Each week Catching the Torch takes an in-depth look at one young member of the organization, while also 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.
Note: This week’s stats include the last two weeks, December 19th to January 1st, as no column was run last week given minimal minor league activity in the days leading up to the Christmas holidays.
Prospect Spotlight: Hayden Hawkey, G, Providence College Friars (NCAA)
It took the legendary Gordie Howe an entire career to earn the nickname “Mr. Hockey.” For one Montreal Canadiens’ prospect, it was a birthright. So long as you didn’t have to spell it.
The Habs’ goaltending pipeline was fairly barren in 2014 when they selected a netminder who had just put up sensational USHL numbers - named Goalie of the Year as a rookie - in the sixth round. Hayden Hawkey would have a disappointing follow-up in 2014-15, seeing his goals-against average balloon by a full point and his save percentage drop below .900, and this before suffering a serious knee injury in September that ended his year. "A guy came down on my left side and I dropped down. He came straight into me after he shot the puck and landed on top of me. My leg got caught under him and twisted. It didn't feel too good,'' recounted Hawkey to the Providence Journal. "I tried to test it to see if I could go. I skated around a bit. I cut hard to my left and my leg just gave out and I collapsed right there on the ice. I was carried off. I had an MRI three days later. It was the worst MCL tear I could have had, a Grade Three tear.”
And the hardship didn’t end there with Hawkey finding himself hospitalized again weeks later. "I was unconscious for three days. They think there was some preexisting issue and the pain meds might have acted as a catalyst,'' he said.
With a lost season and continued rehab, Hawkey was relegated to back-up duties as an NCAA freshman with Providence College, but was victorious in his two starts and garnered attention with a 1.67 GAA and a .940 save percentage in 180 minutes of action. As starter Nick Ellis signed with the Edmonton Oilers, Hawkey was expected to play a much larger role for the Friars this year, but it wasn’t a position he was taking for granted.
"Just because Nick is gone doesn't mean that I'm entitled to anything. I know it's a spot that still has to be earned. There's no sitting around waiting for it to be handed to me. I've got to go out and get it,'' he told the Providence Journal before heading to Montreal’s development camp this past summer.
And that he has, particularly of late, playing every minute of every game for his squad thus far this season and continuously improving as the year has gone on. He has a 4-1-2 record in his last seven starts, allowing two or fewer goals in each. Named Hockey East’s Defensive Player of the Week earlier this month for stopping 65 of 67 shots in a two-game sweep over RIT, Hawkey this weekend made 26 stops in a 2-2 tie against Denver on Friday and then earned a 3-1 decision in a rematch the next nigh with 21 saves.
With such little ice time the last two years, a slow start was to be expected, but Hawkey is rounding in to form nicely. “I've made a lot of mistakes, but I think I've learned from those mistakes,” he told the Journal last week. “It took me a little bit to figure out how to play at this level, night in and night out. I think that as the year's gone on, I've adjusted. I knew there would be some growing pains. I haven't played, really, more than a game every month or two for two years now, so I knew it would take some time to get into it.”
What specifically were the improvements? “Getting to spots quick, making sure you get your feet set before making saves,” Hawkey himself responded. His coach Nate Leaman seems to agree, adding, “It's all about his footwork. Early, his footwork wasn't where it needed to be and it cost him. He was deep (in the net) when he shouldn't be deep. Coach Mayotte and Coach [Jim] Tortorella have worked a lot with him on his footwork and it's getting better.”
While much attention beyond Carey Price in Montreal is (rightfully) given to the likes of Charlie Lindgren and Michael McNiven, Hawkey isn’t to be overlooked as an aspirant to one of the most prestigious (and pressure-filled) roles in all of hockey - the Canadiens’ starting netminder. Hawkey’s stock is trending upwards, and given the development curve of many goaltenders (take San Jose’s Aaron Dell and Detroit’s Jared Coreau as recent examples), seeing him succeed would hardly be a surprise.
Prospect Performances from December 19, 2016 - January 1, 2017
Jeremiah Addison scored in all three Windsor games this past week, beginning with a pair in a 4-3 overtime win over Saginaw on Wednesday. Playing with Gabriel Vilardi and Logan Brown, Addison led all skaters in the game with ten shots and tied the game at two early in the third, before sending it to overtime by evening the score at three with just a minute and a half to play.
