Hershey Bears Report Cards: Player Grades For The 2018-2019 Season


Photo: Tori Hartman

We’ve said it before, but it “Bears” repeating. The 2018-2019 edition of the Hershey Bears was a “tale of two seasons”. A very slow start in 2018, followed by a furious rally and return to the postseason in 2019. They may not have gone the entire distance in the postseason, but the season was still quite memorable.

In the end, after watching and analyzing 85 games this season (76 regular season and nine postseason), our grades for each player have been finalized. We debated a few of the grades, in some cases a great deal, but it was usually over a half-grade (The difference between an A- and a B+, for example). We had a surprisingly high level of agreement this season. So, without further ado, our final grades:

FORWARDS

Mike Sgarbossa (C) – The team’s number one center, Sgarbossa led the way for Hershey offensively. He led the team in scoring with 65 points, power play goals with 14 and in power play points with 34. His 30 goals were second on the team and he was also second in assists with 35 and power play assists with 20. He finished 10th in the AHL in scoring, ninth in goals and was tied for fourth in power play goals. He set career highs in points, goals, assists, power play assists, power play goals and power play points. Sgarbossa also had great chemistry with Riley Barber and that partnership played a major role in Hershey’s push to a playoff berth. He tallied a goal, the game winner in game two of the first round, and an assist in the Bears’ opening round Calder Cup playoff win over Bridgeport. An undisclosed injury forced Sgarbossa to miss Hershey’s second round playoff series with the Charlotte Checkers and his absence proved to be insurmountable, as the Bears were swept out of the playoffs. He was the only Hershey forward to be a plus player in the playoffs.

Regular Season: A
Postseason: B

Riley Barber (RW) Barber developed instant chemistry with Sgarbossa and it led to the most productive season of the Pittsburgh native’s career. He tallied a career high 31 goals, which led the Bears and was seventh in the AHL. He also led the team with six game-winning goals. His 60 points were second only to Sgarbossa and were also a career best. Barber’s 29 assists equaled his career high that he set in his rookie season in 2015-16 and were the third most on Hershey. He was second on the team with 13 power play goals, power play assists with 19 and power play points with 32. Barber also saw a lot of time on the penalty kill unit. He netted two goals and added two assists in the opening round in over Bridgeport. His power play goal in game five tied the game and Hershey won the game and series in overtime. He had a goal and an assist in the second round series loss to Charlotte, but his game was hindered by Sgarbossa’s absence. Barber finished second on the team in playoff scoring with six points.

Regular Season: A
Postseason: B

Nathan Walker (LW) After starting the season in the NHL with the Washington Capitals, Walker joined the Bears in November after clearing waivers. He scored in his first game back. The Aussie potted 17 goals (fourth most on the team) to match a career high. He also dished out 22 assists (sixth best on the team) in 58 games for Hershey. His 39 points were fifth on the team. Walker played on both the power play and penalty kill. He is a high energy player who is always mixing it up with bigger players. His effort is there every single night and he is not afraid to go into the dirty areas to win the puck. In two rounds of the Calder Cup playoffs, Walker netted a goal and had three assists. His goal against Charlotte gave the Bears the only lead they enjoyed in the entire series.

Regular Season: B+
Postseason: B  

Jayson Megna (C) Megna did a little bit of everything for Hershey. He was one of the top penalty killers on the team and was often out at the start of a penalty kill. The veteran pivot was also good on faceoffs. Offensively, Megna was second on the team with five game-winning goals. He finished fourth on the team scoring list with 43 points and was third in goals with 20. Those totals were the second highest of his career. Megna led the Bears in playoff scoring with eight points, recording four points in each series. He netted four goals and had four assists. Two of his goals were shorthanded tallies in the Bridgeport series.

Regular Season: B+
Postseason: A

Beck Malenstyn (RW/LW) Malenstyn never showed the offensive ability that he did in junior hockey, but the rookie winger carved out an important role on the team. Malenstyn quickly became one of Hershey’s top penalty killers. He was often deployed as the lone forward on the ice when the Bears faced a 5-on-3. That showed the level of trust head coach Spencer Carberyhad in his young forward. Malenstyn also is a great shot blocker. Carbery called him one of the best shot blockers that he has seen. Also, the rookie brought a physical element to the team and was never afraid to deliver a hit. Offensively, Malenstyn scored seven goals and had nine assists for 16 points. He totaled two assists in the playoffs.

