Fresh off his appointment as head coach for the Eastern Conference in the AHL All-Star Game, Luke Richardson made his weekly appearance on The Drive. As has become the norm, I've parsed his appearance below to include the information that I found to be interesting. The complete interview can be found here, or by streaming the audio embed below.
My thoughts and comments in bold.
On being named an AHL All-Star-Game coach and it all going downhill from here…
“Well, that’s the job of the management to get me the best players again. No, what a great job to fall into this year with the amount of great, young talent. I know we have a really young team but then again, we’ve got probably the best goaltending in the league to back that up, so it’s letting the young guys mature and do what they need to do out there. I’m just fortunate enough to be on this side of things and the guys make me look good.”
Will come back to his comments about the best goaltending in the league later…
On the number of young players who could potentially step right into Ottawa’s lineup in the event that the lockout ends…
“Yeah and I’m sure each team is looking at that - look at the players that are going to help them get out of the gates quick because in a shortened season, it’s a real sprint. And the team that gets out of the gates quick is going to have the advantage because it’s a short season like we just talked about; it’s really hard to catch up in a normal year and it’ll be even that much harder in March and April this year to catch up if someone gets off to a hot start.”
Considering the start to the season that players like Andre Benoit and Patrick Wiercioch have had, one would have to assume that these two players have passed Mark Borowiecki on the depth chart to start the season in Ottawa. Matt Weinstein (@PSBSens) the new Binghamton beat guy has access to time on ice totals; and told me Benoit and Wiercioch routinely average 27 minutes a game, playing in all situations.
Granted, if the Senators move Sergei Gonchar like some have already forecasted, then all bets are off.
On how the team has gotten better or any specific area in which the team improved…
“I think at the beginning of the year (it was) to really shore up the defensive side of the game. And part of working on the defence is just to get the puck back (up the ice) quicker so you can have it more when you’re fresh to create offence. I know that’s the philosophy they use in Ottawa – to play defense fast. And we just try to copy that and keep it in house in the organization so when players do (get called) up, they’re on the same wavelength; even if we don’t play exactly the same, it’s pretty close as a philosophy. I think as we went, we really worked on creating scoring chances off the rush and being in better spots in the offensive zone on any kind of a forecheck or a rotation. Definitely the power play – they have done a great job and we had to find some units that work better together and players that work better together. They’ve worked really hard at simplifying things, getting pucks to the net and having some courage to stand in front of the net in those tough areas when guys are blasting pucks away at 100 miles an hour. We’ve really created some opportunities for ourselves to score some goals and like you said, goaltending has been our… and our defensive core, especially on the penalty killing side of things have kept goals to a minimal and (scoring) chances to a minimal. Even some nights when shots seem to be a little bit high, they’re all from the outside or most of them are from non-scoring areas; so we’ve taken pride in that and that is everybody on the team. Everybody has done a good job of that, so we’re proud of that. I think the hard work comes in where we’ve really skated and I think we’ve really outskated teams, especially in the third periods, to create those offensive chances to get our goals and that’s where you see us coming back in the third periods from deficits. Or maybe in games that are 1-1 like the other night, and we kind of overtake a team that is tired on the road (St. Johns) and we kind of outskate them in the third and take over control of the game. I think we’ve really evolved into a complete team up to this point and we still want to push and get better. These guys are a really fun group to work with. They seem to really enjoy each other and I think the biggest part of coaching is trying to mesh guys together, enjoy being together and enjoy working hard together. And they’ve done that so that’s a great credit to them.”
Throughout the course of the season, Richardson has been effusive in his praise when describing the play of his team. So it strikes me as a bit rich that he would refer to his goaltending tandem as one of the ‘best in the league’ while downplaying the quality of the shots that his players are facing a few minutes later. Scott also made a great point to me offline mentioning how this volume of shots (note: regarding volume, Binghamton gives up the most shots per game in the AHL) also undercuts Richardson’s "fast defence" mantra. Teams that are 30th in shots against typically are spending a lot of time in their own end, which is basically the antithesis of playing defence fast.
Also reason to be skeptical the B-Sens are hugely limiting "shot quality", because in the long run; shots and scoring chances correlate very strongly.
On having concerns at the beginning of the year that the offence wasn’t doing its part…
“At the beginning of the year, it was a bit of concern. Like you said, up the middle, we had a lot of inexperience and I think that’s when we moved Zibanejad back to center for a little while before he had some things...getting his wisdom teeth out and being ill. I think that helped – getting a bigger guy that could skate through the middle and by then, Stephane Da Costa came back and he’s kind of going full-flight now which is a real help. And now Pageau has really come on in the last couple of weeks. He’s really playing unbelievably smart defensively. He’s killing penalties for us and now he’s starting to get some confidence. He’s got a couple of goals now. He’s making really nice plays now in the offensive zone, so that’s been a big help. And sometimes it takes a little time for some young guys, but we’ve had that time allotted to us with just great goaltending and defence. It was a little bit scary at the beginning of the year. I thought we’d be off to a quicker start offensively just because of some of the talent that we had. But we had to adjust and some guys coming from junior leagues, college and Europe and then a lot of the guys, it was their first year last year in the league. I mean, it’s another year experience and it doesn’t just happen; you have to earn it and you have to work away at it and they’ve done that. We’re really happy to see the goals going in now.”
