Welcome back, readers!
It’s crazy to think that we’re already at the middle of December. By now, we’re starting to get a really good idea of which prospects have actually turned a corner in their development, and in particular, which way. Today we’ll have a look at four young players who seem to have made a right turn and are trending in the right direction.
Matt Luff, Los Angeles Kings | OCT 2018 – 320 | NOV 2018 – 195 (+125) | NOW – 124 (+71)
The Los Angeles Kings don’t score a lot of goals. Matt Luff scores a lot of goals.
Relatively speaking of course, the former Hamilton Bulldog has been lighting the lamp since his first ever NHL instatement. The 21-year-old who had never scored more than 27 goals in his OHL career is on pace for 27.33 over the course of an 82-game season, in this, his rookie NHL campaign.
The young sniper is off to a rocketing start for the Kings who have, as a whole, struggled to put pucks in the net. Unfortunately for Luff though, his trend of filling the basket is due to drop off quite abruptly, despite now being deployed regularly on the man-advantage.
Not all of his success can be attributed to luck though, Luff has obviously made some improvements to his game which already beginning to surface in his play with the Ontario Reign prior to his recall. While his six NHL goals appear to be inflated, the same notion shouldn’t be applied to the hot start he was having in the AHL. Luff contributed at a meaningful pace in his first year with Ontario, but has tuned his game to a new level this year that seems to suit the professional pace a little better. He’s a speedy forward who can find open ice, however tends to abandon the defensive zone prematurely. So far, that style of play seems to be working for the Kings, who have a sturdy defensive core and have allowed for Luff to focus on providing the team with much needed offence.
A 30-goal slate would likely be the absolute ceiling for Luff, however he is more likely to be a 20-25 goal type of player if his opportunity with the Kings remains.
Conor Garland, ARI | OCT 2018 – 294 | NOV 2018 – 169 (+125) | NOW – 120 (+49)
Back on November 25, when the ‘Yotes sent a pair of young skilled forwards to Chicago for Nick Schmaltz, John Chayka accepted that he creating a deficit in terms of numbers in Arizona’s forward lineup. The move was made with the knowledge that the organization has a budding farm system which is quickly beginning to boil into the NHL. Chayka first called on veteran forward Mario Kempe to fill the void of Perlini, while Schmaltz took over for Strome. Sooner rather than later, however, the injury bug struck in the form of a five and a half foot twig to the face of Michael Grabner – enter Conor Garland.
With the Coyotes PK specialist out of the lineup with an obvious eye injury, Garland was recalled to eat up some ice time, although not particularly on the penalty kill. Garland possesses a boatload of talent with the puck, and moves his feet particularly quickly, thus he hadn’t struggled to create offense in junior. Where the former Moncton Wildcat has struggled to overcome the professional threshold, however, is in the department of his decision making and hockey IQ. The Massachusetts native found an abundance of offensive success in the QMJHL by making ankle-breaking plays, and deceiving defenders with his agility, but his success from the junior level did not immediately transition. In his first two annual assignments with the Roadrunners, Garland was limited in terms of development opportunity and struggled to create significant offense. In a league where physicality is an even larger factor than in the NHL, the diminutive forward’s skill was abruptly shut down.
The opportunity presented by Garland’s recall could prove to open a gaping window for the skilled playmaker who has, in his third professional season, begun to click. In an 18-game season-opening assignment with Tucson, Garland was off to his best professional start yet, contributing at a pace more than double either of his two previous seasons. His change in production is an indication that the 5’9” forward is, indeed adaptable and willing to learn. While the exact style of play that led to his consecutive 120+ point seasons in the QMJHL may never work at the pro level, the new Garland could still prove to be a productive depth force in the NHL.
While Garland appears to have finally begun to see the light of the big league, the NHL will surely prove to be a new challenge. Should he fail to take advantage of this window, he could find himself back on I-10 to Tuscon for further refinement.
Alex Barre-Boulet | OCT 2018 – 196 | NOV 2018 – 160 (+36) | NOW – 119 (+41)
For the last number of years, the now dominant Tampa Bay Lightning have been supplied with a seemingly endless supply of top-notch players by their farm system. Well… stay used to it, because the rest of the league seems content with allowing it to continue.
In the midst of breaking out with a 53-goal campaign in the QMJHL, the undrafted 20-year-old agreed to a three-year entry level contract with the Lightning. The signing came shortly after then General Manager, Steve Yzerman traded Brett Howden to the New York Rangers, essentially making Barre-Boulet a free replacement. Now, if you’re thinking to yourself “Well, that’s not even fair anymore”, you’d be quite right. Any team could have attempted to sign Barre-Boulet thoughout the course of his breakout campaign with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada… but the Lightning were largely uncontested. In fairness to other organizations, the Quebec native hadn’t yet proven anything outside of the “Q”, and came under extra scrutiny due to his size. That being said, 116 points isn’t something to scoff at regardless of a player’s size, and surely other organizations could have presented a better opportunity.
Fairness and logic aside, Barre-Boulet is now under contract with the Lightning, and having an outstanding rookie campaign with the Syracuse Crunch. The Lightning scouting staff have proven once again to be a highly competent bunch as Barre-Boulet makes an immediate impact on the organization. While in the case of several other small-statured forwards (as seen above in the case of Conor Garland) the transition to the AHL can prove to be a daunting task where skill alone is often not enough to break through. Barre-Boulet’s success has been possible largely due to his outstanding compete level which is put on display whenever he is on the ice. Despite his size deficit, the rookie is able to create havoc in front of the oppositions net, as well as win puck battles in the corners of the ice which often lead to production.
While projections may have been slightly more conservative for Barre-Boulet at the time of his signing, this early success makes his future look significantly brighter. At his current pace, the Lightning will be hard pressed not to give him an opportunity in the NHL before the end of the year. If given an opportunity, his adaptive style of play bodes well for a favorable debut even in a limited role.
This players was briefly discussed on the DPR podcast that will be coming out this week. Keep your eye out for it and listen in on why I think he was an important addition for the Oilers.
Cameron Hebig | OCT 2018 – 469 | NOV 2018 – 202 (+267) | NOW – 188 (+14)
Not a first round pick, you say? Quite the opposite in fact. The undrafted CHL free-agent might be just what the doctor ordered for the Oilers’ farm system. While Hebig has been cast as a center through the duration of his major junior career, the Oilers desperate need for skilled wingers could motivate a transition to the wing.
After signing with the Oilers at the end of his fourth full season in the WHL, Hebig joined Edmonton’s farm team in Bakersfield. While the Saskatchewan native was always a relatively productive player at the major-junior level, Hebig had struggled with injuries, and never really jumped off the stat sheet. His work ethic has played a large role in what has made him successful thus far in Bakersfield though, and what is getting him into the conversation as a legitimate NHL prospect.
Thanks for tuning in again this week! If you have some personal thoughts on any of these players I’d love to have a discussion on Twitter @olaf1393.
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