Hartford Wolf Pack First Quarter Grades
Friday November 30th 2007, 12:19 am

Through 21 games (ok, it’s a game past the quarter point of the 80 game season), the Pack sport a 13-7-0-1 record for 27 points, good for 2nd in the Atlantic Division behind the Providence Bruins. Even more encouraging, they’re 8-2-0-0 in their last 10. Unlike their parent club in NY, they have no trouble scoring goals, with 66 goals for on the season (an average of 3.14 per game), good for 7th in the AHL. They can’t, however, boast the defensive record of the parent club, with 57 goals against, an average of 2.71 per game which puts them smack dab in the middle of the AHL pack.

The story of the season thus far has been injuries. This past Friday when they faced off against the baby Islanders in Bridgeport the Pack were missing 9 of 20 starters due to either injuries or call ups, yet as they have all season, the team managed to gut out back-to-back wins. Current injuries include: Al Montoya (back, day-to-day), Chris Holt (sprained knee, 4-6 weeks), Alex Bourret (concussion, day-to-day), Tom Pyatt (high ankle sprain, day-to-day), Michael Sauer (concussion, indefinite), Dave Liffiton (concussion, indefinite), Francis Lessard (knee surgery, done for season), and Mitch Fritz (shoulder surgery, 2-3 months). Dane Byers (concussion), Andrew Hutchinson (groin) and Miika Wiilkman (groin) also missed time due to injury, but have since returned to line up. Bourret and Pyatt are close and could return this weekend.

Despite the fact they’ve needed to pillage their ECHL affiliate in Charlotte to fill out the roster, the Pack have continued to put up impressive, character wins, often rallying from behind or putting home the game winner in the closing minutes of the game. Promisingly, the game winners have come from a broad variety of sources, including Bourret (2), Constant, Lessard, Moore, Parenteau, Sauer, Taylor, Anisimov, Dupont, and Jessiman. One of the most enjoyable thing about watching the Pack is their unpredictability and refusal to give up. They’ve shown an uncanny ability to get the big goal at the right time thus far this season, which bodes well for their playoff hopes.

For the sake of fairness and brevity (as if I’m capable of that!) I’ve only provided grades for those players who’ve played more than 10 games with on the season, with the exception of the goalies, who I commented on regardless of number of games played.

Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau (RW)
18GP 9G 10A 19P +4 6PM
Ostensibly brought in to provide supplemental AHL scoring when acquired from Chicago at the start of the season, Parenteau is one of the Pack’s most consistent offensive weapons, picking up points in all but 5 of his 18 games played, and currently riding a 7 game point scoring streak. He has a quick, accurate shot and superb on-ice vision that allows him to find open teammates. What I like best is the spunk with which he plays. He’s fun to watch and he’s proven to be good in the clutch thus far. While his play in his own zone could be better, I’ve been really impressed with his overall play. Grade: A-

Greg Moore (C)
18GP 10G 8A 18P +14 15PM
After a disappointing rookie season last year, Moore dedicated his summer to getting in better shape and worked with a personal trainer who helped him take off 15 pounds and improve his skating and stamina. The results were evident from the first game of the season. His improved speed has allowed him to beat defenders to the outside, and the confidence he’s playing with this season seems to be making shots that would have been stopped or gone wide last season find the back of the net with ease. Moved from right wing to center at the start of the season, he’s been good on face-offs and has made up one half of the Pack’s top penalty killing unit. Superb in his own zone, his line is the one you can expect to be on the ice in the closing minutes of a game with the Pack protecting the lead. Grade: A

Andrew Hutchinson (D)
16GP 5G 9A 14P +5 10PM
The knock on Hutchinson going into the season was his defensive play, and while he’ll never be a Norris Trophy candidate, he’s proven surprisingly solid in his own zone. The Pack’s leading scorer on defense, Hutchinson has a hard, accurate shot from the point which has allowed him to wrack up points on the power play. Though prone to the occasional miscue in his own zone (a fault shared by all Pack d-men), he’s easily been one of the Pack’s top 2 defensemen. Grade: B+

Brodie Dupont (LW)
21GP 5G 9A 15P +3 24PM
One of three rookie forwards making their professional debuts this season, Dupont got off to a slow start, but has improved steadily as he adjusted to the AHL game. He’s been rewarded with increased ice time and both penalty kill and power play time as a result. He’s made a name for himself in front of the net, where he’s equally good at putting home set ups as he is deflecting point shots or jamming home rebounds. Dupont’s a tough, physical kid, who’s been using his body more as he’s gained confidence at this level. Grade: B+

