This is a story that I have been sitting on for quite some time now. I had an opportunity to speak with some people that had an opportunity to watch the Portland Pirates all of last season. It was amazing that most everyone had the same thoughts about the players we often wonder about. I am talking about Nathan Gerbe, Tim Kennedy and Mark Mancari.
I was interested in a couple of key factors of each player. I wanted to know the general impression of their play, how much they improved as the season went on and what they thought of their NHL potential. I received some interesting answers once again, answers that were kind of surprising.
We'll start with Mancari since he is still a restricted free agent with no intentions of signing with the Sabres. It appears that Mancari is hoping to sign with a club that is willing to give him a shot at playing in the NHL. It doesn't look like that chance will come in Buffalo with the depth the Sabres have at forward.
Most of us have not had ample opportunities to see Mancari play live and we relied on statistics and highlights. We knew that he put up great offensive statistics and had a monster shot. We didn't know how he actually played the game.
I always wondered why the Sabres never gave him a real shot to play in the NHL. I stopped wondering after talking to people in the know. It appears that Mancari is primed to be a career AHL player or a fringe NHL player. Despite his large 6-3 220 lbs. frame he plays a soft game and is reluctant to battle in the corners. He is also a very slow skater and has trouble controlling the puck in traffic.
It looks like we know why the Sabres have been reluctant to give him a shot. He seems content to play the same style and go somewhere else instead of working hard and trying to earn a spot by playing physical. The Sabres would love to keep him around in case he ever realizes his potential but they will not give any gaurantees. Can you blame them?
Gerbe came to the Sabres with some high, possibly unrealistic, expectations. He led the Boston College Eagles to the National Championship and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award the year before he signed with the Sabres. He followed that up with rookie of the year honors in the AHL which raised his expectations to even higher levels this season.
Gerbe is an interesting case because he has the talent to be a superstar in the NHL but he could just as easily be a bust. One thing that won't stop Gerbe from being a superstar is his size. He is 5-5 and 172 lbs. but plays the game like he is 6-4 230lbs. Gerbe sometimes takes his pyhsical play too far and his teammates have to come to his defense. He was the reason for a couple of brawls last season, including one in HSBC Arena with the Pirates.
If Gerbe is going to become an elite player in the NHL he will need more time to develop. He has great skating ability, great hands and great vision but he is a one trick pony. He has a move that he goes to all the time and eventually NHL defensemen will catch on.
That move at the blue line is pretty much the go-to move for the young forward. If he is going to become an elite player he needs more. He needs to be able to create offense in tight spaces and he needs to be able to do more with the puck.
Believe it or not he could be the best of the bunch. Kennedy is a good offensive player and his best asset is his vision. He creates plays all on his own not unlike what we see out of Tim Connolly when he is healthy. He can also play in both ends of the ice. He doesn't shy away from his defensive duties on the back check. He is probably the most ready player in Portland to make the jump to the NHL.
It took Kennedy some time to get used to the pro game but by seasons end he was obviously the best player on the Portland Pirates. He had trouble with position when battling for pucks along the boards and put himself in danger at times. After taking a couple of big hits he realized that he would get himself killed if he didn't have better position.
There is no reason that Kennedy shouldn't find himself on the Sabres at some point this season. When he makes the big club; I don't think he will ever go back to Portland again. He has a bright future in the NHL and is a can't miss prospect in mind.