Stocks on the rise. - Mike Stobe
The lockout's a great reason to ignore hockey. But some player stocks have changed since the NHL last mattered.
If it weren't for the NHL lockout, Josh Bailey wouldn't be playing in Germany's second tier, Frans Nielsen wouldn't be playing with his brother, John Tavares wouldn't be wearing a funny jersey (except for "none more black" third-jersey nights), and Kyle Okposo and Brad Boyes wouldn't be, uh, skating and stuff.
But with or without the lockout, some player stocks and fortunes have changed since the NHL was last relevant about six months ago. Here's an overview of how several New York Islanders have fared.
Ryan Strome - Has anyone in the Islanders organization had a better lockout? If the NHL's self-inflicted gong show wasn't a blessing for Strome, it in the very least took away the pressure of trying to make the NHL roster, and the disappointment of being assigned to OHL Niagara. Strome has responded by leading the CHL in scoring, putting up two points per game and securing a return to the Canadian team in this month's World Junior Championships. If the NHL ever bothers to hold a 2012-13 season, Strome's roster candidacy has only gotten stronger.
Adam Pelech - Pelech, drafted as one of the infamous Seven Defensemen of 2012, drew Team Canada invites for the Canada-Russia Challenge Series and to this month's WJC selection camp. While Pelech was cut from the WJC team, he was one of the youngest players in camp and by far the lowest-drafted defenseman in camp. In the OHL, he's not only scoring -- 26 points in 32 games -- he's also Erie's most important defenseman.
Nino Niederreiter - In his first (and hopefully only) AHL season, Niederreiter is performing as well as one would hope for a 2010 5th overall pick. But given his health and performance struggles during his rookie NHL season in 2011-12, the fact he's healthy and putting up a point per game for Bridgeport is excellent news.
Brock Nelson - Also a 2010 pick -- one the Islanders traded up to select with the last pick in the first round -- Nelson has built off his successful final (sophomore) NCAA season to compete with Niederreiter for the Bridgeport scoring lead. By many accounts, Nelson looked over his head during his brief post-NCAA trial with the Sound Tigers at the end of last season. Given another summer of workouts and a chance to start with everyone else, he's shined. As importantly, he's done it at center.
Lubomir Visnovsky - Visnovsky is putting up points (6-8-14 in 24 games) for the KHL's Slovakian team in Brataslava. That's par for his career, but the bright news here is that he's doing it, healthily, after struggling with injuries and form last season in Anaheim.
Mitchell Theoret - There is no question that the overager Theoret's career year is due to being on a line with Strome and Dallas Stars prospect Brett Ritchie, but it's still the best-case scenario for him. With 35 points in 28 games, he's doing the Matt Martin thing, demonstrating he can play and produce next to elite OHL players while providing a physical element. He did work on his game over the summer, so there's no splicing how much is progress and how much is playing next to two sure future NHLers. But for a 7th-round pick, he has a chance and this season has only strengthened it.
Steady as Ma Bell
John Tavares - Some stocks are so reliable their good days are hardly news. Playing with Mark Streit in Switzerland, Tavares just piles up points ... points most of us would rather see be included on a Hall of Fame career stat sheet some day. With 35 in 22 games, he's among the league leaders and would be at the top if he'd been there from the start of the season.
Frans Nielsen - Playing with his brother, a goalie for Lukko in Finland, Nielsen is one of several Danes aiding the SM-Liiga side. He's plus-9, has 18 points in 21 games ... because he's Frans Nielsen and you're not.
Mark Streit - It was a tough rebound after missing all of 2010-11, though Streit finished his comeback year with 47 points for the Islanders. This season playing with Tavares for Bern in his native country, Streit has 22 points in 26 games for a team that is vying for first place.
Brenden Kichton - Honestly, Kichton is just doing the same he did last year, which is pile up points and play a big role for the Spokane Chiefs. Now their captain, he already had the Islanders' attention but probably was left unsigned last summer with an eye toward the lockout and a logjam of defensive prospects. He has 36 points and is a team-high plus-28 in 31 games.
Whether they've leveled off or fallen, some players have found circumstances that bear watching:
Jesse Joensuu - The Finn Named Jesse had a strong enough 2011-12 season in Sweden to earn an NHL-or-bust one-way deal to return to the Islanders. The lockout put him back in Europe anyway, but he used that opportunity to give back to his boyhood team and become Ässät's most important scorer. That is until he suffered a hand injury that, depending on timing, could keep him out of a shortened Islanders camp.
Josh Bailey - It's just good that Bailey is playing competitive games. As a rather late departure to Bietigheim, he's put up 11 points in six games and has an awesome profile picture. But this was an important season for Bailey, as the competition for top-six and top-nine forward roles will only increase. Spending the winter in Germany's second division isn't ideal, but it beats sitting at home.
Griffin Reinhart - Perhaps an unfair selection for this category, as Reinhart started off the year by being named Edmonton's captain. He's still playing quite well for the Oil , but the disappointment comes in his offensive production (14 points in 31 games), which hasn't grown the way you'd hope.
That said, he's on a stacked blueline with a very strong top four, and none of them are lighting up the score sheet despite the coaching staff's plea for them to contribute more on that side of the ledger. Reinhart's doing fine; it's just a question of how fine an NHL defenseman he'll be.
Rick DiPietro - If the biggest obstacle for NHLers heading to Europe is how to insure their NHL contract, it's a mystery how DiPietro ended up with Germany's Riessersee. More mysterious is why he's only played two games -- one league game, one cup game -- and why the team's
official site [er, rather the paper covering the team] reported an injured groin that he denied. If the two open, serious, four-years-and-counting questions about DiPietro are his form and health, he's been unable to answer either during this lockout.
Kirill Petrov - This is partly due to role and usage, but the fact Petrov only has nine points in 28 games for Ak Bars Kazan in the KHL does not retain his status as Most Hyped But Unattainable of the Isles prospects. Though his offense hasn't impressed, his two-way abilities actually provide some hope for future NHL work, should he still be interested next time his contract expires. (Aside: If you watched the NHL circus this year, would you leave your homeland?)
Kirill Kabanov - There was every reason to be excited about what Kabanov could bring to the Sound Tigers along with fellow 2010-drafted AHL rookies Niederreiter and Nelson. Instead, he suffered a deep skate cut in his arm just four games into the season. He'll be back, but he's losing a third of the season.
Calvin de Haan - Speaking of which, de Haan's season ended early with yet another brutal shoulder injury. Tough luck for the prospect who was a key defenseman for the Sound Tigers. The 2012 Seven are knocking on the door.
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Meanwhile, if you must have lockout coverage: Elliotte Friedman says the mediators are pointless and slams his sisters in the process. ... Mark Spector says the owners need to budge ... As usual the moderates on either side are the only voice of reason, but they can't get past the fundamentalists ... And outside analysts say the NHL business model must be dysfunctional, which is great for the NHL's lockout argument but horrible for non-lockout years when they pretend everything is absolutely peachy.