Welcome to Hockey’s Future’s newest feature detailing who’s hot and who’s not in the prospect world. Each month, we’re going to take you around the sport to see how some of the prospects are fairing. In essence, those who are doing well, will be noted above the curve. For those who are struggling, or just hitting an extended rough patch, they’ll be listed as below the curve.
Out in the Western Conference, a lot of the talk is circled around the Central and Pacific Division prospects, while the lone representation for the Northwest Division comes by way of the Vancouver Canucks. Over in the Eastern Conference, prospects from the Southeast and Atlantic Divisions caught our attention. The Northeast is well represented with talk coming out of Montreal and Boston.
Above the Curve
Kris Versteeg, RW – Chicago Blackhawks
2004 – 5th round, 134th overall
The former fifth round pick from 2004 is having an excellent start to the season with the Chicago Blackhawks. So far this month, he’s chipped in 12 points (5 goals, 7 assists) over nine games, and shows no sign of slowing down. Versteeg’s versatility is paying off early, as he’s been able to see an increased amount of ice time. The Lethbridge, Alberta native can play with anyone on the roster, as we’ve seen him skate with Chicago’s top lines. A dependable character guy, who’s fought his way to the top to lead all rookies in scoring, definitely puts Versteeg in contention for the Calder trophy for his efforts early on.
Although the Atlanta Thrashers’ season has so far been a rollercoaster, dropping six in a row only to win the next five, rookie Bryan Little has been a model of consistency. Little currently leads the Thrashers in scoring, plus/minus and has appeared on the scoresheet 11 out of the 18 games he has played in this season. The former OHLer had a six-game, nine-point streak from Nov. 2-16. The dynamic center has averaged over 16 minutes a game and has seen ample time on the man-advantage.
Even though Bobby Ryan has recently been recalled by the Anaheim Ducks, his performance in with the Iowa Chops in the AHL has been stellar. With eight points (3 goals, 5 assists) in nine games (before his promotion), he was the Chops leading point gainer so far this season. Ryan’s offensive skill has always been apparent throughout his young career; however, the winger has shown an increased sense of urgency and grit in his game. It shows, as he notched a two goals and an assist during he debut game at the Honda Center against the Washington Capitals on Nov. 19. With Anaheim inches away from the salary cap ceiling, the 21-year-old is going to have to remain a dual threat on the ice in order to remain in Southern California.
After being invited to the Penguins NHL training camp and sent down in the first wave of cuts, Johnson found himself eventually playing for Wheeling of the ECHL. Johnson started the season with panache, scoring a goal in every game he played in October. The former Dartmouth standout also notched six multi-point appearances. The Calgary native has played in all facets of the game, picking up five goals and five assists on the power play, a shorthanded goal, five even strength goals, and averages over four shots on a game.
After backstopping the Indiana Ice to an Eastern Division title in the USHL last season, the Phoenix Coyotes prospect has stepped into the mix at the University of Maine and impressed thus far as a freshman this year with the Black Bears. With the departure of would be junior netminder Ben Bishop (he signed with St. Louis in the off-season), the 2007 draft pick has helped the defensive-minded Hockey East team get off to a hot start. During their current five-game winning streak, Darling has gone 4-0-1, with a 0.99 goals-against-average, and a .941 save percentage. Overall, the freshman is an impressive 5-1-1 (2 shutouts), with a 1.00 goals-against-average, and a .960 save percentage, which cements him as one of the best goalies in the nation.
Felled by several arm injuries last season, Brock Bradford was forced in the press box for most of his junior season. Instead of on-ice practices, Bradford spent a lot of time watching video and player tendencies, prepping his Boston College teammates for upcoming opponents. A year can
make a huge difference for a forward and now Bradford is putting his new found knowledge on display. Among the scoring leaders in collegiate hockey, the 5’11 forward scored 11 goals and four assists over six games. The Burnaby native currently leads Boston College in goals, points, and power-play goals. He has also chipped in a short-handed goal and remains off the penalty sheet.
Everywhere you turn in Brampton, Cody Hodgson’s name keeps popping up. The Battalion’s star has helped the team get off to a smoking start, as they’re currently riding a 16-game winning streak. In 10 games throughout the month of November, the third year junior pivot has amassed 21 points (11 goals, 10 assists) and a plus-8 rating in eight games. The Vancouver Canucks prospect also shinned at the ADT Canada-Russia Challenge. In the first game of a two-game tilt, Hodgson dropped a hat trick and picked up an assist en route to a 6-3 win over the Russians. If Hodgson keeps up this pace after the exhibition series concludes, it’s safe to say Brampton is going to be sitting pretty a top the Central Division for the entire season.
Although his start was delayed by contractual disputes with the KHL and a brief appearance at Rangers training camp, Evgeny Grachev has started his first season in North America with bravado. After being invited to training camp, Grachev was signed to an entry-level contract and sent to the Hartford Wolfpack of the AHL. After a week in Hartford, Grachev was sent to the OHL. Playing on a line with Matt Duchene and Scott Tanski, the 6’3 winger posted a 12-point, 10-game point streak from October 11th to November 6th. The product of the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv hockey school continues to get better, having recently posted a four goal game on November 16th against the Ottawa 67s.
