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  • Player Grades: The Debutants


    The most trying time in a pro hockey player’s career is certainly the period jumping from Juniors to the AHL, and then to the NHL. While exciting and lucrative, this time frame often provides a small sample of games by which these players’ entire careers will be determined. The difference in pay for a player in the AHL versus the NHL can be drastic — less than $100k in the AHL to at least $700k for games in the NHL, all pro-rated on a game-by-game basis.

    For as many moving parts as there are for players on the NHL bubble, there are just as many that go into scouting players in this situation, which is what I’m about to do. If you don’t like these player grades, too bad. Write some yourself.

    Connor Dewar

    Dewar played his first games of NHL action this year, and seemed to stick around pretty well. He was the only player on this list to play more than just a taste of NHL action, tallying 35 games in Minnesota. This experience led to him being called up in the playoffs to replace enforcer Nic Deslauriers.

    Dewar is undersized but plays a solid defensive game when he is in the NHL. He’s a good role player that can slot onto the fourth line and potentially kill penalties as he gets more comfortable with NHL action. Brett Marshall uses analytics to create is Player Contribution Score (PCS) and creates player cards such as the one below, which highlights Dewar’s defensive contributions in a small sample.

    Dewar reminds me of something that NBA role players often say about G-League stars that can never stick around in the big leagues — make sure that you’re auditioning for the part you’re going to play. Last year, there was not an opening for a top-six forward, but the Wild did need help on the PK and on the fourth line. Dewar’s 35-game audition showed just what the Wild want on their fourth line, and for that reason he was rewarded with a two-year NHL contract two weeks ago. For what he is, Dewar had the best season he could hope for.

    Grade: A

    Marco Rossi

    In 2021-22, Rossi made the jump to the AHL after taking an entire season off due to cardio-vascular complications related to Covid. In Iowa this season, Rossi put up 18 goals and 53 points in 63 games at just age 20. This is the statistical equivalent of around 40 NHL points, and Rossi is only going to get better from here. While he took a slight step back from his OHL MVP year, even statistical models didn’t really ding him for what he produced at the AHL level in 2021-22.

    This production did have some fans questioning why Rossi only cracked the NHL lineup for two games. In my opinion, that’s due to two factors largely outside of his control: first, management needed to shelter his entry-level-contract to make it through the cap penalties associated with the buyouts of Zack Parise and Ryan Suter; second, management wanted him to work back from Covid slowly so as not to shock his development off-course.

    Unfortunately, Rossi wasn’t able to make a run at the NHL roster this season, which makes his NHL games tough to grade. Statistically, they were nothing special — no points, minus-1, and four PIM in two games. On the other hand, Rossi was playing this NHL action essentially coming straight out of the OHL. There’s a major adjustment required to get up to speed, so you’ve got to adjust for context rather than hit the panic button.

    I expect he’ll make a push for 30+ games in the NHL this season, if not playing every single night. The more NHL experience he gets early in the season, the more valuable he can be down the stretch.

    Grade: B-

    Adam Beckman

    After playing 2020-21 in both the AHL and the WHL (a Canadian junior hockey league), Beckman made the jump to full-time pro. He played 68 games in Iowa and was called up for 3 games in the NHL as well, notching one assist. The fact that he was one of the top-three go-to call-ups for this year’s Wild club says a lot about his 200-foot game, and it’s also encouraging that he was able to find the scoresheet. He displayed slick hands and instincts at the net over the whole preseason:

    Beckman shows exciting flashes of offense, especially on the powerplay. Given the Wild’s consistent struggles in that area in spite of the talents of Kaprizov, Fiala, and one of the top scoring blue-lines in the NHL, it’s possible that this could be Beckman’s path to the big leagues. You can see the way that Beckman (53) uses speed and vision to set up teammates in space, even at 5-on-5.

    Over the past two years, Beckman has seen his production drop off. Last year, it fell even further as he made the jump to full-time AHL. This can be explained away — certainly, there is a lot to learn when you transition from playing junior to playing full-grown men, let alone amidst Covid protocols and limitations on development camps.

    Beckman just turned 21 in May, so he has time if he can produce in Iowa this season to turn this around; after all, he flashed something special for the better part of three years. For this season though, I’m a bit disappointed.

    Grade: C-

    Mason Shaw

    At first glance, Mason Shaw’s statistics in 2021-22 were very encouraging. His AHL production was reasonable this season — 19 goals and 33 points in 62 games. That production is essentially equal to budding star Marco Rossi, but it’s less impressive with context. He’s 23 going on 24 in November, playing his fourth AHL season. At that age, it profiles as a career AHL/NHL bubble player.

    That’s not to say that Shaw is falling below expectations, for what he is. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to differentiate himself in three NHL games this season -- he put up a minus-2 with no NHL points. On the other hand, the team was productive with him on the ice, taking 57% of the shot attempts while he was on the ice. He also showed some fire in this fight in Buffalo.

    You can see below that when up in the lineup, Shaw is perfectly capable of supporting high-level players in a pinch:

    On the other hand, this tape highlights the difference between Shaw and a real NHL scorer -- both are trapped on the half-wall by three players at once, and Shaw turns the puck over while Fiala makes a play to open ice. Nobody is expecting Mason Shaw to be the next Kevin Fiala, but that could be what keeps him from becoming an NHL mainstay — a lack of offensive ceiling.

    To me, this season solidified Shaw as a bottom-6 forward if he proves to be more than a bubble guy throughout his prime.

    Grade: C-

    Mitchell Chaffee

    If you’re unfamiliar with Mitchell Chaffee, it’s probably because he’s only been in the Minnesota Wild system for two seasons. He signed with the wild as an undrafted free agent in the 2020 offseason.

    In two games for the big club, Chaffee did not score and laid seven hits. While that implies a very sandpapery game, Chaffee is actually a very skilled player. You can see his shooting talent against young NHL players in the Minnesota Wild/Chicago Blackhawks development tournament from this year:

    Last year in Iowa, Chaffee took advantage of the space created by his high-end linemates, allowing him the time to unleash his sneaky-good shot from dangerous areas. Last year, Chaffee potted a solid 23 goals, a really solid pace even in the AHL. Not to mention the balls on this kid to look off Marco Rossi in overtime:

    I would think that if the Wild ever opt for a more offensive fourth line, he could play a part there.

    At age 24, entering unrestricted free agency, as a proven scorer at the professional level, Chaffee could extend his playing career and may even find a spot as a fourth-liner for a few years. For a guy who went undrafted, any contract year that extends your playing career is a success.

    Grade: C+

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