Hartford Wolf Pack Third Quarter Grades
Thursday March 06th 2008, 3:28 am

Through 60 games the Hartford Wolf Pack sport a shiny 37-15-2-6 record, good for 82 points, placing them 2nd in the AHL’s Atlantic Division and 3rd overall in the league. Much of their success can be attributed to their strong power play, which ranks 3rd in the AHL at 21.5% and was buoyed by a game against league-leading Providence on February 8th in which they went 5-for-8 with the man advantage, tying team records for power play goals in a period and in a game. They can thank their newly-elected Captain, Andrew Hutchinson, the AHL’s leading scoring defenseman, for much of their power play success, though just about everyone on the Pack has shown a willingness to drive to the net and stay there, leading to a high number of rebound and deflection goals both on the power play and at even strength.

They’ve proven themselves to be a team that’s capable of taking care of itself, despite the early season, long-term loss to injury of both Francis Lessard and Mitch Fritz, and currently sit atop the Atlantic Division in penalty minutes, and rank 9th overall in the league in that category. They’ve been lead in that department by Dane Byers (149) and Hugh Jessiman (136) both of whom have proven willing to step in and defend their teammates, even if neither will ever be confused for an AHL heavyweight.

One obvious area for improvement is the penalty kill, which ranks 19th in the 29-team AHL with an 82.3% kill rate. Another area where they could use some help is in shootouts, where they’ve won only 2 of 6 attempts, good for only 26th in the league, after going 6 for 7 in the shootout last season. There have been the occasional bumps in the road, as you’d expect for a young team (on which only three players, Mike Ouellette (25), Tomas Pock (26) and Andrew Hutchinson (27) had cracked the quarter-century mark at the start of the season). But with a 24 point lead over 5th place Manchester at the 60 game mark, a 12th consecutive playoff appearance looks pretty much assured. Grade: A-

And now, the individual grades. For a refresher on how players stacked up at the 20 game mark, see the Hartford Wolf Pack First Quarter Grades post from late November. Grades indicated in parenthesis below reflect the players first quarter grade.

P.A. Parenteau (RW/LW)
57GP 25G 36A 61PT +8 57PM
Through the first 60 games of the schedule Parenteau is leading the team in goals and points and was 4th in the league in points, 8th in goals and 12th in assists. It’s hard to complain about a player who’s leading the team in scoring, is amongst the league leaders, and is putting up points at better than a point-per-game pace. His knack for finding open teammates on the ice and getting passes through seemingly covered lanes is his best attribute, but with the good comes the bad, and from time to time those passes do get picked off. That’s not such a bad thing in the offensive zone, but he tends to take the same risks with his passes in his own zone, which has at times gotten the Pack into trouble. He plays with a bit of an aggressive edge, and gets away with a lot of chippy little shoves and swats that undoubtedly get under opponents skin while — for the most part — going undetected by referees. Grade: A (A-)

Andrew Hutchinson (D)
52GP 15G 37A 52P +21 54PM
The Pack’s second leading scorer, Hutchinson is first among all defenseman in the AHL in scoring (by an 8 point margin) and ranks 15th among all players. At 60 games he was 8th in the league among all players in both power play goals and power play asssits, thanks in large part to his hard, accurate slap shot and his keen ability to find lanes through which to get it on net. His +21 ranked him 3rd on the team in +/- and was good enough for 7th overall in the league, suggesting criticism of his defensive game may be somewhat overblown. He has already tied Tomas Pock’s single season record for goals by a defenseman, and is well on the way to breaking Pock’s record for points by a defenseman, both of which Pock set 2 years ago while spending time at both defense and on wing. He’s already written himself into the Wolf Pack record books by scoring the first ever hat trick by a defenseman (February 8th vs Providence), and the first ever 5-point game by a Wolf Pack defenseman (February 29th vs Norfolk). While other NHL vets (not to mention Stanley Cup champions) might have sulked through a season in exile in the AHL, Hutchinson has done anything but, taking control of the this young team both on the ice and off, and playing a major role in the Pack’s success so far. At 27 (soon to be 28), he’s been the Pack’s oldest and most experienced voice since guys like Lessard and Fritz went down to long-term injuries early in the season, and his importance in the locker room was recognized by his teammates in January when they voted him team captain. Grade: A+ (B+)

