Washington Capitals forward prospect Ethen Frank had an eye-popping regular season, posting 30 goals and 19 assists in just 57 games played. His performance during the 2022-23 season ultimately garnered him an NHL contract with the Capitals beginning next season.
But Frank has been a no-show in the postseason, posting no goals and just two assists in 10 playoff games. Frank’s shot production is also way down. During the regular season he averaged 3.3 shots per game for a 16.1% success rate. During the postseason Frank is averaging just 1.8 shots per game and has yet to convert.
Frank’s underwhelming showing has ultimately landed him two healthy scratches in the last four postseason games, including a seat in the press box for game 6 on Friday night. A 30-goal scorer is a healthy scratch? What gives?
Frank could be tiring. There’s a very good chance he’s hit a wall. Frank has played 67 games so far this season, by far the most games he’s played in a single season in his entire career. In fact, Frank has averaged about 35 games a season (nearly half the games of this season) going back to the 2016-17 season, when he logged his second most games in a season, playing 55 games for the Lincoln Stars of the USHL.
Hitting the “AHL Rookie Wall” is a real thing and can happen at any time during the season (See Hendrix Lapierre), It’s likely Frank is dealing with some of that.
Or is Frank missing a linemate? During the regular season Frank spent most of his time at left wing on the top line with Mike Vecchione at right wing and Mike Sgarbossa at center. Sgarbossa has been injured for a majority of the postseason, playing in just four of the Bears 13 playoff games so far. It should be added that Mike Vecchione is also struggling to score this postseason, posting just two goals and two assists in the first 12 games. Sgarbossa has been sorely missed, regardless.
Or is it a comfort thing? Some skeptics might say Frank’s production began to tail-off immediately after landing his deal with the Capitals. His downward trend does indeed begin around the same time, but he did post six goals in the last 12 regular season games, including a hat trick in the final game of the season. It’s interesting fodder, but it’s very unlikely his new deal has anything to do with it.
Other factors such as the increase in speed and physical play in the postseason are valid concerns, but that’s never really been an issue for Frank during similar “heavy” or speed games in the regular season. Frank himself is a speed game. It could be a very small part of the overall issue, but I would say it’s minor, if a factor at all.
So what should we glean from Frank’s disappearance in the postseason. Most likely it’s a combination of all of the aforementioned factors, with a potential reliance on Sgarbossa being the biggest concern. However, Frank performed well with strange linemates at the All-Star game and even scored, and adjusted well during occasional line changes during the regular season with the Bears. Frank was also dealing with an undisclosed injury towards the end of the season, which could also be a contributing factor.
The Bottom, line, Frank will get his shot in September at Capitals training camp, and how he performs then is what matters the most. It should be a very interesting watch.
By Jon Sorensen