In a format somewhat similar to the 2016-17 NHL-level player report cards, Jordan Futrell will be writing a series of 2016-17 reviews for many of Hurricanes’ top prospects who spent the 2016-17 with the Charlotte Checkers in the AHL.
Haydn Fleury’s starting point coming out of the 2015-16 season
Haydn Fleury played his final year in the Western Hockey League (WHL) for the Red Deer Rebels in 2015-2016. Fleury probably had the best regular season of his junior career, totalling 41 points in 56 games played and finishing as an overall +18. In the post-season, he helped lead Red Deer to the WHL conference finals, tallying 4 goals and 5 assists in 17 games. For the Memorial Cup, Fleury finished second among defensemen in total points with 4, outdone only by future 5th overall pick Olli Joulevi who had 7. Not only did Fleury’s total points per game improve in his last junior season, but his defensive game was also better. He became more of a physical defender on the ice, using his larger frame to his advantage against smaller opponents.
Haydn Fleury: 2016-17 with the Charlotte Checkers
First half of the season: Fleury would not start the 2016-17 season out guns blazing as he might have hoped. For the majority of the first half of the year, he looked a little timid on the ice. As a rookie that can be natural, not wanting to make any major mistakes right at the beginning of his professional career is something that absolutely goes through a player’s mind. Fleury only registered 4 points through November, and he suffered an injury that caused him to miss seven games in early December. In his first game back from injury, he looked more comfortable on offense and tallied 2 goals with 6 shots fired on net. From that point on Fleury looked to get better and develop as a fully-rounded professional defenseman. At times in the first half of the season, he illustrated the ability to jump in the rush but would hesitate sometimes and defer to stay back on defense. Fleury also was not using his body and big frame on the defensive end of the ice to his advantage as much as the coaches would have liked. This caused him to lose puck battles/races at times to smaller, quicker players who could use their speed to get around him when he was not playing the body. In his first 38 games of the season Fleury registered 10 points and was an even +/-.
Second half of the season: Around the same time that the Checkers made a big second half of the season playoff push, Fleury made major improvements to his overall game. He began to look far more confident with the puck on his stick, making long breakout passes that stretching the ice and even occasionally going coast to coast with the puck to get a quick shot on net for a spark on offense. He began to jump into the rush even more and he did an excellent job of making sure he jumped in at the right times, not leaving his defensive partner out to dry. His biggest defensive improvement was the use of his body. Once he began to use his body more on defense, it made playing against him quite difficult for the majority of players because Fleury’s size and the fact that his skating ability is also nothing to sneeze at even though he is not as quick with acceleration. He is still extremely mobile for a defenseman his size and once he gets up to full speed he is as fast as almost anyone on the AHL level.
The +/- statistics illustrate Fleury’s defensive improvement as he finished as +16 in his final 31 games, which was good enough to tie the Checkers franchise record for all players not just defensemen or rookies in a single season. Another big reason for Fleury’s big second half of the season was the addition of defenseman Philip Samuelsson, the son of Checkers head coach Ulf Samuelsson. Samuelsson took the place of Keegan Lowe as Fleury’s regular defensive partner, and the two developed great chemistry right off the bat. Both players seemed to be in sync on the ice together and played like they knew what either guy was going to do, so, one guy did not over-pinch or jump into the rush too quickly without being sure of where the other was. Fleury would finish out the last 31 games of the season by tallying 16 points and establishing himself as probably the Checkers’ best defensemen.
Areas for improvement
Fleury did a tremendous job of listening to his coaches and developing much of what was needed in his game during the second half of the season. He still needs to work on his acceleration, as he can still get beat by quicker players if they get a step on him and he is unable to get a body to nudge them off the puck. He also will get beat on races to the puck sometimes, and that is because he is not quick enough on his initial burst speed. Working on the three choppy strides players are taught to take before accelerating into their normal stride during the offseason would benefit Fleury’s ongoing development heading into training camp. It will make it just that much harder for opposing teams to team’s to play him if he adds that next level of speed to his game. Also while he did make an improvement on offense during the second half of the year, Fleruy will need to work on putting together a full season of consistent offense if he is to become a top four defensemen on the NHL level. That means working on the quickness of his release for all of his shots, becoming even more precise with his long ice breakout passes, and not being hesitant when it comes to jumping into the rush when the opportunity arises. The most important thing of all is that Fleury needs to maintain the confidence that he gained as the season progressed. It is not a question of whether or not he has the talent to compete at a high NHL level, it’s all about whether he can put together all the tools he has as a talented player and use them to build masterpiece of a career.
Path to the NHL for Haydn Fleury
Personally, I feel that Fleury is ready now for his shot at the NHL. But even with his steady improvement and promising potential it nowhere near a sure thing that he will be on the Hurricanes starting roster come opening night. The Canes already have Noah Hanifin, Justin Faulk, Jaccob Slavin, and Brett Pesce all probably locked into the lineup for the next season. So that leaves two open spots, one of which will more than likely be filled up by an NHL veteran acquired in the offseason. I think that Fleury will prove that he deserves the last spot. With all of the possible scenarios that could happen with the expansion draft and free agency, it is unknown who all the defensemen will be for next season’s training camp, but I have a hard time seeing Fleury not at least get his shot at the NHL after his strong conclusion to the 2016-17 season including his role in the Checkers’ end of the year playoff push. Overall I see Fleury potentially maxing out as a top four defensemen in the NHL, but if his game does not translate well to the NHL level, he could still fill a bottom pairing role for an extended period of time.I also do see him as being one of the six defensemen that get to suit up for the Canes on opening night.