European Free Agents of Interest

I’ve been posting an article like this for years (lot’s of publications do something similar for undrafted NCAA players, but there isn’t the same focus on European leagues).  You can see last year’s list here; for a look at how to judge production in Europe and how it translates to the NHL, it’s explored here; you can see European free agent success stories here.  My focus is on players 25 and under (generally speaking older players are more known quantities). Seven players from last year’s list were subsequently signed (or, in one case, drafted), while overall teams signed 21 European free agents. A general note on the leagues: the KHL has the most high end talent available and this has pulled down the talent level of the SHL slightly (which is similar to the NLA); the Liiga is a notch below, but still better than the other European leagues (DEL, EBEL, etc). A final note: when I reference a player’s size below it’s not based on my own view of its importance, but rather the NHL’s outdated ideas about it.

Scoring ratios in the league are similar to the NHL
Michael Lindqvist RW DOB 94 5’11 33-20-14-34 1.03
Was putting up ever improving numbers in the Allsvenskan before this career season with Farjestad; he has two talented teammates who could be boosting his numbers (Dick Axelsson and Johan Ryno), but he’s also fifth in the league for PPG
Victor Olofsson W DOB 95 5’11 43-24-13-37 0.86
A former Buffalo draft pick (7-181/14), he’s having a career season with Frolunda where he’s the second-leading scorer (well behind Ryan Lasch)
Lawrence Pilut DL DOB 95 5’11 45-7-29-36 0.80
Undersized blueliner is having a career year with HV71–he not only leads the defense in scoring, but the entire roster (he also leads the league for defensemen); he was rated by a couple of scouting groups for the 2014 draft, but his size scared GMs away
Joel Persson DR DOB 94 5’11 44-5-25-30 0.68
It’s very rare for a player to jump from Division I to the SHL and put up good numbers (Max Friberg is an example, but he kept himself in Divison I to win with his home town, which is a very different circumstance), but that’s exactly what Persson has done with Vaxjo (third in the league); he’s far and away the most productive blueliner on the team–he’s benefiting from playing with Elias Pettersson, but that doesn’t take away from making such an impressive step-up
Axel Ottoson C/LW DOB 96 5’10 47-14-22-36 0.76
After struggling in the SHL with MODO he’s found his footing with Bjorkloven in the Allsvenskan; he’s tied in PPG with NCAA grad Austin Farley for the team lead and is still young enough where further development could happen (at his size though it’s not likely he’ll be signed)
Henrik Haukeland GL DOB 94 6’2 .930 1.69
Norwegian struggled last year in the SHL with Leksands, but he’s put up fantastic numbers with Timra in the Allsvenskan (leading the league in save percentage and GAA)
Robin Johansson GL DOB 95 6’2 .921 2.41
Spent a season getting crushed in the NAHL a few years ago, but he’s pushed his way out of Division I to have a strong season with Troja-Ljungby in the Allsvenskan
Robin Jensen GL DOB 96 6’2 .920 2.14
Graduated out of Division I to take the starting role with Pantern in the Allsvenskan

Par Lindholm, identified last year, is now 26, so out of the purview of this review (he is, however, among the league leaders in scoring).

