every norfolk admiral this year, reviewed

Every one of them, from Bryan Allen to Casey Pierro-Zabotel

Norfolk’s 2014-15 season can be summed up in two words: bad luck.  The wheel of fortune has seen the Admirals end their stay in the AHL, a losing record, and a PDO that almost seems imaginary.  Talented players have either been hurt (Max Friberg, Stefan Noesen) or don’t stay for long (John Gibson, Chris Wagner, Emerson Etem).  Jarrod Skalde’s first year as an AHL bench boss is hard to assess. He’s done slightly more with less talent, getting the Ads to possess the puck more than they did in the Yawney years. No one’s here to shoot the puck, and then again, no one can stop it.  Norfolk’s not making the playoffs. Seventeen games are left on the schedule, but players appeared in the previous 59.  I have bite-sized opinions about all of them, 1-51.

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1. Jason LaBarbera/G/ 25 Games Played / .916 SV%, 2 Shutouts

Norfolk came into the season with the presumed goaltending duo of LaBarbera and Igor Bobkov. LaBarbera was given the starter’s nod, but did not stay in Norfolk very long. He was summoned up to Anaheim for injury duty and stayed awhile until the Ducks signed Ilya Bryzgalov to back up Frederik Andersen. LaBarbera struggled at first but was rejuvenated in his second stint when he provided rest for John Gibson. Unfortunately, the time is catching up to LaBarbera. He is posting a decent.916 SV%, which is unfortunately not good enough on a team that can not score. He always needs to stop one or two more goals, but he isn’t the AHL MVP he was when younger nor is he the superior talent of Andersen and Gibson.  LaBarbera is a stopgap, and that hurts the Ads.

2. Mat Clark/D/45 Games Played/1 Goal, 5 Assists

Traded to the Colorado Avalanche organization, Clark was a bedrock of the leadership during the Ducks era in Norfolk. While not a flashy player, Clark was known for his simple defense and big hits. As the knowledge of what makes a defenseman grows, this is proving to be a disappearing model. Clark plateaued with the Ducks, getting his first extended pro look this year. Clark didn’t impress at that level and it was clear that he had reached his peak at the AHL level. While he was a noticeable presence for the Ads, his time was up with the Ducks organization.

3. Josh Manson/ D/ 23 games played/ 3 Goals, 6 Assists 

Manson came to the Ads at the end of the 2013-14 season as a lauded “Defensive Defenseman”. What a terrible label for him. It’s more appropriate to call him a defenseman, straight up.  When early-season injuries forced the Ducks to call up a blueliner–they went with Manson. The untested rookie surpassed Clark, Jesse Blacker, and Kevin Gagne for the honor.  During that time, Manson has proven his salt as an NHL defenseman. So much so, that he should probably play over free agent acquisition Clayton Stoner most nights. In the AHL, Manson found his offense. He became more confident with the puck, inserted into the power play, and put a lot of faith in his shot. When he was in the lineup, he was Norfolk’s best defender. When he’s out of the lineup, he’s Norfolk’s best defender.  The question for his future is whether the Ducks see him as an everyday player, want to trade him, or give him lots of minutes in San Diego.

4. Jesse Blacker / D/ 15 games played/ 0 Goals, 5 Assists

I thought Blacker played more games until I realized he was a healthy scratch for many of the early contests. Blacker came over in the Peter Holland trade, billed as an offensive defenseman. While he did have some punch, it never materialized. His actual defense wasn’t spectacular at all.  I still go back to a Dennis McEwen quote about Blacker “treading water”, because it was an apt description of his play in Norfolk this season. After one really bad game with the Ducks, he made a poor enough impression to lead to an almost immediate trade for Colby Robak. Blacker has since played 24 games with the San Antonio Rampage, scoring 11 points.

5. Kevin Gagne /D/F/D/F/Rover???/ 43 Games Played/ 1 Goal, 5 Assists 

Mat Clark and Kevin Gagne have the same Admirals boxcar stats. They are not the same player. Gagne is a smaller player with excellent skating skills who knows how to take the puck into the zone. Jarrod Skalde could not find out how to use Gagne all year, going from defender to fourth-line forward and back again. The thing is: Gagne generally always has the puck and finds the zone. This should be rewarded, but I feel like it was neglected because of Gagne’s size and lack of production. I don’t think Gagne is a world beater, by any means, but the constant shifting never allowed him to find chemistry. Where does he project?

