Mailbag: SHL vs. Hartford Wolf Pack for prospect development; BSB Patreon

I received these two questions earlier this month, but was holding out until I had more questions to answer. Then I realized it’s August.

Tim asks: What are the pros and cons of having prospects like Karl Henriksson and Nils Lundkvist in the SHL versus the AHL? Since their contracts would slide if signed, why not play them in Hartford where the team can set the minutes and development time? Is it the choice of the player?

This is a great question, and one that I don’t really have all the answers to. The low hanging fruit answer is that these players have contracts with their respective SHL teams, and need to honor those before the Rangers can sign them to an ELC. More often than not, especially with their better prospects, the Rangers get them to the AHL as soon as possible.

What we also know is that the Rangers want to have their prospects in Hartford so their own staff can guide and develop them. Most of the time they are limited by their overseas contracts, but they move quickly to bring in their top prospects once those contracts expire. There’s also roster space concerns and max NHL contracts to consider (teams are allowed a max of 50 NHL contracts). That plays a role into when players come over, but not as large as their overseas contracts.

As for the pros and cons, that’s tough. The biggest pros of having their prospects in the AHL, aside from having their own guys looking and guiding, is getting the kids used to the North American rink size. If there is a good environment in the AHL, then it’s easier to have the kids adjust. We know that’s been a problem in recent years, though.

The cons of the AHL, especially for kids, is that they are separated from their families and support systems. It may not seem like that big of a deal, but English isn’t a first language for a lot of these kids, and it makes it difficult for them to adjust to the life in Connecticut/New York. This plays into the environment aspect mentioned above.

To me, it’s more about the off-ice impact of SHL vs. AHL than it is the on-ice. Also worth noting that prospect development and rating isn’t really a strength of mine.

JoeS. asks: What is the number of Patreon subscribers up to?

For those that don’t know what Joe is talking about, I created a Patreon in August after the hack that took the blog down for a week. Long story short – the Patreon is there to help support the added costs for the blog, since I had to shell out a ton of money to have the blog cleared, secured, and back up and running. As I mention in the summary of the Patreon, there is no added benefit of contributing, other than keeping this blog up and running, of course.

Right now we are at 8 patrons, and the number of subscribers/dollar amount per month is public. I’m not hiding anything there. If you’re interested in helping an independent blogger keep costs down, then you can be a patron by signing up here. A little in abundance goes a long way.

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  • I think the talent level in the SHL, KHL, and Liga is probably at least as high as the AHL, but the European game is somewhat different due to the wider rink. That, and proximity to the parent team, makes the AHL the better choice for some players. On the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for letting those young players develop their skills in an environment where that’s their only concern. Learning a new language and adapting to a different culture alone, as a teenager, is no easy task for some people. Doing it while trying to play hockey at peak performance just adds to the difficulty. Two of the Rangers’ top prospects chose different paths: Vitali Kravstov spent his first post draft year in Russia, honing his skills in the KHL, but he also made the effort to improve his English (which he has, considerably). Then, after the KHL season ended and he was contractually free, he came to the States early, and found a family to stay with while he became acclimated to American life. (I heard that it worked out pretty well, he improved his English, and the kids he was staying with learned Russian and hockey). Kappo Kakko didn’t have any contractual issues, and had pretty much done as much as he could in the Liga, so he came here in his first post draft year. He also just got here, alone, and still has a lot to adapt to. At this point, Kravstov is personable, cheerful, and outgoing, while Kakko still seems somewhat shy and withdrawn. Whether this makes a difference in what they show on the ice, we have no way of knowing.

  • The NHL and SIHF have an understanding that only 1st rd picks can come over to play in the AHL as an 18 yr old. Everybody else will stay in Sweden to develop & play. So when they come over, they’re prepared and hopefully have a clear NHL path. If they don’t after a year, they go back like Calle Andersson did.

