HF Mailbag – Mar. 30 edition

By HF Staff

Thank you for submitting your questions and we apologize if we could not address yours. Keep the questions coming as the feature will be posted on a bi-weekly basis. Please also keep in mind that if your question is regarding the NHL Entry Draft, we will be addressing that category of question around draft time. Send your questions to: [email protected].

I was just wondering if Igor Grigorenko was on the right track to come back from his major injuries. I know that he had a great year in Russia this year, I saw his stats which are really like those he had before his accident, but I heard that he is still not quite the same player that he was before. I heard that he was really less physical than what he used to be and that he wasn’t the raw gem that the Wings drafted four years ago. So if you guys have any update on his condition I’d like to know.

Nicolas Falardeau
Quebec City, Quebec

What kind of season is Igor Grigorenko having this year? Has he recovered? Is he progressing? Will he be invited to the Wings training camp this year?

Paul Mitchell
Vancouver, British Columbia

Grigorenko has had a very good year in Russia where he has not shown any affects of the injury. Some scouts have stated that Grigorenko is still only 85-90 percent of his pre-accident form. But others have been quick to describe him as 100 percent. His skating is a bit better than before the accident, but he still needs to get more agility and foot speed. He has always been a shifty guy, but his foot speed and acceleration have not been top-notch. He also has to get stronger and become more physical. Numerous reports have labeled him as a power forward, but Grigorenko has never been a power forward and he never will be. He is an offensive player who uses his skills and offensive instincts. He does throw his body around and goes through traffic, but he is still not what you would consider a power forward. As the season winds down he will probably be one of the hot names for the Russian World Championship team, which also will most likely be his last performance in Europe before moving over to Detroit.

I am curious about Dallas Stars prospect Vadim Khomitski, a defenseman who I believe has grit like Danny Markov or Darius Kasparaitus. Is he still in Dallas’ plans? Also is Joel Lundqvist, a Swedish center, going to get a chance at Iowa?

Gary Gauthier
North Vancouver, BC

Khomitski is a defenseman who was drafted back in 2000 in the fourth round and since then has been playing in Russia. He’s currently playing for CSKA and was supposed to attend Dallas’ training camp, but pulled out at the last minute because he felt he was not ready for the NHL and wanted to gain some weight.

It is difficult to judge whether there will be a spot open for him in Iowa next year. It would expected that several current mainstays in the Iowa line-up will be back next year and be joined by Mark Fistric, Johan Fransson, Matt Nickerson, and Geoff Waugh. Dallas has sufficient prospects to stock Iowa next year by itself without Khomitski. If some of the other prospects do not make it to Iowa, if Waugh is not signed, or Fransson stays in Lulea, or Nickerson is kept in Finland, Khomitsky would be a great addition. But there is often little incentive for a player to leave Russia to play in the AHL as players are now being paid more in Russia than ever before. We would imagine Dallas has more interest in seeing Nicklas Grossman or Fistric become a future physical presence than Khomitsky, especially since Nickerson is already under contract. Waugh will be far easier to sign to a two-way contract as well. It’s one thing for young Roman Voloshenko to leave Russia in pursuit of his NHL dream because he is not far from earning an NHL roster spot. Khomitsky, on the other hand, is quite a long distance from seeing the inside of an NHL rink.

There is a good possibility that Lundqvist will be brought over. Lundqvist’s contract with Frolunda is will expire, making it easy for him to jump to North America. If Dallas is the exclusive affiliate, they will need some centers to stock the roster. Lundqvist has the offensive ability to help Iowa on the second line, but also the grit to warrant a call-up by Dallas to play on the fourth line if injuries strike the big club. Lundqvist was also brought to the Development Camp in July, showing that he is at least on Dallas’s radar. Couple that with the good year he is having in Sweden and it seems like a perfect time for Lundqvist to test his fortunes in the AHL.

