In the post below I talked about the best prospects either graduating to the NHL without stopping at all in the minors or playing less than a full season before getting the call.
Of those players who do stay in the minors, what player type most often succeeds? How many of the truly skilled players spend a season or more in the minors, adjust their game enough to survive as a skill player, and then establish themselves as NHL players?
Over the last decade, the Oilers have had several prospects arrive at the pro level (age 20) and fail miserably in their efforts to make it to the show. Of those who did make an NHL impact, most are fringe players, enforcers or a combination of same. Here’s a look at the Oilers forward prospects who played their first pro season at 20 and how their careers rolled out.
- Steve Kelly (96-97 Hamilton Bulldogs). 48gp, 9-29-38 .792ppg Kelly was a speed demon who the Oilers liked a “hair” more than Shane Doan at the draft in 1995. His pro debut wasn’t Doan-like (Doan had played over 130 NHL games by the spring of 1997) but he held his value better than did Bonsignore and ended up having a better (if hugely disappointing) NHL career. Kelly’s career GP stands at 147, compared to Bonsignore’s 79. Kelly’s 38 points in 48 games represented 28.6% of the Bulldogs offense that season.
- Jason Bonsignore (96-97 Hamilton Bulldogs). 78gp, 21-33-54 .692ppg Bonsignore’s career has been well documented and his 20-year old AHL season placed in context (he was the 4th player chosen two years previous and 96-97 was the year Ryan Smyth popped 39 goals in the show) was a pretty good predictor of his future. Desjardins NHLE would have had him 11-17-28 and six months after the 96-97 season Sather offloaded him (and Steve Kelly) to the Lightning. Bonsignore’s Bulldogs scored 220 goals in 96-97, so his 54 points that season represents 25% of his team’s offense (adjusted for gp).
- Georges Laraque (96-97 Hamilton Bulldogs). 73gp, 14-20-34 .466ppg Laraque is the only one of the three 20-year old AHL prospects in 96-97 to become an NHL player and contribute to his team’s wins. Laraque’s ppg total in the AHL indicated he was marginal offensively (plus it’s extremely unlikely he saw the PP or many skill linemates) but he was an enforcer of some quality and in that role has had a very good NHL career. Laraque has now played over 500 NHL games. His 34 points in 73gp for Hamilton that season represented 16.9% of his team’s offense.
- Dan Lacouture (97-98 Hamilton Bulldogs). 77gp, 15-10-25 .325ppg Lacouture was a big kid with speed when he arrived in pro hockey. I remember him scoring a goal scorers goal against Boston (probably fall 2000) as he came in over the blueline and ripped a beauty by the goalie. Lacouture learned how to stay in the NHL after a time as a role player and although it’s a stretch to say he’s been a difference maker he has been able to survive for over 325 NHL games. His 25 points in 97-98 represents 10% of the Bulldogs’ offense 97-98, and like Laraque he didn’t likely get a lot of powerplay time.
- Michel Riesen (99-00 Hamilton Bulldogs). 73gp, 29-31-60 .822ppg Riesen’s quality AHL season at 20 is somewhat misleading in that it was his second year in the league. He played well no matter the circumstance, so well that his entire line (Swanson-Riesen-Cleary) won jobs in the fall of 2000 on the big club. His 99-00 AHL season and the pre-season in fall 2000 represent the highlight of his NHL career (plus the 12 games he actually got into 00-01). His 60 points in 73gp represents 29.2% of Bulldog offense that season. He is somewhat unique on this list in that he (and Bonsignore) were on the top line as rookie pro’s.
- Peter Sarno (99-00 Hamilton Bulldogs). 67gp 10-36-46 .687ppg Sarno was an interesting prospect who ended up with 7 career NHL games for two different teams (Oilers and Columbus). He gained a solid reputation as a powerplay specialist and got a couple of long looks from the Oilers. His 46 points in 99-00 represents 24% of his team’s offense (no doubt helped by PP time).
- Jason Chimera (99-00 Hamilton Bulldogs). 78gp, 15-13-28 .359ppg Chimera is best known among Oilers fans as being the guy Kevin Lowe would talk up every summer as being a lock for the roster only to be sent out each fall by Craig MacTavish. To this day he rarely passes on a chance to dig at the Oilers. Chimera was a speed demon with size and an energy player as a rookie pro, and has built on that and has an NHL career. He has played almost 300 NHL games and has over 50 goals in the show. How much of a difference maker his is would be open to question but he’s been able to hold a roster spot for 4 years now. His 28 points represent 12.8% of Bulldog offense.
