Image via Matthew Henderson
This is less a prospect profile about Alex Friesen and more an editorial comment on the state of the Vancouver Canucks prospect system pre-2013. My ranking of Friesen at No. 13 in the Canucks’ system, which I understand is the highest that anybody gave him, was not based on any new information we learned in the 2012-2013 campaign, but just a general observation that he’s further along in his development and I haven’t learned anything about him over the last 12 months that would take away from the fact that I could “potentially see him play in the National Hockey League someday”.
Not much in the National Hockey League, mind you. If you click on his profile from last year, you’ll see that Friesen played an important role on recent Niagara Ice Dogs teams as the lead defensive centreman on the team. He’s basically a more physical, offensive Manny Malhotra, which I suppose any NHL team would love to have, but it’s unrealistic to project his junior talents to the majors at this point.
Read on past the jump for more on Friesen, our 20th ranked prospect in the Canucks system.
So what exactly are his talents? Well, the ones that kicked around in junior didn’t really make the leap to pro in his 20-year-old season. Last year, he was ranked No. 11 on this list because he was a defensive centreman on one of the best teams in the OHL and put up a point-a-game. His offence collapsed this past season and he struggled to score meaningful minutes with the Chicago Wolves. It’s not to say that a player that drops down to the ECHL won’t play NHL hockey.
But why the drop? Friesen was point-a-game in his draft year, scored 66 points in 60 games in 2011 and 71 points in 62 games in 2012. The difference between the OHL and the AHL is staggering, as Friesen managed five assists in 42 games, and one of the team’s lowest quality of competition ranks during the season. He saw time in Kalamazoo after being sent down in March, and failed to score there as well.
This was the only goal Friesen scored during a game last season:
Canucks assistant GM Laurence Gilman last year called him “an over-achiever and is a gritty two-way forward who plays above his size”. There’s some indication that Friesen does a lot of that with his play, and at least the one goal we have to judge Friesen by last season conforms to the assessment.
But you’d rather a plethora of goals to choose from than a plethora of fights. Some of Friesen’s other highlights include fights and… well, fights. He didn’t drop the mitts all that much last season, just twice, but unfortunately, that composes much of his highlight reel.
To think that this guy was No. 11 on our list last year, who wound up doing next to nothing in his first year of pro hockey. It is difficult to do things in pro hockey. One of my favourite QMJHL players, Stanislav Galiev (a prospect in the Washington Capitals system), played 17 scoreless AHL games before being sent down to the Reading Royals, where he tore it up.
Gabriel Desjardins notes that most players that make the NHL off the hop do better there than the AHL, “which makes the AHL appear better than it actually is”. But look at the AHL expectancy numbers for Friesen (find points and goals per 82 games, and multiply that by 0.45) based on his last two years of junior, compared to this year:
2011 – 16 G, 41 Pts
2012 – 15 G, 42 Pts
2013* – 2 G, 10 Pts
*per 82 games
Note that AHLe doesn’t necessarily match the first year of performance. It’s meant to be more of a projection or an expectation rather than an indicator of a player’s production. Some players will be above, some below, as they adjust differently to the new league. Age plays a factor. It’s tougher to score as a 20-year-old in the AHL than as a 19-year-old in the OHL.
But I still had Friesen at No. 13, just two spots down from last year. Mostly, I was trying my best to ignore such a low offensive season and instead focus on what we knew about Friesen before his time. He was perhaps overvalued as a prospect last year due to his role in Marty Williamson’s Ice Dogs system and how at the time, the Canucks needed every ounce of defensive help they could get.
Since that time, we’ve seen Brendan Gaunce and Bo Horvat be drafted by the team. We’ve seen the Canucks sign Brad Richardson and Mike Santorelli. There’s less of a current need at the depth centre position, so less reason to project that responsibility onto somebody who can’t exactly fulfill it.
As No. 20 on any list, or No. 13 on my list, Friesen represents somebody where it would be a win if he played a single NHL game in his career. That’s true of any prospect list for any team, but it seems particularly fuzzy on the Canucks, where the spots after (roughly) the Top Five are held with players that weren’t exactly scoring dynamos in junior or players that spent multiple seasons playing for their national junior squads. It’s tough to get excited about this batch of Canucks prospects for the most part on this list until you get to about Jordan Subban. That’s what happens when the team’s philosophy is to select older, pro-ready players where the organization already knows the player’s role rather than talent and potential.
So he’s a guy to keep our eyes on in Utica and see if he returns to his 2012 form. The Canucks will have more control over the Utica Comets than the Wolves last season, and if the organization still has an interest in his development, they’ll make sure he’s playing more key situations.
Check back in tomorrow to find out who our 19th ranked prospect is!