I’d like to get some insight on Steve Bernier’s future with the organization. More specifically, I’ve heard he’s been on the second scoring line lately along with Marleau and Michalek. Is it because of injuries striking the team? Or is it because he earned that spot. And will he be challenged in the near future by other exciting prospects?

Thank you for your time
Pascal Lambert
Sherbrooke, PQ, Canada

Injuries have not played a big role in Steve Bernier receiving his opportunity to play with Patrick Marleau and Milan Michalek. The only Shark forwards to miss significant time this season are Scott Parker, Scott Thornton, and Josh Langfeld. Langfeld was claimed by Boston off waivers, Thornton was healthy when Bernier arrived, and Parker has his own role on the San Jose that nobody else fills.

The fact that Alexander Korolyuk decided to play in Russia helped a few Shark prospects, such as Grant Stevenson. Stevenson achieved earlier in the season what Bernier is achieving now, only now San Jose has Joe Thornton on the team. Stevenson helped make Niko Dimitrakos expendable, but when Stevenson started to cool and Bernier was playing well in Cleveland, Bernier was given the chance.

Bernier has held the position on the second line with Marleau and Michalek on merit ever since. The only other player in the organization who could really challenge Bernier for the spot now is Korolyuk, who is rumored to be returning from Russia for next season. But Bernier will have solidified his spot on the second line and Korolyuk will have to try and displace Nils Ekman on the first line, to put Ekman back on a line with Alyn McCauley, with whom both Ekman and Korolyuk had success in 2003-04. Perhaps a third line of Ekman-McCauley-Marcel Goc and a fourth line of Villie Nieminen-Mark Smith-Grant Stevenson with Parker and Ryane Clowe or Pat Rissmiller as spares.

Bernier’s performance might make Scott Thornton expendable after this season. San Jose will have to pay for Korolyuk somehow, and Thornton is a Group III unrestricted free agent after the season.

I am a college hockey fan and a junior hockey fan and I came across the new mailbag. I was keeping updates on the prospects from the Kings such as Parse, Boyle and Lukacevic. Will these three all be in Manchester next year? What are your thoughts? A little information about McGinnis would be great too, thanks!

Mike Matuo
New York, New York

As always, whether a prospect that is eligible to play professionally is signed and where their placement within the system is – whether in Manchester or Reading – involves tough decisions for any organization. Both Scott Parse and Brian Boyle are finishing up their junior seasons in college and, as of today, are slated to return to their respective college teams for their senior year. That does not mean that this will not change and either or both will not sign with the Kings between now and the beginning of their next season. The Los Angeles Kings have maintained the policy of not encouraging college players to leave school early. However, if the college player does in fact make the decision to play professional hockey before the completion of their college careers, the Kings have been willing to offer that player a contract after their decision has been made if they fit within the plans of the organization.

Whether Boyle and Parse in fact leave college early will be a decision that each player and their family must make. If either were to leave early this offseason, the Kings would definitely offer each a contract. Boyle would most certainly be headed for Manchester as their first or second line center, depending upon the status of fellow center prospect Anze Kopitar and his anticipated jump to North America from Sweden. Parse would likely find himself in Manchester as well, especially with the loss of Monarch forwards to trade or to call-ups to Los Angeles.

Ned Lukacevic may also sign with the Kings this offseason and it would seem that he would be bound for Manchester as well, perhaps in a lesser role. Lukacevic has been impressive at the Kings offseason training camps. There are aspects of his game that still need to be worked on, even if he signs a professional contract. If Lukacevic signs at the conclusion of his season with Swift Current, he would likely play out the remainder of the season with Manchester with a more definite decision between Manchester and Reading tabled until next season.

