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2011 Exit Interviews: Springfield Falcons - Defense, Goal & Coaching

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Yesterday I took a look at the forwards for the Springfield Falcons. Today, it's all about keeping the puck out of the net, something the Birds had a fair amount of difficulty doing this season.

Although the AHL is a development league, I was surprised at the start of the season at just how young the defense of this team was. Grant Clitsome was the elder statesman on D, at the ripe old age of 25. Five of the other regulars were all 21 years of age or less when the season started. That fact established that the Blue Jackets were indeed taking seriously their player development; stocking up on young players who had successful collegiate and junior careers. As a fan, I knew there would be rookie mistakes and I accepted them as just that. In fact, until the arrival of Mike Commodore, there was a cohesiveness of the team, especially the D. Afterwards, well that's another story...

In case you didn't see my disclaimers from yesterday, here they are again:

Before I get started, I'd like to mention a couple of points. First, I'll limit my assessments to the players with at least 20 games in with Springfield. (I might make an exception for Mike Commodore though.)

Also, I will limit the review to players who were under contract with Columbus. The Falcons had a handful of players who did well, but were under straight AHL contracts. I will address these players briefly at the end. If there is any interest, please post in the comment section and I'd be happy to discuss these players.

One other item of note: "What we expected" is more tangible with the big club, with the prospects I will add how the player came to the Blue Jackets and mention previous season stats.

SPRINGFIELD FALCONS DEFENSE:


NICK HOLDEN

  • 24 years old on May 15th
  • 67 games, 4G, 21A, 25 points
  • +2
  • 63 PIM

What we expected:
Holden was signed out of juniors at the end of the 2008 season. Nick's claim to fame at that time was that he led all WHL defensemen in goals (22) and was third in points (60) while skating for the Chilliwack Bruins. The recently concluded season brings Nick to the end of that deal, and he is now a restricted free agent.

What we got:
Holden was the first blueliner recalled by Columbus early in the season. I didn't know much about Nick at the time, and thought that sent a message that he was one of the Jackets' D-Men of the future. After that brief recall, Holden came back to Springfield where he remained for the balance of the season. Like most of the team, Holden was banged up here and there, yet he still managed to play in 67 of 80 Falcons games. He had a lot of ice time during the season, and still managed to play to a +2 for the season.

What we need to see:
The thing that strikes me about Nick, is when you see him on the ice, he blends in - as in nothing spectacular. When you see him off the ice, he is a big kid (6'3" or 6'4" depending on where you read the stats). In my opinion, if Nick were able to put on about 10-15 pounds of upper body strength and be able to take his physical game to the next level, he could easily become a top level NHL defenseman.


JONATHAN SIGALET

  • 25 years old
  • 67 games, 4 G, 18 A, 22 pts.
  • +12
  • 57 PIM

What we expected:
The other veteran blueliner, Sigalet came to Springfield after five seasons in the AHL. Originally he was the fourth pick of the Boston Bruins in the 2005 Entry Draft. Sigalet came to the Jackets in a deal for Matt Marquardt in 2008. He is currently an unrestricted free agent.

What we got:
After Grant Clitsome was called to Columbus, the Falcons' defense lacked that one player who really stood out from the pack. It didn't happen overnight, but over the last couple months of the season, Jonathan Sigalet was that player. Usually paired with a rookie, Sigalet brought a degree of leadership and education to the pro game to his partners.

What we need to see:
It is yet to be determined if Sigalet will be offered the chance to return to the Jackets' organization for another season. If he does return, he could certainly become the cornerstone of the Falcons' D next season. On the other hand, I felt that down the stretch, Jonathan could have fit in on an NHL club and he may get some interest as a free agent.

DAVID SAVARD

  • 20 years old
  • 72 games: 11 G, 32 A, 43 pts. (led Falcons defensemen)
  • -6
  • 18 PIM

What we expected:
David Savard was the Jackets fourth round draft pick in the 2009 Entry Draft and selected 94th overall. Savard's last year of juniors was nothing short of amazing. In 64 games with the Moncton Wildcats, he scored 13 goals and added 64 assists for 77 points, with a +32 +/- rating. He added 15 points in 21 playoff games as the Wildcats won the QMJHL championship.

