There has been some prospect debate over the last several days. Notably about the play of Bridgeport Sound Tiger 23 year old rookie right wing Rhett Rakhshani. Several have been unimpressed with his numbers given his age and argue that his prospect status is slim because of those numbers and that he should be "dominant" at the AHL level given his age and experience.
Due to the fact that stats are not kept with the same vigor in the AHL as they are in the NHL, I will attempt to provide some context for Rakhshani's play throughout the season. I will not attempt to address his "prospects" of an NHL career, or project about the type of career he will have. I am not sure that he will make it to the NHL, his impact there or if he can even replicate what he has done at Bridgeport this year. I believe there should be some defense of a fine season however and want to show the impact he had given the circumstances of the Sound Tigers this year who rivaled only their parent club in terms of fill-ins, call-ups and injuries.
First let's start with Rahkshani being "old" for a rookie. Yes, he did turn 23 in March, but any kid that elects to finish college will have the same problem of "being old" when they crack a professional lineup. It is notable that he was a captain of his team at Denver University for his junior and senior seasons and put up excellent numbers in is collegiate career (156gp 60g 91a 151pts). He was an All-American in 2010 following other great Pioneers like Paul Stastny (2006), Matt Carle (2005,2006), Brett Skinner (2005), and Wade Dubielewicz?!?! (2002). This is not a soft program by any means.
Next, is the issue of "dominance" at the AHL level. Of the top 20 AHL scorers this season, only the two tied for 18th with 62 points were rookies. One was Rakhshani, the other was Luke Adam of the Portland Pirates. Adam played on the same team as (I am avoiding "with", because I can not tell linemates in the AHL) Mark Mancari who is 15th on the leader board with 64pts in 56gp. It should be noted however, that Adam caught fire after Mancari was called up to the Sabres on March 1st. Portland on the season, had 103 points to Bridgeport's 71, scored 280 goals to BPT's 218, and had a goal differential of +42 to BPT's -48. A total differential of 90.
It doesn't appear that anyone was "dominant". Of the top 20, only 9 players averaged a point per game pace or better. The league leader (Corey Locke) had 21g 65a 86pts in 69gp, and the next closest had 78pts in 70gp. Of those 20, it appears that only Mancari was not on an AHL roster at the end of the season due to the call up by the Sabres. He had 1g 7a 8pts -1 12PIMs and was shot 2.3% in 20gp.
For starters, there are notable AHL lifers like; Jason Krog, Keith Aucoin, Ben Walter (remember him?) and Alexandre Giroux...which leads to this;
- Mean age of top 20 scorers (28) No, I'm not playing around with decimal points!
- Mean GP 66
- Mean Points 69
- The mean age of Rhett Rakhshani (23) is 5 years younger than the field. There are only three players younger than Rakhshani among the leaders. Luke Adam (20), Zach Boychuck (21), and Chris Terry (22). Terry and Boychuck both have a year of AHL under their belt, are teammates on the Charlotte Checkers and Terry (80) has 14 more GP than Rhett (66); Boychuck (60) and Adam (57) have less.
- Of the 20 leading scorers, many were teammates. There were two teams with three players on the list (Hershey Bears and Charlotte Checkers) and three teams with two players (Chicago Wolves, Portland Pirates, Oklahoma City Barons) These teams accounted for 12 of the top 20 scorers. Only 40% of the league's 30 teams had a scorer in the top 20.
- The mean season points for the five above teams is 96 with a low of 89.
- The mean goals scored for the above teams is 261 with a low of 245.
- Of the remaining seven teams with a player in the top 20 of scoring (not including Bridgeport):
- Their mean season points were 91 with a low of 82.
- Their mean season goals scored were 234 with a low of 216
Bridgeport finished with 71 points (30 wins) and 218 goals scored. They were below the lowest point totals of both above groups 18 and 11 points respectively in season points, and were significantly below the averages for goals scored throughout the season. What went wrong for the Tigers this season and why is Rhett's 62 points in 66 games rather remarkable? What else is their to notice besides that time he caught fire when Josh Bailey was sent down?
Rhett started slow and that is understandable given the transition to the pro game. He had 15 points through his first 23 games (There are no official stats for time on ice that I can find for the AHL. Additionally, I'm not sure if he was seeing regular PP time.) I will generally give a kid 20 games to adjust no? From the start of the season however, there were injuries to the Islanders (no, get out...no seriously) and adjustments throughout the organization. Forgive the ordering because there is overlap to many of these transactions.
- Hilbert never plays for team.
- Colliton didn't arrive until 10/22, as a probable replacement for Matt Martin, who was called up 10/23.
- DiBenedetto is out with injury for most of November.
- Hisey is out from 11/7-12/11
- Joensuu called up from 11/6-12/12 and is back and forth to Long Island finally and finally leaves for good on 3/13
- Jon Sim arrives and between 11/3-11/24, Rahkshani puts up 9 points in 8 games.
- Katic goes out with injury on 11/20-12/03 leaves for good 3/28 to finish out the year with the big club.
- Hamonic is called up permanently 11/21
- The goaltending triad Bridgeport version ruins two; Lawson and Koskinnen stink like a skunk that crawled inside of another skunk's ass and died. Lawson is terrible until the beginning of December, Koskinnen until mid-March.