Not much was really known, or expected, of Ryan McGinnis when drafted in the sixth round last year. But he is starting to turn some heads and show up on the radar of a few scouts with his performance of late. McGinnis scored seven points in his final nine games, including a plus/minus of +7 and three points through his first three playoff games. He has a lot of raw tools, but none that will stand out and make him the next Dion Phaneuf. He has a solid physique and plays with good strength. He will likely never light up a score sheet in the NHL, but he has the size and strength to grind out the puck from the corners and keep forwards honest in front of the net. He is best compared to fellow Kings prospect Richard Petiot. Between McGinnis and Patrik Hersley, the Kings have a pair of defensive prospects that might surprise some fans in the next couple of years.

I know James Neal of the Plymouth Whalers was drafted 33rd overall in the 2005 entry draft. His younger brother Michael Neal is in his first season as a 16-year-old with Belleville Bulls. Is there any comparison of the two players? Is Michael Neal going to be a high draft pick in the 2008 Draft?

D. Webster
Oshawa, Ontario

After attending the Dallas Stars training camp last fall, James Neal, a tall, rangy 18-year-old left winger had a fine sophomore season with the Plymouth Whalers in 2005-06. He accumulated 58 points (21 goals, 37 assists) in 66 regular season games and had a goal and an assist in Plymouth’s two playoff wins against the Windsor Spitfires this week. His 16-year-old brother, Michael, was selected by the Belleville Bulls in the second round of the 2005 OHL priority draft after playing center for the Whitby Wildcats in AAA Minor Midgets in 2004-05. Michael has been converted to left wing by the Bulls and is one of only six first year players on the 2005-06 team.

Like his brother, the younger Neal is a big presence on the ice. Listed at 6’2, 180 lbs, he looks like he has grown since the measurements were taken, but still is very thin. Although this is not unusual at his age, Michael needs to bulk up substantially over the next year to increase his NHL draft chances. Additionally, the younger Neal did not have a particularly successful freshman season offensively with only 1 goal and 3 assists in 46 regular season games. He did look to be growing more comfortable on the ice as the season progressed, but he needs to use his size more to create offensive chances for himself and the rest of his team. James does appear to be the more talented of the two brothers, and the more likely to play in the NHL. It will take quite a bit of work over the next year for Michael to join his older brother as a top NHL draft pick.

What do you think about Mike Angelidis’ sudden transition from a pure grinder to an elite goal scorer? Is this an effect of playing with Bobby Ryan or has Angelidis just improved that much? Is he now a viable NHL prospect/project?

Also, what do you think of Theo Peckham as a player and what does he need to improve on to eventually make the NHL?

Dave Gregory
Unionville, Ontario

There is no doubt that playing with Bobby Ryan will help any skater’s numbers increase, and that Ryan is the player that is the most feared Owen Sound Attack team member. However, Ryan is not the only star player on the team. Defensemen Bobby Sanguinetti and Theo Peckham are also top OHL prospects whom are expected to be chosen in the early rounds of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. Although Peckham’s stock has fallen somewhat over the 2005-06 season, in that his skating and decision-making are both somewhat suspect and his plus/minus rating fell from +14 in 2004-05 to -11 in 2005-06, he is still a big physical defenseman with lots of upside. In the new NHL, Peckham will have to skate more and use his ice time wisely. If he shows that he can do so over the next few years, Peckham will be a very exciting NHL player.

Mike Angelidis, the 20-year-old Owen Sound Attack’s alternate captain, has been the beneficiary of an excellent Owen Sound team. He has been on a tear since the first game of the season, registering 78 points (53 goals, 25 assists) in 68 regular season OHL games. The 6’1, 215 lbs left winger has been used by head coach Mike Stothers in all situations, with and without Ryan on his line. Angelidis has used his overage year to combine his very physical style of play with offensive production. Whether that is a huge jump in Angelidis’ offensive skills or just the result of being on a high production Owen Sound team is uncertain at this point, but he almost certainly will get a tryout later this spring or summer with a professional team.

Dave Rainer, Tanya Lyon, Kevin Wey, Zoran Manojlovic, Matt Spence, Leslie Treff contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.