Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Restocking the Cupboard #2: Movin' on Down

[This is the second of a five-part series, going live every Wednesday on http://www.YourCanadiens.Info/, previewing possible Hab selections for the 2012 Entry Draft.  See Part 1, about who the team might pick if they hold steady at #3, HERE]

Last week, we discussed the four possible candidates for the Canadiens' first draft choice if they are to remain at 3rd overall come June 22nd.  But as I went over, none of them are without their issues, and even at that, whichever of the four that the Columbus Blue Jackets sees as the best for them won't be available by pick three, leaving the Habs to take the best of the rest.  This year's draft has more questions than answers.  So let's say that, for all the reasons specified, Trevor Timmins, Marc Bergevin, and co aren't convinced that the players who will be available at, say, pick 6-10, project with less certainty or less potential than those available at #3.  What happens then?

Yes, the team could still keep the pick, as at 3rd, they can go with "their guy" out of a greater number of available prospects.  But it's also possible that "their guy" isn't one of Mikhail Grigorenko, Filip Forsberg, Alex Galchenyuk, or Ryan Murray.  In this case, rather than just go off the board with a lower-ranked name, the team could trade down, swapping with a club that holds a pick later in the first round in order to collect other assets (like say an additional 2nd round choice).  While there are other options (trading up or trading the pick outright), today we'll look at where the team could trade down to, and who they might fancy at that slot.

The order of the first 28 picks of the draft have been locked in, and they are as follows:
1. Edmonton Oilers
2. Columbus Blue Jackets
3. Montreal Canadiens
4. New York Islanders
5. Toronto Maple Leafs
6. Anaheim Ducks
7. Minnesota Wild
8. Carolina Hurricanes
9. Winnipeg Jets
10. Tampa Bay Lightning
11. Washington Capitals (from Colorado Avalanche)
12. Buffalo Sabres
13. Dallas Stars
14. Calgary Flames
15. Ottawa Senators
16. Washington Capitals
17. San Jose Sharks
18. Chicago Blackhawks
19. Tampa Bay Lightning (from Detroit Red Wings)
20. Philadelphia Flyers
21. Buffalo Sabres (from Nashville Predators)
22. Pittsburgh Penguins
23. Florida Panthers
24. Boston Bruins
25. St. Louis Blues
26. Vancouver Canucks
27. Phoenix Coyotes
28. New York Rangers

Might the third overall choice be worth Tampa Bay's 10th and 19th?  Washington's 11th and 16th?  Buffalo's 12th and 21st?  Perhaps the Canadiens want to stay a little higher up than that, but could poach picks 6 and 36 from Anaheim or 8 and 38 from Carolina (Minnesota doesn't have its own 2nd round selection).  For this exercise, let's focus on the 6-12 range and some of the names that might interest the Habs.  The good news is, there is very likely to be a run on defensemen early on in the draft, since they make up a big part of the top rated prospect group.  So by trading down, the Canadiens should still be able to snag one of the top prospects at forward, an area where they have the far greater need.

If the team does opt for such a strategy, here's a look at five forwards and three d-men to consider with a later pick.

Radek Faksa - C - Kitchener Rangers, OHL
6'3", 202 lbs - Shoots L

Rankings: Central Scouting - 7th (North America); Future Considerations - 13th; The Hockey News - 11th

Faksa is a native of the Czech Republic who made the jump to the CHL this season after several years in Czech junior leagues.  Scoring 29 goals and 67 points in 62 games for Kitchener had him finish as runner-up to young phenom Aaron Ekblad for the Ontario League's Rookie of the Year.  In tournament play, Faksa scored 2 goals in 6 games for Team Czech Republic at this year's World Juniors (where he was the youngest player on his team) after a disappointing U18 a year ago had him pointless in 6 contests.  His production in these small-sample events dipped in the OHL playoffs as well, where he netted only 6 points in 13 games.  Those numbers may have been hurt by a head injury suffered in March, causing him to miss some playoff action, and potentially scaring a few teams that have or had interest in him who must now worry about concussions.

So what's to like?  If the Canadiens weren't drafting as high as they are, most fans would be clamouring to find a way to land Faksa.    A big and strong center, Faksa offers the kind of complete package scouts dream of: size, skill, good skating ability, and a willingness to backcheck hard.  He is built in the mold of a power forward and has success winning battles in the offensive zone, which is more his game rather than one of finesse.  His frame and reach make him difficult to contain for opposing defenders, which means as he fills out further he could become a dominating offensive presence.

