The Journey: Prospects on the Cusp
A few weeks ago I highlighted a few players that scored their first NHL. But that doesn’t happen without getting into your first NHL game. None of these players have achieved that feat yet but if they keep going the way they are that will come to an end, perhaps sooner rather than later.
Drafted out of a Canadian prep school, which isn’t exactly a bastion of NHL prospects, Foegele was always viewed as a project pick when the Carolina Hurricanes nabbed him in the third round in 2014. It’s been a bit of a journey for him. In his post-draft year he suited up for the University of New Hampshire alongside a couple of other Hurricanes prospects, Andrew Poturalski and Brett Pesce. Foegele held his own as a freshman with five goals and dishing out 11 helpers in 34 contests. For a bit of context UNH was a very top-heavy scoring team with four of their played scoring 14-plus goals and no other played having more than half a dozen. So Foegele’s was firmly in the middle-six range for the Wildcats. He played only five games in his sophomore season before pulling the chute and heading to the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs. His first Major Junior year saw him produce 48 points in 52 games. In his second year he improved his output for the Fronts by registering 31 points in 28 contests but was traded mid-season to the Erie Otters. His pace slowed down very slightly but still managed to put up 32 points in 33 regular season games for the Otters. He really took off in the playoffs though scoring 13 times and assisting on 13 others en route to an OHL championship and the Wayne Gretzky 99 Award as OHL playoff MVP. Foegele is 21 games into his pro career and is more than holding his own. To date he’s found the back of the net 12 times and had a hand in five other goals to give him 17 points on the year. He leads Charlotte in the goal scoring department and is in a five-way tie for third in the AHL. Perhaps his most impressive feat has been that four of his 12 goals have come short-handed, an AHL best. And all of this on only 41 shots, which has helped him tie for the lead in rookie goal scoring.
I’ll admit that in the proceoding two years of Merkley being drafted, my enthusiasm for him as a prospect has waned a bit. In his final two junior seasons he didn’t show the progress one would hope to see from a first round pick. This might be an unfair judgment given that if he had gone only one pick later he’d be a second round pick and there wouldn’t be nearly as much perceived pressure on him. But there’s just something about having that ‘first-rounder’ moniker attached that gives people high hopes. After posting a dynamite 90 points in 72 games, which works out to a 1.25 point-per-game pace, in his draft season, Merkley saw his production dip to 1.12 in 2015-16 (only playing 43 games thanks to an ACL tear) and then down to 63 points in as many games in his final junior season. So while his junior career may have ended with a bit of a whimper he’s started his pro career on fire with 12 goals and 11 assists in 18 games and sits as the leading scorer on the active roster. His 12 goals tie him with the above mentioned Foegele for the rookie lead and he’s notched seven power play markers, good for second in the AHL. He’s riding a good stretch of nine points in his last four games. It will be telling to see if Merkley can keep up this pace without Dylan Strome around anymore with him likely being the focus of opposing defenders.
For whatever reason, it doesn’t seem like Mangiapane gets the respect that he deserves in prospect circles. I had him as my 50th ranked prospect in the 2016 edition of Dobber’s Prospect Report and the only other contributor that had him on their list was our resident Flames writer Joel Henderson who had him at 39. Last year he was just outside my top-50 and he failed to make an appearance on any of the top 50 lists. Perhaps it’s because he was overshadowed by Kevin Labanc in Barrie and by Mark Jankowski in Stockton last year but what he’s done over the past few years has been pretty impressive. He posted back-to-back 100-point seasons in the OHL in 2014-15 and 2015-16 including a 51-goal campaign, finishing in the top-10 league wide in both years, and put together a 41-point rookie campaign in the AHL tying him for 21st in rookie scoring. He began the 2017-18 season riding a 10-game point scoring streak collecting 16 points along the way. He’s cooled down a bit in the 11 games since but he still sits with 24 points, a mark that leads Stockton. There’s not much in way of competition for Mangiapane among the prospect forward ranks for the Flames.
Signed as an undrafted free agent at the end of March, Highmore is a five-year vet of the Saint John Sea Dogs program. It’s fair to say he experienced some highs and low during his junior career. In his first season for the Sea Dogs he played only 30 games and tallied nine points but took a huge step forward in his draft year with 50 in a full slate of games. But it wasn’t enough to get him picked. The next season he saw his point total cut in half to just 24. He rebounded nicely in his final two seasons with points totals of 75 and 89, marks that led the team both years. He was equally impressive in the playoffs during years four and five collecting 44 points in 35 playoffs games. As they are with most UDFAs, expectations were low for Highmore heading into his rookie year but he’s blown the doors off and made people sit up and take notice. In 23 games for the Rockford IceHogs he sniped a team leading 10 goals and is second on the team with 17 points. He’s been praised by scouts and coaches for his work ethic and hockey IQ and has played himself into the conversation for a call up to the big show.
Thanks for stopping by! Come back next weekend and every weekend for more Journey goodness!
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