His latter points about the talent and the offensive expectations that they create are emblematic of the demands put on young prospects to produce immediately.. And all this time, I thought it was just a behavioral trait that afflicts the callers of the Team 1200's post-game shows.
Binghamton's team shooting percentage is 10.4%, whereas last season at this time it was 8.3%.
On whether he feels that Robin Lehner is the team’s MVP to this point…
“Yeah, I think consistently when you look at it now and you think, ‘Oh, wow, you’ve got Lehner and (Ben Bishop)’ but Robin has been here from the start of training camp and that gives him that extra notch above (Bishop) and he’s been solid all year long. He’s a big guy that has come in good shape and a good frame of mind this year that wants to accomplish something. He looks like he really wants to follow it through all the way to the end of the season and that’s great to see. I’ve said it before, he’s not just a typical quiet goalie on game days. He’s vocal. He’s a leader in the room. He likes to have fun with the guys and talk with the guys whether he’s playing or not. You can’t say enough about him. He has set his mind to something this year and he’s following through. You’ve always got to give young guys credit for that. And then having Ben Bishop here has been great, he’s probably pushing Robin. He’s just a consummate pro. He’s there every day whether he plays or not and he’s a joy to have around. He really makes things calm for our defence when he’s in there because he can play that puck so well. I’m sure that’s a benefit for Robin to see and learn and work with too.”
The rapport comments are important because the organization will have to create room for Lehner in the near future. If he meshes as well with Bishop as we're being led to believe, perhaps management will gauge the market for Craig Anderson, one of their few expendable veteran players who could fetch a decent return, and make Lehner 'the guy' by the start of the 2013/14 season. At some point, I'd like to hear Richardson comment on whether Lehner strikes him as the kind of player or personality who could sulk if he's not given an opportunity to make the jump to the NHL this year or even to start next season.
On contrasting Stephane Da Costa now with when he opened up the season last year in Ottawa…
“Consistency is something that he is probably going to have to work on. He came back from his first stint with injuries at the beginning of the year and I think he was good and bad, and he knew it. He was frustrated and sometimes, as just as an offensive guy, you think you have to take chances and create things when they’re not there and you basically create more problems for yourself and everybody else on the ice by doing that; you end up chasing defensively more than when you have the puck offensively. We talked to him about that and he already knew. Good players already know when you come to talk to them about something that needs to be adjusted. I think his work ethic when he was injured really rose and he really knew. He said, ‘I’ve got to get stronger.’ He really worked hard and he continues to work hard and he is becoming more of a two-way player where he can track (the puck). And when he puts his mind to it, he can… I forget where we were… I think it was Albany, he did a great job on the road in the third period in a tight game using his body, checking in the defensive zone and getting pucks out when we had the lead at the end of the game instead of worrying about making a fancy play or a long neutral zone pass through the middle (of the ice). I think that’s the part of the game where he’s really understanding where and when he has to be that dynamic offensive player and when he just has to play hockey the rest of the time. He’s coming along. He is playing well. He’s playing with Mike Hoffman and Jakob Silfverberg right now and they’re doing a great job of leading us offensively and doing some great stuff on the power play. So we just look for him to consistently go and get better and be that man every night.”
Da Costa has always been a physical force.
On other players who are standing out for Binghamton who might garner All-Star attention…
“You look at all the normal names that we’ve talked about all year – like Benoit and Wiercioch, and Mike Hoffman is a dynamic offensive player that maybe just didn’t put up the numbers early but is starting to come on now – but I think the biggest, and it’s not a surprise, I think it’s just the biggest plus for ourselves, and personally for him, is Derek Grant. If you look at his play and his numbers are probably impressive, especially the shorthanded goal department, but if you watched him play now and you watched him play last year… just taking charge as a big centerman, getting physical and being able to play against the top line on the other team every night and do a great job. And he’s got the dynamic part where he can check them so well that when they turn the puck over, he’s dangerous offensively. The other night again, it was a 2-1 game and him and David Dziurzynski in the neutral zone just intercepted pucks and disrupted their whole power play. (They) ended up creating a breakaway chance and put the game away for us with a nice shorthanded goal. I think it’s about his fourth or fifth goal shorthanded; he leads the league in that department. Just taking charge all over the ice, it’s great to see. He’s a NHL body and he’s got a NHL stride and now he’s starting to show the other intangibles that go along with it – where he’s a name that has really jumped up not just in the AHL but also in the depth chart of the Ottawa Senators.”
