Prospect Watch: Almeida makes strides


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Justin Almeida (center) at Penguins training camp. -- MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

Penguins forward prospect Justin Almeida is heating up at the midway point of the Western Hockey League season.

As the WHL enters its holiday break, the Penguins' 2018 fifth-round pick ranks second on his Moose Jaw Warriors in scoring, with eight goals and 34 assists in only 26 games. His assist totals rank him fifth in the league.

While Almeida's points per game, 1.62, are a jump from last season's mark of 1.36 points per game, the makeup of his production has changed this season.

Almeida recorded 43 goals and 55 assists in 72 games last season, or .6 goals per game and .76 assists per game. This season, he's averaging only .31 goals per game, but 1.31 assists per game. He's factored into 42 percent of all Warriors goals this season.

His most productive game of the season was Sunday in a 6-3 win over Regina. He recorded two goals and four assists in the win:

Almeida, who turns 20 in February, has taken on a larger role for the Warriors in his fourth and final WHL season. He was on a dominant team last season, one that led the league a 52-15-2-3 record and winning percentage of .757. This season, a much younger Warriors team has a more modest record of 17-8-4-1 for a winning percentage of .650.

While Almeida has exclusively played center in the past, he's been playing a lot of left wing and right wing this season too in a top-6 role.

“He’s a really smart kid,” Tim Hunter, Almeida’s Warriors coach, told this summer. “He knows the play before he’s going to make it, surveys the ice really well. When he does have the puck, he’s done his homework and knows where he’s going to go. He’s got really good skating speed, good at eluding checkers and can skate away from people with his speed.”

Almeida is a fast, skilled, playmaker, but has a clear weakness -- his size. At 5-feet-11 and 160 pounds, he's the smallest prospect in the system. He'll need time to get stronger and mature in Wilkes-Barre before he has a shot at cracking an NHL lineup.



Justin Almeida
Position: Center/Wing
Size: 5-9/158
Drafted: 2018, fifth round
Team: Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
Season totals: 
26 games, 8 goals, 34 assists

Almeida scored two goals and four assists in two games this week.

Jordy Bellerive
Position: Center
Size: 5-10/195
Drafted: Undrafted
Team: Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)
Season totals: 
33 games, 16 goals, 23 assists

Bellerive added an incredible four goals and three assists in three games this week, increasing his points per game to 1.18. That's a slight dip from last season's total of 1.30 points per game, but given that Bellerive was originally expected to be off the ice for a year after his accident, those are encouraging numbers.

Sportsnet put together this feature on Bellerive:

Kasper Bjorkqvist
Position: Wing
Size: 6-1/198
Drafted: 2016, second round
Team: Providence College (NCAA)
Season totals: 
16 games, 8 goals, 7 assists

Bjorkqvist and the Friars were on holiday break this week.

Jan Drozg
Position: Wing
Size: 6-0/174
Drafted: 2017, fifth round
Team: Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)
Season totals: 
27 games, 8 goals, 23 assists

Drozg was away from the Cataractes this week, as he was competing with Team Slovenia in the Division-1 B World Junior Championship. He led Slovenia to a tournament win with four goals and eight assists in five games.

One person excited for Drozg's future is fellow Slovenian Anze Kopitar. I spoke one-on-one with Kopitar about his countryman when the Kings were in town last week.

Dejan and I took a look at Drozg's development in a segment of Morning Java:

Liam Gorman
Position: Center
Size: 6-2/188
Drafted: 2018, sixth round
Team: St. Sebastian’s School (USHS-Prep)
Season totals: 

Gorman’s team played in four games this week, all wins. His team does not post box scores or stats, but their Twitter account shows he scored at least one goal in the games.

Filip Hallander
Position: Center/Wing
Size: 6-1/190
Drafted: 2018, second round
Team: Timrå IK (SHL)
Season totals: 
23 games, 5 goals, 7 assists

The SHL did not play this week.

Nikita Pavlychev
Position: Center
Size: 6-8/225
Drafted: 2015, seventh round
Team: Penn State (NCAA)
Season totals: 
18 games, 10 goals, 10 assists

Pavlychev was scoreless in one game this week, a 4-4 tie with Princeton, before going on holiday break.


Calen Addison
Drafted: 2018, second round
Team: Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)
Season totals: 
32 games, 4 goals, 30 assists

Addison registered three assists in two games. He was cut from Canada’s selection camp for the World Junior Championships.

"It's a tough one to swallow," Addison told TSN. "At the end of the day, it's part of the game, it's happened to a lot of good players over the years. At the end of the day, there's a lot of good players here, and for me it was just special to even be here and get invited here as an 18-year-old. There's a lot of things I can take out of this building for next year, and hopefully I can come back."

Niclas Almari

Size: 6-1/167
Drafted: 2016, fifth round
Team: HPK (Liiga), HPK U20 (Jr. A SM-liiga)
Season totals: 
18 games, 3 assists with HPK; 2 games, 1 assist with HPK U20

Almari registered one assist in three games this week with HPK.

Here's a video of him talking about Christmas plans, from what I gather, and promoting HPK pop-sockets. If you happen to speak Finnish, enjoy:

Ryan Jones
Drafted: 2016, fourth round
Team: Nebraska-Omaha (NCAA)
Season totals: 
16 games, 4 assists

Nebraska-Omaha was on holiday break this week.

Zachary Lauzon
Drafted: 2017, second round
Team: Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL)
Season totals: 

Lauzon is still rehabbing from the neck injury he sustained last season. He will begin practicing with contact soon, says his general manager.

Antti Palojarvi
Drafted: 2017, sixth round
Team: Lukko (Liiga), Lukko U20 (Jr. A SM-liiga)
Season totals: 
8 games, 2 assists with Lukko; 25 games, 4 goals, 6 assists with Lukko U20

Palojarvi split the week between the main Lukko team and the U20 team. He's been playing more with the main team in Finland's top team, a good sign for his development. He registered one assist in two games with the main Lukko team, and was scoreless in one game with the junior team.

Clayton Phillips
Drafted: 2017, third round
Team: Minnesota (NCAA)
Season totals: 
15 games, 1 goal, 7 assists

Minnesota did not play this week.

William Reilly
Drafted: 2017, seventh round
Team: Rensselaer Polytech (NCAA)
Season totals: 
12 games, 2 goal, 5 assists

RPI did not play this week.


Alex D’Orio
Drafted: Undrafted
Team: Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
Season totals: 
23 games (4-18), 4.64 goals against average, .881 save percentage

D'Orio started in two games this week, a win and a loss. He made 34 saves on 38 shots for the win on Friday, and 32 saves on 35 shots for a loss on Saturday.

The QMJHL's trading period opened Sunday and will run for three weeks. D'Orio is expected to be moved to a contending team this season.

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