Monday, November 12, 2007

Early Season Player Evals

For whatever it's worth here are my evaluations of the players so far this season. Without any additional preamble:

Nils Backstrom's second season in a UAA sweater has been mostly quality early on. Nils missed the SCSU series with an unspecified leg injury after being upended by a Mankato stick and going into the boards awkwardly. Nils has been strong moving forward and has been doing the job well defensively. I'd still like to see him take a few more shots but perhaps the situations haven't presented themselves often. Nils was a healthy scratch on one occassion and my best guess as to the reasons were that he had a couple of defensive miscues in coverage the night before. Nils strengths are his skating and passing.

Luke Beaverson had a strong beginning to his final season as a Seawolf but has been out the last two series with a high ankle sprain. I've got no criticism of his play in the first four games. He was a leader on the ice defensively and was the strong physical presence his size allows him to be. I'm hopeful he'll be available and ready to play his final series this weekend at the Mariucci in front of family and friends.

Peter Cartwright has started the season strong. In the first 8 games there is every indication that he's on his way to his best season in his last year. We've seen creativity as well as strong physical play. He's been good on the forecheck and strong along the boards. He's been going to the net with gusto as well. He's yet to find the net this season but his 4 assists and +4 rating are good indicators of his positive contributions. As it should be he is playing with confidence and as that continues he'll certainly begin to find the net.

Kevin Clark has an underrated attribute. His desire is immense. His 10 points (4g-6a) lead the team after 8 games but that doesn't really tell the story of his contribution. Kevin is a dynamic player that can change the game. If he wants to. I'm not questioning his commitment here but it's clear to me that every shift he takes could be something special. Unfortunately, not every shift is something special, sometimes they're just average. Admittedly though, one guy can't do everything and perhaps Kevin puts a little too much pressure on himself at times resulting in unevenly effective shifts. Kevin is young (still 19) and so my assumption is that as he continues to mature (and he matured a lot in my book since last season) the positive shifts will begin to greatly outnumber the average. My expectation is that Kevin will notch the highest point total for a Seawolf in many years by the end of the season.

Paul Crowder has shown us many of his strengths in his second season. One of those strengths is his ability to combine with virtually any linemate for positive effect. Paul has been moved around between different lines in an attempt to spread his ability to create play around. I know everyone has heard my praises for his backhand but I think it's worth emphasizing. He did miss a good opportunity in OT vs. SCSU with a backhand shot but hey nobody is perfect. Paul has created lots of chances and is second on the team in assists. With only one so far finding the net I'd be looking for the coaching staff to put him in more situations where that number can climb. He is a legitimate goal scoring threat. His utilization of his size and strength have been more in evidence this season.

Winston Daychief's early rookie season has been one of ups and downs. While he sits 3rd on the scoring charts with 4 goals and 2 assists and he has received a WCHA award as ROTW he has found himself on the ice when the other team scored more often than any other Seawolf. A -3 rating isn't necessarily all the individual's responsibility (there are 4 other skaters on the ice ya know) but it is something of which to be aware. Winston has filled a regular role on the power play and has a good knack for being in the right place at the right time. I think he is strong on his skates and hardworking along the boards. His physical play is above the average WCHA freshman and as the year progresses I hope his goal production will continue at near the same rate.

Matthew Gordon has only played one game in the crease so far this season. My complete and total guess is that we'll see him one night vs. the Gophers this coming weekend. Matthew will only be with the team this year and next since he completed some college work before coming here. Getting him playing time is important. An evaluation is difficult but I'd have to say his play in the one game sure seemed confident. He got the victory. His size and style are comparable to Jon Olthuis and at some point I'd think he and Jon could become a "duo" splitting duties each weekend.

