2007 prospects: Josh Kidd, Nick Palmieri, Zach Torquato

By Jason Menard

Veni, vidi, vici; Tinker to Evers to Chance; Larry, Moe, and Curly – everyone knows that good things come in threes. And if that old adage holds true, then Erie Otters fans will be shouting three cheers for the future as a trio of 2007 draft-eligible players represent a promising future for the OHL club.

Josh Kidd, Nick Palmieri, Zach Torquato. Earlier this season, two was company, but a mid-season trade with the Saginaw Spirit completed the trio.

And while the Otters’ season ended woefully this season, the Pennsylvania-based franchise has plenty to look forward to – starting with June’s NHL entry draft and the potential for all three players to be first-day draftees.

Central Scouting’s mid-season report saw Torquato as the 36th ranked skater; Palmieri was 43rd overall, and Kidd was 49th. But no matter whose name is called first and no matter who takes those first steps to the podium, the three teammates and friends are looking forward to a bright future, starting with next season in Erie.

"Hopefully in two years from now the core group of this team will have been together for three years so they should all know one another," explained Otters head coach Peter Sidorkiewicz. "It seems like they all get along well, they hang out after off the ice. They’re a close-knit group and any time I’ve been around a winner, whether it’s coaching or playing, it’s always be the team that’s close-knit on and off the ice."

There’s plenty of room to improve. The Otters finished a league-worst 15-50-1-2 for 33 points. But while the recent past has been woeful, the future looks promising as it’s built upon a three-pronged foundation.

Josh Kidd

The first part of this foundation – and, arguably, the anchor – is 6’4 blueliner Josh Kidd. Combining size, strength, and adequate skating, Kidd’s just scratching at the surface of his potential. Interestingly, his coach feels he doesn’t need to think about how to take the next step in his game – that will come when he stops thinking.

"He’s a big kid, but in saying that he’s got pretty good mobility. He can skate well, he’s got an NHL shot already. I think the biggest thing for him is to play assertive night in and night out," Sidorkiewicz explained. "Sometimes he plays in between and I think when he figures out that he’s got to play with authority he’s very effective. When he starts thinking he just finds himself in between – he doesn’t react instinctively.

"He’s got all the raw tools that will give him a chance to get drafted and play at the next level."

Kidd agrees with that assessment and has set some lofty goals for where he’d like to find himself. "I think the biggest thing is maybe be a little more physical, use my size to my advantage and try to play 6’4," he said. "I think obviously my size is still a pretty big factor. I’m strong and able to control the ice. I’ve worked a lot on my game and I think for a big guy that I skate pretty well. Once I get going and get some good speed it’s pretty hard to stop. Big guys like me usually don’t have quick feet but I’m going to work on that and try not to get too bulky and work on my game this summer.

"I’d like to be one day kind of known as a Chris Pronger player. He’s a big guy just like I am and he’s solid defensively, along with some offensive upside. He’s strong and a quiet leader."

If Pronger is the goal, his coach has already started emulating the NHLer in the way that he deploys his young charge. In 64 games this season, Kidd scored nine goals and 18 assists, combined with 96 points. "He obviously logs a lot of ice time for us in all situations: PK, power play, all crucial situations and the end of the periods," Sidorkiewicz said. "We regard him as one of our best defensive defensemen and he’s a very good leader too. He’s a quiet kid, but he’s taken on the role of leadership on a very young team and he’s done a good job with that."

Of course, with Kidd’s size comes some unwanted scrutiny. After all, it’s awfully hard to escape notice when you’re that tall. "There’s been a couple of instances this season when it’s been a smaller guy that I’ve hit and I’ve been called for an elbow," Kidd explained. "It kind of sucks sometimes because you know it’s a clean hit and there’s nothing wrong with it, but the ref will see it as an elbow because that’s the height they are."

And while many young kids at that height are awkward, Kidd’s had plenty of time to acclimatize to his size. While he doesn’t want to get too bulky, there’s still some room on his frame to grow and to allow him to put more weight behind his play. Because of this, and due to the fact that defensemen tend to develop more slowly, Sidorkiewicz figures that Kidd still has a couple of years of seasoning ahead of him.

