First-Round and Beyond: Power Forward Prospects
Thank you to everyone who provided feedback on my recent blog about sleeper defense prospects available in the 2013 NHL Draft. I agree that the profiles of 46 potential draftees -- mostly discussing players who are unlikely to be selected in the first round -- was a bit of informational overload. In order to increase readability, I will break up the remainder of the blogs in the series into bite-sized pieces of 10 to 15 profiles.
Today's topic: power forwards. Of all the forward roles in the top nine of NHL clubs' rosters, it is the net-front power forwards who are the most likely to have been later-blooming players who were originally selected beyond the first round of the NHL Draft.
Current Flyers left winger Scott Hartnell was originally a first-round pick by Nashville. Right winger Wayne Simmonds was the last pick of the 2007 second round when Los Angeles chose him. If one were to look at the top power forwards in Flyers history, most were players who were not particularly heralded in their draft year.
Arguably the best power forward in Flyers history, Tim Kerr was bypassed entirely in the 1979 NHL Draft and was signed as a free agent that summer out of Junior A hockey. Rick Tocchet, who started out as more of an enforcer and later became a dangerous goal scorer who also fought, was a sixth-round pick (#121 overall) by the Flyers in 1982. Scott Mellanby was a second round pick (#27 overall) in 1984. John LeClair was a second-round pick (#33 overall) by Montreal in 1987 and did not discover his NHL scoring touch until he was traded to the Flyers at age 25. Mike Knuble, a Detroit fourth-round pick (#76 overall), did not emerge as an NHL scoring threat until age 30. Gary Dornhoefer's early career pre-dated the NHL Draft but was hardly a junior hockey prodigy with the Niagara Falls Flyers.
On a league-wide basis, it is not uncommon to find non-first round power forwards who went on to notable careers. The ranks span the gamut of second-round picks like Adam Graves, Jamie Langenbrunner or Milan Lucic, third-round selections like Mark Messier, mid- to late-round picks such as Ryan Malone or Tomas Holmström and undrafted free agents such as the diminutive but fireplug-like Dino Ciccarelli.
Of course, some of the NHL's most prolific power forwards were originally first-round picks. This list is led by the likes of Brendan Shanahan (chosen second overall by New Jersey in the 1987 Draft), Dave Andreychuk (taken 16th overall by Buffalo in 1982), Owen Nolan (first overall in 1990), Cam Neely (picked ninth overall by Vancouver in 1983), Gary Roberts (12th overall by Calgary in 1984) Jarome Iginla (15th overall by Dallas in 1995 and quickly flipped to Calgary),Clark Gillies (4th overall in 1974) and Keith Tkachuk (picked 19th overall by Winnipeg in 1990). Former Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry was a late first-round pick by Anaheim in 2003.
Even so, the point remains that future NHL power forwards are among the more common types of players who were not considered top-end prospects in their Draft years. They are more likely to have certain deficiencies -- skating, puckhandling, defensive play, etc -- that work against them in their early years, but as they add muscle and gain experience, they find a role in which they can be effective.
Here are 10 potential power forwards available in the 2013 Draft, ranging from a couple of projected mid first round to second round candidates to a handful of players who could be available in later rounds.
Anthony Mantha (Val-d'Or, QMJHL)
: There will be some folks who will dispute the "power forward" designation for the 6-foot-4 right winger, because he is an above average skater with some finesse in his game. There are some who say he's not nearly physical enough and lacks jam (especially Red Line Report's Kyle Woodlief, who detests this prospect because he believes Mantha to be very soft) while others say he is as physical as he needs to be at his current level of play. What no one disputes is the fact that he has good hands with a formidable one-timer and deflection ability, is a good passer and is hard to take off the puck along the walls. As he reaches the pro level, he will have to use his size and strength to create opportunities for his finesse game, and not vice versa. For a reference point. think of the learning curve that Joffrey Lupul, James Neal, Bobby Ryan and James van Riemsdyk have undergone. Mantha also has some work to do to improve defensively but is already on the right track. The player, who was born a little too late for the 2012 Draft eligibility cutoff, made good strides in all areas this past season. He is a likely mid-to-late first-round pick but it would also not be a stretch if the Flyers took him with the 11th overall pick.