Artem Anisimov (C)
21GP 4G 9A 14P +2 12PM
After a poor first game, Anisimov’s season looked to be off to a great start with a two point effort in his second game, and a one point, 1st star performance in his third. Unfortunately, the adjustment to the AHL and life in North America would prove much more difficult over the next dozen or so games. As the youngest player in the AHL, Anisimov struggled with the fast stop-and-start pace of the AHL and with the more physical style of North American faceoffs and play in general. He’s shown improvement over the past half dozen games or so, however, particularly on faceoffs, culminating in two key wins on set plays in OT on Saturday night, the second of which resulted in Parenteau’s game winning goal. He needs to continue working on adjusting to the pace of the game and be a little quicker to anticipate plays and jump on loose picks, but his current 5 game point scoring streak (6pts) looks to be a sign of better things to come. Grade: B-

Hugh Jessiman (RW)
21GP 4G 8A 12P +3 36PM
The reports out of Rangers training camp this fall hinted at a vastly improved Hugh Jessiman, ready to make that next step in his development. Maybe I’m missing something, but I’ve yet to see any significant signs of improvement in his play in Hartford this season. Ok, he’s on pace to pick up significantly more points than the 12 he scored last season, but then again, the entire team has gotten out of the gate better then they did last season. On the ice I still see a poor skater who has trouble staying upright and still notice him more for what he does wrong (falling down away from the play, taking bad penalties, whiffing shots and passes) than I do for things he does well. He’s shown willingness to stand up for his teammates, but still isn’t a very good fighter, despite the summer boxing lessons. Grade: C

Lauri Korpikoski (LW)
20GP 3G 7A 10P +9 28PM
Perhaps my vote for most disappointing performer through the first quarter, but only because I had high expectations after his performance in Traverse City, training camp and pre-season. After a good start, Korpikoski seemed to settle into the comfort zone he established last season. Korpikoski’s great defensively, and can be found on the top PK unit or on the ice in the closing minutes of a game when the Pack is protecting a lead, but that was all true last season. He’s good on draws when needed, and has good speed, but has been guilty of taking some very poorly timed penalties. He continues to look lost in the offensive zone. His physical play along the boards seems to have taken a step backwards and he still holds on to the puck too long. Grade: C-

Corey Potter (D)
21GP 1G 9A 10P +7 16PM
The best way to describe most of the defense corps on the Pack would be: “frustratingly inconsistent”. Potter fits the bill to a “T”. He skates well, and has a good shot from the point that he’s not afraid to use, he but can make some really poor decisions with the puck. Unfortunately, many of those have ended up as chances and/or goals against, including one game in which two giveaways resulted in two goals against. Grade: C+

Alex Bourret (RW)
13GP 2G 6A 8P -10 21PM
“D” is for “Disappointing” in Bourret’s case. While there can be no questioning his offensive skills and on-ice vision, his decision making leaves something to be desired. Two issues I had with him when he first arrived in Hartford last season seemed to be back in his game early this season: high-risk passes and an inability to stay on his feet. This season, he appeared to be less physically engaged and when he did throw a big check, he seemed to bounced off. He spent the early part of the season in Gernander’s dog house, and was called in for a chat about 10 games in, after which he seemed to pick things up a bit. But he suffered a concussion in the 13th game of the season, his second in as many years, and hasn’t yet returned. Word is that he’s skating hard in practice and set to return any day now. Hopefully the forced break will allow him to make a fresh start. Grade: D

Ivan Baranka (D)
18GP 2G 6A 8P +7 16PM
I’ve seen Baranka make some defensive plays in his own zone that most NHL defensemen only dream of. But he’s also guilty of chasing the puck and taking himself out of position more often than you’d like for a 3rd year pro who should, ostensibly, be the Pack’s top defenseman. After a couple brutally bad games to start the season, he’s steadied himself and been fairly solid. He’s proven to be solid passer with a good shot from the point, though he could be better keeping the puck in at the blue line. Skates well and has a sharp wrist shot, as evidenced by the short handed goal he scored against Springfield in late October. The key for Baranka is to be able to play his best game, night in and night out. Grade: B

Thomas Pock (D/F)
15GP 1G 7A 8P -3 10PM
Pock may possess great offensive skills, but they come at the cost of defense. He’s looked great at the point on the power play, and has shown he has a good feel for when to pinch and when not too. But he’s often lost in his own zone, found standing still watching as play goes on around him. This slow thinking leads him to take penalties in the closing minutes of the game and he’s been the goat on more than a couple goals against as the result of high-risk passes that go awry. He’s spent a decent amount of time playing wing in Hartford, and has looked good there. Grade: C

