Sunday, 25 June 2017

Thoughts (to be charitable) on the 2017 NHL Draft, Day 2

I'm generally unhappy about the Canadiens' draft in Rounds 2-7, from my perspective as a perpetually unsatisfied draft watcher with an axe or three to grind.  I'll air my grievances in three broad categories.

Before that though, I'll introduce the CYA Caveat I always wield at this time of year, that my prime directive is 'In Trevor I Trust'.  My expertise is non-existent in this field, I don't have 10% of the information that Trevor Timmins and his staff have to make decisions on prospects.  Marc Bergevin and he have an army of scouts and tools and technology and experience to much better select who the best players are when it's our turn to speak.

That being said, I'm a Canadiens fan and blogging now exists, so I'm going to gripe.  I got a lot of problems with those people, and now you're going to hear about it.  Usually this is after the Feats of Strength, but this time let's get straight to the good stuff.

My First Complaint is that we didn't have many draft picks.  This year we had seven picks, after two years of only having five and then six.  And we only had five again coming into this draft, having frittered away two picks again, in inconsequential trades for fringe players.

The fact that we had five picks in the first three rounds mollifies me somewhat, but again, the extra third came at the cost of Nathan Beaulieu, and the seventh we had to trade for our 2018 seventh, so robbing Peter to pay Paul, essentially.

As a perpetually unsatisfied draft watcher, I want us to safeguard our existing picks, and then add to the stockpile every year by divesting ourselves of a Tom Gilbert here, a Brian Flynn there, just in time at the trade deadline before they turn UFA.  Darren Dietzes and Sven Andrighettos should be spitshined until they glow, and then swapped for a bounty of second rounders.  They should.  Goshdarnit.

At least we didn't squander any more picks by trading up, I'll admit to their credit.  Grudgingly.

My Second Complaint is that we didn't pick up any local boys.  I know this was a relatively fallow season in terms of the LHJMQ draft crop, and that Trevor Timmins says he had designs on Rouyn-Noranda Huskie Zachary Lauzon with our pick at #56, before he got scooped up by Pittsburgh at 51, but sorry doesn't mow the lawn.

This may be an outdated, impractical way of looking at things in today's conditions, and may be difficult if not impossible to achieve compared to what conditions existed in the sport until the 1980s or so, but I believe that the Canadiens are a stronger team and obtain synergies when they have a healthy contingent of local boys on the roster.

This may be a chicken and the egg situation.  Maybe there aren't many Québécois players to choose from when June rolls around, so that dictates the paucity of local content on le bleu-blanc-rouge, or maybe there aren't enough local boys on the roster so that causes the decline in minor hockey enrollment in Québec, with little Louis-Alexandre or Marc-Antoine Jr. deciding to snowboard instead, or take up football, recognizing themselves more in the Rouge et Or than the Canadiens.

So it's too bad that we couldn't get our hands on a falling Maxime Comtois in the second round, and even Antoine Morand, who I thought/hoped would last into the third round, but was taken 60th overall, right after we'd spoken at 56 and 58.  Bob McKenzie had him slotted at #70, and NHL Central Scouting had him as the 53rd North American skater.  If there's something you can usually bank on at the NHL Draft, it's that the undersized LHJMQ forward will fall below where he's projected to go initially.

And I'm crestfallen that we couldn't by hook or by crook musketeer, er, I mean muster a way to rope D'Artagnan Joly onto our team.  I mean, come on.  D'Artagnan Joly.  What more do I need to say?  I don't even need to bring up his great size and hands.

Moving on from there, My Third Complaint is relatively technical, and based on a hobby horse of mine.  It's based on a really good article I stumbled upon a few years back, and that I now use unfailingly to analyze defensive prospects.  Simply put, it demonstrates that a defencemen who scores lower than 0.6 points per game in the CHL in his draft year has essentially zero chance to make it in the NHL.  Period.  It's pretty much that cut and dried, with Shea Weber being the only notable exception.

Looking at our draft haul of defencemen, none of the four achieved this threshold.  And to me, especially with the way the NHL game seems to be headed, with the Nashville Top 4 being the new model, and big Nolan Patrick being overlooked, heavens be, for first overall in favour of a slender Nico Hischier, this doesn't augur well.

Trevor Timmins' post-draft press conference addresses this point directly, this Nashville model, when he states that all four of his defensive picks fit an archetype.  He said they all had good size, being over six feet and having a solid frame already, not one that you need to project, where you think that the kid really has to add some meat on his bones.  More importantly though, he pointed out that all four were very mobile, could skate, could handle and pass the puck.

The preceding press conference before the draft, he described how he was looking for smart defencemen, who could think quickly and make good decisions, who could distribute the puck and get it moving up-ice quickly.  "Quick thinkers with quick feet", he said.

So it's not a case of the Canadiens being dinosaurs and still scouting big lumbering defensive defencemen to fit the Boston Model prototype.  They're well aware that the game is trending towards offence and puck movement rather than mucking around in the corners and thumping.

But the .6 pts/game benchmark has been one of my go-tos, and whenever a defenceman is being discussed, either as a promising kid or one who's stalling in the minors or being waived, I go on to Hockey DB and check out his production, and unfailingly, see that if he's being a success, he had met or exceeded that benchmark.  More usefully, never does a young hot prospect NOT meet that benchmark.

