Having looked at some of the more anonymous players gracing the Atlantic, Metropolitan and Central Divisions in the first quarter of the 2013-14 NHL season, now it is time to look at the Pacific Division. That is, we will look at most of the Pacific in this installment of Who’s That Guy? We would cover the whole division, but the Edmonton Oilers, currently bringing up the rear in the division, four points back of their nearest competitors, have so many previous unknowns that they merit an entire article just for them. So stay tuned.
We will start off with the President’s Trophy front-running Ducks giving honorable mention to another in their long line of stud prospect netminders, the Great Dane Frederik Andersen. Listed variously at either 6-3″ or 6-4″ and anywhere between 230-250 pounds, the twice-drafted netminder joined the Ducks when last year’s European sensation, Viktor Fasth, was felled by an early season injury. Considering his results across his first five NHL games, putting up a crazy .951 save percentage at even strength, the Ducks will soon be in a position where they have too many NHL-caliber goaltenders once Fasth returns and joins Andersen and incumbent Jonas Hiller, while uber-prospect John Gibson plies his trade in Norfolk. As Andersen’s spot is tenuous at the moment, our spotlight instead turns to beefy Patrick Maroon. The native of St. Louis was originally a sixth round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers back in 2007, scouted out of the NAHL. He was traded to the Ducks in a minor league swap during his third pro season. After earning a 13-game cameo last season, Maroon began this season with the big team. Although head coach Bruce Boudreau has yet to fully take the reins off of the 25-year-old, giving him fairly-sheltered minutes (among the Anaheim forwards, the most likely to start a shift in the offensive zone and generally against sub-par competition), he has shown no hesitation in giving the rookie the prestigious left wing slot on the first line alongside Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, both at even strength and on the power play, at least while Jakob Silfverburg is out with injury. A crasher and banger, Maroon is not without some offensive touch and his Relative Corsi marks are safely in the black. Considering his minimum wage pay packet and his sustainable metrics, Maroon should provide positive value for Bob Murray’s club even if/when he gets booted down a few lines.
Neither Reto”Yogi” Berra nor Chad Billins have been up with the Flames for long enough to merit the coveted “Who’s That Guy” slot. In a sense, much of the Flames’ roster is made up of guys who could feasibly qualify for the handle, although most have either once been highly-touted prospects (Joe Colborne, Sven Baertschi) or have been toiling on the backend of one roster or another for long enough already (Tim Jackman, Brian McGrattan, Shane O’Brien). Perhaps the greatest exception thus far has been bottom-six left winger Lance Bouma. Once a third round pick, the former Vancouver Giant received lengthy auditions with the Flames in both of his first two professional seasons, where he combined for four points in 43 games. Although gritty and hard hitting, he nonetheless has kept it clean, spending only 13 minutes in the penalty box in his cameos. The opportunity may have been there for Bouma to earn a larger role last season, but he hurt his knee early in the AHL campaign and was limited to three games with Abbotsford all year. Now healthy again, the native of Provost, Alberta has become a key penalty killer for Bob Hartley’s squad while playing fourth line minutes at even strength. Considering that Calgary’s PK only ranks 27th leaguewide and that Hartley has not yet settled on any set units for his forward corps, Bouma may yet see his role change. That said, considering that he wasn’t a big scorer in his WHL days, his upside is rather limited.
They will all be covered soon. All of them.
Los Angeles Kings
Considering the makeup of the LA roster, we will take a slightly different tack with the Kings than we have with most other teams. The vast majority of the active players at the NHL level were either contributors to the team’s Stanley Cup run two years ago, or were acquired since then in headline-grabbing swaps. The player most anonymous to kick off the season (Keaton Ellerby) was already sloughed off, and claimed on waivers by the Winnipeg Jets. That leaves us with one player who sort of qualifies for this series, even though he has only made his NHL debut this past Thursday against Buffalo. We are talking of none other than young pivot Linden Vey. Only 22 years old, the former fourth round pick out of the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers has been an elite scorer at every level in which he was given extended time. Even though he put up a point per game in his draft year, he lasted until the 96th pick as little skinny guys are rarely given the benefit of the doubt, no matter how gaudy their point totals. Undeterred, Vey went on to exceed his previous scoring totals for Medicine Hat for two more seasons, culminating in his winning the Bobby Clarke Trophy as the WHL’s leading scorer in his final junior season in 2010-11. While that recognition sounds exciting, the roll call of previous winners is rather bleak; since Daymond Langkow took the honors in 1994-95, the most successful trophy bearer has been 2005-06 winner Troy Brouwer. Although the Saskatchewan native kept up the scoring in two AHL seasons, there were six centers ahead of him on the Kings’ depth chart to start the season. An injury to Jeff Carter, coupled with another hot AHL start for Vey, saw him get the call on November 1. Although it is unclear when Carter will be ready to return, it is hard to say that Vey will actually see too much ice during his present stay in Los Angeles. At least he is still young enough that he should receive more chances down the road if it is not yet his time now.
