This 2015-16 season was someones first and could be someones last season in North America so I've written a very brief review about the very best Latvian hockey players who have played in North American hockey leagues in 2015-16 season. In 2015-16 NHL season have played 3 Latvian hockey players which is highest number since 2011-12 NHL season where also three Latvians played at least one game. I wouldn't say that quantity is quality but this NHL season was more of a disappointment than a joy and the fact that contracts for all three players with NHL teams has ended. It's just a coincidence of course but that adds more anxiety about the future. And first time since 2008-09 AHL season in at least one AHL game has played 5 Latvian hockey players, from far away 2008-09 AHL season all 5 Latvian players at some moment played in NHL.
Zemgus Girgensons - contract 2015-16
2015-16 season was a real restart for the Buffalo Sabres, new coaching staff and a lot of new players which meant a lot of unknown. Of course we, the fans expected this season as good as previous or a lot better for Girgensons but it wasn't what we and Girgensons himself expected it would be. Girgensons role in the team changed and from TOP 6 forward he became 3rd liner, he played was tested in the center, wing and again center, lines it self were mixed constantly all season long. This season was the worst of the three, Girgensons only scored 18 (7+11) points in 71 games played and hopefully this will stay the worst season of his career. But on the ice he doesn't looked so bad, Zemgus Girgensons ended season with 2nd best +/- among the full time Buffalo players and if we dig into Enhanced NHL statistics we could find a lot of good things, 5 on 5 shot save percentage is the best among full time players. As the season has ended the contract with Buffalo Sabres too, if in previous seasons he was protected from trading away to another team he can't be sure now, just before draft there was some rumors about trades.
Kristers Guļevskis (Kristers Gudlevskis) - contract 2015-16
Most of this season Kristers Gudlevskis spent in Syracuse Crunch, AHL and was actively riding a up and down the roller coaster between NHL and AHL (I counted 12 up and down calls) mostly warming a Lightning bench. But Lightning staff somehow let Gudlevskis to play on October 24th against Chicago Blackhawks and what a great game it was for Kristers Gudlevskis. Regulation ended with 0:0 tie and 17 seconds played in overtime Jonathan Toews outplayed Valtteri Fillpula and Anton Stralman and scored a rebound goal which was his first goal of the season. Well I won't say what I think of that team, but that was really heartbreaking. Gudlevskis in his second game start since April 11th, 2014 made 31 saves (.969%).
In the rest of the AHL season he played solid noting that Crunch didn't qualify for the playoffs and the statistics compared to previous two seasons doesn't differ so much.
The season together with a contract with Tampa Bay Lightning has ended and the bigest question for Gudlevskis is what to do next and what would be the best for his development. He's very young for a goalie but does he like sentenced 3rd goalie role and that roller coaster bench warming? I just hope for the best.
Roinalds Ķēniņš (Ronalds Kenins) - contract 2015-16
The biggest heartache and sorrow in this season was for previous season hero Ronalds Kenins. This was very unfortunate season for Kenins, his injury prevented him to jump in the Canucks lineup in the the preseason camp. Kenins started his season in Utica Comets where after a few games he got injured again. His first call up was in December 2nd, and he played two games against Dallas Stars and Boston Bruins without any remarkable achievements, after these two games played he was sent down. The first half of the season for Kenins was a disaster till January 30th, Kenins played in 6 Canucks games without scoring any points and played 11 Comets games in AHL with only 2 assists recorded.
But after these unfortunate months in February Ronalds Kenins scored 11 (1+10) points in 10 games played and 7 (3+4) points in 13 games played in March and it looked more promising that Kenins will be back in Canucks soon. And yes, next call up was in April 7th, where he played against Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers but in April 10th he was sent down again. It's really hard to watch how unfortunate this season was for Ronalds Kenins, knowing that the one year one way contract will end and rumors about Canucks not giving a new contract is more than sad. Could that be that the game against Edmonton Oilers in April 9th, 2016 was the last in Kenins NHL career? Ronalds Kenins in 2015-16 season has played in 8 NHL games without scoring a single point and 41 games in AHL scoring 23 (5+18) points.
