Stepan Up: Falkovsky’s first pro season

FalkovskyMAN

courtesy Andy Camp / Adirondack Thunder

The seventh round of the NHL draft is a fascinating place. The players that are drafted in these slots largely fall into the category of home-run swings: that is, drafting a player with limited information in the hopes that your team strikes gold. I believe Stepan Falkovsky fits neatly into the category of ‘home-run swing’ and there is reason for cautious optimism halfway through his first season as a professional. 

We have to start in the most obvious place: Falkovsky is tall. No, wait, Joe Colborne is tall; Falkovsky is staggeringly tall. The guy is kid-hitting-puberty-early-playing-grade-8-basketball tall. On the ice, it’s almost unnatural looking. However, he is having a pretty good rookie season in the ECHL and is starting to garner a fair amount of attention for a player drafted where he was. 

Let’s learn about him after the jump.

WHO IS THIS PLAYER?

FYI: Excellent rockin’ soundtrack here on this 67’s video. 

Falkovsky was selected 42nd overall at the 2015 CHL import draft by the Ottawa 67’s and, according to the 67’s press release, was taken to provide a “solid veteran presence” on the blue line after Ottawa had graduated some key defenders. It is curious to note that, in the initial release, they list Falkovsky at 6’9, 231 lbs. Yikes. That’s a big kid.

A look at his stats shows us that Falkovsky spent two seasons in the MHL (the Russian Junior League) where he scored 11 points in 22 games in his first year of NHL draft eligibility, but also bounced between the Belarussian Extraleague and the Belarussian Junior league. Clearly, getting eyes on Falkovsky wouldn’t have been exceptionally easy.

When he arrived in Ottawa, Falkovsky was already in his second year of NHL draft eligibility. Here’s what feature writer and scout for Future Considerations and all around good guy Scott Wheeler had to say about his initial impressions of Falkovsky with the 67’s:

He was a hot mess when he first joined the 67’s, to be quite honest. He wasn’t given a huge role off the bat, nor should he have been. My first impression was that he was big, and he could shoot. That was about where it ended, initially.

According to Wheeler, Falkovsky did progress over the course of the 2015-16 season:

He definitely progressed, but his progression came more from improving his stability than his actual speed (which is what most people associate skating with). He was much stronger on his feet, and more poised with the puck. He was an older rookie, but for his size he was still gifted offensively. By year’s end he was strong at both ends and one of the 67’s best defenders.

During the year, he began to garner some media attention for a fairly prosperous rookie season offensively. Here’s what a USA Today story had to say about him in December of 2015:

The biggest — and we do mean biggest — story out of the OHL this past month has been the play of human condor Stepan Falkovsky (seven goals, 17 points). The Ottawa 67s’ imported defenseman is 6-7, 225 pounds, and has some terrific offensive skills that he started putting to good use in November after an early adjustment period to North America.

The Belarus native moves stunningly well for such a behemoth, and is hyper aggressive at the offensive end, where he’s constantly pushing the attack and forcing the play at the blue line. He moves down off the point and unleashes rocket wristers from the slot, or he can just blow cannon blasts by netminders from the point. The downside is that he turns 19 later this month and has barely a nodding acquaintance with his own defensive zone. He’s also not a natural killer in terms of using his physical presence around the crease.

But, when you have a guy with that size who has that kind of puck skills and a huge shot, teams will always start dreaming on him becoming the next Zdeno Chara (who by the way, was never thought of as a dominant force in junior).

Falkovsky will require years of teaching and patience before an NHL club can expect to see any payoff. But if he pans out down the road … wow!

Knowing this, it sure seems as though the Flames had their wits about them when they took a flier on Falkovsky with the fifth pick of the seventh round of the 2016 NHL draft. Interestingly, Pat Steinberg had this little nugget of info shortly after he was drafted:

At the young stars tournament in Penticton Falkovsky impressed many with his mobility, a trait not normally associated with players his size (see: Kanzig, Keegan). On Oct. 5 the Stockton Heat signed Falkovsky and three days later he was assigned to the Adirondack Thunder of the ECHL.

FALKOVSKY’S FIRST PRO SEASON

FalkovskyELM

courtesy Andy Camp / Adirondack Thunder

The Flames haven’t exactly used the ECHL effectively prior to the last three seasons or so. However, with players like Brett Kulak, Ryan Culkin, Mason McDonald, and this season Brett Pollock, Stepan Falkovsky, and Mikkel Aagaard, it seems as though the Flames are beginning to utilize the ECHL to give prospects, or perhaps more specifically projects, more playing time, as opposed to infrequent playing time in the AHL.  

As far as how this season is going, Falkovsky currently sits second on the team in scoring among defenders with 22 points in 37 games. For context, when Brett Kulak played 39 games with the ECHL’s Colorado Eagles, he scored 30 points (though four fewer goals than Falkovsky in two more games played). 