6. Nathan McIver /D/ 45 games played / 1 Goal, 1 Assist

McIver was not brought into to score goals. The AHL vet was brought in to provide a physical edge to the Admirals blueline, occasionally getting in scraps. McIver has 136 PIMs, good for second on the team. While he delivered on that aspect of the game, he still had to play defense. Truthfully, McIver showed flashes of good defense when he was at this best. On a less offensively starved team, he might be a good 6 or 7 D. On the Ads, McIver is a staple, sometimes on the top-4, and sometimes playing forward in emergency situations.  Norfolk needed skill this year, not toughness.

7. Bryan Allen / 2 Games/ No points

Anaheim defender Bryan Allen was briefly in Norfolk for a two-game conditioning stint. He played 5-on-5 and the PK a good deal, and was generally a reliable player. At the NHL level, he has the ceiling of a bottom-pairing player. Anaheim dealt Allen for former Admiral Rene Bourque in a trade. Allen has 3 points in 25 games for the Hamilton Bulldogs.

7. Mark Fistric/ 18 games / 1 Goal, 3 Assists 

Mark Fistric sure likes to hit people. Due to a logjam in Anaheim, Fistric was put on waivers and cleared. After his assignment, Fistric took over the Mat Clark role of “hits a lot of dudes”. He did it better. I was always disappointed to see Fistric and Clark on the first PK unit. While they both have a reputation for defense, neither one of them is particularly fast. Fistric is better at what Clark wants to do, and therefore the redundancy. Fistric still has two years left on his deal–he may be a possible trade target for teams that want depth.

8. Nic Kerdiles/ LW/ 49 Games / 9 goals, 17 Assists

Rookie Nic Kerdiles came in with high expectations. The 2012 2nd round pick is from Orange County, and had finished up two successful years at the University of Wisconsin. Kerdiles was the team’s leading scorer for most of the year, but not with eye-popping stats. This reflects on the lack of offense by the Ads this year as well as the early stages of Kerdiles’ professional career. Kerdiles has been a mainstay at left wing, though he does play some center. When he’s a pivot, Kerdiles is more adept to be a “shoot-first” kind of player as opposed to a distributor. I believe his future is on the wing.  Right now, he is still out with a concussion. Hopefully he’s back soon.

9. Brendan Bell / D/ 47 games / 1 Goal, 22 Assists 

Bell was ostensibly brought in to be the power-play quarterback after two years in Europe. This never truly materialized, as Bell appeared to be more puck retriever than puck-firer. Bell still has the mosts assists on the Admirals but it never felt as if he truly had a strong impact on the team overall. When the defense was fully healthy, Bell was often a scratch. Bell was traded to the Chicago Wolves of the AHL for future considerations, which could honestly be anything. Bell has 2 points in 2 games with the Wolves.

10. Matt Bailey / C/ 39 Games / 4 Goals, 3 Assists 

Wait, Matt Bailey has played 39 games? The undrafted free agent from the University of Alaska-Anchorage is best described as a defense-first forward. Bailey, when he does play, is centering the third or fourth line and using his physical tools to establish the forecheck.  However, he’s often a healthy scratch when Chris Wagner is in town. Looking to next year, Bailey will aim to be a 2nd-line center depending on what happens with Wagner and Mike Sgarbossa.

11. Stefan Noesen /RW/ 15 Games / 4 Goals, 6 Assists 

Noesen has been subject to bad injury luck his first two professional seasons. It’s terrible, and even more so when you consider his contributions when he’s in the lineup. Noesen is hard on the forecheck, can definitely shoot it, and is a decent passer. If he’s healthy all year, he’s the club’s leading scorer by a pretty considerable margin. I don’t think he could totally make up for the lack of offense this year, but he could have been a spark. He’s definitely going to be the top scorer (at least in goals) for his AHL club next year.

