Devils AHL prospects update

By Grethe Kvernes

November was a month marked by inconsistency for the Albany River Rats

November was a month marked by inconsistency for the
Albany River Rats. In the 11 games played, the River Rats collected 11 points,
and remain entrenched at the bottom of the East Division of the American Hockey
League.  As we look back at the first
quarter of the season, some of the new faces on the Devils top development team
are off to a flying start, while some have suffered injuries, and others are
still just trying to find their game.


Right wing Aleksander Suglobov continues
to impress with his technical skills and outstanding skating ability. In
October, Suglobov played seven games while collecting 3 goals and 2 assists. In
November, the 21-year-old Russian rookie continued his hard work, adding 2
goals and 6 assists in 11 games. While not a particularly physical player,
Suglobov also recorded his first fighting major this past month.


Left wing Maxim Balmochnykh was
on track for a great season before he suffered a concussion in a game against
the Hershey Bears on November 21st. Before his injury, the speedy winger was
starting to pick up the pace on his offensive production. In October,
Balmochnykh collected 1 assist in 3 games, and in November, he collected 2
goals, including one game winning goal, and 2 assists in 6 games while playing
mostly with fellow Russian Suglobov and veteran center Craig Darby. Balmochnykh
is recovering well from his concussion, and when he returns to the lineup
sometime in December, he can hopefully pick up where he left off. 


Center Adrian Foster, the
Devils first round pick in 2001, is technically not a new face for the Rats, as
he played a total of nine games towards the end of the last season after
missing the majority of the year due to injuries. His second professional
season has started out slightly better.

So far this year, Foster missed the
first few games of the season due to an injury, but came back to play in four
games in October, collecting 1 assist. In November Foster missed a couple of
more games due to a groin injury. In the end, he totaled nine games for the
month, adding 2 goals, including one game winning goal, and 2 assists for a
total of 5 points overall. Foster’s points total is by no means outstanding,
and he is also entering December as a –6, making him the worst Rats forward in
that category. However, for someone who has missed the majority of the past
five seasons with various injuries, the icetime Foster is now receiving is
invaluable for his development, and with time his overall game should improve
as well.


Left wing Tuomas Pihlman has
had a rough start to his first American Hockey League season. The young Finnish
rookie started the season on a high note, collecting 3 points (1 goal, 2
assists) in his first three games. Since then, he has recorded no points while
playing nine games in November for a total of 17 for the season. Pihlman
started the season on the River Rats top line, but as other players, most
notably veteran winger Steve Kariya, returned to the lineup from injuries, he
was demoted first to the second, and finally to the third line, where he has
struggled with most aspects of his game. It is difficult to pinpoint an exact
cause for Pihlman’s slow start. In part, Pihlman struggles with his positioning
on the smaller ice surface. Additionally, his confidence appears to have been
shaken after he took some costly penalties in early games, twice causing power
play situations that lead opponents to score equalizing goals. In the end, the
Rats lost one of those games, and tied the other. With time, Pihlman will
hopefully be able to regain his confidence and become more comfortable in a
North American system.


Right wing Ilkka Pikkarainen
has had an equally rough start to his life in North America. Pikkarainen
collected 2 assists in the seven games he played in October. In November, the
pesky Finnish winger played four more games, recording 1 assist, before
suffering an injury that kept him out of the lineup for the rest of the month.
Pikkarainen is expected back in December, and can hopefully provide some
additional offensive spark and much needed attitude for the at times lackluster
Rats team.


Defenseman Matt DeMarchi, a
NCAA product out of the University of Minnesota, played only six games in
October before sitting out the next 10 games with a groin injury. DeMarchi
started the season rather quietly, collecting only 1 assist in his first 6
games. Since returning to the lineup, DeMarchi, who has never been known for
his offensive prowess, has been playing with a tremendous amount of energy and
exuberance, and has collected 3 points, including his first goal, in his last
three games.


In December, the River Rats will
play a total of 12 games, of which nine will be played at home. The team needs
to find more consistency in their game, and improve on their abysmal home
record, otherwise they could find themselves near hopelessly out of playoff
contention before the season is even half over.