Welcome to the third post in this blog's assessment of which player will be Boston's top pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
Previously, we made cases for Kitchener captain Gabriel Landeskog and Niagara defender Dougie Hamilton. This time, we depart the OHL for the QMJHL and the league's (and entire CHL's for that matter) best team, the Saint John Sea Dogs. Gerard Gallant's crew has been running the table on the rest of the competition after getting off to a bit of a shaky start, and at the center of it all has been leading scorer Jonathan Huberdeau, who has impressed not only with his expected performance as a playmaker, but also as a lethal scorer and finisher, having tallied 36 goals and counting.
The purpose of this series is to provide the most in-depth profile of potential targets for the Bruins that you will find anywhere on the internet (that you don't have to pay for that is) and at the same time, to attempt to apply logical reasoning and scouts' thinking behind the process many tend to follow during every draft. While each NHL team operates differently than the other, the framework and strategies are largely similar, so even if you aren't a Bruins fan, this post should serve to be both informative and to possibly help you assess your own favorite team's chances of landing said player or where that player might fit in the overall scheme of things come June.
So, settle in and stay a while. We're about to make the case for: Jonathan Huberdeau.
Dateline: X-Cel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minnesota: June 24, 2011
A late-season surge by the Toronto Maple Leafs took the Boston pick out of the top-five and running for 1st overall. Sitting at sixth overall, the B's have watched while Adam Larsson, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Sean Couturier, Gabriel Landeskog and Dougie Hamilton have all come off the board at selections 1-5.
Sitting at the sixth overall selection, the Bruins are expected to decide between taking skilled defenseman Ryan Murphy, or perhaps going to the forward well one more time and adding an accomplished center like Niagara's Ryan Strome or perhaps a power forward in Brandon Saad or even skill pivot Vladislav Namestnikov our of London- all players in the OHL. And then there is winger (who can also play center) Jonathan Huberdeau, who along with Couturier is considered the cream of the Quebec draft crop.
After some deliberation and what was believed a failed attempt at moving down a few spots, the Boston Bruins' brain trust moves up to the stage with the team draft jersey in hand.
General Manager Peter Chiarelli steps up to the podium and makes the call that is sure to set off some debate by B's fans given that the popular choice in Murphy is still available: "With the sixth pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the Boston Bruins select, from the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL, forward Jonathan Huberdeau."
Playmakers are nice, but when you have someone who can both set the table and finish it off, then NHL teams sit up and take notice. One of those dual threats available in the 2011 draft is Huberdeau, who has been as consistent and deadly as they come this season for the stacked Sea Dogs.
Jonathan Huberdeau, LW/C Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
Height: 6-1 Weight: 168 Shoots: Left
Born: June 4, 1993 in St. Jerome, Quebec
Bio: 18th overall selection (R1) of Saint John in 2009 Midget Draft out of the Saint Eustache Vikings. Set a team record for rookie playoff goals last season with 11 en route to the QMJHL finals (Saint John fell to Moncton). Won a gold medal with Team Canada at the August Ivan Hlinka Tourney. Named assistant captain for Team Orr in the 2011 CHL Top Prospects Game played in Toronto.
Strengths: Good height with long arms and reach. Very good skater; rangy player with smooth, loping stride. Excellent hands; can stickhandle in traffic or dangle, using his long stick to maintain distance between the puck and would-be checkers. Soft touch for pinpoint passes. Gives and receives passes well. Heavy snap shot that he can get off very quickly. Accurate shooter who can elevate the puck in close or keep his bullet drives low to the corners when goaltenders give him an opening. Loves to score and looks great doing it. High-end offensive instincts; always around the puck and a deal-closer when the play is in tight to the net. One of the most creative players in the class; sees the ice extremely well and anticipates the unfolding play, knowing where his teammates will be and finding them with the puck. A good teammate; has a lot of flash to his game, but fits in well with the group dynamic because he isn't selfish nor does he put his own importance higher than others. Protects the puck and will go into the dirty areas. Versatile; can play center or wing. An asset more on the power play now, but has penalty killing potential at the highest level if he develops his positional awareness/play away from puck. Character kid who works hard and is a leader. Already speaks English very well, so will have no cultural challenges when he makes the jump to pro hockey.
Here is some video evidence of Huberdeau's offensive flair, compliments of Jerome B. at nhldraftvideo
For more on Huberdeau, check out this cool video by John Moore on YouTube.
