The Good, The Meh, The Ugly: Observations on Stockton

good-bad-ugly_1797953b

We
are now exactly two weeks into the AHL season and four games into the Stockton
Heat’s inaugural year. Small sample, yes, but early on there are some things
that are concerning and some that are exciting.

After
a 7-0 blowout victory in their first game, the Heat have looked rather pedestrian
in their last three games with a 4-1 loss, a 1-0 win and most recently a 5-1 loss.
So what can we really conclude this
early in the season? Not a whole lot, but there are some things that deserve
your attention.

THE
GOOD

Derek Grant &
Freddie Hamilton

The
drink that stirs the straw. No, seriously. It’s early in the season, but they are the Stockton Heat so far. These two players
are the ones who are controlling the pace, setting the tempo and,
unfortunately, the team’s only offense.

The
surprising part is that these aren’t the guys that you’d normally expect
offense from. Grant and Hamilton lead the team with three goals apiece, which
is probably not what any of us could’ve predicted.

Jon Gillies

Two
shutouts in four games. Do I need to say anything more? He stopped 55 shots
over those two games and looked poised and in control the entire game, and boy
has he had to be. The Heat’s team defense has been spotty. While the Heat are
only allowing an average of 27 shots against per game, they’re spending a ton
of time in their own zone. I’ll get into this later.

Markus Granlund

Finding
possession stats for the AHL is a nearly impossible task, but it’s not hard to
tell when you watch Stockton’s games that Granlund spends well north of 50% of
his time in the opposing zone. Granlund is so creative in the offensive zone.
It’s hard to defend against him because he’s unpredictable. He never does what
you’d expect him to do and his chemistry with Emile Poirier seems to be working in
the early going. This is an interesting duo to keep your eye on as the season
progresses.

Jakub Nakladal

What
an amazing North American debut for the Czech defender! I was beginning to
think at one point that the Heat could just play him every shift and they’d be
fine.

There’s
a reason he was recalled. Nakladal has an unexpectedly powerful shot and was,
dare I say, the Heat’s best power play player? I know, on a team with Oliver Kylington,
Kenney Morrison and Aaron Johnson, you wouldn’t have expected Nakladal to stand
out like he has on special teams. The Flames may have got a very nice NHL
replacement player here.

Special Teams

This
is hands down the brightest of bright spots in this young season for Stockton.

The
Heat have not allowed a power play goal yet and have converted on 25% of their
power play opportunities (5 for 20) through four games. If this can continue,
it will be an enormous accomplishment for Ryan Huska who operated some ugly
special teams numbers last season in Adirondack.

THE
MEH

Emile Poirier

Like
the heading says, Poirier has been pretty ‘meh.’ It’s tough to pin point
exactly what’s lacking with him this year. The offense hasn’t come yet, which
is disappointing because his team really
needs him to pick it up. However, being the type of player he is, he adds a lot
to the game even when he’s not scoring.

One
thing that stands out like a sore thumb early on is his shots on goal. He only
has five shots in four games. That’s extremely unusual for Poirier who tends to
shoot at every given chance. Conversely, Granlund (who centres Poirier) has 12
shots through three games. There seems to be a concern that Poirier is being a
little too generous opting to pass it off to Granlund rather than shoot. Those
of you that focus primarily on the Flames know what that’s like when you want
Gaudreau to shoot, but he tries for the pass instead. Hopefully Poirier becomes
a bit more selfish in the coming weeks.

Oliver Kylington

Everyone’s
been curious about how the 18 year old has fared so far. I hate to be the
bearer of obvious news, but he looks like an 18 year old in a men’s league.

He
has a lot of rough patches in his game and they’re almost exclusively situated
in his own zone. It’s unfortunate because Kylington has shown flashes of
brilliance and creativity when his team’s on the attack, that is, if he can get
into the other team’s zone to work his magic. He tends to spend far too much
time defending, which is why Huska deploys him in the offensive zone quite a
bit.

It
hasn’t been pretty for Kylington, but he’s obviously going to get a longer
leash than most because of his ceiling and age. Let’s talk about him in
December/January when we have a greater sample size. In my experience rookie
defenders tend to “get it” around that time.

Jon Gillies

Yes,
I know I just got finished praising Gillies for his two shutouts, but he’s been
spotty. He has his moments where he looks like freaking Carey Price out there,
and other times where you wonder what in the heckfire he’s doing.

It’s
probably too much to expect consistency from him considering his experience and
age, but inconsistency doesn’t begin to describe his play through four games.
Shutout, allowed four goals, shutout, allowed five goals. His consistency will
come yet. He needs more help from his defense though.

