The Forecheck: Who's UConn's next NHL player?

After Yan Kuznetsov debuted in the league this week, who's up next?

Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images

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Who's UConn's next NHL player?

So who’s next? There’s no slam dunk answer — Kuznetsov probably wouldn’t have even been the favorite when this season began — because there’s no one way to reach the NHL.

“Sometimes it's just luck,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said when asked what it takes to get a chance in the league. “There's been situations where your American Hockey League coach gets promoted to the NHL, but he really liked you in the American League and he brings you up. Sometimes it’s injuries and you get your chance and you play really well. Other times, you just keep playing well and getting better and improving and they have no choice but to call you up.”

UConn has plenty of potential NHLers — some just have a better shot than others.

Close(ish): Roman Kinal, Jarrod Gourley, Kale Howarth

UConn currently has nine former players who have spent time in the AHL this season (excluding Kuznetsov and Cole Schneider because they’ve already made it to the NHL), though not all are regulars.

Roman Kinal, Jarrod Gourley and Kale Howarth have spent most of their seasons in the ECHL — the third tier of North American hockey. Kinal has just one appearance in the AHL, Gourley has three, while Howarth has four. These guys are close in theory but would need a lot to go their way to make their way into the NHL conversation.

Proximity helps: Ryan Tverberg, Marc Gatcomb, Justin Pearson, Adam Karashik

All four players are AHL regulars (Karashik went down to the ECHL for a game but has spent 12 of 13 games with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms), so they could theoretically get tapped to fill in at the NHL level. Tverberg has the benefit of being drafted by his team, though he has just two goals and 11 assists so far. Meanwhile, Gatcomb has just six points in 26 games, Pearson has six in 28 games and Karashik has managed two assists in 12 games.

This group might be one step away from the league, but they probably aren’t next in line for a call-up.

Probably should be already: Ruslan Iskhakov

If Iskhakov played for an organization that even pretended to care about offense, there’s a good chance he’d already be in the NHL. Instead, he’s with a New York Islanders affiliate.

Despite that, Iskhakov is a near point-per-game player in Bridgeport with 29 (12 goals, 17 assists) in 33 games — a mark that ranks 20th in the AHL at the moment. He’s got a nine-game point streak going and earned a spot on the AHL All-Star Team for the second straight year.

The hold-up seems to be Iskhakov’s style of play. At 5-foot-8, he relies on speed and skill but could be overpowered by NHL players. While he could likely be a top-six forward, most AHL call-ups for the Islanders this season have been for depth on the bottom two lines — which isn’t what Iskhakov is built for.

Still, Iskhakov is checking off all the boxes in Bridgeport. He’ll get the call sooner or later.

Deserves a shot: Wyatt Newpower

The blue liner has spent four seasons in the AHL — the last three of which have been with the Grand Rapids Griffins, an affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings. He’s never been a big point producer at the pro level with just 31 in his entire career, but he’s always been a defense-first player. If the Red Wings get hit with injuries on D, Newpower could be a good choice to hold it down on the back end for a few games.

The darkhorse: Chase Bradley

Bradley is still at UConn and only a junior, but those in the program have believed from the time he committed that he’ll have a career in the NHL. Bradley has improved every year in Storrs and has the combination of skill, smarts and strength to play anywhere in the lineup. His ability to kill penalties and play a heavy game could get him on the ice early, but he has plenty of skill to be a point producer as well. One factor in Bradley’s (potential) NHL future? Whether he signs after this season or comes back for his senior year at UConn.

The best resume: Matthew Wood

Barring something unforeseen, Wood will get a shot in the NHL. The Nashville Predators didn’t spend the 15th overall pick on him this past summer for no reason. Based on the way his season at UConn has gone — along with his performance at World Juniors — Wood likely needs another year of maturation before he’s ready for any level of the pros — he is still only 18, after all.

While he might not be the next one in the league, Wood has the best chance of anyone on this list to become UConn’s next NHL regular alongside Tage Thompson.


Last week’s Forecheck


Three stars

First star: Tom Messineo

Messineo followed up his two-assist night on New Year’s Eve with another two-assist game at UMass — which featured a beautifully threaded pass to Jake Percival for UConn’s opening goal. Two-thirds of his season point total have come over the last two games.

Second star: Ethan Haider

Haider stopped 42 of 45 shots in the tie and also blanked UMass on four attempts in the shootout. To cap it all off, he had the best celebration of the night.

Third star: Hudson Schandor

Schandor’s second goal of the season came at a perfect time: He tied the game with two minutes left, which forced overtime and eventually resulted in a shootout win which netted UConn two key points. He also won 15 of 24 face-offs and now has 29 wins and 18 losses on draws in the second half.

Play of the Week

Best of social media

The week ahead

UConn men’s hockey has a two-game series at the XL Center against the No. 7 Maine Black Bears while UConn women’s hockey will head to Merrimack on Friday before hosting BU on Saturday at Toscano.