Keith Aucoin is hot out of the gate, scoring three goals and four points in five games for the Islanders. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
When the Islanders grabbed career minor-leaguer Keith Aucoin off waivers, my first thought was Matt Moulson. My next thought was P-A Parenteau.
Like Moulson and Parenteau, Aucoin has carved himself a prolific career in the American League. But despite seasons of 85, 99, 96 and 106 points, he was never given a steady NHL opportunity. Top AHLers such as Parenteau, Aucoin, Darren Haydar, Kris Newbury, Chad Kolarik, etc., etc. are thought by scouts to be wanting in a key area – be it skating, intensity, strength or shot. The end result is they get in a game here or a game there at the NHL level, replacing an injury. It is typically a few shifts on the fourth line, finishing with nine or 10 minutes of ice time playing with Joe Stonehands and Billy Meatfists.
On the other hand, the Isles took a long look at Moulson in 2009, then 25, on a line with John Tavares throughout training camp. He began the season there and even when he had some cold runs, the team stuck with him. Since then, he’s had three consecutive 30-goal seasons, with each year topping the one prior. I assure you 29 other NHL teams would not have given Mr. Moulson this opportunity. Those teams have missed out on 100 goals in 251 games.
Parenteau is another example. The Isles tried the same thing with him, this time going a little older as he was 27 at the time (2010). They didn’t have him checking; they put him with goal-scorers. The coaching staff didn’t roll his ice time back if he faltered for a game or two; they stuck with him. The result was 53 points in 2010-11 and 67 in 2011-12. The latter number was a point total only 25 other players in the NHL topped. It’s also a number only one player on the Rangers exceeded. The New York Rangers was his prior organization, one that couldn’t find room for him in the lineup.
The Islanders are onto something. If a player is highly successful at the AHL level, despite any perceived deficiencies, he warrants a fair look at the NHL level. Not two games on the fourth line. Not even three games on the third line. Give him a sustained look, with decent linemates and ice time, including power play time, and see what you end up with.
To be fair, most teams have top prospects knocking on the NHL’s door – prospects they have invested in and waited on. Whereas the Islanders are still a year or two away from the Ryan Stromes and the Nino Niederreiters of the world. But why a team weak up front beyond its NHL roster, such as Philadelphia or San Jose, doesn’t try something like this is a head-scratcher. But I digress.
The Toronto Maple Leafs placed Keith Aucoin on waivers and the Islanders claimed him. He’s older than their other two ‘experiments’, as he’s now 34. But five games into his career on the Island he has three goals and four points. He’s been getting about 14 minutes of ice time and steady time on the second power-play unit
So is Aucoin the next Islander home run?
1. The Islanders have done this before.
2. He’s off to a great start.
3. In a shortened season, a hot 30 games would be enough to put him in the Top 100 in NHL scoring.
1. Though Josh Bailey and Jesse Joensuu aren’t due back particularly soon, Aucoin may only have until they return to prove himself.
2. It’s only four games.
3. He’s past his prime, having turned 34 in November.
There are a few things we can safely bank on. First of all, Aucoin makes for a decent short-term pickup with long-term possibilities. Second, if Bailey and/or Joensuu return within three weeks, the odds are pretty good Aucoin will see his ice time cut or he’ll be waived altogether. Unless, of course, he’s still scoring. And finally, given his age, it’s hard to imagine that he would maintain any fantasy value into 2013-14. This is strictly a one-year (shortened year, at that) deal, folks.
If you want to play it safe on the waiver wire and take less upside, 23-year-old David Ullstrom is turning heads. Aucoin’s linemate also has four points and has shown he is NHL-ready. He’s a third-liner with second-line upside, but again – we’ll need to see the impact of Bailey and Joensuu back in the lineup to know what we have here a month from now.
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