Not counting young wingers Lucas Lessio and Jordan Szwarz, who have been on the active roster for a combined two weeks, the Coyotes are much like the Kings in that there are few on their roster that we can confidently say need introduction. What we do have, on the other hand, is a player who would have been great on this list last year and is still under the radar enough that we will bend the concept for him anyway. Furthermore, he has the greatest name in the NHL. In the recent Hockey Prospectus 2013-14, we wrote that he has the name of a modern-day Viking. If you have not guessed by now, we are talking about big left winger Rob Klinkhammer. After an unheralded WHL career, in which he spent time on no fewer than four franchises in four seasons, his game took a massive step forward as an overager in 2006-07. Whereas the Lethbridge native scored fewer than one point for every three games in his first three WHL seasons, spent between his hometown club and Seattle, he was traded after one game with the Thunderbirds in his final season to Portland and later that season to Brandon and he more than tripled his scoring output on his way to an AHL contract with Norfolk. Two passable AHL seasons led to a two-way contract with the Chicago Blackhawks. It took a few more years before Klinkhammer made his NHL debut, a one-off cameo against Dallas in midseason 2010-11. Nearly a full year to the day of his debut, the Hawks traded him to Ottawa for a conditional seventh round pick. It was there, at the age of 26, where he received his first prolonged NHL look. Although two assists in 15 games and below replacement level production as per GVT failed to excite, he nonetheless was offered a contract by Phoenix during the following offseason. Klinkhammer was so effective during the lockout playing in the AHL, with 44 points in 53 games, that he was called up to play for the Coyotes shortly after the season got going again, contributing 11 points in 22 games while playing among the toughest shifts given to forwards under Dave Tippett. While still counted on for defensive help, Klinkhammer has not been deployed with such extremity this year, and that has helped him continue to provide depth scoring, although his abnormally high PDO strongly suggests that regression will bite back. That said, his possession play has been consistently above average, to the extent that he should maintain utility even after his scoring output drops, providing great value on a contract that is scarcely above the NHL minimum wage.
San Jose Sharks
Perhaps one of the reasons that the Pacific is so strong (for the most part) is that there were so few roster spots up for grabs at the outset of the year. Just like with the Kings and the Coyotes, the Sharks were also more or less spoken for at the end of training camp. They had two rookie forwards make the team in the electrifying Tomas Hertl and the industrious Matt Nieto, but neither should have been seen as surprises as both were well-regarded players in an otherwise barren system. The only notable battle in camp was for the role of backup goaltender. After Thomas Greiss departed for the desert, the Sharks elected not to sign any free agents for the job of caddying for workhorse starter Antti Niemi. Instead, they had youngsters Alex Stalock and Harri Sateri battle it out during camp. While neither man truly stood out, the Sharks chose the older Stalock for the role, at least to start the season. Stalock has only seen the ice twice in the Sharks’ first 16 games, but he has at least acquitted himself rather well in stopping in 59 of 61 shots fired at him. On the other hand, Sateri has stunk in AHL Worcester, allowing 22 goals on 149 shots in his first six contests. Stalock is known as an athletic netminder who plays in the butterfly style, but there is precious little we can glean from his track record that would tell us what we could expect from him if Niemi went down for any stretch of time. The St. Paul, Minnesota native was a standout at the collegiate level with Minnesota-Duluth, but his AHL numbers were average at best across over four seasons, which is slightly mitigated by a horrific cut to the back of his knee from a skate blade that caused him to miss over half of one of those seasons. In any case, the Sharks are hoping to not have to call on Stalock for much more than 15 games this year. Should something befall Niemi, expect San Jose to attempt to replace him through the trade market.
The Canucks have an interesting roster in that a large number of players could have once fit the theme of this series. Some of that can be attributed to former coach Alain Vigneault’s propensity for bi-polar player usage, with his top line guys given the cushiest of cushy assignments, while his bottom half would specialize almost exclusively in manual labor. Although Vigneault is now on Broadway, some of his backend guys are still kicking around, including the likes of Dale Weise, Jannik Hansen, and Andrew Alberts. Other cases could once have been made for guys like Alexandre Burrows or Jason Garrison, players who have risen from obscurity as prospects to now rightfully hold spots among the top half of the roster, and the payroll. The roster also features post-hype prospects such as Zac Dalpe and Zack Kassian, undrafted free agents recently made good like Eddie Lack and Chris Tanev, and more roster ephemera. With so much to choose from, our “winner” here is blueliner Ryan Stanton, claimed off waivers from the Chicago Blackhawks during the preseason. The Hawks originally signed Stanton as an undrafted free agent out of the Moose Jaw Warriors program in the WHL after the Albertan increased his offensive output for three straight years after starting off as a purely stay-at-home guy. Stanton underwhelmed for much of his three seasons on the farm in the Chicago system, but was awarded his NHL debut late last season as the Hawks were resting their regulars in the run-up to the playoffs. When his old team added depth guys like Theo Peckham and Mike Kostka in the offseason, Stanton became doubly expendable. Having to pass through waivers to be assigned to the AHL, the Canucks pounced. Small sample size caveats aside, it seems that the minor transaction has awarded them with a hidden gem and surprising early season production. Given third pairing duties, Stanton has not received much in the way of offensive ice time, although he has been cushioned by virtue of playing against sub-par competition relative to his teammates. While he does help out on the occasional penalty kill, his contributions have mostly been at even strength and often alongside Kevin Bieksa. We can probably attribute some of his positive possession metrics to playing with such an accomplished partner, but seven points in his first 17 games do point to some offensive upside of his own that could be sustainable, particularly if he continues to see the ice at the same time as the first forward line. As he plays in the style encouraged by new coach John Tortorella, with plenty of hits and blocked shots, at the very least, we can expect Stanton to hold on to his spot in the rotation.
Ryan Wagman is a long-time author of Hockey Prospectus including his Zamboni Tracks transactions column, a contributor to several HP annuals, contributor to ESPN Insider, and long-suffering Toronto Maple Leafs supporter.
Follow Ryan on Twitter at @RAWagman.