12. John Kurtz/ LW/ 56 Games / 3 Goals, 3 Assists

Kurtz represents the evolution of the enforcer, or the grinder.  A player can’t be a total liability with only the ability to fight, players have to have some tools. Kurtz plays on the PK and has generally been acceptable as a fourth liner. His best play comes when he is paired with Charlie Sarault and Kevin Gagne, two guys who can drive possession. As such, Kurtz tends to suffer on lines with guys who can’t move the puck. Kurtz has been the go-to guy to drop the gloves this year, leading the Ads with 153 PIM. Kurtz can continue doing that in the AHL–but that’s if the Ducks feel the need to retain the clubhouse leader going forward.

13. Rickard Rakell / C/ 2 games/ 1 Goal, 3 Assists

Rakell found himself back in Norfolk as the result of a numbers crunch. It didn’t last long. After one of the most dominant games I’ve seen all season in Charlotte, Rakell was soon called back up to the Ducks.  Rakell has cemented his place as the third-line center, helping drive offense for the team.  The talented center looks to be an important building block for the Ducks going forward.

14. Max Friberg / LW/ 41 Games / 9 Goals, 15 Assists

The second-year pro looked to improve upon a 40-point freshman campaign, with a bigger role in the offense. On his first shift of the season, Friberg was injured. Sidelined until Thanksgiving, Friberg took some time to get going. The loss of Friberg was another moment of bad luck for the Ads, who needed goals. Further, Friberg plays all three phases for the team. When he was out, the Ads actually put Mat Clark on the power play because they lacked a right-handed shot.  Friberg rebounded, and was eventually rewarded with his first NHL call-up. It’s unclear if Friberg will get another call-up but he will likely be back in the AHL Top-6 next year.

15. Brad Winchester / LW / 15 Games / 4 Goals, 5 Assists 

Veteran Brad Winchester was probably brought into be a power forward. This never really happened. After a promising early season, Winchester would get injured and be out for most of the season. Once he returned, his offense never quite showed and he took a few bad penalties.  Norfolk traded Winchester to Oklahoma City for future considerations, a sure sign of selling. Winchester has not appeared in a game since January 17th and has not appeared yet for the Barons.

16. Emerson Etem / 22 Games / 13 Goals, 8 Assists 

If Etem was here all year, he would once again lead the club in points. This year, Etem was expected to contribute at the NHL level and did not satisfy his coaches. Add to the fact that there were definite numbers situations, and Etem ended up in the AHL for a few months. All he did was score goals. No one has been able to score quite like Etem (maybe Noesen, if Noesen was completely healthy).  A successful stint with Norfolk (along with some Anaheim injuries) propelled Etem back to the NHL. He’s stayed there ever since and doesn’t look like he’s leaving anytime soon.

17. Charlie Sarault / 41 Games / 5 Goals, 7 Assists

What to do with Charlie Sarault? Like Gagne, the coaches can never find anywhere to put him. He’s thrived this year in that 4th line role, creating and engineering  possession-heavy zone time. Sarault tends to get stuck with guys like Kevin Gagne and John Kurtz, who aren’t goal-scorers. Sarault occasionally gets thrown up to the 2nd line, and does provide some offense there. I tend to think he succeeds more on the power play, but he never stays there. Sarault needs to stick somewhere.

18. Brandon Yip / RW / 31 Games / 3 Goals, 9 Assists 

Veteran Brandon Yip has bounced around a few different organizations before landing in Norfolk. At first, he flourished with Brad Winchester and Chris Wagner. This soon faded and Yip found himself scratched, and then in the ECHL with Utah.  Disappointed with this juncture, Yip decided to pursue other opportunities. Yip signed with Adler Mannheim in Germany, where has 2 points in 6 games.

18. Mike Sgarbossa / C/ 3 Games / 2 Goals, 1 Assist

Starting off in Lake Erie, Sgarbossa was brought to Norfolk as a replacement for William Karlsson. Sgarbossa has already matched half of his goal total with the Monsters in three games. From what I’ve seen, he makes good plays in traffic and is a decent skater. It’s expected that he provides some of the offense that was lost when Wild Bill was traded. Next year he might be a top-2 center with his AHL club.

