The RookiesSunday, December 02, 2012
This week in the AHL Report I’m going to look at five rookies: a couple of first round picks, a couple of seconds and an undrafted free agent. Rookies who play well this season are special players as the AHL is an especially good league in 2012 due to the fact that every NHL team sent down all their eligible players before the league locked out the players. There was a similar occurance in 2004-05 and a lot of players like Jason Spezza, Thomas Vanek and Eric Staal, greatly benefitted from the extra ice time they saw in the AHL, rather than spending a lot of time on NHL benches.
The same benefit should occur for many players in the NHL in the years to come.
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Justin Schultz – (D) - It’s hard to believe that the leading scorer in the AHL is not only a rookie, but a defenseman. It’s true. Justin Schultz has been leading the league in scoring since the second week of the season and the Edmonton Oilers could not be happier. Schultz was a second round draft pick (43rd overall) in 2008 by the Anaheim Ducks but refused to sign there after spending three years at the University of Wisconsin and per the previous CBA, was allowed to become an unrestricted free agent. He was pursued by almost every NHL team and signed on with the Oilers. He will become the quarterback of their power play although it may not happen once Edmonton is back playing as the team will likely want to bring him along slowly and continue to use Ryan Whitney. He has 11 goals and 31 points thus far and should be selected fairly high in all keeper pools as he will be a stud in a few years. He should average close to a point every other game this season in the NHL and should be drafted with that in mind.
Jason Zucker – (LW) – Zucker has been a pleasant surprise for the Wild thus far as he was selected late in the second round in 2010, making his way to the University of Denver before signing an entry level contract earlier this year. Zucker played for Minnesota after signing and managed a couple of assists in six games. This season he started the year playing with Mikael Granlund (until he was injured) and Charlie Coyle in what could be a great line for the Wild in the years to come. Zucker has 11 goals and 18 points in only 16 games thus far. His future looks bright.
Michael Sgarbossa – (C) - Sgarbossa was undrafted as an 18-year-old but signed on with the San Jose Sharks in 2010. He returned to the OHL and was traded by the Sharks to Colorado (while he was still in the OHL) at the 2012 deadline as part of the deal that sent Daniel Winnick and T.J. Galiardi to San Jose. Sgarbossa won the OHL scoring title last season with 102 points including 47 goals. He has been a scorer in his first professional season as he has eight goals and 19 points and is tied for 16th in AHL scoring while leading the Lake Erie Monsters. It appears that Sgarbossa has a bright future with the Avalanche, not too bad for a 20-year-old who was not thought to be worth even a lowly seventh round pick just two years ago.
Brock Nelson – (C)- The Islanders flipped two second round picks to move up to 30th overall in the 2010 Draft and select Nelson out of high school in Minnesota. Nelson played a couple of seasons at North Dakota and starred last season with 28 goals and 47 points in 42 games before signing on with the New Yorkers. Nelson is in his first full professional season after signing with the Islanders in April and has nine goals and 16 points in 20 games for Bridgeport this season.
Beau Bennett – (LW) – Bennett was selected with the 20th pick in the 2010 Draft. The native Californian played for the University of Denver last season but his season was cut short when he ruptured a tendon in his right wrist after only 10 games, an injury that required surgery. Bennett signed with the Penguins in the off-season and was sent to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Bennett still has to fill out but has started his first professional season in fine style with five goals and 16 points in 20 games. Bennett will likely be a top-six forward when he finally makes the NHL but could likely use a couple of seasons in the AHL honing his craft and filling out.