As with previous editions of this post, it's necessary to state here that "grades" are awarded on an entirely subjective basis without regard to other program's players etc. This is nothing more than my personal analysis based on the player's history and my expectations from said player. So in alphabetical order from defense to forward to goaltender and finishing with the coaching staff:
Nils Backstrom: A+
Nils was everything he needed to be this season for the Seawolves. He provided solid defensive coverage and was a positive asset to the transition game. Nils has great hands and is a top-notch skater. Wherever he gets a chance to play professionally he'll become a solid contributer.
Lee Baldwin: B-
In his 1st season Lee has shown great potential to become a solidly contribuing scorer from the blueline over time. He has a heavy shot. He's good positionally. He plays the body well. Lee's grade goes up in my book for many of the talents he shows. However, he lacks confidence and can make puck handling errors when he is pressured. This is an attribute that should go away with time. Lee has the tools, he just needs to believe in himself.
Drew Darwitz: B
Drew proved this season that he can grow into a regular defensive job and do well. He has both the offensive and defensive skills to make that happen. Early in the season Drew made some typical freshman mistakes and to his great credit, he learned from them and didn't repeat those errors. Going forward Drew could become a dynamic player if given the chance and if he finds the confidence. He sees the ice well and makes good puck decisions.
Brad Gorham: B+
Brad's addition at the midway point this season was a boon for the Seawolves. He is the best stand-up defenseman that I've seen in green and gold in some time. He's a poke check wizard as well as being solid along the boards and in front of his net. Late in the season we began to see some offensive upside in Brad's game and that will be important in coming seasons. His size and strength along with his good skating will be necessary for future UAA success.
Trevor Hunt: A
Trevor is close to an A+ but unfortunately didn't really ever get to show his offensive upside while at UAA. Or at least it was only sparingly seen. Trevor has great feet and hands that give him moves in the offensive zone one usually only sees from forwards. In a nutshell, he is Shane Lovdahl with excellent wheels and a bit of a mean streak.
Kane Lafranchise: A+
Kane took off nicely in the 2nd half of the season. His numbers aren't a fair indicator of his contributions to the Seawolves offense. He is capable at any time of bringing the puck and creating offensive chances. His open ice defensive play and ability to deliver hits is on par with Mat Robinson. His wheels and heads up play will be a key for any UAA success in 2010-2011. He is a stud.
Jared Tuton: B+
This was the hardest grade to write down here. Jared was an excellent captain for the Seawolves this season. He's always been the model of a coach's player. By all indications he's been a model character for the team since he got here. A great kid by all accounts. But his play on the ice this season was missing something in my book. Maybe it's because I think he would have been more valuable as a forward. His role on defense and as captain was to provide stability in the UAA zone. He did perform that. But honestly, Jared is not a "talented" defenseman. Please don't get me wrong. He is a hard working hockey player that deserves tons of respect for his efforts. But I cannot overlook the fact that he got beat around the outside more times than should happen when playing on the #1 defensive pairing. I think he should have been playing forward and I can't get past that.
Luka Vidmar: B
Luka has great tools and isn't quite living up to his potential. He can skate with anyone. He can puck-handle well. He makes good first passes to help in transition and has shown he can carry the puck deep and be effective. I give him a B instead of a higher grade because I think he can be more intense in his efforts. That's a difficult judgement to make from up in the stands. But I don't see the same focus and intensity from Luka as I do from other players.
Mitch Bruijsten: C+
Mitch came to UAA with the expectation he's score some goals. His production this year though was disappointing at best. Mitch was unfortunately oversold in a Hockey's Future scouting report as having NHL potential. Ultimately, that could turn out to be true but such an accomplishment is nothing less than a project at this point. Mitch needs to work on his skating, quickness and anticipation if he wants to reach his professional hockey goals. He's had the benefit of the doubt from UAA's staff and played a high number of games. Next season that experience needs to begin translating to production for him to contribute to UAA's success.
Kevin Clark: A+
What more can I say about Kevin's efforts this year. Should I add a couple of "plusses" to his grade? He was everything we fans could have wanted from a UAA Seawolves player this year. He was hard to play against. He produced highlight reel goals. He did it all and enjoyed himself while doing it. It was nothing less than a pleasure to watch him these past four years.
