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Catching the Torch: Nikolas Koberstein scores his first goal of the season

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Stats and highlights from Montreal Canadiens prospects over the past week.

(Getty Images) Nikolas Koberstein Getty Images

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: Nikolas Koberstein, D, Alaska-Fairbanks (NCAA)

When the Montreal Canadiens chose Nikolas Koberstein in the fifth round in 2014, it was somewhat of an off-the-board selection. But with Trevor Timmins’ notoriety for finding steals in that round, could anyone have truly doubted the pick?

Consider that Koberstein became the first player drafted off the AJHL’s Olds Grizzlys roster in 11 years; a team not exactly known for churning out big-league talents. He was set to captain the team in the year following his selection, but opted for tougher competition in the USHL as a final tune-up prior to beginning his college career.

At the time, Grizzlys head coach Brett Hopfe spoke highly of a defenceman who excelled for him at both ends of the rink.

“With Nik's skill set and work ethic, I would not be surprised to see him playing at the professional level when his time with University of Alaska-Fairbanks is done,” he told JuniorHockey.com.

Since the draft, three players selected after him — including fellow blue-liner Gustav Forsling, the very next pick — have already made their NHL debuts. While his production has all but vanished in more challenging leagues, creating reason to question the probability of a big-league future for him, not all rearguards progress at the same pace, and there remains hope the Alberta-native can put it all together.

There was a glimpse of his potential on Friday night, when Koberstein scored his first of the season on a second-period odd-man rush. With Alaska-Fairbanks trailing 2-0, Colton Leiter and Nick Hinz broke into the offensive zone, and Hinz sent a cross-ice pass to a pinching Koberstein who pulled his side back within one.

The Nanooks would eventually drop the game 3-2, but got revenge on Alaska-Anchorage the next night in a 3-1 victory, with Koberstein finishing a +1.

Koberstein has two more years to prove his worth after this season before the Canadiens need to think about whether he warrants a contract slot; an advantage of drafting players committed to the NCAA trajectory. While the fifth round should be considered a crapshoot at best, and Koberstein hasn’t given much hope of being a diamond in the rough as of yet, is anyone ready to bet against a Timmins fifth-rounder this early?

Performances from December 5 - 11, 2016

CHL

Despite their tremendous production together last week, Mikhail Sergachev and Sean Day were split up in Thursday’s 3-0 win over Barrie. The big Russian was instead paired with Jalen Chatfield, finishing a +1 with two shots.

Day and Sergachev were reunited over the weekend, however, and while neither registered a point on Saturday, it was the top Canadiens prospect who led the way on Sunday, credited with the eventual game-winning tally just 25 seconds into the game and assisting on Luke Boka’s goal late in the second period of another 3-0 shutout.

Defensively, Sergachev and the rest of the Spitfire blue line deserve much of the credit for a week of three Michael Dipietro goose-egg victories, as Windsor held a shot advantage in each, allowing on average only 21 shots against in each game.

Jeremiah Addison returned to regular service with Windsor, held off the scoreboard in his first contest, but able to collect a point in each of his next two. He assisted on the Spits’ sixth and final tally in Saturday’s 6-0 romp, then notched the empty-netter in Sunday’s 3-0 win.

Will Bitten starred for Hamilton in a losing effort Friday night, stretching his point streak to four games (4-2—6) with his team’s second and third goals of the evening. With the game even at one in the second, Bitten put the Bulldogs ahead on the power play midway through the first, and the score remained as such until the third. After two Saginaw goals gave the Spirit a lead, Bitten crashed the net and was rewarded with the tying marker in the final minute. The ‘Dogs fell in a shootout, and were then outmatched by Sault Ste. Marie in their next outing Sunday, dropping a 7-2 decision that ended Bitten’s point streak and saw him finish a -3.

Matt Bradley had a quiet week, with a pointless streak reaching four-games as Medicine Hat lost both Wednesday and Friday. He snapped the skid Saturday, registering an assist on an empty-net tally that sealed a 7-4 win over Calgary.

Simon Bourque missed this week’s action after taking a hard hit along the boards in a game against Drumondville last week. Reports indicate there is no fracture and it isn’t too serious, but also that he may sit out through the holidays with Rimouski likely seeking to trade him to a contending team.

