Name: Jesse Blacker
Before we get into the article, I’d like to apologize for the mix up in the order of these posts over the past couple of days. Steve thought I was writing this post. I thought Steve was writing this post. Friday came, and we both pointed fingers at each other. We decided that I’d write it, because I originally wanted to be the one who wrote it, and he’s a Marlies player. As well, the blog on Matt Finn came out a couple of days early, because is busy for the next few days (getting married!). He saved it as a draft, and somebody jumped the gun and pressed publish before it’s proper release on Monday. We’re back on track, though!
Now, with all of that said, I’m happy to be writing this piece. I had Blacker ranked third on my list of prospects, higher than anybody other than Justin, who had him in the same spot. Understandably, it’s been four years since he was drafted and he’s not the "shiny new toy" pick any more, and some are starting to expect less, but after watching him all of last year, I’m very excited for what he can do moving forward.
Simply put, Blacker was in a position where he really didn’t have to do much of anything for all of last year to make an impact on the team. Until the NHL returned, he was behind the likes of Jake Gardiner, Paul Ranger, Mike Kostka, Mark Fraser, and Korbinian Holzer in the depth chart. But that didn’t make him complacent. Quite the opposite, really; more competition meant that he had to play harder, smarter, and better than ever to stay in the lineup. He did just that, proving himself to arguably be the Marlies’ most improved player last year.
Usually, this is where I throw a bunch of stats your way to show how a player performed. But Blacker’s primary role is as a defensive defenceman. The AHL, unsurprisingly, doesn’t have a database of advanced statistics, so I can’t show you his Relative Corsi, Quality of Competition, or any of those fun things. So naturally, the NHL.com method would be next. Ice time breakdowns and Real TIme Statistics could be used, right?
The AHL doesn’t track those either. We have GP, Goals, Assists, Points, Plus Minus, Penalty Minutes, and Shots. Not exactly great metrics for defensive defencemen. What I can tell you about him using these stats:
His offensive game was stepped up as his teammates headed back to the NHL. Of the 35 "lockout games", Blacker played in 26 and scored no goals and three points. In the remaining 41, he played 35 and scored 4 goals and 4 assists.
He become much more disciplined this season. The only major criticism I had of his game before was that he was prone to occasionally letting his emotions get to him. This year, there were none of those incidents driven by emotion, and his penalty minute totals plummeted from 73 in 58 games to 33 in 61.
He shot a bit less this year, going from 69 shots to 54. That’s likely from spending less time on the powerplay and with the top offensive lines to start the year, and you can also suggest that he’s picking his shots better seeing as he scored more (then again, it’s a three goal difference. Small sample sizes are definitely in play).
Beyond the stats, he was overall a more solid player this year. The discipline was the biggest difference, as mentioned above, but his positional awareness was much more consistent, and he appeared to be more in sync with whoever his partner was. Over the course of the season, Blacker went from a guy that you’d send out for the sake of getting him minutes and developing him, to a player you trusted to shut down his opponents in key situations. He was rewarded for it at the end of the year, with a call up to the Leafs, though he didn’t play.
This season, I expect him to be playing on the Marlies top pairing as long as he’s healthy. The fact that competition isn’t as strong this year helps, but he also has seniority on this team over the new arrivals and has earned the spot. I expect Steve Spott to give him the opportunity to play a more offensive game as well, including more powerplay time, something Jesse showed himself to be capable of doing in the OHL, when he was playing in Spott’s division with the Owen Sound Attack in 2009/10 and 2010/11.
In summation, Blacker is on the right track to becoming a well rounded defenceman who’s best in his own zone. The next step is going to be an increase in minutes, and he’ll likely get that this season.
PREVIOUSLY ON TLN PROSPECTS…
#5 Matt Finn
#7 Josh Leivo
#8 Petter Granberg
#9 Tyler Biggs
#10 Jerry D’Amigo
#11 Carter Ashton
#12 Greg McKegg
#13 Garret Sparks
#14 Brad Ross
#15 Dominic Toninato
#16 Tom Nilsson
#17 Tony Cameranesi
#18: Connor Brown
#19: Andrew MacWilliam
#20: David Broll