The Calgary Hitmen appear to be back to form after a dominating 6-1 win over the Kelowna Rockets tonight in Cowtown and one of the players who has elevated his game is Oilers prospect Alex Plante.
In talking with some smart people about the Hitmen, one consensus thought is that the key to their success lay on the back end and specifically with Atlanta prospect Paul Postma. While I tend to agree and believe that the turn around Calgary has made in this series against Kelowna is due largely to the play of the defence corps, Postma isn't the guy standing out for me right now.
I really like what I'm seeing from Alex Plante.
If you haven't been watching the series or weren't aware that it's on TV (Shaw TV, channel 10) then you're missing some terrific junior playoff hockey. I know most hockey fans are watching the NHL playoffs instead right now but I'm in the minority that is hooked on the junior level of the game.
Plante, an Edmonton 2007 1st rounder (15th overall), has been terrific. We know that he has his limitations, he's not the most mobile guy back there, but he's got much more ticks under 'pros' than 'cons' right now.
He scored Calgary's first goal in game 4, a point blast that beat netminder Mark Guggenberger to the glove side. Tonight he scored again and he showed some keen hockey sense while doing it. He'd just thrown a big hit in the offensive corner and, as he's supposed to do, headed back to the blueline. However, he did so while keeping an eye on the developing play which included a loose puck that had skittered out to about the hash marks. Plante made a quick read, went to where the puck was sliding and quickly wired it past Guggenberger.
We already knew that he excels at playing the body; at nearly 6'5 and 225 lbs he'd better be able to lay some junior kids out like Brandon's Matt Calvert above. Well he is... and then some. In the opening round he absolutely cranked Oil Kings forward Brendan Dowd and kept the rest of the Edmonton forwards looking over their shoulders too. In front of the net he's aggressive, sort of reminiscent of Derian or Kevin Hatcher, big bruising defenders who were also "hampered" by their lack of foot speed during their lengthy NHL careers.
Plante is showing more hockey sense than I thought he had, he's using his booming shot, putting opponents on their butts or through the boards and he's logging a ton of ice time. Coach Dave Lowry is throwing him out with Keith Seabrook, Paul Postma and Michael Stone as much as possible and in every situation.
Thus far Plante has compiled 6 goals and 9 helpers for 15 points - tops on the team from the blueliners. He's also showing a +13 and has only been a minus player in 3 of the Hitmen's 17 post season games. His regular season points-per-game mark of .66 has jumped to .88 in the playoffs. He's getting it done in the post season and this isn't the first time - as a rookie he scored at a .85/ppg clip.
One nice tidbit about Plante is that he recently set a new Hitmen franchise record for playoff games. After the second game of the current series he had upped his career total to 66, that's now obviously increased to 69. When you consider where he was mentally at the start of the year, demanding a trade out of Calgary, to where he and the organization are today... it's a credit to the coaching staff to let bygones be bygones but also to Plante for sucking it up and just concentrating on playing the game. I thought it a pretty telling gesture when Plante was named as one of the club's alternate captains this year.
I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that Plante's career is back on track after the injury plagued 2008-09 season and that he'll have a future with the Oilers at the NHL level. He won't be ready for a few more years but Steve Tambellini's quest for size and toughness should include Alex Plante's name for a few seasons from now.
Edmonton must get Plante's signature on a contract by june 1st or he will re-enter the NHL draft. As listeners to The Pipeline Show heard Assistant GM Kevin Prendergast emphatically tell us, Plante will definitely be signed.
The Hitmen and the Rockets are headed to game 6, on Saturday in Kelowna with Calgary on a complete roll haveing scored 12 goals in the last two games. Kelowna is clearly missing Jamie Benn (suspected concussion) but even though they are reeling right now... that's a talented club too so anything can still happen.
(Photos Courtesy: Calgary Hitmen, WHL, Calgary Herald)