With the NHL lockout enduring, at least for the time being, the American Hockey League's quality of competition has been elevated due to the increased number of talented players in the league. On the prospect front, here are some notes and thoughts on a few key prospects early in the AHL season:
"Playing above and beyond," "Doesn't belong in this league" and "A man amongst boys" -- those are just some of the things I've heard when asking scouts about Nyquist's play so far. Tied for second in AHL scoring, Detroit's 2008 fourth-round pick has displayed the high level of skill scouts have grown accustomed to seeing from Nyquist going back to his time at the University of Maine. With his combination of puck skills, vision and overall offensive hockey sense to go along with an ability to consistently create chances at the pro level thus far, Nyquist will likely push for quality NHL ice time right away when the league reopens.
Kyle Jean, C, New York Rangers
Jean has been one of the pleasant surprises of the young AHL season. He was signed following a good camp with the Rangers after going undrafted and attending Lake Superior State University for two years. Before the season, one scout described Jean to me as a "skilled center who can move the puck, has one-on-one moves, makes good decisions and can skate." Did I mention he's 6-foot-4 and weighs in at 203 pounds? So, you hear a positive scouting report, and he has the size -- everything seems to be there for him to produce ... and produce he has. Jean is second on his team in scoring, with nine points in nine games, and his offensive talent and power have been on full display early.
Jamie Oleksiak, D, Dallas Stars
Oleksiak had a quality season in the OHL last year and was a third pairing defenseman for Canada at the World Juniors. The most interesting note I heard from an NHL source last year on Oleksiak was when one scout told me, "At Northeastern [University], Oleksiak was a stay-at-home defender, but this year when I've seen him he's rushing the puck up and looking to make plays. I don't know which player is the real one." I talked to a scout about Oleksiak's play so far this season and he said, "He's been pretty good. He's trying to be involved in both ends and there are no glaring issues with him." The scout did note, though, that Oleksiak is trying to do too much with aggressive pinches and activations off the blue line.
I've been a very big Justin Schultz supporter for several seasons. Coming into 2012-13, I thought Justin Schultz was a top-15 prospect outside the NHL and the second-best defense prospect in hockey behind the Bruins' Dougie Hamilton. Further, I think Schultz has legit top pairing tools. And despite all those high expectations, I did not expect him to be this good at the pro level this quickly. The AHL's leading scorer has been a dominant force. Schultz's high level of skating, skill and elite hockey sense has allowed him to generate offense in bunches while being solid in his own end, as well. The hype machine was running full bore during the time leading up to his signing, but -- while keeping in mind he has zero NHL games on his resume yet -- he's lived up the billing so far.
After seeing Lindholm log heavy minutes in Sweden's Tier II pro league toward the end of last season, it's not a huge surprise that he's transitioned to the AHL so well. Still, it's impressive when an 18-year-old defenseman holds his head above water in North American pro hockey. Lindholm's high-end skating ability and hockey sense have been on display, and while he's looked good -- but not great -- offensively early this season, one NHL head scout said this about Lindholm: "He's not going to wow you offensively, but it's just that he does everything really well." Lindholm was a point of debate at the draft when the Ducks took him while players like Filip Forsberg, Mathew Dumba and Mikhail Grigorenko were on the board. It's a worthy debate, but I have heard NHL sources outside the Ducks' camp approve of the selection.
Colborne is one of the more interesting prospects in the AHL because of his high upside. He's a 6-5 forward with good hands and top-end hockey sense. Colborne's issues have always been his physical play, but one AHL scout told me at the start of the 2011-12 season that those issues had come around for Joe as he was starting to repeatedly attack the high-percentage scoring areas. In the first two months of the '11-12 season, Colborne notched 19 points in 10 games, generating a little over three shots a game. He then suffered an injury around midseason, played through it, but it was around that time that his game fell off completely. The same AHL scout told me, "From last season until now, since the injury, he's gone back to a perimeter game. You see the skill and the fancy plays he can make, but he stays on the outside too much." Colborne remains a very interesting prospect to watch because his upside, but the uncertainty on his projection is quite notable.
The 14th overall pick by Carolina in 2008, Boychuk has not had an ideal start to his pro career, as he has yet to truly establish himself as an NHLer. With below-average size and a less-than-stellar defensive game, Boychuk has been stuck in a limbo where he's not good enough to play on the top-six in the NHL, but can't play a real NHL defensive role either. He's a very skilled player, and sources say he has been dogged with consistency issues. This season, though, Boychuk has been pretty impressive early on, tied for second in scoring for Charlotte as his speed and skill has given defenders a tough time. As I mentioned, Boychuk's talent level has never been in question, so in his case it's a bit of a get-back-to-me-in-a-month-or-two type of thing -- but there's a chance that with added strength and more experience he may be starting to turn the corner.
Nathan Beaulieu, D, Montreal Canadiens
The first-round pick of Montreal in 2011 has gotten off to a bit of a slow start statistically, with one point in nine games. Despite that, one source said Beaulieu has played very well but it just isn't showing up on the score sheet. Beaulieu is a talented player who is a plus skater, and he has great offensive abilities. One AHL scout did express some concerns, though: "He's trying to do too much right now. He'll hold on to the puck for that extra second or let opponents get too close to him. The skill is evident but his decision-making needs to improve." Beaulieu's raw upside but decision-making concerns were basically the tale of his Major Junior career. He has a ton of upside, but an above-average amount of risk on his projection, according to some sources.
If you have any questions on a player mentioned or not profiled, feel free to leave a comment and I will get back to you.