In terms of actual viewings, it’s not easy to get eyes on Adirondack Thunder games, so we are mostly dependent on second hand source material. For instance, have a look here at Falkovsky at 0:35, first scoring a goal on a one-timer (and then embracing his teammates and making them look like children):

Okay, so he’s tall. You know that. However, Falkovsky has being showing flashes of skill, agility, and touch around the net that you certainly wouldn’t expect from a defenseman, especially not one his size. In the above video, around 2:25, you can also see Falkovsky displaying a nice set of mitts and great patience before going top shelf on a helpless netminder.

Between Oliver Kylington, Rasmus Andersson, Brett Kulak, Adam Fox, and to a lesser extent Brandon Hickey, the Flames have decent defensive depth in terms of prospects. However, one attribute missing from nearly all these prospects (except perhaps Andersson and lesser-touted Kenney Morrison) is a punishing shot from the point: one of Falkovsky’s mot notable features. Though not nearly in the same prospect league as the names mentioned, he does have this weapon in his arsenal and has displayed it a number of times during his year in Adirondack. 

Clearly, Falkovsky’s a great deal of distance away from being a legitimate NHL prospect, but Flames fans can’t help but be cautiously optimistic about his first foray into professional hockey. In fact, it’s important to remember that this is only Falkovsky’s second year in North America. When he makes the jump to the AHL, it will be interesting to see if his success continues.    

  • T&A4Flames

    In limited ice time at the Young stars tourney, I thought this kid looked pretty solid. The fact that he’s really starting to put together more all around skills is reason to be happy and optimistic of this prospect.

    Something else we are missing in a lot of those D prospects mentioned is some size and nastiness. Falkovsky could bring that as well. I see him cracking the Flamesnation top 20 prospects next summer.

  • Bring Back Brathwaite

    Exactly how round 6 and 7 picks should be made. If you keep betting on guys like him, Bruce and Kanzig (in the 7th, not third) one will eventually work out, right?

    • McRib

      The Flames are really good at inviting legitimate Free Agent talents to Developmental Camp and not signing them, see Tyler Johnson, Frank Vatrano as well.

      For everyone else who cares that USA Today article was an original Red Line Report piece who had Falkovsky ranked 79th last year prior to the June Draft. Flames fans should really read that piece further because they also sing the praise of Matthew Phillips (boldly comparing him to another undersized Flame).

      Falkovsky now has 15 Points in last 8 GP in the ECHL, time to move him up to the AHL. Both Falkovsky and Phillips have the chance to be homeruns if all goes reall well or solid NHLers if all just goes accordingy. The Flames have scouted incredibly well the last two years, but the player development aspect is a work in progress. Brad Pascall and Ryan Huska haven’t impressed me so far in the AHL, hopefully things turn around on that front.

      • Derzie

        Good info, thanks. It is interesting that players of exceptional size is the theme here. The too small and too big ends of the player spectrum are a new area to look for diamonds in the rough. Call it the Gaudreau effect from a Flames scouting perspective. In that landing Johnny gave the scouts licence to look deeper at these pools. Good to see.

    • supra steve

      Relevance?

      McDavid leads the league in points in his second season, but he doesn’t take a lot of slap shots. Some might conclude that a high skill/high scoring C that doesn’t take lot of slap shots might have a pretty good idea of what he is doing, and if he doesn’t use his slap shot, perhaps the slap shot is not an important item in his tool belt.

      Though, I guess I am addressing a real expert, so who am I to disagree?

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    One glaring deficiency on the current Flames is the lack of a player who can one time a shot. I can’t think of a player since Iggy that has shown that ability. No cannons from the point since MacInnis. Falkovsky seems to address that need if he continues to develop.

  • Just.Visiting

    He’s already shown more than I had expected at this stage. He seems like an intriguing prospect that I’d like to see play against stronger competition this year in the AHL.

  • freethe flames

    With 15 days and 8 games till the trade deadline I wonder what BT will do. Much I think depends on how this team performs coming out of the break. I have frequently stated that I think Feb 18th is the day that will set the direction for him but now think it will be done during the eastern road trip. In the next two weeks we have Ari, Phil,Van, Nash, TBL, Fl, Carolina and the LA on the 28th. If there is a time in our season to get on another run it’s now. 6-2 in this stretch is quite possible and would go a long way in moving forward especially if 2 of the wins could be against Nash and LA.

  • Newbietwo

    That’s been an area of weakness at our drafting of wingers.. we really don’t have much in way of true Power Forwards.. and on the big club that’s the exact issue in our top 6.. chucky is the exception here. It he’s 18 and recently drafted.. we need a true Power Forward for our top line! Not a two way or a grinder or a sniper