Teodors Bļugers (Teddy Blueger) - contract 2017-18 ELC
After the Mavericks (Minnesota State University Mankato, MSU) 2-1 loss to Ferris State University in the WCHA Final Five championship Teddy Blueger signed two-year, entry-level contract which begins next season, but he finished season in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the American Hockey League after signing an amateur tryout (ATO) contract for the remainder of the season. Teddy Blueger, a Riga, Latvia, native was drafted in the 2nd round #52 overall in 2012 NHL Draft following his prep career at Faribault's Shattuck-St. Mary's School before coming to Minnesota State. In four seasons Blueger played in 155 games at MSU, scoring 108 (31+77) points, which ranks tied for ninth on the Mavericks Division I-era scoring list. In 2015-16 as a senior Blueger led MSU in scoring and assists with 35 (11+24) points, 7 of 11 goals scored this season were game wining goals, 13 total in his WCHA career. Blueger in his four seasons in Minnesota State between 2012 and 2016 became two times WCHA champion (2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons) was inducted in 2013-14 All-Tournament team and 2015-16 WCHA First All-Star team. 
Teddy Blueger's debut game in the AHL was in March 25th against Binghamton Senators, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins won the game in over time and Teddy Blueger recorded two shots on goal. Blueger played 10 games in regular season and recorded 0 points, 2 penalty minutes and -2. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins qualified for playoffs where they got outplayed in second round against AHL final runner-ups Hershey Bears by 4:3. Teddy Blueger played in all 10 playoff games and recorded his first and so far only point in his professional career. In 5th game against Hershey Bears Blueger recorded an assist in game tying goal in 0:3 comeback in 3rd period but unfortunately Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins lost the game and later all series.
Mārtiņš Dzierkals (Martins Dzierkals) - contract Junior
It’s been 20 years of passionate waiting and now for the first time ever, the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies won the 2015-16 QMJHL Presidents Trophy. Rouyn-Noranda Huskies outplayed Shawinigan Cataractes in game 5 with 7:2, Martins Dzierkals scored Presidents Cup clinching goal and the last goal of the game and QMJHL season. Martins Dzierkals in 20 playoff games played scored 7 goals, 3 of them were game wining goals and collected 10 assists and +13. 
Rouyn-Noranda Huskies dominated not only in QMJHL playoffs but also in 2015-16 regular season. Rouyn-Noranda Huskies with 113 points finished first in the West Division and entire league, in the second place were Val-d'Or Foreurs from West Division and 102 points. Martins Dzierkals in 59 games played in 2015-16 QMJHL scored 24 goals, 7 of them were game wining goals and collected 43 assists and +23. Dzierkals 67 scored points in the QMJHL debut season is all time 3rd best result among all Latvians CHL combined. If Rouyn-Noranda Huskies wouldn't allow Dzierkals to participate in 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group A (WCh), Dzierkals results in QMJHL would be much better. But thankfully Rouyn-Noranda Huskies allowed Dzierkals to participate in 2016 WCh where Latvian U20 national team earned promotion to TOP division. In 5 games played Martins Dzierkals scored one goal and recorded 4 assists and neutral +/-.
Winning the QMJHL Presidents Trophy granted Rouyn-Noranda Huskies participation in 2016 Memorial Cup tournament with London Knights (OHL), tournament host Red Deer Rebels (WHL) and Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL). Rouyn-Noranda Huskies qualified to the semifinals with only one 5:3 victory over Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL). Winning Red Deer Rebels with 3:1 in semifinals Martins Dzierkals became fourth Latvian hockey player who will play in Memorial Cup finals. Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the Memorial Cup finals played against London Knights but unfortunately Martins Dzierkals and Rouyn-Noranda Huskies lost in the overtime when Matthew Tkachuk scored in 7:49 into overtime to lead the London Knights to their second Memorial Cup title in franchise history in a hard-fought 3-2 win. Dzierkals wasn't as good as in QMJHL playoffs or regular season, in 5 games played he scored only one goal and his +/- was -3. 
