Ramblings: Pulock and Hinostroza; Letang’s Performance; World Juniors – January 6

by Michael Clifford on January 6, 2018
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Pulock and Hinostroza; Letang’s Performance; World Juniors – January 6

I haven’t talked much about the World Juniors in these Ramblings as I tend to avoid prospects that aren’t on the cusp of the NHL. I am not a trained scout, nor do I have any experience in scouting. I often rely on the opinions of much more informed people which makes Dobber Prospects an invaluable resource for me.

Having watched most of the tournament’s games, and now that it’s over, here are two guys I was very impressed with (outside of the usual suspects like Casey Mittelstadt and Rasmus Dahlin).  

Jake Bean

Another good young defensive prospect for Carolina? The devil, you say?

A point-per-game defenceman over the last two and a half seasons in the WHL, I’ve been impressed by Bean just because of how unimpressive he is. I know that sounds weird, but it’s how well he plays without a lot of flash to his game. He looks for outlet passes instead of banging it off the glass. He seems pretty good about picking his spots when it comes to jumping in the play. He also doesn’t make glaring mistakes that make you wonder if a coach can trust him once he starts levelling up.

I don’t know how much fantasy value he’ll have in the next 2-3 years in Carolina. They still have trouble scoring (though Martin Necas should help eventually) and assuming they sign Noah Hanifin long-term, the Hurricanes will have Hanifin, Justin Faulk, Jaccob Slavin, and Brett Pesce all signed through 2020. That is a glut of talented defensemen that can make it hard for Bean to rack up big minutes, especially on the power play. This likely seems a longer-term project for dynasty owners than if Rasmus Dahlin were to join the Sabres or Canucks next year. He has the skills and the smarts to be very good in the NHL, it’s a matter of the opportunity afforded him.

Eeli Tolvanen

I am aware of the tear he went on early in the KHL season, but watching him among his peers in the WJHC was something else.

When you see clips of a guy, they’re almost always the end of a play. We’ve seen Tolvanen snipe on goalies and dance on defencemen and that’s all well and good. What impressed me with Tolvanen is his ability to always look for the dangerous plays in the offensive zone. Sometimes with a young scorer, they’re one-dimensional. A guy can skate fast, or has a wicked shot, or has phonebooth hands. Tolvanen doesn’t just sit in a spot in the offensive zone and wait for the puck. When he crosses the blue line, he’s looking for cross-seam passes or creating chaos through cycling and movement. Eventually he might settle into a spot, but it’s usually because of the work that has gone into getting himself into that position, rather than getting into that position and waiting for the work to happen.

Not only can he snipe but it appears (again, this is in three games of one tournament, so grain of salt and all) that he can make those around him better, and he’s looking to make those around him better. That is the hallmark of a player ready to make the jump to the next level. Preds fans should be very excited.

*

Chris Krieder underwent surgery, giving us a bit of an update:

There’s a good read here on what to expect from Kreider. It appears as though he’ll be out for the remainder of the regular season. While this is awful news for the Rangers, it’s good that Kreider is on the path to a full recovery. Blood clots are no joke and his health is paramount. All the best to him and hopefully we see him back to his normal self for 2018-19.

*

The Leafs called up Travis Dermott and sent Martin Marincin back down to the Marlies. Dermott has 41 points in 85 career AHL games. You can read his Dobber Prospects profile here.

I’m dubious as to how much short-term value there is. The Leafs have three home games in five days, and two are against Vancouver and Ottawa. Great matchups, to be sure. They take their bye week after that, though, so they only have five games in the next two weeks, and Mike Babcock wouldn’t even commit to him playing on Saturday. With Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner locked into the power play, few games coming up, and likely a minor role, it’s doubtful Dermott has much to offer fantasy hockey owners in the next couple of weeks. After that, we’ll be able to re-evaluate how he’s being used and whether he can be useful.

*
Speaking of young defencemen, it might be time to start paying a bit of attention to Ryan Pulock. He’s playing about two minutes more per game since December 1st (17:43) than in October and November (15:37) and in the 16 games since December 1st, he has 39 shots on goal and over a blocked shot per game (18). Even while playing third-pair minutes, his pace for the last 16 games works out to 200 shots and 92 blocks per 82 games. Yes, that’s just a sample of about 20 percent of a season, but performing that well in so few minutes seems noteworthy. He’s also played some sparse power-play minutes, though the top unit obviously belongs to Nick Leddy.

There were times over the past few seasons when it was a wonder if Pulock, who had 46 points in 55 AHL games last year, would make a lasting impact in the NHL. Since his late-November recall, things have looked better from a fantasy perspective. Where do Pulock dynasty owners sit? Hopeful that he’ll finally start living up to his expectations or is this a blip on the radar?

