EVERETT – Jason Fransoo has gotten right to the point.
Last weekend the Everett Silvertips defenseman showed that perhaps the Tips won’t miss Shaun Heshka as much as previously anticipated. The 20-year-old recorded five points in Everett’s first two games, giving an indication that the Silvertips may have found a solution to their dilemma of who plays the point on the power play.
“We need somebody to do it,” Fransoo said. “I’m going to try to do the best I can do and hopefully help out on the power play so we can be a top power-play team again this year.”
Fransoo had a goal and four assists in Everett’s opening two games at Chilliwack and Kamloops. That included a four-point game – the first of his career – in the Silvertips’ 4-0 victory over the Blazers on Sunday. Three of the points came on the power play, where he’s been given added responsibility as one of Everett’s center-point men.
That’s music to the ears of Everett coach Kevin Constantine, who’s been hoping for someone to step up and help replace Heshka’s production. The graduated Heshka manned the center point on Everett’s power play last season, compiling 59 points – second in the league among defensemen – and helping the Silvertips finish fourth in the league in power-play efficiency.
” (Fransoo) did a great job,” Constantine said. “He’s had a really good start. He shoots the puck pretty good, he’s got good speed and he’s got the confidence of a 20-year-old. We’re still trying to give guys an opportunity there, but he’s certainly had a great start to the year.”
Though one of several candidates to pick up the slack left by Heshka, Fransoo wasn’t necessarily the obvious choice. In 188 career WHL games coming into the season Fransoo had a total of just 39 points.
“It’s definitely a change from last year,” Fransoo said. “I was expected to have more of a defensive role and we had our set power-play lines last year. It’s anybody’s turn to step up this year, and I felt I did a good job there. People were putting in rebounds, so everybody else did a good job also.”
With so many penalties being called because of the tighter standards of officiating, Constantine is hoping others step up on both the power play and penalty kill the way Fransoo has so far.
“With specialty teams this year, you can’t have just one power-play unit or a couple penalty killers,” Constantine said. “Thirty-one of our first 40 minutes in Kamloops were special teams, so we only played nine minutes of five-on-five the first two periods. Everybody on our team this year has to try to find a special teams role.”
When will they return?: Everett has two absences among its players, center Peter Mueller and left wing Ondrej Fiala, and it’s still not know when either will be available to the Tips.
The 18-year-old Mueller, who was selected eighth overall by Phoenix in this year’s NHL draft, remains at training camp with the Coyotes. Although it’s likely he’ll be returned to Everett soon, it’s not a certainty he’ll be back at all. Mueller can remain with Phoenix until the beginning of the season without signing a professional contract. If he signs a pro deal, he can play up to 10 games with the Coyotes before the deal kicks in. If he plays in more than those 10 games, he’s ineligible to return to Everett.
“It’s a day-to-day thing,” Everett general manager Doug Soetaert said. “They can keep him up to the day before the start of the season, so I’m not worried about it. They’ll make that decision and then we’ll move forward.”
Fiala’s schedule is more certain. The 19-year-old, who was a second-round pick by Minnesota in this year’s NHL draft, is expected back Thursday from his native Czech Republic, where he’s been recuperating from offseason knee surgery.
However, although he’ll be back this week, he’s not expected to be ready to play until November.
“He’ll be back Thursday and from there we’ll be able to evaluate him,” Soetaert said. “He probably won’t be ready for another month. He’ll come here, then later next week he’ll take a trip to Minneapolis to visit the doctors there. He’s just starting his rehab right now.”
Around the WHL: Everett remained at No. 2 in this week’s Western Major Junior Hockey Writers Association poll, receiving four of the 16 first-place votes. Vancouver, after opening the season with a 9-0 victory over Portland, solidified its position in the top spot, earning the other 12 first-place votes. Medicine Hat held third. … The Silvertips will be on Canadian television twice this season. Shaw Cablesystems is broadcasting 26 games to western Canada, including Everett’s game at Kelowna on Dec. 8 and the Tips’ Feb. 23 game at Vancouver. … A number of minor trades were executed since the conclusion of the preseason. Spokane acquired 19-year-old center David Rutherford from Vancouver for a conditional fifth-round bantam pick; Brandon picked up 18-year-old European left wing Daniel Bartek from Tri-City for future considerations; Swift Current received 17-year-old defenseman Ryan Molle from Vancouver for a third-round pick in the 2007 bantam draft; Prince George acquired 17-year-old left wing Jordie Deagle from Medicine Hat for list player Tyler Gron and a conditional third-round bantam pick in 2008; Prince George also acquired 18-year-old defenseman Eli Grossman from Seattle for a fifth-round bantam pick in 2008; and Calgary picked up 19-year-old defenseman Michael Hengen from Chilliwack for a seventh-round bantam pick in 2007.