Hello Broad Street Hockey readers! My name is Nathan Wells and I'm a college hockey writer for Western College Hockey here on the SB Nation network and College Hockey News. Although I cover the WCHA in general, the team I see the most is the University of Minnesota. That is why Travis asked me to provide a quick scouting report on newly-acquired Flyers prospect Mark Alt.
Alt is a 6'5", 205 lbs junior defenseman from St. Paul who uses his athleticism and body well. Coming out of high school, he was recruited for both football (as a QB) and hockey and ultimately chose to stay home and play hockey for the Gophers. While he was a little raw in terms of hockey, Alt still went straight to Minnesota out of high school without playing juniors. That didn't matter much in terms of playing time; he was in the lineup every game as a freshman and it took until this season for Alt to miss a game.
Minnesota, currently 16-3-3 and #1 in the nation, has a plethora of defensemen. This season saw the addition of New York Rangers first round pick Brady Skjei and Mike Reilly (who played on Team USA in the WJC) to a blue line that brought back all six defensemen from a Frozen Four trip. Because of that, the Gophers have played 7 or 8 in varying formations to get everyone in. Normally a defenseman plays up as a forward or Don Lucia employs 11 forwards/7 defensemen. There's even been a few games where both have been used (so all 8 play) and creates the odd situation of having four defensemen out at once.
Mark's role on this team is to be more of a defensive defensemen and plays heavy minutes on the penalty kill, which with the current personnel works out well. Minnesota has its share of offensive defensemen. Nate Schmidt (undrafted) leads the nation in points by a D while Ben Marshall (Detroit Red Wings) and Reilly (Columbus Blue Jackets) each have double-digit point totals.
Alt did lead the Gophers in goals by a defenseman last season with 5. He currently, however, is goalless as a junior although Mark hit the post last night on a slap shot from the point.
Last season Alt was paired with Marshall in part because the 6'5" defenseman could cover for Marshall's offensive's pinches. The pair worked well together and balanced each other out. This season he started the year doing the same thing with Mike Reilly (another freshman who at times can act as a 4th forward) but the two had the chemistry of a hubcap and turkey sub. The end result were some frustrating nights during the first half and Alt saw himself scratched for the first time against Nebraska-Omaha.
He has lately been paired with 6'4", 215 lbs Seth Helegson (New Jersey Devils) to create more of a big shutdown pair out of the gate (the two started both games this weekend) before being rotated with other D. Alt has responded in his play since being scratched and so have the Gophers. They are unbeaten in 8 games since then; including wins over Boston College and Notre Dame.
The biggest weakness in Alt's game (in my opinion) is his skating. While it's enough to get by at the college level, I don't know if it is good enough for the next level where forwards can make him pay. He's able to compensate it somewhat with athleticism but for a 6'5" player gets easily knocked off his skates. In addition, his shot gets blocked more than it should.
Fortunately, size can't be taught and Mark has that. He isn't the next Chris Pronger by any stretch of the imagination but Paul Holmgren must have seen something he liked during the Lockout (he spent a lot of time in Twin Cities rinks) and Carolina has compiled a solid blue line pipeline. There are plenty of things to like about his game mixed with a few question marks. In the end, how much Alt's skating improves should be a good estimate of how close he can reach his ceiling.
Turns out that wasn't as "quick" as I though it'd be. Hopefully that answers any questions you have about Mark Alt. If it doesn't feel free to ask in the comments or tweet me @gopherstate. I'm usually good at getting back.