Is Matt Fraser the best player in the organization who isn’t on the current NHL roster?
That’s a bit of a tall order for the undrafted 22 year old sniper from Red Deer; but with 37 goals as a rookie in the AHL and 20 already this year, he’s making it hard to leave him out of the discussion.
There are two main criticisms to be made about him. The first is that he still has to improve his two-way game because his defense is a little lacking. The second is that sometimes he struggles with his consistency; he’s the type of player who will sometimes look like the next big thing for a couple weeks, and then spend a few games with goose eggs on the score sheet.
Both are valid criticisms, but I think they may be a bit overblown.
Fraser struggled a bit at the beginning of his AHL career because the coaching staff felt that he wasn’t a good enough all-around player to deserve consistent top line minutes at the pro level. He took this to heart and by all accounts worked really hard to improve his game. While he will never be confused for a penalty killing specialist, he does work hard in all three zones. He’s not great at shutting guys down, but he works hard and battles and generally doesn’t drag the team into bad situations very often even if he doesn’t create much defensively.
This year he seems to be even better. With the NHL lockout in full swing I turned to the Texas Stars for my professional hockey needs and was pleasantly surprised both with the team overall and Matt Fraser. Playing in his own zone wasn’t nearly as much of a weakness for him as it was in his rookie season. The only times I saw him really mess up in his own zone was when he’d try a cross ice pass while breaking out and it would get picked off, but almost every young NHL player makes those kinds of mistakes; most seasoned veterans succumb to this once in a while as well. Add to that the fact that he’s a solid +9 this year which is a gigantic improvement over the -13 he posted last season.
On the consistency issue I don’t have much to say really. He’s young ; most newly professional ice hockey players battle some consistency issues and he has gotten a lot better at showing up and contributing more often than not so far this season (yes he had a slow start, but he was fighting for ice time with guys who would have been in the NHL).
Having said all this, Matt Fraser scored the second most goals in the AHL in the calendar year of 2012 and was recently named to the AHL all-star team. His 20 goals so far, good for 2nd in the AHL, are extremely impressive when you factor in that slow start.
Since he first scored he’s been on an absolute tear and has been one of unsung, yet very big factors in all the Texas Stars’ success. It is important to remember that the Stars struggled to begin the season. While there are a lot of reasons for the turn around, it just so happened that once Matt Fraser started putting up points, so did the team. Yes, the young new defensemen were getting acclimated and the goaltenders needed to get comfortable, but it can’t be purely coincidence that Matt Fraser’s personal success has come along with the success of the whole Texas Stars squad.
There’s a distinction to be made between the best player and the best prospect. I wouldn’t argue that Matt Fraser is the best prospect in the organization not on the NHL roster; he doesn’t have the same upside and talent at the age of some of the other prospects in the Stars’ system. However, at this point in his and their respective careers, his ability to contribute consistently (which he’s done since his slow start), and his extremely hard, accurate, NHL-level shot put him in the running for the best player in the organization not on the Dallas Stars roster.
Matt Fraser has the offensive ability to cover up for his shortcomings. Like at the AHL level, once he makes it to the NHL he’ll need some time to get used to the strength and pace of the league. There will be blips and tough times for him at the start, but once he gets used to it he has the skill to become a real scoring threat.