Friday, October 1, 2010

Badgers in the NHL, Part I

Now that NHL camps are wrapping up and rosters are getting finalized, I'll have a few installments of former Wisconsin Badgers either playing for an NHL team or in a squad's minor league system. Today we'll take a spin through the NHL's Eastern Conference.

D Ryan McDonagh '10, New York Rangers
McDonagh has been viewed as the most NHL-ready of last year's Badgers, and with good reason. The rock-solid defender's rights were traded from Montreal in a deal for Scott Gomez in 2008, and his chances of playing in New York improved after defenseman Wade Redden was sent to the minors on Sunday. McDonagh has impressed in camp with his physical play, and if he's not in playing his home games at Madison Square Garden in early October, his Rangers debut won't come much later. McDonagh led the Rangers in ice time on Sunday in an exhibition against the Detroit Red Wings, which bodes well for his immediate future.

C Derek Stepan '10, New York Rangers
I remember the moment when I knew Stepan was truly something special. While he had a magnificent sophomore year last year, his real coming-out party was when he scored two shorthanded goals in the same penalty against North Dakota on March 7th, 2009. Efforts like that get noticed, and he reminded me of that game tonight when he notched a shorty in the first period of the Rangers' game against Ottawa and a certain former Badger goaltender (more on him shortly). That was Stepan's second goal of the week, as he scored on Sunday against Detroit (with Brendan Smith on the ice). He also assisted on Marian Gaborik's OT game-winner last Thursday against New Jersey. At this time last week, I would have guessed that he'd be starting the season with Hartford of the AHL, but he's making a big run at a roster spot now, and my guess is he and McD are both in Gotham. If he does start in the minors, I expect him to be with the Blueshirts by the time they visit Columbus in mid-December.

D Jamie McBain '09, Carolina Hurricanes
McBain impressed in his first stint in the big leagues last season, putting up three goals and seven assists with a +6 rating in just 14 games at the end of the year. The Canes' early line sheet shows McBain matched up with US Olympian Tim Gleason on the second pair, and they should see plenty of ice time in all situations.

D Kyle Klubertanz '08, Montreal Canadiens
Kluby signed with the Habs over the summer after playing for a few years in Europe, where he ranked fifth in scoring among defensemen in the Swedish Elite League. He'll be manning the blue line for Montreal's AHL affiliate in Hamilton this season.

D Josh Engel '08, Toronto Maple Leafs
He of the miracle pass to Jack Skille against Cornell played all of last season for the Toronto Marlies, the Leafs' AHL affiliate, putting up 17 points in 70 games. He was invited to Leafs' camp this fall and will fight for a roster spot, but he will likely return for another year with the Marlies.

G Brian Elliott '07, Ottawa Senators
The goaltender on Wisconsin's most recent championship team entrenched himself as the starter in Ottawa over the second half of last season, posting a 2.57 goals-against and a .909 save percentage. Elliott struggled in his first playoff series, but many goalies have difficulty against the Pittsburgh Penguins' offense. Pascal Leclaire, from whom Elliott took the job, is still around, but he was ineffective last season. Elliott hasn't been extremely impressive in the preseason, but it appears that he'll go into the season as the starter.

D Joe Piskula '07, Philadelphia Flyers
Piskula signed a professional tryout contract with the Flyers, and was given the opportunity to play for a spot in the organization. Unfortunately, he was released over the weekend. Hopefully Joe can catch on elsewhere after playing three seasons for the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL. (UPDATE: Chuck reports that Piskula has signed with the Abbotsford Heat, Calgary's AHL affiliate, but this report puts him in Oklahoma City, the Oilers' farm team.)

C Steve Reinprecht '00, Florida Panthers
The guy who arguably should have won Wisconsin's first Hobey Baker award in 2000 will play his second season as a Panther after four years in Phoenix. Reinprecht consistently scores around 40 points per season, and will likely maintain that level of production for a seemingly constantly rebuilding Florida organization.

That's it for part one. Stay tuned for a look through the Western Conference soon.

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