So I have some doubts about our d-men we just acquired, although I hope I can be proven wrong.  For once.

Aside from these main points, here are some quick hits:

--I said before the draft that I wanted, everything else being equal, injections of talent, scoring and size in our prospect pool, and advocated for the drafting of Maxime Comtois, Nikita Popugaev or Isaac Ratcliffe in the first round to achieve those objectives.  When they all fell out of the first round, I hoped we'd get another shot in the second, but the Flyers got Mr. Ratcliffe early in the second, and the Ducks Mr. Comtois.

Astounded that my precious Nikita Popugaev cooled his heels until early in the fourth round, and even more that we passed him over all this time.  I'll be watching this very closely, always ready to spring forth with an "I told you so!", when appropriate.  Which it always is.

--I note that Ben Kerr in his prospect rankings compares, with the requisite caveats, Josh Brook and Cale Fleury, the first two defencemen we drafted, to Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, respectively.
There's little chance they ever play on the same pairing though, as both shoot right.  That'd be the only difference there.

--Cale Fleury already has three seasons in the WHL under his belt.  As a 'late birthday' CHL'er, he'll be eligible to play in the AHL in 2018-19.  Buy your Laval Rocket tickets now.

--I know what Trevor means when he talks about his boys having a big frame, that they're already solid, how two players are sometimes listed as having essentially the same height and weight, yet look completely different.

One of my friends attended the workouts open to the public that the Canucks held at training camp last season.  He raved that Nikita Tryamkin was just massive, a mountain of a man.  When I asked how Andrey Pedan looked, whether he was similar in size, since there's only an inch and ten pounds between them according to the roster, he said they were completely different.  Andrey Pedan looks tall and lean, like Nikita's little brother, apparently.

In a same vein, I was once in a nightclub when an earlier incarnation of the Canucks were in town for training camp.  They were well-behaved and mostly kept to themselves, and at one point while going to get a beverage, I happened to stand next to Donald Brashear.  Now, at the time I wasn't that far off Donald's listed dimensions, but I couldn't believe how thick he looked through the chest, how broad his back was.  My friends saw us standing side by side, and they said I looked like a pipsqueak, relatively.

I have great friends.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Thoughts (to be charitable) on the 2017 NHL Draft

Here are my compiled witticisms and observations on the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft.


The journos note that Trevor seems very animated and to want to make a statement, and I’d noticed that too, right off the bat. He seems a lot more convinced that trading Mikhail Sergachev for Jonathan Drouin was a good deal, compared to last year when he wore a frozen smile as he discussed his two second-rounders traded for Andrew Shaw.

--Bob McKenzie’s poll of NHL scouts yields this consensus of the Top 93 prospects, or how the first three rounds of the draft could go, roughly.

This is a little more helpful than NHL Central Scouting’s Final Rankings list for the average fan because it blends North American skaters and goalies and European skaters and goalies all together, as opposed to being on four separate lists (link below).

Scary that only four players from the LHJMQ are slated to go in the first three rounds, and one of them is Swiss-born Nico Hischier. We’re told that next season should be better, but really, how could it go any worse?

--For those insisting on a centre in the first round, either of Ryan Poehling or Josh Norris would be fine by me, I guess, except that it would sting, in my armchair GM role. Those guys could be had in the high to mid-second round pretty recently in mock drafts. Now Bob McKenzie has them ranked just out of reach of our 25th. I want to buy in at April prices, dagnabbit.

I refuse to have Rob Thomas on the roster.

