Past grades don't come into it and neither does the team's record; they are an indication of how happy I am with regard to each individual player's performance; comparing a rookie's grade to a senior's grade is a mistake ... I am not comparing players here ... they are grades without consideration to others and based on my belief of their potential. Here we go ... in alphabetical order and by position:
Mitch Bruijsten: C
Mitch's grade here is a result of the overselling of him as a prospect before he got here. I really expected to see more skills and higher performance from him based on what I'd read. I wouldn't say he's looked out of place but instead he rarely has made an impactful play. He's been consistently average. That isn't a bad thing for a rookie. He's been an average rookie so far. To raise his grade he needs to find a way to assert himself during 5 on 5 play. For now, I'll assume that he is still "coming up to speed" with the level of play. I sense that he is playing hard and deserves credit for those efforts whether or not they've produced results. His skating isn't bad, his hands don't seem to be bad but more often than not he seems to be a step off of the play.
Kevin Clark: A-
Kevin's production should earn him an A+. He's leading the team in goal scoring. He is a dynamic player with the best hands, feet and hockey sense on the team. He is without a doubt the best hockey player on the roster. He only gets an A- because I've sensed a couple of times that he was disinterested and because his backchecking hasn't been all it could be. I'm not concerned at all with any penalties he's taken because in every instance he was trying to help the team. His emotional play is usually a bonus but it can swing to a low ebb and that isn't good. With only half a season remaining in his career here at UAA, I think Kevin just needs to find a way to keep his enthusiasm on the high end and make sure he takes care of his man on the defensive end. I also think he may from time to time grip the stick a little tightly in the offensive end. My recommendation for him would be to relish the 2nd half of his last season here. Enjoy every moment of it and the goals will come.
Chris Crowell: B+
It hasn't taken Chris long to come up to speed with the college game. I figured his maturity would be an asset before the season began and it has been for him. He not only looks comfortable against WCHA competition, he looks competitive. He's yet to score but I'm not concerned about that in the least. He's filling an important role and his line has often been one of the most effective lines on the ice in terms of controlling the play. He's got good hockey sense and his strength allows him to assert himself in the corners against ANY WCHA player. He takes backchecking seriously. If I were to guess, I'd peg him as future Captain material. He might not score double digits in goals during any single season of his WCHA career but I'd project the same sort of success for him as a Jared Tuton ... or dare I say a Justin Johnson?
Tyler Currier: B
(Provisional Grade) Tyler gets an A+ for his first regular season shift in D1 hockey. He must have laid the body on at least 5 guys in his first shift. His energetic, enthusiastic play has continued in each of the 5 games he's played so far. It's a small enough sample for me to be hesitant to criticize any areas of his game. I like what I've seen. I think he's earned extra chances to play. I hope he scores his first goal on home ice because I want to see how happy that makes him and his hometown cheering section.
Alex Gellert: B-
Alex is progressing in his development and adaptation to the college game. He's got good wheels and seems to have good hands, I have a lot of positive sense about his game particularly during more free-wheeling play. He's got good sense with the puck on his stick and has been more than close on several rushes this season to scoring. I think with time we'll see him become highly effective on faceoffs which is something (for some reason) that UAA has traditionally not done well. That will be welcome. His game isn't in the corners but with UAA's game plan he need's to do so more than he otherwise might. He's coming along in that area. Strength is always an asset along the boards so I hope he can add that to his skill set as the year progresses.
Tommy Grant: B+
I'd give Tommy an A but for the fact that he's only got 4 goals and quite frankly ... putting the puck in the back of the net is one of his strengths. Tommy leads the team in points overall and his speed is a big contributor to the 10 assists in his bag. Tommy's physical play is excellent as well. He's never shy about going into any situation with his body. If I'm not mistaken he leads the team in shots attempted by a fair margin so as long as he doesn't "tighten up" we should see him nab quite a few more goals. He's had a tendency in the past to be a little streaky with his goal scoring and my memory tells me those streaks have largely come during 2nd halves of seasons. Going forward I'd tell Tommy to trust his wheels and continue to challenge defenders with it.
Nick Haddad: A+
Don't take my next sentence wrongly. Nick doesn't have the best skillset on the team. But he seemingly does have the most desire. His penalty killing efforts alone would be enough for me to give him a solid A grade. But he's combined that with the same sort of never say die play on a regular shift regardless of which line he's played on. Every player on the team could learn a lesson from Nick's on-ice leadership and example. It isn't just that he never quits on a play. But instead, that every time he doesn't quit on a play he seems to make something impactful happen. His forechecking is unsurpassed. And to offset my second sentence, let me say that there is nothing substandard about any of Nick's skills. He skates well and has reasonable hands.
