Western Michigan freshman forward Wade Allison was one of the big late-risers in last summer’s NHL Draft. He went from a middle-to-late round pick around midseason, before earning some talk as a potential first round pick by the end of the year after capping off his season with a terrific USHL playoff run. He eventually landed at 52nd overall when he was selected by the Philadelphia Flyers with their third pick of the second round.
Now a rookie in Kalamazoo, Allison has been looking to build on that momentum from last season in his first year of college hockey. He’s off to a strong start so far with four goals and three assists for seven points in 10 games this season. I took a closer look at Allison on Friday November 11 when the Broncos traveled to Duluth to take on #1-ranked Minnesota Duluth to see how he is playing, and what his future NHL potential might be.
It’s worth noting that while Western Michigan’s line chart consistently lists Allison’s line as their fourth line, they’re probably the second line in terms of minutes played. Allison plays the right wing and has consistently been centered by his former Pembina Valley youth hockey teammate Colt Conrad, a small playmaking forward. The left wing on that line has rotated a few times, usually opting for a little more speed to play alongside Allison and Conrad, who are both decent skaters, but not overly fast. Recently, Pittsburgh Penguins pick Frederik Tiffels, one of the fastest players in college hockey, has been playing on that line.
Allison is also seeing significant power play time right out of the gate. All four of his goals, and two of his three assists have been scored on the man advantage.
Allison is listed at 6-2 205 lbs. by Western Michigan, which looked more or less accurate. The weight is maybe a little inflated because while there’s no doubt he’s a strong, tough kid, he could still have a little room to mature physically.
The biggest thing that stood to me about Allison was his motor. Lots of players have his size and strength, but what really separates him from other players is his ability to use a second-effort to stay on the puck and make plays. It’s subtle, but his ability to come back and win a puck along the boards, even if it looks like the other player is in better position, and his ability to continue to pressure the puck and force turnovers even if the player he’s attacking makes a move to gain position on him.
Part of that is that I think Allison’s feet are light for a player his size. I don’t think most people would say he’s a great skater; he doesn’t look like he’s flying when he skates down the ice. But I was really impressed with his first step—something I’ve criticized in the past—and his ability to get his feet moving. One of the breakouts that Western Michigan likes to use is to have a defenseman pass the puck to Allison at the right half boards, and rather than immediately passing the puck up the ice, Allison gets his feet moving really well and cuts back toward his own goal and across the ice to avoid any forecheck pressure and break the puck out.
Again, Allison isn’t going to blow past defenders when he’s one-on-one with the puck, but he’s really good at changing speeds and attacking laterally to keep the defense off balance. He was able to draw a penalty on one such play by stickhandling out wide, then using a quick toe pull to drag the puck across the defender’s body, causing the defender to trip him up with his stick.
He’s also really good at using his skating and his wide frame to protect the puck and maneuver around the perimeter. This allows him to set up his team on the cycle, or in one instance, drive around the net and attempt a quick wraparound that not many players would have been able to execute.
I didn’t have too many big complaints about the way Allison played. Perhaps he could show a little more vision and creativity in the offensive zone. He’s also averaging 2.4 shots on goal per game, which is decent, but not spectacular, especially for a guy that is around the play as much as he is. Then again, the fact that he is so active and involved in the play is probably a good sign in the long run.
As for the long-term future of Allison, I would say at least this year and next year at Western Michigan are a given, with a third year being a possibility. He’ll also likely need some time in the minors, but definitely seems to have a future in the Flyers organization. Last summer, I projected him as a second or third line winger at the NHL level that can contribute some offense with his gritty style of game, and that opinion hasn’t changed with his transition to college hockey. Allison looks to be continuing his upward development trajectory and worthy the high pick used on him last summer.