Greg Moore (C)
52GP 21G 29A 50P +23 25PM
While Moore’s breakout season can be seen as nothing short of a major success, it seems his play has dropped off a bit since the early part of the season when he was piling up points at nearly a point-per-game pace and was on a yo-yo ride between NY and Hartford. It may just be a matter of not playing with as much confidence as he did earlier in the season. It’s got to be tough mentally to get the frequent call, but see only very limited opportunity on-ice when he was in NY. Still, through 60 games, he ranked 3rd on the Pack in points, and 19th over all in the league, and with 50 points has already doubled his 25 point output as a rookie last season. He’s centered the Pack’s top line for the majority of the season, and plays in all situations, including heading the Pack’s top penalty killing unit, where his 4 goals have earned him 4th place in the league in shorthanded goals. His +23 ranked 2nd on the team and 4th in the AHL through 60 games, illustrating his skill as a good 2-way player, though through 12 games played during the month of February, he was only Even after being a plus in each of the previous months of the season. Grade: A- (A)

Dane Byers (LW)
56GP 18G 16A 34PT +20 149PM
Perhaps it was his late demotion to the Pack that caused Byers to get off to such a slow start this season. But ever since Ryan Callahan joined the Pack for 11 games back in January, Byers has been reborn, scoring at a steady point-per-game pace through January, and keeping up the pace through February even after Callahan returned to NY. His 5-game goal scoring streak (6 goals) in January ranks as the longest scoring streak on the Wolf Pack this season, and ranks 5th in the league among longest goal-scoring streaks for the season. Compare that to October, when he went 11 straight games without so much as a point. The vast majority of his goals have been of the garbage variety, scored from in close on either rebounds or deflections. In fact, it is Byers ability to set up in front of the net, take the abuse that comes with the location, and get the puck in the net that is his greatest asset. He’s also a solid 2-way player, as his +20 (good for 4th on the team and 8th in the league) suggests. He plays in all situations and has proven willing and able to stand up for his teammates when the has arisen, as illustrated by his team-leading 149 penalty minutes. Grade: B+ (C-)

Lauri Korpikoski (LW/C/RW)
59GP 17G 17A 34PT +15 45PM
When I wrote my First Quarter grades post, there wasn’t a player in Hartford I was more disappointed in. Korpikoski’s gone a long way to redeem himself, in particular over the 13 games he played in February, when he finally started to put up points at a pace more befitting a 1st round draft pick playing his 2nd year pro (11 points in 13 games). He’s been the ultimate utility player for the Pack this season, playing all three forward positions, on any of the Pack’s three lines, with equal comfort level. He’s one of the Pack’s best penalty killers, and recently has started to get more regular power play time as a reward for his improved offensive play. He’s still prone to holding on to the puck too long — and losing it as a result — but his shot has improved and he’s more likely to use it now than he has been in the past. It will be interesting to see whether he’s able to keep up the improved offensive production over the next 20 games and into the playoffs. If he does, a shot in the NHL shouldn’t be far behind. Grade: B (C-)

Tomas Pock (D/LW)
54GP 7G 26A 33PT +10 47PM
Through 60 games, Pock was 14th among defenseman in points and 14th in power play assists in the AHL. Those would be impressive numbers if not for his partner on the Pack’s top power play unit, Hutchinson, overshadowing him. While his offensive production is well down from his record-setting season 2 years ago (this season he’s only played a handful of games as a forward), he has become more solid in his own zone, and perhaps most notably, is playing a more physical game than ever before, even going so far as to fight Bridgeport’s Drew Fata after Fata leveled Marcel Hossa in open ice when Hossa was in Hartford on a conditioning stint. Not that he’ll be mistaken for a physical, shut-down defenseman anytime soon, of course. He still gets caught watching the play in his own zone from time to time, but it’s a lot less frequent than in the past. His talent carrying the puck up ice is unquestionable, but he can still make the occasional poor decision on when to pinch or not to pinch. Grade: B (C)