THE UGLY

Goal Scoring

Outside
of their seven goal explosion to open their season, the Heat have scored just
three goals in their last three games. Ouch.

They
can’t keep relying on Gillies for shutouts in one-goal games. The problem is a
bit of a two-headed monster. Firstly, outside of Granlund and Hamilton’s line,
they spend way too much time in their own zone. Secondly, when they do get into
the offensive zone, their offensively potent players aren’t shooting as much as
they should (I’m looking at your Poirier and Arnold and Shore and Klimchuk).

Defense

I
don’t even know where to start.

Outside
of Nakladal, this defense has looked rough, especially in their zone. Kylington
looks like he’s in over his head most of the time. Wotherspoon doesn’t look
like Wotherspoon anymore. Morrison is hard to watch in all three zones. And
Sieloff has looked fairy unnoticeable for the most part.

It’s
going to be tough to patch up this defense. There are so many things that need
to be worked on. They’re being muscled off pucks far too easily, some of them
tend to make questionable passes, the younger guys are panicking with the puck
and making hasty decisions, and most of them can’t make a breakout pass to save
their life.

This
is going to take a lot of work.

Keegan Kanzig

I
haven’t been a fan of the handling of Keegan Kanzig so far this season. Why
they don’t send him to the Adirondack Thunder is beyond me. There are enough
replacement defenders to have one or two veterans sitting each game. They don’t
need a 20-year-old sitting in the stands watching. That’s poor roster management.

Give
Kanzig minutes in Adirondack, not minutes in the press box!

  • RickT

    Thanks for the updates Mike. Really appreciate the insight.

    Shame about Kylington and Poirer, especially. They look so dynamic.

    Granlund does not come as a surprise. I feel like the biggest issue he runs in to whenever he is in Calgary is deployment. He is not a bottom-six player; Granlund needs patience and opportunity from the coach to be an effective player.

  • everton fc

    Appreciate the information. The whole organization’s come out flat thus far, this year.

    You didn’t mention Stevenson one way or another, so I’ll lump him in w/the disappointments, which is disappointing.

    Shore seems a sure AHL player. He doesn’t stand out, it seems. He, like Wotherspoon, seems to be dropping a bit in the pecking order.

    Granlund is an NHL player – we could use him in Calgary. Perhaps play him w/Gaudreau and Hudler a few shifts, and see what happens. We certainly could use his scoring touch…

    I’ll assume Agostino is doing okay. No mention of him either way… But also no goals.

    I agree Kanzig may be better suited for the ECHL. Didn’t Kylington wear the “A” one game? How did that materialize?!

    We felt we had impressive depth. Seems otherwise. Not trying to be a downer. Defence in the NHL and AHL is certainly not our strength after the first month of live action!

  • OKG

    Was there something in the water at training camp? You look at the CHL guys and McDonald, Schneider, Karnaukhov, Mangiapane, Andersson are struggling…

    You look at the AHL and guys are Wotherspoon and Poirier are struggling…

    You look at the NHL and guys are struggling.

    But you look at the NCAA guys who didn’t attend Flames Camp and Jankowski (8 points in 5 games)/Gilmour (4 points in 4 games) are off to pretty good starts.

      • OKG

        I’m aware of his hat trick, but even with that hat trick he’s at 1.33 points per game. Last season he was at 1.52 points per game. I want him up to 1.7+ ppg this year.

        Likewise, Andersson is at .7 PPG right now AND a -6 on a team with the best goaltending in the OHL. Last season he was at 0.96 points per game so you’d hope he breaks the PPG threshold this year.

        Any way you look at it, both guys haven’t had the statistical start they’d have liked.

  • OKG

    Mike I know you seem to be really high on Arnold & Agostino. I find it disappointing that these are the players I was hoping would be obvious NHL ready players this year but not looking like so right now.

    Do you think it’s possible that these young guys are missing that perception that they have a good chance of being called up? Last year seemed to be a year where we had a lot of rookies get a chance to audition with some games with the Flames. & when they did, most of them did very well. That seemed to feed the fire sort of speaking. We don’t seem to have the same opportunity, partly because we have improved the team (even though they aren’t playing that way).

    Still early I guess, & you are right, lets see where these guys stand come December.

  • Cfan in Vic

    Nice summary Mike.

    I have been concerned about Poirier as well. He does not seem to be progressing as expected but let’s cut all these prospects some slack…they are down in Stockton for deviopment purposes and this is all part of the process….