On the Rush, December 2010

By HF Staff

In the December edition of On the Rush, Hockey’s Future looks at the goaltending duo of a struggling St. Cloud Huskies team, two members of the Everett Silvertips who need to step up there game, two forwards looking to make an impact at the 2011 WJC, and much much more.

Leading the Rush:

North American Pro:

Dustin Jeffrey, C/W – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (AHL)
Drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins
6th round, 171st overall, 2007

Now in his third season as an AHL player, Dustin Jeffrey has progressively emerged to be not only one of the top players on the Baby Penguins roster, but among the top players in the entire AHL.

The young center’s greatest asset is his hockey sense and high work-ethic. He is diligent with his defensive duties and plays a fundamentally sound game but has the foot speed and hockey IQ to create offense. He is also good at the finer points of the game, such as winning key faceoffs and staying out of the penalty box.

Jeffrey posted 13 goals and 17 assists in his first 25 games, garnering him a recall to the NHL where in three games with the Penguins, he registered two points in three games while playing in a fourth-line role. Jeffrey was eventually returned to the AHL on December 16th and in his two games since his AHL return, has posted a goal and assist to bring his total to 14 goals and 18 assists through 27 games. With a sound game and offense to spare, Jeffrey will likely see more time in a Pittsburgh uniform this season should injuries once again befall the Penguins forwards corps.

Kevin Shattenkirk, D – Colorado Avalanche (NHL)
Drafted by the Colorado Avalanche
1st round, 14th overall, 2007

A productive defenseman in his three seasons at Boston University, few expected Kevin Shattenkirk to step right into an NHL role this season. His 10 games at the AHL level to start the season reinforced that theory, as he failed to score a point and registered just 12 shots on goal.

However, injuries on the Avs blue line opened up a spot and the offensive defenseman was called up to the Colorado, where he has been given the freedom to play a more aggressive role in generating offense from the blue line. In 23 games, he has amassed an impressive 19 points, catapulting himself into the Calder conversation. He has stepped up for the undermanned Avs’ power play, occupying a spot on the top unit alongside John-Michael Liles. The power play has moved up to third in the league, converting on 23.9 percent of their opportunities with the man advantage.

In addition to his offensive explosion, he has shown a mature game in his own zone. Though he can still be overpowered by bigger forwards, his sound positioning and hockey sense have resulted in 32 blocked shots and kept in the plus column with a even rating.

With Kyle Quincey done for the year because of shoulder surgery, Shattenkirk will continue to log big minutes on the Avs’ blue line. With the Avs’ offense firing on all cylinders, he should have plenty of opportunities to keep up his production and challenge for the Calder.

North American Junior:

Zack Kassian, RW – Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
Drafted by the Buffalo Sabres
1st round, 13th overall, 2009

Following an extended look in the Buffalo Sabres training camp Zack Kassian returned to the Windsor Spitfires on October 2nd and has since posted 15 goals and 33 points in just 25 games.

The hulking 19-year-old has continued to progress as a power forward and is not just relying on his superior skill and size, as was the occasional criticism in the past, but using it to dictate the flow of the game. Recently assigned to Team Canada’s WJC roster, Kassian will be expected to put his physicality on display and set the tone for a grittier, more physical Canadian team.

The Buffalo Sabres organization has long been known to be a team that was short on size but with current Sabre Tyler Myers as well as the 6’3 Kassian the organization has two large, physical assets on the upswings of their career.

Signed to an entry-level deal, Kassian will join the Sabres organization for the 2011-12 season, with the possibility of making an impact at the NHL that season.

Darcy Kuemper, G – Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
Drafted by the Minnesota Wild
6th round, 161st overall, 2009

Darcy Kuemper has carried the load for Red Deer each of the past two seasons, helping the club to a playoff apperance in 2010 after missing the cut two consecutive seasons. It was a short-lived postseason for the Rebels, as they were swept by the Saskatoon Blades in the first round and Kuemper did not see the ice in games three and four. The 20-year-old netminder has responded with a breakout year in which he has helped the Rebels stick among the top teams in the WHL‘s Central Division.

