Stephen Desrocher – Kingston Frontenacs
After being traded from Oshawa to Kingston at the beginning of last month, Desrocher’s season outlook has changed significantly. He went from being a top player on a middling team immersed in a rebuild to being stabilizing veteran on a team with aspirations of a very deep playoff run. In Oshawa, Desrocher was leading the team in minutes played, lining up on the top power play and penalty killing units and getting an opportunity to contribute offensively that he had not been afforded in the past.
Following the trade to Kingston, he has not scored in 14 games but has added five assists. The decline in production since the trade is not surprising, nor is it alarming. Kingston did not acquire Desrocher for his offensive play; he has stepped in to the second pair shut down role that he played with the Generals last season. An ability to play within himself and not try to do too much is one of Desrocher’s key strengths, and he is showing it again in Kingston. For a guy that was looked at as long shot to be an NHL regular when he was drafted, gaining the reputation as a reliable defender who is a key role player on championship teams could go a long way in his future development.
Kingston is in first place and are starting to look an awful lot like the Generals of the past few years, which is not really a coincidence since their head coach Paul McFarland was an assistant coach in Oshawa two seasons ago. With the western conference giants likely to beat each other down during the second half of the season and into the playoffs, Kingston could have a stronger chance to get to the Memorial Cup than many think, and the true value of the Desrocher acquisition likely won’t be felt until playoff time.
Nikita Korostelev – Sarnia Sting
After a fairly strong start to the season in Sarnia, Korostelev went into quite the funk in November that included a stretch of only one goal and one assist in a 10 game span. What makes this particularly problematic is that when Korostelev isn’t contributing offensively he isn’t really helping his team. One of the knocks on Korostelev going into the draft was that he disappears for long stretches and he is doing nothing to eliminate this stigma from his scouting report. When he’s on he’s a scary offensive option, but when he’s not he might as well be in the press box watching the game. Although it was believed that he would factor in to Team Russia’s plans for the World Juniors later this month, he was not on the list when the tryout camp invitees were announced yesterday. It’s a blow to Korostelev, who was overlooked by Russia in favour of an abnormally big number of 17 year olds (Russia invited 15 draft-eligible players in all).
Maybe missing out on representing Russia at the World Juniors will give Korostelev the motivation he needs to step his game up in the second half of the season, or maybe he is just showing a pattern that we should always expect from a kid the Leafs took a flier on in the seventh round. With Jakob Chychrun and Pavel Zacha likely in their last seasons with the Sting, Sarnia is hoping to make a push in the incredibly deep Western Conference and Korostelev is going to have to be a key contributor for that to happen. Since the start of December, Korostelev has contributed three goals and an assist in Sarnia’s last three games, and the hope is that he is out of the funk and can put together a second half that will have Leafs Nation dreaming of a late round steal again.
JJ Piccinich – London Knights
When JJ Piccinich made the jump from Boston University to the OHL this past summer, most didn’t know what to expect. The speculation was that he left because of a lack of ice time on Terriers team, but the fact that the London Knights owned his OHL rights probably had a lot to do with it. He came in under the radar as a lesser name on a team filled with talent, but over the past month of hockey Piccinich has put his name in the spotlight as a key piece of one of the most talented forward groups an OHL team has had in a long while.
After a slow start that saw him battle a couple of minor injuries, Piccinich has been on fire since being moved to a line with Mitch Marner and Matthew Tkachuk. He has shown the ability to be a great complementary piece to two superstars — something that is not always as simple as it sounds, and something that could go a long way if he hopes to have an NHL career. Piccinich is never going to wow you the way Marner does, but he’s smart and anticipates the play well, creating time and space for his linemates while adding the necessary ability to finish his own scoring chances. Piccinich has shown the ability to be a secondary scoring option that all good teams need.
His great play had some speculating that he might get an invite to Team USA’s evaluation camp for the World Juniors, but he wasn’t ever likely to be much of a contender for a roster spot with the depth the US has up front. The World Junior tournament will be a key time for Piccinich, however, as both of his linemates along with fellow London Knight Christian Dvorak are likely to be away from the team for a month leaving some rather large holes in their forward group. Piccinich, along with guys like Max Jones and Aaron Berisha, are going to be called upon to step up and lead the Knights in the absence of their best players. It will be the perfect opportunity for Piccinich to prove to doubters that his improved play isn’t just a byproduct of being on a line with elite offensive talent.