This Sunday we take a look at 10 players who have a lot riding on their performance this season. These players are 2008 NHL Entry Draft selections whom have yet to be signed by their NHL clubs. They have yet to be signed because their performance since being drafted has been underwhelming. Thus, these ten players need to take steps forward this season in order to show their NHL clubs that their progression should equal an entry level contract.
This year, seven OHL players taken in the 2007 NHL Draft were unsigned by their NHL clubs (here). One has since signed an NHL contract (Richard Greenop). Two years ago, six OHL players taken in the 2006 NHL Draft were unsigned by their NHL clubs (Ben Shutron, Ryan Daniels, Aaron Snow, Luke Lynes, James DeLory, Devin DiDiomete). Two have since signed NHL contracts (DeLory and DiDiomete). The point being that history tells us that some of these ten players will not be offered a contract.by their NHL clubs (Ben Shutron, Ryan Daniels, Aaron Snow, Luke Lynes, James DeLory, Devin DiDiomete). Two have since signed NHL contracts (DeLory and DiDiomete). The point being that history tells us that some of these ten players will not be offered a contract.
Let's take a look at the 10 who need to step it up!
10. Tim Billingsley - Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
Drafted by: Phoenix, 189th overall
After a decent 2007-08 season, where he posted 27 points from the back end, Billingsley was drafted by Phoenix. This past year saw massive regression in his game. He missed considerable time due to two different injuries. One suffered at the beginning of the season, and a mild knee injury suffered around mid season. Perhaps this prevented him from finding a groove. I think it also played a part in his decreased role in Mississauga. With the emergence of Brett Flemming and Blake Parlett, Billingsley was pushed to the outside of the Majors top 3. His offensive game saw massive reduction, going from 27 points, to a measly 8 assists. And although Billingsley has always been billed as more of a defensive player, that part of his game also took a hit IMO. He looked lost at times defensively and played considerably more passive than previously before. In order to earn a contract, he's going to have to return to the form of 2007-08. The Majors are going to be looking to make a run at the Eastern Conference title and they are going to need Billingsley to play solidly as the teams 4th defenceman. If he continues to struggle or fight injuries, he risks losing his spot on the depth chart to 91's like David Corrente and Josh McFadden.
9. Kyle DeCoste - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Drafted by: Tampa Bay, 147th
DeCoste has progressed very little offensively since he was drafted in 2008. In Brampton, DeCoste was stuck in a numbers game and perhaps never got to really show what he was capable of. A scrappy, gritty forward, DeCoste seemed to improve after a midseason trade to the Soo. In 26 games with the Greyhounds, DeCoste was able to match what he did offensively in 37 games with Brampton. With Sault Ste. Marie hoping to improve enough to make the playoffs this season, DeCoste is going to be counted on to provide energy, leadership and offence. I think DeCoste should be looking at the progression made by a guy like Anthony Peluso this year and aim for something similar in order to impress Tampa.
8. Patrick Killeen - Brampton Battalion
Drafted by: Pittsburgh, 180th
This big netminder had a very solid rookie OHL season in 2007-08 earning a platoon role with Oilers draft pick (and signee) Bryan Pitton. This earned him a late draft selection by the Penguins. However this season, things seemed to fall apart for him. So much so that the Battalion had to trade for a true number one in Thomas McCollum, relegating Killeen to back up. This season Brampton is rebuilding and McCollum has moved on. It will be Killeen's ship to steer, as he attempts to lead a young and inexperienced Battalion team to a playoff spot in the East. He needs to rebound well (no pun intended).
7. Stephen Johnston - Belleville Bulls
Drafted by: Detroit, 181st
The speedster Johnston was drafted by Detroit after a very strong showing in the 2008 playoffs for Belleville. Bigger things were expected of him this season as his role increased and to his credit, he did produce reasonably well with 36 points (a 27 point improvement). However, his inconsistent play prevented him from cementing a role in the top 6, forcing Belleville to go out and acquire bigger guns in Nick Palmieri, Brandon Mashinter and Luke Pither. This year, Belleville is going to be counting on Johnston to be one of their offensive leaders, thanks to the graduation of the majority of their key players from last season. Hopefully he's up to the challenge.
