"Is Brad Larsen the coach to lead and develop what is most likely going to be one of most talented prospect pools in the league?"
I like this question. Obviously, I’m not around the locker room or any of the players/coaches, so this is an outsider’s perspective. But, I think it’s important to look at the track results so far, and if we do that, I honestly think we’re starting to see some positive returns. Remember: everyone develops at different paces. The team has been a lot better lately, and part of that is improvement in the younger players on the roster.
Adam Boqvist has been on an absolute bender lately. Kirill Marchenko worked to earn top line minutes and Lars fed them to him. Kent Johnson has shown consistent improvement throughout the year. Obviously, Cole Sillinger has been struggling to find offense, but overall his game hasn’t really been that bad (more on that below). My opinion on Brad’s handling of the younger players is: that’s one thing he actually seems to get.
We can talk about his actual coaching (systems, ability to inspire, etc) … I do think there are some question marks there. But, I think the reason he was given the job ahead of Brad Shaw or any of the other candidates, is his softer touch and overall patience. Which are qualities you want in a coach of a young team.
Now, all of that said, I do think he was hired to fail. As odd as that sounds, we’ve talked about this plenty: the best way to get a good team, is to be bad for a few years. I think management knew that Lars, being a rookie coach in the NHL, with a young, rebuilding team, was going to struggle. The injuries we talked about on the last page have probably bought him another year, and I think that’s fine. Let’s see what he can do when more of the roster is turned over to youth next fall, then make a final decision. Maybe he’ll surprise us.
Thomas Rothwell asks a question that we can tie in with the above discussion:
"I think there are a few players who have underperformed compared to expectations. I’d say Elvis, Sillinger, Chinakov, and in some ways Laine are the most concerning. Panic meter on these guys? Reason to think they can rebound next season?"
From this list, the only player I’m worried about here is Elvis Merzlikins. With that said, he’s been a lot better of late, so hopefully his play has turned a corner and we can put his dreadful year behind us. Mental strength can be everything in goaltending, and he may come out of this situation better prepared for tough moments. That’s what we have to hope for, anyway.
As I talked about briefly above, if you look at Sillinger’s numbers this season, it’s been a brutal year. But, if you’ve followed the games closely, the one thing that stands out to me is that he just keeps working. Yes, it’s obvious that his offensive confidence isn’t there; but it hasn’t slowed his effort on the puck or his play in the defensive zone. Lately, he’s been getting some more looks since being paired up with Kent Johnson, and I think it’s only going to take one goal to really set him off.
Through 30 games this season, Yegor Chinakhov was just one point off of his points total from last year – set in 62 games. More importantly, his plus/minus went from -27 last year, to a reasonable -6 this year. He’s fine, and I honestly thought he looked like the most dangerous offensive threat in a lot of his games this year, he was all over the ice on both sides of the puck.
The only thing I can say to the negative, is that he needs to use that shot more often – it’s a top-10 wrist shot in this league right now. The coaching staff has to put him into situations where he can get open, because the more he shoots, the more he’s going to score. He had 44 shots on goal through those 30 games … I’d like to see that up closer to 60. I would be willing to bet he would have 20 goals by now, if he’d stayed healthy and shot the puck more often.
As for Laine, let’s tie that into this next question and I’ll answer you both…