Tommy Grant left an impression on me the first time I saw him skate. At the one preseason practice I attended I thought I spotted a "goofy-footed" skater. I strained to see helmet numbers that day but was pretty sure it was Grant. I don't know how to describe it other than to say the guy looked "loose" in the ankles. I don't know what it was but I haven't seen it since. In fact every time I've seen him skate since I've been impressed positively with his speed and skating. I haven't seen anymore wobbly ankles. Maybe the skates he was wearing that day sucked. What I see now though is a guy that appears hungry for the net. He is tied for the 3rd highest shot attempt total on the team. His two goals so far this season have been nice to see and I've no doubt he'll keep looking for and finding offensive opportunities. Like Winston Daychief, he has a negative +/- rating of -1 but I don't find that to be a huge downside. They'll both become more responsible as they mature to the speed of play in the league.

Nick Haddad has cracked the lineup 3 times this season in the first 8 games. In each of his appearances I liked what I saw. He is definitely big and strong and carries himself up and down the ice looking that way. He certainly didn't look out of place in any way. As he gets more opportunities I'll have to focus on him a bit more. Sometimes that's hard since as a fan, I'm more interested in the games as a whole instead of just one player.

Trevor Hunt does many things well. He hits like a truck. He has a heavy shot and is adept moving the puck with either passing or by rushing the puck. In his 2nd season there is only one concern I have; stick penalties. In 15 games as a freshman Trevor had 9 minors called against him. So far this season in 8 games he's been nailed 6 times. I think a couple of them have been of the "selfish" variety (slashing retaliations etc) but those don't concern me as much as the hooking calls. If Trevor can focus on keeping his feet moving he should overcome his only negative tendency. All that said, Trevor does have a +2 rating in his favor. He has been very good in the defensive end. He mans up well and is plenty strong enough to deal with any opposition player.

Kane Lafranchise has been everything that I'd hoped he'd be as a freshman defenseman (and more). He is very poised. Very. His skating is fluid and his passing is true. His head is always up allowing him to see the ice well. By every measure and/or indication I can muster he is a top notch defenseman. He has future power play quarterback written all over him. He is leading all blueliners in shot attempts and I've been impressed with his abilities getting that shot off. He's got a quick release on wristers and excellent coordination on the one-timers. In his own end he is all about responsibility and is adept at coming up with the puck. All in all he looks to grow into a stud and perhaps become an All-WCHA performer at some point in his career.

Shane Lovdahl is one of my favorite players. All my previous cannon-in-the-stick and rocket-of-a-shot comments aside, Shane can be a dominating physical presence and is always looking to lay someone out if given the opportunity. Last year I think I questioned (in a small way) his foot speed and I think that has improved this year to the point where it really isn't an issue. Shane doesn't get the power play time that I think his shot warrants. He is good in his end and hasn't taken any bad penalties. I've noticed him playing with a lot of desire so far this season as evidenced by his increased rushing of the puck and depth into the offensive zone he will go in order to pinch.

Josh Lunden is probably the main guy Seawolves fans were counting on to put the puck in the net this season. His 5 goals and 4 assists in just 8 games hasn't diminished those fan expectations; for me they've increased. Josh has looked consistently good so far this season. He is always a threat to score whether via an individual effort or from a Kevin Clark setup (with whom he is well-matched). Josh played on the highest scoring line in the BCHL in his last year as a junior. From my perspective his linemates got all the press and I'd partly assumed that he was contributing but also riding their coattails. I was wrong. Neither of his former linemates are doing or have done anything of note in Division 1 while Josh has been doing extremely well. This kid knows how to score. He might not be goal scorer in the "pure" sense but he'll find a way to find the back of the net. If anything Josh's play might be considered understated. There never seems to be a lack of effort though. Josh could bag 20 goals this season. I'm sure hoping he does.

Brad McCabe has surprised me in his first year with his strength and physical play. I haven't been surprised by his ability to shoot the puck. Keith Morris told me that he had a high-caliber shot and he does. If anything his release is reminiscent of Keith's (which was reminiscent of Brett Hull's). I know that's high praise so early in the season but Brad has already shown he can get a strong shot off even when the puck is in his skates. Like his freshman teammates Daychief and Grant, Brad still needs to adapt to the flow of the WCHA and become more responsible as a backchecker. That will come though. No doubt we haven't seen his full goal scoring potential yet.