--My manifesto, previously posted:
As we approach the 2017 NHL Draft, it’s hard for me to have a clear sense of direction, of what We should do, ‘we’ being our beloved Canadiens. Before the Jonathan Drouin trade, I felt we should cheat towards taking a forward, since I thought our defenceman situation was settled, having spent two first-rounders in consecutive drafts to pick a solid prospect in RD Noah Juulsen in 2015 and LD bluechip prospect Mikhail Sergachev.
So I thought much like I did in the leadup to the 2012 draft that our defence situation was ‘settled’, with surefire draftees Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu ready to hatch, assuredly in the bank, so we could concentrate on the everlasting quest for ‘notre gros joueur de centre’, a worthy successor to Peter Mahovlich, Bobby Smith and Vincent Damphousse. And presto, we landed Alex Galchenyuk at 3rd overall, and things were just going to go swimmingly from there. We jubilated.
In my mind as I kept an eye on the prospects on offer this season, I mostly looked at forwards and specifically centres, with Noah and Mikhail having good-to-strong seasons. Our draft position though didn’t look like it would help us land that great centre prospect, since we led our division the entire season. I looked at mock drafts all season long, keeping my eye in the 20-30 range to give me an idea of who we should target, and wouldn’t you know it, we’ll pick 25th tonight, barring a trade.
Two players who caught my eye during CHL broadcasts on Sportsnet and TVA Sports were Nikita Popugaev and Maxime Comtois. They played well with gusts to great in spurts, in the Canada-Russia series and the Top Prospects game. I was wowed by Nikita Popugaev, how big and smooth and fast he looked, how scory he was, unleashing that shot of his. I was seduced by Maxime Comtois playing his best against All Stars, and the writeups, my lord the writeups.
I didn’t figure on either of them being in range though, ranked so high were they, yet little warts appeared as their season went on and they fell down the rankings until they are now well in range, if we are to trust Bob McKenzie’s list.
So now I want to stake my claim that I want them, and we could get both of them conceivably, even with a trade down from 25 if the opportunity arises. They both bring great size already, a profile we don’t currently have in our prospect pool and which would complement our farm system.
Maxime Comtois had a tough year points-wise, which can be blamed partly on not having his projected centre Pascal Laberge to feed him the puck, being injured for most of the year. His effort or effectiveness in both ends of the ice never waned though, and the reports from scouts and observers assure us that he meets the character quotient required by GM Marc Bergevin. We know that Canadiens scouts spent a lot of time watching his games.
One thing which I appreciated about Maxime is that he played better against more talented competition, against all-star lineups. He showed opportunism and an extra gear when it counted.
Nikita Popugaev had a decent season, but a little disappointing point-wise based on his production last season and early this year. After the trade to Prince George, he never seemed to get going, and reports were that his focus and effort wouldn’t always be there every game, every shift.
Yet you can’t deny his wizardry at times, his great size and talent. With a prospect pool laden with William Bittens and Donald Audettes expected to carry our hopes and dreams in our putative future Top 6, his 6’5″, 215 lbs frame would be a nice counterweight, and he’d be a matchup nightmare in the NHL, much like Chris Kreider or Nick Bjugstad are when we’re faced with them.
Another player who intrigues although I haven’t seen him play really is Isaac Ratcliffe. He’s a 6’6″ winger who has good hands and good skill, unlike guys like Michael Rasmussen or Logan Brown last year, guys who you had to ‘project’, that you valued due to their size but despite their production. He scored 28 goals and 54 points for the Guelph Storm this season.
What I don’t want to do when it’s our turn to speak is ‘reach’ for a centre, just because we need a centre. I don’t want Rob Thomas and his brand of ’90s schmaltz muzak. I don’t want an undersized Kailer Yamamoto and his ‘has played some centre’ pedigree.
I’d even take dark horse Klim Kostin and his injury-marred results this season, and bank on his great potential, rather than a Brian Skrudland-equivalent prospect. Sometimes a Brian Skrudland turns into a Bo Horvat, but not really. A Bo Horvat usually starts as a Bo Horvat. More likely, a Brian Skrudland turns into a Brian Skrudland, or a Brady Vail or Louis Leblanc.
So let’s inject a healthy dose of talent in our future, even if it comes with a higher level of risk. Let’s face it, when picking 25th, every one of the prospects left over has a few warts. Sure, we might be missing on a Patrice Bergeron, but Patrice Bergerons don’t usually stand out and yell “Hey, I’m Patrice Bergeron” if they wind up going in the second round. And we’ll be missing on him with another 25 or so teams. Let’s go for the high-ceiling type of prospect rather than the low-floor type.
In the second round, I’d go for anyone that will fill in some organizational need, as by then most prospects tend to ‘bunch up’ on The List, scoring essentially the same in scouts’ minds. What I’d definitely not do is combine those two late-round 2nds to move up in the second round. We just don’t have the prospect pool depth to sacrifice volume for The Guy Who’s Falling. Let’s pick up as many bodies as we can in a ‘flat’ draft, with many players in the second being seen as equivalent to a weak mid to late-first round.
Having said that, one player who is intriguing with our seconds or the early third we got from the Sabres in the Nathan Beaulieu trade is Antoine Morand. He’s a kid who had some scouts touting him as a better prospect than Maxime Comtois prior to the season, except that his 5’10”, 170 lbs frame would discourage some teams from drafting him compared to the NHL-sized Comtois. Yet Antoine gets raves for his hockey IQ, his effort level, his leadership, and scored at a point per game pace this season on the Acadie-Bathurst Titan.
And of course, we have to pick up D’Artagnan Joly. I mean, come on…
 --Some insist that a centre is what the team needs and should draft.

Not sure who’ll be available though. Josh Norris and Ryan Poehling were in range a month ago, but not no more no longer.  Either of Ryan Poehling or Josh Norris would be fine by me, I guess, except that it would sting, in my armchair GM role. Those guys could be had in the high to mid-second round pretty recently in mock drafts. Now Bob McKenzie has them ranked just out of reach of our 25th. I want to buy in at April prices, dagnabbit.

Rob Thomas gives me hives. Shane Bowers is who I’m thinking of as a Brian Skrudland-equivalent, as a knee-jerk reaction. I admit I haven’t seen him play.

I mean, sure, In Trevor I Trust. If he says Morgan Frost is his guy, he has a 1000% more information than I do, so I’ll say Morgan Frost too, or any other centre you care to mention.

But as a preference, as a pre-draft ‘philosophy’ if I can call it that, I want talent, scoring and some size at forward added to our prospect pool with our first-rounder.

--Kris Russell just re-signed with the Oilers, $4M for four years.

A defensive defenceman at 4 mill a season, how could that go wrong?

--After Pierre McGuire, now it’s Craig Button on TSN 1040 Vancouver hyping the possibility that the Devils take Cale Makar first overall. Like talking heads always do as the draft approaches, and then it instead goes according to plan and Auston Matthews goes first, and Taylor and Tyler go 1-2, and Nail Yakupov goes first.

