Bryan Lerg is a graduate of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, one of the key programs that USA Hockey has been using to increase the quality of the junior players it produces. He earned solid reviews from coaches before signing on with Michigan State University, where he played four years before entering the Edmonton Oilers farm system. Lerg’s father, Dan, played hockey at the University of Michigan and was drafted by the St. Louis Blues (interestingly enough, he was once an IHL teammate of Claude Julien) while his uncle Ken played at Ohio State, so he had some quality mentors growing up.
Lerg’s coach in the Under-18 program, John Hynes, had the following assessment of Lerg as he prepared to jump to NCAA hockey:
“Bryan Lerg is a complete player. He plays both ends of the ice. He takes a lot of our important faceoffs. He’s at a level where he can compete against older guys because of his work ethic in the weight room and skill set.”
Lerg was passed over for both the 2005 and 2006 drafts despite favourable comments from both scouts and coaches. Michigan State coach Rick Comley (a veteran coach with more than thirty years of experience) described Lerg this way leading up to the 2006 draft:
“Bryan continues to grow and his game is improving all the time. He had almost 40 points this year. I just think that we’ll get more points out of him as he gets more confident and older. He has all of the abilities to be a well-rounded player both offensively and defensively. He’s one of those 5’10 kids that can play at a higher level because he likes contact and initiates contact and plays in traffic.”
Let’s take a look at Lerg’s statistical progress over his time at Michigan State, courtesy of the Spartans’ official website:
- 2004-05: 41GP – 10G – 5A – 15 PTS – 14 PIM – +4 – 74 shots – 13.5 SH%
- 2005-06: 45GP – 15G – 23A – 38 PTS – 26 PIM – +6 – 144 shots – 10.4 SH%
- 2006-07: 41GP – 23G – 13A – 36 PTS – 21 PIM – +15 – 137 shots – 16.8 SH%
- 2007-08: 42GP – 20G – 19A – 39 PTS – 18 PIM – -4 – 161 shots – 12.4 SH%
The 2004-05 Spartans finished 20-17-4 and scored 121 goals while allowing 100 (+21 overall), meaning that Lerg finished just slightly above average in +/- and was in on 12.4% of the offense. 9 of Lerg’s 10 goals were scored at even-strength, as he was rarely used on the power-play.
The 2005-06 Spartans were a slightly better team (25-12-8, 138 GF-103 GA), and Lerg played a major role, finishing second in team scoring (behind Ducks’ forward Drew Miller and ahead of Panthers forward David Booth). Lerg was in on 27.5 per cent of his team’s total offense, and his +6 was again slightly above average. He won 342 of 667 faceoffs (51.3 per cent) and led the Spartans in short-handed scoring with a goal and two assists. His 144 shots ranked second on the team, and while the majority of his offense came at even strength, he did record five goals and ten assists on the powerplay.
In 2006-07, Bryan Lerg was easily the best even-strength scorer on the team. Scoring leader (and Buffalo Sabres’ prospect) Tim Kennedy managed fully half of his offense on the powerplay, while Lerg only recorded eight points with the man advantage. He again led the Spartans in short-handed scoring as well, managing two goals. Lerg won 300 of 574 faceoffs (52.3 per cent), and of his 23 goals, 8 were game-winners. His +15 rating was the second-best on the team, which went 26-13-3 (137 GF-102 GA) and won the NCAA National Championship. It’s probably worth noting that his share of the team’s offense dropped to 26.3 per cent.
The best point totals of Lerg’s college career came in 2007-08, as he was voted captain by his teammates. The Spartans once again had an excellent season, posting a 25-12-5 record (135 GF – 98 GA) and Lerg was in on 28.9 per cent of the offense; the third season in a row where he’d been a factor in 26 per cent or more. Lerg won 368 of 684 faceoffs (53.8%) and was once again one of the Spartans’ primary penalty-killers, leading the team with 14 short-handed shots. Lerg recorded just under half of his offense (18 points) on the powerplay, while he struggled more at even-strength, posting a team-worst -4 rating. The Oilers signed Lerg at the end of his NCAA season and he played four games in Springfield, managing two points.
Lerg’s season this year has been difficult to get a read on. On October 20th, he was assigned to Stockton, where he spent a week. Then on November 12th, he was sent to Stockton a second time, and spent five days there. At the time, Lerg had been used sparingly, playing in only three of the Falcons’ first twelve games. In his two ECHL stints, Lerg recorded ten points in seven games and an improbable +4 rating on a team well below the break-even point. Lerg’s scoring statistics are not terribly impressive (17 points in 37 games) while his -9 rating is below average among forwards in Springfield. On the other hand, Lerg has been playing mid-level competition, and it seems likely that his ice-time was limited by the coach, especially early on. His performance under Daum for the remainder of the season should give us a decent idea of whether or not he can elevate his game and force his way into more ice-time.
At the moment, Lerg is an interesting prospect. On the one hand, he has tremendous reviews and numbers coming out of college, and his best seasons came after his draft eligibility passed. His resume would seem to indicate that he’s a strong two-way player with a well-rounded game, which means that he likely won’t need to show as well offensively as other players to be an asset to his team. On the other hand, he was passed over twice in the NHL entry draft, he’s on the smallish side, and his professional totals to date haven’t been terribly encouraging. It’s a little early to form a judgement one way or the other, so next season (the final year of Lerg’s level contract) will be crucial.
NHL Contract Status: 875K until 2009-10, pending RFA
AHL Performance Compares To: Eric Belanger
Career Projection: Fourth-line forward/penalty-killer