HF Mailbag – May 22 edition

By HF Staff

The 2006 Entry Draft is fast approaching. At this time, we would welcome questions regarding the draft. Questions about team needs, organizational draft tendencies and the outlook of a particular prospect make for good topics. Please send your questions to [email protected].

Will Ryan O’Byrne sign with the Canadiens during the college offseason?

John D.
Dubuque, IA

Thank you for the question John. We thought we might take this opportunity to address O’Byrne specifically and touch upon other college stand-outs that might be looking to sign with an NHL organization this offseason.

O’Byrne is a big-bodied defenseman for Cornell University. To date, we have not heard anything regarding O’Byrne leaving Cornell early to sign with Montreal. But the offseason is still young.

There are several big name players who have left college to join the professional ranks. North Dakota and Minnesota took significant hits with several early departures. North Dakota has lost Travis Zajac (NJ), Matt Smaby (TB) and Drew Stafford (BUF) to the pros. Most recently, UND got another dose of bad news when Rastislav Spirko decided to leave the team. Spirko has left UND to return to his home country of Slovakia and will be pursuing a pro playing career in Europe.

Minnesota lost Ryan Potulny (PHI), Danny Irmen (MIN) and Kris Chucko (CGY) to the pro ranks. Some good news for the Gophers coming into this fall will be the fact that they get two players back who missed nearly the entire duration of the 2005-06 season in forward Tyler Hirsch and defenseman Nate Hagemo (CAR).

Matt Carle (SJ) leaving the University of Denver early came as no surprise to anyone who has followed him and/or DU hockey. Having won two national championships, leading the nation’s defensemen in scoring this season and winning the Hobey Baker Award, there simply wasn’t anything left for Carle to accomplish at DU, except get his degree, which he will continue working towards beginning this summer.

On the free agent front several top players from the 2005-06 season signed with NHL clubs: Alex Foster (TOR), Bill Thomas (PHX) and David McKee (ANA). However, Chris Collins (a graduating senior), who was a Hobey Baker Hat Trick finalist and led BC all the way to the finals is the top non-drafted player still unsigned.


I would like to know why a guy like Corey Locke, who has been so good in the OHL, has so much difficulty in graduating to the NHL. Is it just because of his size or what?

Jérémie Campeau

Corey Locke was an exciting playmaker with an excellent scoring touch when he played for the Ottawa 67s of the OHL. However, a fantastic junior career does not always translate into a successful transition to either the NHL or AHL. In Locke’s case, he has at least made the transition to the AHL, but it is too soon to tell whether he will play on any regular basis in the NHL. Given Locke’s outstanding performance in the OHL (151 total points in 2002-03 and 118 in 2003-04), all factors being equal, he would have been a top pick in the 2003 draft. However, given his size and his overall game, including some potential defensive deficiencies, there were some questions about whether he could make the transition to the NHL game. Montreal selected him in the fourth round, 113th overall, and it was expected that he would play in the AHL for at least a couple of years. He has done just that.

On one hand, the new NHL rules make Locke’s size less of an issue now, and his offensive abilities have, for the most part, translated well to the AHL. While on the other hand, there have been questions about Locke making a consistent effort on every shift, in addition to the already perceived defensive deficiencies. Both of these are potential obstacles to development. Despite being Hamilton’s leading scorer, his plus/minus was the team’s worst at -15. To move to the NHL level, Locke will have to vastly improve that statistic and the play it represents. All in all, it is too soon to tell whether Locke will play for any length of time in the NHL. He has become a playmaker on the AAA level, and is still developing that skill. He must continue to work on his defensive game if he wants to play at the next level.

Hi there,

My question is regarding Patrick Ehelechner, who played for the Sudbury Wolves in the OHL from 2003 through 2005. He signed with the Sharks in late July of 2005 and opted to play in the German Elite League.

I was wondering what plans the Sharks have for him. They already have a crowded goalie crease with Nabokov and Toskala signed beyond June 30, 2006. Schaefer will be an unrestricted free agent by then and has been stellar when called upon in the NHL. Patzold is developing in the AHL but they also have to sign Greiss and/or Churchill and a couple of more goalies.

Any information would be appreciated,

Calgary, Alberta

Patrick Ehelechner is still in the San Jose Sharks plans, but it is not certain that he will come over in 2006-07. San Jose and Ehelechner mutually agreed upon Ehelechner playing in the DEL in 2005-06, and, after being loaned by Mannheim to Duisburg, Ehelechner received a decent amount of ice time to start. Over the course of the season, Ehechner was outdueled by Christian Rohde for the Foxes’ top spot in net, as Rohde played all five of Duisburg’s game in the relegation round against the Kassel Huskies, which Duisburg won. Ehelechner did lose some time due to an ankle and shoulder injury suffered in a collision in January, one game after Rohde went down to injury himself.

