Last summer, I took a big swing on Dominik Masin in the Top 25 Under 25 ranking. His season didn’t quite go as well offensively as I had hoped, but I’m still high on him as a prospect who can help the Tampa Bay Lightning in the NHL. For now, through, he’s probably going to need to spend some more time in the AHL rounding out his game.
My main argument last summer was that Masin was playing a very effective shutdown defense role in the top-four of a top AHL team as a 22-year-old. He anchored the penalty kill, played against top competition, and provided offense on a defense corps that had to get it done with contributions from everyone. He and Erik Cernak were a bone fide top-pair duo and it helped propel the rookie Cernak into a full-time NHL role.
I had assumed that with a little more experience under his belt and the same level of offensive opportunity that Masin would do the same this season. Unfortunately, the Crunch defense group changed in such a way that it Masin struggled offensively.
Between 2017-18 and 2018-19, the Crunch’s defense underwent a lot of turnover. Cernak, Mat Bodie, Daniel Walcott*, Jamie McBain, and Reid McNeill all left the team (and in Walcott’s position, moved to forward), meaning Masin was the only top-four defenseman left of the group.
Over the summer, the team brought in Cal Foote, Cameron Gaunce, Nolan Valleau, and Hubert Labrie to play with Masin and Thomas. With Foote stepping into the lineup, the Crunch had a top offensive prospect on the back end. That meant that he was used liberally in the offensive zone and on the power play. Same goes for Gaunce, who is reliable NHL/AHL veteran who also took on a lot of the load all over the ice.
While that was good for the Crunch on the whole — the two combined for 20 goals and 57 assists on 212 shots last season — it was bad news for Masin. While the third-year pro was still tasked with playing on the left side of the two primary defensemen, his role in the offensive zone was diminished. Combine that with his shooting luck falling to a third of what it was and Masin’s 24-point season in 2018 fell to 12 points in 2019.
Masin will requires waivers this season in order to be sent down to the Syracuse Crunch after training camp. While I think he has a good chance of sticking in the NHL if given an opportunity, there are at least nine defensemen ahead of him on the Lightning depth chart and he doesn’t have the NHL experience or points in the AHL for other teams to justify taking him over their own guy that they probably like more anyway.
So it’ll be another year in Syracuse where he can continue to improve in an environment he seems to like. Gaunce will be back for next season but it’s up to the Lightning as to whether Foote or another defenseman gets the sixth defense spot in the big leagues. There are currently some holes in the Crunch’s back end, but with Gaunce and Masin there to solidify the top-four, they have a good core to build off of.
Dominik Masin is a big body defenseman who uses his size and mobility to be one of the better defensive defensemen in the AHL. At 6’2”, Masin is able to protect the area in front of his own net along with fighting opponents along the boards. Masin also has a knack for punching guys in the face repeatedly if someone takes exception to him or one of his teammates. Masin has taken part in four fights in each of the last two seasons.
Positionally, Masin is a smart player, which is why he’s been so vital to the Crunch’s penalty kill. The Crunch were by far the most penalised team in the AHL last season, going down a man 368 times. However, with the work of Masin and the rest of the defense corps, the Crunch had the fifth-most successful penalty kill.
Masin also has a history of strong goal differentials. Prospect-Stats.com was a website that tracked goal differentials in the AHL but the site has since been shut down. Other websites are currently working on providing that service again, but using the data from last year and Masin’s consistently positive plus/minus, it’s safe to assume that Masin drives strong defensive play while also helping create offense.
One thing I hope Masin works on this season is limiting the number of penalties he takes. While he is far from the most penalised player on the team, he took 26 minors. Looking at the types of penalties he took, the slight majority were body positioning penalties like interference or holding. Masin is a smart player and he doesn’t take those penalties at an abnormally high rate, but clamping down on this issue would help him take another step forward defensively.
Masin’s two most common partners were Cal Foote and Cameron Gaunce, meaning he was on units designed to play heavy minutes while also providing offense. While Masin never really got the touches required to put up points, his play on the ice showed that he was capable of stopping rushes and allowing more skilled players to push the play into the offensive zone. He was a prototypical stay at home defenseman.
One thing coaches across sports beg for are players that they don’t have to worry about when they go on the ice or field. Specifically for defensemen, coaches want a player who can fight for possession in their own zone and make a play under pressure to get it out. This is the type of player Masin is and I think it’s only a matter of time before he gets a chance to do so in the NHL.