Billy Sweatt has been very, very steady for the Wolves so far this year.
(Chris Jerina/AHL in Photos)
A season which started slowly has been begun to pick up pace of late. The Wolves are scoring goals and the forwards have led the way. It’s an interesting mix of young and old, with some pretty handy, interchangeable parts. Lets take a look at the first half of the season for the Chicago Wolves’ forwards.
Mark Mancari: The Stanchion’s favourite player had a tough start to the season but has been on fire recently. He played six games with the big club around Christmastime. He’s got NHL hands but far-from-NHL wheels. He may get another game or two down the stretch but that’s all.
Darren Haydar:The guy’s an AHL legend. Why he’s never had more of a crack at the NHL is a bit of a mystery but his skating isn’t mind blowing, although his vision his. Like Mancari, he’s what baseball terms a "Quad-A player", studly in the minors, but with a fatal flaw that prevents him from being useful in the show.
Steve Reinprecht: Yes, he’s old. but he has still played magnificently well. When most of your career has been in the NHL and that part of your career was very successful, it should be expected that you can produce in the AHL. He’s doing that in spades. If he’s to be seen in Vancouver, it will be in the postseason, when the team wouldn’t have to worry about fitting him under the salary cap. He’s actually more interesting as a bargaining chip, he could step in and be very useful for a team looking for an experienced NHL veteran.
Jordan Schroeder: The task before the season for the young Minnesotan was clear: dominate in the AHL. Craig MacTavish has thrown tons of ice time at the 21-year-old and while the early season was tough going, the last two months have been much more impressive. Schroeder is playing in all situations and mostly doing quite well. He’s producing at the same rate (.59 points per game) that Hodgson did with the Moose last season. Schroeder’s development, while still somewhat tenuous, is moving in the right direction.
Tim Miller: Miller’s first full AHL season has been very solid. He’s played on each of the top three lines and not looked out of place on each. The 24-year-old played four grinding years at Michigan and is now turning himself into a very useful AHL player. Like much of the team, he really only found his game in December. Whether he has NHL upside is unclear, but his career track suggests an impressive work ethic.
Billy Sweatt: as you know, the most famous Sweatt since Lee, made his Canucks debut in December. He dressed for two games of 4th line action and didn’t look out of place. He can skate, he’s got useful hands and he makes smart plays. It’s clear that the organization thinks highly of him, but whether he will do anything to seperate himself from a pack of replacement-level players remains to be seen.
Anton Rodin: The "next great Swede" (we hope) took a long time to find his feet. He suffered from a serious throat infection to start the season, and once he recovered, took forever to get into the lineup. Finally once he got into the lineup, it took forever for him to get off of the fourth line. Once he was teamed with Sweatt and Schroeder, his game began to take off. Lately he’s been on the top unit with Mancari and Reinprecht. It took him a while, but he’s beginning to show flashes of the high-end skill the Canucks saw when they drafted him in the second round.
Mike Duco: The man/vampire they call Duco with the (soon-to-be) big red beard also spent time with the big team, and showed himself to be pretty handy with the puck. He’s been used mainly a checking role with the Wolves, although he does see some powerplay time. His game had fallen away for a time before Christmas, but he seems to be back to his regular self. With the top two lines getting so much ice time, however, he’ll have to work very hard to keep himself in the mix.
Nathan Longpre: the 23-year-old Ontarian is another in a long line of Canucks late bloomers. He was invited to prospects camp, played himself into the main camp, and now has himself an AHL contract. He’s spent some time centring the first line and a bit on the wing, but of late, has mostly been used to centre the third line. He’s been steady as an AHLer but nothing suggests he’s anything more than NHL-replacement level at this point.
Victor Oreskovich: We saw him for one game this year, after we got a hefty dose of Oreskovich last season. As we know, he just doesn’t stand out and is a defensive liability. He’s spending most of his time on the thrid line, though lately he’s been out with a concussion. No real reason to think he’ll be back with the Canucks, Mike Duco is a faster skater and a better puck handler at this point.
Mike Davies: the local boy has been in and out of the lineup, the result of both injuries and being a regular healthy scratch. He meshed well with Sweatt and Schroeder for a time, but lately he’s been seeing time on the 4th line. He’s an AHLer no doubt, but the NHL game would swamp him right now.
Stefan Schneider: Has held down the 4th line centre job for a good part of the season. A solid penalty killer, he’s big and he skates well. He may find himself getting some 4th line minutes for the Canucks sooner than we realize, but it’s also not imminent. He’s a converted junior defenseman, so goal scoring is far from a forte.
Antoine Roussel: Actually, really, for real, from France, the 22-year-old is another prospective fourth-line hustler. He’s mostly played well enough to spell off Stefan Schneider as the fourth line centre. He’s will to drop the mitts, though he not especially good at it. Again, another guy who probably tops out as a replacement-level guy for the Canucks.
Byron Bitz: the former Bruin and Panther has made a well-documented return to hockey after nearly two years of hernia issues kept him off the ice. He can skate and hit and is willing to have a go with his fists, but the two years off has left him with a lot of rust. He wasn’t terribly noticeable in the fast paced games in Abbotsford last week, but anecdotes say he’s been alright.
Matt Clackson: He’s found himself a role as "the tough guy" who spends a lot of time in the rafters. Sound familiar? He’s an odd fit for the organization and though he can actually play a bit, as the Wolves’ players and coaches have become more attuned to the Canucks’ puck possession philosophy, he’s seen less and less icetime. He turns 27 in April, he’s just organizational muscle.
Darren Archibald* – Archibald started the season well for the Wolves, scoring in the Wolves’ first game of the year. From there it was only downhill. He didn’t score again and slowly became a healthy scratch. Finally, in December he was sent down to Kalamazoo of the ECHL. He’s picked things back up, recording 21 points in 23 games since his demotion, but the Wolves’ current depth suggests he’ll have a tough time cracking their lineup during the remainder of the season. His horizon is next season, where it’ll be boom or bust.
Prab Rai* – Surrey’s great hope was sent to Chicago during the preseason but was never heard from again. It seems he’s been in continuous rehab for his shoulder, but last week was sent to Kalamazoo. He has an assist in 5 games, and given he’s not played much in the past two seasons, he’ll require some time to find his feet. Given he’s already 22, it’s doubtful the Canucks will keep him around long.