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Lehigh Valley Phantoms report cards: Returning defensemen

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Shifting to defense, talking about the familiar faces.

Heather Barry / SB Nation

We’re back again with more end of season grades for the Phantoms! We talked about the goalies yesterday, and now we’re working our way outward and moving on to the defense. We had quite a few new defensemen joining the team this season, but guess what, we’re not talking about them yet. First, we’re going to run through a couple of familiar names, the guys who remained in the system and came back with the team this year. Let’s get into it!

T.J. Brennan

28 GP. 1 G, 7 A, 8 P. 52.34 CF%. Grade: D

Maddie, D: Yeah, it really wasn’t a great season for Brennan. Which is a shame, because he did used to be a really strong offensive contributor, but that really has fallen off over the last season or so. Brennan has never been known for the defensive side of his game, but we kind of just dealt with those lapses because he scored goals and could run a power play. But now that the scoring’s fallen off, and he hasn’t shown the same prowess in distributing and holding the blue line on the power play, you start to not be able to justify giving him the same minutes he once was given. It just really wasn’t clicking for Brennan this season, that’s kind of what it comes down to.

Brad, D: Brennan’s final season in Lehigh Valley was, sadly, an unsuccessful one. When we took a deep dive into the power play at the end of January we found that he was still contributing to a high amount of shots, but the unit hadn’t been creating as many dangerous chances as one would hope. After years of Brennan quarterbacking a successful power play, it just wasn’t working this time around. With the offensive production down, and the defensive side of the game never being a strong suit to begin with, his role was reduced until he was eventually traded to Chicago. And while his Corsi was positive this season, his high-danger Corsi-for percentage sits at 41.78%.

James de Haas

28 GP. 2 G, 5 A, 7 P. 49.38 CF%. Grade: C+

Maddie, C: Not a bad season for de Haas, I’d say. He was in and out of the lineup a bit, but he was just about always fine when called upon to get back into the mix. He certainly wasn’t perfect in his reads all the time, but I also definitely wouldn’t call him a liability either. His underlying numbers are pretty good, relative to his teammates, and he was also able to kick in a bit of offense, which was nice to see. I don’t really have any strong feelings about his season, but placed in mostly a third pair role, I thought he was effective. Not a game changer, but effective.

Brad, B-: I liked what de Haas brought to the table in his games this past season, and wouldn’t mind seeing him in a more regular role with the team, as the sixth defenseman rather than the seventh. Maddie put it well — not a game changer, but effective.

The only negative I have here is that his penalty differential was a -8 in just 28 games. Now, there weren’t an abundance of penalties in his first two seasons, so maybe it was just a one-off, but that’s at least somewhat noteworthy.

Mark Friedman

45 GP. 3 G, 15 A, 18 P. 50.93 CF%. Grade: A-

Maddie, A-: I think it’s pretty safe to say that Friedman was the Phantoms’ best and most consistent defenseman this season. I really don’t have any complaints about his season. The defensive side of his game was solid, and he continued to work on smoothing out the little details of his game (which, at this point, was really all he had to work on). He showed some great offensive instincts in flashes and was also able to kick in a bit of help in the scoring department. And all of this while still maintaining really strong underlying numbers. Friedman is NHL ready, he has been all season, and it’s just been really nice to see him pulling all of the pieces of his game together.

Brad, A-: Friedman’s progression has been really fun to watch over the past three seasons. He has always posted solid shot metrics at five-on-five, but as his role grew larger over time, his continued ability to drive play became a more impressive feat. He’s an all situations player at the AHL level, who does a little bit of everything and has no real obvious weak spots. I have felt that he’s NHL ready for a bit now, and it’s a shame that when it looked like he was about get a longer look with the Flyers, the season had to be put on pause. As far as his AHL performance, no complaints here.

Reece Willcox

56 GP. 2 G, 11 A, 13 P. 45.94 CF%. Grade: D+

Maddie, C-: Willcox kind of falls into the same category as de Haas for me, in that he played a somewhat limited role, but overall, he did fine enough in that role. He’s something of a defensive specialist for the Phantoms, and that means things look a little ugly when the reads aren’t perfect, but overall, he was fine in his role, to the eye. That said, those underlying numbers are just not stellar, as the Phantoms were pretty well out-shot and out-chanced while he was on the ice, so his grade does take a bit of a hit because of that.

Brad, D: If a defender plays a safe, more “shutdown” style, I need to see tangible on-ice results to believe that it’s working — like we’ve seen in Philadelphia with Justin Braun. The eye test can be deceiving and I feel that’s the case with most of the more stay-at-home type of defenders. So with Willcox, when the on-ice numbers don’t scream effective, and the play style isn’t one I particularly like, the D grade appears. Though, to be fair, he did post a positive high-danger Corsi-for relative to his teammates, so perhaps there’s something there to chance prevention. And it did seem that he was participating in more rushes up the ice than he had in previous seasons, which was neat! I agree with Maddie that, largely, he fine this season.