Curtis Leinweber: B+
Curtis is a dynamic player with the ability to create a scoring chance at seeminly any moment. I'm only giving him a B+ here because I see so much more potential. Perhaps, some of that potential has been limited by his shuffling between the wing and the blueline? Curtis has great wheels, great hands and great hockey sense. All the tools he needs to contribute at a higher level than we're seeing. I don't blame Curtis for not scoring more. But if given the opportunity to focus more on adding to his production, I think he will improve his numbers substantially.
Josh Lunden: B+
Josh has missed 6 games this season due to injury. Yet, he has the 3rd highest goal total on the roster. Josh has no major weaknesses in his game. As with some other guys, I'm only giving Josh a B+ because I believe there is more in him than we've seen so far this season. Part of that is being hampered by the injuries. If those get enough time to heal over the break then perhaps Josh can make the 2nd half of his last season here one of the best of his career. If he can, then he'll be a big part of any success the team can make in the 2nd half. I always see a lot of pride in Josh's game when he's on the ice. He never backs down to anyone and always drives hard to the net.
Daniel Naslund: C+
Daniel gets a + added to his C grade because of his hands. If he didn't have a real good set of hands I'd have to put him in the lower end of the C spectrum. He absolutely needs to work on his skating. He needs to turn his feet over more quickly. Perhaps it's a matter of leg strength or he's lagging because of a growth spurt, I can't know. He does have a good presence on the ice and his size is an asset when the play isn't free-wheeling. If Daniel can find a way this year to make his positive attributes valuable then he should continue to see power play time. I think Shyiak is giving him every chance possible to succeed. With the amount of ice time he is getting, the team needs him to contribute.
Craig Parkinson: B+
Craig once gave himself less than enough credit in an ADN interview when he commented that all his goals had come from within a couple of feet of the goal. Here's the thing. A whole lot of goals in college hockey come from that area. And so sure, most of Craig's goals have come from there. But more than a couple of Craig's goals have come on really sweet shots during his career. In fact, 2 of his 4 goals this year looked like sniper shots. Craig should shoot the puck whenever the chance presents itself. This season he has been mostly centering the 4th line. Whoever his linemates have been the line has filled it energy role nicely. Last weekend, his line was the best line on the ice both nights. Even after Nick Haddad was moved off it on Saturday night. Craig has good soft hands and can handle the puck well. I specifically watched his speed this past weekend (in anticipation of writing these grades) to reassure myself that he had good speed and he does. And he does whatever he has to do to win a key face-off!
Jade Portwood: B-
Jade is a big good skating power winger that honestly doesn't score as much as he probably can. He is one of the Seawolves best players along the boards and in the corners using his size to excellent effect. But not as often as possible he has shown some quality ability to handle the puck in close quarters. Jade is exactly the sort of player needed to compete well using the Shyaik game plan. He is strong, can protect the puck with his body and isn't easy to move off the puck. As the opportunities occur, if he can transition off the boards more effectively toward the net he'll find himself with more scoring opportunities and more goals. In either case, the work he provides in the Shyiak system is quality.
Ken Selby: A+
Ken has earned this grade by being a guy that whenever called upon to play (very infrequently) has done what is asked of him. He played defense up in Fairbanks when the blueliners were shorthanded. He has good hands and speed. He obviously is a good team player. I hope he has the highest level of respect from his teammates. He certainly has earned it in my book. I honestly believe that he deserves to play in EVERY remaining game of his senior season. Anything less than that is unfair. I'm not afraid to say that Ken has better skills than a couple of rookies who have seen extensive ice time and I'd argue that face to face with the coaching staff if such an unlikely event were to ever present itself. Free Ken Selby.
Mickey Spencer: B
4 weeks into the season I wasn't overly impressed with Mickey's play. But during the last 6 weeks he has seemed to really find his stride. If there was a rookie I'd predict to have a stellar 2nd half it would be him. I wouldn't quite say that he's earned not being called a rookie but he's close. Some guys take a full year to come up to speed in this league. But Mickey seems to have found some confidence. I'd go so far as to say that in a couple of games he deserved "star" recognition. He's got good wheels and hands and is finding the sense to be in the right place at the right time. As that continues to develop he should increase his production. His single goal so far isn't indicative of his potential. Go out and nab 7 or 8 more Mickey. You're capable.
Sean Wiles: A+
Sean gets the A+ because he is exceeding his potential. Saying that may actually be a bit unfair to him. I don't mean to undermine his potential. Perhaps it would be better to say that I underestimated his potential. He is obviously brimming with confidence and that's a great thing. He believes that he can make things happen and he's been making that come true. Even as happy as I was to see him take beg strides developmentally last year, I wouldn't have predicted the additional strides he's taken this season. Quite honestly, at times he's been dominant, seeminly able to do exactly what he wanted. If there is one player on the team that Daniel Naslund can look to for development examples it is Sean Wiles. Going forward Sean just needs to continue to tap into whatever motivation it is that allows him to step up his game the way we've been seeing. If he can consistently play at that level then his production potential is nearly unlimited.