Concerns about Faksa's play are relatively minor and can mostly be attributed to it being his first year in North America.  He started the season a little slow, normal for a player adjusting to a new country and league, but then picked it up, earning ice time and becoming one of Kitchener's top players.  However, later on in the year, whether it was a lack of endurance and conditioning in his own game or just struggling to deal with other teams keying on him more, he was less noticeable, which has kept him out of the top 10 in final rankings.

Definitely a top candidate for the Canadiens if they choose to move down, for the same reason the tools brought by Alex Galchenyuk and Mikhail Grigorenko make them likely picks for the team at #3.

Teuvo Teravainen - RW - Jokerit, Finland
5'11", 165 lbs - Shoots L

Rankings: Central Scouting - 2nd (Europe); Future Considerations - 8th; The Hockey News - 12th

The first thing you'll undoubtedly notice is the size issue; right away something that means Teravainen might not be an ideal choice for a team wanting to get bigger like Montreal.  But it's hard to ignore the elite level of skill and creativity Teravainen displays on ice, which makes him a dangerous threat who scored 11 goals and 18 points in 40 games in Finland's men's league this past season.  He was dominant against peers his own age, notching 12 goals and 20 points in just 11 junior league games, and adding 2 goals and 8 points in 6 games in this year's World U18.

His shiftiness with the puck is the skill that stands out the most, just as competent a scorer as he is a playmaker.  He isn't a dangler, but his vision and quick hands allow him to create room in the offensive zone.  He has quick feet, though isn't one to blow people away with his speed, which is a potential issue given that smaller players often need elite quickness to compensate for their lack of size.

This is basically what it comes down to with Teravainen: on the one hand, he has the ability to control a game, to patiently slow it down and create chances with the puck that always seems to find itself on his stick (all abilities scouts looking for in judging a player's upside), but on the other, adding strength to his frame is a real concern.  5'11" isn't "too small" for the NHL, but Teravainen is skinny, which makes battling along the boards and protecting the puck concerns for his future.  Ultimately scouts will have to determine if his huge offensive upside outweighs the concerns, and most seem to think it does, with McKeen's even ranking him in their final top five.  For these reasons, despite the team's need to get bigger, he becomes an option for the Canadiens whose biggest need is a top-flight superstar.

Brendan Gaunce - C - Belleville Bulls, OHL
6'2", 215 lbs - Shoots L

Rankings: Central Scouting - 13th (North America); Future Considerations - 18th; The Hockey News - 17th

Does Gaunce have enough upside to satisfy Hab fans in a year where the team starts off at third overall?  He did score 28 goals and 68 points in 68 games this season for Belleville, but how will that project in the long run?  These are the kind of questions scouts will have to consider if trading down for him is an option.

If Montreal were drafting 17th overall as they did a year ago, then Gaunce might be a perfect fit as a 6'2" center already possessing a thick enough frame to compete against men.  His big body lets him play a power and puck protection game, while also being an adept puck handler.  He possesses the leadership traits and intangibles that the Canadiens have historically loved to draft, and plays a good two-way game, reliable defensively, also a trademark of a Trevor Timmins pick.

While Gaunce sounds like an ideal center to build a team around, he isn't without fault.  Most notably, scouts are concerned about his skating, lacking both in top-flight speed and first-step quickness.  While he is a reasonable finisher, there are also concerns as to whether his offense will translate to the professional ranks.  Finally, while he is capable of being a physical, dominant player, there are times where the has lacked a bit of that intensity, so consistency is something he'll also need to work into his game.  This has polarized many scouts as to his future, some seeing him as a top 10 prospect from this draft class, filling out to be a top 6 power forward, while others see him as a later safe pick, projecting as a two-way third liner.  Based on this evaluation, it wouldn't be unfair to compare him to a Kyle Chipchura pre-draft, though Chipchura's development after being selected was largely derailed by injuries.  And just because Chipchura didn't pan out as Montreal had hoped, doesn't mean Gaunce will follow the same trajectory should he land with the Canadiens.

Zemgus Girgensons - C - Dubuque Fighting Saints, USHL
6'1.5", 200 lbs -
 Shoots L 
Rankings: Central Scouting - 18th (North America); Future Considerations - 19th; The Hockey News - 16th

There are a lot of similarities between Girgensons and Radek Faksa, also included on this list.  Future Considerations has Faksa 6 slots ahead of Girgensons, while McKeen's has Girgensons one spot ahead of Faksa.  Both are big European centers - Girgensons being Latvia - who came over to play hockey in North America prior to their draft year.  Girgensons has already been on this side of the ocean for three seasons, most recently playing the last two years with Dubuque of the USHL.  If you're hearing a lot about Dubuque lately, that is because there is a tie to recently hired Canadiens scout Bobby Kinsella, who served as Director of Scouting and Assistant Coach for the club for the past two years, meaning he has one of the better informed opinions of Girgensons of anyone out there.

