2011-12 NHL Roster Surprises
With the start of every season in the National Hockey League, there are several roster surprises on each team, this year is no different.
There are two types of players we’re going to be focusing on here. First, the veteran professional player that hasn’t played in the NHL before or if he has, its been a few seasons since his last “cup of coffee.” They may have played a few pro seasons in Europe or the American Hockey League and end up earning a roster spot through an impressive showing at camp.
The second type of roster surprise is the rookie pro that surprised the hockey world by earning that big league roster spot. This is the player that gets to camp and is in immaculate shape, has a strong pre-season, and has the coaching staff wondering why they weren’t fully aware of this player prior to training camp.
In Philadelphia, little-known college free agent Matt Read has been able to crack the Flyers opening night line-up. Read is a 25 year-old rookie who performed admirably in a short stint with the Adirondak Phantoms of the American Hockey League at the end of the 2010-2011 season after Philadelphia signed him to an entry-level deal.
For Read, jumping straight to the NHL from NCAA is quite the accomplishment,very few players are able to make the immediate jump from major junior or college hockey right to the NHL. Equally as impressive is that Read came from the Bemidji State hockey program of the WCHA instead of a powerhouse college program like Minnesota or Wisconsin. Read will bring speed, goal-scoring ability, and a strong two-way game to the Flyers line-up.
Devante Smith-Pelly is a 19 year-old power forward who has made the opening night line-up for the Anaheim Ducks. Smith-Pelly was a second-round pick for Anaheim in 2010 for the Missassagua St. Mike’s Majors in the Ontario Hockey League.
Smith-Pelly beat out several prospects that were rated ahead of him on the depth chart for the Anaheim organization, some of which had NHL experience (see Kyle Palmieri, Dan Sexton, & Nick Bonino). Smith-Pelly will bring a physical presence, grit, and offensive skill to an already strong Ducks line-up.
Calgary Flames fans were seemingly worried when Jay Feaster traded away the top prospect in the organization over the summer in Tim Erixon because of contract issues. Well, the worry of Calgary fans was justified as Erixon will be playing for the New York Rangers this season. The return that Calgary received in the trade was most likely an afterthought at the time of the deal for most fans.
Enter Roman Horak, who was part of the return that Calgary received along with two second-round picks. Horak has a roster spot on the 23-man roster that the Flames will be utilizing when the Penguins come to town on Saturday and will be skating as one of the top 9 forwards to start the year. Horak will bring a strong two-way game along with speed and some scoring ability after putting up 78 points with Chilliwack of the Western Hockey League last season.
Cam Atkinson is my final rookie surprise for the start of the 2011-2012 season having securing a roster spot with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Atkinson had a strong college career in the NCAA playing for the storied Boston College Eagles in Hockey East, before signed with Columbus upon the completion of his junior year. He put up 31 goals in his final campaign with the Eagles, which was amongst the leaders in the nation and made him a finalist for the Hobey Baker award.
While clearly skilled, Atkinson stands just 5’9” and weighs around 180 pounds. Atkinson was expected to start the season honing his game in the American Hockey League for the Springfield Falcons. Not only did Atkinson earn his way onto the roster, he is expected to start the season amongst the top 6 forwards on the Blue Jackets roster, ahead of prized prospect Ryan Johansen. The Blue Jackets are looking for Atkinson to continue to score at the NHL level, especially while playing in the top 6.
Switching gears to surprising veterans that have been able to make an NHL roster to start the 2011-2012 season, the Montreal Canadiens professional scouting staff evidently had their eyes on the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver and took notice of a 25 year old Swiss defenseman named Raphael Diaz.
Diaz was never drafted into the NHL and has been playing for EV Zug in the top professional league in Switzerland for the past 8 seasons. Diaz caught the eye of pro scouts after having a very strong performance for a surprisingly strong Swiss team at the Olympic Games in Vancouver a little over a year ago.
Diaz followed up his Olympic performance with a career year for EV Zug posting 39 points and 12 goals in 45 games during the 2010-2011 season. The Montreal Canadiens saw fit to bring in the veteran Swiss defenseman to try to solidify their back-end. Diaz will bring speed, strong puck moving, and some offensive upside to the Canadiens line-up.
Finally, a name that may sound familiar to some, Jay Pandolfo has made his way back to the NHL after a hiatus of one full season out of the NHL after playing the previous 13 thirteen with the New Jersey Devils. Pandolfo was released by the Devils by a less than stellar 2009-2010 campaign and subsequently ended up with the Springfield Falcons of the American Hockey League on a try-out contract. Pandolfo played in just 12 games for Springfield and collected 6 points in the process.
Pandolfo is known as a stellar penalty killer and a strong defensive forward. He played that role well for New Jersey and helped them hoist Stanley Cups in 2000 and 2003. Pandolfo has latched on to the New York Islanders after being invited on a professional tryout agreement, before agreeing on a one-year deal with the team. Pandolfo will bring his game to a young Islanders line-up and will hopefully add a leadership presence for those young players.
Be sure to keep your eye on these roster surprises in the 2011-12 season, they may end up having a large impact on the success (or lack thereof) of the team they’re skating for.