Assessing the 2019-20 Flint Firebirds forwards is now a thing of the past. With all of them graded, it is now time to draw our attention to the blueline.
In assessing each player, a lot of criteria were considered to best determine an appropriate grade for each member of the roster. The focus was not only on their overall production this year but also the advances each player made in their individual development.
Of course, player grades are always subjective, especially when you start attaching a “+” or “-” to the letter. These evaluations are certainly open for debate and feedback is strongly encouraged.
Games Played: 63 – Goals: 18 – Assists: 44 – Total Points: 62
No better Firebirds defensemen had a better 2019-20 season than Riley McCourt. In his second full year in Flint, McCourt became a top offensive defenseman in the OHL. His 62 points ranked fifth among blueliner, putting him in the same company as Brady Lyle, Alec Regula, and Declan Chisholm. Additionally, his goal total was the most amongst Flint defensemen and he possessed the second-most assists on the entire team. McCourt’s presence was not only felt during five-on-five play but also on special teams as well. Of his 62 points, 25 were acquired on the powerplay. On top of all of that, the 19-year-old demonstrated his clutch gene, potting four game-winning goals.
Player Grade: A
In today’s game, defenseman producing offense is almost a must. Yes, they have to be sound defensively but being just that won’t cut it anymore. McCourt was everything Flint needed him to be this season and the entire league noticed.
Games Played: 53 – Goals: 12 – Assists: 21 – Total Points: 33
Vladislav Kolyachonok continued to build on his reputation as a valuable and reliable OHL defenseman this season. The Florida Panthers prospect contributed his fair share of offense, ranking in the top 25 among blueliners in points. Additionally, he remained responsible and discipline in his own zone, making him a valuable asset in almost all situations. Of course, plus/minus is a statistic that needs to be taken with a grain of salt. There are many factors that aren’t considered when that number is generated. However, when your differential is plus-19, such as Kolyachonok’s was, it means the player is doing something right. Although Kolyachonok was an on-ice advantage most times for his team, he was never a liability.
Player Grade: A
It’s hard to poke any holes into Kolyachonok’s 2019-20 OHL season. He did not put up the numbers McCourt did but still put up a respectable amount for a defenseman. At the same time, he showed his value elsewhere, making him a key piece to Flint’s success.
Games Played: 27 – Goals: 9 – Assists: 18 – Total Points: 27
St. Louis Blue prospect, Tyler Tucker, started his year with the Barrie Colts. His 28 games with Barrie were nothing to gaze over, as he posted over a point per game. Luckily for Flint, they received similar production after they acquired Tucker in a trade before the deadline. Tucker notched a point per game with the Firebirds, contributing both at even strength and on the powerplay. At the same time, he stood strong in his own zone, assisting in bolstering Flint’s blueline.
Player Grade: A
When this “player grade” series began, a precedent was put in place where only time with Flint would be considered. For that reason, Tucker’s production with Barrie goes out of the window. However, his grade was not affected in the slightest. It’s hard to argue with what Tucker accomplished during his 27 games with Flint. He made an immediate impact, leaving no doubt that the Firebirds made the right move trading for him and teammate Riley Piercey.
Games Played: 63 – Goals: 5 – Assists: 22 – Total Points: 27
In his first full OHL season since his rookie year, Dennis Busby did very little to disappoint. The Alternate Captain put together a strong year offensively, managing 27 points in 63 games. Busby’s calling card has never been goal-scoring so five is a respectable number for a player with his skillset. When you don’t score a lot of goals, you want to make sure that the ones you do score make a difference. In his case, three of his five goals were either game-winners or the first of the contest. Talk about picking the right time. After the trade deadline, Flint’s blueline was loaded with talent. Dennis Busby was no exception.
Player Grade: B
Was it a flashy year from Busby? No, but that’s okay. Remember, the key attribute for a defenseman still needs to be defense. The Barrie, Ontario native did his job in the defensive zone while still contributing some offensively. It’s hard to argue with that.
With four defensemen graded, there are only five more to go. Next time, we will assess Owen Lalonde, Tyler Deline, Marcus Gretz, Jack Harper, and Michael Bianconi.