Scoring in the league is just slightly below the NHL
Antti Suomela CL DOB 94 6’0 53-18-35-53 1.00
Was on my list last year and his numbers have only improved as he leads JYP in both points and PPG (he’s third in the league in the latter category); I’m not entirely sure what’s kept teams from taking a chance on him, but in the absence of scouting material to examine I can’t speculate
Ville Leskinen W DOB 94 6’1 44-22-21-43 0.97
Enjoying a career year with Karpat where he’s second on the team in PPG (behind French-national Charles Bertrand); it is a talented roster so that might be boosting his numbers (he’s fourth in the league in PPG)
Ville Meskanen W DOB 95 6’1 43-23-18-41 0.95
Having a career year with Ilves, leading the team in PPG (sixth in the league, making me less suspicious that his improvement is via teammates Sami Sandell and Teemu Rautiainen)
Saku Maenalanen W DOB 94 6’3 54-17-26-43 0.79
Drafted by Nashville long ago (5-125/13), he’s having a career year with a talented Karpat team (making me a little suspicious of his numbers); his size will help engage interest, although it’s no guarantee as his numbers aren’t overwhelming
Kevin Lankinen GL DOB 95 6’2 .952 1.19
Before collapsing in shock at his numbers with HIFK it’s worth remembering it’s a small sample size as a backup (he’s playing behind Atte Engren and 40-year old Niklas Backstrom)
Veini Vehvilainen GL DOB 97 6’0 .928 1.82
Turned 21 in February so might be eligible for the draft (NHL rules say up to 21, but Sebastian Aho was drafted in similar circumstances, so…), but his size makes it unlikely; he’s outplayed veteran Jussi Rynnas for the starting role on Karpat; most expected him to be taken in the 2015 draft (including me), with just CS including him in the 2016 rankings
Dominik Hrachovina GL DOB 94 5’10 .926 1.99
At his size I think a save percentage of .999 wouldn’t be enough for the Czech national, but I included him last year with similar numbers with Tappara so I’ll throw him in this time as well
Kaapo Kahkonen GL DOB 96 6’2 .924 2.18
Former Minnesota pick (4-109/14) has played a ridiculous 52 games for Lukko and put up similar numbers to last season

Scoring in the league is similar to the NHL
Pius Suter C/LW DOB 96 5’9 33-11-27-38 1.15
Ottawa had him in their camp this season, but cut him loose (no surprise given his size); with CHL pedigree he could get another shot (perhaps with a team like Tampa that isn’t scared by his stature)–he was expected to be drafted in 2015 and still listed by some in 2016
Dominik Kubalik LW DOB 95 6’2 23-9-17-26 1.13
Former LA pick (7-191/13) was signed by Ambri-Piotta after ripping up the Czech league and he’s done well in the NLA with the best PPG on the team; exposure on the Olympic squad won’t have hurt him (although his lackluster OHL career does)
Yannick Rathgeb DR DOB 95 6’1 38-8-20-28 0.73
Posted similar numbers last year with Fribourg-Gotteron and wasn’t signed (he was on my list), but he’s young and a right-hand shot so the chances are reasonable
Ivars Punnenovs GL DOB 94 6’1 .921 2.38
Latvian is on the borderline of acceptable size for the NHL; this is his third year with the Tigers and his best thus far

Scoring volume is similar to the NHL
Sergei Shumakov RW DOB 92 45-17-21-38 0.84
Continuing his gradual improvement over his KHL career (this season is his first with CSKA); he has a couple of talented teammates (Kirill Kaprizov and Maxim Shalunov), but his history indicates the production level is on his own merit
Vladimir Tkachyov (Tkachev) LW DOB 95 5’10 46-17-21-38 0.82
Former QMJHL prospect made my list last year posting up similar numbers, but either his size or salary demands kept him in Russia; after being far and away the most productive player on Vladivostok he was traded to a stacked Ufa team late in the season; he was expected to be drafted in both 2014 and 2015
Alexei Byvaltsev CL DOB 94 5’11 54-18-23-41 0.76
His size may or may not be an impediment, but he leads his Amur teammates by a significant margin; this is his most productive season since he was a teenager in the Kazahk league, so it could be an anomaly
Ilya Mikheyev RW DOB 94 6’2 52-19-18-37 0.71
Significantly leads his Omsk team in points (although Andre Petersson is close in PPG); he’d had no international exposure until this year and that might have stirred up some interest
Andrei Yermakov DR DOB 94 6’2 34-7-9-16 0.47
Ivan Vereshchagin DL DOB 95 6’3 48-5-17-22 0.45
Both players are enjoying their best numbers ever (by a considerable margin) with Sibir Novosibirsk, which makes me a little suspicious of them, even if it’s not obvious what’s driving their production (talented forwards is all I can point too)
Alexei Krasikov GL DOB 95 6’3 .939 1.95
Played about equal time with Alexander Salak for Novosibirsk and has far better numbers
Vasili Demchenko GL DOB 94 6’1 .930 2.52
Has spent his career with Traktor Chelyabinsk and gradually improved; he’s backing up Czech national goaltender (and Olympian) Pavel Francouz who has better numbers; CS listed him for the 2012 draft
Andrei Kareyev GL DOB 94 5’11 .930 2.22
Backing up Ben Scrivens for Ufa, but his size will likely scare GMs away

