During last week’s AHL All Star break I took the time to highlight two players I considered to be the Admirals’ Underrated All Stars. I picked Zach Budish and Joonas Jarvinen because I feel their work can sometimes be lost in all the focus on the scoring aspects of the game. Perhaps then, as a few pointed out, I overlooked Vinny Saponari in the mix for such a title. It wasn’t that I missed him or anything. Far from it actually. I feel what Saponari has been doing this season as a member of the Admirals pushes him beyond underrated and into a certain spotlight that he has earned for his hard work.
Saponari was one of the last cuts in Milwaukee’s pre-season camp. His season started off with one month of games in the ECHL with the Cincinnati Cyclones. He played 14 games, scored 11 points (1 goal, 10 assists), had 25 shots on goal, 4 penalty minutes, and a plus/minus of +3. He had done enough to get that next chance with the Admirals. From the time that he was called up to right now – he’s never felt out of place on the ice despite getting himself in different line combos and earning time on the power-play.
To me, he took Joshua Shalla‘s place on the team when he was called up – and he has solidly kept it. He started off on those lower-end lines but quickly found himself getting paired with Austin Watson and Mark Van Guilder on a consistent basis. The thing that I like about Saponari’s game the most is that, where ever he gets plugged in, he seems to maintain his game very well. He forechecks well. He skates and stickhandles really good. He’s already scored a few dandies when it comes to toe-dragging and letting rip. He’s crafty with that when he has to be but he doesn’t often work his way into trouble. When he does – it does make for a terrific photo … herp derp.
Since he recall to Milwaukee, Saponari has suited up for 33 games, produced 17 points (9 goals, 8 assists), scored 4 power-play goals, plus/minus -2, and gone to the penalty box for 10 minutes. While the month of January was brutal for many Admirals – he really did so well: 5 goals, 2 assists, and generated 22 shots on goal in 13 January games.
I suppose what I want to really say with all of this is that Saponari isn’t really someone I’d classify as an underrated player. You look at his numbers from just prior to this season (here’s his Hockey DB profile again) and you see a player who has always been pretty reliable and responsible when it comes to his game. 24-years old, longest stint he’s played at the highest professional level of hockey that he’s played in… he’s doing superbly.
If there was any true quality about Vinny Saponari that I would classify as underrated it is that he is one of the few Admirals players where I know what I’m going to see from him time-and-time-again. He’s going to skate hard, create, and be smart on defense. I never go to the rink thinking about him in the way that I do with a, say, Bryan Rodney wondering if we’re getting a 2 assists game or a 2 assists for the other team game. Saponari can score a flashy goal here and there. But it’s the smoothness about his game away from those toe-drags that has done him very well so far this season. Make no mistake about it. He has earned every second of ice time he has been logging with the Admirals. And it has often been time well spent.
How have you felt about Vinny Saponari’s season? What can you see from him going forward? This is really his best AHL experience to date – so should we expect more and more in his development or is this just about what we should expect?