Speed kills. In a high-tempo puck possession system, like the one the Canucks employ, having top end speed means everything. It means you will be first to the puck, and that you can pull away from defenders.
One thing stands out from any discussion about Billy Sweatt’s skill set: his speed.
Since even before he was drafted, his willingness to compete and the pace at which he’s played the game have stood out for scouts, coaches and fans alike. As a freshman at Colorado College, Sweatt quickly became a key player, and his production down the stretch spoke to his effectiveness: 15 points in the final 17 games of the ‘06-’07 season.
Read on past the jump.
College Hockey News’ Dan Myers took time to share his thoughts with Canucks Army:
One of the things that I remember about Sweatt was his ability to play at a high level in both ends of the rink. Obviously his speed set him apart from most, but his willingness to chip in defensively really made him one of the best players at Colorado College (CC) during his time there.
Looking back, I guess I am a little surprised he never really had a true breakout season after his solid campaign. But he played with some very good forwards during his time in the Springs and until his senior season, was never really counted on to carry the load. Finally, as a senior, Sweatt did just that, leading the team in scoring and posting a career high in goals.
Of WCHA play, Myers notes
It really depends on who opponent is on any given night — but one thing is for sure, the WCHA has been the nation’s most competitive league for much of the last decade.
Colorado College is known throughout league circles as a team that plays a fast, agressive game in it’s offensive zone. Scott Owens also takes a tremendous amount of pride in special teams and CC usually has a very good power play. It’s no wonder Billy Sweatt chose to play there and had a good career there.
His coach at CC, Scott Owens, (who declined to be interviewed by Canucks Army) told Hockey’s Future in 2007:
"We’ve been very impressed with Billy’s overall performance. His overall speed and ability to open things up were such that they were obvious from day one. Sometimes Billy goes so fast that it’s hard for guys to stay up with him. He has a very good team game concept and we feel confident with him in all areas. He’s been really good for us."
That’s solid praise for a then 19-year-old player.
Sweatt played his first pro season in Manitoba in 2010-11. Playing a fair bit with Cody Hodgson, Sweatt put up 19 goals and 47 points, while dressing for all 80 of the Moose’s games. Heading into the final stretch of his only Moose season, Winnipeg Sun writer Ken Wiebe described Sweatt as a ‘bright spot’. It was a strong sign that the young winger might be able to raise his game as the level of play got harder.
This past season Sweatt and his Chicago Wolves teammates made a pair of trips to Abbotsford, playing a total of four games. Getting to see him in three of those games, again Sweatt’s skating speed was evident, but so was his lack of finish. It’s something that more regular observers of his minor-pro career have noted as well. He works very hard to get to good spots but doesn’t find the back of the net as much as you would expect from a winger with top-six potential.
Sweatt himself has acknowledged his critics, telling the Daily Herald
"Honestly, people used to criticize me back in the day that I was all speed but I didn’t have the finish,” he said. “I work on it every year, almost every practice, every summer, just doing stickhandling and trying to get my hands caught up with my feet. I think I get better every year with it."
That’s good to hear, but if Sweatt’s not a real candidate for top-six time with the Canucks, is he good enough to fill a bottom-order spot?
Using the QualComp translations assembled by Rob Pettapiece, we find that of the regular Wolves forwards (30 events is our baseline), Sweatt played the third-toughest minutes on the team (behind veterans Mike Davies and Darren Haydar). Craig MacTavish trusted Sweatt to get the job done. We noted throughout the season how much trust MacTavish had placed in Jordan Schroeder, but Sweatt (Schroeder’s most common winger last season) played significantly "tougher" minutes by the numbers.
Sweatt can handle tough minutes at an AHL level. Being able to handle similarly tough minutes in the NHL is of a different order – especially with how Alain Vigneault used his third and fourth lines last season. While Sweatt’s offensive upside may be more limited than it was initially thought when he was drafted by the Blackhawks, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Sweatt will bring solid defensive value at the NHL in not too distant future.