Each week we will take an in-depth look at one young member of the organization, while providing an overview on performances over the last seven days of players below the NHL level. This includes players at the junior (CHL, USHL, etc.) and collegiate (NCAA) levels, as well as professional (AHL, ECHL) ranks.
Prospect Spotlight: Michael McNiven, G, Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
While the NHL is littered with examples of undrafted players who went on to have great careers, rarely does a player go from being passed over in all seven rounds of the entry draft to becoming a legitimate NHL prospect overnight. While the future is far from certain for Owen Sound Attack netminder Michael McNiven, his development since signing an entry-level deal with the Montreal Canadiens has filled a critical gap in the team’s prospect pipeline.
McNiven had strong numbers in his draft year, but struggled to earn playing time, appearing in only 24 contests and getting overlooked as a result. After signing with Montreal following the team’s Development Camp later that summer, McNiven returned to his OHL squad in a starting role, but couldn’t replicate his numbers of the previous season. His goals-against average rose from 2.79 to 2.94, while his save percentage dipped from .914 to .902.
“Last year I thought I was ready for it and I struggled for a couple games, but this year I'm in a lot better shape,” McNiven told the Owen Sound Sun Times in October. “Mentally, I’m focused and I want to see all of those games and see how it plays out.”
McNiven has backed his words up with results, as his three wins this past week improved his record on the year to 13-5-1. He has frequently had to play the hero role on a team that has scored the second-fewest goals per game in the OHL’s Western Conference. His 2.29 goals-against average is the OHL’s best, and his .920 save percentage is among the league’s top starters. Those numbers helped earn him a spot in the Canada-Russia Series earlier in the month.
His play in the annual World Juniors tune-up garnered significant attention. “Michael was a difference maker,” coach Chris Knoblauch said to the Independent Free Press. Team OHL’s bench boss wasn’t the only one to take notice, as TSN’s Bob McKenzie named the netminder as one of those in contention for the number-three job on Team Canada following the event.
So how has he ratcheted his game up to a new level? “I tried to dial down a bit with my eating and be more consistent with it,” explained McNiven to the Sun Times. “Obviously getting to the gym. I think I learned from experience being on the ice too much and coming into the season being more drained than I should be. I took a bit more time off from the ice this summer and I feel a little more fresh and better in my net.”
McNiven has been the winner in his last five starts for the Attack, allowing a total of just 10 goals over that span. With Zachary Fucale struggling to find his game on the ECHL stage, he provides much-needed depth between the pipes for the Canadiens, who must deal with Carey Price’s free agency two summers from now, and the real possibility of AHL starter Charlie Lindgren graduating to an NHL backup role in the near future.
McNiven will join the AHL ranks next season, where he would ideally split time with an established pro veteran who can help him progress his game to the next level.
EOTP had an in-depth look at McNiven’s game earlier this month here.
Performances from November 21 - 27, 2016
After a slow start to his OHL season, Mikhail Sergachev has picked it up offensively, coinciding with his being paired with fellow top prospect Sean Day. Perhaps a little guilty of trying to do too much on his own (typical of many top prospects after they are relegating to the junior ranks) Sergachev has now racked up assists in four straight games after finding the scoresheet in only one of his first six.
Sandwiching two single-point efforts this week, Sergachev set up Cole Carter’s game-winner Friday night after already collecting a power-play helper in the first period. He led all Spitfires defencemen in shot-attempts-for percentage on Sunday, while registering five shots; second most among Windsor skaters.
Jeremiah Addison was held off the scoresheet in Windsor’s first game, leaving early with a shoulder injury believed to be suffered on the hit below. He missed the Spits’ other two games of the week.
Victor Mete scored his eighth goal of the season Friday night, matching his total for all of last year. The game-opening tally provided London a lead they would never relinquish, with the rearguard earning second-star honours in the Knights’ 4-1 win. In all, Mete totaled a +4 and had seven shots in three contests.
Will Bitten has been snake ... wait for it ... bitten of late, with a pointless week extending his drought to five games. Shifted to the wing (flanking both 20-year-old Niki Petti and 18-year-old Brandon Saigeon) after struggling on the faceoff dot, Bitten has continued to bring his energetic and combative style to the rink, and should eventually see it pay off with improved production.