*

If someone had told you before the season that Kris Letang would play 76 games this year, how high would you have taken him? He had typically been a top-5 defenceman in one-year leagues in recent seasons and was likely drafted as a top-12 defenceman this past September. Knowing he’d play 76 games, does he get drafted ahead of Shea Weber? Duncan Keith? PK Subban? It’s a fun thought exercise.

I bring that up because Letang is on pace for 76 games, which would be the most for him since 2010-11. He’s also on pace (before Friday night’s game), for 49 points, which would be 11 points less than his average from 2014-16 when he skated 70 games a season. It’s a wild drop-off and a pretty good indicator of how things are going for the Penguins this year.

Can he turn it around? It’s not so simple

According to Dobber’s Frozen Pool, Letang has an Individual Points Percentage (the rate he garners a point when a goal is scored with him on the ice) of 44.6 percent. His previous four years were 53.1 percent, 62.6 percent, 50.9 percent, and 47.8 percent. While his mark this year is low, it’s not like we haven’t seen percentages in the same neighbourhood in recent memory. Whether that 44.6 percent improves significantly is uncertain, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

There is also the issue of the team’s shooting. Pittsburgh is pacing along at a 5.2 percent clip at five-on-five. If that were to maintain through the end of the year, it would be the lowest mark in a decade by a significant margin; the next-lowest mark for a season was Arizona in 2014-15 at 5.72 percent. This will improve, but the degree of the turnaround is uncertain.

We have Letang racking up points at a five-year-low rate at the same time the team is scoring at an historically low rate. That would seem to indicate a turnaround coming for Letang, making him the ideal buy-low candidate, right? What if he gets traded (which has been rumoured)? What if Justin Schultz keeps getting a bigger role (he has been eating some top PP minutes)? What if Letang gets injured (which often happens)? I know Letang would seem to be a guy to go out and trade for right now, but is it really? What say you, Dobber fam?

*

Vinnie Hinostroza went into Friday night’s game on a three-game point streak and he has made his way to the top line with Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad. Is there anything to expect, here?

The problem is behind the bench. Not that Joel Quenneville is a bad coach, far from it. It’s that his penchant for burying rookies or young players regularly is notorious ‘round these parts. Just ask anyone who thought Alex DeBrincat was going to be the top-line solution for Chicago a month ago. It’s a reason I’m kind of stunned Nick Schmaltz has largely lasted on Patrick Kane’s line, whether as centre or winger, for most of the year. Hinostroza could spend five games with Toews and Saad and not sniff the top-six again for the rest of the year. It’s as if Quenneville is just Jeff Blashill in disguise.

Hinostroza has turned into a shooting machine at the AHL level. He’s averaged 3.22 shots per game this year, coming off years of 2.33 and 2.24, respectively. Over the last year and a half at the NHL level, he’s third on the Blackhawks in shot attempts per 60 minutes at five-on-five at 14.74, trailing only Ryan Hartman and Patrick Kane. League-wide, he’s in the same neighbourhood as names like Mike Hoffman (14.82), Josh Anderson (14.77), Jonathan Marchessault (14.74), and Nikita Kucherov (14.7). He’s shooting a lot, and that’s a good start.

This year, too, Hinostroza is getting some good shots off. According to Hockeyviz, he has taken 27 unblocked shots at five-on-five, and only three of them are basically from bad shooting locations, with a lot at the hashmarks or lower:

Small sample, but another good start!

He’s also starting to get some power-play time as well, having played on both units (I’m not sure how to classify their units anymore), more recently with Toews and Patrick Kane. This is all positive.

The ice time still isn’t here, though, having not cracked 14 minutes in a game going into Friday. Between the lack of ice time and the Quenneville Factor, it’s hard to trust him. On the other hand, if things keep going as they are, there’s a waiver wire add who can put up 25 points over the second half of the season with good shot rates. If you have a spot on your roster, maybe he’s worth a look-see. I wouldn’t drop anyone productive, though.

*

At some point, we need to have the Aaron Ekblad Discussion. You know, the one where we bring up that, going into Friday night, he had fewer points (12) than Deryk Engelland (13). The one where his shots per game mark went from the second-highest in the league for a defenceman in 2016-17 (3.31, minimum 60 games) to 17th in the league this year (2.69, minimum of 30 games) despite playing over 2:30 more per game (albeit most has come while short-handed). The one where he has 51 points in his last 148 regular season games going back to January 1st of 2016, pacing out to 28 points per 82 games. The one where his peripherals continue to be solid but his production has fallen off a cliff for two years now. I think it’s time that we had a conversation about what exactly is going on here. Some other day, maybe.