Photo Credit: Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports
It’s time for the first Flames college prospect check-in of the year, and I mostly have good news to report. It’s so far, so good for just about everyone. The reasons why, so far, have been obvious. Points all around for Mark Jankowski, Brandon Hickey, and John Gilmour, which is pretty nice because, well, two of them are defensemen.
But I also took a step forward in terms of my ability to track players’ performance in the games I see because I figured out a pretty simple way to make all the basic stuff I always tracked in an individual game go from looking like this:
To looking like this:
It’s just a lot more information now, and it frankly tells you a lot more about what guys are and aren’t good at doing. Coupling that with the “advanced” stats we can now pull from College Hockey News both for individual games and the whole season, and you start to get a pretty good idea of what players are doing out there.
The data is still not perfect, because it probably never will be until player tracking is added not only at the NHL level but farther down the development chain, but it’s better than what we had before, which was very little indeed. Shots on goal and plus-minus were about the limits of our knowledge of college hockey until the start of last season.
You can also tell this data is not perfect because I am the one collecting it for the games I view. I’m just one person, so my interpretation of what is or isn’t a shot attempt will vary from the person logging them officially for the host team. Therefore, my shot attempt numbers are going to be a little bit off in some cases, but hopefully not by too much.
I tend to be a little stingy, but sometimes there’s a wide disparity because things get a little hazy on rebound attempts, etc. For example, I credited BU with 11 fewer shot attempts at 5-on-5 than their official scorers did Saturday (and I think that probably helps to explain why BU is such a dominant possession team at home this year, but I digress). I seem to have under-credited Providence, meanwhile, by only four.
With all that said, here are my very small-sample observations of Jankowski, Gilmour, and Hickey.
2. Mark Jankowski
The first thing that stands out to you about Jankowski is that it’s only Nov. 20 and he’s already at 11 points in only nine games. All of last season, he had 27 in 37. It’s a big step forward. And when you see him play, you start to figure out why.
Namely, he has, finally, filled out. Watching him Friday night in a 1-1 home draw against BU (in which he scored his club’s lone goal on a beautiful shot; skip to 1:15 in this video), the difference in how he plays was immediately obvious. He was winning puck battles that would have seen him get humiliated by a stronger opponent last year, and he was able to get to more contested parts of the ice.
For the game I had his line being slightly out-possessed, but he was pretty effective in all parts of the ice, and finally being deployed as a No. 1 center instead of a No. 3. I’m a little surprised, but I guess that’s the difference between a 21-year-old’s body and that of a 20- or 19-year-old.
He didn’t factor into the scoring the next day, in a 3-3 draw at BU, but he was once again fairly good. Perhaps you’d have liked to see him get off more shots on his team’s roughly 1 trillion power play minutes than the two with which he finished the game, but it was hard to have complaints about his play overall.
Here’s what he ended up doing for the whole weekend, which are my only viewings of him for the season to date (though I’m seeing Providence again tomorrow night):
3. Reasonable expectations
On the other hand, though, I will say that you have to expect the production will slow down a bit. He has four goals on only 16 shots in all situations through nine games — 1.78 is an unimpressive total — and despite being the team’s No. 1 center, he has only attempted 17 shots at 5-on-5 for a team that is dominant in possession (52.3 percent). Three of his four goals have been on the power play, as has one of his seven assists.
Some of that is him deferring to his linemates, one of whom is second on the team with 31 shot attempts at full strength, while the other has 25, but still. You’d like to see him shoot more than he does, especially if shots look like the one linked above.
It’s been difficult for opponents to get shots off against BU in general, but he didn’t attempt anything at all on the power play, and while it’s only one game, it doesn’t-not seem like a trend. And that trend — Jankowski not-shooting — is something that’s been an issue his entire career.
He won’t shoot 25 percent all year, that’s for sure, and I have a guess as to what his on-ice shooting percentage is as well (very high). He needs to get things going with his volume shooting if he wants to mirror this kind of production over the final 20-something games of the season.
Providence is undefeated right now (6-0-3) and the points he’s putting up are a big reason why, but neither of those things are going to last if the problems persist.
4. Brandon Hickey
Next let’s talk about Brandon Hickey, the puck-moving offensive defenseman for Boston University. Living in Boston, I get a chance to see BU more often than I do Providence, and I think we can just jump right in on the stats here for the four times I’ve tracked him.
(I tried tracking both him and Jankowski on Friday night and it went fine, but it was a little too hectic to keep up with long-term, so I only tracked Jankowski in Saturday’s return engagement. I wouldn’t have thought keeping track of the TOI of just two players on opposing teams would be so difficult, but here we are.)
A few notes here: Hickey is currently listed as second on BU with 46 shot attempts at 5-on-5 in 10 games. This from the blue line. I’ve said before that his shot is already pro-quality, and there’s nothing to dissuade me from that evaluation so far this year. He gets it in, on net, low, and with velocity. His shots create havoc around the net, but somehow he only has 4-0-4 so far this year; all those goals, by the way, were at 5-on-5, including this gorgeous one (skip to :55) against a very good Denver club.
Also, I think his numbers are going to be skewed by the fact that he was playing top-pairing minutes to start the year, thanks to a lingering injury to Bruins draft pick Matt Grzelcyk, who’s one of the best defensemen in the country. Under normal circumstances, he’s an elite No. 3 defenseman at this level, and probably a very good No. 2. He acquitted himself well, as you can see. I’d also chalk a lot of those attempts against up to score effects, but we don’t really have enough data to account for them quite yet, so these are all unadjusted numbers.
Hickey is, quite frankly, right about where I figured he’d be — except I would have guessed he’d have more assists, as I said — and as long as he keeps drilling shots at the net, he’s going to get his goals.
He still appears to me to be a guy who could be an NHLer for a decade or so, but right now there are still areas of his game that need improvement. None of them are in the attacking zone.
5. John Gilmour
Finally there’s John Gilmour, a defenseman for Providence who has 2-5-7 in eight games played. Right now they have him listed as being on the third pairing, but minutes-wise it seems to be pretty even with what the second pair gets.
That number seems a bit high relative to what Gilmour excels at — like most Providence players, he is extremely proficient in his own zone and through the neutral zone, but I wouldn’t say he’s a nearly-point-a-game defenseman under most circumstances — but he played some pretty solid hockey in the two games I saw.
Again, I find it difficult to track more than one player by myself in a game I’m watching live if I want complete and accurate data, but I can tell you that he appeared (the Eye Test, baby!) to be a little better than the rest of the team when it comes to preventing shots, and particularly those of a high quality. Meanwhile, his team seemed to take a good number of shots as well.
I can tell you that he was on the ice for all four of Providence’s goals-for on the weekend (i.e. he’s getting power play time, because they only scored once at 5-on-5), and none of BU’s four goals.
Gilmour is another guy you’d like to see shoot more (he only has 16 at 5-on-5, but 12 on the power play, including both his goals this year), but I think that’s a not-terrible total for a depth defenseman on a team like this.