- Jani Rita (01-02 Hamilton Bulldgos) 76gp, 25-17-42 .553ppg I thought Jani Rita would make it, swear to God. I remember at WJC goal he scored (it was real, and it was spectacular) and also saw a few AHL games in which he always looked like he was having an impact (plus he could score goals, 63 in 204 AHL games). He never made it, but that first AHL season would have to rank as one of the best on this list (and I believe Dennis will back me up on that). Rita has played in 66 NHL games, I’m still hoping he finds a career. His 42 points in 01-02 represents 17.9% of Bulldog offense.
- Jarret Stoll (02-03 Hamilton Bulldogs) 76gp, 21-33-54 .711ppg The two things I remember about Stoll in the AHL are a goal he scored maybe 5 seconds after the faceoff at center-ice and that the “shared” Habs/Oil team that year was a beauty. Stoll played with really good players and had an excellent season, which he has since built upon to become a solid NHL player. Stoll has played 205 NHL games and has scored 45 goals. His 54 points represents 20% of the Bulldog offense that season.
- Kyle Brodziak (04-05 Edmonton Roadrunners) 56gp, 6-26-32 .571 At this point we start looking at guys who have a lot of their story left to tell. Brodziak has a nice combination of size and skill. His AHL debut at 20 came on a very poor offensive team, and his 32 points reprsent 18.6% of the Roadrunner offense. Brodziak has played 16 NHL games so far.
- Marc Pouliot (05-06 Hamilton Bulldogs) 65gp, 15-30-45 .692ppg Pouliot played on a shared team (like Stoll) and put up similar offensive results. The difference was that Stoll’s team was much better, and Pouliot’s 45 points represents 25.2% of the Bulldogs offense. He has now played in 54 NHL games.
- Jean Francois Jacques (05-06 Hamilton Bulldogs) 65gp, 24-20-44 .677ppg Jacques had a helluva pro debut and his unique set of skills still make him an intriguing player even after the ridiculous NHL rookie season he just clocked in with in 06-07. He was an important part of the Bulldogs as a 20-year old rookie pro for all kinds of reasons, and his point total represents 24.6% of the Bulldog offense. He has played in 44 NHL games.
- Zack Stortini (05-06 Iowa/Milwaukee) 64gp, 2-8-10 .156ppg Should he make it, Stortini will definitely fall into the Laraque/Lacouture category of successful minor leaguers: enforcer/agitator 4th line player. He certainly has value and has played 29 NHL games already.
- Rob Schremp (06-07 SWB Penguins) 69gp, 17-36-53 .768ppg Schremp had a tough first year pro, getting benched a few times and was a healthy scratch a few times too. His coach did have some nice things to say about him but he’s not there yet and the injury then surgery will also have an impact. His 53 points represent 22.8% of his team’s total.
I think that’s all of them, although with the affiliate situation lately I may have missed one or two (let me know). Anyway, these 20-year olds over a 10-year period represent the “mid-level guys”, a rung below the Hemsky’s and Horcoff’s but a rung above those who spent time in the ECHL or didn’t dress for a full season’s worth of games at 20 (Tyler Spurgeon had somewhat special circumstances but I excluded him anyway).
Back to the questions I asked at the beginning:
Of those players who do stay in the minors, what player type most often succeeds? Enforcers and skill players with an idea about playing the game without the puck. One dimensional players have to be very good in order to have a career (ONE of them, Chimera, has become a player and he had to adjust his game some over several minor league seasons).
How many of the truly skilled players spend a season or more in the minors, adjust their game enough to survive as a skill player, and then establish themselves as NHL players? Not many. On our list Kelly, Bonsignore, Riesen and Sarno all failed. Riesen and Kelly put up numbers similar to Schremp (admittedly the gap in years is massive and the conditions for offense may be quite different), and although we don’t have powerplay times obviously they all probably enjoyed at least some time with the man advantage. I think Chimera qualifies here as a success.
The 5 players I have in bold are the ones that made it based on my own set of requirements. You could argue Pouliot hasn’t established himself yet and I’d agree but there seems to be enough evidence he’ll make it. So, of the 5 players in bold, they are in three categories: enforcer/agitator, players with a wider range of skills than the rest on the board (Stoll, Pouliot) and Jason Chimera.
Of the current AHLers, Stortini would appear to quality in the enforcer/agitator category, Jacques may also qualify. I’d put Brodziak in the Stoll/Pouliot bin, and that leaves Schremp as a more-skilled Chimera. A much more skilled Chimera based on 20-year old numbers, but we don’t have ATOI or powerplay times so it’s an incomplete record.
One final thing: in a ten-year period, this ain’t much folks. If you’re 20, in the AHL and coming off a season that is in any way disappointing you’re probably in trouble.