Kerby Rychel (Windsor, OHL)
: The son of hard-nosed former NHL forward Warren Rychel is more skilled, faster and not quite as rambunctious as his dad. Even so, there is plenty of sandpaper along with all-around ability to the 18-year-old's game. There are some who question how much he'll score in the NHL, but he's been a 40-goal scorer in each of the last two OHL seasons. He does much of his best work in cramped quarters rather than open ice, which could serve him well in the NHL. Primarily a left winger, Rychel can also play center. Generally projected as a lower-end first-round pick, I've seen the 6-foot-1, 205-pounder pegged as high as the top 15 and as low as the top 45. He could eventually play at about 215 pounds.
Ryan Hartman (Plymouth, OHL)
: A projected early second-round or late first-round pick, Hartman is a "ball of hate" power forward in the mold of someone like Steve Downie. He may stand just 5-foot-11 and weigh 185 pounds but he plays like a tasmanian devil in the way he forechecks and stirs up trouble both between and after the whistles. Let's put it this way: Hartman plays more of a traditional power forward style than many big finesse forwards who are classified with that designation based solely on their size. Hartman has a low center of gravity and no one underestimates his pound-for-pound strength twice. He's hard to take off the puck and, in fact, often separates much larger players from the disc. Originally a product of the US National Team Development Program, Hartman moved to the OHL this past season. He's not a natural goal scorer but surprises sometimes with pretty goals. Mostly, he tallies gritty goals around the net and has an extra skating gear in key situations. His defensive play is adequate but could stand improvement. The biggest challenge for him may be walking the discipline line because he's the type of player who needs to push the envelope to be effective and yet also has to cut back on the number of bad penalties he takes.
William Carrier (Cape Breton, QMJHL)
: Carrier was well on his way to being a projected first-round pick in the 2013 Draft when he sustained an ankle injury on Dec 12. Originally deemed a high ankle sprain, he had several setbacks in his recovery and would end up missing the rest of the season after posting 16 goals and 42 points in 34 games for a Cape Breton club that, apart from Carrier and linemate Alexandre Lavoie, severely lacked scoring punch. As such, Carrier saw a steady diet of opposing teams' shutdown defensemen and top checking lines. A typical power forward in the offensive zone,the 6-foot-2 left winger excels in cycling the puck down low and muscling his way to the net. He scores a lot of "pro-style" goals, collecting loose pucks, rebounds and tip-ins. A bonus to his game compared to other power forwards is that he is considered a responsible defensive player and, at least before the injury, was considered an above-average skater for a player of size and frame. He already carries about 200 pounds and could play at about 15 to 20 pounds heavier as he continues to mature physically. A wild card in the 2013 Draft due to the season-ending injury, he could still go in the second round.
Mike McCarron (USNTDP, USHL)
: The U.S. National Team Development Program product is already a monster physically at age 18. Standing 6-foot-5 and weighing 228 pounds, the winger is not shy about using his huge frame to his advantage when battling for the puck. He plays a physical, grinding style and there are very few players his age who are able to take him off the disc. There is also some raw but projectable skill with the puck. While he is not going to win a fastest skater competition, his skating skills are equal or better to many comparable-sized players who went on play in the NHL. Had 11 goals and 29 points and 166 penalty minutes in 49 USHL games this season. McCarron, a native of Gross Pointe, MI, has committed to Western Michigan University.
Connor Hurley (Muskegon, USHL)
: A dynamic talent at the famous Shattuck St. Mary's prep school and for Edina High School in Minnesota, Hurley finished last season at the USHL level (one goal, eight points in 11 games, one assist in three playoff tilts). He is committed to Notre Dame. The center is said to play a hybrid of a speed/finesse and power game that one scout likened to a "poor man's Jeremy Roenick at the same age but has the upside to be a pretty good NHL player of that general style." I have also read scouting reports that say the 6-foot-1, 175-pound center tends to play too much along the perimeter and needs to better develop his power game as he fills out over the next few years. Born right at the age cutoff date for eligibility in 2013, Hurley has plenty of time to develop before attempting to make the jump to the NHL.
