Monday, September 6, 2010

10 Players to Watch at the 2010 NHL Prospects Tournament

With less than a week until the start of the 2010 NHL Prospects Tournament (and the unofficial start of the hockey season, as far as I’m concerned), I took the time to sift through the rosters of the eight teams participating in the five-day tournament in Traverse City, Michigan (now that they've all finally been posted). What I came up with was a list of ten prospects at the tourney who will likely be gracing an NHL roster this season, whether it be opening night, a mid-season injury call-up, or a cup of coffee at season's end.  I’ve also added several other players worth keeping an eye on, which you'll find farther down the page.

1. Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis – The Hockey News’ Future Watch top-ranked prospect has experienced brief stints in the NHL (17 total games) over the last two seasons, and will make his case for a full-time position partoling the Blues’ back end. Drafted 4th overall in 2008, Pietrangelo represents the highest drafted played at the tournament this year, so understandably, all eyes will be the former Barrie Colt and Niagara IceDog.

2. Casey Wellman, Minnesota – Wellman made his NHL debut late last season after signing as an undrafted free agent following his sophomore season at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Wellman tallied 34 goals and 44 assists in his two seasons in the NCAA, and stands a good chance at cracking the Wild’s opening night lineup and sticking for the season.

3. James Wright, Tampa Bay – The sizeable Wright – 6’3”, 196 lbs – split his season last year with the Lightning and the WHL’s Vancouver Giants, where he averaged nearly a point per game. Drafted in the 4th round (117th overall) in 2008, “Killer” is hoping to crack the Lightning full-time year.

4. Jeff Skinner, Carolina – Skinner had a breakout season last year in Kitchener, notching 50-40-90 in 64 games (plus an additional 20-13-33 in 20 playoff games). The Rangers’ Memorial Cup chances could hinge on Skinner’s return to the OHL, but a solid camp could earn the 7th overall pick from this June’s draft a spot in Raleigh.

5. Brett Connolly, Tampa Bay – Connolly is looking to bounce back after an injury-plagued year in Prince George (WHL) which limited him to 16 games. The 2009 CHL Rookie of the Year will look to test out his surgically repaired hip in Traverse City and display the scoring prowess that led the Bolts’ brass to pick him 6th overall in June.

6. Brendan Smith, Detroit – The Red Wings opted for a veteran presence for their 6th defenseman when they signed Ruslan Salei this offseason, but the former Wisconsin Badger – chosen 27th overall in 2007 – will likely garner strong consideration as the first blueline injury call-up from Grand Rapids.

7 & 8. Ryan Johansen, Columbus and Dylan McIlrath, NY Rangers – Arguably the two most scrutinized 1st round of the 2010 draft (4th and 10th overall, respectively). Johansen had a breakout season in his WHL debut season with Portland, leading to his ascent up the draft boards. Johansen’s offensive exploits (25-44-69 in 71 games) could greatly help the goal-starved Blue Jackets this year. Meanwhile, McIlrath used his hulking frame (6’5”, 215 lbs) to his advantage in becoming a top shut-down defenseman in Moose Jaw, and proved he wasn’t about to shy away from the rough stuff (169 PIM). His toughness could prove to be a huge asset to the Blueshirts’ blueline.

9. Evgeny Grachev, NY Rangers – The lanky Russian (6’3”, 212 lbs) endured some growing pains in his first professional season last year with the Rangers’ AHL affiliate in Hartford (12-16-28 in 80 games), but hopes to take his game to the next level. Drafted in the 3rd round (75th overall) in 2008, Grachev was the OHL’s Rookie of the Year with Brampton after posting 40-40-80 in 60 games.

10. Jack Campbell, Dallas – While it’s unlikely Campbell will play in the NHL this year, he was the highest selected goaltender in this June’s draft – 11th overall – carrying with that status some lofty expectations down the road for a team with a question mark in goal. Campbell spent the last 2 seasons with the USNTDP, and makes the jump to major junior this year with the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires. And of course, Campbell was a key member of Team USA’s gold medal winning squad at the 2010 World Juniors.

Also registering high on the radar (in no particular order):

Riley Nash (CAR) – Originally picked by Edmonton 21st overall in 2007, Nash was acquired by the ‘Canes for a 2nd round pick in June’s draft. Nash signed an entry-level deal after 3 seasons at Cornell.

Matt Kennedy (CAR) – The former Guelph Storm and Barrie Colt is best known as the recipient of Zack Kassian’s cross-check to the head, which earned Kassian a 20-game suspension. Kennedy was drafted in the 5th round (131st overall) in 2009.

Jason Missiaen (CLB) – A goaltender of alarming size (6’8”, 220 lbs), Missiaen comes to Columbus as a free agent tryout after Montreal chose not to sign the former Peterborough Pete, drafted 116th overall by the Habs in 2008.

John Moore (CLB) – The offensive-minded blueliner had a solid rookie campaign in Kitchener (OHL), notching 10-37-47 in 61 games for the Rangers after being selected 21st overall by the Blue Jackets in 2009.

Scott Glennie (DAL) – Glennie comes into his second Stars’ training camp with the experience of the Memorial Cup under his belt, leading host team Brandon (WHL) to a runner-up finish. The 8th overall pick in 2009 scored 32-57-89 in 66 games last year for the Wheat Kings after an injury-plagued 2008-09 season.

