#10 Prospect: Alex Plante

Winter 2009: #15
Summer 2010: #11
Winter 2010: #10
Alex Plante has made solid progress since turning pro. After an injury-plagued junior career (a career that also included possible maturity issues) the young man has settled in to a top 4 role in the American Hockey League.
Redline: Alex Plante has come a long way since the beginning of the season. At 6-4/215-pounds, he showed surprising offensive skills, particularly on the PP, where he can act as either trigger man or quarterback. He’s not a big baggage smasher, but will use his body in front and to tie forwards up along the walls.

ISS: Great size, not afraid of rough stuff. Has improved speed, good first pass, rarely gets beaten one on one. Pro size with hockey sense. A good defender who could play in all situations. Without a doubt one of the biggest draft wildcards. The number one attraction of this player is his combination of outstanding size and skill. He is blessed with a genetic gift and a relatively high level of skating and puck skill for a player this big. Plante is an intense player who is mean and not afraid of playing along the boards or competing physically. He has a good stride and his agility is improving. This has led to a definite improvement in his overall play and a climb up our rankings.

This may be a controversial choice (although I’m satisfied he’s the right player) because there are so many defensemen in Oklahoma City considered prospects. From my summer list, Plante (#11), Petry (#12), Motin (#17) and Chorney (#18) have been joined by Shawn Belle among top 20 candidates. I can tell you that not all of them make the top 20, and that I’ve been fairly consistent in ranking Plante behind Peckham and ahead of Petry. I won’t go into too much detail here, but will say that in terms of offense they are very close at even strength (Petry 23gp, 1-3-4 at evens and Plante 22gp, 1-3-4). Also, Petry is indeed playing tougher minutes (based on our current view) with Shawn Belle but I’m not certain this is a strong and fast rule; this isn’t previous seasons, it looks like the team has 7 adequate AHL defenders (Belle, Petry, Plante, Chorney, Petiot, Taylor, Motin).

Why do I like Plante THIS much? Lots of reasons. He has draft pedigree, he has size (6.04, 225) and he is playing well in a very tough league at age 21. Although not a good fighter, he’s a willing one. He’s improved a lot in areas of weakness (coverage, speed) and the young man looked calm in his NHL cup of coffee. While not a smooth offensive defender like Petry, he can move the puck effectively and has an excellent shot. Put it this way: Plante’s range of skills include things that coach will find valuable and are often in short supply.

Shawn Belle is 25, Taylor Chorney is 23. Jeff Petry is 500 days older than Alex Plante, and in fact Petry is much closer in age to Theo Peckham. I like Petry as a prospect, but Plante’s resume is a little stronger. Age, style of play and how well those skills will translate to the NHL (we can’t count on Petry’s offense from the powerplay any time soon; that’s a role he may never play regularly with the Oilers).

Plante emerged as a legit NHL prospect in 2009-10. He made big strides last year and is certainly part of the future. His pro debut was the most impressive in the entire system. Injuries and callups forced Plante up the depth chart and he played well, so well in fact the club rewarded him with a call to the show (4gp, +1) last season. Alex Plante is not an NHL defenseman yet, but the light has turned on and he’s trending well. Also important to consider: anecdotal evidence that Plante was playing against some of the tougher opposition in the AHL (as a rookie) last season. It’s a strong tell.

Plante’s worry is injuries. He was injured up north at his first training camp (fall 2007) and fans were already grumbling a little because names like Cherepanov and Esposito weren’t called at #15. In early 2008 he suffered a concussion while playing for the Calgary Hitmen. Just before Valentine’s day 2010, he collided during the pre-game skate with teammate Kip Brennan and suffered another concussion.

A good sign for Plante: He was considered for callup before the club decided to elevate Shawn Belle (the Smid injury). Quoting Jim Matheson November 17th:

  • They also considered Alex Plante after he got into four games last season when they ran into injuries on the back-end, but the local product Belle deserves a shot.

How close are Plante and Petry as prospects? Pretty close. No one should be surprised if Petry goes on to have a stronger NHL career, and with injuries being such a big part of the game for defenders chances are only one of them will survive deep into a career. I do think that NCAA defensemen have a devil of a time with the physical aspects of the game, and we know from the Chorney experience that it can take some time.

There’s a nice story (here) about Plante making his NHL debut and the impact it had on his family.

In my Tom Renney in a box series over at ON in the summer, I asked and answered the following:

  • “Which Oiler AHL prospects will benefit from Renney’s presence? I believe Theo Peckham and Alex Plante will benefit the most. They are willing fighters and have some secondary skills (Plante’s shot, Peckham’s nasty streak) that should impress the coach. 

I remain convinced Plante will benefit.

Plante’s arrows are headed in a good direction. He’s not a puck mover, in fact every facet of his game suggests at stay-at-home type except for the slapshot and the ability to head-man the puck. But he’s improved his ability to shutdown the outside fly-by’s and his overall mobility is much better than in junior. He’s strong, can clear an area quickly and won’t back down. He comes to the aid of teammates and that seems to be an enormous item for the current Oilers management. He’s among the top 30 in AHL PIMS and he’s a righty (which is also a positive for the current Oilers).

This is a ridiculous amount of talent. By the time we reach #15 it’ll begin to subside, but there’s a chance most of these players have solid NHL careers. Let’s have a quick look at my summer 2003 list:

  1. Jarret Stoll (457 NHL games)
  2. Jani Rita (66 NHL games)
  3. Marc-Antoine Pouliot (177 NHL games)
  4. Raffi Torres (455 NHL games)
  5. Jesse Niinimaki (nil)
  6. Jeff Drouin Deslauriers (58 NHL games)
  7. Doug Lynch (2 NHL games)
  8. Kenny Smith (nil)
  9. Matt Greene (326 NHL games)
  10. Mikael Joukov (nil)
  11. Ivan Koltsov (nil)
  12. Brock Radunske (nil)
  13. Colin McDonald (2 NHL games)
  14. MA Bergeron (399 NHL games)
  15. Ty Conklin (181 NHL games)
  16. Fredrik Johansson 
  17. JF Jacques (117 NHL games)
  18. Dwight Helminen (27 NHL games)
  19. Tony Salmelainen (70 NHL games)
  20. Kalle Olsson (nil)

So, that’s 4 actual NHL players (Stoll, Torres, Greene, Bergeron), 2 middling goalies (Conklin, Deslauriers), 4 tweeners (Pouliot, Salmelainen, JF Jacques, Rita) and many cups of coffee. The current list should be much better, with impact players likely. It’s been awhile.

Finally, a quote from his 2009-10 AHL coach Rob Daum:  “Defense is the toughest position to learn, and even though Alex has had his ups and downs he is progressing nicely. He has a high competitive level and he loves to compete. Even though he’s a young guy in a man’s league he hasn’t taken a backward step.”

That’s why he’s #10.

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