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Nicastro progresses in Windy City

Published Monday, December 8, 2008, 12:01 a.m. under 2008-09 RWC Reports

Max Nicastro has taken a step forward in his development as a sophomore in the United States Hockey League with the Chicago Steel.

The 6-foot-2, 189-pound blueliner has emerged as his team’s top blueliner and one of the top defensemen in the league, logging big minutes and running the power play as he prepares to suit up at Boston University next season.

Nicastro, drafted 91st overall last summer, has shown increasing aptitude offensively, with three goals and eight assists in 19 games. He is ninth among USHL blueliners and on pace to double last year’s totals.

“He’s showing more willingness to jump into the offense than he did last season,” said Red Wings amateur scout David Kolb, who focuses on the USHL and NCAA. “He likes to sneak in from the point and has a good shot.”

The 18-year-old has also been getting the job done in his own zone, blocking shots and developing defensively under Steel head coach Steve Poapst, an NCAA graduate who played seven seasons in the NHL.

The Red Wings would like to see Nicastro play with more of an edge.

“He can be a physical player when he wants to be at this level, but needs to develop more of a mean streak,” said Kolb. “His physical play has been too inconsistent this year, and he needs to learn to punish guys more.”

Kolb said Nicastro spends a lot of his free time in the gym and that he is growing into his body and getting stronger. In the long run — the very long run, as the Red Wings are loaded with defensive depth and have plenty of time to wait — the Red Wings see the upside of an NHL regular.

“He has the tools to one day play in the NHL,” Kolb said. “He just needs to develop the right mindset, and that should come with maturity.”

Here are some other notes from the past week.

* Ville Leino’s production with Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League is becoming a head-scratcher. Leino has no goals and five assists in his past 12 games with a five-game pointless streak and no goals since Oct. 25. Either Leino has hit a temporary wall or the transition to North America might not be going as smoothly as it looked after 10 games.

* Forward Cory Emmerton (Grand Rapids, AHL) scored the first goal of his pro career. He has 13 points in 22 games this season.

* Forward Randy Cameron (Moncton, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) scored more goals this week than he had all season. Cameron tallied four times in three games and is now averaging a point-per-game.

* Forward Joakim Andersson (Frolunda, Swedish Elite League) has recovered from an atrocious start to the season. He began the year with no points in 15 games; but in 15 games since, he has two goals and six assists.

* Defenseman Brian Lashoff was moved in an Ontario Hockey League trade. Lashoff went from the Barrie Colts to the struggling Kingston Frontenacs in a move to bolster the Colts for the present and the Fronts for the future.

Kingston got forwards Colt Kennedy and Mitch Lebar, while Barrie got top goal-scorer Josh Brittain and Pete Stevens.

Lashoff, who signed as a free agent this summer, should get more ice time in Kingston. He has a goal and 12 assists in 28 games.

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