The halfway point of the 2011-12 is now in the rear-view mirror, and that means it's time once again for the Copper and Blue panel to come together and offer judgment on all of the young players under 25 years of age in the organization, many of whom we've never seen play live, plus a couple we've never seen play at all. Totally normal adult behavior. Anyroad, this time around there are seven of us putting a list together. Our very artistic Group of Seven is: Benjamin Massey, Bruce McCurdy, Derek Blasutti, Derek Zona, Jonathan Willis, Ryan Batty, and yours truly, Scott Reynolds.
Many of you are already familiar with the Top 25 Under 25, so you'll know that there will be a detailed profile on the top 25 players under 25 (as judged by our rankings) starting up shortly. And this year's group sure is interesting. There were 11 players who finished 15 or better on all seven ballots. There were 11 more who finished 15th or better on at least one, and not all of those guys made the list because, as you know, there are more than 25 players in the organization under 25 years old. We've lost four since the summer - Andrew Cogliano was traded, Gilbert Brule was claimed off waivers (and aged out), Robby Dee wasn't signed, and Troy Hesketh was purged - but that still leaves us with 44 players in total.
Over the next three days, I'll introduce you to all of the guys who, for whatever reason, just didn't make the cut plus one each day who did. It's a format that's symbolic of their struggle because, let's face it, if even one of these guys plays a full season in the NHL, it'll be a pleasant surprise. Still, one of these guys is ahead of the others in the minds of our staff, and it will be interesting to see if our readers can suss out which guy got the call. A closer look at each of today's candidates comes after the jump.
Cameron Abney - This man is not a hockey player; he's a pugilist. And judging from his first couple of fights in the ECHL, he's a pugilist that will need to work on his balance. Of course, he's still a young fighter, and he has looked better in some of his other fights so far this year (he's had 10 in just 24 ECHL games). Plus, fighting aside, he's actually not done too badly in the old being able to play hockey department. He has five points and a -1 rating with Stockton, and has played in nine AHL games with an even rating, which is better than fellow-rookies Tyler Pitlick and Curtis Hamilton with only marginally less offense. Abney was a terrible draft pick in the top one hundred, but hey, you never know. At the very least, I know he's got a vote in the bag from Yeti. Last Ranking: #46
Mark Arcobello - After struggling to score in the ECHL, Arcobello had a great finish last season with Oklahoma City, scoring 22 points in 26 games to close out the regular season. This year, the 23-year-old didn't get off to a very good start when the Oilers sent him out during the first round of pro cuts. But he responded well, quickly re-establishing himself as a regular on the Barons' roster (though he did draw one healthy scratch in November). He isn't scoring at quite the same pace this, but with 23 points in 41 games, he's third on team in scoring (although just eighth in points per game) and his +12 rating leaves him tied for third in that category too. Last Ranking: #43
Kyle Bigos - The guy is huge. Merrimack, ranked sixth in the nation, lists him at 6'5'' and 240 lbs., which is huge anywhere, but in college hockey, he's almost always going to be the biggest guy out there. And Bigos definitely uses that size to his advantage, or at least, to inflict pain. In 21 games, he's accumulated 72 penalty minutes, and has played just three times without spending any time in the box. His rap sheet includes six roughing minors, five for cross-checking, three each for boarding and hitting after the whistle (which is really just roughing after the whistle), two for hitting from behind, one for elbowing, plus a major penalty for hitting from behind and another for grasping the facemask. And that's just the stuff that sounds violent! But he's not just a goon. In 21 games, the defenseman has already set a new career-high for points with 12. He was already playing in all situations last season, and you'd have to think that that's continued this season. The only problem is that Bigos is an older prospect (he's 22), and it's hard to know how well his game will translate to professional hockey where he'll be playing against bigger, faster opponents. Last Ranking: #30
Philippe Cornet - Cornet has taken a big step forward in his second AHL season, building on an excellent finish to his first season. Cornet was having trouble getting into the lineup in his first pro year, but ended last season by appearing in the last twelve regular season games where he scored nine points. With an influx of new forwards this season, there was some doubt about whether or not Cornet would even be able to make the Barons out of training camp, but unlike Arcobello, he played well enough in camp to avoid the first round of cuts, and despite a healthy scratch early in the year, has been able to establish himself as a scorer at the AHL level, mostly because he's found a way to get shots off from close to the net. With 25 points in 36 games, Cornet is 2nd on the team in points, and 5th in points per game (0.69), but the real story is his goal-scoring. Cornet has scored 20 goals, good enough for top spot on the team, and sixth in the AHL. The question is, how much of this is a mirage? Cornet's 20 goals have come on just 65 shots, which gives him a shooting percentage of 30.8%. That compares to 12.3% on 806 shots in his QMJHL career, a league that no doubt has inferior goaltending to what Cornet sees in the AHL. If we use that 12.3% figure for this year's shot total, Cornet would have just eight goals. Last Ranking: #33
Ryan O'Marra - It's fair to say that Ryan O'Marra is having his finest professional season. He's scoring at a decent clip in the AHL (16 points in 34 games), and his +11 rating is fifth on the Barons, and he's developing a role on the PK. He's enough to earn a couple of different call-ups, and hasn't been hemmed in his own zone quite as much this year as he has in the past. There's real progress happening here. Of course, the big question is, progression towards what? I suppose there's an outside chance that he develops into a shut-down type center like Samuel Pahlsson, but it seems more likely that his ceiling will be more like Colin Fraser. And as of today, Ryan O'Marra is no Colin Fraser. Last Ranking: #37
Kristians Pelss - The first time I had an opportunity to see Pelss play this season (on television) was during the pre-season, and I've got to say, the young man was very impressive, especially in his ability to win battles for the puck. My other opportunity to see Pelss (again, on television) came during the World Junior Championship where he captained Latvia to a ninth-place finish. That doesn't sound too impressive, but it was enough to avoid relegation, and in the team's most critical game against Denmark, Pelss scored the tying goal in the second period in a game that the Latvians went on to win. I'm sure that he envisioned himself scoring more than just that one goal in the team's six games, but it's very hard to judge a player when his team is badly overmatched almost every night. In the WHL, offense is again a question mark as Pelss has just 31 points in 42 games for the Conference-leading Oil Kings. Of course, when you're not a superstar in a situation like that, one thing you get less of is opportunity, and for Pelss, that means a lack of power play time: just six of those points have come with the man advantage. Still, Pelss isn't a big guy (5'11'' and 187 lbs. according to the WHL website), and he isn't scoring at a high level. That combination makes it awfully tough to get a shot in the NHL. Last Ranking: #40
Samu Perhonen - The Finnish netminder is not playing well. After a pretty good season last year in Finland's U20 league, Perhonen had an awful tournament at the U18 World Championships this summer, and was left off of Finland's roster for the World Juniors at Christmas. That decision was probably due in part to his terrible performance in limited opportunity - he's played 11 games - for JYP-Akatemia in Finland's second division. His .887 save percentage is third-worst in the league (min. 10 games), and well back of JYP's starter, Sami Rajaniemi (.906). That said, all of the things present when he was drafted 62nd overall in June. Before the draft, Red Line Report (h/t to Lowetide) said, "We suspect he'll be taken fairly high on his very projectable size/athleticism combination, but he'll require years of refining and technique work with a good goalie coach to realize his potential." Now, they didn't like him as much as some others, and I thought that they were probably overemphasizing his failure at the U18's, but the strengths they identified in Perhonen are still there. Last Ranking: #23