If Nolan Patrick doesn’t go first overall, I’ll eat your hat.

Blake Price: “Does Cale Makar have the highest ceiling in the draft?”

Craig Button: “Well, I’ll say this, no other player has a higher ceiling. Him, Cody Glass and Martin Necas.”

--Rats, Brad Treliving is seen hitting up Garth Snow on the draft floor.  If they're talking about Travis Hamonic, there’s little chance we’ll be able to steal away Mark Giordano or T.J. Brodie for peanuts.

--Please no Marc Méthot, please.

--Claude Julien on RDS:
–having a good summer, still working trying to improve the team.
–happy to have Jonathan Drouin, can play all 3 positions, would have no problem with him at centre.
–about Alex Galchenyuk, a comparison to Tyler Séguin is made. He says he likes Alex, he’s a goal scorer, had an injury last year, is part of his planning. Everything right now is a rumour, but yes, hockey is a business.
–still working on improving the D, the depth, are still trying to improve all positions.
–Charles Hudon part of your 12 forwards? He’ll have every chance in the world to earn a spot. You can’t promise a kid that he’s made the team, but he’ll have a good chance to earn a job. Some players take longer than others.
–Back to Drouin, there’s a fear that he’ll be on a tight leash. Will you let him play his style? Why not, he replies. We’re looking for offence. Players respect the team structure, and coaches respect the players’ skills. I never handcuffed a player, I wanna score goals as much as anybody. The emphasis I have is on getting the puck as quickly as possible and going back on offence. No sitting back, no playing back on our heels. JD will have the opportunity to play that way.
–He’s a special talent, his vision, his playmaking, his scoring, he’s young and will keep progressing, he’ll accomplish big things with the Canadiens, we gave a lot to get him in Mikhail Sergachev, but it’s a good hockey trade. Marc Bergevin deserves a lot of credit.
–Do you take Alex Galchenyuk as a challenge to get him to another level? My challenge as a coach is to give players the opportunity to improve and achieve things even better than they hoped. Despite what some may think I have a great relationship with him, we have clear communications, he understands, and he really wants to improve.
–Does he need more talking than others? No, kids today generally need more, more motivation, more explaining, I like to take the time to do this with players.
–Any other players who are in the system who are close to making it? I saw lots, Nikita Scherbak, Jacob de la Rose, even Stefan Matteau had a couple of good games when I saw him play, he had a good end to his season, he’s a young player, you don’t give up on young players, you have to be patient. Young Juulsen has good vision, good mobility. I coached Junior, I can assess where kids are and where they need to improve, what they need to work on.
–We won’t make any additions to the coaching staff. We’ll miss Clément Jodoin, but right now, we’re happy with our group.
–About Alex Radulov, we know he’s a good player, but at this point a coach has to respect his GM, he has to make the right decisions for the team for the present, the future. With the salary cap, things have changed a lot, it was easier before, we’d give the player what he wanted. Every team is in the same pickle. We’ve seen a lot of trades recently for these reasons. We’d like to have him back, and if Marc can come to an agreement, we’ll all be happy.
–David Schlemko has been through many teams, but he’s different now than he was early in his career. He’s figured out his game, what he’s good at. Possibly won’t play in the Top 4, but possibly he can play on the powerplay, he sees the ice well and is able to transport the puck. I think he’s a good addition to the team, last year he was around 17-18 minutes a game in the playoffs. He had strong minutes, an element of trust from his coaches.
--RDS's Benoit Brunet is recommending Karl Alzner as a potential partner for Shea Weber on the Canadiens’ first pairing.

He impresses me less every day with his ‘analysis’. This borders on incompetence.  

Universally, it's recognized that Shea needs a fleet-footed partner who can race back to get the puck, and take care of rushing it up-ice.  That complements his strengths.

Having a thumper like Marc Méthot on the same pairing wouldn't help in that regard at all.  Marc Méthot works well with Erik Karlsson because of this sharing of duties: he takes care of the defensive zone, the corners and clearing the front of the net, while Erik gets the puck going towards the offensive zone.

--So the Draft goes as planned, Nico and Nolan go 1-2, so I was right, no surprises at the top.

Ahem...
Never mind the current lip service paid to talent and speed in the NHL, the old guard still runs the NHL, as we are reminded at every GM meetings, with their futzing over the dreaded hand pass or the millimetre offside call Zapruder reviews.

If the team with the #1 pick passes up a right-shot 6'3" centre from the WHL in favour of a 170 lbs Swiss-born LHJMQ product, I'll eat your hat.

So I wasn't completely right...

The only real surprise is that Ron Hextall doesn’t disembowel Elliotte Friedman and chew on his viscera live on TV when being interviewed. That maniac should be in jail with Dale Hunter.

--Tom Gaglardi, who got outmanoeuvered trying to buy the Canucks and ended up with the Stars instead, wishes a “shutout” to the fans back home in Dallas.

How does that consolation prize taste Tom?

Mild surprise for me that they go with a defenceman at 3rd overall, with Miro Heiskanen to boot, but all the pundits mentioned that after the second pick, everyone’s lists were all over the map.

