A quick show of hands: Last summer, who had Mark Fraser on the Leafs opening day roster? Anyone? If you did, I have my doubts you had him in the lineup, not the press box. Of course, the law of averages say some of you had to be Mark Fraser believers, but for most of us his arrival didn’t seem to plausible until he began to establish himself as one of the Marlies top defenders in the first half of the AHL season.
Fraser is a player who certainly benefitted from Randy Carlyle’s love of safe, physical play, and it seemed enough to pass Jake Gardiner on the depth chart for most of the season. While I appreciate that there was some benefit to having another hitting defenseman besides Dion Phaneuf, playing Mark Fraser an average of 17 minutes a night can be linked to why the Leafs were consistently outshot this season. Despite the fact the 17 minutes were a team low amongst defensemen, this certainly equates to Fraser going up against competition far beyond what his AHL career has prepared him for. The Leafs defensive usage chart certainly shows an attempt to utilize Fraser in a shutdown role instead of as the sheltered tough bottom pairing guy.
The first thing I’d like to compliment Mark Fraser on is not being Mike Kostka or Korbinian Holzer. Of the three AHL defensemen the Leafs tried to introduce into the lineup, Mark Fraser easily had the most respectable season and is frankly the only one I can remotely stand.
Continuing with comparisons, I happily dub Mark Fraser my favourite Leafs enforcer. His nine NHL brawls put him third on the Leafs, but would have been good enough for the lead on most teams, and when you factor in his 8 bouts in the AHL earlier in the year he had a pretty full card. Hockeyfights.com has Fraser as 6-2-1 on the year, so if this role is important to you then he’s a great guy to fill it. He had a nice balance of heavyweights (Shawn Thornton/BJ Crombeen) and casual battlers (Marcus Foligno and Ryane Clowe), so he is much more versatile than players like Orr or McLaren who are often only fighting the other team’s four-minutes-a-night player.
There are some other bright spots worth highlighting. Of the defensemen who were dressed throughout the season, Fraser saw the third most ice time on the new and improved Leafs penalty kill (2:01 avg). Fraser was also the monster of real time stats with 153 hits (2nd on team, 12th in the league, 1st among Leafs defensemen) and 102 blocked shots (1st on the Leafs, 15th in the league). Oh yeah, and if plus/minus is your bag, he was pretty good with that stat, too (I feel dirty mentioning +/-)
Speed seems like a good place to start on this one. Fraser is anything but fleet of foot which made it doubly cruel that he was paired with Cody Franson, who also struggles in that regard. The Leafs certainly set up their opponents for potential odd man rushes and successful dump-ins with this pairing.
Hockey sense seems to be another issue. Fraser, while decent from a positioning standpoint, seems to struggle with keeping up with the play in the NHL. It didn’t take long for Eastern Conference forwards to realize they could force reactions on Fraser that would open up space for them. If Fraser wishes to continue with his NHL career, he’s got a date with a video room this summer to begin understanding where he goes wrong in his one-on-one matchups.
Later in the season, Randy Carlyle began transitioning Fraser and Franson more and more towards a second pairing role. While increased offense from Franson was nice, it was overwhelming for Fraser to play against the tougher competition. It’s not his fault that he was poorly deployed, but it seems evident that his ceiling is the third pairing with a more sheltered role. The idea that Fraser can be a shutdown defender is unrealistic, but he’s a good fresh pair of legs for defensive zone starts and the second penalty kill unit. I just wish he could clear the zone better.
Of course, Fraser is not in any way capable of adding offense, but I don’t think anyone expects that from him.
I have a soft spot in my heart for Mark Fraser, as I often do for players that Elliotte Friedman highlights on Inside Hockey. I like the idea of Fraser continuing on as a Leaf, but I don’t like the idea of him being a lock for returning to the top six defense group. I think Fraser is an ideal seventh guy to insert into the lineup on a regular basis, and history has shown that seventh defensemen have no shortage of time in the lineup.
Of course, for the purpose of this exercise, let’s look at Mark Fraser as a penalty killing, third-pairing, pseudo shutdown defenseman who occasionally was bumped up to second pairing minutes. For me, when he was in the latter role, he left a lot to be desired.
Plays of the Year:
I wouldn’t call it a “Play of the Year,” but Fraser’s season ended with a horrible looking injury – a puck to the forehead:
There are some great jersey jabs on Prust in this tilt:
If you watch a lot of Mark Fraser fights you’ll see he’s really good at getting his right arm out of the jersey to throw some mean haymakers:
Fraser ends Jeff Skinner after being a little late getting back:
Games like this on the Marlies are the reason that Mark Fraser was a Leaf this season:
Fraser shows no hesitation coming to Kadri’s defense:
RATE THIS PLAYER: Out of 10, rate Mark Fraser’s season relative to his role, opportunity/usage and the expectations for the player entering the season. Be sure to back it up.