Jon Olthuis played in 14 games last season in a backup role primarily. In all those games though he gave every indication that he was capable of being a solid starter in the league. So far this season there's no reason from his play in the crease to believe otherwise. He handles the puck well. I said it in the recent team evaluation and probably a couple of other times so far this season but Jonny O is unflappable. He doesn't get rattled by giving up a softie. He is mature and plays that way. Over the next three seasons we're all going to see a lot of Jon between the pipes. I think he plays with confidence and as a fan that gives me confidence. His play in the 2nd game versus SCSU (the last series) was absolutely stellar. He did give up a soft goal, but he racked up 4 robberies as well. He will give this team a chance to win most nights and you can't ask for much more than that.

Craig Parkinson was a summer addition to this year squad and has been a very pleasant surprise. He had good numbers as a junior player in the "B" so it shouldn't be a that much of a surprise that he has 3 goals and 3 assists in 7 games this season. He's got all the skills we've come to expect in quality recruits from that league. Craig has been spending a good portion of time skating with Josh Lunden and Kevin Clark; as well as on the power play which accounts for his +1 rating while the other rookies numbers are in the negative range. Craig should continue to grow into a scoring role.

Mat Robinson couldn't rate any higher in my book. The first time I noticed him was in his first game when he made an absolute laser of a cross ice pass from deep in his own zone onto a rushing forwards stick. It was a thing of beauty and since then that sort of play has continued consistently. As an undersized defensemen his play is huge. How many beauty hip-checks has he delivered this year? There was a word I used last year to describe the play of former Gopher Tyler Hirsch. It applies to Robbie as well ... that word is elegant. He is smart smart smart. He is quick as a bee. And he'll rock your world with a hit out of nowhere. He's great along the boards coming up with the puck out of a scrum. He is leading the blueliners with 1 goal and 5 assists and there's no reason to expect those numbers won't grow into something real nice by years end.

Ken Selby's status is a mystery to me. He has only played in one game so far this season after appearing in 12 as a freshman. I don't know if it is the depth of the roster or perhaps the early season performance of freshman. I believe the kid is a potentially fine D1 hockey player. I know he can skate like the wind. I know he can handle the puck. I can only hope circumstances allow him to get more opportunities and that when he does get them that things go his way. I'm always preferential toward speed and Ken has it in spades. Let's hope he gets the opportunity to prove me right by the end of the season.

Chris Tarkir has been a bit of an enigma to me throughout his Seawolf career. Now in his final year I'm seeing some of the potential I've always thought was there. I made the mistake of labeling him the next Curtis Glencross early in his freshman year. And while much of his play was similar in a hitting and skating sense, he never has been able to match the goal scoring touch I expected. That's on me. Chris has always worked hard and through the early games this season we've seen exactly that sort of work. But but ... he's got 2 goals this year in the first 8 games. I don't know if that means he'll have the same sort of years as the last two when he scored 8g and 6g or if suddenly he'll break out? He still looks to me like he's got a helluva nice shot. He still bangs in the corners and skates well. He is doing his job in the defensive end. Time will tell. Some seniors find their way by relaxing and enjoying their final season. Whether he bags a boatload of goals or not this year I hope Chris enjoys wearing the sweater.

Blair Tassone is a role player again this year. It's been so for each of his years at UAA. Unfortunately for him his role the first two years was mostly to sit in the stands. But through those adverse personal times Blair has turned into the consummate team player. He "gives it up" in every way. So far this year that has continued to be the case. Blair has emerged as a leader this year. I think one of the events that lead to that coming of age for him was the fight last year in Colorado Springs. You wouldn't have to see the number on his back to know when Blair is on the ice this year. If you see a buzzsaw on the ice it's Blair. Blair is a +2 so far this year and that is while leading the team in penalty minutes and skating a regular shift on the PK. I know he wears #24 but he should switch numbers to #49. Not only would I be honored to have him wear the number that represents the state Alaska (even if he is a Canadian) it would be an appropriate honor to his former teammate Justin Johnson who wore the buzzsaw moniker before him.

