There are only so many questions that can be asked and answered while waiting for Andrei Markov’s decision. With that in mind, let’s turn the focus to the prospects in our July mailbag.
Where should Michael McNiven start in 2017-18?
Similar to this past season, there is a bit of a logjam between the pipes. Charlie Lindgren has the starting role in Laval but that’s the only real guarantee. Last year, they opted to put Zach Fucale down a level to get him some playing time and that would seem to be the way to go here as well.
Unlike Fucale in 2016-17 though, McNiven would have two options. He can do like Fucale did and go to Brampton and start or he could go back to junior for his overage season. If the organization prefers to have all three of their prospects in starting roles, that would be the way to go (and they’d have to sign a veteran to a minor league deal to back up Lindgren). I don’t think they’ll do that though.
For starters, I suspect they’d like Fucale to move back to the AHL level considering it is the final year of his contract. It’s time for him to show whether there’s still any upside left and he needs to be at the higher level to do that. That will open up the #1 job with Brampton for McNiven to slide into for the season before he takes aim at a full-time roster spot with the Rocket in 2018-19.
What are realistic expectations for Brett Lernout as he enters his third season?
Lernout took a small step forward with the IceCaps last season but not as much of one as I thought he would. He was okay at times in the top four but was most effective on the third pairing. Ideally, he becomes a full-time top four player but with the depth in front of him, that could be a challenge as he’ll be behind Zach Redmond and most likely rookie Noah Juulsen in the pecking order.
Accordingly, I don’t think he’s going to be in line to take that next step unless his spot on the depth chart changes early on. I’d be curious to see if the team experiments with Lernout on his off-side to give him more playing time (he’d slot in only behind Matt Taormina on the left) plus the ability to play both sides would give him a lot more value.
It was in his third WHL season that he started to produce a bit more offensively so it would be nice to see Lernout improve in that area in 2017-18. Beyond that, the goal should be to be a bit more disciplined and be a steady presence in his own end. That’s his ticket to NHL success down the road and doing those things should have him in line to be called up once again at some point next year.
Is it better for Joni Ikonen’s development to play in Finland than with Frolunda?
While the thought of Ikonen playing at the top level in Sweden was intriguing, it would only have been beneficial for his development if he were to actually receive regular playing time which is far from a guarantee for most teenaged players. It’s more likely that he’d have seen regular time in their U-20 league.
While that league isn’t bad either, I’d suggest it’s better to play at the top level in Finland than regularly at the Swedish junior level (again, assuming he’ll see regular playing time). This is also only a one year loan too; it’s not a permanent change in plans by any stretch. It’s probably going to be two or three years before Ikonen crosses the pond so if one of those is spent outside of the Swedish League, that’s certainly okay.
Is it time to be worried about Nikita Scherbak?
A common theme right now is showing concern about the slowness of Scherbak’s development. I don’t see it that way though. Since he was drafted, the organization has been calling him a project and that’s exactly what he has been – but his second year with St. John’s was a lot better than his first.
For starters, he was healthier while he was much more productive despite not spending a lot of time in a top line role early on. Yes, the inconsistencies in his all-around game are still a concern and he’ll need to learn to keep his head up more often when he’s skating but he’s 21; there is plenty of time to progress in those areas as well.
It’s important to note that this was only the first year of his contract. 2016-17 would have been a rookie season for most players from his draft class. Picking up 40+ points in a rookie year on a team with, to put it nicely, some questionable decision making in terms of personnel isn’t really that bad at all. He should be in line to take another step in the right direction with Laval this coming season.
Scherbak isn’t NHL ready yet and shouldn’t even be in the discussion for a spot at training camp but that’s fine. Projects take longer to develop and Scherbak clearly still is one. The overall upside is still there though as a talented, albeit enigmatic, second line forward. That was his realistic projection when they drafted him and it still is three years later.