Kuemper is 11-3-2 since the beginning of November with three shutouts during that span. On the season, he leads all of the CHL with five shutouts. He leads the WHL in every major stat category for a goalie with a 22-7-2 record, 1.94 goals against average, and .928 save percentage in 31 appearances. He has twice been named Vaughn’s CHL goaltender of the week, most recently for the week ending December 5th.

Though he was disappointed to be returned to junior hockey from the Wild’s training camp, the goalie has certainly made the most of his opportunity. Continued success with Red Deer this year should improve his odds of finding a place in the Minnesota organization next season.

North American Amateur:

Chris Kreider, C/W – Boston College (Hockey East)
Drafted by the New York Rangers
1st round, 19th overall, 2009

After a freshman season where Kreider posted 15 goals and eight assists and helped Boston College to a Frozen Four championship, much was to be expected from the Massachusetts native in his sophomore season. After a slow start, where Kreider registered a single assist in his first six games, the young forward started to emerge offensively, posting five goals and five assists in his last ten. He was recently added to the U.S. National Junior preliminary roster and pre-tournament camp.

A strong outing in the upcoming WJC could go a long way in determining whether or not Kreider opts to go the professional route for the 2011-12 season, much like fellow Ranger prospect Derek Stepan.

Justin Schultz, D – University of Wisconsin Badgers (WCHA)
Drafted by the Anaheim Ducks
2nd round, 43rd overall, 2008

Wisconsin is without seven of their top eight scorers from a year ago. While a young group of forwards has picked up some of that slack, it has been a pair of the old guard who has helped sustain the Badgers’ offense. The top defensive pairing of Justin Schultz and Jake Gardiner, both Anaheim prospects, have combined for 44 points and 11 power play tallies.

Schultz himself is tied for the team lead in both goals and points. His 25 points lead all NCAA defensemen and he is tied for second in the nation among all skaters in power play goals with seven. That has helped Wisconsin to the second best power play unit in the nation with a conversion rate over 29 percent.

The 20-year-old blueliner has been on fire recently, scoring seven goals and six assists in his last 10 games. That stretch includes a hat trick, which was the first trick by a Badgers defenseman since Barry Richter did it 18 years to the day before Schultz’s performance against Michigan State. The young Wisconsin lineup will continue to depend on their top pairing to generate offense and keep them in contention in the WCHA.

European Pro:

Jakob Silfverberg, LW – Brynas IF Gavle (SEL)
Drafted by the Ottawa Senators
2nd round, 39th overall, 2009

Another Swedish prospect drafted during the tenure of Senators European super scout Anders Forsberg, Jakob Silfverberg emerged this season as an elite offensive threat. Always known as a strong-two way winger with a goal-scorer’s touch, the 20-year-old has averaged over 17 minutes a game, posted nine goals and nine assists, and registered 74 shots on goal through 28 games this season. His 18 points has already surpassed the 16 points he posted in 48 games last season.

Silfverberg, while clearly progressing in the SEL, would undoubtedly benefit from coming to North America sooner rather than later, particularly with Ottawa likely to retool their roster in the upcoming off-season.

Calle Jarnkrok, C – Brynas IF Gavle (SEL)
Drafted by the Detroit Red Wings
2nd round, 51st overall, 2010

Though he was projected as a late first or early second round pick, Calle Jarnkrok slid to the Wings late in the second round. A well-rounded forward who is noted for his system play, the pivot has been compared to Henrik Zetterberg. A lofty comparison for a Red Wings pick, the 19-year-old center’s performance in the SEL this season bodes well for his future prospects with Detroit.

Jarnkrok is a top six forward for Brynas, playing over 17 minutes per night and in all situations. Through 30 games he has scored nine goals and added nine assists, with eight of those points coming in his last 11 games. He has almost doubled his 10 points from a year ago in 33 SEL games.

