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Hockey Challenge 2014

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Season Wrap: Player Grades

I kind of dislike “grades” but it is the easiest way to quantify things and also opens up all kinds of reasons to debate. So without further ado, here are my 2013-14 player grades after the "jump".

Sam McKechnie: Sam is an excellent penalty killer and did a nice job forming a shut down line with Jaimen Yakubowski and Scott Eansor for parts of the season. I expected to see more offense and I'm not completely sure why we didn't but I think Mac has put himself in a decent position to either return as a 20 year old or find a spot on another team. Grade: 7.2

Calvin Spencer: Spencer arrived from Minnesota with a fire in his belly. He impressed me early on with his tenacity on the forecheck and displayed some skill at times. Unfortunately, that seemed to disappear after a time and he never seemed to get it back. I have no idea what happened. I wonder if he got lost trying to learn the "system" and stopped trusting his instincts. Grade: 5.5

Mitch Elliot: Elliot is, by all accounts, a fantastic human being and one helluva fighter. Unfortunately, that's about all he was to the team. He finished with a surprising 3 points in 9 playoff games to go out on a good note and for that reason I'll give him the edge on Spencer but I can't give him a high grade if I'm being honest about things. Grade: 5.6

Scott Eansor: The most underrated player on the team this season emerged from healthy scratches early in the season to anchoring the shutdown line. I think he has good hockey IQ and I expect to see more points out of him in the next few seasons. Could be really good. Grade: 7.7

Justin Hickman: Hicks had a nice season as the Captain in what could be his final year playing for Seattle. A career -62 going into the season he posted a career high +7 rating along with career highs in goals, assists and points. "Husto" might be able to snag a pro contract or he could be back next season to Captain the Tbirds in his final year. Grade: 7.5

Branden Troock: For me, there has been no player more frustrating to watch over the past 10 years than Troock. Size, strength and shot gave him the ability to be a top player in the WHL. At time though, his efforts were misguided in an attempt to cast himself as a playmaker instead of a power forward. Troock was always at his best letting other players carry the puck and going hard to the net to use his body to forecheck and cash in a ton of dirty goals.  His goal off a feed from Barzal up in Everett in Game 2 of the opening round series was indicative of the types of goals he should have scored in bunches. He posted 58 points in 58 games (excellent) but I'll always consider him to be a "what if" player who could have probably posted double those numbers.  He was also frustrating because he was always hurt, something I couldn't possibly hold against him. In 4 seasons with Seattle he finished with just 144 games played... exactly 2 of 4 seasons worth of games. His grade could have been so much more but he still had an excellent season. Grade: 6.9

Ryan Gropp: In a surprising twist to the story, Gropp came to Seattle in late October after I had feared (and many had feared) he would probably never report to Seattle. After a slow start (13 points in 25 games) Gropp came on strong with 29 points in his final 34 games.  As with most players it took him some time (and a groin tweak) before he finally hit his stride. Gropp has good size, skates well and has an excellent shot. As a bonus, we all envisioned Gropp and Barzal working together for several years and they appeared to have some instant chemistry playing on the same line. His -5 rating leaves a little bit to be desired but it was by no means an anchor. Grade: 7.4

Mathew Barzal: Barzal had an excellent first season while also showing some room for improvement. Konowalchuk seemed to be unhappy with his play and effort at times and was a healthy scratch for a few games as well as a few shifts. His defensive prowess is a work in progress but his +3 was hardly a problem. That’s as negative as I can be. While he did not lead the team in points (as I predicted) he did finish 2nd on the team in assists and showed why he is a potential top 5 pick in the 2015 draft. Room to grow. Grade: 7.8

Jaimen Yakubowski: Yak joined Mac and Eansor to form a solid shutdown line late in the season. Similar to McKechnie, I expected far more offense when he was acquired from Lethbridge. He finished the season with 9 goals and 19 points after posting 32 goals and 50 points the season before. I liked his toughness and his effort level, I just would have liked to see that line add another .5 point per game between them. Grade: 7.2