Other Leagues (DEL, Czech, etc)
It’s very infrequent for players to be signed directly from these leagues–typically a strong performance leads to playing for a better European league and then earning an NHL-contract–but there are exceptions (eg Libor Sulak was signed out of the EBEL by Detroit last season)
Dominik Kahun C/LW DOB 95 5’11 DEL 41-12-28-40 0.97
The DEL isn’t a great league, but he has good numbers and some GMs will be impressed by his Olympic performance; CS listed him for the 2015 draft
Brooks Macek C/RW DOB 92 5’11 DEL 49-26-18-44 0.90
Former WHLer and Detroit pick (6-171/10) might benefit from his Olympic exposure
Matej Paulovic LW DOB 95 6’3 Slovakia 46-26-19-45 0.98
Drafted by Dallas (5-149/13) the big winger had decent numbers in the USHL, but was never signed. Dominating the Slovak league isn’t that meaningful, but he’s far and away the best young pro there

Six of the players above were actually drafted (Olofsson, Maenalanen, Kahkonen, Kubalik, Macek, and Paulovic), with another six considered (Pilut, Vehvilainen, Suter, Tkachyov, Demchenko, and Kahun). This familiarity can boost the chances of being signed (eg Marcus Sorenson or Tomas Hyka etc, on the considered side, Victor Ejdsell, etc). Of the 32 or so players listed here I think we can expect a similar number from last year to be taken.

A final note: a big thank you to those who have made donations to me–putting these articles together is a lot of work and while it’s a passion I have donations make it possible for me to invest even more time and effort into it.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)


Belleville 1, Binghamton 5; Belleville 3, Laval 4

The BSens extended their losing streak to four games, including their most embarrassing loss of the season in Binghamton. Chris Driedger, with his first AHL start since January 6th (!) was shelled in a game where, while he wasn’t perfect, it could have been much worse (a -32 shot differential). With the season already over and the game out of reach Kleinendorst…doubled-down on his veterans?

Shots: 21-53
PP: 0-2
PK: 6-9 (including two 5-on-3’s)
Scoring chances: 4
Key saves: 16
The Goals
1. Binghamton PP – Driedger beat by a wrister from the top of the circle
2. Binghamton PP – Burgdoerfer gets puck watching in the corner leaving two Devils wide open in front
3. Ciampini puts in a rebound
4. Binghamton – bad angle shot squeaks through the pads
5. Binghamton PP – nice little passing play
6. Binghamton – bangs in own rebound (Paul puck watching)

Notable plays: None. The game was virtually unwatchable.

The game against with Laval was much more entertaining. The BSens, for the most part, showed up in front of Hogberg. Newly acquired goon Eric Selleck (with a Randell-like three goals all season) was put on the first line, although Kleinendorst pulled back on his TOI eventually. It was a great game for Nick Paul–his first multi-goal and three-point game of the year–too little, too late I think, but outside of his own-goal his best game to date.

Shots: 30-30
PP: 1-3
PK: 3-3
Scoring chances: 11
Key saves: 8
The Goals
1. Laval – low wrister from a long way out
2. Paul with a great shot in tight on the short side
3. Laval – re-direction in front of Hogberg
4. PP Paul bangs in a rebound
5. Paul with a nice one-timer via Sexton
6. Laval – Paul deflects the puck into his own net
7. Laval – tipped in front

Notable plays: Sexton breakaway (first); Gagne with a great pass to Chlapik for a scoring chance (first); Lajoie hits the post (second); Hogberg stops a shorthanded breakaway (third).

One of the most frustrating things this season is how driven by fear Kleinendorst is. His goal is not to lose–how much this is based on his string of firings as a coach is hard to say. This inclination is clearest in his deployment of defensemen. His favourites–Sieloff, Burgdoerfer, and Englund–are a miserly combined 150-6-20-26 on the season–but any time the coach starts clenching they eat up the TOI. The only talented players immune to this tendency were Thomas Chabot and Ben Harpur, both of whom have spent insignificant time in the minors (and played exactly one game together, a 6-2 win back in November). Kleinendorst isn’t going anywhere the rest of the season, so for BSens fans it’s something we’ll have to suffer through the rest of the way.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Belleville 0, Hershey 3; Belleville 4, Utica 5

We have two more losses in the books for the BSens who are playing out the string for the remainder of the season. Colin White’s return to the team has him playing on the third line (for whatever reason); he is, at least, getting plenty of special teams time. First up, the loss to Hershey.

