If you missed it yesterday, a Charlotte Checkers season review for Haydn Fleury kicked off a series of articles evaluating the 2016-17 season for top Hurricanes prospects at the AHL level.
Lucas Wallmark’s starting point coming out of the 2015-16 season
Lucas Wallmark spent the 2015-2016 season in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) playing for Luleå Hockeyförening. This was Wallmark’s third and final season in the SHL, and he decided to make it his best season in the SHL as well. He scored 8 goals and dished out 24 assists in 48 games. His point total was a 14 point increase from the prior season, and Wallmark was becoming more comfortable with finding his own shot and not just creating chances for others. This was evident with the 7 goals that he scored in the postseason with Luleå compared to tallying just 2 assists in 11 games.
Lucas Wallmark: 2016-17 with the Charlotte Checkers
First of the season: Like Haydn Fleury but at a more amplified level, Wallmark entered the season with a timid approach. Even more than Fleury, he was being hesitant when it came to the offensive side of the puck. He wasn’t taking many shots, rather deferring to his pass the puck to his teammates for shots. Even when he was able to breakdown the defense and create an offensive play on his own, he did not often enough finish the play and take the shot. Because of this, he looked like a skilled playmaker at the beginning of the season but with not much of a goal scoring touch to his game. This affected his ability to pass the puck over time because opposing teams adjusted defensively since they did not even have to worry about him shooting the puck. His mind was solely focused on finding the open teammate on offense, and that limited approach can be predictable to defend against. On the defensive side of the puck Wallmark did a solid job on the penalty kill when he was called upon. He was good at knowing what angles to take to make it difficult for opposing players to squeak a shot by or a pass through the center of the ice on the man advantage. Even with some flashes of offensive skill and solid penalty killing work, Wallmark had an average start to his rookie season, registering 13 points in his first 28 games.
Second half of the season: Also like Haydn Fleury and the Checkers as a whole, Wallmark made a big improvement in the second half of his season. Wallmark stated that a meeting in December with head coach Ulf Samuelsson during the team’s slump helped spark his second half of the year. Samuelsson told Wallmark that he was a talented player with a lot of skill, and that he should use that skill to shoot more for himself. Wallmark took the coach’s advice, and what do you know, things started to turn around for him on offense as a whole. He started positioning himself in the high slot and that is where he probably scored the bulk of his goals, displaying a deadly accurate shot that most people did not know existed. The high slot is also a place where NHL great and Hall of Famer, Tony Esposito, is adamant players in today’s NHL should position themselves more. Positioning is something that Wallmark did extremely well during the second half of the year, illustrating his high hockey IQ and ability to find the open areas of the ice. He also did a terrific job of staying patient on offense. He is not one to force a play if there is nothing there. He would smartly curl back on the play, pass the puck back to the defense and reset on offense. His offensive improvement was huge during the second half of the season. He totaled 33 points in 39 games. Wallmark would also finish the season with 24 goals, which broke the Checkers franchise record for goals scored by a rookie.
Areas for improvement
While his offensive game looks more polished, Wallmark still has some major parts to his game to work on this offseason. He absolutely needs to become bigger and faster to be able to compete every night at the NHL level. He still can be too easily pushed off the puck by players who are bigger than him, and he does not have the type of speed that can blow past the average player in the NHL. Wallmark needs to work on his lower body strength to gain more speed on his regular stride and he also needs to work on his acceleration, which can be slow at times when the puck switches possession. He also needs to work on making quicker decisions sometimes. He gets away with holding the puck a little too long sometimes at the AHL level when he is trying to create offense, but that will not fly in the NHL. Too often, he will have the puck stripped right off his stick if he is caught lollygagging with puck on offense, and it could lead to a scoring opportunity going the other way.
Path to the NHL for Lucas Wallmark
Despite his strong finish to the 2016-17 season, I think that Wallmark will need at least one more year with the Checkers before he is ready to be a solid contributor at the NHL level. He could benefit from a full season where he dominates and is one of the best players on the entire team for the whole season. This would raise his confidence level to an even higher level than it is now. Like I stated earlier, he also needs to be bigger and faster before he can contribute to the Canes the way that he, the fans, and the organization want him to. This is not a slight against Wallmark he just needs more time to develop as a player before he is ready, but he clearly has the skill and talent to be in the NHL someday. I see him being a third line guy for the majority of his career if he makes it to the NHL level with the slight possibility of being a second line player if he has another big year of development. I do not see him making the opening night roster for the Canes, but I do think he will have a solid training camp this next season and could compete for the open fourth-line center slot.