Regular Season: B+
Postseason: B-

Garrett Pilon (C) Early in the season, Pilon was a defensive liability. He was a -14 through the first three months of the season and he was not strong on the back check. As a result, the rookie pivot saw his ice time limited by the coaching staff. His defensive play improved in January and his offensive game followed. He was a +10 in 2019. He scored eight of his 10 goals and recorded 14 of his 23 assists after the dawn of the new year. His surge earned him the team’s Rookie of the Year Award. In the postseason, Pilon failed to score a goal, but he did dish out five assists. The most important of those was his primary assist on Brian Pinho’s overtime, series clinching goal in game five against Bridgeport.

Regular Season: B+
Postseason: B

Joe Snively (LW) – A late-season addition to the roster, Snively showed promise in his nine-game stint after he signed following the end of collegiate career. He scored the game-winning, power goal in third period of his professional debut against Providence on March 30. The Yale University product added another goal and five assists in his remaining games. He has good hands and makes quality passes. He was a +3 in his nine games and was only a minus player once. Snively played a smart game and brought energy to the lineup. He was scoreless in his two playoff appearances before he headed back to Yale to finish school.

Regular Season: B
Postseason: C

Liam O’Brien (LW) – It was a disappointing campaign for O’Brien. The season started well for the longest tenured Hershey Bear, as he scored six goals in October. By the time 2018 ended, he had 12 goals and was on pace to set a new career high. Then, O’Brien’s offense disappeared in the second half of the season. As the Bears started winning, the winger lost his scoring touch. He scored just three goals after December and ended the season on a 17-game goalless drought. That was his third drought of 10 or more games without a goal. O’Brien became more undisciplined when his offense disappeared. He had 76 penalty minutes from January on after having only 42 in the first three months of the season. That undisciplined play hurt because O’Brien has developed into a good penalty killer, but it is hard to kill penalties when you are in the penalty box. He tallied one goal in eight playoff games, but was not a factor at all in the postseason.

Regular Season: C+
Postseason: C-

Brian Pinho (C) The rookie pivot got off to a slow start. Pinho came in with a reputation as a quality defensive forward as he was named Hockey East’s Best Defensive Forward in his senior season at Providence and also earned the Frank Jones Award as New England’s Best Defensive Forward. However, he really struggled in that area at the start of his professional career. Pinhowas -6 after October and by the end of November was a -7. The North Andover, Massachsettsnative found his defensive game in December. He was a +4 in a month where the Bears struggled as a team and he was not a minus player at all during the month. Offensively, Pinho did not provide much. He netted four goals and added eight assists on the season, but he did contribute on the penalty kill and played a smart game in his own zone. He potted a goal and had an assist in nine playoffs game, but his goal was a huge one. He tallied the series-clinching goal in overtime of game five against Bridgeport to send Hershey to the second round.

Regular Season: C+
Postseason: B

Shane Gersich (LW) Gersich came in with high expectations after seeing time with the Washington Capitals at the end of last season. The North Dakota product did not live up to those expectations. He was expected to be a top six forward, but his game proved to be more suited for a bottom six role. He scored eight goals and had 16 assists, but he could have more. His shot was simply not good enough. It took Gersich 125 shots to score eight goals. That is a shooting percentage of just 6.4. By comparison, Nathan Walker took 126 shots, but scored 17 goals for a 13.5 shooting percentage. On the other end of the ice, the rookie winger was a responsible player and made good decisions in his own zone. He received time on the penalty kill unit because of that. His +5 was highest among Hershey forwards. Gersich scored a goal and added two assists in nine playoff games, but the Bears needed more from him.

Regular Season: C
Postseason: C

Juuso Ikonen (RW) The Finnish winger did not provide much offense. It was a bit of an adjustment to the North American game. Ikonen scored four goals and chipped in with 10 assists. His best month came in January when he netted two goals and had three assists. He played with pace and was a responsible player in his own end. Ikonen did not get into any games in the postseason.

Regular Season: C
Postseason: Inc.

Dylan Steman (C) Like Snively, Steman was a late college signing. The Michigan Tech product played in four games down the stretch, recording one assist. He showed grit and a willingness to battle for loose pucks. Steman was not a prolific scorer in college, scoring only 13 points in his senior season, but he was Michigan Tech’s captain. The Hanover, Minnesota native likely projects as a bottom six forward for the Bears next season. He played in seven Calder Cup Playoff games on the fourth line, but did not register a point.

