Following up on November’s work for players of the month, we’ll look back at December which saw games postponed almost everywhere you looked in the NHL, AHL and World Junior Championships.
NHL Player of the Month: Sidney Crosby
After being named the Pensburgh player to watch last month, Crosby continued his return to form in December by leading the Pens in assists (nine) and points (11) in the eight December games that they actually played. Another encouraging sign is that Crosby improved his faceoff percentage from 43.1% in nine November games back towards (and even past) his recent season average to 57.1% in eight December games — the improvement being an indicator his wrist strength and general timing is returning. It was all systems go for the captain and the team, winning their last seven games before the COVID pause halted their season in December right as they were getting towards high gear.
Honorable mentions: Jake Guentzel, Evan Rodrigues, Kris Letang
It was tempting to name Guentzel the player of the month, he only played three games before being knocked out with a broken finger/knuckle but still recorded a team-high six goals (including two goals AFTER the hand injury) and eight points in a red hot run.
Rodrigues (2G+6A) and Letang (0G+8A) were also point-per-game performers in the eight December games, especially encouraging for Rodrigues to emerge as a consistent point producer with so many players in and out of the lineup, a trend sure to continue (unfortunately) in upcoming days and weeks.
Player to watch: Evgeni Malkin
All eyes will be on No. 71 as he looks set to make his NHL season debut in January. Malkin has a lot of experience coming back from long layoffs in his brilliant but injury-filled career. History tells us he might not score many goals in the near future but he should be able to produce assists and points immediately. His addition of skill, offensive flair and playmaking should be a very happy return for the Pens’ 27th ranked NHL power play (15.3%), which will get a boost they badly need from Malkin’s presence alone.
AHL Player of the Month: Valtteri Puustinen
Puustinen started his North American career off with a flash in October with 4G+4A in seven games, then came back down in November with only 1G+2A in 11 games. December saw him re-establish his production with 2G+3A in only seven games, with Wilkes-Barre not playing in the first 10 days of the month, and then having another break from the 18th-27th. Like most scoring wingers, Puustinen can be a little feast or famine from game-to-game at this point of his young career. In two December games he recorded 6+ shots, in two other games he recorded 0 SOG. Those two games with the high shot totals were where he scored both his goals on the month, as he learns and continues to grow and progress it would be a good sign to see 3-4 consistent shots per game on most nights.
European Prospect of the Month: Calle Clang
There should be a lot more going on, but the cancellation of the WJC’s is devastating for the players involved. Finland’s Joel Blomqvist had a rough go, he gave up three goals to Team USA in a pre-tournament game and was relegated to the third goalie for Finland’s first tournament game, where he was expected to be a top goalie. Blomqvist only had a .889 save% in six appearances in 2021 for the Finnish junior team, which isn’t the end of the world for his future, but still a disappointing end to his U-20 action.
By default, that leaves center Kirill Tankov (RUS) and goalie Calle Clang (SWE) as the other Euro prospects. Tankov recorded one assist in Russia’s two WJC games, Clang was positioned more as a backup to Jesper Wallstedt, but Clang did appear in four games in the buildup to WJC’s and acquitted himself well with a 1.20 GAA and .951 save%.
North American Prospect of the Month: Lukas Svejkovsky
Medicine Hat (one of the worst WHL teams) traded Svejkovsky to the Seattle Thunderbirds in a move that should benefit the player. Svejkovsky had 30 points (13G+17A) in 24 games with Medicine Hat, almost doubling their second leading scorer on the season who only has 16 points. In his last 10 games with Medicine Hat, Svejkovsky had 5G+3A, which sounds modest enough, but again considering he didn’t have a lot to work with that is more impressive. Seattle has five players with 25+ points on the season, so Svejkovsky’s stats could be getting even more of a bump on a new, stronger team, which makes for an exciting second half of the season coming up for this prospect.