BY THOMAS DRANCE
This past weekend, the Canucks’ farm-team played two games in Abbotsford (the two teams split the two game series) and some of Vancouver’s teams young prospects impressed mightily.
For example, Zack Kassian had a monster series, scoring two goals, winning two fights and displaying some sick skill on his shootout winner on Friday evening. Eddie Lack looked like a star, and the fans (who are more familiar with him than they are with most prospects, thanks to Lack’s social media prowess) serenaded him with chants of “Eddie, Eddie, Eddie” following his denial of Roman Horak breakaway. Oft injured forward Steve Pinozotto looked like a capable fourth line fixture, while Kevin Connauton and Chris Tanev showed that they’re probably both ready and able to handle third-line minutes at the NHL level without hurting their team.
One prospect, however, who failed to impress was Jordan Schroeder. Having watched every Wolves game so far this season, I can say unequivocally that the two games against Abbotsford this season were easily his worst two outings of the season. But even beyond his performance this past weekend, Schroeder has had a very slow start to this season offensively – he’s registered only one assist in Chicago’s first five games.
It’s worrying because, if it weren’t for the NHL lockout, Schroeder would probably be playing on Vancouver’s top-six in place of the injured Ryan Kesler.
Brad Zeimer wrote about Schroeder being “overshadowed” this past weekend in the Vancouver Sun:
“In two games against the Abbotsford Heat this past weekend, Schroeder showed flashes. But there was no bottom line.
“You can see Jordan’s skill come when he gets a little bit of ice,” said Canuck general manager Mike Gillis. “He has to still continue to learn to play in traffic and use his quickness and shiftiness to his advantage.”
Given centre Ryan Kesler’s injury, Schroeder was expected to challenge for at least a temporary job at Canuck camp. And Gillis said that still may happen.
“Depending on when we get started, with the injuries that we have he’s going to get an opportunity to show what he can do,” he said.
But first Schroeder must start producing consistently at the AHL level.
That same sentiment was echoed in a coarser fashion by Jason Botchford of the Vancouver Province:
“There was something cruel this weekend about seeing the fledgling AHL team getting some love, and a packed house of fans for a double dip against the Vancouver Canucks farm team.
And no, we’re not just referencing the ridiculous post-game Port Mann Bridge traffic jam; or the way Jordan Schroeder was swallowed up like a walnut pressed into a ball of dough.”
So Schroeder had a rough couple of games before the curious eyes of Canucks fans and media, and is now on the edge of being labelled a “bust.” It’s unfair, but that’s hockey. On the other hand, I remain somewhat bullish about Schroeder’s prospects and I think there’s good reason to be.
For starters, a five game sample just isn’t sufficient to really evaluate a professional hockey player. One of the reasons why we always have to be cautious of small samples, is that puck luck has an undue influence on our perception of how a player is performing. Consider that Jordan Schroeder has scored on 12% of his shots during his AHL career, and yet this season he’s yet to find twine on 9 shots. Common sense would indicate that his lack of goals thus far is at least partly attributable to good old fashioned “bad luck.”
While I’m not privy to Schroeder’s on-ice sh%, based on the shot totals registered by himself and his most frequent line-mates this season (Anton Rodin (5 SOG) and Bill Sweatt (9 SOG)) I’d comfortably wager that it’s well below 5% (which is unsustainably low). This won’t continue, and eventually the bounces will go his way.
Still, there is some cause for concern in the early going. Jordan Schroeder started slow last season, but in the second half he absolutely caught fire and completely dominated the last 30-35 games of the season for the Wolves. He finished second on the team in even-strength scoring, and most importantly he upped his shot rate from 1.43 shots per game to 2.41 shots per game. That jump allowed him to double his goal totals. Early in the 2012-13 AHL season Schroeder’s shot rate is back down below 2 shots per game – which reflects a lack of overall involvement in the on-ice proceedings. So long as he begins to shoot the puck at the rate he did last season, the goals will come, and the negative attention his performance garnered this past weekend will be forgotten.
Beyond his shot-rate, however, I’ve noticed Schroeder losing on-ice battles with a greater degree of regularity in the early going this season, than I did last year. When Schroeder is on his game – as he was down the stretch last season – he flies through the neutral zone and regularly catches defenders flat-footed. We saw none of that this weekend. When he’s on, he’s a disruptive backchecker who uses his speed to compromise the opposition’s passing lanes and regularly causing turnovers – again we saw none of that this weekend. But we did see some of it in the Wolves’ season opening double header against Rockford, and Schroeder was dynamic in those contests.
At this point in his career, it’s time for Schroeder to show the Canucks that he can consistently dominate at the AHL level. Obviously his effort to do that took a marginal step back this past weekend, but there’s still reasons to be optimistic about his development. He’s got a world of skill and speed and so often I’ve seen him put it all together and be exceeding effective. Which is partly why his showing in Abbotsford last weekend was so mystifying.