Addison again played a starring role the next night, scoring the Spits only goal in a 2-1 loss to Kitchener, while again leading all skaters with nine shots on net. His efforts saw him recognized as the night’s third star. He lastly completed a hat trick of strong performances as the first star of a 4-2 win over Flint on Saturday. Addison’s 15th of the year put Windsor ahead 3-2 in the second, and he would add an insurance marker before the period ended (highlights).
Will Bitten’s only points of the week were empty-net markers, sealing a 5-3 win over Erie on Wednesday and a 6-3 win over Peterborough on Sunday. Bitten struggled on the face-off dot in those two games in particular, going a combined 8-for-32, in what continues to be a season of disappointing results (but not for a lack of consistent effort).
Matt Bradley continues to put up numbers as part of Medicine Hat’s high octane offense, with five of his six points this week coming in a single game: a 9-7 loss to Lethbridge Friday night. Despite his production and +4 rating, he was left out of the star selection on the evening, and though he ranks 30th in points in the entire WHL, it still only places him fifth on his own club.
#Habs prospect Matt Bradley had 5P last night. Up to 42P in 38GP. Here's his play of the night: pic.twitter.com/3buT5dcQ3T— Mitch Brown (@MitchLBrown) December 31, 2016
Simon Bourque had been sitting out both due to injury and as Rimouski looked to deal him to a contender. The latter transpired this week, as the Oceanic sent their captain and a second round pick to the Saint John Sea Dogs (Nathan Beaulieu’s former club) for defenceman Vincent Martineau, two first round selections, and a second round pick. The move should extend Bourque’s season and include the possibility of advancement to the Memorial Cup, as the blueliner jumps from a team sitting 12th in the standings to one tied for the QMJHL lead.
Michael Pezzetta returned to the Sudbury line-up from his suspension and scored in his first game back. Lining up at center between twin brothers Drake and Darien Pilon (thankfully not defensemen with that family name), Pezzetta scored on a rebound early in the second to pull the Wolves back within one after they’d fallen behind 2-0. They would collect a point but ultimately drop a 4-3 overtime decision.
Victor Mete had a pair of strong outings for London, beginning Wednesday with four assists in a 5-3 victory over Oshawa. He then opened the game’s scoring on Friday, notching his tenth of the season in a 4-1 win against Sarnia.
Victor Mete scored last night. In 4 games without Juolevi (Mete is now consistently 1st PP), Mete has 7P, 5 of which came on man-advantage. pic.twitter.com/rzf5wQywSf— Mitch Brown (@MitchLBrown) December 31, 2016
Noah Juulsen wasn’t in action for Everett as he has been suiting up on Team Canada’s second pairing at the World Junior Championships beside Jake Bean. His performances on the world stage to date have been fairly mediocre, caught out of position on opposing goals in a couple of contests, including Saturday’s loss to the U.S. Nevertheless, through four contests, he has one assist, eight shots, and a +3 rating.
Mikhail Sergachev has also been away from his CHL duties at the World Juniors, though he’s inexplicably floundered on lower pairs of the Team Russia depth chart. Coming into the tournament, he was expected to be a dominant force, but instead has just one point - a goal in his team’s opener against Canada - through four games. Despite his nine shots by far leading all Russian d-men, he hasn’t regularly been given top powerplay minutes by his coach.
Jake Evans collected a point in each of a pair of wins over Alaska. In Saturday’s 5-0 romp, Evans assisted on Andrew Oglevie’s marker that put Notre Dame up by three. Then on Sunday, Evans tallied the final marker of a 4-0 victory. With 19 points through 19 games, he is well on pace to match or better last season’s 33 points in 37.
Colin Sullivan picked up his first point of the season in Miami University’s only game this week, a 6-3 win over Ohio State. Sullivan was credited with a secondary assist on a second period Carson Meyer goal that evened the score at two a piece. The Redhawks would fall behind 3-2, but prevail on the strength of four unanswered third period goals.
Nik Koberstein couldn’t extend his streak by registering a point for a third straight weekend, as the entire Alaska-Fairbanks offense was frozen in the pair of shutout losses to Notre Dame.
Casey Staum didn’t find the scoresheet in a 6-5 loss to the Chicago Steel Wednesday, but had a big night in his next game, an 8-0 Dubuque thrashing of the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. Staum assisted on the Fighting Saints 4th, 7th, and 8th tallies, with the three points equaling half of what he had put up in his 24 prior games total this year.
