Capitals’ Prospects in Portland

By Caitlin LoCascio

Winger Brad Church began the season down with the ECHL’s Richmond Renegades, but since he was called up, has continued to play some of the best hockey we have ever seen from him here in Portland. He works incredibly hard and knows how to get in the other team’s face without drawing an unnecessary penalty. The Pirates just finished a run of seven games in nine days and it was admirable to see Church continue working at 100% despite the visible fatigue the entire team was feeling.

When defensemen Dean Melanson joined the Pirates late last season, I used my usual wait-and-see approach. On paper, he looked to be a good match. But, as any hockey fan knows, past numbers and playing styles can also mean nothing. It did not take too long for me to decide that he was a good fit and I liked him a lot. When I read that the Capitals signed him to a proper contract over the summer, I was excited. I do not know what has happened, but he is not the same player he was last year, and play like we saw this weekend, especially from a team’s captain, is unexcusable. Dean Melanson can be a good player – he has proven this many times – but right now his play is sloppy, half-hearted (at best), irresponsible and the whole team is suffering for it. I am not out to get the guy; I want nothing more than a chance to stand up and cheer for him. But right now, that is just not the case.

Defenseman Nate Forster suffered a concussion last week and will be out until at least the beginning of March. Wingers Chris Corrinet (Achilles’), Martin Hlinka (shoulder), and Mel Angelstad (hand) remain out with their respective injuries.

Rookie Roman Tvrdon continues to improve and I think the Capitals have a real find on their hands. He just turned 20 last month, but seems very mature on the ice and has an admirable work ethic. As he steadily improves, he is being rewarded with a bit more ice time and I hope that trend will continue. Last night was not his finest, (his stick was so blatantly illegal it was almost amusing watching the referee trying to use the measuring device on it) but he is a great young player with a good future ahead of him.

Defenseman Dan Bjornlie joined the Pirates on Friday night from the team’s UHL affiliate the Quad City Mallards. His first night on the ice, he looked kind of lost. But twenty-four hours later, he appeared to have calmed down and made some nice plays this evening. I do not know how long he is expected to stay with the team, but I think his development will be very interesting to watch. Having only seen him two times it is hard to make a good judgment, but I think he may turn out well, and the blueline match-up of Bjornlie and Naumenko looks promising.

I am very frustrated with the play of Dean Melanson right now, but that is nothing compared to my thoughts on forward Kyle Clark. Quite frankly, I have no use for him. What is this about him being here to fight? Whilst he is extremely good at receiving black eyes, I do not see him inflicting any. I am trying to see what it is that keeps Clark here, but apparently I am missing something. If I want to see a fight, I look at Skrlac or Yonkman, not Clark. If I want to see a goal scored or a nice assist, I look to just about any other player on the ice but Clark (36 games played, he has 3 points). He is young and therefore deserves some more time to prove himself, but why he has remained in the AHL with the Pirates is beyond me.

It is hard to know what to say about defenseman Ryan VanBuskirk. He clearly has loads of talent and has definitely improved in the past couple years. But he is very “polar.” What I mean by that is when he’s on, he’s on; when he’s off, he’s OFF. On a given night, he will either give it his all and make some very valuable contributions or he will just kind of skate around and spend far too much unnecessary time in the penalty box.

Slovakian goaltender Rastislav Stana spent some time in Portland whilst Corey Hirsch was out with a broken collarbone. He has spent the majority of the season as the with the ECHL’s Richmond Renegades, and has been their best goaltender to date this season. He is currently the third goaltender for the Slovakian Olympic team, and I hope he gets some ice time and a chance to do well. He was not in net much for the Pirates much during Hirsch’s absence, but, on the whole, I really liked him a lot. Granted, during the last game he played with us there were times when he looked as if he could not have stopped a beach ball, but that ending note really does not do him justice. I wrote before this season started that I hoped he would be Portland’s backup goaltender and as this did not turn out to be the case, I hope he gets the opportunity next year. The Capitals organization needs some true NHL goaltending prospects and I think he may prove to be one.