Brynas has a young group with a handful of NHL prospects on their roster, and Jarnkrok might be their best. He, along with several Brynas teammates, will represent Sweden at the World Junior Championships where he will likely fill a top six role for Tres Kronor. Considering Detroit’s willingness to let their European prospects mature overseas, it could be Jarnkrok’s only appearance in North America for some time.

Trailing the play:

North American Pro:

Michal Neuvirth, G – Washington Capitals (NHL)
Drafted by the Washington Capitals
2nd round, 34th overall, 2006

After an impressive start to the 2010-11 season, where Neuvirth won four of his first five starts and 11 of his first fifteen, the 22-year-old goaltender has won only two games since November 17th. With a still impressive 14-6-2 record, the young Czech saw his numbers start to dip in November, allowing three goals or more in nine of his past 15 games, and his goals against average has risen to a 2.59 and save percentage a .910.

With teammate Semyon Varlamov returning from injury, it was expected that Neuvirth would start to split the starts. While that seems to remain the case, neither goaltender has performed up to expectations.

Though Neuvirth appears to have righted the ship, winning the Caps last two games and helping halt an eight-game losing streak, it is a good possibility Washington will seek out a veteran netminder as an insurance policy come playoff time.

Mikael Backlund, C – Calgary Flames (NHL)
Drafted by the Calgary Flames
1st round, 24th overall, 2007

Mikael Backlund was eased into his first full NHL season with a defensive role as the third line center. He has seen ice time with each of the top three lines more recently, including a couple starts centering the first line between Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla. No matter the linemates, Backlund has struggled to be much of a difference-maker offensively.

The 21-year-old has scored just four goals and four assists in 32 games this season, even falling short of his scoring pace from a year ago. Part of that decrease can be explained by having only a minor role on the Flames’ power play, averaging around 40 seconds per night. He has averaged almost two minutes of shorthanded time per game but been dismal at the dot winning just 31 percent of his shorthanded draws. He has been respectable on faceoffs overall, taking the second most draws on the team and winning 47 percent.

Backlund was a healthy scratch on December 5th against Chicago after a season-low 7:58 of ice time the previous game at Minnesota. With a goal and two assists in his six games since that night in the press box, he has begun to show signs of life for the Flames offense.

North American Junior:

Josh Birkholz, RW – Everett Silvertips (WHL)
Drafted by the Florida Panthers
3rd round, 67th overall, 2009

A former goal-scoring standout at the USHL level, Josh Birkholz struggled offensively last season with the University of Minnesota, scoring only five goals over 36 games. Much of this can be attributed to a team that was from top-to-bottom underwhelming, so when Birkholz was suspended from the team for an off-ice issue and subsequently left the NCAA to play in the WHL, there was the potential for the 19-year-old to have a new start to his hockey career.

So far in 2010-11, Birkholz has waded into familiarly underwhelming territory, registering only nine goals and six assists through 36 games. On the surface, the stats are not terrible, especially considering the Silvertips have one of the least potent offenses in the WHL including a second-worst ranked powerplay. When broken down however, Birkholz has shown remarkable inconsistency, registering five of his 15 points in a single game on November 12th and he has been for the most part very inconsistent, going long stretches of games without a point. In December, he has thus far posted two goals and two assists through nine games, all of which came in a three game span.

Landon Ferraro, C – Everett Silvertips (WHL)
Drafted by the Detroit Red Wings
2nd round, 32nd overall, 2009

Landon Ferraro‘s first year with the Everett Silvertips has been a struggle, as he has had injury issues and the team as a whole has battled bouts of inconsistency. With just three assists in eight games since returning from a concussion, he has not quite been the offensive punch in the arm many imagined when he was acquired over the summer.

Ferraro currently ranks a distant third on the team with 16 points in 28 games. The ‘Tips captain has played with the top six forwards and earned time on both the power play and penalty kill. The center who scored 37 goals and racked up 99 penalty minutes in his draft year has just five goals and 34 penalty minutes so far this year.

