Thursday, June 23, 2011

Canadiens Draft Primer

The draft is in a few days and the Canadiens need to be ready. Not that Pierre Gauthier couldn’t do this on his own, but just in case he does use this blog as his last minute cramming site, we thought it prudent to put a little effort into a preview for him.

As you know, we already highlighted the lessons that the Canadiens and their crack team need to take from their own draft history, combined with that of their rivals. Just in case they don’t have time to read that, we’ll just post the most important message here:
Don’t, for goodness sake, take another defensive defender in the first round!

That out of the way, we can get down to the serious business of the draft. The way I look at it, there are about 5 categories of players to look at for the first round of this draft (No it isn’t C, RW, LW, …). The categories come from off the top of my head painstaking research I have done into drafting over the past decade.

The first category of possible draftees are those that we’ll call Subban substitutes. They aren’t called Subban subs because they will all be as good as Subban – what do you think I’m that good at scouting I can predict NHL readiness from watching a bit of junior? No, they are called Subban subs because the only way we’ll be drafting these players is if we trade PK Subban (or someone of his stature) to the team ahead of us in line who would otherwise take one of them.

The second group of players are aptly called NAFWOPs or Not Available for Weber or Pouliot. Trading the players fans see as expendable may get something, but not these guys. It probably wouldn’t take a Subban to move up, but for all intents and purposes, the Habs aren’t getting a sniff of these NAFWOPs either.

The third category is consensus early picks. These players are highly rated by the media who either a) just watched the Bruins win the Cup and concluded that only a team exactly like the Bruins will ever in again or b) waited until the last minute and couldn’t figure out how to integrate North American and European and Skater and Goalie lists. These are big forwards who scored a lot of goals in the CHL (the minimum cut off for a lot is slipping these days, some guys here scored 20ish). These are players that should be available when the Canadiens pick because a) the media don’t have NHL jobs and b) Brian Burke can’t make all the picks.

The fourth category is the McGuire stunners. These players don’t get mentioned for some reason or another. See category three for media excuses, add drinking while compiling the list. In my opinion, the more stunned Pierre McGuire is by the pick, the better the pick probably is. The Blubbering Blusterer is no clairvoyant.

The fifth and final category is the red flags. This category is entirely determined by me and based on that thorough research I mentioned. The players are unpickable by the Canadiens for reasons of position, over-rating or the fact they have already resorted to the strategy that all slow and non-innovative players take when in a jam – they abandon their reason for being a hockey player by becoming a defensive machine before they even get a sniff of pro hockey.

Subban subs
Not worth spending too much time on these guys really. Primarily because the caliber of prospect that must be traded to get this player is more than likely to be a better prospect on odds than the draft pick himself.
The list here consists of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Larsson, Gabriel Landerskog, Jonathan Huberdeau, Sean Couturier, Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Strome and Ryan Murphy.

If any of these players were to be available without trade, or through a cheaper trade, I’d be all for adding them to the fold. Landerskog and Strome fit the bill of what the Canadiens (or any team) could use, Couturier and Huberdeau would be organizational gems, Nugent-Hopkins and Larsson are the kind of guys you make room for, and Hamilton and Murphy are a cut above their peers from the back line (with Murphy being the one I'd go for).

Mika Zibanejad, Sven Bartschi, Joel Armia, Mark McNeill all have a lot in common. All forwards. All fit the profile of a scoring forward who may succeed at NHL level. All unlikely to be available by the time the Canadiens pick.

These are the kinds of 9-15 draft picks that make one ask why the Canadiens made the playoffs if they were only going to be stifled in the first round. They make one ask that because players of their scoring ability and general quality are gone at pick 17 if all goes according to plan.

The good news is the NHL is rife with general managers who think their secret revelation is a new and unidentified way to win it all (Thomas Hickey, #4 overall, LA). Usually these GMs win the draft picks above #14 year on year.

So let’s play the game. Let’s say one of these four players slips through the table because someone opts for that 7’ guy and someone wants to impress Pierre McGuire.

If I had my choice for the player to fall to 17, I think I’d go with Joel Armia. Sure, his work ethic is being questioned by the media who watched him play one game at a tournament with lesser players than he, but he put up 18 goals in the Finnish League at age 17 and that’s got to count for something. And, remember how the Habs lost 3 OT games to Boston with Horton and Ryder spoiling the fun. How about this quote then:
"You might have to look for him during some shifts, but then, suddenly, he scores the winner."
Goalscorers sometimes need to disappear to do their thing. I certainly wouldn't mind empty shifts if goals flowed freely.

I also think Nathan Beaulieu will be gone by all accounts by pick 17. If he fell to that point, the Canadiens would take him, but it might serve them better to trade down if that happens, even if it brings on the annual wrath of RDS.

Consensus mid-teens

Mark Scheifele
Look, I understand why mock drafts take this guy. There are a lot of lists and he’s high on most. To that I would ask why? In my opinion, he gets points for points, points for being big, points for being a center, and dare I say, points for being from the OHL.

