Marc Pouliot had a solid 20-year old season as a rookie pro, scoring well (in the same general area as Jarret Stoll at the same age) and making a big contribution to a very good Hamilton Bulldogs club. The two best seasons to evaluate for prospects are 17 (the season they are drafted) and their 20-year old (usually first year pro) season.
By the time the prospect reaches 18 and 19 years old he should be dominating junior. At 20, one hopes he can turn pro and make an impact in the AHL (a very good pro league). This fall, the Oklahoma City Barons may see some two or three 20-year old forward prospects. Among the names are Jordan Eberle, Teemu Hartikainen and Phil Cornet.
What should we expect from these players? Based on Oilers AHL prospects (forwards at 20) over the last many years, a full season in the minors suggests “role player” status is likely at the big league level. Here’s the list by year, beginning with Steve Kelly.
- LW 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 149, compared to Bonsignore’s 79. Kelly’s 38 points in 48 games represented 28.6% of the Bulldogs offense that season.
- C 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).
- RW 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 had a very good NHL career. Laraque has now played 695 NHL games. His 34 points in 73gp for Hamilton that season represented 16.9% of his team’s offense.
- LW 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 scorer’s 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 play 337 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.
- RW 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.
- C 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).
- LW 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. He was a speed demon with size and an energy player as a rookie pro, and has built on that since. He has played 500 NHL games and has 88 goals in the show. Chimera is an established NHL player now and would rank among the best on this list. His 28 points represent 12.8% of Bulldog offense.
- LW Jani Rita (01-02 Hamilton Bulldgos) 76gp, 25-17-42 .553ppg Rita is probably the most famous prospect on this list, as he spent 4 years as the top prospect in the organization. Rita scored pretty well in the AHL (63 in 204 AHL games) but he never made it. 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.
- C 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 built on to become a solid NHL player. His career went a little sideways when he suffered two concussions in short order and hasn’t been the same since. Stoll has played 433 NHL games and has scored 93 goals. His 54 points represents 20% of the Bulldog offense that season.
- RW Kyle Brodziak (04-05 Edmonton Roadrunners) 56gp, 6-26-32 .571 His AHL debut at 20 came on a very poor offensive team, and his 32 points reprsent 18.6% of the Roadrunner offense. His slow and steady rise through the organizational depth chart was given a huge boost when he arrived in TC fall 2007 in top condition and with an attitude that suggested he belonged. Brodziak has played 257 NHL games so far and has scored 35 goals in the show.
- C 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 176 NHL games and has 21 goals.
- LW Jean Francois Jacques (05-06 Hamilton Bulldogs) 65gp, 24-20-44 .677ppg Jacques had a helluva pro debut. 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. Notice how close he is in terms of offensive output to Pouliot (and Stoll) and yet he cannot make things happen in the show. He has played in 109 NHL games and has 5 goals.
- RW Zack Stortini (05-06 Iowa/Milwaukee) 64gp, 2-8-10 .156ppg Stortini is less skilled than all of the 2003 selections taken before him, but he passed them all on the way to NHL employment. Stortini has played in 224 games in the NHL, scoring 14 goals.
- C 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 spent another year in the minors (partly due to offseason surgery). His 53 points represent 22.8% of his team’s total. He has played 51 NHL games and has 7 goals.
- LW Slava Trukhno (07-08 Springfield Falcons) 64gp, 14-21-35 .547ppg Trukhno fell well short of what we might consider acceptable for 20-year old AHL players. About the only positives are a very nice run after Pouliot was called up (better skill linemates) and that he performed well when given PP time. His 35 points represents 21.1% of his team’s offense.
- C Ryan O’Marra (07-08 Springfield Falcons) 31gp 2-7-9 .290ppg Very poor first season at the pro level and he’s on life support as a pro player.
The best point-per-game total in the group was Michel Riesen (.822) but he never made the grade. The best ppg total among players who made it was Jarret Stoll (.711) and I’d think Eberle could pass that number if he spends a full season in the AHL.
The organization may handle Eberle differently, having him stay in the minors for an entire season before moving along to the NHL. If they do, I think it is reasonable to expect him to post a superior ppg number (close to or better than 1/1) based on his AHL totals as a teenager (23 points in 20 games). I also think it’s reasonable to suggest he plays fewer than 30 games in the AHL next season and is called to the show in early 2011.