I had been quasi-working on a Derek Grant post but given Richardson's comments, I may as well throw up what I had written now.
With the exception of Radek Bonk, the Senators have historically lacked that prototypically big center that matches up against the opposition’s best offensive players.
Since being moved to the Los Angeles Kings for a third round pick at the 2004 NHL Draft, Bonk’s responsibilities were transposed to the likes of smaller players like Chris Kelly, Matt Cullen (in his short tenure), Mike Fisher (though he played much bigger than 6'1) and most recently, Kyle Turris.
If you have been a regular visitor of this site, you will recognize that I have been a proponent of Turris for quite some time. Despite his limited ice-time and the fact that he did not play regularly with Phoenix’s better offensive players, I took a liking to Turris’ modest puck possession skills and production rate per 60 minutes of ice-time which indicated the potential for future offensive growth. With the right situation, the right coach, the right linemates and some physical growth and maturation, he could develop into something resembling the player that scouts envisioned when he was selected third overall in 2007.
Paired with Daniel Alfredsson on the team’s second line, Paul MacLean utilized this tandem against the opposition’s best players; exploiting the strength of their puck possession skills to keep the puck off the sticks of the opposition.
It’s no secret that Alfie’s time in a Senators jersey is drawing to an end and given his imminent departure, I’ve looked at Turris’ numbers last year to examine the impact that Alfie has had on him.
|Turris + Alfie||524:12||561||21.4||450||17.2||.555|
|Turris - Alfie||260:02||292||22.5||264||20.3||.525|
|Alfie - Turris||514:44||524||20.4||413||16.0||.559|
From the numbers, you can see that Alfredsson had a more positive effect on Turris than Turris did on Alfie. (Albeit, part of this can be explained by the fact that whenever Alfie was moved from Turris’ line, it was usually to play on the first line with Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek.)
In the event that Alfie moves on, I’m not entirely convinced that Turris is best suited to shutting down the opposition’s best forwards, so that is why the continued growth and development of Derek Grant is significant. It would represent an opportunity for the organization to create matchup problems for the opposition by keeping its best two offensive centers – Turris and Spezza – away from the other team’s biggest offensive threats.
Richardson’s praise goes beyond what was said in yesterday’s interview.
“Derek Grant has been the guy that’s bloomed into a real good two-way forward,” said Richardson. “He’s a going to be a great checking forward because he’s got size and he’s got a great stride, he can skate with anybody. He’s getting stronger and stronger on faceoffs, and you he’s getting a bit of an offensive touch.
“Not to compare him to Mike Fisher, because he has a totally different style of play, but when you get a so-called checking centre that can score goals, and kill penalties ... that’s a dangerous thing. I don’t know if he’s ready yet, but he’s getting close. He’s a guy that’s really put himself in a great spot.”
And his scouting report from the The Hockey News’ Forecaster during his draft year:
A scoring forward with a very projectable frame (6-3, 190 pounds), he produced 24 goals and 63 points as a BCHL rookie with the Chiefs in 2007-08... skates well for a big body and has goal-scoring instincts that are difficult to teach... his hands are also above-average, but he needs to make better use of his frame once he fills out in order to maximize his scoring potential... was rated 40th among North American skaters in Central Scouting's final rankings, after placing 106th in the mid-term rankings...
Corey Pronman had written the following in his review of Grant, whom he had ranked as Ottawa’s 15th best prospect this past August:
Grant's ice-time was up and down in his first pro season as he was inconsistent. You still have to love a 6'3'' player with skill and hockey sense and hope it all comes together.
It’s somewhat of a slide for a prospect who Pronman had rated as the organization’s 8th best prospect just one calendar year earlier:
The Good: Grant is a decent skater who doesn't really show a dangerous top speed, but moves pretty well in a straight line for a 6'3" forward. He's a solid distributor who can move the puck around at a fair level and is quite coordinated. He's not a flashy handler or distributor, but he just consistently makes the right, smart plays and rarely turns the puck over. Grant projects as an above-average to plus physical player as he's quite effective along the walls and in front of the net. He wins a good portion of his battles and he has the frame to be a force in front of the net on the power play. Grant plays a notable defensive game and his reads in that regard are impressive.
The Bad: Grant's first few steps could use some work, as he can look a little slow out of the gate. He's not a great offensive player and there's no true standout tool to him. He needs to continue to work on his strength and conditioning.
Projection: A below-average second to above-average third line forward who safely projects onto a top nine.
Would be nice to see him carve out a roster spot down the road.