Alexander Delnov: Another frustrating player, Delnov spent time on the 4th line late in the season despite finishing the season 2nd on the team in points and goals. In my mind, Delnov was another example of woulda coulda shoulda. I’ll think of his career as a talented skater who wasn’t able to maximize that talent during his time here with Seattle. His effort and compete level varied at times and I think that reflected his line placement and ice time. A good season but a season unfulfilled. Grade: 7.0

Keegan Kolesar: Expectations are a funny and often unfair element when it comes to WHL players and Kolesar is no different. Drafted in the 1st round, fans will expect instant success and that probably isn’t fair to him. Playing in 60 games and logging just 2 goals and 8 points probably isn’t what fans were expecting but I think it is going to take some time for his game to round out.  Drafted at 209 pounds he was the only player in the 1st round that weighed north of 200. His skating is a work in progress and he’ll need to improve to become an impact player. He has good hands when given time and space but he’ll need to figure out how to create that more often on his own. Grade: 5.5

Roberts Lipsbergs: An excellent two year run for the Latvian ended with 33 goals this season. However, his assist total slumped to 19 this year and his 15 power play goals reflects the difficulty he had scoring in 5 on 5 situations.  Still, an excellent career for Lippy who will be missed not only by Seattle fans but by Kelowna broadcaster Regan Bartel. Grade: 7.5

Russell Maxwell: Coming over at the deadline, Maxwell gave Seattle some quality minutes and tied for 2nd in playoff scoring with 7 points and 2 goals. He will be off to Italy (I believe) for his mission next season and will not return. Grade: 7.4

Jarret Smith: As consistent as they come. 20 points last year, 19 points this year and point totals by month of 2, 3, 3, 4, 3, 3 and 1. What improved this year was his overall defensive prowess and he went from a -22 to a +14. Early in the season I felt that his defense was still lacking but it steadily improved over the course of the season to the point where I thought he was more trusted back there than his partner Jared Hauf. Room to grow here if he can add more to his offense. Grade: 7.4

Kevin Wolf: Not a lot to see here to be honest. Wolf is a giant at 6’6” but was hurt or scratched most of the season playing in only 27 games. The future is probably a bit of a mystery for him as he will be 18 next year and may not be in line for top 6 pairing minutes. It wouldn’t shock me to see him traded or leave the team. Grade: 5.0

Adam Henry: Another player who came over from Lethbridge, Henry was a trusted PP threat for most of the season and logged 31 assists in 64 games for Seattle (by far a career high). The second leading scoring defender leaves a little to be desired in the defensive area finishing with a -14 while with Seattle (-19 overall). It is possible that he might return next year as a 20 year old but my guess is that he’ll be headed to another team to finish out his final year. Grade: 7.5

Shea Theodore: So many things I could write here. Let’s start with the good. Lead the team in points with 57 and scored 22 times as a defender. He is a dynamic skater who improved his shot (adding a deadly slapper to his arsenal) and his defense showed improvement as well posting a team best +19. Now the bad… his decision making leaves a lot to be desired and was borderline a liability on the Power Play with turnovers. His final developmental step will be to become the true quarterback of the team by engineering the puck to the appropriate place on breakouts and the power play. I can think of at least a half a dozen shorthanded goals or near goals that were the direct result of questionable decisions. Imagine what his point total and +/- rating could be with the elimination of those mistakes. Unquestionably the best player on the team this year still remarkably has room to grow. Grade: 8.1

Ethan Bear: A star in the making. “Only” 19 points on 6 goals in 58 games but Bear proved he can play at this level. He plays an incredibly intelligent game, takes smart shots and didn’t try to do too much. In addition, he showed that he can play pretty solid defense and only took 18 PIMs all game. He’s a future cornerstone of this defense and along with Dante Fabbro (again assuming he signs) will pose a formidable 1-2 punch for Seattle’s blue line in the near future. Grade: 7.5

