The Weekly Dose: The (other) Simmering Five

By Kirk Pedersen

Welcome back to the Weekly Dose’s conclusion of the ‘top-10’ article. This week, the players numbered six through ten on the top ten.

Checking in at number six is a bit of a surprise — goaltender Lukas Mensator of the Ottawa ’67’s. Drafted in the third round in June, he decided to make the trek over to North America after being plucked in the CHL Import Draft by Ottawa. The transition wasn’t always smooth for the young Czech, as he didn’t start off too sterling, and learning to speak English is still a bit of a trial at times, but Mensator has really turned a corner of late with his solid play.

A smallish goaltender, (around 5’8″) Mensator needs to rely on his cat-like reflexes to keep himself in games. Unlike many European goaltenders, he also has a rather quick glove-hand. His lack of size is something that may hold him back, but this Arturs Irbe-esque goaltender does have excellent potential. He keeps his emotions in check, and plays well in big games; both of which are telling signs of a possible future No. 1 goaltender.

Mensator should be given as much time as possible to develop in junior hockey before graduating him on to the professional level. He has had a solid start to his first North American season, and as long as he keeps that up, his future in the Canuck organization, and in professional hockey seems bright. He and Alex Auld could create headaches for Canuck management in a few seasons when both are ready.

Slipping down to number seven is defenseman Rene Vydareny. Like many Canuck prospects this season (Gladskikh, Nathan Smith), he has had a very sluggish start to his third pro season.

Blessed with wonderful raw talent, the young Slovak has slipped a bit on the ladder of progression this season, posting a mere three assists in 25 games for the Moose this season. The raw talent is still there, with the smooth skating skills, the excellent passing, and the decent hockey sense. His defensive play, while below-average, is still improving, but something has gone wrong; maybe it’s confidence?

Perhaps another ECHL demotion is in order for this kid. All of the talent and potential is there, but now, in his third professional season, one begs the question: Will he even scrape the surface of this immense potential?

From number eight on, the trail becomes rather murky and nondescript. The number eight prospect, Jason King is a late-blooming junior sniper with the Halifax Mooseheads who potted 63 goals in his overage year with the club. An above-average skater with decent speed, King could be a force at the AHL level offensively; especially when these skills are combined with his offensive potential, which is above-average. His defensive play could use a bit of work, as he could stand to become a bit more physical, and better his defensive-zone coverage as well.

Time will tell if King will be a useful NHL player, but right now, he’s filling his role with the Moose quite well.

Checking in at number nine is Evgeny Gladskikh. A poor offensive start hasn’t brought him that far down on the list simply because many prospects haven’t made enough forward progress to dislodge him from his spot in the top-ten.

Even though he’s not an offensive star by trade, a little bit more in the way of numbers was expected from the young Russian. He’s one of the best stickhandlers Russia has ever seen, coupled with above-average skating, good passing, and a refined hockey sense. The question is: Will all of these things ever combine to make Evgeny a productive NHL player? Well, until he comes over to North America, all bets are off.

Squeaking into the last spot this week is defenseman Kevin Bieksa, who has edged out Denis Grot for this perch. The Bowling Green University defenseman is finally gaining recognition with his excellent start, leading the fledgling Falcons club in scoring with 10 points (3g, 7a) in thirteen games so far this season.

Bieksa (pronounced bee-X-sa), who is in his third season with the Falcons, is taking a leadership role with the struggling club, being named an assistant captain before the 2002-03 season began. His skillset is rather simple: Kevin is a gritty young blueliner with average offensive talent. His skating is average, and will need to see some improvement if he has a hope of playing for the Moose someday.

While his pro potential is unknown until he actually steps on pro ice, he could come out of college (unless the allure of his Finance degree is too great) after this season ends. He won’t be a star at any level, but the Ontario native will be one to watch.