Right now, it feels like we’re playing the waiting game with many of Carolina’s prospects. The KHL went on hiatus due to the spread of COVID in the league. They even had to start training camps due to the length of their hiatus. The QMJHL will resume its season on Friday after being on hiatus since December 18.
Every league faces postponements and cancellations, but there were still some big moments from the past month. In this month’s update, I’ll highlight news and strong performances from the past month, as well as information on what to expect from some prospects going forward.
The KHL and the Olympics
As I mentioned, the KHL has taken a break and will likely resume play after the Olympics as many of the league’s best players will be in attendance. With the league rapidly approaching the playoffs, one has to wonder if they possibly plan to extend the season past their usual April 30 end date. Ponomaryov could return from loan and join the Chicago Wolves.
If the season is extended, however, it would push that date back. Ponomaryov and Kochetkov would be major additions for Wolves in their quest for a Calder Cup, so that’s something to watch. The break also affects players like Alexander Pashin and Nikita Guslistov. Pashin should be in the KHL right now but isn’t, and if the KHL had decided to play during the Olympics, chances are he would have been called up by the big club. Those few games in the KHL would have been valuable experience for him. Guslistov was playing incredibly well before the break and had five points through January. He was also named the league’s best forward for the month of January. We’ll have to wait and see how Guslistov performs after some downtime.
All is not bad, however. I have been following the Russian Olympic team and it looks like Nikishin will be on their main roster. He’s played on their third pair of practices, which is a good sign. Nikishin is among the best defenders in Russia and was chosen ahead of players such as Shakir Mukhamadullin and Semyon Chistyakov. Mukhamadullin was a 2020 first-round pick and Chistyakov was a 2019 fourth-round pick. Nikishin outclassed both KHL players this season and earned his spot.
The QMJHL is back
Speaking of leagues that had long breaks, the QMJHL returns this weekend. Canes prospects Bobby Orr, Patrik Hamrla and Justin Robidas have been out of action since mid-December, so expect some rust early on. Orr was just starting to get into a good rhythm offensively and was playing great hockey when the break was announced. Robidas has been a constant threat throughout the season and should lead his team to a playoff spot. I’ve been most impressed with Robidas this season and I think his work ethic and offensive skills both in the offensive zone and in transition make him a solid prospect. In the last ten or fifteen games for Orr, I noticed he was as strong as ever with the puck and moved around the middle of the ice better than anyone else on his team. . This bodes well for its success. Hamrla was playing well for a team that has had its ups and downs this season. The QMJHL has never been a league touted for its excellent defense, so Hamrla’s stats can be a little misleading. He faces many high danger chances and his athleticism and recovery allows him to save on many of those chances.
The constant adjournments and breaks in the CHL make me wish the NHL would consider changing the transfer deal for a year or two. I’m not asking them to abolish it, but I think teams should have the ability to retain a player’s rights for an extra year so that some of their draft picks have their surplus seasons. A lot of those players have missed a lot of hockey over the past two years, so maybe an extra season at juniors could do those players some good. It won’t happen, but it’s just an idea. Part of me also wonders if some teams choose to sign their prospects and loan them to their junior clubs for an extra season. These types of situations are rare, but they do occur occasionally.
Good news for wolves
The good news is that Jack LaFontaine allowed a total of two goals in his first two AHL starts. The bad news is that he is winless in both starts despite Rockford being ruled out in regulation and overtime in his second start. I got to watch LaFontaine’s starts and see more of what I had seen of him in college. He was steady for Chicago and rarely caught out of position. Most of his saves were routine because he was always square to the puck. Both goals he conceded were high danger chances, which was to be expected given how many high danger chances the Chicago defense can tend to give up. Again, this is the level LaFontaine should have started at after turning pro. He wasn’t going to be ready for the NHL right away and it’s good to see him already performing so well. It’s a small sample, but again, his NHL sample was too. You were all ready to give it up after that, so maybe calm down a bit.
Speaking of good news, Ryan Suzuki was back for a game last weekend. He had missed the last three months with a lower body injury and didn’t look out of place when he returned. Suzuki was creating scoring chances, getting to middle of the ice and engaging in puck battles, something I was hoping to see more of when I watched him last year. This is a good sign for Suzuki’s development. Although he didn’t score in Chicago’s 4-1 win over Grand Rapids, he was noticed every time he was on the ice.
Dom Fensore and Scott Morrow both had impressive weekends. Fensore was named Hockey East Defenseman of the Week thanks to strong performances against UMass and Providence, two top teams in the conference. Scott Morrow was named Hockey East Rookie of the Month in January after recording nine points in eight games for UMass. Both players have had impressive seasons and made great strides in their development. Fensore is probably playing his senior season at BU before signing with the Hurricanes and I imagine Scott Morrow is also playing one more season in the NCAA before turning pro. Another year of development is always good, especially considering that both players could improve in the defensive zone.
News and additional notes
- Jesper Sellgren looked very confident on Chicago’s power play. I always felt like his attacking game went under the radar, so it was nice to see him with added responsibilities.
- Jalen Chatfield belongs to the NHL. He signed a two-year extension on January 21 and I imagine he will have another look at the NHL before the end of the season.
- I’m very curious to see if the Hurricanes try to clear some space in the pipeline, either at the deadline or closer to the draft. There are a lot of people and we have a number of prospects ready to make the jump to the AHL and the NHL.