"He’s really been that size since the day he got here. He’s been with us for three years now and every year he’s getting a little bit better. He’s working on his consistency," Sidorkiewicz explained. "You don’t see many guys walk right into the NHL anymore so somebody that drafts him will look at him coming in at 23 years old and stepping into a role. He’s definitely got a lot of potential."

Nick Palmieri

Palmieri, a shade smaller than Kidd at 6’3, is a robust presence on the Otters’ forward unit. With 215 pounds of muscle on his frame, the young Clinton, NY native has been able to combine physical play and a deft touch.

In 56 games, Palmieri scored 24 goals and 21 assists. Like Kidd, Sidorkiewicz explained, he’s good consistently, but not consistently good. "He’s a big kid. He doesn’t mind going to the net hard. He’s likes to get involved. He’s got a real good shot. He’s got a knack around the net," he said. "When he’s going on all cylinders he’s tough to handle. He’s got size, he skates well enough – when he starts going to the net he’s tough to handle.

"I think the biggest thing is what I see in most of the kids at this level – consistency. Some nights he’s very good and other nights he just drops off. He’s got to realize that he’s got to perform every night even in practice. That’s the biggest thing for him – day-in day-out performing at a high level."

The consistency issue is something that plagues Kidd and Palmieri. Sidorkiewicz suggests that this problem is widespread at the junior level.

"Some guys just aren’t prepared enough and some guys just don’t realize how important it is to practice at that high level. They think that I can just turn it on, or find that light switch," he said. "I’ve been around the game a long time and that just doesn’t happen. If you want to perform at your best you have to practice at your best. Sometimes these guys have a hard time realizing that, but he’s getting there."

However, Sidorkiewicz added that he feels the inconsistency issue may be compounded by geographic reasons in Palmieri’s case. "Nick’s an American kid. I’m sure he was head and shoulders above everyone else," he said. "He was one of the bigger kids, the most talented. He probably could do whatever he wanted at will and then all of the sudden you come to this level and it just doesn’t happen.

"A lot of the kids playing at this level, they were the dominant players in minor hockey and sometimes they can take some shortcuts at that level and still get away with it. Here you can’t. It’s a learning process and a test for these kids."

Palmieri explained that he wanted to work on his consistency and that he made a conscious effort this season to fill a void that he saw within the team’s ranks. "Going into this season I knew we were going to be missing some guys from last year, so I knew I had to step it up offensively. I did try to take the lead offensively," Palmieri explained, adding that he has a list of things he wants to work on in the near future. "Little things like quickness, stuff like that. The game is much more focused on quickness and I need to work on defensive zone coverage. Little things, but I’m willing to do whatever it takes."

With the Otters not enjoying the level of success they were hoping for, it gave the club the opportunity to throw its youth into the fire and see how they’d react. The thought was that the experience gained through the effort sown during this lost season would reap huge rewards in the coming years. Palmieri, for one, is appreciative of the opportunity he’s had – but he’d be willing to trade it for one thing. Winning.

"I think I’ve gotten a lot more ice than I would have on a team that’s doing better in the league," he said. "But I think I’d rather be on a winning team than just get a lot of ice time. It’s good and it’s bad.

"But hopefully next year I’ll be back here and we’ll be making a playoff push!"

Zach Torquato

The final member of this trio was added earlier in the season. Torquato went from the penthouse to – well, we’ll charitably call it the basement. He was traded, along with a second and a fourth-round pick from the Saginaw Spirit to the Otters in exchange for New York Islanders‘ 2005 first-rounder Ryan O’Marra.

"It was a big shock getting traded from Saginaw," Torquato said. "Personally, I thought I was going to be there for my whole OHL career, but it’s worked out pretty well in Erie. We’ve struggled a lot this year, but we’re pretty young and hopefully we’ll be a lot better in the future."

In fact, the trade has been pretty much a wash statistically. O’Marra scored 37 points in 33 games in Saginaw. Torquato posted numbers of 46 points in the 43 games since the trade, including 20 goals. But despite his former mates finishing the season fourth overall in the Western conference, he harbors no ill will.