--I see that Josh Kroenke is the President of the Colorado Avalanche. I’m sure he’s a hockey man who worked his way to the top fair and square.

Like Charlie Jacobs with the Bruins, putting everyone on the team on notice that their performance wasn’t up to par, once he takes that silver spoon out of his mouth.

Cale Makar goes fourth overall. One scout on TSN 1040 Vancouver said about the AJHL, the league he played in, that if the BCHL is Tier 2, the AJHL was Tier 3.

--Canucks at #5 don’t go with a big center in Gabe Vilardi or confirm the Cody Glass hype, but take Elias Petterson, a kid who has a lot of chemistry with another Canuck prospect, Jonathan Dahlen.

--Las Vegas Shiny Precious Metal Myrmidons take sparkly Cody Glass, which surprises me a little. I would have guessed the way this was shaking out, that they’d take Gabe Vilardi, maybe the only player other than Nolan Patrick who’s likely to play in the NHL next season, just because he’s physically more mature.

George McPhee goes with pure skill, and takes a stringbean.

Chapeaux on the menu for this amateur armchair scout.

--The Sabres with centre Casey Mittelstadt at 8th. He’s 18 but looks like he’s 15. He’s one of the kids who couldn’t do a pullup. Finally someone Jeff Petry can push around.

Gabe Vilardi falling further than I thought likely.

--The Red Wings pick up Michael Rasmussen, maybe this year’s Logan Brown, big kid but you have to ‘project’ how he’ll end up as an NHL’er. He’s much more physically developed though, Logan Brown famously avoided weight training, his dad Jeff Brown thought it wasn’t good for a growing teen.

--Classy of Chicago fans, that warm welcome to former Blackhawk GM Dale Tallon. Not sure they did a good enough job of booing Gary Bettman though.

Owen Tippett goes to the Panthers at #10, a little earlier than he was projected by the websites, but exactly where Bob McKenzie’s list had him.

--Friggin’ Kings get another heavy centre in Gabe Vilardi. How about that kid to add to Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter to their centreline?

--Martin Necas to the future Québec Nordiques, the Hurricanes at #12.

GM Ron Francis looks like he could still play. Never hated that guy, when he was a Hartford Whaler and was a handful every game we played him.

--Cal Foote my foote, Stevie Y. I hope the kid busts in Tampa, like that other d-man you acquired recently.

--Las Vegas goes small, Nick Suzuki at 13 and Erik Brannstrom at 15. I guess they’re not going for the goon show as some of us thought at the expansion draft, with Deryk Engelland leading the way.

--Burkie chooses not to be a caricature of himself, doesn’t have the tie loose and unfastened around his neck on stage. The Flames take Juuso Valimaki, not someone I thought was a target for us, being a RD.

--Mark Hunter announces for the Leafs. Gee I had high hopes for him when we drafted him, him and Gilbert Delorme. I thought they’d eat Bruins for breakfast for a decade those two. “Finally some size”, I thought, as an impatient pre-teen.

Timothy Liljegren is their man, a kid who was projected Top 3 at the start of the season, but had a tough season reportedly.

--Urho Vaakanainen, to the Bruins at 18th.  Nothing personal kid, but from now on I hope your North American career goes about as well as Magnus Nygren’s went.

And still nothing personal, but keep rocking that deathly pale pasty complexion, it’s very becoming.

I can feel the hatred growing already…

--At #19, the Sharks take Josh Norris. Bob McKenzie had him at 23. He apparently did well at the Combine.

As I mentioned before, in March and April, some mock drafts had him still in range for the Canadiens to pick with their second-round picks.

We might be witnessing a rush to overdraft centres and d-men here, kind of like in the NFL, where QB’s go zooming up the charts the closer you get to the draft, and the likes of Blake Bortles go second overall. Everybody needs a QB, you know you’re going to pick one, and even though a player ‘should’ go no higher than the third you think, you need one and if you wait until the third he’s going to be gone, because your division opponent will take him in the second round to beat you to him, so now you take him way too early in the first round.

And sure enough, the Blues save us from ourselves by picking centre and schlocky warbler Rob Thomas.

--Rangers take Filip Chytil at #21, whose biggest question mark isn’t consistency and strength, as listed by Sportsnet, but how the heck you pronounce this guy’s name. Not a guy I have a crush on, so who cares.

But Marc Bergevin is on the phone as we speak…

--Ha! The Oilers do me a favour and take Kailer Yamamoto at 22, and out of consideration for the Canadiens.

Good on you kid, you get to play with Connor McDavid, and brutish big brother Milan Lucic.

Now I fear Conor Timmins the most.

--Pierre-Olivier Joseph was one of the players who I thought we’d snap up, based on need now that Mikhail Sergachev is gone, but who I didn’t follow and wasn’t crazy about as a prospect, for no particular reason. The Coyotes pick him up at 23.

The Popugaev dream lives.

--Kristian Vesalainen to the Jets.

So many options left. Marc, trade down, trade down!

--We  take 6'2" centre Ryan Poehling, from St. Cloud in the NCAA, at #25.

Okay, not too too bad, not too too bad. Not enough manoeuvering and engineering and trading down for my taste, but a big character kid who plays centre, I won’t sneeze at.

We need to take into account that he was the youngest player in all of American college hockey.  He graduated a year early from high school so he could play with his older twin brothers.