Girgenson's 44 points in 43 games last season were a modest improvement from his 49 points in 51 contests the year prior, which has some scouts worried about his offensive upside.  He can play a physical power game, producing 2 goals at this year's World Juniors on a weak Latvian squad, and has the type of build that fast-tracks youngsters to the big league.  The question will be what role he can fill once he gets there.  While a natural center, many feel he lacks the skill set to project in that position long-term, with puck distribution not at the top of his list of skills, making some question his hockey sense.  His skating - while powerful and not a huge weakness - is also a bit of a concern, lacking a top gear.

Still, there is no doubting Girgensons's intensity and aggressiveness, which makes him a very safe prospect even if he ends up being limited to a third line role.  If Kinsella's recommendation comes in strong enough - and it likely will given that he served as Dubuque's captain this season - it is possible that the club works hard to nab Girgensons.  If it's not a trade down, maybe Girgensons's Latvian origin has him slip a little, and the club tries to trade up from pick 33 to select him late in the first round.

Sebastian Collberg - RW - Frolunda Jr. - Sweden
5'11", 175 lbs - Shoots R

Rankings: Central Scouting - 3rd (Europe); Future Considerations - 12th; The Hockey News - 14th

Like Teravainen, Collberg lacks the size Hab fans are dreaming of, but the winger packs a punch offensively.  Whereas Filip Forsberg was held to just a single assist in six World Junior Championship games this season, Collberg finished second on the squad with seven points, including four goals.  He was also dominant offensively in the World U18 tournament, where as one of Sweden's assistant captains, he scored 4 goals and 9 points in 6 games, but was also criticized for looking fatigued an umotivated at times after a long season.  Like Forsberg, Collberg spent much of the season playing against men in the Swedish Elite League, though he got very little ice time with Frolunda, held off the scoresheet in 41 games.  He spent 21 games with the team's junior club, registering 9 goals and 17 points in that span.

As a player, Collberg's quick and accurate release is probably his best attribute.  He's a great skater, and despite his size, doesn't shy away from traffic areas on the ice.  His defensive game is quite well-rounded with a solid work ethic making him a tough back checker, typical of many players coming out of Sweden and Finland the last several years.  Still, the lack of strength on his frame is concerning, limiting his effectiveness against bigger defenders, so it's something he'll need to work on if he is to produce at the North American professional level.  A final concern is his development if he remains in Sweden, as Frolunda can be tough on its younger players.  In addition to a lack of ice time, playing on a fourth unit, Collberg's game became one of puck retrieval, chip, and chase, limiting him from using his strengths in the attacking zone.

His style has drawn comparisons to the likes of Phil Kessel and Jeff Skinner, but if the Canadiens do decide that trading down for Collberg is what they're after, they might be wise to get him to join a CHL club for next year to continue his progression.  He may be on Trevor Timmins's radar, as when talking about top prospects for the upcoming draft, rather than single out Forsberg, Timmins alluded to, "the Swedes."

Mathew Dumba - D - Red Deer Rebels, WHL
5'11.5", 180 lbs - Shoots R
Rankings: Central Scouting - 11th (North America); Future Considerations - 10th; The Hockey News - 5th

The first of three blueliners on the list, Dumba is the smallest, which has undoubtedly hurt his pre-draft rankings.  However, he plays a lot bigger than the size he's listed at, which is both a compliment and a concern, causing some to fear for his longevity in the big league and his ability to handle his own in a men's league if his style doesn't translate against larger opponents.  His rankings are a little all over the place, with both McKeen's and The Hockey News having him as the #2 defenseman in the draft after Ryan Murray, while Future Considerations has four blueliners ahead of him.

So other than being a more physical player than he was built to be, what makes Dumba a top prospect?  He's got a well-rounded game, with vision that allows for great breakout passes, a heavy shot, and soft hands that help him make quick plays.  He possesses good leadership skills, rebounding after taking an early cut from Team Canada WJC camp very hard by captaining the country's World U18 team and producing a phenomenal 5 goals and 12 points in just 7 games to lead the club by a fair margin.  In Red Deer, he more than doubled his production from a year ago, scoring 57 points in 69 games to rank sixth among WHL rearguards.