19. Joseph Cramarossa / C/W/ 48 Games / 5 Goals, 4 Assists 

What if Cramarossa could score? Cramarossa is a fast skater who’s great on the forecheck, a weapon the PK, and can definitely get a breakaway. He can never finish, though. His shot isn’t particularly dangerous (his short-handed goal was essentially a top-of-the-circles dump in) and he does appear to get stranded in his own zone sometimes. Cramarossa will occasionally fight, but that doesn’t have to be a part of his skillset. If Cramarossa improves his shot, he’ll be an even bigger threat.

20. Louis LeBlanc / RW / 56 games/ 11 Goals, 12 Assists 

The former first-round pick was acquired in the offseason by a trade with the Montreal Canadiens.  LeBlanc was brought in for depth, but his best season produced 28 points for AHL Hamilton. In his year with the Ads, LeBlanc has come close to those numbers. On a better team that would be fine, but he needed to provide more offensive output for this year’s Norfolk team. For the longest time, LeBlanc was the team’s leading goal-scorer. A good portion of this (5 goals) came on the power play, but that production has since fizzled out. LeBlanc must adjust his game to be more of an energy player, because it does not look like he will make a reappearance in the NHL soon.

21. Chris Wagner/ C/ 42 Games/ 14 Goals, 13 Points

Wearing an “A” and frequently playing on the 2nd line, Chris Wagner drives the offense of the Admirals. Wagner is the heart and soul of this team, he has grown each year with the franchise. Starting out as a primarily defensive forward, Wagner gained more confidence with his offense last year and it carried to this year.  Wagner started the year on a good note, a hat trick in first game with two short-handed goals. Wagner continues to be a three-phase player, earning a few call-ups to Anaheim. Each time he is with the Ducks, Wagner earns more responsibility. So much so that he has proven himself to be an effective possession-driving center that may already be a cheaper and better option than Nate Thompson on the Ducks’ 4th line. When he is in Norfolk, he is everywhere, a leader of the team. Next year, I would not be surprised to see Wagner as the captain of the Gulls.

22. William Karlsson / C/ 37 Games / 8 Goals, 16 Assists 

At the beginning of the year, Karlsson and Rickard Rakell were in a battle to win the 3C job with the Ducks. “Wild Bill” took early command of the position, earning his NHL debut. Before long, it was decided that he needed to refine his game in the AHL. Karlsson didn’t take to the A at first, lacking consistency and appearing lost for periods at a time. After Emerson Etem was recalled, Karlsson did find his confidence and started to take over as the best player on the Ads. Karlsson was not long for the Ducks, as he was eventually traded to Columbus as part of the James Wisniewski deal.

23. Kyle Palmieri / RW/ 2 Games/ 0 Goals, 0 Assists 

Palmieri was assigned to the Ads for a conditioning stint. He had plenty of chances but never converted. Now finding his way up and down the Ducks’ lineup.

23. Colby Robak / D/ 15 Games / 1 Goal, 4 Assists 

Jesse Blacker was traded for Colby Robak, who served as an extra body on Anaheim’s D corps. When everyone was healthy, Robak was put on waivers. He cleared and was assigned to Norfolk. A possible PPQB, Robak’s offensive prowess is never really seen. Robak still makes questionable decisions in his own zone but has some okay possession numbers at the AHL level. He’s stuck as an 8/9 defenseman.

24. Jaycob Megna / D/ 15 Games / 0 Goals, 1 Assist 

Another injury story, as Megna was out until recently. The lumbering defenseman is not much for offense, finding most of his work on the penalty kill. When he’s in the offensive zone, Megna tends to stay near the blue line and try to keep pucks in. On defense, he’ll make an occasionally really good play with his stick, then show he’s a rookie on the next play. I have a hard time reading Megna–makes sense with only 15 games played.

25. Andrew O’Brien /D/ 54 Games / 4 Goals, 9 Assists 

AOB is in his second season, taking time to develop into the defender he is now. A booming slapshot on the power play, AOB has been a better puck mover as the season progressed. At one point, around December, AOB felt like the Ads’ best defender to me. He is still a work in progress, but you hope to see more of his offensive capability utilized as he gets a chance to play more games. AOB’s actual defense, yes, needs some work as well. I think the mistakes are becoming less apparent. However, he still takes too many bad penalties.