Ņikita Jevpalovs (Nikita Jevpalovs) - contract 2016-17 ELC
2015-16 AHL season was first PRO season for Nikita Jevpalovs and first season for newly created San Jose Barracuda who was relocated previously known as Worcester Sharks. Recording an assist in first goal scored in San Jose Barracuda history and recording 1+1 in his second AHL game played Jevpalovs ended season modest. In 60 regular season games played he scored 14 (5+9) points and at some point in the season were sent down to the ECHL where he scored 6 (1+5) points in 5 games played.
Jevpalovs scored his first and San Jose Barracuda first playoff goal in AHL playoffs history on Friday, April 22, 2016 game in game 1 against Ontario Reign. Despite San Jose Barracuda lost against Ontario Reign by 1:3 in the AHL playoffs first round Jevpalovs was sent down to ECHL to help Allen Americans in playoffs and he ended season becoming the first Latvian who have won ECHL champion title or Kelly Cup. In 15 games played in ECHL playoffs Jevpalovs scored 8 (2+6) points. This season was one of two year ELC contract with San Jose Sharks and it's needless to say how crucial next season will be.
Rihards Bukarts - No contract
Rihards Bukarts was considered one of the most talented young Latvian hockey players but missing last three NHL Drafts was disappointment not only for Latvian hockey fans but I think for himself too. Bukarts started his third WHL season in Brandon Wheat Kings but after 10 games played he was traded to Portland Winterhawks for two 3rd round picks in WHL Bantam Draft and joined WHL rookie Rodrigo Ābols. Statistically regular season was good, to previously earned 9 (5+4) points in Brandon Wheat Kings Bukarts added 53 (26+27) points scored in Portland Winterhawks. After his WHL season with Portland Winterhawks ended loosing to Everett Silvertips in WHL playoffs first round with 0:4, Bukarts signed Amateur Tryout Contract (ATO) with AHL team Portland Pirates. “Bukarts is a dynamic player that has had success on multiple WHL teams. Not only does he bring a proven scoring ability but he adds skill and speed to our depth on offense,” said Portland Pirates General Manager Eric Joyce. 
His debut in AHL was on April 16th against Springfield Falcons. The game ended with a 2:3 over time loss and in his debut Bukarts recorded an assists. Unfortunately his first game turned to be his last game in 2015-16 AHL season and all we have is hope that Rihards Bukards would sign a PRO contract in AHL or NHL team.
Rodrigo Ābols (Rodrigo Abols) - contract Junior
My thoughts and hopes for 2016 NHL Draft was different than it's outcome. The first ever Vancouver Canucks drafted Latvian player is 20 year old Rodrigo Abols who was drafted in round 7 with #184 overall. The story about Rodrigo Abols and Vancouver Canucks started in 2015 Young Stars Classic where all the Canucks fans and staff fell in love with young Latvian.
"Abols began the first game on the fourth line with Kyle Pettit and Mackenze Stewart. For the second game, he started on the third line with Cole Cassels and Joseph Joe Labate (I think we can agree that that is a promotion). Obviously he made an impression on that coaching staff, because for the third and final game, Abols was put on the first line with the Canucks top prospects at the tournament, Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann. It worked out too, and late in the third period, Abols did this:" 
Vancouver Canucks General Manager Jim Benning about Rodrigo Abols situation: "We can’t sign him. The deal with him is that we watched him last year, we were thinking about drafting him, and then for whatever reason we didn’t draft him. He’s playing in Portland this year, and because he’s a European player, he’s ineligible to sign with us right now, or with anytime, so he’ll play in Portland this year, he’ll go through the draft next year, and that’ll decide where he ends up." The NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement prevented the Canucks for signing Rodrigo Abols and Canucks had the option of course of selecting Abols in the 2016 Draft. If they choose not to do so, and he somehow manages to slip past all 30 teams, he would became a free agent. 
His debut season in Portland Winterhawks was solid, in 62 games played he scored 49 (20+29) points, of course as an overage player the statistics must be better but it's not all in the numbers, that's why Rodrigo Abols got drafted and Rihards Bukarts didn't.
1 - Mavericks' Blueger, Nelson ink NHL contracts
2 - 2016 PRESIDENT CUP: Huskies win first-ever President Cup title
3 - London Knights are 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup Champions
4 - Pirates Sign Rihards Bukarts to ATO
5 - Fun With the CBA: Why The Canucks Can't Sign Rodrigo Abols
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