Tom Pyatt (C)
11GP 2G 4A 6P +2 2PM
The third of the rookie forwards, Pyatt got off to a slow start offensively as he adjusted to the AHL game, but looked solid otherwise. After making a concerted effort to drive to the net more, he was just starting to wrack up points when he suffered a high ankle sprain in game 12 of the season. He’s should return to the line up any day now. Grade: B

Jake Taylor (D)
19GP 2G 4A 6P +5 34PM
Taylor’s already scored twice as many goals as he ever has as a pro, and we’re only 21 games in. He’s been a quiet workhorse on the blueline, not flashy, but relatively solid. The key for Taylor will be staying healthy. He’s proven to be a dependable guy who’s willing to stick up for his teammates, even if he’s not really the best suited for the job. Grade: B-

Francis Lessard (RW)
14GP 4G 1A 5P +2 49PM
Lessard was well on his way to the best offensive performance in his pro career and seemed to have taken a somewhat toned down leadership roll on the team before he went down to a knee injury that will require season-ending knee injury. He’d gotten on a roll just before his injury, bagging 3 goals in 2 games, including the game-tying and game-winning goals in a come-from-behind win over Calder Cup champs Hamilton. Still, it’s the protection and intimidation he offered that will be missed most by the Pack. Grade: B+

Dane Byers (LW)
20GP 3G 1A 4P +2 59PM
Through 20 games in his rookie season last year, Byers picked up 10 points. This year he’s got 4. Scoring won’t ever be Byers prime role, but this kind of drop is a little worrying. Byers was another player who looked good in training camp and pre-season, but has settled into a bit of a funk as Dupont seems to have moved ahead of him on the depth chart. He’s a good team guy who’s willing to step up to protect his teammates, but he’s capable of more. Grade: C-

Michael Sauer (D)
19GP 1G 1A 2P +2 21PM
Sauer’s gotten off to a pretty good start, and was quite possibly the Pack’s best defensemen through the first few games of the season when it seemed the returning defensemen were lost in their own zone. As a result, he saw his ice time increase quickly. He can be counted on to make the smart, simple play and bang the puck up the boards and out of the zone in favor of a risky cross-ice pass, though there have been a few notable exceptions. He could probably stand to get a bit stronger, as he’s sometimes out battled along the boards. He’s been good one-on-one but occasionally makes mistakes positionally. Still, it’s been a positive start for the young defenseman. Grade: B

Al Montoya (G)
12GP 2.54GAA .901S%
Montoya talks about being ready for the NHL now, but there’s still of evidence to the contrary. My primary complaint is that he rarely seems to come up with that really big “wow!” save when the team needs it most. He generally makes the saves he should, though there have been a few goals this season that I would call soft. His rebound control could still stand improvement, and his puck-handling skills are poor. For all the hype surrounding him, I expected more by now. Most worrying has to be his inability to stay healthy. A season that was meant to prove he could be a dominant, workhorse goalie in the AHL has already been spoiled by re-occurring back problems, originally brought on when he was kicked in the back by Toronto’s David Ling while prone on the ice making a save. He’s listed as “day-to-day”, but I’ve read speculation that it could be longer than that term suggests. He’s already returned to the line-up early once, in a game against the Springfield Falcons that he was forced to leave in the 2nd period after looking to be hampered by serious pain the whole game. Hopefully an extra dose of caution will be used the next time he’s ticketed for a return. Grade: C+

Chris Holt (G)
8GP 2.48GAA .903SV%
Holt, who most people probably expected to spend the majority of the season in Charlotte, performed admirably after being forced into action by Montoya and Wiikman’s injuries. He’s generally been solid, and has kept the Pack in games when needed, but he can be counted on to give up one softy a game, generally between his legs, illustrating how he earned the nickname “5-Holt”. I didn’t see him too much last season, but his rebound control looks to have improved, and he’s been ok handling the puck. Grade: B-

Miika Wiikman (G)
5GP 3.01GAA .891SV%
In his first game of the season Wiikman gave up 3 goals on his first 6 shots. In his second appearance he played reasonably well in relief after Montoya was injured 15 minutes into the October 21st game against the Marleys, but then found himself on the shelf for the next month due to a groin injury that had hampered him since training camp. After a stint in Charlotte to get his timing back, he was recalled on November 21st when it was was discovered Montoya wouldn’t be able to play due to his nagging back problem. He arrived and took his place on the bench midway through the first period of the Pack’s game vs. Providence that night. Good thing too, because he was forced to enter the game stone cold with just under 7 minutes left to go after Holt suffered his knee injury. In the two games since, he’s done well, stopping 47 of 52 shots for a 2.31 GAA and .906 SV%. In those games he was forced to make some big, timely saves, including three breakaways and a number of shots through high traffic. He seems to be a little slow to recover after making a save, and will need to work on controlling rebounds. Grade: B-

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