Alex Plante is the fourth minor-league defender since this list has hit the top twenty and there's still another one to come in the person of Jeff Petry. None of these players are a sure thing to be playing top four minutes in the NHL and our rankings bear that out. Derek and Ben have Petry leading the pack, Jonathan has Peckham, and Bruce and I have Plante. I really like Alex Plante, but I wouldn't call him a blue-chip prospect. After the jump, we'll look at Plante's post-draft career, talk about the reasons for optimism, and finish with the biggest reason for concern.
Alex Plante had a terrible season in 2007-08. Plante was a slight reach-pick at fifteenth overall in 2007, the pick Kevin Lowe received for trading Ryan Smyth. Expectations are always high on first round picks, but those two factors combined meant that the scrutiny here was going to be a little bit more intense than usual. Plante responded by scoring one goal and one assist to go with twenty-eight penalty minutes in thirty-six games. In the WHL. His offense was gone. His physical play was gone. It's the kind of season that's difficult to come back from, particularly when the player is also trying to regain his footing after an injured back and a concussion. When Plante demanded a trade from his junior team during the summer, it looked like the start of another long season, and the fanbase began to wonder whether it might not be best to go for the compensatory pick.
2008-09 was different. Nothing came of the trade demand except some hurt feelings and Plante had a fantastic season with the Calgary Hitmen. He bounced back offensively to the tune of 45 points in 68 games, and he jumped from 0.78 PiM's per game to 2.30, a solid sign that his physical style had also made a return. He added 15 points in 18 playoff games, helping the Hitmen to the WHL Finals, where they lost in six games to the Kelowna Rockets.
With a solid season in the books, Plante turned pro in 2009-10. The first part of his season was one of the few bright spots for the Oilers' organization. Plante had earned a call-up to the Oiler in February with an impressive pro debut. He was getting into Rob Daum's lineup on a nightly basis and continued to play with a physical edge. I know -10 in 48 games doesn't sound like much, but on the Falcons, that was a pretty darn good number. His actual call-up was also a source of some encouragement, at least on a relative basis. There were five call-ups from the AHL during the year and, by eye, Plante looked the strongest. The Corsi data seems to back this up:
I included the zone starts just to show how crazy the coaching in Edmonton was. Every one of the callups started more often in the defensive zone than the offensive zone. That's not exactly sheltering. In terms of end-zone start percentage, the six defenders who started the most in the defensive zone were, in order, Taylor Chorney, Theo Peckham, Johan Motin, Aaron Johnson, Jason Strudwick, and Alex Plante. That's kind of insane.
Anyroad, Plante looks pretty decent. Plante only played four games of course, and while he's not bad compared to the impossibly awful results of the other call-ups, his own results are still pretty poor. Still, it's a nice taste of the NHL for a prospect who was developing well.
And then he was concussed. After being sent back to Springfield, Plante played in only one game before sustaining (at minimum) the second concussion of his career. It's almost more frustrating that it happened in the pre-game warm-up when Plante and teammate Kip Brennan collided. The incident occurred on February 13th and Plante didn't play another game for the rest of the season, which for Springfield, ended on April 11th. I'm glad that the organization didn't rush him back, but being out for two solid months in your first pro season is pretty serious business. Mike Sillinger didn't mention the concussion when he spoke about Plante on June 20th and I haven't seen any updates on his condition. In my view, Plante was progressing very well, but this injury puts that progress in question. Will Plante be ready to start the season? If so, will he be able to pick up from where he left off and continue to develop, or will this injury cause him to take a few steps back? If it's the latter, how big a blow is that to his development? He came back strong after a summer off in 2008-09. Let's hope that he can do it again in 2010-11.