AHL: Worcester IceCats 2002-03 Player Grades

By Darryl Hunt

Below is an evaluation of how each player for the IceCats performed in the 2002-03 season. Blues prospects are discussed first, followed by all other players.



Jeff Panzer (C: 22g,33a,55pts -1)
Eight game winning goals, double the next highest IceCat. The best penalty killer on the team. He takes huge hits and still end up scoring the goal. Plays bigger than the 5’7″ he’s listed at, but not big enough to get a real chance at the NHL.

John Pohl (C: 26g,32a, 58pts +11)
A bona-fide NHLer, maybe as early as next season. It’s usually dumb to say that a knee injury could be a good thing, but Pohl’s allowed him to see the game being played from the press box and to learn from it. Needs to work on his face-offs but all in all a pretty solid player.

Mike Stuart (D: 1g,5a,6pts -2)
Perhaps the hidden gem on this team. I expect some big things from Stuart next season.

Christian Backman (D: 8g,19a,27pts -2)
The kid has talent but has a long way to go to be NHL ready. He gets many shots blocked. He needs to get his shots off quicker and needs to play much more physical in the defensive end. Makes the occasional bad decision with the puck, needs to learn to make better outlet passes.
Grade: B

Greg Day (F: 6g,7a,13pts +4)
A recall from Peoria, Day proved he belonged in the AHL. It will be interesting to see what he can do next season.

Igor Valeev (LW: 6g,12a,18pts -6)
Finally got his temper under control and decided to play some hockey. Still has a long way to go to be NHL ready but if he improves as much next season as he did this one, don’t rule him out.

Brett Sheffelmaier (D: 0g,2a,2pts -1)
Made huge improvements from his first appearance to the end of the season. Needs to gain some speed and add some weight, but could find himself in the NHL after he matures a little. Not afraid of anyone, sometimes to his detriment.

Mark Rycroft (RW: 8g,18a,26pts +1)
With a season marred by several injuries Rycroft was unable to get on track. Because of that it seemed his attitude suffered which resulted in sub par play for him when he was healthy. He’s a player that might benefit from a change in scenery.

Blake Evans (C: 13g,21a,34pts +5)
Someone should have told Evans the season didn’t end at Christmas. He had a super fast start that was wasted by a total collapse after New Year’s. Were it not for injuries and call-ups Evans might have been sent to Peoria to help break the slump.

Greg Davis (RW: 8g,10a,18pts -2)
Never got on track this season and was demoted to Peoria. Returned for Game 3 vs. Binghamton and looked like he may have regained his stride, but it was far too little, way too late.


Reinhard Divis (6-1-0 2.23 0.923)
Many Cats’ fans are asking “what might have been” as Divis missed almost the entire season with one injury and then another injury just before the playoffs. It will be interesting to see what the Blues will do with Divis as reports are they have low-balled him in their latest contract offer

Curtis Sanford (18-14-8 2.41 0.919)
Sanford took full advantage of the opportunities given to him because of injuries throughout the Blues system. Showed he could easily be an AHL #1 and gave the Blues a glimpse of what the future may hold with him in the NHL.

Cody Rudkowsky (1-5-3 2.91 0.897)
Is the only goaltender to ever win a game in the NHL, AHL, and ECHL in the same season. In my opinion did not get a fair shot by the IceCats this season. I think our season would have been vastly different with him in the net instead of Osaer.

Phil Osaer: (9-9-3 2.89 0.887)
Pressed into service due to the injuries of higher rated goaltenders, Osaer was in way over his head. After a very strong start the bubble burst and it got ugly. Needs at least another full year in the ECHL before he’s ready.


Aris Brimanis (D: 8g,13a,21pts +19) Not a prospect
The best defenseman on this team. His loss due to a broken leg was one of the big reasons for this team’s slump in January. It’s hard to believe a player of his caliber hasn’t found a home in the NHL.

Terry Virtue (D: 5g,30a,35pts +5) Not a prospect
Words can’t express what he has meant to this team. A leader on and off the ice who taught by example. About the only thing he didn’t do for this team was drive the bus. Never the most skilled defenseman, Virtue made up for it with heart, and all IceCat fans are looking forward to his return next season.

Eric Nickulas (RW: 17g,16a,33pts +7) Not a prospect
Played only 38 games for the Cats but was a force in each and every one of them. Picked up this season where he left off last season and played very well in every aspect of the game, scoring 7PP and 2SH goals. Played a few shifts at LW and didn’t miss a beat.

Chris Corrinet (RW: 6g,12a,18pts +6) IceCats numbers only; Not Blues property
One of the reasons the Cats finished so strong was Corrinet’s outstanding play. I don’t know what caused his bad numbers and release from Washington/Portland, but the loss was the IceCats’ gain. He was signed to a PTO and I expect the Blues/Cats will be signing him to a regular contract soon.

Ernie Hartlieb (RW: 7g,8a,15pts +9) Not Blues property
Signed to a PTO in February and never looked back. In just his second full season playing at forward Hartlieb had an amazing 26.9 shooting percentage and made some passes that were mind boggling. One of the best forecheckers on the team (maybe second to only Nickulas) and not afraid to take a hit to advance the puck. Another player that I expect the Blues/IceCats to sign soon.

Jame Pollock (RW/D: 5g,17a,22pts -6) No longer considered a prospect
Mired in the worst slump of his career, Pollock was moved back to defense due to injuries and recalls and revived his season. When players returned from being out Pollock was kept at defense and showed that’s where he belongs. Needs to work on shot selection from the point but otherwise played a very solid defense for the IceCats.

Sergei Varlamov (LW: 23g,38a,61pts +15)No longer considered a prospect
The only thing keeping Varlamov out of the NHL is his lack of defensive skills. He is a threat to score every time he has the puck and isn’t afraid to take a hit to make an open pass. Despite the month long slump most Cat forwards had this season, Varlamov’s play was fairly consistent.

Jeremy Yablonski (F: 1g,0a,1pt +1) IceCats numbers only, Not Blues property
The “goon of the future” for the IceCats and maybe the Blues. Yablonski is one of the toughest guys you will ever see in a hockey uniform and despite his single point for the Cats has decent offensive skills. I’d like to see him get a regular shift next season.

Steve McLaren (LW: 0pts, -8) Not a prospect
Injured for half of the season, McLaren is still one of the toughest players in the AHL. He should have little problem finding a team next season.

Jason Dawe (RW: 17g,28a, 45pts +5) Not a prospect
Totally invisible most of the season. Did have some good games but didn’t play anywhere near expectations. Took some dumb penalties in key situations that cost the Cats some points.

Marc Brown (LW: 13g,15a,28pts +3) No longer considered a prospect
In one of the biggest disappointments of the season, Brown followed his 30 goal 01-02 campaign with just a 28 point effort this season. And “effort” seems to be the problem with Brown doing none of the things he did last season that made him successful. He didn’t go to the net, he didn’t make crisp passes, and he didn’t press hard in the corners. What makes that very odd is the improvements he made on the defensive side of the red line. Were it not for that, he would have gotten a failing grade.

Tom Koivisto (D: 4g,13a,17pts +4) No longer considered a prospect
One of the worst defensemen to ever pass through Worcester. Has excellent skill at running a power play, but his primary job is to play defense, and his defensive play was, well, offensive. Looked totally lost sometimes.