Compare and Contrast

Jason Pominville, Buffalo Sabres
– 6-foot-0, 187 pounds, according to ’06-07 Buffalo media guide
– Drafted second round, 55th overall in 2001
– Better than a point per game in last two years of junior career in QMJHL
– Disappointing first year pro in AHL
– 30-goal scorer in second season in AHL, dominant in playoffs
– 30-goal scorer in third season in AHL
– Waived at beginning of fourth pro season, passed over by all 29 teams
– Called up in Nov. of fourth season, ended up scoring 18 goals in 57 games as a rookie for league’s fifth best regular season team, adds five goals and 10 points in 18 playoff games
– 31 goals in NHL as a sophomore

Tomas Fleischmann, Washington Capitals
– 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, according to ’06-07 Washington media guide
– Drafted second round, 63rd overall in 2002
– Better than a point per game in last two years of junior career in WHL
– Disappointing first year pro in AHL
– 30-goal scorer in second season in AHL, dominant in playoffs
– Was on pace for 30-goals in third season, until recalled to NHL
– In and out of NHL lineup for non-contending team (34 games over two seasons), now in final season of entry-level deal, waiver eligible in 2007-08.

The Buffalo Sabres had no idea what type of player Jason Pominville would turn into when he was at the end of his three-year entry level pro contract. He had scored 30 goals in consecutive AHL campaigns, the second one during the lockout season of 2004-05. But Buffalo got to see Pominville play exactly one NHL game during the life of that three-year deal.

As a 22-year-old trying to crack the Sabres’ roster in the fall of 2005, Pominville failed. He was placed on waivers, passed over by all 29 NHL teams and sent back to AHL Rochester. Rather than sulk, he torched his way through the league and was leading the circuit with 19 goals when he was recalled in Nov. The day before his 24th birthday, Pominville scored his first NHL goal against Washington’s Olie Kolzig at Verizon Center. He went on to score 18 goals in 57 games as a Sabres rookie, and added five more in the playoffs. That’s 42 goals in 93 games.

This season, Pominville has 31 goals and 59 points in 72 games with Buffalo. He’s also a plus-24. Pominville has succeeded, and the Sabres were extremely lucky not to lose him. They also deserve a lot of credit for letting him play. The Sabres have been one of the best teams in the NHL for the past two seasons, but they had no qualms about letting Pominville play significant minutes with skilled linemates. Only once in his 130 NHL games has Pominville played fewer than 10 minutes. He has played 15 or more minutes in far more than half (78 of 130) his games. The rap against Pominville was that he was too slender to succeed in the NHL, but he has proved those naysayers wrong.

Fleischmann was drafted a year later than Pominville, but is two years behind him in the NHL chain. While Pominville is in his fifth season as a pro, Fleischmann is in his third season as a pro, and the final year of his entry level deal. Assuming the Capitals re-sign Fleischmann as a restricted free agent this summer, he will require waivers to be sent back and forth from the NHL to the AHL next season. And unlike Pominville, he almost certainly won’t clear.

When Pominville was on waivers, NHL teams had not played in more than a season because of the lockout. It was easier to slide a guy through waivers who was skinny and had played just one NHL game. Fleischmann won’t clear waivers.

That said, have the Caps determined that Fleischmann can play regularly for them in the NHL? Hard to say. He scored his first NHL goal on Feb. 24, months ahead of his 23rd birthday. He is ahead of where Pominville was at the same age in terms of NHL experience, but only because Pominville could not be called up to the NHL in his third pro season. Lockout, remember?

Where Pominville and Fleischmann diverge most significantly is in playing time. The Sabres (like Anaheim, San Jose and some others) have had no hesitations about dropping a raw rookie into the middle of their lineup and letting him play. And play, and play. Pominville got more playing time as a rookie on a good team than Alexander Semin did as a rookie on a team going nowhere.

Fleischmann? He has had to make the most of his limited chances. In 14 games with Washington (the 27th best team in the league) last season, Fleischmann never once cracked the 10-minute mark in minutes played. Predictably, he had two assists in those 14 games. It wasn’t until his 17th NHL game that Fleischmann cracked double digit ice time, logging 12:06 in an overtime game against Ottawa on Nov. 6 of this season. Fleischmann has exceeded 15 minutes only twice in his 34 NHL games, and the 15:29 he skated in Toronto on Mar. 6 stands as his career high.

