I convinced myself that the Olympics – and thus lack of NHL hockey – meant that I was going to do a whole bunch of prospect updates instead. What resulted was me doing absolutely nothing because I got swamped with other stuff. So my apologies there, but I'll do my best to give updates on the most recent games while also giving a sense of how the past few weeks have gone for each player.
One Rangers' prospect who has flown a bit under the radar this season is 2012 second-round selection Cristoval "Boo" Nieves. It's easy to understand why this has been the case for the University of Michigan forward. A sophomore, Nieves had only one goal and seven assists in his first 24 games this season. While there's no pretending that Nieves was having an excellent season, this is also a case where the box score doesn't do a player justice. He was playing much better than his point totals indicated and was having absurdly poor luck with his shooting ; the number of posts Nieves was hitting became a running joke amongst Michigan fans.
Regression to normalcy has started to come for Nieves, though. Last night he scored a goal and added two assists in a 4-3 loss to Michigan State. The goal was arguably the best of his collegiate career, as he dangled through the legs of a defenseman before roofing a backhander over the shoulder of one of the better NCAA goaltenders, Jake Hildebrand. While last night was perhaps his best game of the season, it was just a part of a current hot streak for Nieves, who now has at least one point in six of his last seven games, with two goals and eight assists over that span. I previously predicted a renaissance of sorts for Nieves in the second-half of the season and he looks to be finally hitting his stride. Guys like Duclair and Buchnevich have (rightly) received plenty of hype, but I'd put Nieves right there with them.
You can watch the highlights of Nieves' three-point performance here. Keep reading for a whole lot of other prospect news, including a four-point night for J.T. Miller.
The Hartford Wolfpack lost 3-2 to the Manchester Monarchs earlier today and it was a largely underwhelming game, though I only watched sporadically. Non-prospect T.J. Hensick scored both goals, though Allen, Kristo, Miller, and Bourque all got an assist. Instead, I'll focus on yesterday's 4-3 victory over the Albany Devils. J.T. Miller was the First Star with a goal and three assists. His goal came off a sharp-angle redirection from the side, and he was the catalyst for most of the Hartford offense and very much deserved the three assists. Miller has two goals and six assists in three games since being returned to Hartford at the trading deadline. Ryan Bourque earned a goal and two assists himself, with the goal coming from a wrist shot during a 2-on-1 opportunity. Bourque was named Second Star and now has points in 9 of his last 11 games. Jesper Fast scored a goal off a rebound from a Bourque shot and came up big defensively late in the game. Dylan McIlrath was very good defensively the whole game, put some shots on net, and overall played a nice game. Conor Allen had two assists and, including today, now has seven points in his last even games. Here are game highlights.
Anthony Duclair has not done much of anything recently. Why? Because he hasn't been playing. Duclair last played on February 28th and already had an assist in the game prior to receiving a nasty, illegal hit which ended his night. The Quebec Remparts have implied that it's a concussion and haven't given an official update on his status since. The good news, however, is that Duclair had been available for interviews in the days afterwards, and though he did claim to suffer from headaches it does not some to be a significant long-term concern. Duclair did not play today but there are whispers that he could be ready to return next weekend.
Pavel Buchnevich and Severstal Cherepovets barely missed out on a playoff spot in the KHL. Nonetheless, it was a remarkably successful season for the 2013 third-round pick. Buchnevich completed the KHL season with seven goals and 11 assists for 18 total points in 40 games. To put this into perspective, only two players, since the KHL was formed in 2008, have ever scored more goals or totaled more points as an 18-year-old than Buchnevich did. One is Vladimir Tarasenko, who is now one of the more productive forwards on a thriving Blues team. The other is Evgeny Kuznetsov, who just in the last few days signed an Entry-Level Contract with the Capitals and is one of the top prospects in hockey. One common concern I hear about Buchnevich is in reference to the typical concerns with Russians. Will he come over and will his game translate to the NHL. He attended last year's draft and has made it clear that he wants to come to the Rangers; likely at the end of next season. As for his game, he's really become a more complete player. He's earned a bit of a reputation in Russia for being a bit feisty and a battler for pucks in the corners. Nobody's ever going to compare him to a Ryan Callahan or Sean Avery, but he definitely has an edge and completeness to his game as an 18-year-old that steretypical "soft" Russian like Nikita Filatov and Nik Zherdev didn't possess.
Ryan Graves had three shots and six hits in a 5-2 win for Val-d'Or last night, who are now surging up the QMJHL standings. Graves has been a big part of that. He continues to play a shutdown role on defense, but has also begun to ramp up his point production. Whereas Graves had no points and two assists in his first 11 games with Val-d'Or, he now has two goals and five assists in the 11 games since. Val-d'Or now sit fifth in the QMJHL overall standings, recently surpassing Duclair's Quebec, and have won eight of their last 10 games.
Mackenzie Skapski hit a small rough patch in late February/early March in which he lost three of his four starts and let in at least three goals in those three games. However, he earned back-to-back wins this past Friday and Saturday, saving a combined 57 of 60 shots. Friday's win meant that Skapski and Kootenay clinched a WHL playoff spot, which was not looking like a very likely scenario back in November. As an aside, this all falls secondary to the devestating news regarding Kootenay forward and Montreal Canadiens prospect Tim Bozon, who suddenly came down with a "critical" case of meningitis and just yesterday was placed into a medically induced coma. Bozon has been a key scorer for Kootenay and, by all accounts, is a respectable guy. He's a prospect with tremendous upside, but right now concerns for him go well beyond hockey. Rest assured that Kootenay and the rest of the WHL have been overly cautious and are taking all necessary steps to ensure that all players who have been in any sort of contact with Bozon, Skapski included, are accounted for and on a course of antibiotics. At this point, we can only hope the best for Bozon. In the meantime, Bozon's family is reading all tweets sent to his twitter account, and feel free to send some nice words to Skapski as well.
Adam Tambellini was pointless in Calgary's 2-1 win last night. Though he is without a goal in his last five games, he's still been very good for Calgary in the offensive zone and finished February with six goals and 18 points in 12 games.
Troy Donnay, a pure defensive defenseman, has managed to produce four points in his last six games. Granted, the goal was an empty-netter, but it was shorthanded and shows the confidence Erie head coach Kris Knoblauch has in Donnay on the penalty kill and late in games. Donnay has dramatically improved his skating and all-around play this season, and though he's still a huge project I think he's done enough to put himself on the map as a legitimate, though longshot, NHL prospect.
Brady Skjei was -1 with a shot and a blocked shot in a 2-2 tie with Ohio State last night. On Friday, however, he was +1 and earned an assist with three shots. The guys over at SBN College Hockey recently ranked the top NHL prospects in the NCAA and ranked Skjei 16th overall and fifth among defensemen. Among other things, they say that Skjei has "become a leader on the Minnesota blue line" and that he's starting to develop into the player the Rangers have hoped he can become.
Steve Fogarty was +1 with two shots in an 3-2 win over Boston University. Last week, he added an assist in an important 2-1 overtime win over Boston College. Notre Dame are starting to put themselves in the list of top contenders within the NCAA.
Michael St. Croix and Josh Nicholls each had goals for Greenville in a 5-2 win while Sam Noreau had two assists. Andrew Yogan also had two assists, but the bigger story here is that Yogan was just recently sent down to the ECHL in the first place. There was a lot of hope for Yogan coming into this season and it could be argued that this is his make-or-break year. For him to fall so far as to get demoted to the ECHL does not altogether shut the door on a potential NHL career, but sure puts it on life support.
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