Treasure Hunting, the Hockey Edition
By Rob Aquino
Praise to thee we sing!
Praise to thee, our Alma Mater,
With the University of Wisconsin’s 2-1 victory over Boston College last Saturday night they clinched their sixth NCAA Men’s hockey title – a big congratulations to the Badgers. Toronto Maple Leaf draft pick Robbie Earl was fantastic in capturing the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award, and was surrounded by a talented supporting cast including goalie Brian Elliott and defenseman Tom Gilbert. The BC Eagles, the youngest team in the nation, put up a valiant effort but in the end were fortunate to keep the score as close as they did, thanks mostly to Vancouver draft pick Cory Schneider manning the Eagle crease.
Only a few decades ago this was the culmination of nearly every senior’s career – only a handful of American collegiate players went on to play in the NHL. Starting in the 80s - spearheaded by the now-legendary 1980 United States gold medal team - the NCAA began to produce better players and was no longer ignored by pro scouts. In this year’s tournament, for example, there were no less than 114 players distributed among the 16 participating teams who were drafted by NHL clubs, and others who haven’t been drafted but will doubtless be signed to free agent deals in the coming weeks.
Some of these players have already begun to sign with NHL clubs, and you can expect to see some of them playing in this final week of the regular season and even into the playoffs. Let’s take a quick glance at some players who may still make an impact this year.
The three finalists for the 2006 Hobey Baker Award will probably be seen in the NHL soon: Boston College’s Chris Collins is undrafted but is currently being wooed by a number of teams – after scoring only 29 goals in his first three years at BC, this year he exploded for 34 goals and 63 points, tied for tops in the nation. He’s professed an interest in his favorite team, Buffalo, but Boston is also rumored to be interested. Wisconsin goalie Brian Elliott is an Ottawa draft pick and is the top goalie in the nation, leading the country in goals-against average (1.55) and save percentage (.938). The eventual winner of the award, however, is already making an NHL impact on one of the better teams in the league…
Matt Carle – Defense – San Jose Sharks
The University of Denver’s Matt Carle captured this year’s Hobey Baker award, and thanks to Denver’s disappointing early season end, he has already signed with the Sharks and has been seeing quality ice time with them. Carle is a talented two-way defenseman, having put up fantastic numbers over his three years culminating in a big 53 point season this year. The Sharks are a team that has been playing consistently quality hockey since before the New Year and are poised to make a run deep into the postseason – it speaks volumes of Carle’s ability that he has already played eight games with the team, and has been able to contribute two goals and two assists in that time. He is getting between 15 and 20 minutes per game, and has cracked their top six. With this quick progression Carle could be a fixture on their blueline for the next few years.
Bill Thomas – Forward – Phoenix Coyotes
How many of you even knew that the University of Nebraska-Omaha had a hockey team, let alone a quality Division 1 program? They do, and this year they made the field of 16 only to receive a beatdown by Boston University in the first round. Star sophomore forward Bill Thomas led the team with 27 goals and decided to make the next step early, signing a deal with the Phoenix Coyotes. He has already gotten in six games, scoring three points (and adding six minutes in the box). Thomas has been playing with longtime NHL vet Geoff Sanderson and getting quality icetime – the Coyotes will be ending their season next week and can only benefit by giving Thomas as much of a look as possible before next year.
Ryan Potulny – Forward – Philadelphia Flyers
Potulny, who played with the University of Minnesota (victims of what has been called the biggest upset in NCAA hockey tournament history in losing to Holy Cross in the first round this year), signed with the Philadelphia Flyers and is another in a long line of Minnesota snipers – he led the nation in goals with 38 in 41 games, and was tied for the overall scoring title. Potulny has already seen action in two games with the Flyers (registering one assist) but with Philadelphia still pushing for a division title, I wouldn’t expect Potulny to get too much ice time this season, unless injuries hit them hard (keep an eye on Peter Forsberg) - he does have the skills that if needed he could provide offensive value right away.
Andy Greene – Defense – New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils last week signed Miami (Ohio) University defenseman Andy Greene to a contract, although he has not yet seen action with the Devils. Greene is definitely a player to watch, as he became the first player in CCHA (Central Collegiate Hockey Association) history to win both Offensive and Defensive Defenseman of the Year awards. Greene scored 34 and 31 points over the past two years and never missed a game in his four years at Miami.
This is our last regular season Treasure Hunting article, as the season winds up this Tuesday night. Hopefully you are enjoying an easy final week in first place in your league, but if not there is still time to use these final games to your advantage. Don’t forget to take note of how many games each team has left and go crazy with adding and dropping players. And as noted fantasy basketball guru Brian Costello writes – beware of playoff teams resting their regulars down the stretch – if any particular team locks up a particular slot, look for them to try new line combinations and players over the final few games – pay attention and use this to your advantage. Many owners in your league are probably not paying attention this late in the year and you could have a free pass on any free agents out there.
Thanks for reading the column this year – as always feel free to write me with your comments and suggestions. Enjoy the playoffs and we’ll see you back in this slot next season.
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