Alex Plante sifts a shot through to the net and three Lightning players desperately try to stop it before it gets to the goalie.
Alex Plante looked very good in a brief call-up last season, but was then concussed when he and teammate Kip Brennan collided in a pre-game warmup. It was (at least) the second concussion of his career, and when you consider that 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 - you wouldn't call it mild either. When I last wrote about Plante in the summer, injuries were the big concern. Would he be ready to start the season, and if so, would he be able to pick up from where he left off, or would the concussion cause him to take a few steps back?
As you can see by my ranking, I think Plante has played well. There was some concern when he was injured yet again in the Young Stars tournament, but that doesn't seem to have impacted his season at all. That injuries aren't the story of his season so far is a good thing... but there are other concerns.
Plante has been a healthy scratch at times this season, and the quality of competition numbers put Plante near the bottom of the (tightly packed) list when I last calculated them. On the one hand, that suggests to me that Plante could be a bottom pairing defender, who isn't counted on for much responsibility. On the other hand, I know that for much of the season he's been paired with Taylor Chorney who's right near the top of that same (tightly packed) chart. As such, I think it's fair to characterize his season and role so far as inconsistent. Coach Todd Nelson seems to feel that he should be getting more from the player, and he's using ice time to prove his point. That the Oilers have called up all of Chorney, Jeff Petry, and Shawn Belle before Plante suggests that the Oilers' organization agrees with this assessment.
But it's not all bad news. Although Plante's offense is basically the same as a year ago (2-7-9 in 49 GP last season, and 1-8-9 in 43 GP so far this season), his +/- has improved substantially (-11, tied for 5th of 9 regular defenders last season, and +5, 3rd of 8 regular defenders this season). It's also been good to see that the injuries haven't prevented him from playing a physical style of hockey, which is exactly what the Oilers need in their lineup. In fact, Plante leads the Barons in penalty minutes with 94, but fully 50 of those have come by way of dropping the mitts.
The same attractive package is there for Plante as has been there all along. He's a huge (the Oilers have him listed at 6'4'' and 230 lbs.) right-handed defender who can move the puck reasonably well, and isn't afraid to play a physical game. Granted, there are men that I have below Plante on this list who have been called up ahead of him, but they're both significantly older (Petry is about a year and a half older, Chorney about two years). There's still plenty of time for Plante to close that gap; I believe he'll make it.