Statistically speaking, the second half of the hockey season at every level represents a changing of the guard. As the stakes rise, hot prospects falter, faltering prospects become hot and the immediate fortunes of several future NHLers fluctuate wildly. Here then are a few names to watch- and scratch off- as the 2006/07 campaign heats up.
Headed for the Show…
Martin St. Pierre: Forgive the hockey gods if they felt 5'9 Martin St. Pierre was acting ungrateful. Within a single off-season, all the clutching and grabbing that had held back the diminutive pivot from pro success was eliminated. And as a thank-you, the 23 year-old Chicago Blackhawks prospect tallied a slim 9 points in 7 games during the month of October. However, a second gift- that of several injuries to the big club that forced call-ups and thus more ice-time for the centre- wasn't taken for granted. St. Pierre exploded for 23 points in November, and has yet to score under 1.6 PPG each month since. Second in both points and assists in the American League, the Guelph Storm single-season assist record holder sits at the top of the Chicago call-up order.
Kris Versteeg: The perfect foil to Martin St. Pierre, Kris Versteeg was expected to be little more than a top-notch grinder and leader. A surprising start to the year that saw the 5'10, 179 lbs energy forward score 30 points in his first 29 game of the year was blown away by a 17-point January. With 22 goals and 27 assists through 49 games, Versteeg has shown that hard work can pay dividends- both on the boards and around the net. With the Bs braintrust gutting the roster of underperforming scorers, Versteeg's mix of leadership and lethal hands will earn him a call up within the next week.
Headed for a Milk Carton…
Benoit Pouliot: It was put up or shut up time for the fourth overall pick in 2005. Fresh off a verbal lashing courtesy of Wild head coach Jacques Lemaire following a mediocre camp, the enigmatic forward entered this season with bust status looming over his head. The 6'3 project quickly put his detractors in their place, posting 16 points in his first 16 games for the Baby Wild. However, in an unfortunate set of circumstances, Pouliot discovered the season isn't just two months long. A 10-point November was followed up by a 2-point December. The Alfred, Ontario native has added but 8 points since and has little to no hope of reaching the NHL this season.
Vojtech Polak: The 21 year-old Stars property may not look anything like Brad Pitt, but he's a regular Legend of the Fall. After a scorching October/November that saw the pre-season standout collect 14 points in 18 games, Polak has notched just four in his last ten contests. The Czech native has also been a plus player only twice in January. Criticized for his lack of size and muscle, Polak's hot start had some fooled into thinking the New NHL made those complaints obsolete. However, the effects of a 70-game season have clearly begun to take their toll. This phenomenon isn't new- Vojtech struggled in the second half of the 2005/06 regular season, notching six points in 23 games from January 1st to February 28th.
Headed for the Show…