Nils Backstrom: B+
Since his arrival here Nils has been a solid defensive resource. He has and continues to be excellent in his own end. There seem to be fewer opportunities this season for Nils to go forward and utilize the offensive talents he does have. With that consideration, he has performed his responsibilities well. I haven't seen any major defensive errors that led to an opposition goal. He hasn't been perfect. He could improve his contributions if he can find a way to assert himself as a leader. He doesn't get an A grade only because I think he can be more dominant on the ice than we've seen. I like when we see obvious emotional play from Nils and I'd bet there's more of that to come. He doesn't seem like the kind of guy to miss out of the enjoyment there is to be had in the 2nd half of his last season here; after all his grin from under his mask has always been noticeable ... even from the balcony where I sit. I hope he does find joy.
Lee Baldwin: B
I had high expectations for Lee and think he's lived up to a great deal of those. He is physical, skates well and has an excellent shot. He has had a couple of defensive lapses and made a couple of rookie errors. A couple of times the opposition has taken advantage of those and scored. Lee needs to develop more consistency in his play from night to night. He has excellent tools and when he adds that consistency piece to the puzzle he'll be as good a WCHA defenseman as anyone. In time, he should become an important piece of the power play puzzle. I say he isn't a rookie anymore and I came damn close to a B+ for him.
Drew Darwitz: B-
I really like Drew's steady progression so far this season. Early on he made some classic rookie-style errors but he's seemed to learn his lesson from every mistake he's made. In most of his action lately he's looked more confident and played mostly error free hockey. There is some potential in him that I'd compare favorably to Trevor Hunt. He's strong for his size, he keeps his head up and seems to see the ice well. His wheels are acceptable and his passing is crisp and accurate. There don't seem to be any flies landing on him if you get my drift. With continued patient development Drew should grow into a solid regular defensive asset on the blueline.
Trevor Hunt: A-
Trevor is smart smart smart smart with the puck on his stick. He doesn't get an A here only because of a couple of lapses in defensive focus that the oppostion took advantage of. He carries the puck up the ice like a classic center. He uses his body well in the open ice and has a good sense of when to dish a pass. I like what I see enough to believe that there is still untapped offensive potential in this senior. In the last half season of his career here at UAA, I'd bet we see him create more offensive chances. Go ahead and carry the puck Trevor. You'll make things happen.
Kane Lafranchise: A
There are few if any weaknesses in Kane's game that I can discern. He hits like a train. He's got plenty of wheels. His shot doesn't lack any power. He is defensively responsible. His sense of where to be on the ice doesn't fail him. He should have lots of confidence because everything he does, he does well. Maybe he can stretch himself and acheive more by adding to the offensive production. If he does, great. If he doesn't, that's too bad but it doesn't detract from his otherwise excellent play.
Jared Tuton: B
Being the Captain of a team can sometimes be a difficult thing. There are responsibilities that come with the position that can take away from a players focus on his own development. Jared is the ultimate coach's player. He has been that way since day one. Regardless of the role he's been asked to play he's fulfilled it with verve. I personally think he is a more effective player on the forward line. He certainly is not a liability in any manner on defense. But the energy and forechecking prowess he's shown in the past as a forward were more valuable than the steady solid defensive effort he gives. I wouldn't mind another Nick Haddad-style player up front. And that's exactly what Jared was in the past as a forward.
Luka Vidmar: B
Luka has a solid .5 points per game this season. He has actually only appeared in 10 games but has 1 goal and 4 assists in his bag. Luka is solid at both ends of the ice. His skating is excellent and none of his other skills are substandard. He is capable of solid physical play. His recent offensive play has impressed me as he seems to be able to find openings to fire the puck through from the blueline. As the 2nd half of the season progresses if he can turn that into points more often then he could find himself with more power play responsibilities. Defensively, I'd encourage him to be more focused when the play isn't necessarily intense. Mistakes during those times generally aren't killers but they aren't helpful either.
Bryce Christianson/Jon Olthuis: B-
I'm rating and commenting this two guys together because in my eyes they've both done their jobs. I consider that they're numbers are nearly all a result of mistakes by the guys in front of them. The other percentages not accounted for by overall poor team play come from some soft goals that both have given up. I like Bryce's abilities handling the puck outside the crease. I like Jonny O's unflappable style. Bryce is a bit more athletic than Jonny and Jonny stands up a bit better than Bryce. Either one or both are capable of winning if the team in front of them plays to it's full potential.
Dusan Sidor: A+
Dusan Sidor: A+
Dusan gets an A+ because he wasn't expected to play at all. But when he did, he performed admirably in a game that was well out of hand. Giving him anything less than full marks would be unfair in my book.