No intro today, folks. Let's get right into the meat and potatoes!
This week we’re looking at the top-3 fastest rising prospect defensemen from Dobber’s January list, so enjoy!
Caleb Jones, Edmonton Oilers | NOV 2018 – 80 | DEC 2018 – 71 (+9) | NOW – 50 (+21)
The rising Oilers’ prospect has been returned to Bakersfield while the team works through some of its front office woes. Despite his demotion to the AHL, Jones has taken an enormous step in his development by playing consistently through his 17-game stretch with the Oilers. His deployment which came primarily alongside Adam Larsson on the team’s third pairing was against some of the opposition’s top offensive threats in many cases, and he proved to be more than capable and reliable in that role.
His offensive numbers weren’t outstanding with the Oilers; however, rookie defensemen rarely put up significant numbers in their first 20-40 games. His minor offensive contributions are a good sign that he is able to play at the NHL pace, production will almost certainly come in time.
While the team doesn’t have room on their current roster to allow Jones to remain in the NHL as a permanent fixture quite yet, their offseason moves will almost certainly create a void in the top-six where he should slot in next fall. In all likelihood, Jones will become a permanent NHLer within the next twelve months, whether the opportunity is seized out of training camp or a few months into next season. Expect his offense to progress slowly; however, the opportunity to take on responsibility should be a positive sign for the young defenseman.
Josh Mahura, Anaheim Ducks | NOV 2018 – 54 | DEC 2018 – 46 (+8) | NOW – 38 (+8)
As a rookie at the pro level, Josh Mahura was never expected to work his way directly on to the Anaheim Ducks’ roster. While the 20-year-old Canadian kicked off the year in San Diego with the Gulls, his early success was enough to convince the Ducks brass that he deserved a shot in the NHL when an opportunity arose. Mahura spent the entire month of December with the Ducks, only to be returned to the AHL in mid-January. In his 17-game stint with the big club, Mahura made a similar impact to the aforementioned Jones. His seamless transition from the WHL to the AHL was impressive enough, but the young defender was also able to bring an unexpected level of poise to the NHL at such an early age.
While the organization might have intentions of making his return to the AHL a little longer than what Jones is expecting, Mahura’s maturity as an pro defender is already beginning to break through. Another couple of years with the Gulls is certainly not out of the question, but going forward, the team will be sure to count on him in emergency situations. Long term, his ceiling as well as NHL certainly have undergone a significant boost with his early success. It wouldn't be unreasonable to expect a top-4 role with power-play deployment at some point in the youngster’s career. At this point there should be little to no doubt that the former Regina Pat will become an NHL defender in his career. He’s now approaching the threshold of being a point of interest for most common fantasy leagues that incorporate prospects, and one to keep an eye on in all other cases as well.
Ty Smith, New Jersey Devils | NOV 2018 – 35 | DEC 2018 – 33] (+2) | NOW – 28 (+5)
One of Team Canada’s few players to truly stand out at the World Junior Championship in Vancouver, Devils prospect Ty Smith has returned to Spokane with guns a blazin’. Technically speaking, the crafty blueliner certainly has more of knack for setting up plays than finishing them, but the adage stands that Smith is red hot in WHL competition.
Six months removed from his 17th overall selection by the Devils, Smith is adding insult to injury for some of the teams in the top-15 that chose a different route for their draft. Of course, the true test is outstanding, and Smith has yet to overcome the hurdle of the pro game – a challenge that is even more critical for defensemen than it is for other positions. His offensive contributions weigh heavily on the 19-year-old’s excellent anticipation and hockey sense, leading most to believe that he will have little to no major issues converting his success to the pro level.
While there is no reason that Smith couldn't play another year in the WHL, the Devils are sure to give him an extended look next fall – if he’s ready, expect favorable deployment in the early going to boost the youngster’s confidence. With that being said, it’s just as likely that he is returned to junior for another slate. After all, the last thing anyone would want is for him to be thrust into a position that hampers his development. Keep his file close, and be prepared to snag him when we have a better idea of where he’ll spend his next few years.
Special note: I skipped over Lawrence Pilut this month… I think we’ve beat that file to death enough. By now you’re well aware of his recent success, but should be noted that he’s still on the rise [Dobber’s list. Janaury (24), December (37), November (62)].
Thanks again for tuning in to The Journey. If you’d like to discuss any of the players mentioned today, find me on Twitter @olaf1393.