what he’s doing, because look what he did with players such as Gerard Gallant and Bernie Federko? They don’t sound like big names do they? Bernie is on his way to the hall of fame. Gerard Gallant played good hockey in his final years in the league, mixing grit with pure goal scoring, all because of Jacques Demers.
FIRST ROUND CORNUCOPIA
There are now seven first-round picks on the team: Daigle, Chris Gratton, Wendel Clark, Jason Bonsignore, Paul Mara, Martin Larocque and Vincent Lecavalier. Out of the crop, only one has actually excelled into a complete player, while two others showed flashes of brilliance. Can you guess who they are? They brought back Chris Gratton in the infamous trade-back with Bob Clarke and the Flyers. The question now is, who are the Bolts going to build around? Roman Hamrlik looked like a great idea, but he got stolen by Glen Sather last year. Wendel Clark is bright, but he’s already on the trading block.
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Dynasty, a word not mentioned to often in today’s sports. Once the word was mentioned when Colorado won the Stanley Cup back in the summer of 96. The team was deep and full of great talent that few teams could match or overcome. That was then and this is now. The Avalanche organization of present day is slightly different than it was then. Gone are some of the highly touted “role” or “depth” players, such as Ricci and Young, who could play on any other teams top two lines. Many people believe the loss of certain players and sufficient replacements to be the problem with the Avs of today. In their place skate to new youngsters by the name of Drury and Hejduk, who both put up slightly similar numbers to what their counterparts do for San Jose and St. Louis. These type of numbers from two youngsters who never played a game of North American minor or major hockey until this year. How would this ever be a problem seeing they both have bright years ahead of them as dangerously skilled scorers for the Avs?
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Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre claws his way towards the NHL
Way back on March 20, of 1996, then Buffalo Sabres General Manager John Muckler may have pulled off a deal that in time could rank as one of the Sabres’ ten best ever. Little used winger Yuri Khmylev was dealt to St. Louis Blues for a prospect and a 2nd round draft pick. The draft pick (the first pick in the second round, #27 overall), turned out to be Buffalo’s current top prospect, defensemen Cory Sarich. The prospect was a little known defensemen, from the Quebec Major Junior League, by the name of Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre. Don Luce (the Sabres director of player personnel) felt he was getting a player that had size and a lot of growth potential to go along with very good hockey skills.
To the fans, the deal was treated without much fan fair, as no player would be coming to Buffalo any time soon. The Sabres were looking towards the future, and that future would soon include a new arena and new uniforms, which would go along with the new coach (Ted Nolan) and his the hard working, team oriented attitude.
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“The future’s so bright I got to wear shades”, will be one tune the Avalanche organization will be singing when they look down into their farm club in Hershey. One of the hottest teams in the past few weeks, the Bears have started to show why Colorado’s future is so good. Truth be told, Hershey only contains around half of the organizations younger promising talent, with most of it being located in other areas such as colleges and junior clubs. Even with such a minor showing of the organization’s prospects, Hershey still contains player depth most teams could only dream of ever having as far as prospects go. At present time, most of the Bears are Avalanche prospects (or under minor league contract with the team). Few are actual “Hershey only” players. They consist of some of the youngest players in the league (Lazarev), not to mention one of the oldest (Lamoureux). With such a unique mix of young and old, Hershey has needed time to learn and adjust to life in the AHL.
The adjustment period is coming to a close, and the team must start to show what they can do. The time is NOW. The prospects Colorado so dearly covet are starting to bust out and show why this organization’s pool of talent is one of the best if not the best. With the recent acquisitions of Parker, Belak, and Denis from the “Big Club”, They now have leaders to take charge not only in the AHL but also in their quest to show what they can do.
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Huselius and Holmkvist odd men out in Färjestad
Two of the more talked about NHL-prospects from Sweden in recent years -Panthers draftee Kristian Huselius and 1997 Mighty Ducks first rounder Mikael Holmkvist have been squeezed out of the Färjestad line-up due to the return of two veterans who played significant parts in their back-to-back Swedish championship wins in 1997 and 1998. The two who returned are small winger Patrik Wallenberg, who had played in Finland, and Peter Nordström who returned to his old club after failing miserably when trying to make it in the NHL with the Boston Bruins.
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The flip side of the Los Angeles Kings are the crop of freshmen in Colorado and in Florida. Part One referred to the downfall of mediocre teams giving no support to their rookies, namely the Toronto Maple Leafs and Mike Johnson. The Bruins on the other hand experienced many changes with their rookies Joe Thornton and last year’s Calder winner Sergei Samsonov. This week we will look at the possible future look of the NHL, by focusing on the Colorado Avalanche and the Florida Panthers.
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The Islanders recently had three players named to the AHL All-Star Game, although only one player was able to represent the Lowell team. Defenseman Zdeno Chara and Ray Giroux were slated to appear at the All-Star Game but niether was able to participate. Zdeno has emerged as a solid blueliner for the Islanders and was not released to compete in the All-Satr festivities. Zdeno was named an All-Star despite appearing in only 23 games during which he registered two goals and four points, but was a fan favorite. Rookie defenseman Ray Giroux has blossomed as a capable defenseman but suffered a broken wrist prior to the All-Star weekend. Prior to his injury Giroux was one of the hottest players in the AHL as he was named December’s Rookie of the month with 10 points in 11 games to lead the Lock Monsters. That left only left winger Sean Haggerty to compete for Lowell. Sean demonstrated his speed and puck handling abilities by winning the puck relay at the skills competition. Another Islanders’ prospect that has flourished as of late is Adam Edinger. He is the hottest player in the CCHA and has taken over the scroring lead on the strength of a recent hot streak, with at least a point in 14 of his last 16 games. Should Adam continue his current tear lokk for him to challenge for the Hobey Baker Award.