Well, hockey season (regular season) is almost over, so it's time to give my annual salute to the guys I watched toil in the AHL whose hard work has paid off. It's time to check in on our beloved former-Aeros! I know most of y'all don't care, but this post is always a fun one for me. Note: these are only the guys who played in Houston since I moved here, the 2005-06 season.
We'll start off with the sad omission from this year's highlight real: my personal favorite former Aero Josh Harding. After playing himself into a season-ending injury last year, Harding rehabbed like crazy to get in game shape for this season. He took the ice for his first pre-season game feeling great...until he tore both his ACL and MCL. He's finally skating again, but he lost an entire season. Here's hoping he finds work in the NHL next year, because he's one of the great guys in the game, and it would suck to see it end this way for him.
John Scott, D, Chicago
The unlikeliest Aeros in the NHL, Scott came to Houston as an undrafted rookie with no hands (not literally), no skating ability, and a heck of a lot of work ethic. Through parts of three seasons in Houston, Scott eventually matured into an AHL vet with no hands, minimal skating ability, and a reputation as one of the league's top fighters. (Oh, did I mention he's 6'8" and 258 pounds??) And that's pretty much who he is in the NHL, too, now with the Chicago Blackhawks. He doesn't play often because, well, he's a terrible hockey player, but he's good to have on the ice if you think the other team is going to start pushing your guys around. In 40 games this year, Scott has no goals, one assist, fifteen shots, and seventy-two penalty minutes. And according to the voters at hockeyfights.com, he's never lost an NHL bout (17-0).
Odd thought: Scott is the former Aero currently most likely to win a Stanley Cup.
Here's Scott winning a fairly long bout with St. Louis's Cam Janssen:
Ryan Jones, F, Edmonton
Jones only played four games for the Aeros, and then he was a pest with the Admirals for a couple years while bouncing back up and down to Nashville. Now he's playing for the last place team in the league, but he does have 16 goals. Plus, you can follow him on Twitter.
Here's Jones going right to the net for a shorty against Dallas:
Clayton Stoner, D, Minnesota
Stoner's a guy who really took the long route getting to Minny. He'd been an Aero every year since I'd been here. And every time he started to catch a break, he'd get hurt. Glad to see him finally stick with the Wild. He's a good 6th d-man, good, tough, stay-at-home guy, and every team needs those guys to eat up some quality minutes on the back end. He doesn't score much (twice, so far), but he's been playing good defense and even getting some time on the PK.
Here's his memorable blooper-worthy first NHL goal:
Joel Ward, F, Nashville
Ward was the leading scorer on the 2007-08 team that had no business making the playoffs (but did anyway). Nevertheless, the Wild let him walk as a free agent, and he's had double digits in goals for the Predators every year since. Hm...
Ward actually has three goals against the Wild this year. This sort of thing seems to happen a lot in the NHL.
Benoit Pouliot, F, Montreal
Man, this kid has some sick hands. Sometimes. But not often enough for a kid who was picked 4th overall. Pouliot wasn't bad as an Aero, but I had really hoped he would dominate the AHL level. He didn't, and he hasn't at the NHL, either. He hasn't been bad, mind you, and he's only 24, and he's going to finish with thirty points for the first time in his career, so things are trending upward for him. Minnesota was a pretty rotten place for a skill guy like Pouliot due to the system the team played. And Pouliot never really bought in to the whole "defense" thing. Anyway, he's got some pretty goals in Montreal, including this obscene shootout winner against my Pens.
Cal Clutterbuck, F, Minnesota
Possibly my all-time favorite Aero. He just flew all over the ice, never took a shift off, dished out hit after hit (almost all of them clean), and can score. Seems like he has a lot of haters, mostly because he doesn't fight often, but that's not his game. He's an agitator, he draws penalties, he throws big hits, he gets the team and the fans fired up, and this year, he's going to top 20 goals for the first time. He also feasts on BlueJackets, as in this clip in which he will take out two BJ's with one hit before bouncing back to his feet and putting home the rebound. Awesome.
Kurtis Foster, D, Oilers
Foster had a solid rookie season and followed it up with a couple decent years for a puck-moving d-man...until he snapped his leg. He spent a full year rehabbing and actually made it back to play for the Wild (who re-signed him despite no guarantee he'd play again, which I thought was a nice gesture on their part). He also got to rehab in Houston a few games, so we got to see him again. Anyway, last season he had a solid year in Tampa, but they let him walk, too, so now the poor guy is banished to Edmonton.
He shoots the puck pretty hard.
Jared Spurgeon, D, Minnesota
Here's a guy who was told he was too small to play hockey professionally and had probably best settle on some different life goals. (He's 5'9", which is small for an NHL d-man) He signed with the Wild and was expected to play the whole year in Houston. And basically, that didn't happen. Great kid, great story. Here he is scoring (as far too many players do) against the Avs.
That's our round-up for this year. Hopefully next season we can add some new names (like Wellman, Noreau, Khudobin, Almond, Gillies) to the list. Or re-instate Robbie Earl and Patrick O'Sullivan.