AHL PROSPECTS REPORT: Bracco shines for Marlies
Monday is often an off-day for American Hockey League teams after their hectic weekends as they heal some of the wounds that they amassed.
With two and sometimes three games – plus travel – crunched into a weekend, those teams have earned that rest and step away from the rink. But Monday here at EP Rinkside is a day to assess some of the best performances among the top prospects dotting the 31-team AHL.
MACKENZIE BLACKWOOD – BINGHAMTON DEVILS (NEW JERSEY DEVILS)
Patience is paying off for Blackwood in his third pro season.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound netminder turns 22 this Sunday, but it has been a long road. New Jersey took him in the second round of the 2015 NHL Draft 42nd overall. His play with the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League had caught the attention of NHL teams, and he furthered his reputation the following season as well. Along with representing Canada at the World Junior Championship, he was the OHL Goaltender of the Year for the Colts. In 43 regular-season games, he put together a 28-13-0 | 2.72 | .921, his save percentage leading the OHL.
After a reasonably strong AHL rookie season in 2016-17 (17-14-4 | 2.55 | .907), his career hit turbulence last season in Binghamton. The AHL Devils finished 25 points out of a playoff spot, and Blackwood struggled alongside his teammates. After veteran Scott Wedgewood was lost early in the season to NHL duty, Blackwood was pushed into a pairing with Ken Appleby. He was pulled twice and in one stretch in he allowed five goals in four consecutive starts. He finished 7-17-6 | 3.41 | .882 in 32 games. It resulted in him being assigned to the ECHL with the Adirondack Thunder, where he found success and got into five playoff games.
That has all changed this season. In his latest outing, Blackwood turned in a 22-save shutout in a 3-0 home win against the rival Rochester Americans this past Saturday, his first no-goal outing since. His .929 save percentage and 2.17 goals-against average each rank third in the AHL to go with his 5-4-1 record over 11 games.
JEREMY BRACCO – TORONTO MARLIES (TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS)
The AHL can grind down even its higher-end prospects, and Bracco, a 2015 second-rounder, has not been an exception. In 50 regular-season games as a rookie with the Marlies last season, he put up a 6-26-32 line. But he was limited to four playoff games with one goal on the Marlies’ run to the Calder Cup this past spring.
This season, he started with one goal in his first 19 games as the Marlies have battled consistency issues. He only managed 1-1-2 in his first nine games before breaking loose in November. The 21-year-old forward continued that roll last week, going 2-4-6 in three games. His four-point afternoon (2-2-4) led the Marlies to a 7-4 home win against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins this past Saturday, and he is up to 3-12-15 through 21 games.
DILLON DUBE – STOCKTON HEAT (CALGARY FLAMES)
Dube needs playing time, the Heat picked up an offensive weapon, and so a match was made last week.
In 20 games with the Flames, he was 1-4-5. But at 20 years old, the 2016 second-rounder needs much more ice time.
Dube’s arrival came at a good time for the Heat, who lost forward Andrew Mangiapane on recall to Calgary. The forward picked up three assists in his first two AHL games of the season. After a slow start, the Heat are 11-11-1-0, putting them fourth in the Pacific Division and four points behind their first-place San Jose Barracuda.
PAVEL FRANCOUZ – COLORADO EAGLES (COLORADO AVALANCHE)
A veteran goaltender can offset some team issues in front of him, and a proven veteran of European hockey like Francouz is doing exactly that for the Eagles.
At 28 years old and coming off three KHL seasons with Chelyabinsk, Francouz certainly is not unproven and offers the Avalanche a very strong number-three option on the organizational depth chart. The Avalanche signed him May 2 after he went 15-11-5 | 1.80 | .946 in 35 regular-season games last season in Chelyabinsk. Before heading to the KHL in 2015, he played three standout seasons in the Extraliga for HC Litvinov
He has proven to be a workhorse since coming the AHL, playing 17 of the Eagles’ first 21 games in a tandem with Spencer Martin. Francouz’s 17 games and 955:23 minutes each place him third in the AHL. In their first AHL season in Colorado, the Eagles hold a 10-7-3-1 mark and are fresh off sweeping the Iowa Wild in a two-game home series this past weekend.
CARTER HART – LEHIGH VALLEY PHANTOMS (PHILADELPHIA FLYERS)
A difficult start for this top goaltending prospect, the Philadelphia Flyers’ second-round pick in 2016, gave way to a bright weekend.
