The Toronto Marlies have signed defenseman Ben Finkelstein to a one-year AHL deal.
Who is Ben Finkelstein?
Drafted in the 7th round in 2016 by the Florida Panthers, Ben Finkelstein looked like he could be another potential late-round steal for the Panthers by the time his NCAA career came to an end.
Finkelstein had a very solid freshman year at St. Lawrence University coming out of high school. His 23 points in 37 games landed him at 3rd among U20 NCAA defensemen in scoring, behind only Adam Fox and Charlie McAvoy.
Midway through a tough sophomore season, Finkelstein made the surprising decision to leave the program and head to the USHL, where he played the rest of the season with the Waterloo Black Hawks.
After the season, Finkelstein ended up joining Boston College. While his production didn’t rise above the level that it had reached during his freshman year, he still showed strides of improvement.
Finkelstein’s performance was good enough for me to speak highly of him last offseason:
He didn’t sign an NHL deal, though. Instead, he signed with the Florida Panthers’ ECHL affiliate, the Greenville Swamp Rabbits.
Ben Finkelstein’s rookie season was a success. His 32 points in 35 games gave him the highest points per game clip among all ECHL defensemen with over 10 games played.
He’s already shown success at the ECHL level, it’s time for him to take the next step.
Ben Finkelstein Scouting Report
For a lot of people, the first stat that pops out about Ben Finkelstein is his height. At 5’9, he’s an undersized defenseman, but he packs a large punch with his game.
Finkelstein is an offensive defenseman. His playmaking abilities are a huge asset of his. He’s able to seek out teammates and make plays to keep the opposing team on their toes, ready for a dangerous chance.
His skating abilities are also a big part of his game. His smooth and well-polished skating ability helps him move around with ease, making him an active threat in the offensive zone. His mobility and smarts also make him a very solid defender, as he’s able to close gaps and cover players effectively.
His skating and vision also make him a dangerous threat off the rush. Finkelstein is able to read situations in his own end, and he knows when he has an opportunity to join his forwards on the rush.
One thing that I felt improved big-time during his first professional season was his shot. Finkelstein’s shot has been a threat throughout his career, but in the ECHL, he’s found a way to put it to good use.
In the NCAA, Finkelstein didn’t get over 5 goals in a season. Last season, in the ECHL, he had 11. He has the potential to be a serious threat on an NHL power play with his shot, combined with his playmaking ability and his ability to find teammates for good chances.
Finkelstein displayed good defensive traits in the ECHL, but I want to see how it will translate to a higher level like the AHL. I feel as if he has the potential to thrive offensively in the AHL. It’s just a matter of how he will adapt to tougher offensive competition.
A Pattern Emerges
Ben Finkelstein immediately reminds me of two other Leafs/Marlies signings. Joseph Duszak and Brennan Kapcheck.
All three are undersized offensive defensemen with no major mechanical weakness (such as their skating or their shot) but with room to improve in their own end.
The emergence of undersized defensemen in the Leafs’ farm system doesn’t necessarily mean that the Maple Leafs want to build a defense of 6 Smurfs as many seem to think it does. Instead, this is the Leafs clearly trying to find a diamond in the rough. All three are late bloomers with NHL potential, and the Leafs believe that they can get them to the big leagues.
The truth is, oversized players with high upside are hard to find as is. Finding them as undrafted free agents is almost impossible. Also, signing undersized players on the farm team doesn’t mean that the Leafs are planning on running 6 undersized defensemen in the NHL. It’s easier to find larger depth defensemen when they’re already developed, whether it’s in free agency or via trade.
This organization is looking to find a diamond in the rough, and that’s pretty exciting.
At 23, Finkelstein isn’t necessarily in a race against other players, nor is he fighting to improve a disastrous weakness.
He’s in a race against time.
By the time the next season starts, Ben Finkelstein will be 24. His one-year deal means that he will be 25 when his next deal kicks in.
Finkelstein is in a very similar situation to Brennan Kapcheck (who I wrote about here) in that he really needs to blow the organization away to earn a shot. He will need to either win an AHL spot out of camp or seize an opportunity mid-season to make sure the Leafs cannot ignore him. Kapcheck has two years to do this, though. Finkelstein is only guaranteed one.
I would pencil him in to start the season in Newfoundland, but if he finishes it there, things won’t be looking good for Finkelstein. I expect him to earn top-pairing ECHL minutes (as he did in Greenville) and fight his way into the AHL. That’s when the real race begins, as Finkelstein must adapt, improve, and thrive in the AHL before the season ends.
No pressure, though!
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