Chris Crowell: C+
I would and perhaps should have given Chris a B- instead of a C+. I chose the latter only because it gives more room for growth. Chris is clearly a guy that is going to become an emotional leader over time for the Seawolves. His intensity and effort as a freshman were examples some upperclassmen could look to. Chris took a few more penalties here and there than were otherwise necessary. Going forward I expect he'll learn to "play within himself".
Tyler Currier: B-
I have big hopes for Tyler Currier. I don't think he'll likely ever become a 20 goal scorer at UAA but he may bring enough energy, enthusiasm and gritty play to contribute to UAA's success given the opportunity. In his limited action this season he showed the ability to spark the team. That sort of attribute is very important. I hope Tyler is patient with his development. If so, then he could in time prove to be a valuable scorer perhaps in the mold of Sean Wiles.
Alex Gellert: B
Alex shows all the potential needed to continue to be a 1st line center for the Seawolves. He takes faceoffs well, skates well and is competitive in all areas of the ice. He has a good release when shooting as well. My advice to Alex would be to grip the stick a little less tightly. Don't press and instead react. If he can find some creativity with time he'll be a top producer over the next three years. I was soooo close to B+ here.
Tommy Grant: B
Tommy never quite found the scoring touch he had last season. It's distinctly possible that he missed Paul Crowder's uncanny ability to find him at just the right moment. Tommy will need to rediscover that touch next season to help fill the void of the departed Kevin Clark. Tommy has the speed and good release to become a 20 goal scorer. He just needs to find his spot I think. Find your spot Tommy and make your senior year memorable. If you do, then you'll go AHL. If not, then I'm afraid you'll have to work your way up through the E.
Nick Haddad: A
Nick's penalty killing and two-way play make him an invaluable asset to the UAA program. Nick's speed and often punishing play going forward is valuable as well but his contributions there pale in comparison to his defensive efforts. He is always willing to give up his body to block a shot. He anticipates well on the PK and scrambles as necessary to make up any given ground. If he never skated except on the PK he'd contribute to UAA's success. Nick found ways to get the puck into the net in juniors. If he can rediscover that touch next season then he could become invaluable all around.
Curtis Leinweber: A
Curtis' numbers put him in the B to B+ range realistically, but I'm upgrading him to an A because this season he played defense, wing and center at various times. Curtis is a dynamic puck handler who can scoot. He shows grit and determination. He finished the season playing a quite a few games at the center position. If he manages that well, he could prove to be a force there. I really really like him on the blueline when he's played there. Let's all hope Shyiak's experiment with him at center pans out. If not, put the guy back on the blueline permanently and I'll bet he blooms.
Josh Lunden: A+
Shoulder injuries somewhat plagued Josh while wearing the green and gold. Nevertheless, he left school as the #2 active goal scorer on the squad just behind Kevin Clark. Once his shoulder problems are taken care of I'd expect to see Josh banging bodies in the AHL as a classic power winger type. With some develpment there he could get a shot in the bigs at some point over the next couple of years.
Daniel Naslund: C-
If Daniel spends the entire offseason improving his frankly brutal skating then he can become a contributer at some point in his UAA career. If every rink in the WCHA were NHL-sized then Daniel would be better suited to produce. But there's lots of big rinks in the WCHA and Daniel plays for a team with one of them. His skating absolutely must improve for him to contribute to UAA's success in the future. If that happens, his excellent upper body strength and his ability to keep and control the puck when pressured will translate to scoring. He does have great hands, get some decent wheels and he'll be a force.
Craig Parkinson: A-
Craig filled a role this season on the energy line and mentoring younger players it seemed. He has an ability to find the net but wasn't matched with linemates for that purpose. His number this season were a reflection of same. This is a kid that can score. He's got a good shot, excellent wheels and the necessary other skills to be a double-digit scorer in this league. Let's hope that next season he gets more opportunities to show that. He is more than a role-player in my mind.
Jade Portwood: B
Jade is a very comparable player to Nick Haddad. He has excellent size and has become an invaluable penalty killing asset and regular. He's shown both of the last two years that he is a responsible two-way player. Over the next two seasons, it would be nice to see him get more opportunities offensively. If that doesn't happen he'll still be a huge asset on the PK. But it'd be nice for him I think to get more chances to put the puck in the net.