Shots: 28-24
PP: 0-2
PK: 3-3
Scoring chances: 14
Key saves: 12
The Goals
1. Hershey – untouched Bear beats Hogberg with a wrist shot from inside the faceoff dot
2. Hershey – wide open in the slot as Randell gets puck watching
3. Hershey – Empty-net from behind their own blueline

Notable plays: Blunden goes down and straight to the room, but returns soon after (second); Paul blows a 3-on-2 with an offside pass (second); Chlapik with a couple of great feeds for scoring chances (third).

This was not a particularly entertaining game and despite the relatively high volume of scoring chances the BSens had limited zone time and were stuck counter punching.

Belleville 4, Utica 5

One of the more entertaining games to watch of the season, despite the loss. Danny Taylor’s play, which had been on the decline since his stellar game February 2nd (against lackluster Binghamton; going 1-3-0 .893 2.94 since) was pulled after the first as the bottom fell out (Hogberg actually ate the loss however, as the BSens unexpectedly scored a bunch in the game). Speaking of Hogberg, since being pulled in the 7-4 loss to the Marlies his numbers are back in form (.916 2.55).

Ben Sexton had the team’s second hat trick of the season (Jordan Murray with the first way back in November), along with the second four-point game of the season (Jack Rodewald had the other, also in November). All of Belleville’s goals were on special teams (three powerplay goals and a shorty).

Shots: 34-38
PP: 3-8
PK: 2-2
Scoring chances: 13
Key saves: 3/4
The Goals
1. Utica – score off a scrambled faceoff
2. Utica – wrister from the top of the circle
3. Utica – Blunden runs a Utica player into Taylor and with part of the net open the Comets score
4. PP – Sexton’s cross-crease pass deflects in off the defender (5-on-3 goal)
5. PP – Paul bangs in White’s rebound
6. Utica – Hogberg baubles the puck and loses it and Utica bangs it in
7. Utica – a wide shot bounces off the back boards and the Comets bang it in
8. SH Sexton scores shooting on a 2-on-0 (Blunden skated behind him because he couldn’t keep up, so there wasn’t a pass option)
9. PP Sexton goes shelf from the dot (this was with the goalie pulled as well)

Notable plays: Utica has a 5-on-2 but overpass and don’t get a shot (first); 2-on-1 White can’t make the pass (first); Englund kicks in Paul’s rebound (third; disallowed, obviously, but it would have been his first goal of the year); with 20 seconds left in the game and needing a goal…the BSens make a line change? Bizarre.

One of the things I’ve been harping on all season is Kleinendorst’s preference to play favourites on the powerplay–of late this has been reduced to the second unit and that unit hasn’t scored a goal in 10 games (versus the first scoring eight). We’re also hitting absurd with or without you numbers for Max McCormick on the PK (12-13 over five games, or 92.3% (vs 170-221/76.9% with him))–Ary gave him a shoutout in his last prospect piece and I’ll just repeat what I’ve always said about him: in limited duty, in his role, he’s at best a marginal NHL player.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Belleville 2, Laval 3; Belleville 3, Toronto 1

The BSens continue to tread water in the second half of the season, losing to the very beatable Laval and then winning against one of the best teams in the AHL. I did like the trade for Ville Pokka, albeit that it’s too late and the Sens have a long track record of abandoning assets like him in the off-season.

Belleville 2, Laval 3
Shots: 27-27
PP: 0-6
PK: 3-3
Scoring chances: 9
Key saves: 5
The Goals
1. Rodewald tips in Murray’s shot (the play started with great work by Chlapik)
2. Laval SH – 2-on-1 keeps and scores (the odd-man rush because none of the forwards held back to cover Chlapik’s point)
3. Laval – Dunn stops skating and his check is wide open to bang in a centering pass
4. Laval SH – 3-on-2 scores from the slot
5. Gagne steals the puck and scores from in close

Notables: Sexton hits the post with an empty net (first); Sexton misses the net from the slot (first); great cross-ice backhand pass by Chlapik (first);Ciampini boarded (second; no call–crowd was gasping, but he kept playing); 2-on-1 no shot (second; McCormick can’t make a pass or shoot); Paul with a great chance off a rebound but can’t put it on net (second; a difficult play in this case); Chlapik hits the post (third); Chlapik set-up a couple of the scoring chances above with great passes.

