Welcome to my ramblings, where I’ll be writing down my thoughts on NHL and draft-eligible prospects once a week. I’ll be using the ramblings to keep you posted on the week’s events, and let you in on some questions I ask myself often regarding prospects, amateur scouting and player development.
This week, I wanted to provide a couple of updates on NHL prospects that have recently made their first steps in the big show. With the World Junior Championship right around the corner, expect the content to gravitate towards that event in the upcoming weeks, but in the meantime there’s still a lot going on around the NHL, so let’s get right into it.
Seth Jarvis: Here To Stay
When the 2021-2022 NHL season began, Jarvis had remained an extra forward in the team’s depth chart for a good chunk of games, seeing his debut arrive on October 31st against the Arizona Coyotes. After earning two points in his first two games and playing with a tremendous amount of smarts, skill and pace, it was becoming less and less justifiable to return the winger to the press box.
Despite going through a four-game dry spell right after, the Canes’ trust in Jarvis grew more evident with each passing period; in his fourth pointless game in a row, his ice-time even rose to a career-high 18:43, and he followed that night up with three consecutive games with a goal, and seven points in his last ten starts.
In the midst of his dry spell, the Canes maintained the right to return him to the WHL (Jarvis played nine AHL games last year, which is below the minimum 20 games required to be AHL-eligible as a 19-year-old) and avoid burning a year of his contract, but the prospect has cemented his place in the team’s top-nine, and doesn’t seem anywhere near a relegation to the junior level. He has forced the hand of a team with more than enough manpower to avoid rushing a prospect, and has proved that a prospect can only be rushed if they aren’t ready.
Top-tier offensive and transitional numbers come as no surprise for anyone who’s followed Jarvis even remotely closely this season. He’s got the hands, he’s got the speed, and especially, he has a myriad of offensive tools that allow him to break lines, get shots from dangerous areas and put the puck on his teammates’ sticks more often than not. On top of the tools, the mindset that Jarvis brings to every shift and every moment in-between makes him even more special, as it is one of the first things anyone in his entourage has to say about him. From coaches, to managers, to teammates, everyone seems to recognize a winning mindset in Jarvis.
This prospect will likely not remain a prospect for long; expect him to further cement his spot in the Canes’ top six and become an impact forward on a nightly basis. He’s already almost there.
Mattias Norlinder: AHL-Bound
Mattias Norlinder was just loaned to the Laval Rocket, after playing six games in an NHL jersey and earning his first assist. There were speculations as to whether Norlinder’s AHL stay would be allowed at all due to the SHL-NHL agreement being reviewed, but as Arpon Basu reports:
So the Habs are, once again, playing yo-yo with of one of their top prospects. After Cole Caufield, the team has now set its sights on their promising left-shot blueliner, Mattias Norlinder, who signed his entry-level contract in the offseason and remained with the team at the start of this year after nursing an injury suffered in pre-season.
Upon his return off the injury list, the Habs had the option of immediately returning Norlinder to Sweden in order to have him play top minutes in Frölunda. They chose to retain him until after Dec. 1st in order to have the option to send him down, but also played him a handful of games to see what he has to offer.
The problem, however, is that he couldn’t seem to earn the trust of head coach Dominique Ducharme, no matter how well his games went on paper: the Habs were down to Chris Wideman and Ben Chiarot as their two power play quarterbacks with Jeff Petry looking uncharacteristically bad this year, and didn’t see fit to give Norlinder the position he’s excelled in so far in his career.
The prospect’s ability to stickhandle, shoot and set up his teammates is second-to-none when watching the Canadiens’ defensemen this season, and yet, he hasn’t played any more than 30 seconds on the power play in any given game, mostly showing up in short sequences at 5-on-5 as a seventh defenseman matched up against the opposition’s fourth line.
His average of 12:17 a night is boosted by a total of 17:39 played in his first NHL game against the Pittsburgh Penguins; otherwise, he spent two of his last three games playing below the 10-minute mark. A blueliner spending less than 10 minutes on the ice at any point in a season is exceptional, barring an injury — for the most part, even bottom-pair defensemen will usually see their ice-time drop no lower than 14 minutes.
In a year where they’re 6-17-3, you’d think the decision between Chiarot (30 years old, expiring contract, two career power-play points in 441 GP) and a 21-year-old offensive-minded defenseman on the man-advantage would be easy for the Habs, especially with a glaring need to develop prospects and a long-standing history of mismanaging them in exactly this fashion. But somehow it isn’t, and Chiarot continues to head out for a minute per power play in order to shoot pucks into shin pads from the point.
You’d think with the ice-time he’s earned, that Norlinder was abysmal defensively. Although he was far from perfect in his own zone, Norlinder’s mistakes (losing a man in coverage, getting beat out wide on the rush) were the same that Chiarot, Savard and Petry (i.e. the defensemen with the most ice time) have been making on a nightly basis, without seeing their ice-time waver. In certain cases, they’ve even been promoted.
It’s almost as if the Canadiens’ staff value a specific brand of hockey — one that is at the polar opposite of the spectrum from Norlinder’s style — regardless of the actual on-ice output. The big, burly, shoot-first, dump-first brand of defenseman that the Habs have stockpiled over the years contrasts massively with the mobile, play-driving style that Norlinder thrives in. Good on the Habs for drafting such a talent in the third round, but it means nothing if his style isn’t valued by the organization. He’ll either wither out and lose his touch, or simply take his talents elsewhere.
The recent change in management could bring along some positive changes in that regard, but if the Habs’ coaches didn’t want to play Norlinder in big games, nor on the power play, nor at 3-on-3, then why was he there in the first place? A player like him, who fuels on confidence and trust, should be playing top minutes wherever he can find them. The Habs can still send him back to Sweden, but Frölunda’s top power-play unit is already being quarterbacked by promising Red Wings prospect Simon Edvinsson, who took over while Norlinder was overseas and hasn’t looked back.
It doesn’t help his case that adaptability clearly isn’t on the menu with Ducharme, as the quote above suggests. The issues are structural and ideological: either agree on a team philosophy and have it dictate every organizational decision, or take the best players and staff available wherever they are and mould the team philosophy around them. The amount of dissonance within the different elements of the Habs’ drafting, developing and coaching structures is deafening, and something’s got to budge if they’re going to produce NHL-level prospects anytime soon.
Norlinder will be a crash test for the Rocket staff’s ability to build up a prospect; with NCAA defensemen Jordan Harris and Jayden Struble to sign before they become unrestricted free agents, the Habs need to start impressing their current and future prospects with decent work on the development side if they want to retain any of them.
Thanks for reading — follow me on Twitter @HadiK_Scouting for all of your fantasy prospect needs!