Sabres fans are licking their chops at the prospects of watching Team Canada's Zack Kassian and Marcus Foligno skate on HSBC Arena ice over the next twelve days as the IIHF conducts the 2011 World Junior Championship. After all, the object of their NHL rooting interest has a 6.5% of making the playoffs so it makes sense to look for future hope.
And just like that, more Sabres fans care about what I do. I'm getting more emails and texts about Kassian. Co-workers are asking questions about the two playing on the same line. My Blackberry and mouth need a massage.
To summarize the conversations, we've all witnessed how playing in the World Junior Championship elevates a player's game to more dominating level. What a player immediately does with the experience, at least with the Sabres anyways, goes a long way in projecting their effectiveness as a professional.
Last season, Luke Adam scored 25 goals and 27 assists in 32 QMJHL games (1.63 ppg) before playing for Team Canada. The big forward returned to pot 24 goals in his final 24 games with Cape Breton, and carried that pace into 2010-11 with an AHL Rookie of the Month honor in his first as a pro.
Prior to skating alongside Tyler Myers at the 2009 tourney, Tyler Ennis averaged 1.16 points-per-game (31GP 15-21-36) with Medicine Hat (WHL) before ripping off 28 goals and 21 assists in his final 30 games (1.63 PPG) to cap his second consecutive 85-point season. Ennis went on the impress the following year, earning AHL Rookie of the Year and a firm spot on the big club.
Do I even need to mention Myers? He didn't become the Calder winning monster that he is until after the 2009 tournament.
So what does this all mean for Kassian and Foligno? Given the make-up of the two players, it's fair to expect the spike to continue.
Kassian has himself been a monster this season in Windsor with 15-33-48 in just 25 games. It's going to be hard for him to maintain his 1.92 ppg pace, but if he can keep it steady with 1.75 over the final 30 games, he'll be the first Sabres prospect to hit the 100-point mark since London's Dylan Hunter did it in 2004-05 and 2005-06. Combine the Ennis and Adam trend with how physically dominant he is against 17-18-19's, and it seems that Kassian hits the target barring injury or suspension, and could blow past it if he gets traded to a top contender.
As far as Foligno is concerned, it's all gravy from here. The 6'3 leader has already posted a career-high in goals with 15 in his first 28 games, and is likely to use the experience to prove that he can beat the D on the forecheck and a cause trouble in front of the opposing net. Foligno works hard, and any exposure to faster, stronger players makes him work harder. Hard work equals production, so I'm setting the final 2010-11 target at 33 goals and 75 points for a weak Sudbury squad.
Every theory has an anomaly, so it's worth mentioning how Clarke MacArthur earned his 2005 World Junior look by amassing 14-27-41 in 30 games with Medicine Hat, but failed to vault his offense upon return with a still-respectable 33 points in his final 28 games. What's funny is that MacArthur's 'starting' trend has continued in the NHL, with nearly half of his 53 career goals coming in October and November...
If we've learned anything, it's that making Team Canada is great but what you do after matters most.
And one last thing - exhibition action saw Kassian and Foligno skate on a line with 2011 draft stud Sean Couturier. With the Sabres sinking and Derek Roy out for the balance of the year, Sabres fans may want to keep an eye on the prize. A prime-time offensive talent, Couturier is currently numero uno on my draft board.
The fun beings with Canada-Russia today (Sunday). Enjoy the games. GO USA!