    When they let Kovacs & Stromwall come over early it turned out their priorities weren’t straight at that time and their old clubs knew it.

    As for adaptation, these are hockey players. Most players leave their home town by the time they’re 17.

    In Sweden the only people who can’t speak English are in their 80s. It’s taught from 3rd grade on. If they watch TV and it’s a US/UK product, it’s in English w/ Swedish subtitles.

    • Thanks, Reena. Clears up a little of my lack of understanding about the relationship between the NHL and the SHL. My comments about English proficiency were based on the interviews I’ve seen with both Kravstov and Kakko. It could be that Kakko is just a more introspective person than Kravstov, and he uses a supposed lack of English fluency as a shield, as others have been known to do. Finnish is a language that’s not very common in the U.S., and shares almost nothing with English, so I hope that’s the case.

      • Finland is a lot like Sweden in the education and TV when it comes to English, but the ability to converse in English may be a problem just because Finnish language structure is quite dissimilar. They’ll be able to read it, they’ll be able to ask for this and that, but they ain’t talking about Chaucer. If you go rapid fire English at them, they might have a hard time processing it.

        It’s a two way street where coaches need to standardize terminology in systems and simplify sentence structure for players who aren’t solid in their English skills. This was a big problem with Edmonton & Jesse Puljujarvi.

        Russia is a different kettle of fish. Foreign language skills aren’t really pushed unless you’re on a university path. For players like Kravtsov, immersion and tutorage to get the player acclimated to daily life and hockey quickly.

        • Good points, Reena, especially on the need for coaches to take the lead in facilitating communication. As for Kravstov, I think he took the initiative on his own. He came over this year speaking much better English than he did right after he was drafted.

    • Good info there Reena thanks. Just saw that Karl Henriksson is playing in Traverse City do they ever make exceptions he was a second rounder? Nils Lundqvist was a first rounder and is in year two and still not on the Traverse City roster (but he may be recovering from an injury) maybe because his SHL team’s training camp overlaps with the prospect tourney.

      • Lulea (Lundkvist’s team) plays their first game tomorrow. Lundkvist will be playing there instead of in the TCT.

      • Like I wrote in a prior thread(and Joe touches on) Henriksson coming over is a function of his having no shot making the men’s side for Frolunda while Lundkvist, Edstrom & Sjalin(finally healthy) are either on their teams or fighting for a starting role.

        Frolunda can plug Henriksson in on the 1st line for the J20 opener without him missing a beat even though he’ll miss 10 days of practice.

  • Other leagues overseas may have better talent than the AHL, but the point of having the AHL is to simulate, as closely as possible, the NHL. So the jump to the NHL is as smooth as possible.

    The size of the ice is also an issue. Overseas the ice is much bigger which means that offensive players have more holes and alleys from which to succeed. When the D men are mere a few feet from each other, the opportunities to score are a lot less. That’s when you see the real skilled players as opposed to players that look better than they really are.

    • The game in transition is the same, but once a team gains the zone in Europe defending is more passive zone concepts than attacking.

      This is a problem of adjustment for defenders coming over, especially for when you’re on the strong side. You don’t know whether to jump on a guy or lay back, so you wind up in the zone of death.

      For offence, the only transition is the lack of space, which is why even great scorers out of all leagues fall short coming to the NHL: time and space are in short supply and the guys who can create it for themselves (or teammates) are worth big money.

      That’s why seeing Buch improve his 5×5 scoring rate at the end of the season has me pumped going forward.

      • Buch’s 5 on 5 scoring rate went up because Quinn got him to buy into going to the net, instead of playing that peripheral game that did not always produce positive results.

        If Buch plays the same way this year, 50+ pts is possible.

      • I think the change from the Euro rink to the the North American size is hardest on goalies. On the bigger rink, shots from off the boards come at a much different angle, and greater distance, than they do on the NHL rink. Probably for that reason, there seem to be fewer shots taken from those areas in the European game.

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