After the first short-handed goal against Kleinendorst flipped which PP unit was first and second for the next few reps, which accomplished nothing (the second–now first–unit generated zero offense and the first–now second–gave up another shorty anyway). It’s a good example of Kleinendorst’s reactionary defense-first approach even when the team needs a goal.

Belleville 3 Toronto 1
Shots: 25-26
PP: 0-3
PK: 3-3
Scoring chances: 10
Key saves: 3
The Goals
1. Randell scores on a nice feed to the slot from Englund
2. Sexton tips in Chlapik’s shot
3. Toronto – Rodewald lost in outer space as a wide open Marlie scores on a one-timer from the top of the circle
4. O’Brien scores on the empty-net

Notable plays: Gagne gets run over (first; he was fine); Englund misses an empty-net (second); O’B falls on a 2-on-1 (second).

AHL Live crashed for about three and a half minutes of the first period (I missed zero BSen shots or special teams play). This is the second game in a row in Belleville where there has been a streaming issue (albeit a shorter one than the last game against Toronto where half a period was lost). I’m not sure what the issue is, but at least it didn’t drag on as long.

Taylor had very little to do this game and in general has benefited from much better defensive play the last few games (the BSens used to give up a ton of shots, but have only given up over thirty once in the last fifteen).

As for the lineup, the newly acquired Ville Pokka played and did not disappoint. He shoots the puck a lot and can move the puck, which are two qualities lacking on the Sens blueline (“gritty” players like Englund, Sieloff, and Burgdoerfer have struggled all season to assist both the transition and possession). Other changes included Blunden returning from suspension (he wasn’t missed), White coming back from Ottawa (a welcome return), with McCormick going back up. It’s worth pointing out how well the team plays in the absence of Max McCormick: 3-0-0, +5 in goal differential, and a sparkling 87.5% on the PK. As I’ve said ad nauseum for years: McCormick is a decent third-line AHL forward who can do spot duty on the second line–that is it. When I see comments like this it’s either from old schoolers who think it’s twenty years ago or younger fans who let isolated plays and confirmation bias sway them. The numbers–and performance–doesn’t lie.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Belleville 3, Utica 4

The BSens rounded out their week with a loss to the Comets. Because the BSen broadcast was out of sync with the video I wound up listening to Utica’s play-by-play guy, who was so laconic he reminded me of comedian Steven Wright (probably an obscure reference these days–my memory of him is cemented by his role in Reservoir Dogs). The Tweeted BSens lineup was a bit off as Blunden was a late scratch (Erkamps was inserted as a 7th D, but barely played).

Belleville 3, Utica 4
Shots: 27-24
PP 1-3
PK: 1-3
Scoring chances: 8
Key saves: 8
The Goals
1. Utica – rebound banged in (wide open)–Reinhart in no man’s land defensively
2. Utica PP – puck bounces off O’Brien’s stick to the Comets and they score from the slot
3. PP Paul tips in Murray’s shot
4. O’Brien with a one-timer off a nice feed from Lajoie
5. Utica – Taylor gives up a fat rebound that Utica finds
6. McCormick fires in Gagne’s rebound
7. Utica PP – BSens leave two Comets alone in front of the net and the puck is banged in

Notable Plays: McCormick misses the net from the slot (first); Harpur hits the post (first); Reinhart misses an empty net on the powerplay (first); Burgdoerfer with a pass to no one (second); Utica goal called off for goaltender interference (second); Randell blocks a shot with his wrist (second).

This was only the 10th game of the season where the BSens actually outshot their opponent (their record when doing so is now 5-5-0). Danny Taylor came back to earth (he wasn’t terrible, but four goals on twenty-four shots isn’t lighting the world on fire).

