9.20.2008

Who will be the next Darren Helm? Part 1

A blog from Brad Holland on NHL Connect inspired me to think of at least one player from each NHL team who could be the next Darren Helm; a.k.a. a player who gets called up from the minors mid-season and surprisingly has either a strong part of the regular season or a strong playoff run. Here are my picks for each team:

Anaheim Ducks: Andrew Ebbett- Last season's scorer for the Portland Pirates (AHL) surprisingly was not given much of a chance to prove that he could play in the big leagues, although he was stuck behind Getzlaf, Weight, Marchant, Pahlsson, and Carter on the depth chart. However, this season, he will challenge Ryan Carter for the 4th line spot and his scoring potential could move him up.
Helpful Aspect: A strong passer, as evidenced by his 54 assists in 74 games last season.
Negative Point: It would help if Ebbett was a left winger, where the Ducks currently have Brian Sutherby slotted for the second line.

Atlanta Thrashers: Bryan Little- The 12th overall pick of the 2006 NHL draft had trouble sticking in the NHL last season, with only 16 points in 48 games. However, this season's Thrashers team has almost no proven scorer at center, with Jason Williams and Erik Christensen currently slated for the top two pivot spots. If Little can bring his production up to the level he had it at in the OHL (41 goals and 107 points in his last season), he'll challenge for a top three center spot.
Helpful Aspect: The Thrashers desperately need to find someone capable of getting to the puck to Ilya Kovalchuk, and 10 of Little's 16 points were assists.
Negative Point: If Little doesn't crack the top line, he most likely won't have any linemates who are known for scoring prowess, which could severly drop his output.

Boston Bruins: Vladimir Sobotka- The Czech third of a trio of young Bruins centers had the lowest amount of points (7 in 48 games) among his fellow youngsters, but drew much fan appreciation with his rough and tumble style of play that so many young Boston players seem to bring to the table. He'll have to earn his time, even after camp, but he could make some noise in the right situations.
Helpful Aspect: Sobotka scored 10 goals and 20 points in 18 AHL games last season.
Negative Point: He was outscored by the other two young centers, Petteri Nokelainen and David Krecji, who each managed at least 5 goals and 10 points.

Buffalo Sabres: Nathan Gerbe- The ultimate hockey definition of that old Star Wars quote, "Size matters not," (with all respect towards Brian Gionta). Despite measuring at only 5' 5", the Boston College standout has been a point-per-game player at the NCAA level for the past two seasons. Gerbe surely will be the first to get a call if Buffalo loses a center to injury, and he would be guaranteed an NHL spot if the Sabres could offer him anything higher than the 4th line, at the moment. However, he'll soon bring his scoring proficiency to the Sabres.
Helpful Aspect: He's a surefire offensive player, so if the Sabres get fed up with another Connolly injury and ship him out of town, Gerbe can be the perfect replacement.
Negative Point: We still have to see how well he can adapt to the NHL and/or AHL at his size, but I don't think that'll matter too much.

Calgary Flames: Brandon Prust- A scrappy forward who missed out on NHL time last season because he missed training camp in recovery from a hip injury, he'll be in a training camp battle for a third or fourth line spot. He'll mainly be in competition with Dustin Boyd, David Moss, and Eric Nystrom, three other young Flames who have a similar style of play.
Helpful Aspect: Prust's willingness to try any role asked of him has already impressed the Flames' management.
Negative Point: Prust's competitors, specifically Boyd, Moss, and the recently returned Dan Ryder who has an outside shot, have more skill in the offensive area.

Carolina Hurricanes: Dwight Helminen- Although technically not a prospect, as a free-agent signee out of Finland at the age of 26, Helminen will still have to fight for a spot on the roster during training camp. Center is the one position where the Canes have depth, however, so Helminen's journey will be tough.
Helpful Aspect: Scoring 45 points in 52 games out of a league where most imports are low-scoring sure likes nice on Helminen's record.
Negative Point: If only 10 PIM's confirms that Helminen plays with the stereotypical European lack of grit, he won't impress management enough for a spot on the team.

Chicago Blackhawks: Troy Brouwer- Yet another Hawks prospect with a bright future, Brouwer has been an AHL goal-scoring whiz for the past couple of seasons. This season, he'll try and fight for a third line spot over Craig Adams and Jack Skille. While Skille is nearly guaranteed a spot, Adams is an aging veteran, and Chicago just might be tempted to bring in Brouwer instead. An opportunity for Brouwer will also arise in the case of another Martin Havlat injury. And if chemistry is formed between Brouwer and anticipated second-line center Dave Bolland, Havlat will no doubt be sent packing.
Helpful Aspect: The Hawks are pushing a full-blown youth movement and Brouwer is among the more talented of the prospects ready for work this season.
Negative Aspect: Was ranked 10th in THN's Future Watch for Chicago in the 08-09 Yearbook, which puts his potential in question.