Nolan Schaefer is a free agent this summer and may or may not return, but Dimitri Patzold will return to the organization in 2006-07 to play in Worcester. Who joins Patzold there is the question. Prior to this season, Ehelechner would have been the obvious choice, but Thomas Greiss had a breakthrough season in Germany and has surpassed Ehelechner. Greiss took over the starting spot in Cologne from Oliver Jonas (a German netminder who went to Harvard and has played with the German national team) over the course of the season, but Greiss also earned a spot on the German national team for the Olympics and the World Championships, not to mention his dominating performance in the Division I World Junior Championships. Greiss also played for Germany in the Deutschland Cup in November.

As of a couple weeks ago, the Sharks had not made a final decision on who would join Patzold in Worcester next season. Based on performance, Greiss may be the man. Greiss does need North American experience, something Ehelechner already has.

There is also the option of having all three German goalies in North America next season, perhaps one in the ECHL, or loaning one to another AHL team in 2006-07. Years ago the Sharks loaned Evgeni Nabokov to Cleveland while the team’s AHL affiliate was in Kentucky and later Johan Hedberg was loaned to Manitoba while Toskala and Kiprusoff were in Kentucky. This would be more difficult now, however, with the demise of the IHL and many AHL rosters crowded because of dual affiliates.

As far as Churchill is concerned, the Sharks like to have all of their prospects playing, especially goaltenders. The Germans will probably prevent Churchill from playing in the AHL this coming season, and the Sharks can only have 50 players under contract, so San Jose may have to get creative in sending Churchill somewhere and still retain his rights. The Sharks have been similarly creative before.

Nigel Dawes was a very consistent scorer in the WHL and has translated his game very nicely to the AHL. I was wondering why he isn’t considered a top 50 prospect. I know Nigel has a lack of size, but he seems to make up for this quite well with great strength, balance, and grit.

Also, I have read that Jarkko Immonen is a poor to mediocre skater. Is that true and will that relegate him to a 4th line role in the NHL?

Cristobal Gris

Nigel Dawes has proven to be a very good player wherever he has gone. Whether it be with Kootenay of the WHL or Hartford of the AHL, Dawes uses his great hands, quickness and grit to find the back of the net with extreme regularity.

When Hockey’s Future compiles their Top 50 prospect list, there are more than 160 prospects that are identified and included for consideration on the Top 50 list. Dawes is one of those prospects that has appeared on the list of 160 every single year of his eligibility. However, every year, he just has not made it through all the rounds of cuts to find his way onto the finished project. It is in no way a slight on Dawes as a prospect but more an affirmation of the difficulty in making a list of Top 50 prospects when there are well over 1,000 prospects that Hockey’s Future covers. Also remember that on average, an NHL team will have just 1.67 players on the list. With Dawes, as it tends to be with other prospects lacking ideal size, he must prove himself at every step of his development. He might look to recent graduate Mike Cammalleri for inspiration.

Jarkko Immonen is a top prospect for the New York Rangers. You are correct that skating is not his greatest asset, but he has worked on it, and at this point, Immonen’s lack of skating expertise will not keep him from playing on the NHL level. Because the speed of the AHL game is similar to that of the NHL, Immonen has already proven that he can keep up on the rush and get back to take care of his own end when that is necessary. Had things been different on the Rangers this season, (e.g. the team was not in a playoff race), Immonen would have been called up sooner. He is ready for the NHL and, in all likelihood, will play at that level next year.

I was wondering what Johannes Salmonsson brings to the Penguins franchise? There are lots of great prospects for the Penguins, but does Salmonsson have a chance to become something? He is rated 8.0D on your site, does he have a chance on improving on that? Where do you see him in five years? How many points will he average in his career?

Andrew Nunez

Johannes Salmonsson is a very talented player with an upside that could see him on an NHL scoring line in a couple of years. However his development hit a hurdle this season when he struggled with the Spokane Chiefs in the WHL where he was expected to be an offensive force. His skills are slick, but perhaps his mind wasn’t fully on the job in Spokane as he has decided to return to Sweden. He signed a two-year deal with Brynas in the Swedish Elite League and will hopefully return a better and more mature player.

His two-year deal will expire at the same time that the Penguins need to sign him to retain his rights, and you can safely expect that to happen. His 8.0D rating is a product of his high-end skills combined with the uncertainty created by his disappointing season with Spokane. He is sure to have learned plenty from his time in North America and it will help him adjust when he makes a more permanent move across the pond.