There were various Kleinendorstian oddities in the game–Tyler Randell (he of the 1 real goal in 40 games) was inserted on the PP for some reason (the last time this happened was December 28th, but his last time as part of the regular rotation was a two-game experiment back in early December). Naturally this did nothing to help the powerplay (the team has scored zero PP goals with Randell on the ice), which also included McCormick (whose limited effectiveness on the powerplay I’ve gone over before–those numbers have only gotten worse, incidentally). Speaking of special teams, I’m not clear on why Harpur has been relegated to the second unit in favour of Murray–Harpur has much better numbers on the powerplay.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Belleville 2, Rochester 0; Belleville 4, Toronto 7

Another twosome of games to comment on. The up and down season of Marcus Hogberg continues, as in an unexpected start (Taylor was ill) he earned Belleville’s first shutout of the season, and in the following game got shelled before getting pulled (not all the goals were his fault, but he needs to be better). This struggle with consistency took him over a month to sort out in the ECHL while being a regular starter–how long it takes in the AHL remains to be seen, but no one should fear he’s another bust like Matt O’Connor (whose AHL struggles are now ECHL struggles–the NCAA FA hasn’t had a shutout at either level, incidentally)–it’s far too early to judge. McCormick missed this game because he was in Ottawa and the team missed him not at all.

Belleville 2, Rochester 0
Shots: 26-33
PP: 0-3 (5-on-3)
PK: 0-1
Scoring chances: 8
Key saves: 9
The Goals
1. Flanagan scores short side as the Amerks goaltender goes down early and is slightly off the post
2. Reinhart empty-netter as Blunden flips the puck ahead and he wins the foot race

Notable plays: Gagne misses the net on a great chance from just above the hashmarks (first); great feed by Chlapik, but Paul shoots it wide (first); Sexton misses the net on a 3-on-2 (first); O’Brien shoots the puck over the net on a 3-on-1 (second); Chlapik hits the post (second); a weird penalty shot call for Rochester, but they hit the post (second); 2-on-1 but Paul can’t complete the pass (third); two of the scoring chances were off great feeds from Chlapik.

Belleville 4, Toronto 7

Unfortunately both McCormick and Blunden were returned to the team for this game (Jordan Murray also returned from injury–inexplicably he replaced the highly productive Ben Harpur on the first powerplay unit and helped it not at all).

I missed the first 10:34 of the game because it was not broadcast due to technical difficulties (I missed the first three goals of the game and 10 total shots on goal–3 by Belleville–but no penalties). This problem seems to have been in the arena because as of this writing I haven’t seen highlights posted. The BSens had a season high in scoring chances (one more than their 3-2 win over Rochester a month ago), but were sloppy defensively, didn’t get a great night from Hogberg, and were guilty (again!) of taking selfish and pointless penalties in the third period (more about that below). Tyler Randell, incidentally, scored his first goal against a goalie this season (39 games in)–another quality FA signing from Randy Lee.

Shots: 25-30
PP: 0-3
PK: 3-4 (5 min major)
Scoring chances: 16
Key saves: 6/3 (keeping in mind I missed seven shots on Hogberg in the first)
The Goals
1. Toronto – point shot (I only have the BSens Twitter feed to describe it)
2. Toronto – tap-in or one-timer via a centering pass (as above)
3. Reinhart (no description provided)
4. Sexton bangs in Chlapik’s pass
5. Toronto – both Englund and Gagne are guilty of puck-watching as a rebound is banged in by an uncontested Marlie in the slot
6. Paul bangs in a rebound
7. Toronto – one-timer from the top of the circle
8. Toronto – one-timer from the slot
9. Toronto – Hogberg beat five-hole as he slides from post-to-post
10. Toronto PP – Taylor beat by a clean shot from the top of the circle
11. Randell scores on a nice feed from Reinhart

Notable plays: two great scoring chances were via passes from Chlapik (first); Burgdoerfer falls awkwardly and struggles to get off the ice, but returned (first);
Blunden shoots it over an empty net (second); Paul misses the net with an open side (second); Chlapik accidentally runs over a referee (second; he was fine); Sieloff misses an empty net (second); Blunden targets a Marlies’ head and is rightfully kicked out of the game (third; the org should have no tolerance for that, but we’ll just hear excuses from them); Gagne gets drilled (third; clean hit and he seemed fine); Flanagan hits the post (third).