Other than size, the only other real concern about Dumba is his consistency, as he can go through spells where he is less involved physically, and is caught watching the play, or being reactive rather than using the hockey intelligence he is blessed with.  But he is blessed with talent, and the rest (other than size) will mostly be worked out through coaching and maturity, so if Montreal wants to add a dynamic player - the kind who might have as good or better a career than anyone available at pick 3 - while picking up an additional selection, Dumba could be on their list.  He just might be my favourite d-man in the draft due to the exciting game he plays.  And as I've said before, I don't believe that the other top 10 blueliners are all that far behind Murray.

Griffin Reinhart - D - Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL
6'4", 205 lbs - Shoots L
: Central Scouting - 10th (North America); Future Considerations - 7th; The Hockey News - 8th

Reinhart is a consensus top 10 selection in the coming draft, blessed with the body that would make a guy like Dumba a contender for first overall this year.  Reinhart has hockey bloodlines - his father Paul is a former NHL d-man - which we know Trevor Timmins enjoys, and got added experience this year as his Edmonton Oil Kings won the WHL title and most recently competed in the Memorial Cup.

Reinhart may have the frame, but he doesn't play a physical, punishing game.  He is a two-way blueliner, less flashy than Dumba, having scored 12 goals and 36 points in 58 games this season, but makes up for what he lacks in toughness by playing a positionally sound coverage game in his own end.  He is strong, and even dropped the gloves on three occasions this season, but many would like to see him use his size to throw hits on a more regular basis rather than just relying on his long reach.  His skating is unique, often the case with young players who are adapting to their bodies, and while it shouldn't hold him back significantly, is an area he can strive to improve.

Perhaps the biggest positive with regards to Reinhart is that he improved significantly as the season went on. Players at this age are still developing as athletes, and it is a scout's job to project where they may be years in the future, thus to see a good learning curve is encouraging for what that future may hold.  As he gets increasingly comfortable in his role as a top pairing blueliner over time, we may see some of that toughness creep into his game with more consistency, which could make him an addition to a stacked Montreal back end some years from now.

Jacob Trouba - D - USNTDP, USHL
6'2", 195 lbs - Shoots R

Rankings: Central Scouting - 9th (North America); Future Considerations - 6th; The Hockey News - 9th

Future Considerations likes Trouba ahead of Reinhart, while both The Hockey News and McKeen's have him a little behind.  A little smaller than Reinhart, Trouba also plays an all-around two-way game.  However, where Reinhart can shy away from physical play and needs to work on his skating, both are core elements to Trouba's game.  Between his size, quickness, and toughness, he is difficult to beat in his own end, but he also possessed a hard point shot, which allowed him to score 18 points in 22 USHL games with the U18 team this season.  He was so good, in fact, that he made the American team for the World Juniors, contributing 2 assists in 6 games, and was later named an assistant captain for the World U18 squad, where he added a goal and 3 points in 6 more contests.

There is little at fault in Trouba's game, which the Canadiens might like when the players at the top of the draft all come with warning labels.  Critics sometimes worry about his puck-handling, which has many questioning whether his offensive skills can translate to the next level, but if he won't be a puck-rusher, his shot should mean it won't handicap him too badly.  He is a true competitor, but there are still some questions about consistency, though it is hard to gauge a player off such a small sample size with the US National Team Development Program.  He is expected to continue his development with either the University of Michigan or the Kitchener Rangers.

Now, if on draft day, prior to pick #3, we hear Gary Bettman utter those highly anticipated words, "We have a trade to announce," you have an idea of who it might be that the Canadiens are really looking to select.  Of this list, given the organization's needs, I'd be happy adding a Faksa or Girgensons.

However, truth be told, I'm not particularly in favour of the trade down option this year, even with a draft full of uncertainties and the need to bolster a thin prospect pool in Montreal.  It hopefully won't be often that the Canadiens get to speak so early on in an entry draft, and this gives them the opportunity to add a superstar-calibre player.  Sure, I'd be open to listening to offers for the pick, particularly if somehow Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk both go in the two spots before the Canadiens.  But in the end, I'd say draft your Galchenyuk or Mikhail Grigorenko and then hope for the best; all of the above players will make fine NHL'ers, but that's not the need.  Come June, a new star must be born to rise Hab fans out of their seats once again.

Next week, we'll look at the possibilities of trading up to nab Nail Yakupov with the first overall selection, or potentially trading the third overall pick away altogether.  The week following, we'll look at possible candidates for all of the rest of Montreal's picks in the draft.

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