Certainly coach Craig Hartsburg’s absence due to heart surgery has had an effect on the Silvertips play the last couple months. The team is at the bottom of the U.S. Division, but is still within striking distance if some of their forwards can get going and help solidify Everett’s offense.

North American Amateur:

Dan Dunn, G – St. Cloud State Huskies (WCHA)
Drafted by the Washington Capitals
6th round, 154th overall, 2007

The goaltender position can often times be a microcosm of a team’s personality. If a team boasts a stout defense, the goaltender’s stats are a reflection of that. In Dan Dunn‘s particular situation, his stat line of 3.36 goals against average and .883 save percentage, not to mention his 2-4-1 record, are a reflection of the struggles the St. Cloud Huskies are currently enduring.

Playing in a goaltending platoon with Mike Lee, the goaltender has backstopped a St. Cloud team that has won only five games and allowed fifteen more goals than they have scored. The offensive woes wouldn’t be as apparent if the Huskies didn’t struggle so badly on defense and in net, allowing an average of 3.33 goals a game.

Because he plays in the NCAA, Dunn will have to work through his struggles, and do so soon as he is in his senior year and is playing for a contract from a Washington team that has three goaltender prospects who have already seen time in the NHL.

Mike Lee, G – St. Cloud State Huskies (WCHA)
Drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes
3rd round, 91st overall, 2009

Mike Lee was expected to take another step forward for St. Cloud this year after showing flashes of brilliance during his freshman season. Things have not exactly gone according to plan, however, as the Huskies have received inconsistent goaltending and currently sit second-to-last in the WCHA.

The 20-year-old netminder has earned a 3-7-1 record in 13 appearances on the year with a 3.29 goals against average and .890 save percentage. He is 0-5-1 in his last seven appearances dating back to November 12th, giving up three or more goals in six of those showings.

Lee has not had a ton of offense in front of him, as St. Cloud is tied with fellow basement-dweller Michigan Tech with only 29 goals through their first 12 WCHA conference games. With Lee and Dunn likely to continue splitting starts, the squad will need both their goaltenders to step up and bring more consistency if they are to rebound after the holiday break.

European pro:

Maxim Trunev, C/W – Cherepovets Severstal (KHL)
Drafted by the Montreal Canadiens
5th round, 138th overall, 2008

Currently in the last season of his KHL contract, there was hope Maxim Trunev would have something of a breakout year in the KHL, following a 2009-10 season he split between the MHL and KHL. So far though, the offensive prowess he showed in the MHL and in international tournaments has yet to manifest itself at the highest level of European professional hockey and Trunev remains snake-bitten, having registered only five assists through 21 games.

Part of the lack of offensive production is due to ice time, Trunev has averaged just over eight minutes a game. Still, a young player, is expected to progress and in his three years of playing in the KHL, Trunev’s numbers have not changed.

A change of scenery, preferably to North America where he could see ample ice time, is the likely tonic for this talented, but still very raw Russian.

Adam Almqvist, D – HV71 (SEL)
Drafted by the Detroit Red Wings
7th round, 210th overall, 2009

Adam Almqvist got his feet wet in 28 regular season games in the SEL with HV71 last year, scoring a pair of goals and eight points in his debut. He stepped up in the postseason and tied for the lead in points by a defenseman. His 11 points in 16 games helped HV71 win the SEL championship series over Djurgarden.

That production has not carried over into this season, however, despite Almqvist still playing a top-four role and getting power play time with HV71. In 29 games this season, he has mustered just six assists while averaging over 19 minutes of ice time per game.

At 5’10 and 169 pounds, size has always been a factor for the blueliner. Detroit’s patient approach with their prospects will give him time to add some bulk and continue logging big minutes in the SEL. If he can return to the level of play he displayed late last year, then the Red Wings may have another late-round find on their hands.

On the Rush was written by Brad Gardner and Ian Altenbaugh.