I think part of the appeal of minor league hockey is that it's inherently quirky, but this Hartford Wolf Pack season has been particularly bizarre. After starting out as one of the hottest teams in the AHL, a slew of call-ups, including Cam Talbot, depleted the roster a bit and began months of incompetence that has led to them being the worst team in the league. A number of roster moves later, including a complete overhaul of the goaltending, and they're now 7-3-0 in their last 10 games. Last night's contribution to that streak was a 5-2 win over the Springfield Falcons; the Blue Jackets' affiliate and one of the top teams in the AHL.
The best player on the ice for either team was J.T. Miller by an extremely wide margin. Miller was just an absolute monster in virtually any facet of the game you can think of. He scored Hartford's first goal with a nice wrist-shot from the top of the right faceoff circle off the rush and earned assists on the next two Wolf Pack goals. He turned on the jets shorthanded to get a breakaway, and after getting hooked, converted a penalty shot with a nice deke. He played a physical game and a solid game defensively. The Falcons, as previously mentioned, are a very good team and it's a team filled with plenty of NHL experience. The fact that a 20-year-old Miller could stand out and completely run rampant says a lot about his physical and mental maturation.
Ryan Bourque was the other Hartford player to stand out. Bourque scored a powerplay goal by putting a shot in while falling down in the slot. He, along with Miller, was a big part of limiting damage on the PK as the Wolfpack sent a parade of players to the penalty box in the third period while trying to preserve the lead. And he got an empty netter for good measure.
Marek Hrivik, after having two goals in his previous 26 games, now has a 2-game scoring streak. A Jesper Fast PP shot went behind the net, and the waiting Hrivik took it towards the front and eventually banked it off goaltender Mike McKenna into the net. It's been a disappointing season for Hrivik offensively, and he doesn't hold much value in other areas. He certainly has a handful of nice offensive tools, though, so if he can salvage the rest of the season and put up some numbers it could save himself from being sent packing in the offseason.
Dylan McIlrath was very good defensively, and particularly on the penalty kill. Conor Allen also had a pretty good game and earned two assists. Oscar Lindberg did not have his best effort, only generating one shot while taking two penalties, but even still he made a great cross-ice pass to Miller for the first goal. Jesper Fast got an assist on the Hrivik goal, while Danny Kristo had a nice game despite blanking on the scoresheet.
Keep reading for some other prospect updates, including video of Ryan Graves' first goal since being traded to The Val-d'Or Foreurs.
Ryan Graves, drafted by the Rangers in the fourth round in 2013, scored his first goal for "Les Foreurs de Val-d'Or." He also added an assist on an empty netter as well. Here's video of both points.
First, you can see that Graves started the whole play by stepping up at exactly the right time to cause a turnover along the boards in the neutral zone. Though Graves is primarily a defensive defenseman, he has proven capable of putting home a few goals. Most in the past have been heavy shots from the point, however. I don't know what compelled him to pinch in this instance but it obviously was the right decision. The assist was a nice way to cap off the night. Nothing crazy, but a good defensive play and then a bit of poise to not simply smash the puck up ice but instead finding teammate Anthony Mantha. Without giving too much away, expect to see more about Ryan Graves soon.
Mackenzie Skapski wasted no time making up for his Wednesday loss by stopping 32 of 34 shots and stoning three of four players in the shootout as part of Kootenay's 3-2 shootout win over the Brandon Wheat Kings. That's now 11 wins in the last 12 games for Skapski, and he has an absurdly good 1.84 GAA and .938 Save % in seven games this month. Equally absurd is that the shootout goal against Skapski was only the second one he's given up in 19 attempts this season.
Anthony Duclair earned a primary assist on a powerplay goal in Quebec's 5-3 win last night. He also had four shots. Though I did not watch the game, media reports indicate that he was dangerous offensively and particularly on the powerplay. Duclair remains one goal away from 50 on the season, and the assist pushes him up to 93 points in 54 games.
Michael St. Croix was named First Star in Greenville's 6-2 win as he tallied two goals and an assist. You can hear him discuss his performance here. St. Croix now has 12 points in his last 10 games and 35 points in 33 ECHL games. As Kevin pointed out a few days ago, St. Croix is not a prospect to give up on. Though this season has been a disappointment by virtue of him not sticking at the AHL level, he is absolutely ripping up the ECHL, which is still above juniors on the ladder. He'll be 20 until late April, meaning that he's still got plenty of time to develop.
Also playing for Greenville were Jason Missiaen, who made 20 saves on 21 shots coming in to relieve Jeff Malcolm, Josh Nicholls, who produced four shots and missed a penalty shot, Kyle Jean, who scored a goal and produced three shots, and Sam Noreau, who was +1 with two shots and a cross-checking penalty.
Cristoval Nieves and Brady Skjei faced off in NCAA action, with Minnesota fending off Michigan 5-3. Nieves, demoted to the third line for the game after playing the last handful of games on the second line, was +1 with two shots and a hooking penalty. Skjei was +2 with one shot. After only having two shots - both in the same game - in his previous four games, Skjei now has seven shots in his last three, and all against very good teams. It's nice to see him looking to make some plays offensively, even if they aren't resulting in points right now. The two face off again tonight at 8pm EST.
Adam Tambellini was pointless and a -1 in Calgary's 6-5 overtime win, ending a four-game point streak.
Steve Fogarty did not register anything on the box score in Notre Dame 2-2 tie. Yes, ties still exist in college hockey.
Follow Me On Twitter: @Herman_NYRBlog
Went to the game last night. He plays like he is owed something and seems like like he's not mentally mature enough to be ready for a full time spot in the NHL. I was shocked. Breaking sticks on the bench etc.
@Herman_NYRBlog what no update on the Russian kid we drafted?? :-)