When the Montreal Canadiens announced they had signed Bobby Farnham to a one-year deal last summer, there was some apprehension. He had a history of reckless behavior on the ice, never put up a ton of points, and was generally a player that didn’t do much to help his team win games. Coming into St. John’s this year the 28-year-old would be counted on to be a leader on a very young squad, and that meant changing his game to benefit the team.
From the outset it was blindingly obvious what Farnham brought to the table for the IceCaps. He’s got a motor that never stops running, always finishing his check and getting in on the forecheck. His speed was a massive help as he often beat opposing defenders to the puck in the offensive zone and create chances for his linemates. Even if he was a bit reckless with his body, often crashing into the boards due to his rush into the zone, it put opposing teams on their heels.
In terms of physicality he came exactly as advertised. He hit everyone wearing a different jersey, and then went on his way to deliver another check. He got under the skin of opposing teams, and never hesitated to throw down with any player in the AHL.
There was more to his game this year than just being an effective pest. With 11 goals and 17 assists he set career highs in every offensive category. His relentless hustle and drive to the net often allowed him to be in perfect position to tap in loose pucks around the crease. When he utilized it, Farnham’s wrist shot was quite good, especially when he was bursting into the zone on the rush. His good speed, and active stick made him a threat short-handed as well, as he was able to blow by most defenders and generate scoring chances even down a man.
Bobby Farnham notches his 10th goal of the year with a nifty move while shorthanded. pic.twitter.com/LLBtBhSU0o— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 2, 2017
However, some of the warts did show up at various points of this season, a main one being that his style lends itself to racking up penalty minutes. While Farnham likes to make an impact by throwing his body around he still steps over that line that separates hard-nosed from reckless, and it caused him to finish sixth in the AHL in penalty minutes with 137.
Farnham gets a five minute major for checking from behind to cap off tonight's loss to Utica pic.twitter.com/LZ273t0ZO0— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 18, 2017
Not all of these are due to bad hits, of which Farnham had a few this year, but more due to him reacting poorly and yelling at the officials, and being given a ten-minute misconduct as a result. If Farnham is going to be back next year in Laval, he’ll have to set a better example for the younger players and keep his temper in check, much like Andrew Shaw was able to do in the second half in Montreal.
Perhaps the bigger issue is that, despite his good forechecking ability and decent hands/speed, Farnham isn’t all that great defensively. Too often he would chase the puck carrier, abandoning his assignment in the defensive zone, and it would often lead to a goal against.
This became much more apparent as he started getting more minutes on the penalty kill later in the season. Against the Syracuse Crunch, Farnham could be found not following the play, but floating near the point looking for a breakout pass, similar to Dale Weise during his tenure in Montreal. While it’s not his decision on where his coach plays him, if he’s going to be earning short-handed minutes, he needs to tighten up his defensive play in the future.
The worry when Farnham was initially brought into the organization was that he’d take away chances from players like Daniel Audette or Martin Réway (who sat out 2016-17 with a heart condition) during the season. While he was leaned on when injuries mounted, Farnham never reached the levels of bad lineup placement that players like Zack Stortini or Nick Tarnasky did with the AHL club in previous years.
Farnham generated solid offence in the bottom six, while also being a nuisance for opposing teams every night. If he does come back next year for the Laval Rocket, which is a possibility given how much fans loved him this year, he’ll be counted on to provide that same level of play again. If he can rein in the recklessness a bit, he can be an impact player.