Thursday, June 24, 2010

Canadiens Draft Day

Last year, the Canadiens and the draft seemed to be a much more exciting prospect.

For one thing, the Habs stunk in the playoffs, and so the inevitable look to the future became the next best thing. For another, the team had a better pick, and hence lived in the zone where good prospects sometimes linger.

This year, on top of an exciting month of sport, the Canadiens probably tired us out a bit. They had a good run, and we were largely satisfied. The team has a weak stable of picks and free agency looks to be dull. June 2010 is not the month to be looking for 1,000,000 Habs fan hits.

Even so, the draft is still important. It only comes once a year, and the results from tomorrows picks will be debated for years. If we want in on the debate, we might as well be versed on what has gone on and what might have happened had Gauthier and Timmins done it differently.

Last season, I had a change of heart with the draft. In seasons previous, I was quite fond of picking all-rounders, intelligent characters and solid bets. No more. From last year and into this I favour drafting for what is rare. Rather than fishing for smelt, I say dive for pearls. There’s no Cups for fishmongers.

As such, I stick to my new draft day plan:

1) Don't pick the player with the best chance of being an NHLer, pick the one with a chance at being a star

2) Don't even bother picking the types of players you can easily pick up by other means (i.e., OK goalies, defensive defencemen and bottom line forwards)

3) Trade the pick if the organization gets a better asset mix from the swap


This year to me presents a wonderful meeting of my new philosophy and the needs of the organization, in that the hockey world’s rarest skill (true goalscoring ability) is also the Canadiens burning need.

For this draft, I hope the Canadiens management have learned their lessons from years without a scorer (at last check, Richer started his career in the 1980s) that top end scoring can only be addressed via the draft in two ways:

1) The normal way, in which you dedicate a top pick to select a scorer
2) The Red Wings way, in which you take 6 useless prospects and then luck out with a long shot in the 7th round

Now, I know the Habs could do worse than to try and emulate the Red Wings, but frankly this has been their draft strategy for years, for little reward. I think this fact has been recognized (Louis Lebalnc last season) and should be continued into this season’s draft.

With that in mind, I give you my wish list for the first round. It is by no means my prediction for tomorrow’s pick (as I don’t presume to know that), but instead the pick I would make if it were up to me to give the final word in Pierre Gauthier’s earpiece.

I'd target a scorer. One who actually scored in droves this past season.


1. Tyler Toffoli



Tyler has some mixed reviews. For some scouts, he seems to have offensive gifts (“his hans and shot are NHL elite already) that lead to goals. For others, he gets his goals through hard work. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is that he scored 37 goals and 79 points in 65 games this season.

It’s really what others say about Toffoli that impresses me the most:
“Is not very big in stature for his Ottawa team, but he makes up for that in skill and effort. He’s got 79 points in his 65 games played. He’s got an NHL release and incredible accuracy with his shot. An equal threat whether he’s dishing the puck or shooting the puck himself.”
- Director of NHL Central Scouting, E.J. McGuire
“Tyler Toffoli has great anticipation and hockey sense. His ability to make and finish plays sets him apart from most other players. This season he has developed a good two way game and is strong in his own end.”
- Ottawa 67’s head coach Chris Byrne

He certainly seems to tick the boxes for skills you can’t teach (hands, anticipation, size) and has always battled to score at the elite level wherever he has gone so far. As far as scoring at the pick 27 level, it doesn’t get much better than Toffoli (if he’s even available).


2. Teemu Pulkkinen

Mikael Granlund, the reincarnation of Saku Koivu, probably won’t fall to the 27 pick this time. His sidekick called Teemu might just though.

Pulkkinen has been in and around the top of the rankings for this draft since his 15th birthday. Back in 2007, there was time for Taylor vs. Teemu, with Tyler well in the background. But times have changed, Pulkkinen has been injured and progressed differently than expected and the NHL scouts seem to shy from Europeans following some recent debacles.

Hurting Pulkkinen’s showing is the fact he has been playing in the junior league in Finland, which is apparently (even after all these years) a complete puzzle to fit into rankings. In any case, he scored big points (20 goals and 41 points in 17 games), and played with some success for Jokerit in the men’s league. Really though the tipping point was the tournament which put his achievements into context – the recent U18s. At that tournament he outpaced his peers by an impressive margin, showing off his goalscoring and flash by putting up 10 goals and 15 points in 6 games.

Profile

Size is his question mark, but this is nothing new for precocious young scoring talent. If the Habs want to truly hit a home run one day, they’ll have to come through on a player that falls down the draft for one reason or another. Better he fall for size (see Daniel Briere) than ability.


3. Beau Bennett

Bennett to Bennett? Why not?

Beau Bennett is a BCHL prospect, so doesn’t get the full kudos he perhaps deserves for scoring 41 goals and 120 points in 56 games.

In my opinion, the BCHL deserves as much cred as the USHL where the Canadiens currently mine prospects, certainly in light of graduates like Travis Zajac and Scott Gomez.