Regular Season: C
Postseason: C

Hampus Gustafsson (C) The Swedish pivot played in a career high 44 games for Hershey, but did not make much of an impact. Gustafsson had three assists on the season and only took 19 shots all season. He was not a liability in the defensive zone. He was a +3 on the season and was only a minus player in six of the 44 games he played. He found himself a healthy scratch a lot late in the season, only playing in four games after February. He did not appear in any playoff games.

Regular Season: D+
Postseason: Inc.

Mason Mitchell (LW) Mitchell was on press box duty for most of his tenure in Hershey. He saw action in 11 games for the Bears and had a single assist. He was not very noticeable when he played. He was sent to South Carolina in the ECHL and did not play for Hershey after December 30.

Regular Season: D
Postseason: Inc.

Axel Jonsson-Fjallby (LW) The Swedish winger’s first season in Hershey lasted all of 16 games before he exercised a clause in his contract that allowed him to return to Sweden if he was not in the NHL. During his time with the Bears, Jonsson-Fjallby was more noticeable for his flowing hair than he was for his play. He tallied two goals and had one assist during his brief stint. He returned to the Bears after his season ended in Sweden, but did not play in either of the last two Hershey playoff games.

Regular Season: D
Postseason: Inc.

Steven Spinner (RW) – Spinner was another late-season, college signing. The product of the University of Omaha played in one regular season game. He did not show anything in his lone appearance. Spinner was inserted into the lineup for game four of the second-round playoff series against Charlotte. However, he was invisible during the game and made no impact at all.

Regular Season: D
Postseason: D

Matthias Bau (LW/RW) – It was a lost season for Bau. The big forward missed the entire season after rupturing his spleen playing for his native Denmark in the 2018 World Championships.

Regular Season: Inc.
Postseason: Inc.

DEFENSE

Aaron Ness Ness did it all for the Bears this season. He was the Hershey’s number one defenseman and teamed with Tyler Lewington to form a formidable top defensive pairing. He played in all situations. He quarterbacked the power play and was the first defenseman over the boards on the penalty kill. The native of Roseau, Minnesota was a team best +24. Offensively, Ness led all AHL defensemen in scoring with 55 points. That point total was the third best on Hershey. He also led AHL defensemen in assists with 50. Those 50 assists were the most on the Bears and were the fifth most in the league. Ness also played a leadership role on this Hershey team. He held the team together in December when things were not going well for the team and the Bears were using four ECHL defensemen. He was the one helping out the new defensemen by telling them where to be and what to do. On team awards night, Ness was named both the team’s best defenseman and most valuable player. In the postseason, he suffered a scary injury in game one of the first round series against Bridgeport when he crashed into the boards and was taken off on a stretcher. He missed three games, but returned to the lineup in game five and played in all four games in the Charlotte series. He, like the rest of the Bears, struggled in that series.

Regular Season: A+
Postseason: C

Tyler Lewington Lewington continues to develop as a steady stay-at-home defenseman. When he was paired with Aaron Ness, Hershey’s fortunes started to change. The duo was a bona fide number one defensive pairing and gave the team a pairing that could shut down the other team’s top line.  Lewington was second on the Bears in plus/minus at +7. He was one of the first defensemen over the boards when the team was shorthanded. The Edmonton, Alberta native was a physical presence and was always there to stand up for his teammates. Offensively, he registered the second highest point total of his career with 15. Lewington appeared in eight Calder Cup playoff games, missing one due to suspension for leaving the bench to get into an altercation in game one of the Charlotte series. He had his struggles against Charlotte in the second round, but that could be said for most of the team.

Regular Season: B+
Postseason: C-

Connor HobbsThe secondyear defenseman showed improvement from his rookie season, but still has areas in which he needs to improve. Hobbs played with more confidence. As a rookie, he often tried to force passes out of his own zone up the middle of the ice and into traffic. He did a better job this season of taking the easy pass out of the zone by playing it up the boards. Hobbs still gets beat around the edge too often and this is because he gets caught flatfooted. Offensively, he contributed three goals and 15 assists. He does a good job of faking his shot to create a shooting lane, but needs to be more accurate with his shot. Hobbs had one assist in nine playoff games. He was one of only three Bears to be a plus player in the postseason with his +1 rating.

