Prospect Update: Wolfpack Win 4-1 ; Lindberg Shines and McIlrath Returns

While the Rangers were busy making a statement against the Avalanche last night, the Hartford Wolfpack came up with a pretty easy win themselves, beating the Adirondack Phantoms 4-1.

Oscar Lindberg earned the first star with a goal, assist, and five shots. His goal came from him crashing the net and battling for positioning right above the crease. Kristo fed him the puck and Lindberg slotted it home. Lindberg was also very good in the faceoff circle. Lindberg now has six goals in his last seven games and 18 points in his last 17 games. While I still view Miller as the better long-term prospect, if a few Rangers got hurt it wouldn't surprise me to see Lindberg as the guy called up to fill-in. He's just been playing that well and can play a whole bunch of roles. 

Speaking of J.T. Miller, despite only one assist on the night there's a case to be made that he was the best player. He was energetic and confident in everything he did. I counted three different occasions that he went end-to-end by himself, leading to Wolfpack offensive chances. He put five shots on net and probably deserved a goal; if not two. 

Danny Kristo assisted the Lindberg goal and scored himself within the first minute of the game. Lindberg put a shot on net and Kristo crashed the net, found the rebound, and easily slotted it home. I was more impressed with the rest of his game, however. He showed a willingness to forecheck and battle for pucks, and on multiple occasions it set up offense for the Wolfpack.  He also did his due dilligence in the defensive zone. Kristo's point production has dropped a bit, but I think that's in part because he's sacrificing the offense to play a more complete game. That's what he'll need to do to eventually stick at the NHL level. Encouraging to see.

Jesper Fast was a bit quieter than the previoiusly mentioned guys, but still had a modestly good game himself. He set up Miller on a number of ocassions for high-percentage shots. 

Dylan McIlrath returned to the lineup and played an unspectactular but very good game. He didn't seem physically hampered at all. He was physical and skated very well. He threw some quality hits and did a respectable job of making high-percentage plays in his own end and limiting mistakes. I'm still as high on him as I ever was and I don't think the injuries are too concerning right now. 

Conor Allen did not have his best game. He's still trying to do way too much with the puck, and it cost him on a number of ocassions in this game. Instead of just making the simple play and sending it along the boards into the neutral zone, or when in the neutral zone simply sending it deep, he tries to carry the puck himself past multiple guys, and that results in turnovers. On one ocassion that forced him to take a hooking penalty to prevent an odd-man rush. He also made a terrible cross-ice pass in the offensive zone to send Chris VandeVelde on a breakaway, which LeNeveu had to make a great save on. Don't mistake this as me being down on Allen – it's only one game – but it highlights some of the issues I felt he'd need to work on back in early January to get to the NHL level.

Finally, Kyle Beach has shown me absolutely nothing that makes me feel the Rangers will re-sign him at the end of the season. He's a decent player by AHL standards and plays with energy, but he hasn't displayed any offensive upside. There's still some time for him to change my tune, but so far he hasn't made much of a case for himself. 

 

Keep reading for some other prospect updates.

 

Mackenzie Skapski made 28 saves on 31 shots in a 6-3 win for Kootenay last night. He did make one really nice glove save from point-blank shot but otherwise had a solid but not overly difficult game. Since making additions at the trading deadline and getting Sam Reinhart back Kootenay have gone from unlikely playoff team to a potential darkhorse in the WHL playoffs. Skapski has now won in seven-straight starts. Skapski's GAA was well above 3 in the earlier months of the season but has since brought that way down to 2.80. His .915 Save % is also easily a career high. And this is all playing behind what is an improving but still suspect defense. I've said this a few times, but I'll reiterate that the only thing standing in between Skapski and a contract at the end of the season is some crippling injury. As a sidenote, one guy to look out for in the upcoming draft is Kootenay defenseman Rinat Valiev. I wasn't impressed with him at first, but he's slowly transitioned into a quality defenseman for the Ice and he fits the mold that the Rangers often go after in later rounds of the draft. He's got a solid frame, is physical, and is a decent mover of the puck in the neutral zone. 

Anthony Duclair had a goal and a secondary assist in a 4-2 loss for Quebec last night. The goal was another good one. He received the puck at the blue-line and slowly skated in before accelerating hard, cutting between two Baie-Comeau players, and finishing it off with a great wrist shot. You can watch the goal here. I've said a lot about Duclair's season and playing style so I'm not going to beat a dead horse here. Instead I'll answer a few questions I commonly get asked. The CHL and NHL have an agreement in place, which you can read about here, but the important information is that, for the most part, CHL-grown players are not allowed to move into the AHL if they are 19-years-old or younger by the start of that given season. Duclair turns 19 in August, and so he will not be in the AHL next season even despite the fact that he's probably physically ready to step onto AHL ice; rules are rules. However, Duclair is allowed to play at the NHL level. The Rangers could keep him on the roster out of training camp next season, and after nine games would have to decide to either keep him on the NHL roster the rest of the season or send him back to the QMJHL for good. I will not rule out the Rangers giving Duclair that stint to prove he belongs next season. That being said, it's overwhelmingly likely that he does instead spend the year in the QMJHL. I think 15-16 is when Duclair likely gets his first taste on NHL action. Finally, though there of course are no guarantees that Duclair becomes an NHLer, I think it's doing him an injustice to compare him to guys like Evgeny Grachev or Nigel Dawes. Both guys similarly put up big point totals in juniors only to disappoint at the NHL level, but the holes in their game were very apparent from the beginning and the sources of point inflation were obvious as well. Duclair has no red flags or real concerns and his point totals are not at all falsely inlfated. He's not comparable to those guys. 

Cristoval "Boo" Nieves earned an assist in two Michigan wins this past Friday and Saturday. I watched part of what was a huge win for Michigan against Wisconsin on Saturday and what I saw, combined with what I heard from other sources, indicates that he played very well. As I've said before, his point totals this season, while underwhelming, are incredibly misleading; he's played much better than the stats look. Nieves thinks the game very well and is a true playmaker. A healthy Tim Connolly might be an imperfect but decent comparable player for Nieves. Great speed, good hands and vision. 

Brady Skjei earned a primary assist and put two shots on goal in a Friday win for Minnesota. The assist came off a shot, which hit teammate Justin Kloos in the skate and bounced in. He did not appear on the scoresheet in Saturday's 1-0 win, though presumably played respectable defense given the shutout.

Ryan Graves was +2 with three shots in a 4-2 win for Val-d'Or last night. He seems to be fitting in well with his new team and has really solidified their backline. 

Steve Fogarty was a combined -2 in two Notre Dame losses to New Hampshire, though he did put four shots on net in Saturday's game.

Thomas Spelling scored once and added two assists on a 7-1 win for Sønderjyske on January 31st, according to Blueshirt Banter's Alex Nunn.

Adam Tambellini was -1 in a 7-2 loss for Calgary. He's in action again tonight against the Victoria Royals.

Michael St. Croix and Kyle Jean each earned an assist in Greenville's shootout loss on Saturday. Sam Noreau was -1 with three shots. Josh Nicholls was -2 with two PIM.

Troy Donnay and the Erie Otters have not played since February 1st, but he does have three assists in his last five games. Not bad for a pure defensive defenseman.

 

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