Looking deeper though, despite claims he was on a talentless team, Scheifele still racked up way more assists than goals. 75 points is no OHL record and with the ice time he got, I consider the 22 goals a red flag. I also read that 11 of his goals came down a stretch at the end. While to some that would mean he picked it up in clutch games, one must remember there were no clutch games for Barries, so he actually picked it up in meaningless games. Not one for me.

The Hockey Writers call him the safe pick. Safe picks are for rounds 3/4 in my honest opinion...

Matt Puempel
Small in stature, one gets the idea Puempel got his points for actual play rather than the potential of a big guy.34 goals wasn’t something that turned heads in past seasons, but this season it seems high for the CHL. This worries me somewhat as 34 is closer to 20 than it is to 50. Still, from all accounts he makes his living from scoring goals, but still makes time to get assists. Like Scheifele, he played on a pretty awful team, however, and with a hip injury that raises other questions doesn’t get my nod.

Brandon Saad
Not sold on Brandon either for some reason. He's already garnering comments about his two-way game, which might not be a flag with 40 goals under his belt. With 27, it starts to sound like a bit of an excuse. That said, I could be way wrong about this guy.

Duncan Siemens, Jonas Brodin, Oscar Klefbom, Joe Morrow
I’m sure these guys are all fine fellows and even better defenders. But unless someone in the organization thinks they’d be passing up the next Lidstrom or Niedermayer, I’d advise a pass on this group of Dmen. The Habs need to keep Subban around and hopefully can revitalize Markov. These have to be their bets. Together with a commitment to Weber who has shown good promise, I don’t see the need to abandon hope on finding a scorng forward to take and ever so slightly safer bet based on consensus.

McGuire stunners

Stefan Noesen
This guy isn't on mmost lists, simply because they only go to pick #30. But in a year where so many 25-30 goal guys are in the running, it's a bit of a puzzle how a relatively big OHLer with 34 goals and a 69 point jump for the season wouldn't pip some of the former favourites. Let's just accept he rose from nowhere and some in the rankings racket like to save face more than they like to be objective.

34 goals in 68 games. 77 points. Up from 3 goals last season. Noesen comes from Dallas, so he might not be under their radar. But if he slips to the Canadiens #17, he should get consideration. At the very least the team should insinuate they are going to take him to the Big D and see if Nieuwendyk coughs anything up.

Daniel Catenacci
From all reports, Catenacci translates to speed. The most generous comparisons liken him to Mike Cammalleri because of his speed, his attitude and his stature. After a second playoffs watching Camms, I'd sign another one of him up if I could.

Alexander Khokhlachev
"The first thing that jumps out about Khokhlachev’s game is his heart."
A comment like that and 34 goals in his first OHL season, I'm certain this is a classic Russian shy-away. The Canadiens have a chance to be a bit of Russian hub with Markov, Emelin, Kostitsyn and Avtsin. Why not take advantage of the rest of the NHL's reluctance. This guy played in North America already. What more could he have done to prove he wanted to be in the NHL?

Nikita Kucherov
If you don't ever finish low enough to get a high pick, you have to take a chance to get a superstar. Kucherov represents a home run swing. The guy absolutely dominated the MHL, he smashed scoring recoreds at the recent U18 champs, he has potential to be something quite special offensively. I don't think the Canadiens have much to lose by swinging big this year, because at #17 they are already looking at guys that could only muster 20-some goals in junior anyway. If Kucherov is on the radar for this pick, it might be wise, however, to turn the pick into two and take him lower when he'll likely still be available due to his recent KHL: signing.

Tyler Biggs
I'm a bit loathe to put another American college bound kid. We've seen our fair share of these already. But Biggs is legit. He is Big, as his name suggests, and he has a knack for scoring Big goals, if not enormous numbers of them. He has to be on the list for completeness, but he wouldn't be my first choice from these.

Red flags

Boone Jenner
For me his improvement from one year to the next wasn't very impressive and it really does raise the question about how one thinks he'll suddenly become NHL 20-goal material.

Zack Phillips, Tomas Jurco
Good teams put up good amounts of goals and are populated by many high point-getters. But it's a scouts job to pick out the straw that stirs the drink. In Saint John, it seems like it was probably Huberdeau. Not to mention Simon Despres and Stanislav Galiev. I'd be wary of totals from these two forwards that may well deflate when they lose their catalysts.

Jamieson Oleksiak
He's 6'7". Let's admit not all tall guys turn out to be Chara. Some turn out to be Andy Sutton -- if you're even that lucky.

Ty Rattie
Seems like 4th fiddle on his team with some pretty crazy top end talent. Buyer beware.

Brett Ritchie
I know you can't teach size. But can one really teach a 20-goal OHL player to do it at the NHL. I know there are cases where it's been done. But have the Habs really learned nothing from Turner Stevenson, Jason Ward.

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