Regular Season: C+
Postseason: B-

Tobias Geisser The Swiss defenseman was limited to 41 games because of injury and being caught in a numbers game on the blue line. When on the ice, Geisser handled himself well. He was smart in his own, making good decisions. His positioning was solid. He did not bring much offensively, recording only a single assist in his 41 games. The biggest issue Geisser had was being pushed off the puck. He needs to get stronger. He now knows what it is like to play in the AHL and should be able to prepare himself better for next season. In six Calder Cup playoff games, he failed to register a point.

Regular Season: B-
Postseason: C

Bobby Nardella Nardella was signed as a college free agent by the Washington Capitals after Chase Priskie elected not to sign with the organization. The Notre Dame product played in two games at the end of the season. He showed flashes of potential in those two games. Nardella is a good skater and handles the puck well. He needs to work on his positioning a little and adjust his game to the professional game. He did not see action in the postseason.

Regular Season: C
Postseason: Inc.

Kris Bindulis The Latvian defenseman’s season came to an early end when he suffered an upper body injury in a game against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on November 28. Bindulis only played four games. In those games, he played a smart game. He keeps himself in the right position and does not take unnecessary risks. Bindulis does not bring much to the table offensively. He had no points this season and has just one assist in 16 career games.

Regular Season: C-
Postseason: Inc.

Lucas Johansen The former first round pick had a nightmare of a second season. The defensive progress that Johansen showed down the stretch of his rookie season was nowhere to be found. He looked lost defensively. He was consistently out of position and often chased the puck, leaving his partner alone in front. He was a turnover machine and made bad decisions with his passes. Johansen had the second worst plus/minus rating on the team with a -14. He missed two months due to injury. When he came back, Johansen had his best month of the season defensively in February, when he was a +4, but that was in the midst of Hershey’s lengthy point streak. Offensively, the Vancouver, British Columbia native netted three goals and dished out 11 assists. With a player who has the talent Johansen does, the level of play was not equivalent of his ability. In the postseason, he played in six games and contributed two assists.

Regular Season: D+
Postseason: C-

Colby Williams Williams’ stock continues to drop after a second consecutive poor season. The third-year blue liner was again missed time due to injury, but that was not the only reason he was limited to 36 games. His level of play resulted in him being a healthy scratch a lot. Williams’ decision-making process was not good. Too often, he made the wrong decision with his passes and tried to force the puck where there was not a play. He chased the puck a lot and was out of position on many occasions. He was a team worst -15. Williams had 10 assists on the season. He saw action in three playoff games, going scoreless.

Regular Season: D
Postseason: C-

GOALIES

Vitek Vanecek The Czech came into the season as the forgotten goalie, but his play made him noticeable. He was one of the few bright spots on the team in the first three months of the season.With Ilya Samsonov struggling, Vanecek was forced to carry the load. He rose to the occasion. He was the AHL Player of the Week for the week ending October 21 after going 2-0-1-1 with a 1.62 goals–against average and a .949 save percentage in three games. Vanecek represented Hershey at the AHL All-Star Classic in Springfield, Massachusetts in January. His workload was reduced in the second half after Samsonov found his game and the two goalies settled into a rotation. The rotation did not hurt Vanecek’s game. He won 14 games from January on to set a new career high in wins with 21. He finished with a 2.62 goals-against average and a save percentage of .907. In the Calder Cup playoffs, Vanecek played in four games. He went 1-1 against Bridgeport. He stopped 39 shots, including 18 in the third period, to earn the shutout in a 2-0 victory in game two. In game four, Vanecek made 37 saves in an overtime loss. The Czech netminder did not enjoy as much success in the second round against the Charlotte Checkers. He went 0-2, but that had as much to do with the defense in front of him as it did with his play. He stopped the last 30 shots he faced in game one, but was undone by a poor start by the Bears. Vanecek also took the loss in game three, but made several big saves early to keep the game scoreless and stopped two shots on the sequence that led to the game-winning goal for Charlotte. Vanecek currently ranks third in the Calder Cup playoffs with a .935 save percentage and his 2.25 goals-against average is sixth best.