It gives him extra character points in my book, a kid who takes supplemental courses over the summer to graduate early, that’s not easy to do. Some of them want to goof off, and end up not being able to do a pullup, for example.  

--I don’t get my wish here, quite. I did want a player who complemented our prospect pool, and one who added size to it, so two checkmarks there, but I wanted to go high-skill, with a Nikita Popugaev and/or Maxime Comtois, or even Klim Kostin while we’re at it. Having sniffed this haughtily, I’ll acknowledge that this pick doesn’t rub me the wrong way. This is no Alfie Turcotte.

Ryan Poehling is a pretty good shiny new toy to play with, even though I didn’t get my Rock’em Sock’em Robots, or the SmashUp Derby Set that looks so amazing on TV, with the cars flying through the air and the hood and doors popping off and everything. But I guess I’ll learn me lots of math and stuff with this educational Spirograph and another box of Legos.

And I don’t get my lawn darts that I wanted, but maybe the neighbour kid will get a set and bring them over and forget to take them back…

When I was spending time checking out mock drafts this winter, there was one where we got Ryan Poehling in the first round, Josh Norris in the second and Alexei Lipanov two picks later. And I was okay with that, three centres with decent size, over 6 feet all of them, and let the chips fall where they may.

--Ha ha ha, the Senators take Shane Bowers at 28th, the Mike Hough of the first round. Didn’t they learned their lesson with Curtis Lazar? Sorry kid, but you’re a bust too, I’m building my voodoo doll tonight.

--The Stars took goalie Jake Whoever at 26, and the Flyers Morgan Whatever at 27th, blah blah blah, who cares, now that we’ve picked.

--For a second there, I thought Stan Bowman blanked when it was time to announce his pick, like Bobby Clarke with Claude Giroux. But no, he was only ‘acting’, such as it was. In the dramatic reveal, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane announce the choice, Henri (no, he’s not ‘french’) Jokiharju.

Will Maxime and Nikita last all the way to the end of the second round tomorrow?

--Great, great post on Hockey Inside Out by 'Calgary Steven', on our first-rounder, which I copy here without his permission:
Calgary Steven
I
In a previous life, in my mis-spent youth, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… I lived in St. Cloud and attended SCSU to get some credits so that I could go to grad school. St. Cloud is, well, Drummondville. It gets no respect. It’s the closest big town to the fictional location of Lake Wobegon which is somewhere up the road there near St. Joseph or Cold Spring in the heart of Stearns County. Now… Stearns County? So unique they named a syndrome after it. You can look it up.
St. Cloud State is the poor academic cousin to St. John’s University Collegeville which, like Lake Wobegon, is just up the road. One thing they do right though… is play hockey.
II
Texas has High School football as a religion. Indiana has High School basketball as a cult. Minnesota? Now, you ain’t seen nothing until you witness over a million fans come out to watch the High School hockey championships. Arenas are packed for ALL divisions, even the rinky-dink two room schools have teams and followings. It is not just a religion, after lutefisk and playing husker-du it is a mania, a way of life, a reason for making it through the cold cold cold winters.
High School hockey is life.
III
This kid skipped the last year of High School. Skipped it. It’s not done. It’s sacrilege. It’s telling all of the people in Minnesota that you don’t care if you play for the state champion in your senior year, you have your sights on something beyond, something bigger.
As a former-in-law would say “He’s got himself a bit too big for his britches youbetcha!”
Only… this kid pulled it off, didn’t he. And he didn’t go far. SCSU is a hockey school in the hockey state.
IV
Now he’s a Hab.
From friends who have seen him play recently, I think that despite being too big for his britches he still has his sights on something big. He’s a learner and as the central scouting report suggests he gets better by playing with better players.
Fearless prediction? We’ll see him soon.
And that’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where the women are strong, the men are good looking and the children are above average…
Didn't I say it was great?

--After a trade, the Blues take the Penguins’ 31st pick and take Klim Kostin, big kid with oodles of talent, but who didn’t have a great year overall, just struggled with production, with injuries.

Kind of tough on the kid, last guy out of the Green Room with the last pick of the round, while the tech guys are rolling up the cables and stacking the chairs around him.

--For what it's worth, Bob McKenzie’s list, usually the most reliable gauge, had Ryan Poehling at 19th.

NHL Central Scouting has him 13th among N.A. skaters.

--The plan for tomorrow: Keep our picks, and get Maxime Comtois and Antoine Morand and Nikita Popugaev.  Cross our fingers...

For those advocating we move up to take someone who 'fell' out of the first round, I prefer to have two second-round prospects rather than just one marginally more highly ranked second-rounder. And the math and the probability support this, you’re better off with two lottery tickets than one, they’re essentially the same likelihood of paying off. Studies show trading up is a mug’s game, trading down and getting more picks is the way to go.

We don’t have the prospect depth to trade up , we don’t have the picks. Let’s let the draft come to us.

We get in trouble when we think we know who we want, and trade up, thinking ‘he’s the guy’. Jarred Tinordi was the last time we traded up.

--Before we get carried away and start saying Ryan’s 6’3″, 6’3″ “and still growing”, let’s get this right. At the Combine, he measured in at:

Ryan Poehling: 6-foot-1.75, 176.55 pounds

Because that's what we do.  Mario Tremblay a couple years ago kept exaggerating, and had Jiri Sekac at 6'4", 220 lbs at one point.