26. Jared Nightingale /D/ 20 Games/ 0 Goals, 1 Assist 

Nightingale was brought in on a PTO as a defensive stopgap. The AHL veteran played bottom-pairing minutes while punching some faces in along the way.

26. Casey Pierro-Zabotel / LW / 3 Games/ 0 Goals, 0 Assists 

Probably the worst player to don an Admirals jersey this year. I don’t remember anything particularly good about him, I think he got power play minutes? CPZ has been decent this year for ECHL Gwinnett.

26. Mike Embach / 3 Games / 0 Goals, 0 Assists 

Recent ECHL PTO was pretty effective on 4th line. Sent back to Fort Wayne.

27. Alex Krushelnyski / 3 Games / 0 Goals, 0 Assists

Rookie from ECHL Utah played a fair bit during worst injury stretch for Ads. Remember him having pretty good jets. Represented the Grizz at the ECHL All-Star game, has 41 points. Might be an AHLer next season, definitely could make it back to Utah or the ECHL.

27. Shawn Szydlowski / 3 Games / 0 Goals, 1 Assist 

Came with Embach for a recent set of games. Both players were on a line with Charlie Sarault that produced Colby Robak’s first goal for the Ads. Szydlowski back to Fort Wayne.

28. Antoine Laganiere / 56 Games / 8 Goals, 5 Assists

Second-year pro from Yale continues to be the Giraffe, an imposing figure. When he tries his best, he uses his frame and powers to the net to create scoring chances. Otherwise, he does not stand out, other than his size. Must work on skating.

29. Marc Cantin / D/ 21 Games / 1 Goal, 3 Assists

PTO from Utah was effective as a penalty killer and depth defenseman for Norfolk. He had a cannon on the PK, was somewhat reliable, and you could see why he had AHL experience. Cantin was released from his PTO and is now back home tending to his sick mother. Wish the best to the Cantin family.

29. Aaron Rome / D/ 2 Games / 0 Goals, 0 Assists

The one-time Vancouver Canuck had an unsuccessful venture with the Dallas Stars organization last season. Rome signed a PTO this year but was injured in his second game. Rome has not played hockey since.

30. Ilya Bryzgalov / G/ 2 Games / .915 SV%

Anaheim brought Bryz back into the fold to provide Frederik Andersen with a backup so that John Gibson could get more playing time in the AHL. Bryz’s rehab assignment was okay, but not spectacular. Unfortunately for the Ducks, Bryz did not pan out for them at the NHL level. Thus, the Ads were affected and lost the services of John Gibson.

31. Ryan Faragher / G/ 7 Games / .827 SV%

After a collegiate career at St. Cloud State, Faragher was brought into the Anaheim organization. Faragher played most of the year for Utah, where he became a somewhat reliable backstop for the ECHL club.  As of right now, Faragher serves as the backup for the Ads.  Faragher relies on his athleticism to make saves, often putting himself out of position. He needs to work on this going forward. I would not be surprised to see Faragher as a back up in the AHL or starting in the ECHL next year.

32. Shea Theodore / D / 5 Games / 3 Goals, 2 Assists 

Anaheim’s first-round pick of 2013 is what the Admirals have been missing all year on the power play. Except for the fact that the CHL/NHL/AHL agreement forbids him from playing until he’s 20. It’s still confusing as to why, Theodore did not look out of place in the A in his rehab stint. Theodore is a PPQB and keeps play alive; but he does need to work on his defense. Next year, he’ll be a top-pairing defenseman at the AHL level.

32. Matthew Pistilli / RW/ 10 Games / 1 Goal, 2 Assists

PTO from Fort Wayne, occasionally played on the power play. Pistilli made an okay impression and did manage to get one goal in with Norfolk.

33. Steve MacIntyre / LW / 18 Games / 0 Goals, 0 Assists 

MacIntyre is a renowned enforcer in the AHL–but that’s dying out in the AHL and NHL. When MacIntyre did play, he was on the ice for maybe 5 shifts a game, stuck in the offensive zone. Eventually, he was reassigned to ECHL Utah.

34. David Pacan /RW/ 8 Games / 1 Goal, 0 Assists

Cincinnati Cyclone was brought in on a PTO and scored on a turnover by the opposition. I don’t remember much else about the guy, to be honest. Tended to play 3rd and 4th lines.