Alex Bourret (RW)
49GP 8G 23A 31PT -2 73PM
Baring a late season turnaround, it will be impossible not to call Bourret’s season a disappointment. On a couple of occasions it’s looked like he was going to get on a roll and turn things around, but each time a some kind of minor injury has forced him out of the lineup for a game or two and knocked him off his stride. On the positive side, his six game-winners on the season rank him 1st on the Pack and 6th in the league in that category, and he has gradually been eating away at his at-one-time team worst -10. On the negative side, for every active, physical shift he plays, he plays three more where he looks at best disengaged and at worst completely invisible. He’s got all the skills; great on-ice vision, a decent shot, good speed and a scrappy, physical playing style, but its still a matter of waiting to see if he’s willing to put in the work to play at a consistently-engaged, high level on a nightly basis. Grade: C (D)

Artem Anisimov (C)
54GP 11G 18A 29PT +7 22PM
When I heard the Rangers had agreed to release Anisimov to play in the World Junior Championships, I was worried the return to the larger ice surface and Russian style of play might set him back in terms of his adjustment to the North American game. Just the opposite happened. Since returning from the Czech Republic he’s shown steady and consistent improvement in all facets of his game. After going -4 in December, leaving him a -2 on the season at the time he left for the WJCs, he’s climbed steadily into plus territory at +7. His defensive coverage has been spot on, and he’s shown better anticipation at both ends of the ice, suggestion he’s starting to think the game at AHL speed. He’s been very good on faceoffs, after struggling early in the season, and is shooting the puck more. It’s starting pay off, with 4 goals in his last 9 games, including a highlight reel goal against Springfield on February 13th that easily ranks at the head of the Pack’s top 5 goals of the year. At 19, he’s the youngest player in the AHL, but his 29 points are still good enough for 19th in the league in rookie scoring, while his 4 game winners tie him for 2nd on the team, and 5th in the league amongst rookies. He needs to continue to fill into his 6′3″ frame and build his core strength, which will improve his balance and help him keep from getting knocked down as much as he currently does. It’ll also allow him to win more battles along the boards, though he’s shown improvement in that area as well. When you consider that he’s averaging .54 points per game through February, compared to Brandon Dubinsky’s average of .48 PPG through February a year ago (as a 20 year old rookie and without the difficulties of adjusting to a new language and playing style) it’s hard not to get excited about his progress. Grade: B+ (B-)

Hugh Jessiman (RW/LW)
53GP 12G 16A 28PT +4 136PM
Don’t look now, but Hugh Jessiman is starting to resemble the power forward he was drafted to be. He’s skating more confidently with the puck, driving to the net, throwing his considerable weight around and its paying off both on the scoresheet and in terms of earning ice time. What’s most impressed me is the confidence and power with which he’s skating off the boards or out of the corner with the puck and taking it to the net. While neither his play or the 28 points he’s picked up scream “NHL Ready”, for the first time in his almost three years as a pro its actually looking like the NHL is a possibility somewhere down the road. He still needs to work on being physically and mentally engaged on every single shift, and his skating and balance, while improved, could still be better. But he’s played an integral part on the team this season, particularly in terms of being the team’s primary tough guy since both Lessard and Fritz went down to injuries. He may never be a heavyweaight fighter, but his size and reach help him hold his own, and his willingness to step up and fill the role — despite battling an elbow injury that he re-aggravates whenever he fights — is to be commended. Grade: B (C)

Corey Potter (D)
60GP 3G 20A 23PT +26 78PM
When watching Corey Potter, it’s hard not to think about Dan Girardi. They play somewhat similar games, skate well, are both right handed shots, and, like Girardi, Potter had to spend some time in Charlotte adjusting to the pro game before making his mark in the AHL. But since his call up at the beginning of February last season, he’s evolved into a very solid two-way defenseman, as his +26, good for 1st on the team and 3rd in the AHL, indicates. His first passes, which were getting picked off a little too often early in the season, have gotten smarter and safer, and his positioning in his own zone has been solid. He’s a good skater with a good hard shot from the point, though he hasn’t gotten to use it as much this season with Hutchinson and Pock getting the bulk of the power play time. His strength is definitely his defensive play, and he’s been looking impressive in standing up on-rushing forwards as they enter the Pack zone lately. He’ll never be known as an offensive defenseman, but when he does decide to jump up into the play it always seems to be the right decision. Grade: A- (C+)