--See you tomorrow bright and early, for rounds 2-7.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Jim Benning on the Canucks prior to the NHL Draft

Jim Benning visiting with TSN 1040’s Matt Sekeres and Blake Price, who are in Chicago for the Draft:

–On losing Luca Sbisa in the expansion draft, he knew/expected that they might lose him, he played well last season, was physical, they’re gaining cap room but it’s till a loss for the team. It’s an opportunity to change the look of the defence and the team.

–Still happy with his defence, Alex Edler, Chris Tanev, Ben Hutton, Troy Stetcher, Erik Gudbranson as the core, and youngsters Phillip Holm, Andrey Pedan, Olli Juolevi who’ll have a chance to win a job at camp, plus now extra cap room to make moves.

–There’s a chance Phillip Holm and/or Oli Juolevi make the team in camp, Holm has good size, plays physical, he’s good defensively, and is more of a two-way than an offensive d-man. Olli had good camp last year, played well in an exhibition game. He’s a smart player, if he gets stronger he can break in sooner than expected of a young defenceman.

–He’s still not sure about which players will go 1-4 in the draft, whoever is available at fifth “we’ll be happy with”, there are a few players they have their eye on.

–They’re not going to look to move up, don’t want to give up a pick or young player/prospect to do that, but they may look to move down a spot or two depending how it goes.

–Picks get more valuable the closer you get to the draft, price goes up not down as you get closer. May try to move back into the mid or late first round depending on what players are still available.

–To move Chris Tanev, they need to get a dman back, so there’s not much chance of that happening. He’d help with Olli Juolevi and Ben Hutton breaking into NHL. “We’re not looking to move him.”

–About Erik Gudbransson going back to Florida now that Dale Tallon is back in charge there? Having lost Luca Sbisa and Nikita Tryamkin, they really need his physical side. Not concerned with ‘new’ NHL, where supposedly big tough defensive defencemen have fallen out of favour, Erik has a role to play, maybe the young kids who are mobile might fit with him. He played a lot with Brian Campbell in Florida, played well, maybe we need to find him a partner like that. He will kill penalties a lot, will be a big part of his job.

–On Cale Makar, it doesn’t matter what league you play in, if the foundation of your game is strong, if your skating, passing, and vision are good. He’s a good player, he’ll have a good year in college next year. Fair point to make about the quality of competition he faced in the AJHL, and how loaded his team was, but he’s so smart, he’ll be good anywhere.

–About giant defencemen, who were much in demand when he won the Cup in 2011 and the ‘Boston Model’ was in vogue: the last couple of years the game has gotten so fast, you need mobile defencemen, who can skate the puck out of trouble or make a good first pass, who can close the gap. 6’7″ guys can still play if they can skate. Nikita Tryamkin for example could skate pretty well.

Losing him is tough, after having moved up in the third round to pick him, and it’s hard to sign those guys. Worked really hard with him early in season to get in shape for the NHL. It’s hard to find guys that big who can skate.

–The AHL coaching situation not an issue, they’ve been busy with other things, “we’ll take our time to make sure we hire the right guy for our team in Utica.”

A left-shot sidekick for Shea Weber

Scanning the UFA rolls last night, I saw some suitable options to play next to Shea Weber on a first pairing and take on 22-25 minutes a night.

Two lefties with skating and offensive ability, who aren’t perfect but might complement Shea’s skillset quite well, in a ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ kind of way, and fit nicely into our cap space, are Dmitry Kulikov and Michael Del Zotto.

Both have seen their value take a dip in the last couple of year, especially Michael Del Zotto, who had an inflated reputation playing in the NY Rangers spotlight. They’re still defencemen so they’re going to be hot commodities as we come to July 1, but we’ve cleared a lot of cap space with Alexei being claimed by Las Vegas.

The attractiveness of these two guys is greatly increased by the fact that we can sign them outright, instead of a Marco Scandella, who we’d have to pay dearly for. Getting either of them without having to surrender Chucky is worth getting into a bit of a bidding war.

And I know the chorus will chime in and say that Mr. Kulikov hasn’t really panned out yet, he’s inconsistent in terms of effort and results, or that Michael Del Zotto is a one-trick pony, all offence but terrible in his zone, but we have to look at how they’d fit in with Shea Weber. Not only do they need to be very mobile and good at moving the puck, we can ‘afford’ the fact that they’re not Craig Ludwig in the defensive zone if Shea is there to pick up the slack.

Two other options might be Trevor Daley or Kyle Quincey, two veteran d-men who can pitch in for a couple of seasons.

So the LD situation isn’t quite as dire as you’d believe if you strictly go by what you read on social media, but then again, that’s par for the course.

2017 Pre-Draft Musings: Maxime Comtois, Nikita Popugaev, Isaac Ratcliffe

As we approach the 2017 NHL Draft, it's hard for me to have a clear sense of direction, of what We should do, 'we' being our beloved Canadiens.  Before the Jonathan Drouin trade, I felt we should cheat towards taking a forward, since I thought our defenceman situation was settled, having spent two first-rounders in consecutive drafts to pick a solid prospect in RD Noah Juulsen in 2015 and LD bluechip prospect Mikhail Sergachev.