The 20-year-old Hart has been the subject of some angst among Flyers fans, who have witnessed Philadelphia run through five goaltenders this season. Hart turned pro after going 31-6-7 | 1.60 | .947 record in 41 regular-season games last season in the Western Hockey League for the Everett Silvertips. Leading the WHL in GAA and save percentage earned him WHL Player of the Year and WHL Top Goaltender awards as well as being named the Canadian Hockey League Goaltender of the Year.
After consecutive difficult weekends at the hands of the Providence Bruins, Hart rebounded last week. He turned in a 26-save night in a 3-2 overtime win against the Laval Rocket this past Friday. Then on Sunday afternoon at Toronto, he took a 5-2 win on 33 saves. The 20-year-old is 7-4-2 | 3.36 | .893 in 14 games.
JOSH HO-SANG – BRIDGEPORT SOUND TIGERS (NEW YORK ISLANDERS)
A subject of some controversy at times, Ho-Sang has continued to plug away for the Sound Tigers.
The Islanders picked the forward 28th in the 2014 NHL Draft, and this season is a critical one for his development path. The Islanders want him to improve his two-way game, a task that he and Sound Tigers head coach Brent Thompson continue to chip away at in his third prod season.
Although the 22-year-old holds the team scoring lead, he went into the Sound Tigers’ road game against the Springfield Thunderbirds on Sunday with one goal in his first 23 games. But he picked a good time to add to that total, breaking loose in overtime and tucking in his second goal of the season for a 5-4 overtime win. He also added another assist and leads the AHL with 20.
Bridgeport sits in second place in the Atlantic Division at 13-7-3-1 and third in AHL with 30 points.
DYLAN SIKURA – ROCKFORD ICEHOGS (CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS)
Having lost seven of their past eight games, Rockford needed a boost this past weekend, and Sikura provided it.
Sikura’s overtime winner pushed Rockford to a 3-2 victory against the San Antonio Rampage this past Sunday. His 16 points (7-9-16) lead Rockford. The Blackhawks have big hopes for the 23-year-old forward, a 2014 sixth-round pick, after he spent four NCAA seasons at Northeastern. He was 22-32-54 in 35 games and was a Hobey Baker Award finalist.
Zykov could have been a major pick-up for the Charlotte Checkers, but the Oilers ended that possibility.
Edmonton picked up the 23-year-old forward on waivers from the Carolina Hurricanes this past Friday. With change in the air in Edmonton, Zykov will be a new face after he had three assists in 13 games for the Hurricanes. In a six-game AHL stint with Charlotte, he collected two goals.
Last season in a breakout performance with the Checkers, Zykov’s 33 goals led the AHL. Seventeen of those tallies came on the power play, also leading the league. A commitment to improving his mobility did not compromise him from being able to park his 6-1, 225-pound frame in front of opposing goaltenders. He also went 3-4-7 in 10 games for the Hurricanes.
Before a trade to the Hurricanes in February 2016, Zykov had been taken in the second round 2013 NHL Draft by the Los Angeles Kings.
Otto Koivula’s two-goal afternoon helped lead Bridgeport in their Sunday win at Springfield. A 2016 fourth-round pick by the Islanders, at age 20 the forward brought two seasons in the Liiga with Ilves Tampere to Bridgeport, where he has 5-6-11 in 20 games for the Sound Tigers….Having just turned 19 years old this past week, Grand Rapids Griffins forward Filip Zadina is trying to take on the AHL. The Detroit Red Wings made him the sixth pick in the NHL Draft this past June and chose to assign him to Grand Rapids at the start of the season. He had four assists in three games last week for the Griffins, who have gone on a 6-0-0-1 run after a slow start. Through 22 games, he is 7-8-15….The AHL has been a big jump for Cleveland Monsters forward Kole Sherwood after a standout OHL season for the Kitchener Rangers. After a 30-30-60 performance in 57 regular-season contests, he piled up 26 (14-12-26) playoff points in 19 games for the Rangers in a deep playoff run. But he struggled to earn playing time in a deep Cleveland line-up at age 21 was assigned to the ECHL for a brief stint. Cleveland brought him back last week, and he got hot this past weekend in a two-game home series against the Syracuse Crunch. He punched in a loose rebound for a wild 4-3 overtime win this past Friday, also collecting an assist. He followed that with another assist in a 5-3 loss this past Saturday.