So, pretty much every year we here in Minnesota get treated to an American Hockey League game, as the Houston Aeros, teeming with much-lauded prospects, came to town Sunday afternoon to take on Rockford, who is Chicago's AHL affiliate.
(nothing quite like recanting the Nick Leddy trade to my gal. I don't think she fully grasped just how much of a stiff Cam Barker was/is/will be.)
Back to the narrative; a reported 11,000+ plus braved the terrific and unseasonal 50 degree weather and gravitational pull of NFL football on flat screen high definition televisions to take in the game, and get a healthy dose of the Wild Youth Movement; as this marks the beginning as seven 20 somethings turned pro. Mikael Granlund (leg, I mean lower body injury) and Jonas Brodin (broken clavicle, uh, upper body injury) didn't play, which was a bummer since both looked to be legitimate NHLers this year.
I guess they did have a hoot at the Minnesota/Wisconsin game during the weekend though.
It turned out the forgotten European prospect- Johan Larsson- stole the show as his two goals powered Houston past Rockford. Well, since you're dying to know, I'll tell you some more observations after the jump.This was the first real live viewings of these players for many in attendance; granted we are familiar with these players from the Development Camp Scrimmages and to a lesser extent Traverse City. We know who Charlie Coyle is, and we got tastes of Brett Bulmer, Jason Zucker, etc. with their short cups of coffee with the big club; but unlike the scrimmages, this was nut cuttin time.
Matt Hackett - I was struck by how relaxed he looked in net- although you could see how competitive he is when it came to opposing players coming into his crease, bumping him, or the need to get that loose puck in the crease. He made some really nice saves look pretty easy, and jumped up like it was no big deal. One area of concern I have, not that I really know what the hell I'm talking about, is that occasionally he'll push so hard from side to side that he will really sell himself out, leaving the net exposed. I'm sure that can be corrected, but we saw glimpses of this in his time with Minnesota, where you could get him to bite hard and play himself out of position.
Charlie Coyle - Ask Nate about this- I like to compare players to Kyle Brodziak. Coyle reminds me alot of Brodziak; now before you cheapen your view of Charlie Coyle, here me out. What you get with Brodziak is an honest, hard working two-way game- and that's Coyle to a tee. He is an all-situations forward right now as a 20 year old, and there is no reason why he won't be that at the NHL level. I liked how he used his size to fight for pucks, in cycles, in protection, and around the crease. His skating will likely be a work in progress, as he'll never be the fleetest of foot, but its much improved since his draft year. He'll likely never be a threat off of the rush, but he's a 200 foot player.
Jason Zucker - Now Zucker will be a threat off of the rush, as the speed merchant has a bullet of a shot as well. His skating ability will have to be accounted for everytime he is on the ice, as he'll be able to stretch out defenses and he's already a constant threat on the pk; if there's a turnover he's streaking down the ice. He's gonna have to bulk up some because of his fearless nature; Zucker's already been dinged up thus far. I like what chemistry he and Coyle have going, as those two have a good complementary dynamic.
Johan Larsson - Got his big break by centering these two wings with Mikael Granlund on the shelf. While he lacks a standout trait, he is a relentless competitor. Just a never ending motor, someone who will just give the opposition fits on the forecheck and he'll draw his fair share of frustration penalties. He isn't your classic goal scorer, or playmaker, but he's above average in that regard. Another 200 foot player.
Brett Bulmer - I think he may take a little longer to figure it out than the others. I think he'll have to work on his pace (knowing when to fly around at 5th gear and when not to) as he seemed a tad out of control at times, but you could see just how gnatty he'll be away from the puck. But there's alot to like about him with the puck; he's got a heavy shot, he protects the puck well down low.
Zack Phillips - Sunday was a good example of how he'll need to continue to work on his skating; while he's good on his edges, he lacks burst in his skating and he could use another gear. He'll be in the same boat as Bulmer, as it might take longer for him to figure it out than Coyle, or Granlund, or Zucker- but he's got really good hockey sense and hands.
There's alot to like here, but at times the team struggled mightily to move the puck at times, and connecting on passes seemed like a massive task too.
More to come.