Daniel Audette has been on an absolute tear for the St. John’s IceCaps, seemingly fully adjusted to the pro ranks. The center spent most of the week in between Stefan Matteau and Nikita Scherbak, and was a consistent offensive threat with points in four straight contests. He scored the game-opener last Monday - his fourth of the year - in a 2-1 win over Toronto, and then had three points Wednesday - including the game-winning goal in overtime - in a 4-3 victory against Utica. After another assist in a win Friday, the undersized forward helped get the IceCaps close in a crazy back-and-forth affair Saturday, with a goal that pulled his side within two, and then an assist that made it one-goal game but was unfortunately as close as St. John’s would get.
Audette was a better-than-point-per-game scorer for his final three junior seasons, so there is still hope that he is just scratching the surface of his potential. While his 5’9” stature will always work against him, offensive centers are not something the Montreal organization has in abundance, and so he should be considered a player to watch.
Daniel Audette wins it OT. Audette had 3P. Great feed from Nikita Scherbak, who was the best skater tonight. pic.twitter.com/gpHO0H0ams— Mitch Brown (@MitchLBrown) December 29, 2016
Jacob De La Rose continues to produce at a more consistent pace than he has previously at the AHL level, with points in seven of his last nine contests. With two goals on Saturday, he is just one point shy of his previous AHL high in five fewer games. While he may have been passed by many in Montreal’s depth chart, it may be too soon to rule him out - or if nothing else, for him to earn consideration from Las Vegas as an expansion draft eligible candidate.
Mark MacMillan was another who stepped up on a depleted St. John’s roster, with three points in four games doubling what he had managed in 24 games prior. For his part, Tom Parisi notched his first career professional goal, a marker that notched Wednesday’s game at two a piece.
Nikita Scherbak returned to the IceCaps line-up from injury and registered two assists in his first game back, but was blanked in the following two contests despite his line’s success. Charles Hudon, on the other hand, remains out of the line-up due to injury.
Charlie Lindgren was well on his way to a strong week, until a softer performance Saturday dampened his numbers. In winning his first three starts, Lindgren turned aside 24 of 25 shots last Monday, 30 of 33 Wednesday, and 31 of 32 on Friday evening, earning two first star nominations in the process. However, he was beaten six times on 25 attempts in Saturday’s 7-5 loss to Syracuse, with the dip in play perhaps attributable to his heavy workload with Yan Danis out and Zach Fucale unavailable.
Zachary Fucale has been turning his season around in stunning fashion, allowing three or fewer goals in his 12 last games for Brampton after having allowed four or more in three of his first six contests. Fucale’s final game before leaving to tend Team Canada’s goal in the Spengler Cup was a 3-1 victory over the Indy Fuel, where he made 22 saves.
Fucale was intended to be Canada’s back-up behind veteran Drew MacIntyre, but after the former Hamilton Bulldog was shelled for six goals on 18 shots in an opening game loss to HK Dinamo Minsk, the Canadiens’ prospect was given a chance and earned a 4-3 decision over HC Davos with 33 saves. His impressive play gave him the next start against Mountfield HK, and he responded with 19 saves to be named his team’s player of the game in a 5-1 victory. Then in a rematch with HK Dinamo Minsk in the semi-final, Fucale was able to turn away 21 of 23 opposing shots, enough to outduel another former Bulldog - Ben Scrivens - and eek out a 3-2 win. Finally, in his most grueling challenge, Fucale helped his side defend their title with 40 saves on 42 shots in the Final against HC Lugano, as three second period goals led Canada to a 5-2 triumph.
Pretty nice way to end the year ! pic.twitter.com/bc05HFdB9Y— Zach Fucale (@Fucale31) December 31, 2016
With the tournament and title under his belt, expect Fucale to ride his hot streak back to the IceCaps (rather than the Beast) in the near future.
Michael McNiven had one of his strongest weeks of the season, earning high praise from even Don Cherry, who compared him to Canadiens’ star Carey Price. Returning from Hockey Canada’s WJC Selection Camp, McNiven posted shutouts in his next two starts with Owen Sound, with 23 and 28 saves respectively. He was nearly as stingy on Sunday, with his shutout streak snapped only by a Lucas Chiodo second period goal, but still finishing with 22 stops in a 5-1 win over Barrie.