Speculating what his career scoring average will be is very difficult, but perhaps the absolute best possible scenario in five years that we could see is Salmonsson as a productive scoring winger, averaging somewhere between 50-80 points per season. But that is only if everything develops perfectly.

The Penguins certainly have a need for scoring wingers, so it stands to reason that they would be interested in signing him if at all possible. But right now, there are many question marks over Salmonsson’s head, making him highly volatile as a prospect and a “D” rating which is not an indicator of a bad prospect but a prospect that has a wide range of possible career outcomes.

What five players stand out as most improving their status as legitimate prospects? For example, Sergei Kostsitsyn seemed to catch most people off-guard. Who else can you think of?

Thanks very much!
Brian Witzel
Daejeon, South Korea

Human nature loves to root for the underdog and there is no larger of an underdog than a prospect that was passed over several times by every organization in the draft just to break out with an awesome season to prove everyone wrong. In any given year, there are several prospects that emerge onto the prospect radar. Here are just a few, and by no means all, of those that we feel deserve some mention.

While more heralded prospects are either toiling away in the minors or watching the Stanley Cup playoffs from their living room couch, undrafted free-agent signee Dustin Penner is not only still playing in the playoffs, but also excelling with six points in his first nine playoff games. Penner is a big reason why Anaheim climbed the charts to No. 1 in our organizational rankings.

Keith Yandle went from an unceremonious Phoenix fourth rounder to the top defenseman, top defensive player, first team All-Star in the QMJHL and his first professional contract, all in one season.

Patrick McNeill, a fourth round choice for the Washington Capitals, went from 33 points in 2004-05 to 77 points in 68 games with Saginaw of the OHL as an 18-year-old for most of the season. He turned his plus/minus of -29 in 2004-05 to a +24 in 2005-06.

Stanislav Lascek, a Tampa Bay pick, may have been on most radars after a 90-point season in 53 games in 2004-05, but even more impressive is the 135-point campaign he had this year with Chicoutimi of the QMJHL. He would have been named a first team All-Star but was stuck behind standout Nashville draftee Alexander Radulov whom was named to the first team. As a fifth round pick in 2005, Lascek is looking like a diamond in the rough for the Lightning.

Nikolai Lemtyugov, a St. Louis seventh rounder, was unheralded in his draft year but put on a pretty good show as one of the best Russian players on the WJC squad in Vancouver in January. As a 19-year-old, he put up very solid numbers in the Russian Super League with 20 points in 37 games.

Any news on the status of the potential Russian Hockey Federation Agreement that will allow all those prospects to come over and play in the NHL (or AHL) next year and beyond? Not having one (again) could lead to a challenge for GMs in the next draft as to whether or not to risk picks on top Russian talent.

Ottawa, Ontario

Thank you for the great question Jeffry, especially one that is of the utmost importance heading into the 2006 Entry Draft in June. Please also take a moment to read the Hockey’s Future article this week by Kevin Wey on the dilemma of drafting not just Russian players, but any European player in this June’s draft.

To the specific question at hand, currently there is no agreement in place between the PHL (Russian Professional Hockey League) and the NHL. With that said, agreement negotiations may not have been on the top of the Russian hockey ruling body’s priority list lately, as it recently underwent a serious overhaul with the installation of Hall of Fame goaltender Vladislav Tretiak at its helm. With Tretiak in place, the league can now turn to the negotiations with the NHL and an agreement today is significantly more likely than just a month ago. Though Tretiak has never played in the NHL, he has coaching experience in North America and also runs a successful hockey camp. Especially considering the significant drop off in talent this past summer after the restart of the NHL, he understands the value of a stable relationship with the NHL.

Additionally, it is worth noting that if an agreement is not achieved this summer, while it will definitely hurt the draft positioning of Russian players, it may not mean that NHL clubs will necessarily lose the rights to the Russians drafted in 2002 or before. Teams may have an opportunity to file for negotiation extensions, as a lack of an agreement is a circumstance that may allow the NHL to grant extensions in team rights to players based in Russia.

Good morning,

I noticed that new information regarding 2006 draft-eligible European prospects hasn’t been available on the website. I was wondering when this information would be available. Otherwise, keep up the fine service!

Thank you.
Mark Morris
Toronto, Ontario

The entire Hockey’s Future staff is working on the 2006 Draft Center as we speak. Nearly 200 profiles of draft eligible prospects will be included in the Center which will be unveiled in the month of June. Check back regularly as we are very close to opening the Center.

Shop for Hockey Collectibles & Memorabilia at Shop.NHL.com

Dave Rainer, DJ Powers, Eugene Belashchenko, Kevin Wey, Jason Menard, Leslie Treff, Al Saunders, Adrian Barclay and George Bachul contributed to this article. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.