On the evening that the Saint John Flames clinch the Calder Cup, with a 1-0 victory over the Wilkes-Barrie Scranton Penguins, it only makes sense to look toward the future of the Calgary Flames and where they are headed. Will the club see an influx of talent from the farm next season, and will the success in the AHL translate into success in the NHL? Will the team find that their prospects are ready to make some of the veterans expendable to the point of allowing a deal to improve the top lines? What does the future hold?
With the St. John Flames winning the AHL Championship banner it might be easy to fall into the trap of thinking minor league success translates into major league success. It was pointed out by numerous people during these play-offs, that St. John did not possess the best talent of any team in the run for the Calder Cup. They didn’t have any superstars in the making, or any grizzled veterans to carry the team to victory. What they did have was a solid team approach to playing the game, an amazing chemistry in the dressing room, and an endless supply of heart that willed the team on through out the play-offs. All of this from a team that had an average age of 22. The amazing thing was that the team was lead in the playoffs by four young players, Sergei Varlamov (22), Daniel Tkaczuk (21), Steve Begin (21) and Derrick Walser (23). The only veteran to crack the top five scorers was Marty Murray (26). These young players came to play and proved their meddle through out the play-offs. That must bode well for the Flames in the long run, right?
Here is a look at the 10 top prospects in the USHL from the defensive aspect. These are the crème of the crop, some of the best defenders, passers and hitters that there are in this league. Height, weight and age to each players profile go along with their season stats. Each player’s college destination is in parenthesis. They are in no particular order.
1. Keith Ballard – Omaha Lancers (U. of Minnesota)
Ballard is a defensive player who has it all. His size is not intimidating at 5’11” and 200 lbs, but it is definitely misleading. He accumulated 168 PIM for the Lancers this season while assisting on the offensive end with 22 goals and 29 assists. Ballard has the soft touch pass and can double as a forward if need be. In other words, he is one of the best two-way hockey players in his age group. Ballard played his first season with the US National Under 18 squad before exceeding their age limit and then joining Omaha this year. He may be the top overall defenseman in the league as he can hit, take a hit, pass, score and of course defend better than no other.
2. Jesse Baraniuk – Green Bay Gamblers (Northern Michigan U.) Read more»
This has been quite a season for Igor Knyazev. After first being replaced as the captain of the Russian Junior National Team and then not being picked for the 2001 U20 WJC team at all, Igor never dissapeared and once proved that he is one of the best all around defensemen in the upcoming 2001 NHL Entry Draft. After being slowed by injuries at the end of the 1999-01 season, Igor was one of the leading defensemen with Spartak Moscow, helping to lead that team into the Super League after a 2 year absense. After being ranked by the CSB 13th in the midseason report, he jumped 6 spots to the 7th place among European skaters.
(for more information, interviews, articles, photographs and etc. please
Standing at 6’1 and 196 pounds at only the age of 18, Igor definitely has the size to play in the NHL. Besides possessing the physical size, Igor uses it well to play a solid all around defensive game. Igor is an above average skater and is a solid puck carrier from the defensive zone. Igor loves playing defense and played at this position his whole life. In an interview with Moscow Hockey he himself said: “I always liked the role of the defense – to disrupt the offense of the opponent and to begin our own”. Igor is very good in this role. He is an aggressive defenseman who racks up the penalty minutes, but he also has great hockey sense. He is able to read the play well, make a quick decision and potentially Read more»
Curtis Murphy scored two goals and Norm Maracle made 18 saves as the Orlando Solar Bears beat the Chicago Wolves 5-1 to capture the IHL’s 56th and final Turner Cup championship.
Orlando, the top minor-league affiliate of the NHL Atlanta Thrashers, won the best-of-seven series 4-1 in the swan song for both the league and the Solar Bears.
Four IHL teams, including the runner-up Wolves, are expected to join the AHL next season and form a single developmental league for the top prospects of the NHL.
IHL TURNER CUP FINAL RECAP
Chicago Wolves 1 Read more»