6. Jason Missiaen - Peterborough Petes
Drafted by: Montreal, 116th
Missiaen, standing a gigantic 6'7, was given the starting goaltender spot after the trade of Trevor Cann to London. His performance was hot and cold, not unlike his 2007-08 season. Missiaen continues to battle consistency as he'll be lights out one night, and give up 7 goals the next. This season, Peterborough will be aiming for better than the 7th spot in the conference and Missiaen is going to have to play a crucial role. Every goaltender can have an off night, but the Petes are going to need Missiaen to have those off nights a lot less than he has in the past. Considering that Missiaen has apparently played well at previous development camps for Montreal, a solid season in helping Peterborough to home ice in the playoffs would most definitely earn him an ELC.
5. Chris Carrozzi - Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
Drafted by: Atlanta, 154th
Carrozzi is in a tough position. After leading the Majors to a strong playoff position in 2007-08, and playing another 47 games this past season, you'd think his job was safe. However, Carrozzi shares netminding duties with one of the top young goaltenders in the OHL, J.P. Anderson. Due to some unspectacular play towards the later part of 2008-09, Anderson began slowly take over the starter's job. After Carrozzi faltered in the playoffs, Anderson took over and promptly put in one of the best performances of the 2009 playoffs. This season, the two goaltenders are likely headed for a platoon situation, at least to start. However, Carrozzi has more to lose here. Should he continue to be outplayed by Anderson, his starts will slowly diminish and with it Atlanta's interest in him. Perhaps best for him would be a trade to another team with goaltending insecurities. That being said, if Carrozzi can step up his game and go toe to toe with Anderson, forcing a true, earned platoon situation, he's likely to impress Atlanta scouts enough to get a contract offer.
4. A.J. Jenks - Plymouth Whalers
Drafted by: Florida, 100th
Jenks failed to take a step forward this past season in Plymouth. The big two way forward failed to match the offensive numbers he put up in his draft year and was especially disappointing in the playoffs where he failed to provide the secondary scoring the Whalers needed to advance. His skating still remains an issue, as does his consistent offensive production. That being said, Plymouth is undergoing a bit of an offensive retooling, and it's possible he could find himself on the top offensive line with Tyler Seguin and Ryan Hayes. This will be his chance to show Florida that he has offensive abilities and can take that next step forward.
3. Mitch Gaulton - Erie Otters
Drafted by: New York Rangers, 171st
Gaulton's inclusion on this list is not to do with performance, but injury. Gaulton has played only 42 games in the past 2 seasons due to a dislocated elbow and subsequent Tommy John surgery to repair the ligaments. This former 4th overall pick in the OHL Priority Draft needs to have an injury free season very badly. From all reports, he's completely healthy now and is ready to help lead Erie's defence corps. While he has lost precious development time, Gaulton remains a very talented kid. As long as he stays healthy, I think we could see a big season from him and accordingly a contract offer from the Rangers.
2. Jared Staal - Sudbury Wolves
Drafted by: Phoenix, 49th
I'm not sure why I include Staal on this list because I'm fairly certain he'll still get a contract from Phoenix. The question remains, will he earn it, or will it be given because he's a Staal and the Coyotes are banking on some form of a late bloomer. This past season in Sudbury he took no steps forward, failing to meet his goal production from 2007-08. He still fails to use his size to his advantage, he still needs work on his skating and it's beginning to look less and less likely that he's an NHL quality prospect. This year in Sudbury, bigger things are expected of him and the team.
1. Tyler Beskorowany - Owen Sound Attack
Drafted by: Dallas, 59th
After a quietly effective performance during the 2007-08 season, the Stars made Beskorowany their 2nd round selection. The tall and lanky netminder shows a lot of potential, but at the same time had a disappointing 2008-09 season. He started the year at the team's number one netminder, but as the year went along, his inconsistencies cost him playing time to the improving Scott Stajcer. So much so, that Stajcer was the team's starting netminder in the 2009 playoffs. Now it's likely that Beskorowany will be traded in order to get more playing time. He's going to need to step up huge for whatever team he eventually plays for, in order to not turn into the next Josh Unice (who went unsigned this year from the 2007 draft). Ironically, one possible destination for Beskorowany could see him as Unice's replacement in Windsor.