I mentioned the dumb penalties and this is a season-long trend by the BSens–the players guilty of taking them are all “leaders”–Blunden, McCormick, O’Brien, etc. These are undisciplined, selfish plays and there have been no consequences from the coaching staff whatsoever. This approach is something we saw from Luke Richardson as well (vets could do whatever they wanted). There’s no excuse for this–there ought to be even less tolerance for veterans. It’s worth pointing out that in games where the BSens have given up two or few powerplays they are 5-1 on the season (giving up only 13 goals, which is far below their norm)–the arithmetic is pretty simple.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

A Look at Belleville’s Penalty Kill


Back in late December I took a look at the BSens powerplay and with less than thirty games left in the season it’s time to take a look at the team’s PK. The raw percentage for the team is terrible (77.2%, tied for 28th in the league, but giving up the second most goals with 49–only Laval is worse). There’s nothing unique about the BSens strategy on the PK (a fairly passive box), although as the season has gone on they’ve often chosen to use just two or three defensemen on the rotation when trusted players are injured.

In the absence of useful stats from the AHL what we can do is look at deployment (in this case a shift count)–who is being used and to what level of success? Given injuries and call-ups there’s been significant variety so there’s a lot to break down. First, let’s look at usage broken down by shifts-per-game (minimum 20 shifts and averaging 1 per game):
Sexton 4.4
McCormick 3.97
Kelly 3.93
Blunden 3.77
O’Brien 3.71
Flanagan 3.0
White 2.84
Perron 2.02
Paul 1.93
Randell 1.86
Rodewald 1.18

Sieloff 4.7
Harpur 4.66
Englund 4.51
Burgdoerfer 4.23
Jaros 2.58
Erkamps 1.00

Small sample size is something to keep in mind, as Sexton has only played in 10 games, Flanagan 14, Harpur 15, etc. There’s a clear preference on defense (four primaries with a regular sprinkling of Jaros) and at forward (four–five with the departed Kelly–getting the heaviest usage).

So that’s frequency, but what about effectiveness? Here’s how they stack up based on goals against per shift:
O’Brien, White, Paul, Sexton 0.06
Blunden, Flanagan 0.07
Randell 0.08
Rodewald 0.11
McCormick, Kelly, Perron 0.12

Erkamps 0.06
Sieloff 0.07
Harpur 0.10
Burgdoerfer 0.11
Englund 0.13
Jaros 0.16

The small sample size (in this case infrequency of use) means we can’t trust Erkamps’ numbers, but in general this is a fair if broad representation of relative success. Clearly this doesn’t quite match up with usage, so here they are together:
Sexton 4.4/0.06
McCormick 3.97/0.12
Kelly 3.93/0.12
Blunden 3.77/0.07
O’Brien 3.71/0.06
Flanagan 3.0/0.07
White 2.84/0.06
Perron 2.02/0.12
Paul 1.93/0.06
Randell 1.86/0.08
Rodewald 1.18/0.11

Sieloff 4.7/0.07
Harpur 4.66/0.10
Englund 4.51/0.13
Burgdoerfer 4.23/0.11
Jaros 2.58/0.16
Erkamps 1.00/0.06

For the most part with the blueliners’ success follows usage, but at forward Kleinendorst’s favouritism impacts what he does, as Kelly and McCormick play more than their effectiveness justifies. Looking at this you’d say the top four PK forwards should be Sexton, O’Brien, Paul, and Flanagan (White is in the NHL, but if not, he bumps Flanagan), with the top-four D remaining as is with some Erkamps experimentation to see if his ability is sustainable. How does this hold up to actual pairings? We can break down who helps or hinders by seeing results depending on partners, so let’s take a look at the most frequent combinations (the dates in brackets aren’t necessarily absolute timeframes–they can also indicate the heaviest usage; the numbers are shifts vs goals against):