Tomas Tatar (DET)Ranked as Detroit’s top prospect by Red Wings Central, the slick Slovak winger had an inconsistent season in transitioning from the Slovak ExtraLiga to the AHL last year, totaling 16-16-32 in 58 games as a 19-year old in Grand Rapids. Tatar – chosen 60th overall in 2009 – will look to dazzle Red Wings fans in Traverse City for a second straight year.

Bjorn Krupp (MIN), Chris Bourque and Christian Thomas (NYR) – Nepotism alert! The sons of former NHLers Uwe Krupp, Raymond Bourque and Steve “Stumpy” Thomas hope to impress in Northern Michigan. Krupp arrives as one of the Wild’s free agent tryouts after playing the last two seasons in Belleville (OHL). Bourque is eligible for an over-age season with Patrick Roy’s Quebec Remparts (QMJHL). Thomas notched 41 goals in Oshawa (OHL) last year after being part of the John Tavares-to-London blockbuster trade in January 2009.

Ryan McDonagh (NYR) – Originally Montreal’s 1st rounder (12th overall) from 2007, McDonagh arrived on Broadway via the Scott Gomez trade last offseason. McDonagh will be the third Wisconsin Badger blueliner to turned pro this summer (along with Smith and Columbus’ Cody Goloubef).

Ian Cole (STL) – One of three 1st round picks for St. Louis in 2007 (18th overall), Cole turned pro after three seasons at Notre Dame, finishing 2009-10 in Peoria (AHL).

Stefan Della Rovere (STL) – Originally drafted by Washington in the 7th round pick (204th overall) in 2008, the gritty Della Rovere was traded to the Blues for D.J. King this offseason. The 2009 World Junior gold medalist hopes to add some sandpaper to the Blues’ rookie camp.

Jake Allen (STL) – Back for a third tourney in T.C., the 34th overall pick in 2008 split his season between the Montreal Juniors and the Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL) in 2009-10, in addition to minding goal for Team Canada at the World Juniors.

Alex Hutchings (TBL) – Hutchings – chosen 97th overall in 2009 by the Lightning – could either break in with Tampa’s AHL affiliate in Norfolk or return for an overage season in Barrie (OHL), where he was second in scoring for the Colts last year (47-34-81 in 68 games).

Richard Panik (TBL) – The Lightning’s 2nd rounder from 2009 (52nd overall) split his season between Windsor and Belleville (OHL) last year, totaling 21-20-41 in 60 games of major junior before finishing the year in Norfolk.

The tournament kicks off Saturday September 11th, and you can find the schedule of games here.  I'll be blogging with coverage from all the games I'll be calling (I'm currently scheduled to do the P.A. for all the games at the Huntington Bank Rink) of the tournament here at Spittin' Chiclets.


  1. I really hope "Tater" pans out for the wings! Awesome name,and if you'll accept a "stretch", it rhymes with abdelkader....

  2. Yeah Juice, Tatar was impressive last year at the tourney and at Wings training camp....lightning quick. I wouldn't bank on him playing with the big club this year (given Detroit's hesitancy towards rushing their prospects), but stranger things have happened. And I'd hate to burst your bubble, his name is pronounced "ta-TAR", but I'll see if "Spud" will stick as a nickname for him at Wings Camp.

  3. Canes blogger here - looking for good coverage of this tournament. Will you be giving game recaps? Can we stream your call somewhere? Thanks!

  4. Brett Connolly to my knowledge received no surgery for his hip injury. I wish Brett continued success in his hockey career and look forward to watching him play in the years to come.

  5. @ Carolyn, indeed I'll be giving game recaps, but I am working as a volunteer doing the in-game public address announcing for the games (not the play-by-play as you had thought)....sorry for any confusion I'll be calling two games each day, but unless Carolina makes the 1st place or 5th place game Wednesday, I won't get to call ANY of the Canes''s just the way the schedule works for me unfortunately. I was hoping to see Carolina try to defend their title. The NHL Network brought their TV crew here two years ago to broadcast tape delayed games from the tourney, but haven't been back. They're really missing out. Versus has a few people here, but they're just getting footage for a few short segments on selected players that they'll run during the season. To my knowledge, no one is providing any live coverage on television, radio, or web streaming....this is definitely something the NHL has dropped the ball on.

  6. @ Blaze, yeah, Stepan was certainly a stud in Madison and at the WJC's, and he was worthy of a mention, glad you brought him up. I could've made this entry about 5 times as long, but I had to stop somewhere. Plus I wanted to spread the attention throughout all eight teams.

    @ Andrew, my bad on the surgery comment. Most everything I find on the web is rather vague regarding his injury. Guess that's what happens when you assume things.

  7. Thanks for the feedback. Once I did some more checking I realized my eagerness caused me to overlook what was happening. Killing us to not have video, especially while those Toronto guys are getting it on reg TV. Let's hope the Canes can make it to the 1st place game. I'd love an explanation of the tie-breakers if 3 teams go 2 and 1.

  8. @ Carolyn, head-to-head matchups would be the first tiebreaker, though if teams finish 2-1 (meaninhg Columbus remains the whipping boy at 0-3), the next tiebreaker is goal differential. So hope for a big Rangers win over MInnesota to go with a Carolina triumph over the BJ's tomorrow, as the Wild are in the driver's seat right now.