With the departures of Morgan Ellis, Victor Bartley, Mac Bennett, and Darren Dietz, the Montreal Canadiens needed to restock their defensive depth rather urgently. General manager Marc Bergevin did just that by signing former Arizona Coyotes player Philip Samuelsson, who is certainly pencilled in to join the St. John’s IceCaps in the American Hockey League if he clears waivers.
We asked Brendan Porter (@brendanporter) from our SB Nation sister site Five For Howling to answer a few questions regarding Samuelsson to give us a better idea of who he is, and how he might fit into the Canadiens’ defensive depth chart:
EOTP: What was Samuelsson's role on the Coyotes/Springfield Falcons? Where is he best suited in the lineup?
FFH: Samuelsson was the #8-9 defenceman in the organization for the two seasons he was here after coming over from Pittsburgh. As a result, he only made eight appearances in the NHL with the Coyotes, and went pointless in all of them. But he also only had two penalty minutes in those games, which even with relatively light minutes is good to see from a stay-at-home guy.
I think he's exactly what you would expect from an injury call-up kind of guy: nothing spectacular, but at the same time not an enormous liability for bottom-pairing minutes. More veteran guys like Andrew Campbell and David Schlemko got the call far more often than Samuelsson did, which suggests that he wasn't a game-changer in the way you would expect from a young defenceman feeling the NHL game out.
What are his strengths/weaknesses? What can we expect in terms of production?
His best asset is that he doesn't tend to make a whole lot of tactical mistakes in his own end. He has a good sense for where he needs to be on the ice and where his teammates are going to be, too. That allows him to cover wider areas of the defensive zone and complicate pass attempts and zone entries.
The downside, obviously, is that the stay-at-home model of defenceman is rapidly falling out of favour in the NHL, and the two areas that could help Samuelsson adjust to the changes — acquiring the puck on the boards and making good first passes out of the defensive zone — have never been particularly strong assets for him.
He doesn't quite have enough upper-body strength to win those board battles on a regular basis, and his offensive totals, while perfectly respectable in the AHL, have just not translated to the NHL. Perhaps ten years ago Samuelsson would have been a consistent presence in an NHL lineup. But it is starting to feel like the game has evolved faster than he has.
Where is he in terms of his development? Has he reached his full potential?
I doubt you're going to see much more from Samuelsson than what he's already shown. Arizona's defensive corps was not exactly deep even before he arrived, and that still wasn't enough to keep former GM Don Maloney from signing guys like Zbynek Michalek and acquiring guys like Nicklas Grossmann and, of course, Jarred Tinordi.
Maybe there's still room to get better offensively in the NHL with more consistent ice-time, but I don't envision his ceiling being any higher than the bottom pairing, with some second-unit penalty killing thrown in as well.
Thanks again to Brendan Porter from Five For Howling for taking the time to answer these questions.