Ken Selby: A+
Good on Ken for being "that guy" on the Seawolves team throughout his career under Dave Shyiak. Ken has great wheels, can puck handle and I know he's got a decent shot. None of those attributes were utilized at UAA because he has been labeled as not having "hockey sense". Ken's commitment to his teammates and unceasing efforts in practice earn him loads of respect from this blogger.
Mickey Spencer: B
If there is a freshman I cross my fingers to have a breakout super-soph type of performance next season it would be Mickey. He's gritty and quick. He handles the puck well and is unafraid to go into the dirty areas. He shows excellent potential. No doubt as he progresses that his numbers will climb and as an upperclassmen will be a valuable offensive asset. Don't be surprised to see some of that potential come to fruition next season. I'm not saying it will, but don't be surprised.
Sean Wiles: B+
It was hard not to give Sean an A grade here. I didn't because even though he always appears to be energetic and useful, sometimes his just wasn't a factor in games. I don't know what it was but sometimes he just disappeared this season. I've always thought Sean was a player who drew on emotion to make things happen. Maybe sometimes this season he couldn't find that. The junior season can be difficult for some players. School is hard sometimes as a junior. I don't know. I do hope to see Sean with renewed enthusiasm next season. He is a great story to me because at one point I wasn't sure he could handle playing D1 hockey. And since then, at times, he's showed an uncanny ability to elevate his game to a level where he simply owns the ice. The Seawolves will need him to own the ice more often next season if they are to have success. Maybe the B+ gives him room to improve.
Bryce Christianson: C+
Bryce has the solid skills necessary to become a D1 starter. He handles the puck well, is athletic in his crease, has a good glove hand, challenges shooters and otherwise looks good between the pipes. Both his numbers and Jonny O's numbers are reflective of the team's efforts in front of them and not an deficiencies on their part. If Bryce and Dave Shyiak can work out their differences during the off-season then he could put up good numbers with a better defensive effort in front of him. I fear that won't happen though and that we've seen the last of Bryce in green and gold. That would be a huge shame in so many ways.
Jon Olthuis: C
I wanted to give Jonny O the same grade as Bryce. But one thing stood out in my head all season. I know the UAA staff have been encouraging Jonny to challenge shooters and come out of his crease for more than just this season. But time after time after time, Jonny stayed deep in the crease. I assume it was a confidence thing. Stepping out must have felt like he was exposing himself. Had he done it more often though, there would have likely been fewer pucks behind him. He didn't seem to learn that even though it was preached to him. So I dropped him to a C. Like Jared Tuton, I'm not happy with handing out this grade to a young man who by all accounts is a great person.
Dusan Sidor: A+
I give this grade because there is some chance that next year we'll see Dusan in a backup role. Which means he'll finally get to play some real minutes. Since he's now spent two years as basically the "practice goalie", he deserves some accolade for that effort.
Coaching Staff: C-
Last year I gave the coaching staff a B. The very significant drop this season is due to several factors. First, they overstated their expectations. I know exactly how that happens. I do it here all the time. But I'm just a fan writing a blog. Second, the defensive play this season was full of some of the most brutal breakdowns I've seen in a long long time. When the team lost a game, it didn't lose by a goal. It was more likely 4 or 5 or 6. One could easily say such breakdowns are the responsibility of the players on the ice at the time. And I don't think I'd argue much about that.
However, the pattern of breakdowns is indicative to me of an ill-prepared defensive effort. Preparation is the responsibility of the coaching staff. Additionally, it's time to realize that WCHA refereeing is what it is and it ain't gonna change in any significant way. The grade wasn't lower because there are some quality recruits in the pipeline and that should be reflected here (otherwise it would definitely be a D+).
Everyone loves the Gretzky quote, "You can't score if you don't put the puck on the net" (or whatever it is) but how about this one? You can't lose games if the other team doesn't score. 55 teams gave up fewer goals over the course of the 2009-2010 season than UAA. Fifty-Five out of Fifty-Eight. 3.93 goals against isn't going to win you many games.
Hell, UA_ scored just three more goals in 2009-2010 than UAA did. That's right. Only 3 more ... UAA - 2.42/game (87) ... UA_ 2.82/game (90). But they are on the bubble of the NCAA tournament. Why? Because they gave up 51 fewer goals than UAA did. Fifty-One.
Defense builds championships in every sport.