Wolves Half-Season Review – Defencemen

Yann Sauve was actually the first recall by the Canucks, way back at the end of training camp.
(Chris Jerina/AHL in Photos)

At the top of the list of things that have started to go right for the Wolves this season, is the team’s defense-corps. Somewhat maligned to start the season, the top 5 has solidified and there’s decent competition for the 6th spot. After the jump, I’ll take a look at the progress, and performances along the Chicago Wolves blue-line so far this season:

Kevin Connauton: The former Vancouver Giant proved that he could score in the AHL last season, but his defensive game left most scouts and observers unimpressed. This year his defensive play has notably improved. He’s been a fixture on the first pairing, both with Nolan Baumgartner and, more recently, with Chris Tanev. He’s still not yet ready to be an NHL regular, but, as Jeff Angus recently wrote, Connauton is ready to get "a cup of coffee," in the big-show.

Chris Tanev: Tanev is a known quantity. The Wolves’ best defenceman is caught in bit of an NHL-cap vortex. Right now the big league team’s practical needs, outweigh the clear reality that Chris Tanev is ready for a full-time job in the NHL. He should be there sooner, but will likely be there later.

Nolan Baumgartner: He’s now moved into "old warhorse" territory. The Wolves’ captain spent much of the first two months of the season tutoring Connauton; but since Tanev’s return to the lineup, Baumer’s been with Yann Sauve. Is he still good enough for a smattering of NHL minutes? Maybe, but there are much younger, more intriguing options available.

Yann Sauve: If anyone on the Wolves could be said to be having a disappointing season, it might be Sauve. He hasn’t been bad, but for him to progress, he needs to be making more waves. Right now he’s too much of ‘just a player.’ In the young defenceman race, he’s well behind Tanev and has been passed by Connauton. He’s a steady stay-at-home defenseman at the AHL level, but if he wants a regular NHL job, that’s not going to cut it.

Mark Matheson: Matheson is a steady AHL hand who will play every night and show the youngsters the ropes. He gets some PP time and doesn’t make many mistakes in his own end, but he’s too slow to make the step up to the NHL level.

Adam Polasek: He’s getting a pretty solid look and has had his moments, but the big fella’s first pro season is far from a resounding success. As you might expect, the 20 year old Czech defender has been far too inconsistent. Still a long-term project. 

Sebastian Erixon: The Swede has struggled to step up his game and adjust to playing hockey on a smaller ice-surface. Stories emerged pretty early in the season that he was having a hard time adjusting to life in Chicago. Given how little he’s played of late, it’s hard to see how he could be doing any better. How he handles the next few months and the off season will tell us a lot about what next year will bring.

Ryan Parent: His story has been told forwards and backwards. Was a regular for the Flyers in the cup final in ’10 and now he’s either injured or fighting to get scraps of minutes on the 3rd pairing… this from the guy who was Shea Weber’s partner at the WJC? His slide towards AHL mediocrity is almost inexplicable. He’s a big body whose hockey sense has, apparently, completely deserted him. Viewed as surplus, he was even loaned to Team Canada for the Spengler Cup. At this point there’s little chance of him returning to the Canucks.

JP Testwuide: One has to wonder how the former U of Denver man feels this season. Surely he was excited to get a chance to move to a team affiliated with as successful an organization as the Canucks, but he’s caught in a log jam. He’s been unable to take minutes away from Matheson, and everyone else is too important to the organization for minutes to be given to a career minor leaguer.

Dustin Friesen: Even more of a curiosity than Testwuide, Friesen played at U of New Brunswick. He’s had a smattering of games, but this can’t be the most thrilling situation for him.

Taylor Ellington*: Long ago there were high hopes. Now he’s just ECHL fodder.