With the playoffs clinched and the regular season coming to a close, it’s time to take a look at a few individual players’ seasons and what we can expect from them next. Up first is rookie defenseman Mark Friedman.
After turning heads at both development camp and training camp with his smooth skating and competitiveness, his 2017-18 campaign began a bit rocky. In an interview with Stephen Gross of The Morning Call, Friedman himself stated that he was kind of chasing the game for the first 30 games of the season. With that in mind, let’s split his season almost in half.
First 30 games
For the majority of his first 30 games, Friedman was paired with Will O’Neill, and while they successfully drove play together, the goal results were not in their favor. While this was undoubtedly somewhat due to mistakes being made, I also think that poor puck luck played a role. Up through game 30, Friedman was a -14 and had a 5-on-5 goal differential of -9.
His play really wasn’t that bad. Back in December I had compared his early season struggles to Travis Sanheim’s rookie season in Philadelphia and suggested that if we had the ability to access PDO at the AHL level, Friedman’s would have been pretty low at the time. I still believe that to be true.
Interestingly enough, Friedman’s offensive production was actually a bit better in the first half of the season, averaging 0.3 points per game, compared to just 0.18 points per game since game 31 on December 29th.
Past 28 games
Here’s where things start going right for Friedman. While continuing to drive play with a multitude of partners, the mistakes become less and less apparent, and his goal results begin to trend up. His +6 rating and 5-on-5 goal differential of +8 over this span of games will make the score sheet a bit kinder to him, but it’s far beyond just goals being scored.
Something that stood out to me recently has been his improved gap control. When it comes to zone entries I don’t have a large enough sample size to make my data useful, but my eyes tell me that entry defense in particular is one of the many areas of the game where he’s shown improvement.
Shot share, scoring chances, and production
As I mentioned earlier, Friedman has driven play just about all season, and he has a 52.53 CF% in 58 games played. His +2.96 CF% rel at 5-on-5 is 7th on the Phantoms, and 4th among defensemen. Up until recently Friedman had been out-performing the team’s CF% by a pretty decent margin.
He also grades out quite well in scoring chances. His 54.05 SCF% at 5-on-5 is good for 6th-best on the Phantoms, and he actually leads all Phantoms skaters in HDCF% with 59.03%! (Scoring chance and danger-level shot data is from December 9th and on. It’s not full-season data; rather, the past 43 games.)
For an offensive defenseman, the production, or lack thereof, has been a little disappointing. Heavy emphasis on little because context matters. Time on ice isn’t made available to the public, but I’d be willing to bet that he’s been playing third pair minutes. In fact, Prospect-Stats‘ estimated time on ice has Friedman averaging 13:07 per game at 5-on-5, which is the second least among Phantoms defenseman. Only Adam Comrie, who is not even with the team anymore, has a lower eTOI/GP. Couple that with him not playing on the power play and his 14 points in 58 games suddenly doesn’t seem so bad.
An underrated aspect of his game seems to be his ability to draw penalties while also not taking many himself. In fact, he leads all Phantoms defensemen with 16 minors drawn, and is 2nd on the Phantoms overall in penalty differential. Only Oskar Lindblom (+12) has a better penalty differential than Friedman’s +10. A lot of this is due to his speed; however, there seems to be an agitation element contributing there as well. He may be 5’10”, but don’t let that deceive you, he’s shown that he can throw some huge hits and irritate the opposition with physical play.
What we can expect
2018-19 should be another season in Lehigh Valley for Friedman, this time with an increased role. Friedman saw very little time outside of even strength hockey this season. He doesn’t play on the penalty kill, and as previously mentioned he doesn’t get time on the power play either. With T.J. Brennan returning to the Phantoms, and likely continuing to quarterback the first power play unit, it’d be great to see Friedman get the opportunity to have a consistent role on the second unit.