35. Igor Bobkov / G /7 Games / .852 SV%

Bobkov was slated to be part of the goaltending tandem this year for the Admirals. Most people did not enjoy that fact, as Bobkov has shown very little consistency at the AHL level. The most symbolic time this happened was an early-season game at Syracuse. Norfolk was up 4-1 with about five minutes to go. What happened was a complete meltdown (one of which was a Shea Theodore mistake, to be honest) that ended up with a 5-4 Crunch win. Bobkov was reassigned to Utah, where he has thrived. Will Bobkov stay in North America next year?

36. John Gibson / G/ 11 Games / .935 SV%

John Gibson has been this team’s saving grace the past two seasons. When the team couldn’t score or couldn’t possess the puck, Gibson was there. He made the right amount of stops, at the right time, to let his team win. While he’s not really good at shootouts, he’s still an important part of the team. John Gibson made Trent Yawney an assistant coach in the NHL again. Gibson still has growing pains in the NHL–but he’s proven himself at the AHL level.

38. David MacDonald / D/ 5 Games / 0 Goals, 2 Assists

MacDonald was another stopgap PTO from Cincinnati. He played enough to warrant 5 games and managed 2 points. I think he’s the captain of the Cyclones.

39. Dave Steckel / 59 Games / 4 Goals, 13 Assists

Defensive zone draw master Dave Steckel is the Captain of this team, a lead by example type of guy. Steckel never seems to leave his third-line position, flanked by different wingers every night. Sometimes it’s Antoine Laganiere and Louis LeBlanc and sometimes it’s a PTO who just got out of a cab. Steckel’s prowess for draws makes a lot of sense, but here’s the thing: he tends to get trapped in his zone. You can win all the draws you want, but it doesn’t mean anything if you’re stuck in the defensive zone. While no one was expecting Steckel to lead the team in offense, you might hope he could add a few more points to the team. With Steckel getting older, will he stay in hockey?

40. Yann Danis/ G/ 11 Games / .914 SV %

For a second there, Yann Danis appeared to be the goaltending savior the Ads needed. Danis is an AHL veteran, quite possibly a Hall of Famer for the league, and had been around quite awhile. After terrible early seasons by Jason LaBarbera and Igor Bobkov, the Ads needed a goalie. Injuries up to meant an opportunity in Norfolk, and Danis made himself available. He was solid in net for the Ads, but not spectacular. I advocated for him over Jason LaBarbera. In retrospect, what really needed to happen was for a vet to sign in Anaheim and John Gibson to platoon with LaBarbera. When Anaheim’s goalie dance card was full, Danis was let go. Danis found himself in Hartford, where he has played 14 games with an .897 SV%.

51. Dany Heatley / 25 Games / 2 Goals, 5 Assists 

Everyone likes to talk about Heatley’s potential. I get it–if you look at the rates he scores in the NHL compared to his contemporaries, you’d think that too. Heatley is not that guy. Anaheim took a $1 Million gamble on Heatley that did not pay off, eventually putting the former 50-goal scorer on waivers. He cleared, and ended up in Norfolk. He played a couple games as part of a rehab assignment (with Ilya Bryzgalov) but those weren’t impressive. In his first game after clearing waivers, Heatley scored two goals. Granted, one of those had more to do with John Gibson and Nic Kerdiles. Heatley never played much defense, never felt the need to shoot the puck in crucial situations, and overall was a bust. At one point, he was playing on the fourth line. Heatley was traded to the Panthers organization for Tomas Fleischmann. Heatley scored a goal Wednesday night, assisted by Jesse Blacker.

Kevin Lind was recalled by the Ads, but has yet to make his debut.

—–

Norfolk had some promising talent, but a lot of bad luck. Injuries forced the hand of the NHL club, with ECHLers coming to fill spots at crucial times. Goaltending was only good for a bit here and there, and there were interesting coaching decisions. Norfolk shooting 6.9% is unfathomable, and a large key to why the Ads are where they are. The last year in the AHL has been disappointing. Onwards.

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Beneath The Scope

Beneath the Scope is a blog that covers the ECHL's Norfolk Admirals. Compete level has never been higher.

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