(photo via stjohnsicecaps.com)
The dog days of the NHL season are upon us. It’s that time of year when teams start to look to the farm for injury replacements, fourth line additions or other players deserving of promotion. Be it earned by performance or handed to them by circumstance, these five players are the most deserving of a call-up in the very near future.
blog here Nikolay Goldobin – San Jose Sharks (San Jose Barracuda)
The first, but not the last, first rounder from the 2014 draft to appear on the list. He’s young, incredibly talented and in a system where he will have a lot of success. So why not now?
He hasn’t blown the roof off the AHL with only 33 points in 39 games, but I think immersing him with the Sharks’ surrounding cast would do wonders for his development.
The team is pretty much a foregone conclusion to make the playoffs and tutelage from guys like Joe Thornton, Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski would be nothing but beneficial.
If Timo Meier doesn’t stick in the show down the stretch, look to Goldobin to fill the void on the left wing.
Jake Virtanen – Vancouver Canucks (Utica Comets)
Picked 6th overall in 2014, Virtanen has only suited up for 65 career games, amassing a meager 15 points. That said, the Canucks have nothing to lose and frankly, they have a bad reputation for letting good young players rot in the minors while jobbers fill their roster spots (see Bryan Allen, Nicklas Jensen, Michael Grabner, etc.).
Virtanen brings a level of aggression that the Canucks have been seriously lacking for the past decade or so, but will likely have an easier time learning to harness that while suiting up alongside the Sedin twins—two of the classiest, most gracious players in league history.
He may not have all the tools yet, but on a team not expected to make any waves this season, let the guy develop at the NHL level. This team needs to press the reset button and Virtanen is a piece of the rebuild. Take the training wheels off and let him roll.
Jordan Weal – Philadelphia Flyers (Lehigh Valley Phantoms)
A 3rd round draft pick out of Regina in 2010, Weal is making waste of AHL goaltenders this season, collecting 45 points (15G, 30A) in 42 games—24 of those on the power play. He’s tied for league lead with 5 game-winning goals, too. Philly can use some help up front with Travis Konecny out 4-6 weeks and the team fighting for a playoff spot.
You get the feeling that it’s a make or break season for Weal, who the Flyers acquired from the L.A. Kings last January in a deal for Vinnie Lecavalier and Luke Schenn. He has spent the vast majority of his career in the minors, and while he’s establishing a pedigree with his play this year—coupled with a 2015 Calder Cup championship with the Manchester Monarchs—the time for Weal to stick in the NHL is now.
I’d like to see him get a chance over a guy like the undrafted Roman Lyubimov, who has five points in 40 games on the Flyers fourth line. The production speaks for itself—give Weal a call.
Jon Gillies – Calgary Flames (Stockton Heat)
Calgary’s goaltending situation is enough to give Flames fans an aneurysm. Brian Elliot hasn’t been as advertised (to say the least), and frankly Chad Johnson just isn’t an NHL starter. Jon Gillies will be though. Very soon, might I add—and if you haven’t heard this name yet, commit it to memory now.
The 6’6” Providence College product is next in line to take the reins in Calgary’s net and if it weren’t for season-ending hip surgery last year, he may already be in that position. Alas, he’s still sowing his oats in Stockton (11 wins, 3.00 GAA, .908 S% this year), but the reality is he’s close to being ready and would probably be served well be getting some exposure at the big league level down the stretch.
This will likely hinge on a couple different factors—like whether the Flames are in playoff contention, how Johnson and Elliot trudge through the second half of the season, and whether they make a move for a Ben Bishop or Marc-Andre Fleury. Long term, though, I think it’s in their best interest to give Gillies a shot here.
Charles Hudon – Montreal Canadiens (St. John’s IceCaps)
Ok, this one may be a bit of a homer pick for me because I’ve been a Hudon fan since his brief stint on Canada’s U-20 World Junior team. The guy can play though, and Montreal bothers the hell out of me by never bringing their young players along (was Galchenyuk really a four year project…?).
Hudon has produced year after year at the AHL level. He’s a good blend of talented and scrappy and in my opinion would be every bit as valuable to the Canadiens as a guy like David Desharnais or Sven Andrighetto.
He turns 23 in June so the clock is beginning to tick as to whether he’ll get a chance to reach his full potential at the NHL level, and I think that after a sample size (two points in three NHL games) that they need to set him free in the second half of the season and give him a real opportunity to showcase himself.