Below the Curve
For the second straight year, it looks like another top prospect in Phoenix off to a cold start. Kyle Turris has been pretty much been invisible in his debut season with the Coyotes. The rookie got off to a nice start, notching four points (1 goal, 3 assists) in his first three contests of the year. But the well quickly dried up on the pivot, as the 19-year-old has only mustered up a single assist over nine games this month. Head coach Wayne Gretzky is far from losing his patience with Turris, but he – like many others – can’t wait for the kid to pull through his current slump.
Okposo’s difficulties have undoubtedly been a reflection of a struggling Islanders team. But, for a player who had a promising cup of coffee debut last season, much more was expected from the Minnesota native. Under former coach Ted Nolan, Okposo averaged 16:28 in 9 games. Over the nine game cup of coffee he posted 5 points (2 goals and 3 assists), finished a plus-3, and had a 13.3 shooting percentage, all great numbers for a rookie who is still adapting to NHL play. Okposo was expected to at least pick up from where he left off last season. Instead, over 18 games this season, Okposo has two goals, three assists, and is a -6. The 20-year-old has seen considerable time on the man-advantage but has only one power play point to show for it. Although he is averaging over two shots a game, up from last season, he is converting at a paltry 5.1 percent rate. To exacerbate an already difficult rookie season, Okposo went down Nov. 17 with an undisclosed arm injury. There is still plenty of season for Okposo to things around, but he has to play the way he did at the end of 2007-08, as the power forward everyone expects him to be.
After a stellar collegiate career with the Michigan State Spartans in the NCAA last season, Justin Abdelkader’s in state move out west was looking good. Though, the first-year man has gone ice cold in the month of November, earning only a goal and an assist, a minus-1 rating and 16 penalty minutes over his last eight games. It’s a far cry from a month ago, when people were singing his praises for racking up 9 points (7 goals, 2 assists) over his first seven. Luckily for Abdelkader, the Red Wings aren’t keen on fast-tracking their prospects and aren’t worried about his current slump. With an abundance of veterans and youth sprinkled throughout the Griffins roster, Abdelkader is in a good position to succeed and should defrost anytime now.
Since being sent down to Florida’s AHL affiliate in early October, Shawn Mattias has struggled to find
his game. Part of Matthias’ difficulties can be attributed to the team’s struggles and being moved throughout the lineup. But the talented center remained off the score sheet until October 24th when he scored a goal skating on a line with Karl Stewart and Brady Calla. Matthias finished the month of October with a two points in nine games and a plus/minus of -13. November started out promising as the Mississauga native scored in back-to-back games on the 7th and 8th. However, since scoring those two goals Matthias has remained scoreless. With the manner in which Rochester has struggled so far, the former OHL standout could be in for a long season.
After having an all-star season last year, where he backstopped the Wolverines to their 23rd Final Four appearance, senior netminder Billy Sauer is off to a slow start. To date, he’s posted a 2-5-0 record, a 2.72 goals-against-average, and a .898 save percentage. Some could point to the fact that Michigan head coach Red Berenson’s rotation hasn’t afforded the Avalanche prospect a chance to find his rhythm. However, three of his four losses have come from lesser talent. And seeing that the Wolverines are having troubles – at times – upfront (minus Aaron Palushaj), he has little room to falter. Instead, it has been sophomore Bryan Hogan who’s had the hotter hand for the maize the blue.
After starting the season off hot, Daultan Leveille and the entire Michigan State University team has gone ice cold. The freshman and the Spartans got things going after late in October and it appeared that things were going in the right direction. Though, after a 2-2 tie against Western Michigan on Nov. 1, the team has lost six straight and the offense disappeared. As for the Thrashers pick, he got three goals in the last two games of October. Just when we thought he was going to turn it on, he’s been part of the missing punch. Even though he ranks third on the team in scoring (5 points), Leveille has gone pointless in his last seven games.
Jeremy Smith, like the rest of the Plymouth Whalers is starting the season a bit off the mark. After turning in a 23-13-1-3 record, a 2.86 goals-against-average, and a .921 save percentage last year, his numbers have completely ballooned. It’s obvious that the Whalers are trying to fight their way out of the cellar in the West Division. But the Preds pick is really going to have to tighten things up and regain his 2007-08 form. In November alone, he’s posted a 1-2-1-0 record, a 4.94 goals-against-average, and a .854 save percentage. The Whalers really need Smith to step up and be that leader from the rear. And those numbers simply aren’t going to get it done for the long-term.
Jason Missiaen, the starting goaltender for the Peterborough Petes has struggled this season to find his game. Standing at 6’8 and 215lbs, Missiaen is biggest member of the Petes roster. While the team has struggled to find its identity this season, Missiaen has not stolen any games for his team and allowed numerous soft goals en route to a 3.64 GAA. More telling though was his performance during the first half of November when the Chatham native allowed 24 goals in six games. With overage goalie Ryan Daniels arriving in Peterborough, Missiaen’s time as a starter for Peterborough is waning.