Brodie Dupont (LW)
58GP 8G 13A 21PT -1 70PM
Dupont started the season strong, but then hit a bit of a lull as the dog days wore on. He seemed to suffer most when the early season line of Dupont – Anisimov – Parenteau was broken up, and he slowly sunk down the dept chart to the point where he was one of the 2 spare forwards in the line up on a couple occasions. He went the entire month of December (10 games) without a point and picked up only a goal and assist through 13 games in January. During that time he often looked to be a half step behind the play. But recently things have started clicking for him and he’s been getting more involved in the play at both ends of the ice. He’s seen his ice time increase as a result to point that the he’s seen playing time on the top two lines and power play again recently. A solid penalty killer who can play a physical game, Dupont’s proven willing to drop the gloves, though it took until game 60 for him to finally win a clear decision. Grade: B- (B+)

Ivan Baranka (D)
46GP 5G 13A 18PT +4 45PM
If I were to describe Baranka’s season in one word it would be “inconsistent”. His skill is obvious, which is what makes him sometimes frustrating to watch. He can make a brilliant defensive play on one shift, and then come out on the next and turn the puck over in his own zone and cost his team a quality scoring chance against. For the 3rd consecutive season he’s been dogged by injuries, missing 14 games over the course of the season thus far, most recently with a shoulder injury that caused him to miss 6 at the end of January. Grade: B- (B)

Mike Ouellette (C/LW)
49GP 5G 10A 15PT +3 10PM
An undrafted, former teammate of Hugh Jessiman’s at Dartmouth, Ouellette was signed to an AHL contract by the Wolfpack at the beginning of last season and spent his first pro season with the Charlotte Checkers in the ECHL. That’s where he started his second pro season this past fall. But when injuries struck the Pack in early November, he was one of the first forwards to get the call, and he hasn’t looked back since. A good two-way utility player, Ouellette has played both center and left wing and is probably the teams top face-off man (though there are no stats available to back up my observations). He’s a good skater, and valuable penalty killer who works hard every shift. He’s defensively responsible, but has shown little offensive upside thus far. Grade: B (n/a)

Tommy Pyatt (LW/C)
41GP 4G 7A 11PT +3 6PM
Pyatt has struggled to adjust to the pace of the AHL game, and missing most of the month of November with a high ankle sprain didn’t help. Not only did it knock him out of the lineup just when it seemed he might be starting to “get it”, it also opened the door for Mike Ouellette and Jordan Owens, both of whom have outplayed him since their recall. Since returning in late November Pyatt’s only been able to muster 4 points in 30 games and was finding it increasingly difficult to win a spot in in the lineup when the rest of the forwards were healthy. When he did, he generally only saw limited ice time playing as one of the spare forwards. As a result, he was sent down to Charlotte on February 28 so he could get good playing time and find his confidence. But he was included on the Pack’s Clear Day Roster, suggesting the team is expecting him to be back for the playoffs. Grade: C (B)

Jake Taylor (D)
57GP 3G 8A 11PT +14 113PM
A relatively solid stay-at-home defenseman, Taylor lacks the mobility of most of the other Pack blueliners. That lack of foot speed can often result in his taking penalties, but for the most part he’s quietly gotten the job done in his own zone. After three injury-riddled pro seasons, Taylor was given an AHL contract this fall as an opportunity to prove whether he could get through an season injury free. So far, he has. But I doubt that will be enough for him to earn another NHL contract from the Rangers, considering their relative depth on the blueline. Grade: B- (B-)

