When the Connecticut Whale finished its first-round playoff series with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers three weeks ago, the team’s top playoff scorers were 20-year-old right-winger Marek Hrivik and centerman Casey Wellman, who both recorded four points in the three-game round.
Now, four games into their second-round series with the Norfolk Admirals, the scoring leaders remain the same for the Whale, as Hrivik and Wellman are tied with eight points in seven total playoff contests. Hrivik—who joined the team on March 30 on an Amateur Tryout (ATO) agreement—leads the Whale in playoff goals with five, and Wellman—who joined the Whale on February 3 after being acquired through trade by the New York Rangers—is second on the team in goals with four.
Entering the post-season, Hrivik scored only once in eight games with the Whale. But the 6-foot-1, 197-pound, winger continues to produce in the playoffs, and is currently riding a six-game scoring-streak into game 5 on Wednesday.
As for Wellman, he continues to create scoring chances for himself and for his line-mates, and the 24-year-old center has tallied three goals and an assist in four games against the Admirals this series.
Connecticut’s power-play has received the biggest boost from Hrivik and Wellman, as the forwards have combined for five of six Whale’ power-play goals in the playoffs thus far. Wellman leads the Whale with three power-play goals in the post-season, and Hrivik is second on the team with two power-play tallies.
Hrivik and Wellman make up two-thirds of Connecticut’s second-line, while 19-year-old winger J.T. Miller completes the threesome and benefits from the play of his line-mates. Although Miller has registered just one assist in six playoff appearances, his play in the offensive-zone is improving with each game, and he is receiving plenty of ice-time from Coach Ken Gernander.
Miller joined the Whale—like Hrivik—after his junior club, the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers, was eliminated from the playoffs. Miller’s time with the Whale in the AHL playoffs can be considered a pre-training camp tryout, as the 2011 first-round pick could join the team full-time next season. The same can be said for Hrivik, who the Rangers will likely contact in the off-season in regards to an entry-level deal.
What has impressed me most about Miller during his time with the Whale is his willingness to jump into the corners and battle for possession of a loose puck. He is also a very skilled two-way player, with a team-first attitude.
With the Whale and Admirals tied 2-2 in their Eastern Conference Semi-Final series (ECSF series ‘I’), contributions from players like Hrivik and Wellman will be the key in Connecticut’s ability to finish another playoff upset, and keep their Calder Cup hopes alive.
It took six games for Connecticut’s leading-scorer in the regular-season, Kris Newbury to find the score-sheet in the playoffs, but following a two-assist performance in game 3 of the ECSF, the 64-point getter is beginning what appears to be a playoff hot-streak.
Newbury followed-up his game 3 performance with a 1-1-2 score-line in game 4 on Monday night, as the Whale evened the series with a 4-1 win.
But Newbury isn’t the only player that has finally found his scoring touch, as line-mates Andre Deveaux and Jonathan Audy-Marchessault are also scratching their names into the score-sheet.
Deveaux has recorded two goals and an assist in the past three games, after scoring just one assist in the first-round series against Bridgeport. One of his goals is a power-play marker. Deveaux scored 13 times on the man-advantage in the regular-season.
Audy-Marchessault’s play has also improved, as the 21-year-old has scored twice in the series against Norfolk, after scoring once against the Sound Tigers. Although the Whale has received plenty of offense from its second-line mentioned above, the trio of Deveaux, Newbury and Audy-Marchessault combined for 69 goals in the regular-season, and must continue to produce as the playoffs carry on.
Although no Whale’ defenseman has scored a goal through seven playoff games, Connecticut’s backend is still contributing offensively with a combined 12 assists.
Leading the bunch is rookie Tim Erixon, who has four assists in seven post-season tilts, including three in the second-round. Erixon has also recorded assists in two-straight games against Norfolk, and continues to perform exceptionally for the Whale on a pairing with Jared Nightingale.
The Whale has been shorthanded defensively, with experienced blueliner Brendan Bell still nursing a lower-body injury. In Bell’s absence, another fresh face has stepped-up for the Whale, as 20-year-old Dylan McIlrath is leaving his mark on the Whale’ coaching staff with his physical presence in the defensive-end.
McIlrath—who joined the Whale after his WHL club the Moose Jaw Warriors were eliminated from the playoffs—has appeared in three games, paired with Whale’ Captain Wade Redden. Although McIlrath has made his fair share of mistakes over the three games, the 6-foot-5, 215-pound, behemoth usually makes up for them with an important crease-clearing play or hard hit to knock the puck loose from an opposing forward.
One area that McIlrath seems to be improving in is his skating. A few times this series, the 2010 first-round pick has created scoring chances for the Whale by joining forwards on a rush as the third- or fourth-man in. Though McIlrath is probably no-where close to becoming the Rangers’ Erik Karlsson, he is making strides towards becoming a better defenseman in both ends of the ice.
McIlrath also proved his willingness to fight in game 4 by squaring off with Norfolk tough-guy Scott Jackson, who threw a high-hit at Whale’ rookie Ryan Bourque only seconds before the fight began. McIlrath gave Jackson a few solid punches before throwing him to the ice.
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