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Lehigh Valley Phantoms report cards: New defensemen

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New guys, hello!

Heather Barry / SB Nation

It’s a new week, and we’re back with some new grades! We’re rolling on through these Phantoms report cards, and it’s time that we close out our talks on the defensemen. The Phantoms had quite a few new faces joining the team this season on defense, and as is likely the case with a new crop of additions anywhere, some certainly panned out more than others. So what was working and who fell a little short? Let’s discuss.

Chris Bigras

39 GP. 2 G, 14 A, 16 P. 43.63 CF%. Grade: D+

Brad, D: This was one of the tougher grades for me, because my eyes liked a lot of what Bigras showed this season, especially offensively. However, the shot metrics aren’t just bad, they’re dreadful. With Bigras on the ice the Phantoms owned just 43.63% of the shots (-4.95% relative), 40.55% of the scoring chances (-7.91% rel), and 40.67% of the high-danger scoring chances (-5.26% rel) at 5-on-5. So while I remember him making positive plays with the puck, his presence didn’t translate to the Phantoms having control during his shifts. That’s a problem. If I was basing this solely on the numbers, the F would’ve made its first appearance.

Maddie, C-: I really struggled with this grade, to be honest. Because, like Brad said, the shot metrics with Bigras on the ice were pretty brutal. And it’s really hard to ignore something like that. That said, I do think there were some things to like about what he brought—I thought he showed some positive flashes on the power play, and also was a key contributor in improving the Phantoms’ breakouts which were such an issue heading into this season (he averaged a 53.25 Controlled Exit% in his handful of games that I tracked). And it’s hard to reconcile those two things, because the Phantoms getting caved in in their own end was one of their biggest issues this season, and he was part of the problem. So I might not feel quite as doom and gloom about him, but I think it’s fair to feel left a little wanting.

Nate Prosser

59 GP. 1 G, 9 A, 10 P. 46.15 CF%. Grade: D

Brad, D+: Prosser was brought in to be the reliable veteran on the back end, and served as one of the team’s three co-captains. I was about to talk about all of the minutes that he logged on the penalty kill but then I caught myself saying every “well, my eye test says “x” player is good” cliche that I hate, so we’re done with that. He was fine, wasn’t the best, wasn’t the worst, and didn’t really cause goals for or goals against. He’s a very low event player and that can be a positive.

Maddie, D: Probably unsurprisingly, I’ve got to agree here. There’s certainly something to be said for usage, but what it really comes down to for me is that if you’re touted as something of a defensive specialist, the numbers should reflect that, and that isn’t the case here. The Phantoms were pretty well out-shot, out-chanced, and out-scored when he was on the ice, and that pretty well kills that narrative. And unfortunately he doesn’t get a grade bump either from at least being a plus-puck mover, as his numbers (38.42 Controlled Exit%) in that department we’re all that strong either. There just wasn’t a whole lot clicking, here.

Andy Welinski

42 GP. 8 G, 13 A, 21 P. 50.04 CF%. Grade: C

Brad, C-: Heading into the season I had high expectations for Welinski, and he didn’t really live up to them. He played in both the AHL and NHL last season, so I was expecting him to be a top pair defender at this level, and a passable seventh with the Flyers if needed. In fact, his 36.79% high-danger Corsi-For percentage ranks worst among all regular defenders, and is better than just one regular forward. Similarly to Bigras, I felt that he was generally making smart plays with the puck on his stick, but maybe the defensive side of things left a bit to be desired. He had a late start to the season after getting injured in camp, and then missed most of January as well. It’s possible that he just couldn’t get into a groove this year with as many interruptions as there were, and his play suffered because of it.

Maddie, C+: I feel, generally speaking, pretty okay about Welinski’s season. I agree that there seemed to be some high expectations for Welinski heading into the season that he wasn’t quite able to meet, but I think on the whole he still had a decent season, all the same. There are definitely some weaknesses in the defensive side of his game, but his play with the puck was good, he was good on the breakouts, and his offensive contributions we a plus, as well. It’s hard to completely erase those lapses, we definitely can’t gloss over them, as much as we might have liked the positive aspects of his game, so it all kind of averages out to a, well, average season. Thus, the average grade. Good talk.

Tyler Wotherspoon

54 GP. 4 G, 18 A, 22 P. 50.93 CF%. Grade: B

Brad, B: For me, Wotherspoon was the best new Phantom this season. He played with a lot of different partners — as did the entire defense — but more often than not, whichever pair Wotherspoon was a part of would come out of the game a positive, not only by the underlying numbers, but by the actual goal results as well. Among regular blueliners only Wotherspoon and James de Haas (28 games played) finished with a goals-for percentage north of the 50 percent baseline, and if that sounds like a low bar, it’s because it is. That’s what you get when the team has a .468 points percentage. He’s another “little bit of everything” defender. Just real solid at both ends of the ice.

Maddie, B: Yeah, I really don’t have any complaints about Wotherspoon’s season. I think Brad said it perfectly, that he kind of does a little bit of everything, and he does pretty much all of that well. Perhaps the downside of that is that there isn’t any one element of his game that really pops, but I think that’s okay. Generally, the defensive side of his game was solid (and the underlying numbers back up what the eye tells us about that), and he was able to chip in a bit of offense, to boot. He was rarely flashy, but as Brad said, he was solid and he was consistent, and on a team that struggled as mightily as this one did this season, it’s hard to overstate how important that was to have.