When he finally had his coming-out party against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday (two goals, two assists), he did so despite limited ice time. He logged 11:22 on the night. After skating 3:41 and scoring two goals in the first period, he was cut back to 3:01 in the second. A minor injury to Alex Ovechkin midway through the third opened up more ice time for everyone, and Fleischmann skated 4:21 in the third.

The Caps have nine more games remaining this season. Fleischmann will return to Hershey in early April, hopefully flush with the confidence that he can succeed at the NHL level. It would be great to see “Flash” follow Pominville’s path from here on out, but he’ll need some help. Pominville wouldn’t have 30 goals if he was averaging 11:14 a night with the Sabres.

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10 Comments on “Compare and Contrast”

  1. Scai Says:

    Once again, a great piece. Finally someone speaks up for one of the most talented youngsters in the system. Fleischmann really has been starving for ice time and I’ve come to believe, it is because of personal issues between him and Hanlon. Thursday in Boston he didn’t skate a single shift in OT, on a team going nowhere, needing offense, losing every single time in the shootout. Still, when the focus should have been solely on scoring that game-winning goal, Gordon was out every other shift while one of the most skilled one-on-one-players on the team didn’t hit the ice a single time. Hanlon really needs to finally let the kids play. Otherwise the rebuild will take very long. Green, Fleischmann and Fehr definitely have the talent to succeed at the NHLlevel. The coach needs to give them time, show confidence in their abilities, put them in positions to succeed and they will help this team win.

  2. Marcin Z. Says:

    AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMEN

    Let the kids play. Everybody knows what guys like Fehr and Flash are capable of. They just have to be put in a situation where they CAN show off thier stuff.

  3. Joe Says:

    Another in a series of great pieces, Mike. Seems to me that the Caps went through a long stretch where they were playing not to lose, rather than to win . . . a lose is a lose, even if you manage to keep the score down. In today’s game, it’s skate, skate, skate . . . attack, attack, attack. Let’s the kids play; we already know what the other guys can do!! My hope is that Hanlon – who’s work I’ve mostly admired – is not evolving, as almost all coaches evolve, from playing it loose to trying to avoid failure.

    and from the what it may be worth department – has anyone else noticed that Kris Beech is much more effective playing with guys that can actully skate?

  4. CapsFan Says:

    Seems like the Caps Mgmt has given the wrong players the biggest chances to prove themselves. Instead of Beech and Klepis we should have bene watching Flash and Fehr. Granted they play different positions, but Fehr and Flash have the most upside.

    I have been frustrated by Hanlon not giving the kids the chance to play. When Fehr was in the lineup Hanlon would not give him a shot on 4-on-4 situations(including OT), it just doesnt make sense.

  5. Monty Says:

    Great comparison, but there may be even more to it than you think.

    In the great 2004 firesale, GM wanted prospect Klepis from Buffalo for Grier. Who else might Buffalo have offered or been willing to give up? Pominville, maybe. Considering Buffalo could ice six scoring lines when healthy and had to give up a scorer like J.P. Dumont over the summer for lack of cap room, it appears that GM wanted the one prospect forward in the Buffalo system who hasn’t panned out.

    Then, for the first half of this season, GM and Hanlon give Klepis plenty of NHL time for half a season, even though he never previously showed he could even score regularly in the AHL, while Flash and Fehr languish in the AHL when they should have been given regular ice time in the NHL before their waiver exemption runs out. (If you counter that Klepis was up because he was a center and that’s what the Caps needed, well then if that was such a desperate need why isn’t he still up.

    Now, as you have adroitly noted, the going nowhere Caps haven’t been giving Flash plenty of ice time to see if he can handle it. Nothing against Laich, who has played well and admirably but clearly isn’t a potential scoring line player, Flash, not Laich, should be getting prime PP minutes with the first unit. Flash’s crisp and creative passing could make a real difference on that top unit, which generally has trouble even maintaining the zone.

  6. wanggo Says:

    I don’t want to see another minute of ice time with guys like Beech and Sutherby and Brashy this season. I want to see more Flash, Fehr, Giroux, Laich…

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