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2018-19 Season Review: Radim Simek, Wookiee Whisperer

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Simek is likely to earn a spot on the opening night roster.

Feb 14, 2019; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks defenseman Radim Simek (51) and Washington Capitals left wing Jakub Vrana (13) collide during the third period at SAP Center at San Jose. Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018-19 season was both great and horrific for Radim Simek. The young Czech defenseman made his NHL debut on Dec. 2, 2018 and finished the game with 13:10 of ice time and a plus-1. It was enough of an impact to convince Head Coach Pete DeBoer to keep Simek in the lineup for the next game, where he registered his first NHL assist and finished that game a plus-2.

But injury soon knocked him out of the lineup. Simek missed the first two games of 2019 with a head injury after a late high hit by Sam Bennett of the Calgary Flames.

He returned less than a week later and was put right back in alongside Burns until March 12 against the Winnipeg Jets, when Andrew Copp fell awkwardly onto Simek’s leg. Simek was helped off the ice and when he woke up the next morning, he discovered how bad things were. A few days later, he underwent surgery to repair not just the ACL, but the MCL in his right knee. The surgery marked the end of Simek’s season.

Radim Simek player card Getty Images/Fear the Fin illustration by JD Young

Simek played 41 games with the big club until the injury, scoring nine points (1 goal, 8 assists), a plus-7 and eight penalty minutes.

While Erik Karlsson, Vlasic and Burns made all the headlines, Simek was the depth defenseman the Sharks needed. The team went 30-8-3 with Simek in the lineup. He wasn’t an offensive juggernaut like Burns or even an unhealthy Erik Karlsson, but he was a stabilizing force that allowed Burns to go to work and tear opposing teams apart.

The Bay Area Media recognized this and named Simek was named the Sharks’ Rookie of the Year, even though he only played half of a season.

Career Summary (via HockeyViz)

There isn’t anything to compare this season to, but not too shabby for a rookie who only got to play half of the season.

RAPM Chart (via Evolving Hockey)

Perhaps the best indicator of the young defenseman’s impact on the game is to look at his regularized, adjusted plus/minus (RAPM) compared to Joakim Ryan, the other player tasked with playing alongside Burns this season.

Courtesy: Evolving Hockey

While Ryan had a better offensive performance during the 2018-19 season, when a defenseman is tasked with playing with the unpredictable Burns, it’s his defensive performance that matters the most. You’ll remember that Burns was the most effective — in fact, Norris Trophy winning effective — when he was paired with responsible and reliable stay-at-home defenseman Paul Martin. Ultimately, Simek had a much better overall defensive performance than Ryan.

Highlight

Simek scored his first NHL goal on Dec. 10, 2018.

But his real contributions to the team were the big hits he added when the Sharks needed them.

His bruising style makes forwards think twice about going into the boards and grinding it out on the forecheck and that’s something the Sharks could have used at in the playoffs, most especially against the St. Louis Blues who like to grind it out behind the net.

What’s comes next?

Simek returned to the ice in the middle of May and started skating.

It’s a good sign for Sharks fans because it means there’s a little less uncertainty around the team’s defense next season.

Now that Erik Karlsson is back with the Sharks, Cap Friendly reports that the Sharks have six defensemen under contract for the 2019-20 season: Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Burns, Karlsson, Brenden Dillon, Jacob Middleton and Simek. Of the them, Simek has the best contract with a cap hit of just $675,000.

Ryan is a restricted free agent and Tim Heed is an unrestricted free agent. Vlasic, Burns and Karlsson will be on the opening night roster, provided they’re all healthy and ready to go. Dillon will be too, barring any off-season trades. If none of the RFAs and UFAs are signed, it leaves Simek competing for the final spot on the opening night roster with the likes of Middleton, Heed and Ryan if either are resigned, and to a lesser extent, 2018 first round draft pick Ryan Merkley, who doesn’t appear to be ready for the NHL just yet.

As with many rookies, this is all speculation. There is often a sophomore slump, as players discover that a full 82-game season can be a grind and their bodies begin to wear out. They have to learn how to properly train in the off-season and pace themselves in the regular season.

I am optimistic that Simek will avoid this regression. For one thing, he will turn 27-years-old in September, so this may be a case of older and wiser. For another, Simek spent several seasons in the Czech professional ice hockey league. While not the NHL, it is a respected professional league that taught him how to carry and train himself at a professional level.

I like Simek’s chances.