Nick Baptiste (Sudbury, OHL)
: Heading into the season, Baptiste was expected to be one of the fast-rising sleepers in the 2013 Draft class, based on an impressive finish to his rookie OHL season a year ago. Instead, he had a slow first half and was ranked 105th in Central Scouting's mid-term North American rankings. However, in the second half of the season, the lightbulb clicked on for the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Ottawa native. From the month of December onward, he scored 17 of his 21 goals and 40 of his 48 points. As a result, he climbed to 61st in the final Central Scouting North American rankings. When he's at his best, Baptiste is a load to handle in the offensive zone. He can still use more consistency but the talent level gap between the projected first-rounders and someone like Baptiste, who could go anywhere from the second to fourth round, is not all that wide.
Nick Moutrey (Saginaw, OHL)
: A player who could be available in the third round of the 2013 Draft, Moutrey fits the general mold of the type of player who could eventually emerge as a pro-level power forward. At 6-foot-2, 208 pounds, he already has good size and has shown hints of scoring ability, although the left wing/center may need to play with a good playmaking linemate to get him the puck in scoring areas. Moutrey's stats this year on Saginaw were nothing special (16 goals, 43 points, 44 PIM in 65 games) but he has progressed at a steady clip from his first OHL season to his second. Moutrey is at his most effective when he takes advantage of his size and goes to the net.
Remi Elie (London, OHL)
: Playing on a deep London Knights team loaded with talented players, the 6-foot-1, 200 pound winger did not get much ice time until the latter part of the season and playoffs. He played well when given the opportunity to shine and brings solid all-around skills to the table. Next year will be more telling of his pro upside.
Greg Betzold (Peterborough, OHL)
: As an OHL rookie this season, Betzold ranked sixth in scoring (32 points in 67 games) for a talent-starved Petes team that had little offensive firepower. Despite his modest nine goals, Betzold made clear progress in using his 6-foot-2, 195-pound frame to win battles down low and get to the net. Ranked 100th among North American skaters in the final Central Scouting rankings. As a mid-round pick, he is a low-risk type who could blossom into a pro-caliber prospect in seasons to come.
Next up in the 2013 Draft Profile series will be the flip side of the coin from today's topic. I'll take a look at undersized skill players who could be sleepers in the Draft class.
Connections Matter in Draft Selection
As busy as NHL amateur scouts are during the course of the hockey season, logging thousands of miles and evaluating scores of prospects, there are only so many times they can get to view certain players. That's where networking and tipoffs play an important role in pointing NHL team's scouting departments in the right direction.
Here's a Flyers example: Ian Laperriere, the Flyers' director of Player Development, is close friends with former NHL player Joel Bouchard, who is now the president and general manager of QMJHL team Blaineville-Boisbriand. Last year, Bouchard accepted Lappy's invitation to serve as an instructor at the Flyers' summertime prospect development camp. Apart from lending his expertise on the ice, Bouchard brought along a couple of undrafted Armada players whom he felt the Flyers might want to evaluate first-hand (winger Christopher Clapperton and goaltender Etienne Marcoux) to participate in the camp.
Bouchard, of course, has connections in many NHL organizations. He would share his knowledge with any club that asked him for his assessment of his one his Armada players or other talents he has watched extensively. Even so, the trust factor between Laperriere and Bouchard is exceptionally strong. If Bouchard recommends a particular player as a potential future pro, that information is going to be shared with Paul Holmgren, Chris Pryor and the amateur scots.
For this reason, I have followed the rapid advancement of Blainville-Boisbriand forward Marc-Olivier Roy with particular interest this season. He has never been one of the ultra-hyped candidates available for the 2013 Draft (58th in the mid-term North American rankings and 54th in the final ratings). Instead, all that he did this season was consistently out-perform many of the more commonly mentioned candidates for this year's draft.
Roy did a little bit of everything. He showed off a very solid two-way game, while averaging over a point-per-game offensively (increasing his point totals from 17 goals and 39 points as a rookie to 29 goals and 67 points in 65 games this year). He was clutch in the playoffs after scoring eight game-winning goals in the regular season.
At 6-foot, 170 pounds, Roy has room to fill out a little more but isn't going to be a big bruising type. Instead, he is a mobile and versatile player with the potential to play either wing or center as a pro.
Keep an eye on Roy both on Draft day and in years to come. I would not be at all surprised if he is on the Flyers' radar for the 41st overall pick and, even if he goes elsewhere in the Draft, is the type of player who could someday end up having a superior pro career to many of the names that are called before his on June 30.
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