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AHL All-Star break Phantoms player grades: defensemen and goaltenders

Wrapping things up!

Casey Liberatore - SB Nation ©

Yesterday we handed out All-Star break grades to the Phantoms’ forwards, and today we’ll be doing the same for the defensemen and goaltenders. The minimum 20 games played cutoff is in effect again for defensemen, but was lowered for goaltenders or else we’d only have one to talk about. With a good mix of veteran and prospects, who’s been the biggest positive thus far? Let’s see.

T.J. Brennan

Production: 37 games played, 7 goals, 10 primary assists, 16 secondary assists, 33 points
5-on-5 stats: 50.29% Corsi for, 49.78% scoring chances for
Grade: B+

Maddie’s take: Brennan’s offense has been little short of stellar this season. He’s at just under a point per game, and is on pace to blow by his points total from last season (45 in 63 games played), even though he’s missed and is still missing time with illness. The scoring numbers are there and the on-ice metrics are solid. And that’s great. The thing, though, keeping me from giving him a higher grade is the fact that we’ve still had games where it’s looked like he’s just decided he isn’t going to play any defense. And maybe we should expect that a little bit? We know he’s never going to be known for the defensive side of his game. But, all the same, I can’t in good faith move him into A territory knowing I’ve seen him give up on defending two-on-ones, no matter how good the offensive side is.

Brad’s take: I argued a bit for an A here, because the numbers are objectively good, but we settled on a B+ because of his defensive deficiencies. While he may be susceptible to, well, taking a shift off, to be blunt, the good does outweigh the bad, and he had been on pace to finish with his highest point total since joining the Phantoms. He’s the only defenseman that has been on the ice for more Phantoms shots for than against at 5-on-5, plus the power play doesn’t look the same when he’s out of the lineup.

Philippe Myers

Production: 45 games played, 8 goals, 12 primary assists, 8 secondary assists, 28 points
5-on-5 stats: 47.6% Corsi for, 45.91% scoring chances for
Grade: A-

Brad’s take: Like every player he’s had his ups and downs, but Myers has had a really strong sophomore season and continues to improve. His scoring has seen a dip since early January when he had been on pace to finish the season with one of the highest even strength point totals in over a decade, but he should still come close to reaching the 50-point if he stays in Lehigh the rest of the season, which, well, feels unlikely. His aggressive style of defense combined with his skating ability and offensive flair makes Myers an exciting player to watch, and someone teams need to prepare to face on both sides of the puck. He still takes too many penalties though.

Maddie’s take: Myers had kind of a rough start to the season—not in that he was actively bad or anything, but just in that he wasn’t nearly as effective as we know that he can be. The good news, though, is that he’s definitely been trending upward recently, and it couldn’t have really come at a better time. The team’s hit a rough patch, but Myers has worked as a pretty distinct stabilizing force. The offense is coming along, the defense has been sound, and he’s inching closer and closer to that level of dominance that we saw from him at the end of last season. And that, in short, is exciting.

Mark Friedman

Production: 45 games played, 4 goals, 3 primary assists, 9 secondary assists, 16 points
5-on-5 stats: 45.3% Corsi for, 48.29% scoring chances for
Grade: B+

Maddie’s take: Friedman hasn’t brought quite as much flash on the season, but he’s been quietly solid pretty much across the board. The raw points production is respectable, and we understand that it’s hard for him to be the key offensive contributor while playing alongside Brennan. He’s had to play a tighter defensive role, and he’s done well at that. We’d like to see those Corsi numbers come up a little more down the stretch, but I really don’t have any complaints about Friedman’s season so far.

Brad’s take: Right, it’s true that playing with Brennan will lead to him playing a more defensively-focused game, however, here’s the thing; he’s pretty good at it. And that’s great to see, because if we dip into the future for a bit, is Friedman going to be relied on as an offensive threat at the NHL level once he makes it? Here and there, sure, but he’ll likely have to play a more defensive role with the Flyers, so seeing him have the success that he’s had against top-six AHL competition in that role is kind of a big deal. Also it’s not like he’s not pushing the pace offensively. He’s still jumping into rushes and getting his chances, he just hasn’t improved on last season’s point pace as much as we’d hoped. In the end, he fell just short of an A.

Reece Willcox

Production: 38 games played, 1 goals, 6 primary assists, 4 secondary assists, 11 points
5-on-5 stats: 40.7% Corsi for, 43.6% scoring chances for
Grade: D

Brad’s take: As a numbers guy I can’t not point out that Willcox has the lowest CF% among lineup regulars, and that’s, well, not great. The Phantoms have been out-shot, by a lot, when he’s been on the ice this season and that’s just a continuation from a year ago. He blocks a lot of shots, which is to be expected given his on-ice numbers, and sees time on the league’s best penalty kill, so that’s a positive. By the eye test he’s shown a bit more offensively of late, but that hasn’t translated to an improvement by the numbers.

Maddie’s take: Yeah, it’s been kind of rough for Wilcox so far this season. Not a whole lot going on the scoring front, and the defensive side of his game has definitely seen him making some lapses in judgement and getting burned for it. Underlying numbers aren’t great, even relative to the rest of the team. The one bright spot is that he’s taken a step forward and has been activating on the rush more recently, and that’s been nice to see. But yeah, otherwise, it’s been kind of messy.

