The Journey – Dmitrij Jaskin, Louis Leblanc, and Beau Bennett
Rights: St. Louis Blues
Drafted in the 2nd round (41st overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft
RW/LW, 6'2", 196 lbs
Hometown: Omsk, Russia
Jaskin is a good mix of size, skill, grit and determination. He is a powerhouse who can protect the puck exceptionally well and won't bend to the physical side of the game. In his draft year he played for the Czech Republic at the under-18 WJHC and was stellar scoring four goals and adding an assist in six games. When Jaskin was drafted he spent another year in the Czech league before making the jump to North America. He once again joined the Czech Republic, this time for the under-20 WJHC and managed a goal and an assist for the eventual fifth place squad.
He had showed enough potential for Moncton to draft him 12th overall in the first round of the CHL import draft and he would join them for the 2012-13 season scoring 46 goals and 99 points in 51 games. He missed a few games mid-season as he joined the Czechs for the WJHC where he scored three goals and six points in six games. Despite missing time for the World Junior's he still ranked among the top players in the league and at one time rolled off a streak of 14 points in five games.
After finishing the season ranked fifth in League points, fifth in power play points and third in shots, Jaskin signed an entry level contract with the Blues and joined them for two games. He was held off the score-sheet but gained a sense for the league as he stayed with the team (although not appearing in any games) through their first round playoff series against the LA Kings.
This past season Jaskin suffered from injury woes early on but still powered his way to 29 points in 42 games for the AHL's Chicago Wolves. Jaskin was called up to the big club on a few occasions and ended with two NHL points including his first NHL goal.
Jaskin could easily crack the Blues lineup out of camp this year and if he does he'll be on fantasy radars before long. With his size and willingness to go to the net he can be an effective player on either of the top two lines or in a bottom six role. When you figure in his skill level I feel Jaskin is more suited in the top six and a good camp would go a long way to landing him there. Jaskin's grit and physicality also make him attractive in the hits and penalty minute categories so this is a guy you should watch close if you are looking for some new blood in your league.
Rights: Montreal Canadiens
Drafted in the 1st round (18th overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft
C/W, 6', 178 lbs
Hometown: Pointe-Claire, QC, CAN
Leblanc is turning into the poster child for players in need of a change of scenery. Although the French-Canadian would likely covet a spot with the hometown Habs, injuries and improving internal competition have caused his window of opportunity to shrink over time.
After 59 points in 60 games in the USHL as an 18-year-old, Louis was selected 18th overall by the Canadiens and then went on to play for Harvard. He scored 23 points in 31 games for the Crimson before Montreal inked him to an NHL entry level contract. That spelled the end for his college career and landed him with the Montreal Juniors of the QMJHL. Louis showed his worth totalling 58 points in 51 games while posting 100 penalty minutes with a plus-20. He then went on to rack up 9 points in 10 playoff games.
Leblanc turned pro in 2011-12 and after recovering from an off season shoulder surgery he joined the Bulldogs in the AHL. His 10 points in 14 games got him a call-up to Montreal where he logged 10 points in 42 games while playing mostly in a third line role.
Leblanc clearly has skills but his gritty side may not quite fit his 6' 178 lb frame. Injuries have been an issue and have truly prevented him from really getting on a roll while also allowing other prospects to pass him on the depth chart. He saw zero NHL time in 2012-13 and turned in a disappointing AHL year with only 18 points in 62 games while dragging a minus-18 along with him. This past season he managed to get into eight games for the Habs due to extended injuries to the big club but was unable to register a point. He had 28 points in 70 games for the Hamilton Bulldogs back in the AHL.
While some feel Leblanc has played his way out of an NHL job I feel he is just getting acclimated. Aside from his minor midget career he has never been in the same place long enough to unpack his bags. Over the last six years he has played for five different teams including the Habs. He has played in every situation from the top of the lineup to the bottom and mixed with growing into your body, maturing as a man as well as a hockey player and adjusting to new systems across the board, Louis really needs some stability in order to achieve consistency. His AHL numbers have actually improved slightly in the past two years. If he can stay healthy and gain 20ish pounds he could right the ship simply because he may just be getting comfortable.
