Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Paul on 08/13/05 at 03:11 PM ET
The Best of the Rest Marek Schwarz, G, St. Louis Blues Heading into the 2004 draft last summer, Schwarz was generally regarded as the top goaltender available. A surprising draft day slide saw the Czech netminder drop all the way to St. Louis at the 17th selection, making him the third player taken at his position. This year, Schwarz made the decision to play against WHL juniors in Vancouver as opposed to against professionals at home. Surprisingly, Schwarz struggled most of the year in the new setting, posting very pedestrian numbers, including a save percentage of .900. The highlight of his season was definitely the WJC, where he was named the top goaltender of the tournament. There is little doubt about Schwarz’s talent and pure athleticism, but he remains quite raw and is still several years away from the NHL. Ryan Whitney, D, Pittsburgh Penguins The first four selections in the 2002 draft, Rick Nash, Kari Lehtonen, Jay Bouwmeester and Joni Pitkanen, have all been talked about as potential franchise players. But the player taken fifth overall has had little recognition. While Whitney’s three-year college career was inconsistent and perhaps underwhelming, the talented blueliner had a strong rookie campaign in the AHL this past season. He tallied 41 points in 80 games, and unlike many prospects in their first year out of college, Whitney did not seem to tire at the end of the year or in the playoffs, where the Boston University graduate notched nine points in 11 games. Whitney is blessed with great size and impressive offensive potential, but has to improve his decision-making. Igor Grigorenko, RW, Detroit Red Wings The Detroit Red Wings have proven themselves to be very capable of finding good young players from the draft, despite not having had a top 20 pick since 1991. In 2001, they did not make a selection until No. 62, at which point they grabbed Igor Grigorenko, an undersized sniper from Russia. After a spectacular 2002-03 season, when Grigorenko starred both at home and at the WJC, he was in a very serious car accident, and lost the bulk of the 2003-04 season. He struggled early this year with his regular club team Lada Togliatti, tallying only one assist in 11 games. A transfer to Salavat Yulayev allowed Grigorenko to blossom, with 18 points in 30 games. Grigorenko is a dynamic offensive player, with great hockey sense and a willingness to go into dangerous areas of the ice.
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