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The replacements

Picked sixth overall by Columbus in 2005, Gilbert Brule looked like a bust, but has started showing promise with Edmonton this season. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Picked sixth overall by Columbus in 2005, Gilbert Brule looked like a bust, but has started showing promise with Edmonton this season. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Adam's away this week, but never fear, the THN staffers are here to tackle your questions.

Check back next week for Adam's triumphant return.

What do you think of the Southern Pro League? After watching I’m going to go ahead and make a wild guess saying that none of those players are on the road to the NHL. Do you agree?
Alex Huffman, St. Paul, Minn.


Alex,

There are three levels of pro hockey in North America. The NHL, obviously, is at the top of the pyramid, followed by the American League. Professional ‘AA’ consists of the ECHL and if you’re not playing at least AA hockey, you’re not going to make the NHL.

The International, Central and Southern Pro Leagues make up North America’s professional ‘A’ level. Most of the players are former Jr. A and NCAA skaters just looking to make some money and continue the dream.

In this day and age, if you’re a promising player you’ll be recognized as such early and won’t be in the SPHL. So what do I think of the league, you ask?

If you’re in places such as Fayetteville, N.C., Knoxville, Tenn., or Biloxi, Miss., and want to watch pro hockey, the SPHL is for you. But don’t expect to see your favorite FireAntz, Ice Bears or Surge players in the NHL any time soon.

Thanks for the question, Alex. -JG

Hey Adam, What’s wrong with the Edmonton Oilers? I watch them every time I can and it seems to me they don't put in any effort. They don't forecheck aggressively, don't defend well or score. The best part about them is the goaltending. What do you think is wrong with the Oilers?
Matthew Fraser, Winnipeg


Matthew,

Simply put, the Edmonton Oilers don’t have enough talent to compete in the Western (or Eastern, for that matter) Conference this season. Their best player, Ales Hemsky, is out for the year and even in the lineup he’s a second-tier NHL star at best. In the same vein, defenseman Sheldon Souray is a very good weapon on the blueline, but not an all-star.

With the benefit of hindsight, signing goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin (also injured once again) and jettisoning Dwayne Roloson was the wrong move and those vaunted kids from two years ago – Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Robert Nilsson – have all either flat-lined or regressed. Cogliano, for example, has 10 points through 43 games.

This team needs a serious injection of Taylor Hall this summer. Thanks for writing! -RK

Hey Adam, I was wondering why the New Jersey Devils have been ranked so low with their prospects, but are pumping out hockey players like Niclas Bergfors, Vladimir Zharkov, Andy Greene, Mark Fraser, Matt Corrente and Matt Halischuk. And what do you think about their next wave of Patrice Cormier, Adam Henrique, Mattias Tedenby, Jacob Josefson and Tyler Eckford?
Jon Dieks, Kitchener, Ont.


Jon,

You’re absolutely right about us not showing a lot of love to the Devils lately. In the past four Future Watch issues we’ve published, the Devils have finished 30th, 29th, 27th and 20th overall. But you have to understand that when we do our ratings, we calculate them based on the input from a cross-section of scouts and directors of player personnel, so we’re certainly not the only ones.

I think part of the problem is that, with the rare exceptions of players such as Zach Parise and Travis Zajac, the Devils develop their players very slowly and deliberately and it’s a great thing for them because they’re totally prepared once they get to the NHL. But the longer a player is out of the NHL, the less people seem to think he’s a top prospect. Bergfors is a perfect example of that. He was on their prospect list for four years before coming to the NHL and has emerged as a contender for the Calder Trophy at the age of 22. He never scored more than 22 goals a season in four years with the Devils farm team, but might eclipse that total in his first NHL season.

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As far as what the Devils have on the way, you know that any organization put together by David Conte will at the very least be a group of serviceable NHLers. That’s pretty much what most people see with this group, with the possible exception of the speedy and talented Tedenby. What usually happens with the Devils is they develop them to become New Jersey Devil-type players and it’s that aspect of their development that makes them so good at the NHL level. -KC

Adam, what is wrong with Steve Mason this year? Is he the second coming of Jim Carey?
Greg Sawatsky, Stoney Creek, Ont.


Hi Greg,

I know Mason hasn’t looked great this season, but I don’t think we’re going to have to hire the old ‘Net Detective’ to find him in a few years.

First off, Mason – and backup Mathieu Garon for that matter – isn’t getting anything in the way of goal support over the past six weeks. Entering Thursday night’s action, the Blue Jackets were averaging 1.5 goals-per-game; Terry Sawchuk would have had a tough time ringing up wins with that kind of “support.”

Goaltending is also the most volatile position in hockey and Mason is still only 21 years old. His sophomore slump is certainly pretty severe, but I think once the big kid gets his confidence back, he’ll look more like a Vezina candidate than a one-year wonder. –RD

Do you think Gilbert Brule is finally becoming the player he was supposed to be when he was drafted?
Joe Cordova, Burnaby, B.C.


Hey Joe,

Will Brule ever hit the heights expected of a player selected sixth overall in the draft? The jury is still out on that one, but he’s certainly taking great strides after being brought along too quickly by the Blue Jackets.

If there’s one thing to keep an eye on it’s how streaky of a scorer he’s been. He posted seven points in his first seven games this year, three in the next 11 after missing three games with the flu, followed by 12 points in his next 13 games and now he’s only posted two points in his past 10. He has to find the consistency if he’s to become the player he was supposed to be, but at least he’s a serviceable full-time NHLer now. -RB

Ask Adam appears Fridays on TheHockeyNews.com. Proteau also answers readers' questions in every issue of The Hockey News magazine and on The Hockey News Radio Show on XM Radio channel 204. To send us your question or comment, click HERE.

Adam Proteau is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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