Josh Bailey was demoted to Bridgeport to "build confidence" and "work his game out" from 11/24-12/19 for a total of 11 games. This was done at the last possible moment before he exceeded a "games played" provision in the collective bargaining agreement that would require him to pass through waivers prior to a demotion. During the Bailey period, Rakhshani was:11gp 5g 12a 17pts +1. (Coincidentally, so was Bailey with 6g 11a 17pts +5).
After Bailey leaves, Rhett has a mini-slump of 3 points in his next 9 games between 12/26-1/9 so yeah, 9 games in 14 days. By 1/9, he has played 39 games. His max is 41 in college...in a full season. In 15 November games, he had 12 points. Let's consider some other occurances or yet-to-occur-ances) during that time period...
Next, more lists;
- Bridgeport’s only reliable goaltender Kevin Poulin leaves 12/31, as Dwayne Roloson is traded. He plays well on Long Island, is sent to Bridgeport for one game Jan 28th over the all-star break, promptly contracts DiPietro knee upon his return, out for season.
- On or about 1/9, Rhett gets called up to the Isles, suffers a concussion, and plays in only 9 games between 1/9-2/27
- Lawson who begins to play well, plays 1 game for BPT between 12/30 and 3/18 due to a call up to be in the DiPietro, 'my knee hurts, I can't be pulled or inserted goaltending triage and triad follies'. Lawson plays terribly for the Islanders leading to the Islanders acquisition of Al Montoya. Lawson plays only 5 games for Bridgeport between 1/18 through the end of the season. Getting hurt which leads to the promotion of Joel Martin from the Odessa Jackalopes. (Anyone else picturing a blind antelope right now?) PS, also terrible, is Martin.
As a side note, some may not remember the idea that teams tend to play a more defensive style of game when they have a lead. With the goaltending in complete disarray due to call-ups injuries and terrible play, Bridgeport goes on an epic run of Sheen-like proportions from 1/02-3/20 in which they went 5-22-9. More listed reasons;
- Leading goal scorer (12) Haley is called up 2/5, never returns.
- DiBenedetto is with the Islanders from 2/27-3/16
- Between 1/1-3/5, Colliton plays only 3 games for Bridgeport due to an Islander call-up.
- Joensuu is in and out of the lineup playin 11 games between 1/1-3/5 leaving for good on 3/13.
- Power play quaterback Dylan Reese (alright, alright....get yourself together) plays 9 games between 1/1-3/18.
- Ty Wishart arrives 1/5, leaves for good 3/16...there is a call-up or two in between.
For the season, Bridgeport dresses 60 different players. They are awful. The Columbus Dispatch would have a field day. So what happens in that time period?
Rhett Rakhshani happens...to the tune of 17pts in 14 March games and follows with 7pts in 4 April games as reinforcements arrive from the college ranks for ATOs.
Rhett's final stat line 66gp 24g 38a 62pts -11 32PIM 3GW.
All of that on a team that had a -48 goal differential and only scored 218 goals (2.725 per game). It would be difficult to retrace the scoring while Rahkshani was injured or otherwise out of the lineup, so subtracting 2.725 X 14 missed games=218-38=180.
This means that Rhett figured in 34.4% of the Sound Tigers scoring this season. More than 1/3 of all goals ran through Rhett. His 3 GWG are 10% of BPT’s paltry total. He broke BPT’s rookie scoring record formerly held by Colliton by 9 points (53/62 both in 66 games), had two separate 7 game scoring streaks, had a 6 game multi-point scoring streak, He was named to the AHL all-rookie team, named an AHL all-star and had a line of 1g 3a 4pts +4 in that game.
Now, I'm no fool, I don't expect a miracle that Rhett Rakhshani is some kind of Martin St. Louis lying in wait for his opportunity, but similarly, I can't believe for a second that Bailey is the only party to the success Rakhshani had this year...especially when the stats prove otherwise. He was less effective without Bailey, but really, at times he was playing with little if any help. As a side note, Bailey stunk without Rhett too.
He put up proportionally BETTER numbers than Tavares in the same situation of playing with crappy goaltending and poor defense...except, Tavares' linemates didn't change all year... so he played a full season with quality forwards.
He played huge stretches of the year while 3-4 centers were out of the lineup at any given time. (Haley, DiBo, Hisey, Colliton). He survived a coaching change and system philosophy change as well. Remember that time when Capuano was named interim coach? His coach at Bridgeport for the second half, Pat Bingham, wasn't brought back this year...perhaps there were some system troubles there too.
So let's call it a day on not being "dominant" in the AHL. He played on a terrible team, with little if any help, was injured more than once, including his concussion. He survived a coaching change, played 25 more games than he is used to playing, made Bailey look good, was an all-star and all rookie, and was in the top 20 in scoring with mostly older players in front of him. He broke team records, got in a couple of games for the big club, and to me was pretty damn good considering that no rookie year anywhere should look like what he had to deal with.
As I wrote this, I became ten times more impressed by the perseverance, dedication and leadership and skill demonstrated by Rhett this year. Let's hope this kid makes it. He deserves it.