Evan Wardley: The bruising 19 year old had a solid season with some ups and downs along the way. The “War Dog” is arguably the biggest hitter in the league and delivers big hits on a nightly basis in addition to being a feared fighter. Wardley may have seen his last game as a Thunderbird but I could envision a return for him based on what the team has planned for the defense. It’s extremely difficult to find players who can impose their physical will in the way that Wardley can and it is not easily replaced. His offense could be better but the team isn’t asking him to produce points. Grade: 7.2

Jared Hauf: Remember how I talked about the expectations placed on a 1st rounder? Hauf is a career -76 and added -22 to that total this season. Expectations are lofty and perhaps unfair on the 18 year old but he’ll need to improve all aspects of his game coming into his 19 year old season. His long reach with the stick is impressive and helps break up defensive plays but his assignment responsibility still needs work and he needs to improve his footwork in order to use his size to leverage a better physical game.  Still a lot of room to grow here. Grade: 6.8

Danny Mumaugh: Early in the season I thought too much was made of Seattle’s “goaltending issues” and Mumaugh probably shouldered an unfair amount of that criticism. I thought his technique improved dramatically and his glove hand is a weapon. In 35 games he saw an average of 31.5 shots on goal and just missed posting a 90% save percentage (.899). This season saw solid improvement from Mumaugh who just happened to get upstaged by the next player. Where he goes from here is up to Mumaugh. He’s on the cusp of becoming a legitimate starting WHL goaltender but he’ll need to make one more jump to get there. Grade: 7.2

Taran Kozun: What can I say that hasn’t already been said? Kozun came over as almost an afterthought at the trade deadline and proceeded to post a .928 save percentage while seeing almost 32 shots per game. He was the reason why Seattle was able to secure the 4th seed and the first round playoff victory over the Everett Silvertips. When he was acquired I didn’t see much of a chance of him returning as a 20 year old and now I would have to think he will, at the very least, get strong consideration. He slumped in the Kelowna series (to a very excellent team) but was otherwise strong all season long. I would not be shocked to see him get one more season in the Seattle net and that might mean a trade of Danny Mumaugh to a team that will give him a shot to play most nights as I expect to see Logan Flodell with the team in some capacity. Grade: 7.9

The Bantam Draft is coming up on Thursday and of course we will be here to post updates and stats on the players selected as I can find them. If I’m looking at things correctly, Seattle will be selecting 16th overall.


mjs1980 said...

Just curious, for context, is there anyone in the league that would get a 10? I'm assuming someone in the Petan/Reinhart area would be close?

Anonymous said...

Hauf was not Smith's d partner. D pairings were Smith-Theo, Hauf-Wardley and Henry-Bear. That would be quite the statistical quirk to have one d partner at +14 and the other at -22.

Thunnex said...

MJS... I'd have a hard time giving anyone a 10 but yeah I'd say guys like Petan, Reinhart and even Holmberg I'd probably have in the mid 9's.

Anon... you're right. I should have clarified. Smith/Hauf was more early in the season and that pairing changed.

Anonymous said...

IT was kind of you to grade each player however you missed an important part of the team, the coaching staff.

Anonymous said...

Now that the league awards are out, I kinda feel like Theodore got hosed. No argument that Poulliot is a good defenseman (and I'm really looking forward to him in a Pens jersey soon for a few reasons) but Theodore scored more points and was a plus player on a team that was weaker on offense and defense than Portland. Yet he wasn't even runner-up. Hell, he even lead the league in points by a defenseman.

Thunnex said...

Normally, I think I would probably agree with you. But, having watched quite a bit of both players... I think they got it right. Theo made too many mistakes to earn that award.

I do think it shows just how talented he is though... that he made mistakes and was still a +18 and had a ton of points.

Anonymous said...

whats funny is that those mistakes were never corrected early and continued on for the entire season. In order to advance to the next level and be effective they will have to be corrected very early this next season. It was however a pleasure watching him rush the puck.. Good luck Theo!!

Anonymous said...

I would agree; Poulliot is probably more of a fully-rounded defenseman. But to not even get a nod as a runner-up seems kinda weird given Theo's numbers.

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