Forward Pairs
McCormick-O’Brien 0.06 100-6 (Nov-Jan)
Perron-White 0.05 39-2 (Nov-Jan)
Kelly-Blunden 0.08 34-3 (Dec-Jan)
Randell-Blunden 0.08 23-2 (Dec)
McCormick-Sexton 0.09 22-2 (Oct-Nov)
Paul-Rodewald 0.05 19-1 (Oct)
Kelly-Randell 0.13 15-2 (Dec)
Paul-O’Brien 0.00 14-0 (Oct-Nov)
Sexton-Blunden 0.08 12-1 (Feb)
McCormick-White 0.16 12-2 (Nov)
White-Flanagan 0.00 11-0 (Jan)
McCormick-Paul 0.09 11-1 (Oct)
Perron-Flanagan 0.00 10-0 (Jan)
O’Brien-Blunden 0.00 9-0 (Oct)
McCormick-Flanagan 0.11 9-1 (Jan-Feb)
Perron-O’Brien 0.12 8-1 (Oct-Nov)
Perron-Randell 0.12 8-1 (Oct/Dec)
Perron-Paul 0.14 7-1 (Oct/Jan)
McCormick-Blunden 0.14 7-1 (Oct/Jan)
Flanagan-Blunden 0.14 7-1 (Jan)
Sexton-O’Brien 0.00 6-0 (Oct)
O’Brien-Randell 0.00 6-0 (Oct-Nov)
McCormick-Randell 0.20 5-1 (Dec)
Paul-Sexton 0.40 5-2 (Nov)
Paul-White 0.00 4-0 (Dec)
McCormick-Rodewald 0.25 4-1 (Nov)
Perron-Kelly 0.50 4-2 (Dec)

While some of this bewildering variety is due to injury and experimentation, it’s far above what any coach should want in terms of stability and consistency. Kleinendorst has feels a compulsive need to play aging vets like Kelly beyond the bounds of reason. It’s also difficult to understand the decision to either get away from or stick with particular combinations. Conclusions: White, O’Brien, and (so far) Sexton make their partners better, while McCormick tends to be a drag on his partner and Perron is someone who reflects his partner (for good or ill). Paul, who has mostly played well in this role, was largely removed from the PK in mid-November for no apparent reason. In White’s absence and looking at the data, what we should be seeing is Sexton, O’Brien, Paul, and Flanagan getting the bulk of the time (we already know Paul-O’Brien works from the above).

Defense Partners
Englund-Burgdoerfer 0.14 87-13*
Sieloff-Burgdoerfer 0.08 69-6
Harpur-Burgdoerfer 0.06 43-3 (Dec+)
Englund-Sieloff 0.05 37-2
Englund-Jaros 0.17 35-6
Sieloff-Jaros 0.05 18-1 (Oct-Dec)
Englund-Erkamps 0.00 17-0 (Oct-Nov)
Sieloff-Harpur 0.13 15-2
Murray-Jaros 0.14 14-2 (Nov-Jan)
Englund-Harpur 0.16 12-2 (Nov-Jan)
Murray-Erkamps 0.00 10-0 (Nov-Dec)
Englund-Murray 0.20 10-2 (Nov-Dec)
Murray-Burgdoerfer 0.22 9-2 (Nov-Dec)
Lajoie-Jaros 0.00 6-0 (Jan)
*the duo had a horrific January (34-9), making them 43-4 otherwise (0.09)

A few things become apparent looking at it this way: Sieloff makes everyone better, with Harpur helping to a lesser degree; Burgdoerfer and Murray are drags on whoever they play with, while Englund’s impact seems more of a neutral factor–he can’t make up for his partner, but he doesn’t hurt either. Jaros is heavily effected by who he plays with (good with Lajoie and Sieloff, struggles elsewhere). Looking at what’s been tried I’d put Sieloff back with Englund and keep Burgdoerfer with Harpur until Jaros is healthy (and why not mix in some Erkamps so you can find out if the guy is actually a decent penalty killer or not?).

A few other player-specific comments:
-White, who has easily been the team’s best penalty killer, only started getting top rotation in January–Kleinendorst is so reluctant to trust younger players that even with a first-rounder like that he needed two months of watching before pulling the trigger
-Rodewald’s usage fell off at the same time as Paul’s, but his numbers aren’t nearly as good suggesting this was a smart coaching decision
-Randell received a huge spike in usage in December (60% of his deployment for the year) which has since dropped off to his more typical levels
-A third of Erkamps’ shifts come from a single game in October (4-2 loss to Syracuse) and over half from October in general–so buyer beware, but that’s not a reason to ram Murray into the PK (which was what Kleinendorst switched too)

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)