Jared Tuton has my admiration. He converted from offense to defense from midgets to juniors. He converted from defense to offense last year as a freshman and played in 36 games. With Luke Beaverson and Nils Backstrom out last weekend Jared converted back to defense and did a reasonably good job. I thought a couple of times he looked a little bit out of place or uncomfortable but overall his play was solid. If one of those guys is back next weekend I'd expect to see Jared back up front filling his important role on the energy/checking line. His physical play and his ability to deny the puck to other teams top lines is an important and valuable contribution. He performs that role very very well as his +2 rating shows.

Luka Vidmar was another late addition to the roster this past summer. His former assistant coach with the Chicago Steel Jon Waibel told me in an email that he thought Luka might flourish here at UAA on the big ice. He was right. Luka is flourishing. He is blossoming. He is growing into not only a solid defensive player but also an important offensive threat. I've been impressed with his vision and passing. I've been surprised and delighted at his shot selection and the weight of those shots. He can definitely crank it. His 1 goal and 2 assists so far are hopefully just the tip of the iceberg. Like Kane Lafranchise I see him growing into a quality power play quarterback.

Merit Waldrop is another kid whose play I love. So far this season we've continued to see playmaking, puck-handling and dominance during shifts that are delightful and entertaining. Merit is the guy on the team that I most expect to produce a "Wow!" moment at any time. Merit's numbers have never been indicative of his skills. He's hit a helluva lotta posts over his first three years in a Seawolf jersey. He is tied for 3rd on the team in shots attempted through the first 8 games but has only managed to find the twine once. Whether it's havin been snakebitten, linemates that didn't mesh or just gripping the stick too tightly this is Merit's last year and I hope he overcomes whatever little things are keeping him from finding the numbers that his play deserves. I always enjoy what he does with the puck even if it doesn't go into the back of the net as often as it should.

Sean Wiles is the last of the summer additions to the rosters. I know he came in with high expectations and/or hopes but so far he's only cracked the lineup in three games. In his first outing my impression was that he left the ice a few times huffing and puffing, so perhaps the pace was a little faster than he expected. I thought he looked more confident in the next two games he played. He's got a real nice reach and covers ground well with long strides. He is a bit in the same mold as Paul Crowder and I think he needs some experience before we see him reach that potential. A good development curve for him would be to get another 10 or 12 games under his belt as well as improve his foot speed a little then next year I'd expect him to start producing with regular playing time. I don't really know if he can shoot the puck but he did have one nice scoring chance against SCSU that didn't quite click.

I didn't talk about Aaron Mayo, Jeremy Smith or Brian Bales as they haven't seen any action. I heard that Jeremy made the trip last weekend to SCSU but didn't get on the ice. I'm sure with two years off he'll have to impress in practice and wait for the right opportunity to crack the deep lineup on D. Aaron is unlikely to play this season as the #3 goaltender but who knows. Any ding on either Jonny O or Matt Gordon and Aaron could end up in net. It wouldn't be the first time that a #3 was called onto perform. I hear Brian Bales has been excellent in practice. I think Coach Shyiak said that if he were eligible this semester that he'd be in the lineup.


Jeff said...

I talked to both Backstrom and Beaverson. they are treating backstroms injury as a sprain so that was good to hear. He skated at practice today and he said he should be ready this weekend. It's not 100 percent sure, but there is also a good chance baverson will be back too. I also heard from tuttle that hunt is out with an undissclosed shoulder/arm injury

Suze said...

Thanks Jeff. Carp said on last nights news that noth Luke and Nils will be back for this series.

Anonymous said...

Carp can say anything he wants, If didn't come from Tuttle, don't trust it.

Kris said...

I have seen Hunt on campus with a sling several times over the past couple weeks.

Ryan said...

Nice to see Bales has landed somewhere. I hope he does well because he is an excellent player. Nice playmaker.

Donald Dunlop said...

Hopefully he'll be UAA's second-half surprise. I can't imagine he won't be rip roaring to go. I know when he signed with an outside school he expressed that he didn't want to play for his hometown school. Not to wish this upon him but hopefully that experience left just enough of a bad taste in his mouth to really step up and show the hockey world what he is capable of doing. He was a helluva player in the USHL.

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