Colorado Avalanche: Cody McCormick- This Avs youngster is the polar opposite of young star Paul Stastny, at least in terms of offensive production. However, it seems that Colorado is going for a gritty team, and McCormick can play gritty. He'll fight Cody McLeod and Ben Guite for a spot on the fourth line.
Helpful Aspect: Despite limited ice time (10:58 in 40 games) and only 4 points, McCormick posted a +5 rating and managed one game-winning goal.
Negative Point: Cody McLeod has an edge with 9 points and a much more defined role of enforcer.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Kris Russell- Russell was rushed into 67 games last year straight out of the WHL, and although he managed 10 points from the blue-line, his -12 rating proved that he needed some seasoning in the AHL. Then the Jackets brought in Fedor Tyutin, Mike Commodore, and Christian Backman, and all of the sudden Russell may have to play in the AHL regardless. However, he'll try and fight to win a job over O-K Tollefsen or Jan Hejda.
Helpful Aspect: Had three straight years of double-digit goals and at least 47 points in the WHL from 04-07.
Negative Point: Both Tollefsen (Designated team tough-guy) and Hejda (+20 rating in 81 games) have secured themselves jobs on the blue-line.

Dallas Stars: Toby Petersen- Petersen is currently ranked as the 5th center on Dallas's depth chart, and only got into 8 regular season games, garnering 3 assists. However, he got into twice as many playoff games and centered a line that was key to shutting down Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk in game 6 against the Red Wings. However, that might not be enough to earn him solid playing time.
Helpful Aspect: Petersen has playoff experience, unlike several rookies who are slated to earn a job this season.
Negative Point: Despite high offensive numbers in the AHL, Petersen's career high in NHL points is 18 in 79 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins back in 2001-2002.

Detroit Red Wings: Justin Abdelkader- Although Darren Helm himself is not guaranteed a spot with the defending Stanley Cup Champion, Abdelkader may have an easier time cracking the roster right off the bat. A right-winger, Abdelkader just might overtake Kirk Maltby during training camp. The two play a similarly gritty game, but Abdelkader is younger, and may have more offensive potential.
Helpful Aspect: Youth. The Wings want to stick around for a long time, and Maltby may have lasted long enough after winning 4 Stanley Cups.
Negative Point: The Wings only increased in depth on the right side after adding Marian Hossa as a free agent.

Edmonton Oilers: Gilbert Brule- Although many seem to think Brule will jump start his career in Edmonton, it's important to remember that the Oilers already have Shawn Horcoff, Sam Gagner, Kyle Brodziak, M-A Pouliot, Rob Schremp, and Ryan Potulny at center. Brule may be able to jump Schremp, Potulny, and Pouliot for the 4th line spot, but Brodziak secured spot on the third line with last season's 14-goal, 31-point performance.
Helpful Aspect: Experience never hurt anyone, and Brule has 146 NHL games to his credit.
Negative Point: Having only scored 12 goals and 32 points during those 146 games is more than a little worrying for a player who was formerly anticipated to be a second-line center.

Florida Panthers: Gregory Campbell- Despite having played three seasons of 60+ games since the lockout, and recently scoring a career high of 18 points, mainly from the fourth line, Campbell may very well be forced out of a job due to the arrival of Shawn Matthias. Campbell hasn't had strong numbers in the plus/minus department as of recently, and the Panthers would love to see Matthias on the second line, making Brett McLean likely headed for the fourth line.
Helpful Aspect: Campbell hasn't had any major injuries in his career, meaning he can be there night in and night out, regardless of his performance. He also plays a ruggedly and gives as much effort as he can.
Negative Point: The Panthers might not think 5 goals and 18 points a year is enough to keep the team strong.

Los Angeles Kings: Brian Boyle- Trained as a blue-liner, Boyle's offensive potential exploded when he was played at center during last season in the AHL. He scored 31 goals and 62 points in 70 games for the Manchester Monarchs, and also sored 4 goals in 8 NHL games. He has a defenseman's size (6'6", 222 lbs.) with offensive smarts of a finesse center. Yeah, he'll definitely be L.A.'s future power forward behind Dustin Brown.
Helpful Aspect: He's proven his talent at every level. Now he just needs to be given the chance.
Negative Point: Behind Anze Kopitar, Michal Handzus, and Jarret Stoll, the fourth line might be the only chance Boyle gets, and that's already knocking out solid defensive veteran Derek Armstrong.

Minnesota Wild: Krys Kolanos- Never heard of him? Makes sense. He's played a total of 115 NHL games and only scored 35 points. However, last season, he managed 63 points in 65 AHL games, and has an outside shot to manage Minnesota's fourth line this year.
Helpful Aspect: Minnesota lost a lot of scoring when Brian Rolston left town, and they'll be looking all over for new scorers.
Negative Point: He's been given opportunities with Phoenix and Edmonton, and has nothing better to show than 22 points in his 57-game rookie season.

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