Michael Pezzetta continues to sit out his lengthy OHL suspension for an illegal check.

Victor Mete played a single game with London this week, dropping a 7-3 decision Friday night to Mississauga. The blue-liner had a game-high eight shots, but finished pointless and a -1.

Mete left the Knights midway through the week to join Team Canada’s selection camp for the upcoming World Juniors. He started camp playing with Boston Bruins 2015 second-rounder Jeremy Lauzon, but was among the first cuts after the two games versus university competition.

Noah Juulsen had a productive pair of games, first named second star in a 4-3 overtime loss to Tri-City Wednesday. Juulsen, paired with alternate captain Lukas Skrumeda, scored the game’s opening goal midway through the first period. He notched his ninth of the season, equaling his career high, in Everett’s next game on Friday; a goal which evened the score at three early in the third period, with the Silvertips triumphing 5-4 in a shootout over Vancouver.

Like Mete, Juulsen departed for Canada’s camp during the week, but unlike Mete, entered in a position as a favourite to make the final squad. He has begun camp on a duo with Carolina Hurricanes first-rounder Jake Bean, though the pair sat out the opening game against Canadian University All-Stars.

NCAA

Jake Evans and Notre Dame had just a single game against Boston College. Down 2-1 with just over five to play in the second period, Evans found Andrew Oglevie to knot the score at two apiece. Anders Bjork would later add his second of the game to earn the Fighting Irish a 3-2 victory.

Colin Sullivan was pointless in a pair of Miami of Ohio overtime games against Colorado College. Sullivan finished even with one shot in Friday’s 1-1 tie, and then in Saturday’s 3-2 OT win, he was on the ice as his squad got on the board from down 2-0 before eventually completing the comeback.

Casey Staum was a -2 in Friday’s 5-1 loss, but collected his sixth assist of the season Saturday, helping to setup the eventual game-winning goal by Regen Cavanagh in the third period.

AHL/ECHL

The IceCaps split a pair of games on the weekend, icing quite different lineups in the contests due to player recalls to Montreal.

The returns of Charles Hudon (both from injury and from Montreal) and Mark Barberio sparked the offence on Friday. Hudon opened the scoring and assisted on a Chris Terry marker before his first period back was through. If he continues to produce like this, it shouldn’t be long before he gets another look with the Canadiens.

Mike McCarron was also back in the lineup Friday, scoring a third period goal that tied the game at five. McCarron was called up to the Habs following the game, despite serving as just a reserve forward there for the time being.

Jacob de la Rose was the only goal-scorer in Saturday’s 2-1 loss, after also recording an assist Friday night. De la Rose, who struggled to produce out of the gate, is heating up modestly with four points in his past seven encounters.

While Hudon and McCarron returned to action, Nikita Scherbak remains sidelined indefinitely with a shoulder injury.

Goaltenders

A relatively quiet week for the IceCaps meant only one appearance for Charlie Lindgren, and unfortunately a solid effort with 24 saves wasn’t enough to earn a victory, as he was outdone by Reto Berra and his 30 stops.

Zachary Fucale collected three straight wins this week, continuing to improve upon a disastrous start to his season. He turned aside 32 shots on Wednesday to earn a 6-3 decision over the Indy Fuel, then followed it up with a second-star-worthy 34 saves in Friday’s 4-2 win against former Canadiens affiliate Wheeling. Finally, in Sunday’s rematch with the Nailers, Fucale was named third star with 36 saves in another 4-2 victory.

Hayden Hawkey enjoyed his strongest week of the season. He first was named third star Friday for a 36-save effort in a 5-1 Friars win. His Providence teammates gave him a 2-0 lead to work with on Saturday, and it was all the production he needed, taking home the game’s second star for making 29 stops in a second straight win over RIT, this one by a 3-1 final.

Michael McNiven appeared in only one game before leaving for Canada’s World Juniors camp, and received plenty of offensive support in an 8-1 victory over Guelph. While McNiven is competing against two netminders who previously were considered odds-on favourites for WJC berths, pundits including Mark Masters and Bob McKenzie have gone on record this week to suggest it could be anyone’s crease come the end of the month.