Jordan Owens (LW)
26GP 2G 6A 8PT +4 44PM
A small, scrappy player with good speed, Owens started the season in Charlotte and did enough in his time there to earn himself a trip to the ECHL All-Star Game in January. He’s shown limited offensive upside in his time in the AHL, but his primary use has been as a spare forward and penalty killer. Listed at a generous 6′, 180lbs, Owens has shown a willingness to drop the gloves, but his size is a definite disadvantage in scraps. The most notable of his bouts came when he challenged Springfield’s Theo Peckham prior to a faceoff late in the game on February 2nd after Peckham had spent the game dishing out cheapshots. Owens got his butt kicked, and earned a one game suspension for instigating a fight in the final 5 minutes of a game, but his willingness to stick up for his teammates did not go unnoticed. He followed up his one-game break with a goal and an assist in his first game back, his first (and thus far only) multiple point game in the AHL. Grade: B- (n/a)

Michael Sauer (D)
51GP 2G 6A 8PT -11 61PM
Sauer’s game has suffered a bit as the season has progressed and expectations have increased. Capable of playing sound positional hockey one minute, he’s also had more than a few moments where he’s looked lost on the ice. A team worst -11 on a team with few players in the red, he’s had the misfortune of putting 3 or 4 goals into his own net and has gets beaten one-on-one more than often than you’d like to see. He struggles to keep the puck in the offensive zone at times (both at even strength and on the occasional power play shift he is given), but has improved his physical play along the boards and around the net as the season has progressed. Grade: B- (B)

Bruce Graham (C)
23GP 1G 5A 6PT -5 6PM
While Graham has certainly improved since his past brief appearances over the past two years, there’s just not much to be said about him. He’s a big guy who doesn’t use his size, is an average skater, and has shown little offense at the AHL level. He was sent back to Charlotte on 2/28 and is not included on the Pack’s Clear Day Roster, and while that doesn’t prevent him from being recalled if injuries or callups require it, it does suggest that this final year of his entry level contract will be his last — on an NHL contract at least. Grade: C (n/a)

David Liffiton (D)
21GP 0G 2A 2PT +7 52PM
It’s been a rough season for Liffiton, who missed 34 games earlier in the season with a concussion, and is currently sidelined with concussion-like symptoms once again. In the 13 games he played in between, he didn’t really have much time to make an impression. He plays a solid positional game, but isn’t particularly mobile. He’s easily the Pack’s most physical defenseman, but sometimes his temper gets the best of him and results in penalties. Grade: C+ (n/a)

Miika Wiikman (G)
27GP 57GA 1484MINS 2.30GAA .916S% 2SO
Word that Wiikman had supplanted the since-departed Al Montoya as Hartford’s number one goalie spread like wildfire through the Ranger nation, despite the fact that it wasn’t necessarily 100% true. Wiikman certainly did get on a good roll in late November/early December, when he won his first 6 consecutive AHL decisions after getting a shot because of injuries to both Montoya and Chris Holt. He got on another hot streak in mid January, winning 6 of 7 starts, culminating in the week ending January 27th, during which he went 3-0-0 while recording two shutouts — one against the top team in the league — and stopping all but 1 of 93 shots he faced en route to being named the AHL’s co-player of the week. In 9 games played in January Wiikman posted a 1.59 GAA and a .943 save percentage, rocketing up the standings for a brief stay at the top of the AHL goaltending ranks. A shootout loss on February 2nd gave Montoya an opening to get back in the net, and he stayed there for the next 5 games, picking up 5 consecutive wins before bowing out of the 6th with a groin injury. Since then Wiikman’s struggled to play at the high level he’d attained consistently, alternating wins and losses or shootout losses through the next 7 games (though his teammates deserve as much, if not more, of the blame for that record as he does). He currently ranks 8th in the league in GAA and 11th in save percentage. His 2.30 goals against average is good for 2nd in the league amongst rookies. He’s a fierce competitor who will never give up on a play, a trait that has allowed him to make some spectacular, game-saving saves. He’s small and athletic, which allows him to get across the crease quickly. His positioning is sound, if not perfect, and he controls his rebounds pretty well, thought he could definitely be better. Not a big puck-handler, he’s improved since earlier in the season when his adventures behind the net got him in trouble more than once. Grade: B+ (B-)

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • MySpace
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • FriendFeed
  • Reddit
  • Technorati
Filed under: Hartford Wolf Pack

No Comments so far
Leave a comment

Leave a comment


(required) (will not be displayed)