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This may be an outdated, impractical way of looking at things in today's conditions, and may be difficult if not impossible to achieve compared to what conditions existed in the sport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 with an earlier incarnation of the Canucks, who 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.

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