Weaknesses: Extremely slight frame; lacks in physical maturity and will require significant conditioning and added mass to set himself up for the rigors of the next level. Although willing to do the dirty work along boards and down low, often gets overpowered because he lacks the functional upper- and lower-body strength that should come to him in time. High center of gravity makes him susceptible to being knocked off stride. Defense is a work in progress; play without the puck needs to improve. Not an overly physical player or fighter, but that is not a knock-- he simply plays a skill game and doesn't concern himself with things like fighting (though he did have a spirited preseason row with Montreal's Matt Provost, so the gloves are not glued on).
Style compares to: Jeff Carter With 36 goals, 51 assists and 87 points in 56 games with Saint John this season, Huberdeau shows off the same kind of scoring balance between the finish and set-up as Philly's star pivot.
Why the Bruins would pick Huberdeau: The team is still looking to upgrade its long-term offense, and a player like Huberdeau could one day be deadly on the left side with a center like Tyler Seguin and possibly a right winger in Jared Knight. Can you think of a better mentor for Huberdeau than Patrice Bergeron? Huberdeau has all the offensive tools you look for, plus nice intangibles like work ethic and an honest desire to round out his game and get better defensively. With a top-10 pick like the one the Bruins are likely to get from Toronto, teams want to swing for the fences and hit on a player who has star potential, and Huberdeau certainly fits that category given his superb offensive skills and other qualities. Anytime you can add a player who is versatile in terms of being able to be effective at multiple positions and who can both pass and score, most teams will jump on that. We wouldn't be surprised if Huberdeau were to break into the top-5 of this draft class when all is said and done, but getting him at 6 is the right kind of value and upside for a team who is in bonus time picking where it is while finishing with a much better record.
Why the Bruins would not pick Huberdeau: If the team was dead set on adding a skilled defenseman to the ranks, Boston could pass on Huberdeau. From the looks of it, he's going to need at least one, maybe two more years of major junior, before he'll be physically ready for the NHL grind, and even then, Boston is pretty deep with forwards so he could have less appeal. Honestly speaking, though, there aren't any major reasons to shy away from him, and if the Bruins were picking sixth and he's available and not gone one pick earlier, he makes more sense for them there than anyone.
What scouts are saying:
"The biggest surprise for me this year with Huberdeau is the goal scoring. I knew he was an excellent passer from seeing him last year, but I didn't see how aggressive he was going to be at taking the puck to the net and finishing off the play. He put a lot of work into his shot, and he's playing with a lot of confidence. The puck is going in a lot for him, and I don't see that it's a fluke. He's got some real upside."- Quebec-based NHL scout for Western Conference Team
"Without the work of this fluid, imaginative playmaker, there's no way (Zack) Phillips would be second in the Q in goals scored."- Red Line Report, December 2010
"Showed really soft hands on his rebound goal tight near crease. Beautiful look and cross-ice feed to set up one glorious PP chance. All-around impressive game. Made some instinctive plays at both ends. Stood up for himself and whacked a few guys with his stick. Lots of upside."- Red Line Report, February 2010 (CHL Top Prospects Game review)
Here's a good video that features Huberdeau along with fellow Saint John prospects Nathan Beaulieu, Zack Phillips and Tomas Jurco, all of whom played in theTop Prospects Game in January. Be sure to click on the "Top Prospects" video on the media tray to bring it up and play. Good interviews with all of the Sea Dogs there including Huberdeau.
Bust factor: Low. There is simply too much skill here for him to be a complete bust. The question NHL teams will face when making a decision on Huberdeau is whether he will reach his impressive potential ceiling, but given his benefits, he'll still likely play and make an impact in the NHL. There simply isn't a lot of risk with a player like this, so anything incurred is well worth it given the possible payoff, especially if you team him up with other creative skill guys, which the Bruins have either on the team or coming up through the ranks. This guy has the word stud written all over him.
The verdict: The Bruins need blue-chip talent at any position, but have to balance the risk of taking a dynamic but small defenseman in Murphy as high as six with the possible boom of a 6-1 scorer/playmaker like Huberdeau. True, the Bruins have some nice upside forwards in their system like Knight, Ryan Spooner and Max Sauve, but Huberdeau might have better offensive potential than all of them. When you have the opportunity to grab a player like that, even if it may appear that the cupboard is bare at other positions, you do it instead of reaching for a riskier prospect even if he plays a position that your team is not as strong in. It's the old adage that if you stock up on enough premo talent at one position, you can always move the surplus later to address shortcomings in other areas. Huberdeau's star is on a meteoric rise, and if he finishes out the year with nearly 50 goals and 100+ points, then he's hard to pass up, assuming he's even there at six of course.