So I thought much like I did in the leadup to the 2012 draft that our defence situation was 'settled', with surefire draftees Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu ready to hatch, assuredly in the bank, so we could concentrate on the everlasting quest for 'notre gros joueur de centre', a worthy successor to Peter Mahovlich, Bobby Smith and Vincent Damphousse.  And presto, we landed Alex Galchenyuk at 3rd overall, and things were just going to go swimmingly from there.  We jubilated.

In my mind as I kept an eye on the prospects on offer this season, I mostly looked at forwards and specifically centres, with Noah and Mikhail having good-to-strong seasons.  Our draft position though didn't look like it would help us land that great centre prospect, since we led our division the entire season.  I looked at mock drafts all season long, keeping my eye in the 20-30 range to give me an idea of who we should target, and wouldn't you know it, we'll pick 25th tonight, barring a trade.

Two players who caught my eye during CHL broadcasts on Sportsnet and TVA Sports were Nikita Popugaev and Maxime Comtois.  They played well with gusts to great in spurts, in the Canada-Russia series and the Top Prospects game.  I was wowed by Nikita Popugaev, how big and smooth and fast he looked, how scory he was, unleashing that shot of his.  I was seduced by Maxime Comtois playing his best against All Stars, and the writeups, my lord the writeups.

I didn't figure on either of them being in range though, ranked so high were they, yet little warts appeared as their season went on and they fell down the rankings until they are now well in range, if we are to trust Bob McKenzie's list.

So now I want to stake my claim that I want them, and we could get both of them conceivably, even with a trade down from 25 if the opportunity arises.  They both bring great size already, a profile we don't currently have in our prospect pool and which would complement our farm system.

Maxime Comtois had a tough year points-wise, which can be blamed partly on not having his projected centre Pascal Laberge to feed him the puck, being injured for most of the year.  His effort or effectiveness in both ends of the ice never waned though, and the reports from scouts and observers assure us that he meets the character quotient required by GM Marc Bergevin.  We know that Canadiens scouts spent a lot of time watching his games.

One thing which I appreciated about Maxime is that he played better against more talented competition, against all-star lineups.  He showed opportunism and an extra gear when it counted.

Nikita Popugaev had a decent season, but a little disappointing point-wise based on his production last season and early this year.  After the trade to Prince George, he never seemed to get going, and reports were that his focus and effort wouldn't always be there every game, every shift.

Yet you can't deny his wizardry at times, his great size and talent.  With a prospect pool laden with William Bittens and Donald Audettes expected to carry our hopes and dreams in our putative future Top 6, his 6'5", 215 lbs frame would be a nice counterweight, and he'd be a matchup nightmare in the NHL, much like Chris Kreider or Nick Bjugstad are when we're faced with them.

Another player who intrigues although I haven't seen him play really is Isaac Ratcliffe.  He's a 6'6" winger who has good hands and good skill, unlike guys like Michael Rasmussen or Logan Brown last year, guys who you had to 'project', that you valued due to their size but despite their production.  He scored 28 goals and 54 points for the Guelph Storm this season.

What I don't want to do when it's our turn to speak is 'reach' for a centre, just because we need a centre.  I don't want Rob Thomas and his brand of '90s schmaltz muzak.  I don't want an undersized Kailer Yamamoto and his 'has played some centre' pedigree.

I'd even take dark horse Klim Kostin and his injury-marred results this season, and bank on his great potential, rather than a Brian Skrudland-equivalent prospect.  Sometimes a Brian Skrudland turns into a Bo Horvat, but not really.  A Bo Horvat usually starts as a Bo Horvat.  More likely, a Brian Skrudland turns into a Brian Skrudland, or a Brady Vail or Louis Leblanc.

So let's inject a healthy dose of talent in our future, even if it comes with a higher level of risk.  Let's face it, when picking 25th, every one of the prospects left over has a few warts.  Sure, we might be missing on a Patrice Bergeron, but Patrice Bergerons don't usually stand out and yell "Hey, I'm Patrice Bergeron" if they wind up going in the second round.  And we'll be missing on him with another 25 or so teams.  Let's go for the high-ceiling type of prospect rather than the low-floor type.

In the second round, I'd go for anyone that will fill in some organizational need, as by then most prospects tend to 'bunch up' on The List, scoring essentially the same in scouts' minds.  What I'd definitely not do is combine those two late-round 2nds to move up in the second round.  We just don't have the prospect pool depth to sacrifice volume for The Guy Who's Falling.  Let's pick up as many bodies as we can in a 'flat' draft, with many players in the second being seen as equivalent to a weak mid to late-first round.

Having said that, one player who is intriguing with our seconds or the early third we got from the Sabres in the Nathan Beaulieu trade is Antoine Morand.  He's a kid who had some scouts touting him as a better prospect than Maxime Comtois prior to the season, except that his 5'10", 170 lbs frame would discourage some teams from drafting him compared to the NHL-sized Comtois.  Yet Antoine gets raves for his hockey IQ, his effort level, his leadership, and scored at a point per game pace this season on the Acadie-Bathurst Titan.

And of course, we have to pick up D'Artagnan Joly.  I mean, come on...