Once again, it’s the scoring results that impress. He’s not a player who scouts say has hands despite his 19 goal output, they say it and we see it. It means that in addition to the hands and the shot, he has the predatory instincts that junior scorers can sometimes lack come big league time.


Profile


The hesitation with Bennett is that he would only be another in a long line of US college students in the Canadiens stable. Nothing wrong with that in theory, except that at some point, success may have to come with a graduation en masse. Meaning that perhaps constantly waiting out a full college education time after time won't allow for it.


4. Brock Nelson

If we have to go the full US route again, I’d avoid the next Danny Kristo (small USHL scorer) and instead opt for someone just like Brock Nelson.

After all, Brock is already big, and has proven year on year that he does nothing if not score. His high school totals over 2 seasons leave him with 84 goals and 149 points in a mere 56 games. Sure we can question the competition, but that never stopped Timmins before.

Profile


5. Greg McKegg


McKegg is another young phenom who took a few more years than Taylor Hall to round out. But it seems he may be rounding out quite nicely as a scorer again.

We’re now talking about a player who went from 8 goals, 10 assists and minus 13 to 37 goals, 48 assists and plus 18 in a single season. While he’s not big, he’s by no means small, and coming from the OHL will probably have some sense about how to play around the net.

Profile


6. Ludvig Rensfeldt

Rensfeldt is a bit of a wild card here. He put up decent numbers in Swedish Juniors, but nothing to make Pulkkinen blush. Like Teemu, he also showed well at the recent U18s.

But it seems at least to the outsider that scouting on him is patchier. Not surprising, as that is entirely consistent with the average level of NHL scouting for Europe, which consistently misses the best young prospects.

I feel the scouting may be off here. After all, I don't think Sweden is going to be shutout in NHLers after all its recent success in development. Nor do I think that players who learned to practice first and play games later will go out of style just yet. Rensfeldt at 6’3”, 192 lbs and a Swede who can no doubt at least skate a corner, he offers an intriguing swing at the fences for a team like the Habs.

Profile


Players to avoid

Am I the only one who wants a moratorium on offensive defencmen?

There's something about a big defender with offensive upside that catches the imagination of GMs on draft day. There's good reason for that as dreams of Lidstrom and Niedermayer are well founded, but as more GMs and scouts begin to think the same way, the excitement builds beyond th talent base.

In my humble opinion, all offensive defencemen you can be sure about are gone by pick 10. The offensive upside of those around by pick 27 is usually screening their defensive liabilities with smoke.

The list of these picks for the first round is long this time, but includes all the commonly projected picks like McIlraith, Jerome Gathier-Leduc, Mark Pysyk and Alex Petrovic.


Other rounds and other options


Jarred Tinordi

Look, if we have to look to D, take the biggest guy there is. Tinordi is big and probably learned a bit about mean from his Dad. Anyone who remembers Chara's first years in the league will recall that you can teach big to play D, but can't teach D to be biger.


Quebec


The Quebec picks always loom over any draft. In many ways, i wish the concern didn't exist. But by the same token, it makes sense that the Canadiens foster hockey in their own backyard.

Last year, they nabbed a couple of gems with Leblanc and Dumont. This season the Q isn't spitting out much, but like Sweden is bound to produce NHLers.

In my mind, there are a few options:

Micael Bournival: Could be this year's Gabriel Dumont. Hockey's Future references a win at any cost attitude, which I certainly like.

Louis-Marc Aubry: Big and not much else for now. But perhaps he could join the team without the pressure of his name being chanted.


Goaltenders

Regardless of what anyone thinks of Carey Price, we all admit the Canadiens depth in goal throughout the organization is a it thin as of the moment.

As such, Gautheir wll probably be using at leats one selection to choose a goalie for his stocks. If he does, I think a strong case has to be made for him to choose no one other than Mathieu Corbeil-Theriault

Corbeil-Theriault had terrible statistics, 3.83 and 0.883, but he was in an impossible situation. His team was "rebuilding" and so didn't offer the best environment for stats production. But goalies have been known to come out of situations like this well. I seem to remember the Granby Bisons getting quite a lot of goals scored against them in the 1980s, for example.

What I read about the guys impresses me.

There's his dimensions which (we all know from a mere 4" difference) mean the world to canadiens management. But not only that, he also seems to be a quick goaltenders, which I found surprising for a big goalie.

“I was so impressed with Corbeil's quickness for a big goalie. When you see him you won't believe how quick he is for a big guy (6’6”, 186 lbs). Very controlled and soft pads, no big rebounds. Corbeil has an excellent feel for the game. He's very good at controlling his rebounds."
- NHL Central Scouting's Al Jensen

And then there was his performance at the combine. I was stunned to read (in Dylan McIlraith’s preview) that Mathieu had the second best VO2 of all prospects evaluated at the recent combines. Not only is this impressive for anyone, it's especially impressive considering he's an enormous guy and a goalie.

So quickly: size, attitude, quickness and fitness. We didn't know it was possible. Pick him if you can Pierre.

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