Adding muscle would allow him to further impose his game on opponents. He could work on his skating a bit no doubt. There are always things you can find in a young player that they can work on. He has shown flashes of talent and has numbers at lower levels to suggest he is an above average player. I see him as a third line center with ability to fill in on the wing if needed. He could move up to a second line role if required but I don't believe he has the elite talent to warrant a first line spot. I also don't believe he has the size and durability to play a fourth line role. Somewhere in the middle should suit him fine.
He is an RFA in July and should the Canadiens give up on him he could be an easy pickup on a sub $1 million deal via offer-sheet that would cost zero compensation. Perhaps someone who believes in him even flips a late pick to Bergevin for Louis' services. Regardless, one more (healthy) year in the AHL to really get him back on track could see Leblanc closer to a first round late bloomer than a first round bust.
Rights: Pittsburgh Penguins
Drafted in the 1st round (20th overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft
RW/, 6'2", 195 lbs
Hometown: Gardena, CA, USA
Bennett has oodles of skill and hands of fleece. He isn't a speedster but finds ways to create space and separation. His creativity is off the hook and he shows confidence in his game that every GM would love to see in their young players. He had 120 points in 56 games for Penticton of the BCHL as an 18-year-old. That helped grace him with a 20th overall selection by the Penguins in the 2010 draft. He committed to play at the University of Denver and put up 25 points in 37 games in his freshman year. His sophomore season was a challenging one as he suffered a wrist injury that wound up needing surgery and ended his season at 10 games. He had 13 points in the limited playing time.
The Penguins had seen enough of the shifty youngster to sign him to an NHL Entry Level contract despite the shortened season. Bennett finished his NCAA career and turned pro becoming an AHL rookie to start the 2012-13 season. In his first 39 games he put 28 points on the score-sheet and earned himself a call-up to the Pens when the NHL lockout ended. He went on to play 26 games in an NHL jersey and racked up 14 points and a plus-7 along the way. As the Pens dug in for a playoff run, Bennett saw sporadic playing time but for a 21-year-old to be seeing time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs says something about how the club feels about the potential of their young prospect.
This past season he had seven points in 21 games to go along with five points in 12 playoff games but was hampered by another wrist injury. This may be a bit of a red flag as he also had injuries in both NCAA seasons, one of which (wrist) resulted in season-ending surgery as mentioned above. If he can stay healthy he deserves to be a consistent winger with one of the top dogs, Sid or Geno.
Bennett is a Penguin to stay and should be very much on your fantasy radar. With a "new direction" being sought after by ownership I have to wonder how long it is before the young stud sees himself on Crosby's wing on a regular basis. Crosby likes to pass and Bennett has a fabulous shot and creativity to know what Sid is trying to put together in the zone. The knock on Crosby has always been that he is so creative that it is hard to find players to play with him. Well Bennett's middle name is creativity and that could make for a formidable duo given time to develop. Let's face it, Dupuis is getting no younger and Bennett is on the cusp of deserving an extended look with the golden boy.
Bennett is most effective when he has the puck which could conflict with Crosby as they can't both carry the puck but I'm sure it could work and would likely give both players a lot more room than they are use to. Bennett should be picked up if he is still available in your league. If you miss the boat on this guy you may not get another shot at him. Yes there may be injury questions creeping in but he is still very young and if he can get the wrists figured out he can be a difference maker for the Pens.
Bennett underwent another wrist surgery after the season meaning his recovery may put his training camp in jeopardy. He is on the verge of being too good for the AHL but depending how limited his offseason is and how much of camp he misses, he may find himself back with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton until he hits his stride. I don't expect he will be there long.
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