Zach Palmquist

Production: 43 games played, 3 goals, 3 primary assists, 4 secondary assists, 10 points
5-on-5 stats: 41.86% Corsi for, 43.1% scoring chances for
Grade: D-

Maddie’s take: I think I’d more or less like to echo my sentiments regarding Wilcox here for Palmquist. It’s been a rough go for him, the numbers, you can see, haven’t been great. He hasn’t really passed the eye test, either. Turnovers have been a big issue, as has his gap control, to name a few examples, and that’s contributed to what’s ended up being some dubious defensive zone coverage. He’s in a limited role, and maybe you could say it’s hard to really thrive in a role like that. One might argue. But, all in all, I haven’t found him to be particularly effective.

Brad’s take: Ineffective, yeah, I’d agree with that sentiment. Palmquist has been my biggest disappointment this season. He came to the Phantoms after three full seasons with Iowa and just last season scored six goals and put up 34 points. I hadn’t seen him play before — the Phantoms and Wild do not play each other since they’re in separate conferences — but the offense clearly being there gave me higher expectations going into the season. Maybe it’s the system here clashing with a style he previously thrived in, or maybe his game has always been like this, but the amount of turnovers he commits in the defensive zone is a bit of a problem. His transition game hasn’t been up to par when it comes to exiting the defensive zone with control, or defending entries, as Maddie touched on above, and that’s a big reason why his on-ice differentials have been poor.

Philip Samuelsson

Production: 44 games played, 3 goals, 4 primary assists, 1 secondary assists, 8 points
5-on-5 stats: 47.24% Corsi for, 46.54% scoring chances for
Grade: A

Brad’s take: When someone is described as a defensive defenseman, it usually means two things. The first being that they don’t contribute much offensively, and the second being that they’ll tend to “generate defense” by their inability to cut off plays in the neutral zone, or by committing defensive zone turnovers. Basically they tend to be good at getting hit with the puck and not much else. However, when it comes to Samuelsson, the first may ring true, but the second could not be more wrong. Samuelsson has been a pillar of consistency on a rather inconsistent blueline with his ability to block passing lanes and make clean, smart passes in all three zones. He’s probably seen more time on the penalty kill than any other Phantom, and is a big reason why they sit first in the league in penalty kill success rate. Samuelsson has been great and was exactly the type of player that this team needed to add over the summer.

Maddie’s take: Consistent is absolutely the right word for Samuelsson’s game. We have a handful of defensemen on this team who we know can generate their fair share of offense, and we’re okay with this not being Samuelsson’s game. He’s been steady, and not in the way that “steady defensive defenseman” is usually coded to mean bad. As Brad said, his work on the penalty kill has been little short of stellar, and it’s hard to overstate how important that’s been to a PK’s that’s first in the AHL. He’s kept his head down, kept to his details, and it’s served him well.

Alex Lyon

Official stats: 21 games played, 11-9-1 record, .920 save percentage
5-on-5 stats: .973 low danger save percentage, .938 medium danger save percentage, .771 high danger save percentage
Grade: A-

Maddie’s take: I don’t know that it’s much of an overstatement to say that Lyon’s the reason the Phantoms are still third in the division (and second in points percentage!), despite how depleted they’ve been recently. They’re getting caved in by shots almost every night, and somehow they’re still winning games when they really have no business doing so. And, with Carter Hart called up to the Flyers, it’s come down to Lyon to play just about All Of The Games. He’s been the backbone of the team, there’s really no other way to say it. The only reason I knocked his grade down a bit was because that high danger save percentage is kind of rough. So it goes.

Brad’s take: Yeah, I’m gonna second what Maddie started out with above. Lyon has been magnificent of late, with back-to-back 40-save performances in his last two appearances. He’s faced a ton of rubber, stopped a lot of it, and kept the rebounds to a minimum. His high danger save percentage isn’t that bad when compared to NHL data; a .771 is pretty close to average. On the whole, Lyon has been great so far and he’ll provide a big boost whenever he returns from injury.

Carter Hart

Official stats: 18 games played, 9-6-2 record, .902 save percentage
5-on-5 stats: .973 low danger save percentage, .909 medium danger save percentage, .781 high danger save percentage
Grade: C+

Brad’s take: Hart’s success in the NHL does make it harder to grade him solely on his work in the AHL, but, when he was here he was going through an adjustment period and wasn’t all that good at the start of the season. He quickly got accustomed, but his rebound control was a bit of a mess leading up to that point. I will point out that he has faced a higher percentage of quality chances against than Lyon has, and that’s absolutely contributed to his pedestrian save percentage overall.

Maddie’s take: Does the C+ feel a little harsh? I’m trying not to get too caught up in recency bias. In six of his last eight games with the Phantoms, he posted a save percentage above .900, and was definitely starting to put it together, but before that, he had posted an .858 save percentage in his first ten games. The medium danger save percentage wasn’t quite stellar. The high danger save percentage was fine enough. So we have to account for that, too. That said, he showed resilience in his time with the Phantoms, learning from his mistakes and building to be better. And he deserves just as much credit for that.