Noah Juulsen had a big night on Friday, named first star in a 5-2 victory after setting up his team’s final two tallies on the evening. The Silvertips’ captain has led his squad to the second-best record in the WHL thus far, sitting at 18-3-4.
Michael Pezzetta got into more disciplinary trouble this week, receiving a suspension for a deliberate head-shot for a second time this season. After missing four games the last time around, he’ll have to sit out the next 10 for Sudbury. Pezzetta’s style is typically on the edge, but he’ll need to exercise better judgment in staying on the right side of the legal line.
Michael Pezzetta picked up a match penalty for this reckless head check last night. Match penalty means automatic suspension. pic.twitter.com/m2sI46quXy— Mitch Brown (@MitchLBrown) November 26, 2016
Matt Bradley added to his totals on the season at a point-per-game pace during a dominant four-game performance for Medicine Hat, which saw the Tigers post 6-3, 5-3, 7-1, and 8-2 victories. Despite Bradley’s scoring pace, he ranks only fifth on his own team in points-per-game on the year, as Medicine Hat’s 134 goals are 12 better than the next-best team in the WHL, and 32 better than the third-highest scoring club. In the latest week, for example, neither of his two-point efforts was enough to garner star attention, so his point totals must be taken in the context of the overflowing skill among his teammates.
Simon Bourque had a strong game on Thursday, scoring an insurance goal for Rimouski late in the second period, less than two minutes after Val-D’Or had pulled back within one. The rearguard concluded his night with a helper on the Oceanic’s final tally in a 6-2 victory. In what should be his final year of junior hockey, his .96 point-per-game average on the year is pacing far ahead of last season’s .70.
Jake Evans and Notre Dame played in the Shillelagh Tournament this weekend, opening with a win over Holy Cross in which Evans assisted on a game-tying goal in the second. In the final against Clarkson, Evans was assessed a five-minute major and game misconduct for hitting from behind in the second period, with the Fighting Irish unable to pierce netminder Jake Kielly and dropping a 2-0 decision.
Nikolas Koberstein and Alaska-Fairbanks dropped a pair of decisions to Michigan Technological University, with the defenseman going a combined -1 with one shot.
Colin Sullivan and Miami of Ohio had the week off.
Casey Staum, paired with 18-year-old Brendan Bushy, had one shot and an even rating in a 6-4 victory over Des Moines Friday. He was unable to play the next night in a 3-1 win over Chicago, with Dubuque dressing only seven defencemen instead of their traditional eight.
The IceCaps split a pair of games this week, despite recent roster fluctuations with call-ups and reassignments to/from Montreal .
Sven Andrighetto led the way offensively after being returned to the AHL by the Canadiens. After picking up an assist on Friday, Andrighetto dominated the first period on Saturday. Scoring the game’s opening tally, the diminutive winger then set up Mike McCarron before the stanza was through to stake the IceCaps to a 3-0 lead.
The IceCaps would surrender that advantage, but Nikita Scherbak, held pointless in the game after picking up an assist Friday, scored the shootout winner to prevent the game from slipping away.
After previously being awarded a goal only to have it changed by AHL officials later, Ryan Johnston finally recorded his first professional marker. It came Friday night, 5:41 into the first to pull St. John’s even at one, but was unfortunately the only offence the team could muster on the night.
For more on the IceCaps’ play this weekend (including Zach Redmond’s first two games of the season), check out the EOTP AHL Hub.
Charlie Lindgren has been essential to keeping the frequently outchanced IceCaps in games this season, and this week was no exception. Lindgren was the game’s second star Friday night, turning aside 28 of 30 Bruins shots in a 2-1 loss. He did one better Saturday, named first star in a 4-3 shootout win; a game in which St. John’s was outshot 41-29.
It was also clarified this week that, due to his limited pro experience, Lindgren cannot be made eligible for June’s expansion draft, despite the fact that Carey Price is also ineligible due to his no-movement clause. The 22-year-old would almost certainly have drawn the interest of the new Vegas Golden Knights franchise.
Zachary Fucale played one of Brampton’s two games this week, surrendering three goals in a 4-2 loss to Orlando (the fourth tally being an empty-netter). Fucale continues to struggle to find his game, looking further and further from a having a realistic NHL future.
Hayden Hawkey and Providence College dropped a decision to Merrimack on Friday, with Hawkey allowing four goals on just twenty shots. He picked up a win the next night, making twenty stops in a 3-2 victory over Colgate.