Before Mikko Rantanen even got drafted, before he knew which players he would be competing against for a job, he maintained that his goal for 2015-16 was to play in the NHL. And after the powerful right winger was taken 10th overall by the Colorado Avalanche, he did just that – for a handful of games, at least.
Rantanen, the brightest prospect in Colorado’s system and Future Watch’s No. 5 prospect overall, made the Avalanche out of camp and played the first six games of the season. The strapping young Finn didn’t register a point and never eclipsed 11 minutes of ice time in any given game, but it’s tough to consider his assignment to the AHL as a disappointment, especially given how Rantanen has performed ever since. “It was an experience for him to dip his toe in the water,” said David Oliver, Colorado’s director of player development. “With ice time comes confidence, and for his development curve we wanted to get him to the AHL to play those big minutes.”
A fractured larynx
is horrible news for anyone. Merely writing about such a gruesome, frightening injury churns the stomach. For Providence Bruins goaltender Malcolm Subban, though, taking a puck to the throat Feb. 6 was especially discouraging.
After all, he was somewhere he didn’t think he should be.
If it were up to Subban, 22, he would’ve been far away from Portland, Maine and the Providence warmup, where he sustained the injury before a game against the Pirates. Subban spoke to THN shortly before training camp, and he made it clear he would rather be an NHL backup, fighting for scraps behind Tuukka Rask in Boston, than an AHL starter.
“From the OHL to the AHL, once I got in and got comfortable, I did really well coming in as a young guy, so I feel I can do the same in the NHL,” he said. “I’ve done it at the last two levels and succeeded there. So, looking at it the same way at the NHL level, I could play until I’m 28 and develop in the AHL, you know what I mean? So who’s to say when the age is? I definitely feel I can jump up there, and I’ve had a good couple seasons in the AHL.”
Subban wasn’t pulling a prima donna act. He dutifully accepted his AHL assignment to start 2015-16. He only admitted his preference for the big club when asked. And his mentality reflects how virtually every young goaltender feels once he’s drafted. They all want to be in the NHL as soon as possible, no matter how small the workload might be.
“In one sense, we’d all think there’s something wrong with them if they didn’t say that,” said Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford, a former NHL goalie.
The Memorial Cup begins today in Alberta, with the hosts from Red Deer taking on the OHL champs from London. Along with the Rebels and Knights, fans will be treated to performances by the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings and QMJHL’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. These teams didn’t get here by employing a bunch of scrubs, so there are many players to get excited for.
A lot of those kids have already been drafted by NHL teams and for franchises that don’t have any prospects in the tournament, there is also a raft of talent eligible for this summer’s draft in Buffalo. With that in mind, here’s my list of who to watch, no matter which NHL team you follow.
Should Phil Kessel continue his personal assault on the playoffs and be named winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as tournament MVP, fans in Toronto and Boston should feel nothing but happiness for him. Wasting their time and emotional energy lamenting what might have been would be an exercise in futility.
And that’s largely because it never would have been. You see what Kessel is doing in the playoffs with the Pittsburgh Penguins? Never would have happened in either Toronto or Boston. Fans in Boston can be thankful for what they got in return for Kessel – Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton for a while – then Jimmy Hayes and three prospects they got when they dealt the players they got for Kessel. Fans in Toronto can watch as Kasperi Kapanen and Scott Harrington try to win a Calder Trophy for their minor league team and hope the first- and third-round picks turn into something nice.
To these eyes, it was difficult to determine exactly what Corey Perry’s level of intent was when he clipped Patrik Laine of Finland with his left leg when he was coming off for a line change in today’s World Championship game.
So I will defer to the observations of two former NHL players who have more than 2,000 games between them. And the fact that both Ray Ferraro and Bob Errey are analysts for the Canada-centric TSN broadcasts and lambasted Perry for his skullduggery provide further perspective on the situation.
It’s about that time, folks. The Memorial Cup field has been set, the AHL is into the conference finals and the NCAA champs were crowned long ago. So which players repped their franchises the best? The following list is made up of the prospects I believe had the best seasons for their parent franchises.
These are not necessarily the most NHL-ready players or the top prospects in the organizational pecking order, but these guys had the most success overall (but yeah, a lot of the top guys are here anyway). Factors include individual stats and growth, plus team success – so don’t be surprised to find some North Dakota Fighting Hawks and Brandon Wheat Kings on the list. One more note: any player who is Calder-eligible for the current NHL season does not count – that means no Frankie Vatrano for Boston or Connor Hellebuyck for Winnipeg, as examples.
Let’s get to it:
So the Toronto Marlies are off to the Eastern Conference final in the American League as the executives with the big team tap the tips of their fingers together, their plan falling perfectly into place. Mitch Marner and his London Knights made a mockery of the Ontario League playoffs, Auston Matthews is leading USA in scoring at the World Championship and defenseman Connor Carrick, acquired from the Washington Capitals for Daniel Winnik, scored a goal to take over the AHL’s playoff scoring lead.
To be sure there were smiles and backslaps all around when the Marlies defeated the Albany Devils 4-3 in a darn entertaining Game 7 to win the second-round series and earn the right to face the Hershey Bears, the child team of the Capitals.
The Toronto Marlies are generally treated as the bastard child of the Toronto Maple Leafs, an afterthought in a hockey market where fans call into talk radio and wonder why their NHL team can’t just trade for P.K. Subban, like it’s that easy, or simply snap their fingers and sign Steven Stamkos and John Tavares when they become free agents. Toronto’s AHL franchise plays in a former horse palace, albeit a wonderfully refurbished one that makes for a great viewing experience, and despite being in the AHL’s biggest city and the Center of the Hockey Universe™ where they’re in first place and the NHL team is dead last, you can always get a ticket. Sometimes you might even have to pay for it. But there’s a lot of foot room for patrons since the arena is usually only about two-thirds full.
On this day in early February, however, the Marlies have the rule of the roost. The Maple Leafs are out of town on an extended road trip, so the Marlies take over the big club’s practice facility, a four-pad rink in the west end of the city. At one point during practice, Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe breaks the team into two groups, with one traipsing over to one rink to work exclusively on skill development and the other staying behind to work on systems.