The four-forward, one-defenseman power-play unit is growing in popularity in all levels of hockey.
With the Everett Silvertips’ back end being the deepest and strongest facet of the team, Tips coach Dennis Williams has gone with a more conventional method, employing a pair of power-play units with a heavy presence of puck-moving defensemen.
“We go with what we’re strong with,” Williams said, “but when you’re limited with what you got, you have to go with it.”
Nineteen-year-old defensemen Wyatte Wylie and Jake Christiansen have manned Everett’s first power-play unit for the majority of the season. That duo, along with forwards Connor Dewar, Bryce Kindopp and Riley Sutter, have had their ups and downs this season with the man advantage but ultimately are humming along by scoring at a 22.6 percent clip this season, the 10th best power play in the WHL.
It’s a different look than what Everett skated out with its first unit last season, with overage defenseman Kevin Davis quarterbacking a brigade of forwards in Dewar, Garrett Pilon, Patrick Bajkov and Matt Fonteyne. When Riley Sutter returns from a lower-body injury sustained against Prince George, it’s possible newly-acquired Zack Andrusiak bumps either Wylie or Christiansen to comprise a four-forward unit.
Williams said he doesn’t have a preference on the personnel of the power play, and until he does — or Everett makes a major acquisition via trade — he will lean on the team’s strengths.
“I think it all depends on your personnel with what’s going to work,” Williams said. “We have some defensemen in (Wylie) and Jake (Christiansen). … At that time when Sutter gets back and nothing happens, we’ll have some tough decisions to make, but it’s good to have some options here with Zack coming in and Suttsy going down week-to-week.”
The Silvertips’ second unit has shuffled around more often, but like the first unit, it’s featured a heavy flavor of blueliners. At some points this season, Everett’s second power-play unit has featured three defensemen — Gianni Fairbrother, Artyom Minulin and Sahvan Khaira.
It’s probable the three-defenseman power-play unit won’t continue with the acquisition of Andrusiak from Seattle. But with Sutter going on the shelf with an injury, a spot on the first power-play unit is open, and will possibly be filled by Andrusiak. He skated with that unit when Everett was practicing special teams Wednesday.
It’s possible a younger presence will emerge on the Silvertips’ second unit. Jackson Berezowski, who leads all Everett rookies with eight goals this season, received repetitions on the power play Wednesday. He has one power-play goal this season.
Williams won’t subside from tinkering with his power-play units in the second half of the season, he said. The reason for that involves not just the personnel, but the individual roles, which Williams has stated he likes to keep fluid shift-to-shift.
“You always have to be tinkering with that to the point to where it’s really rolling and rocking,” Williams said. “Even then, you can’t just sit subtle and content. Plus it gets our guys thinking differently. You eventually want your power-play unit to play in all spots — not just a flank guy, a top guy, a bumper in the middle. They interchange.”
A center problem
The Silvertips will be without their No. 1 center, Sutter, for the foreseeable future. The 1999-born forward is listed week-to-week with a lower-body injury and was walking around on crutches with a boot around his left foot.
Losing Sutter’s talent is a difficult pill to swallow for Everett. Sutter is one of three centers on the roster and has attempted 38.5 percent of the team’s faceoffs this season (1,015 of 2,634 total).
Everett will lean on Dewar (a left winger who’s played plenty of center this season because of the team’s lack of depth up the middle), 17-year-old Reece Vitelli and 19-year-old Max Patterson to fill the void.
“Like anybody, you deal with injuries and suspensions, and you don’t wish it happens to anybody in the league, so we’re going to have to manage it, and (this) gives the other guys opportunities to step up,” Williams said. “Sometimes your opportunity comes by an injury or a suspension, unfortunately, and now it’s up to the other guys in there if they want ice time to take it.”
Patterson was acquired from Swift Current on Dec. 4 and was expected to chip in up the middle, but has played mostly right wing in eight games for the Silvertips.
“I thought to be honest with you he was out of shape,” Williams said. “You can’t play center and go 200 feet both ways with the pace and tempo that we want to play. I could see it quickly after about six shifts that he was struggling out there. But it’s nice to be able to use him in both.”
Kindopp earns a letter
Silvertips forward Bryce Kindopp was named an assistant captain following the departure of 20-year-old forward Sean Richards, the team announced Thursday. Kindopp boasts 37 points (18 goals, 19 assists) in 38 games and receives ample praise from his coaches and teammates.