What we got:
As was the case with the youthful D this year, Savard made his share of rookie mistakes. These were overshadowed by his smooth defensive play. Offensively, Savard was the Falcons' third leading scorer. Let there be no doubt that David is indeed one of the defensemen of the future for the Jackets.

What we need to see:
Perhaps selfishly, I would like to see Savard spend another season in the "A". If the Jackets are able to let him continue to develop his skills in Springfield, he could easily be among the top 10 defensemen in the league next season. It's also entirely possible that he has a great camp and begins his NHL career next season in Columbus.

JOHN MOORE

  • 20 years old
  • 73 games: 5 G, 19 A, 24 pts.
  • -27
  • 23 PIM

What we expected:
John Moore is the Crown Jewel of the future of the Jackets. Taken first in the '09 Entry Draft (21st overall), John was the most highly regarded of the prospects assigned to Springfield this season.

What we got:
In his first season, Moore also made rookie mistakes. Quite frankly, I was a little surprised at the regularity of the unforced errors of his play. Getting back to basics, the AHL is not the ultimate place to play. It's a place to hone your skills. Skills which are abundant to John Moore. As the season progressed, it was plain to see the confidence build in John. By the end of the season, he was rewarded with a callup to the Jackets and got his first taste of the NHL.

What we need to see:
John really could benefit from another season in the AHL. My concern for a guy like this, is that the front office feels that because he's a #1, he needs to be in the NHL lineup sooner rather than later. The Jackets don't strike me as that kind of an organization, but really, who knows? John Moore needs to continue to be John Moore. His skills are many and obvious. Yes, he is one of the Jackets' defensemen of the future. It's just a matter of when that future is.

THEO RUTH

  • 22 years old
  • 52 GP, 1 G, 5 A, 6 pts.
  • -18
  • 21 PIM

What we expected:
Ruth was the second round pick of the Washington Capitals in the 2007 Entry Draft (46th overall). He was traded to the Jackets in exchange for Sergei Fedorov in February of 2008.

What we got:
After finishing his collegiate career at Notre Dame, Ruth embarked on his first pro season. The transition wasn't an easy one. Often a healthy scratch, Ruth couldn't seem to get enough momentum to establish himself in the Falcons lineup.

What we need to see:
Coming to training camp with a full season of the AHL behind him, Ruth needs to assert himself and first and foremost, show that he belongs not just in the "A", but with the Jackets. Theo is another one of the young D-Men who would benefit tremendously from another season at the AHL level.

BRENT REGNER

  • 22 years old on May 17th
  • 56 GP, 6 G, 13 A, 19 pts.
  • -4
  • 42 PIM

What we expected:
Regner was the Jackets' fifth round choice in the 2008 Entry Draft (137th overall). He played in 2009-10 with the Jackets' AHL affiliate in Syracuse. Brent's claim to fame was his last season of juniors with the Vancouver Giants of the WHL. That season in 70 games, he scored 15 goals with 52 helpers for 67 points. He was an amazing +65 for the season!

What we got:
Another of the Falcons young defensemen who had difficulty cracking the lineup. When he got ice time, he played well. Unfortunately, he couldn't get enough ice time this season.

What we need to see:
Brent, like the other youthful defenders, needs to establish himself at camp and prove to Scott Howson that bringing him to the Jackets organization was a good move. Brent has shown that he can play at the AHL level. The coming season should be a "make or break" one for him.

CODY GOLOUBEF

  • 21 years old
  • 50 GP, 5 G, 12 A, 17 pts.
  • -12
  • 42 PIM

What we expected:
Cody is another highly regarded defender. He was taken by Columbus in the second round (37th overall) in the 2008 Entry Draft. This season was his first in the pros, after completing his collegiate career at Wisconsin.

What we got:
Goloubef had a good rookie season for Springfield. Another player who could have benefitted from more ice time, by the end of the season, he had emerged as one of the Falcons' more reliable defensemen.