"I had a lot of good relationships with the guys back in Saginaw and the coaching staff, so I’m wishing them the best of luck [in the playoffs] and hopefully I’ll be in their shoes in a couple of years," he said.

Torquato certainly has made an impression on his coach. In fact, Sidorkiewicz believes that his example could be the tonic that cures whatever consistency ailment afflicts the other two players.

"I love the kid. He’s been everything that we thought he’d be and more. He’s grown into a leader for us on and off the ice," he said. "He makes the right decisions, he competes every day – practice, games. He’s one of our most consistent players and the reason he is consistent is just like why the other guys aren’t consistent – he works every day in practice and you can see it.

"He goes to the net. If there’s a rebound there he plays it. He doesn’t skate off into the corner. He’s a competitor and he’s our go-to guy offensively."

Immediately after the trade, Sidorkiewicz made Torquato an assistant captain. He didn’t expect the new kid on the block to come in and start taking over the dressing room – he just wanted him to lead by example.

"I said to him, ‘You don’t have to go in there and scream and yell – just kind of feel your way through it initially.’ He’s a pretty likeable guy, he got along well with the rest of the teammates right away, so that helped him a lot," he said. "He’s a leader by example. That’s the biggest thing he does. He works hard every day, he plays hard every day. So if he says something, the guys look at him and say, ‘Wow, he can back it up,’ because he’s been our most consistent player and probably our best player all season long.

"What can you say? If the kid’s doing that night in and night out, when he says something to you, you better listen.

"In talking to some of the scouts about him, he probably needs to add a step to his skating. He’s not the most fluid skater, but he can definitely get there. And I think the way the game’s being played there’s a lot of emphasis on speed and skill and he could definitely improve his skating.

Despite it being his draft season, Torquato said he actually feels less stress this season than he has in the past. "I had more pressure as a rookie, not knowing what to expect," he said. "And then in Saginaw, I had to live up to a lot of high expectations. Here I’m trying to provide some leadership to the younger guys."

Torquato has taken the feedback received from various scouts and coaches to heart and looks forward to putting it into practice this offseason. "I have to work on my skating. The new NHL is a lot quicker," he explained. "And I need to work on my defensive game."

With a trio of players so closely ranked, draft day should be interesting for the club. Best of all, all three players are honestly supportive of each other and looking forward to see what unfolds.

"I would like to see them go as high as they can just as I’m sure they’d like to see the same for me," Palmieri said. "We’re excited for one another."

And while the topic of the draft didn’t dominate their conversations this season, it still was in the back of their minds – and it would come to the fore every once in a while. "We don’t really talk about it too much, but it’ll come up once in a while, like ‘Are you going to have a party when you’re drafted’ or ‘What’s going to happen?’" Kidd said. "Other than that it’s pretty quiet. We congratulate each other when we see the rankings, but until the day it’s pretty low-key.

"If one guy’s higher than the other guy it pushes you to try harder. It’s fun. Having three guys highly rated creates that friendly competition."

As all three players are ranked in the late 30s to late 40s, cracking the first round may be a tall order. But Kidd summed up their general feelings on the issue of where and when they’re drafted. "It’s not necessarily where you go in, but where you come out that’s important," he said. "Obviously the first round would be nice and it has its perks, but I don’t go in every day thinking I have to get the first round because that would put too much pressure on myself.

"Whatever happens — as long as it’s in the first couple of rounds."

All three players are looking forward to returning to the Erie roster next season. Uniformly, they all said they need to work on their skating and were looking forward to taking even greater leadership roles on the team. As well, all three have committed to better defensive responsibilities: a good idea, since Torquato and Palmieri were each -24 and Kidd was a mind-numbing -36.

Sidorkiewicz looks forward to having the three players back – then as NHL draftees – and helping them understand what it takes to turn their drafting into an eventual roster spot.

"We’re always talking with these kids and trying to help them out finding their way. Sometimes they have all the answers and obviously they don’t," he said. "There’s a lot of work that goes into it and it just doesn’t happen overnight. These guys have to understand that – there are a lot of sacrifices.

"But the reward is great when you get there and play in the best league in the world."

And if the Otters’ future looks any brighter, it’s because good things truly do come in threes.

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.