Regular Season: A-
Postseason: B

Ilya Samsonov Samsonov came into the season with high expectations as a highly touted, former first round pick. The season did not start out well for Samsonov. He consistently got beat to the glove side and was too deep in his crease. After the first three months, the Russian netminder was 5-10-0 with a 3.88 goals-against average and a .863 save percentage. When the new year dawned, Samsonov was a different player. He changed numbers from 1 to 35 and his season turned. He won four games in January and saw his goals-against average drop to 3.14. February was even better for Samsonov, as he went 6-0-0 in the month and saw his goals-against average drop below three. At this point, he was rotating starts with Vanecek, as both goalies deserved playing time. He won 14 of 19 games from January 12 on to finish the season with 20 wins, including three shutouts. Samsonov lowered his goals-against average by more than a goal down the stretch, ending the campaign with a 2.70 goals-against average. His save percentage improved from .863 to .898 after December. That is a marked improvement. In the postseason, Samsonov got the start in five games. He went 2-3. He was 2-1 against Bridgeport, backstopping the series-clinching game five victory. Samsonov was strong in the game he lost, making 49 saves, but the Bears were undone by penalty trouble in a double overtime loss. After surrendering six goals the entire Bridgeport series, Samsonov was torched for seven goals in a game two loss to Charlotte. He was at fault on a few of the goals, but he also did not get a lot of help from the team in front of him. He also was in net for the season-ending loss in game four. Samsonov ended his first North American postseason with a .897 save percentage and a 2.99 goals against average.  

Regular Season: B+
Postseason: B-

Parker MilnerMilner came up and started three games in November when Vanecek was down with a minor injury and Samsonov was on recall to Washington. He filled in nicely. He stopped 32 of 33 shots in 2-1 shootout win over Hartford on November 4. He also saved seven shootout attempts in that game and was named the game’s number one star. In his next start, the Boston College product turned away 30 of the 31 shots he faced and earned a 6-1 victory over Cleveland. Against Cleveland a day later, Milner surrendered five goals on 38 shots. Milner posted a 2-1 record for Hershey with a .931 save percentage and a goals-against average of 2.28. He was everything a third goalie was supposed to be.

Regular Season: B
Postseason: Inc.

And that’s a wrap. Stay tuned for our “Top 30 Washington Capitals Prospects” and Prospect Annual Reviews and Forecasts leading up to Caps development camp at the end of June.

By Eric Lord and Jon Sorensen

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His passion for the Caps has grown over the decades, which has included time as a season ticket holder, social media and community organizer, and most recently led to the founding of NoVa Caps in 2014. Jon earned a Bachelor's of Science in Engineering at Old Dominion University, and is a Systems Engineer during intermissions, which has been instrumental in supporting his Capitals habit.
This entry was posted in News and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Hershey Bears Report Cards: Player Grades For The 2018-2019 Season

  1. Anonymous says:

    The Capitals wealth in defensive prospects has stalled-out somewhat.

    Like

  2. Day One Caps Fan says:

    Eric Lord and Jon Sorensen: Outstanding analysis, gentlemen!

    Day One thinks that Hershey has some SERIOUS talent on the squad and at least eight players who are NHL-ready. No, really! With the Caps now just another team “looking for an identity,” the 2019 Training Camp and Preseason should be a big-time free-for-all tryout for all competent Hershey Bears. Take your pick: Sgarbossa? Barber? Pilon? Walker? Hobbs? Ness? Lewington? And both of Hershey’s goaltenders are NHL-ready. Please let’s not forget Ultra-Man Alex Alexeyev!

    Against the grain maybe, but I loathe the tentative, timid approach with Minor League players. The Caps and the MLB Orioles are both guilty as charged. They assume that so-and-so a player, since he’s not “tearing up” the AHL or the Eastern Baseball League, is “not ready” or even “no darn good.” I say garbage! Send them up to the NHL for a game or two! It can’t be any worse than what we saw during the Caps’ miserable January 2019. The AHL is a pro league! Use them!

    Final loud assertion: C Sgarbossa is one of the proverbial “Best player not in the NHL” and it drove me nuts to watch him get passed over while the Parent Team stuck with their magnificent core and successfully defended their … Oops! They didn’t defend, but instead got bounced unceremoniously in the First Round!

    GMBM, Let them play! Oh and by the way, interview Jim Schoenfeld, he’s vastly more forceful than the Head Coach you’re paying now

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Top 20 Ranking Of Washington Capitals Prospects For 2019 (Pre-Draft and Development Camp) | NoVa Caps

  4. Pingback: Washington Capitals Top-20 Prospects: 2019 Pre-Season Rankings | NoVa Caps

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s