What we need to see:
Cody is one of the players that I expect a strong 2011-2012 season from. If he gets off to a good start in camp, he could see time in Columbus before the season is over.

THE GOALTENDERS


DAVID LENEVEU

  • 27 years old
  • 42 games played, 16 W, 21 L, 2 OTL
  • 2.97 GAA
  • .896 SV PCT.

What we expected:
LeNeveu was signed as a free agent to come to Springfield (where he had played previously) and oversee the development of highly touted signee, Gustaf Wesslau. His experience at both the AHL and NHL level made him a good choice to mentor Wesslau in what would be his first North American season.

What we got:
Sometimes things just don't work out as planned. Wesslau suffered a knee injury in training camp, leaving Lenny as the candidate to start the season up with the Jackets on their European tour. Upon returning, he was assigned back to Springfield and after an early season game of musical chairs, emerged as the #1 goalie for the Falcons. He was called up late in the season while Steve Mason was injured. He saw playing time when he relieved Mathieu Garon in a shellacking by the St. Louis Blues. After surrendering 2 goals on 12 shots (an .833 save percentage for you statheads), he commented after the game that "I thought I played well." Yes, he really said that.

What we need to see:
Leneveu is an unrestricted free agent. As has become the case in a post-lockout world, there will be plenty of goalies available. Whether he is invited back by the Jackets is anybody's guess.

GUSTAF WESSLAU

  • 26 years old
  • 31 games played, 12 W, 16 L, 1 OTL
  • 3.17 GAA
  • .897 SV PCT.

What we expected:
Wesslau was signed fresh off a season where he led his club to the Swedish Elite league finals. All media accounts of him stateside were extremely positive. So much so, before I ever saw him play, I was expecting the second coming of Henrik Lundqvist.

What we got:
Unfortunately, not much. Whether it was the knee injury or North America, Wesslau was a bust. I did not see all 31 of his games, so presumably there were some bright spots. Maybe. My biggest impression was that he simply couldn't make the big save when it was needed. More than once he left the impression that concentration on the task at hand was exceedingly difficult.

What we need to see:
We need to see him return to Sweden. With Allen York  waiting in the wings, the Jackets' goaltending situation appears rosy on the horizon. I can see Mase as #1 for the Jackets and York #1 for the Falcons next season. Who the respective #2's will be is up in the air.

COACHING STAFF BONUS:


Head Coach Rob Riley
What we expected:
Riley had been out of coaching for several years so that he could spend the majority of his time at home with his family. A northeastern scout for the Blue Jackets for the previous several seasons, the former Army coach was expected to bring equal parts of teaching and discipline to the Jackets' AHL prospects.

What we got:
Riley's indoctrination to the AHL was a tough first season as bench boss for the Birds. Looking back on the season that was, it was as much of a learning experience for Riley as it was for many of his players. He brought a patience and an understanding to the team. Despite some frustrating times, he appeared to remain calm and in control for the duration.

What we need to see:
Riley has already been retained as the coach for next season. This is a great start, as the newness of the relationship with the Jackets and the city of Springfield is now done. Riley will return with several of the same players that cut their teeth in their first pro season here. That experience alone for both players and coach should bode well. Finally, the "Commie Factor" will be gone, something that can only be looked at as a huge plus for the Falcons.

Assistant Coach Brad Larsen
What we expected:
This was Larsen's first go-round as a coach, having retired from the Portland Pirates at the end of the 2009-10 season. Reminiscent of long time Falcon assistant Gerry Fleming, Larsen would be entrusted with much of the day to day "heavy lifting" of the coaching staff.

What we got:
Larsen's enthusiasm for the game is obvious. He appeared to be a suitable choice for the position with Springfield.

What we need to see:
Brad needs to continue to aid in the development of players who are destined for Columbus. I recently heard that the Jackets are likely going to add a defensive coach to the mix for the Falcons in the 2011-2012 season. The added coaching can only help, especially with so many blue chip prospects entrusted to the Falcons.

I have just one exit interview remaining. Please join me here on The Cannon next week when I bid adieu to "El Presidente of SpringVegas", Mike Commodore.