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Friday, February 25, 2011

Bruins 2011 Draft: The Case for Jonathan Huberdeau

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.


  1. Nice post. As an Avalanche fan, for me, if the Avs don't get into the top 4 of the draft, I want either Strome or Huberdeau. Both seem to be dynamic offensive players that could likely both transition to the wing if needed.

    I like Huberdeau's size, but I like Strome's more all around play and compete level a little bit more.

  2. Like Strome a lot, too. But, I think fans outside Ontario would have lynched me if I did another OHL player. Strome will be featured here before the draft.

    Thanks for the kind words!

  3. I liked what I saw from him in the Top Prospects game, but before this "Case For" I wasn't too sure that he would be a good pick. After all (from what I've heard) the "Q" is an easier league compared to the WHL and OHL. Hell Yannick Riendeau put up 126 points in the QMJHL and now he is in the ECHL. Although Huberdeau does sound good, I really can't think of passing up Ryan Murphy...too much skill.

  4. I appreciate the feedback/commentary, but a couple of things, Pat-

    First of all, Riendeau is nowhere near the skater Huberdeau is nor does he have the natural size/height. Secondly, Riendeau did all of that as a 20-year-old...Huberdeau is 17. Compare Riendeau's production at the same age and it isn't close (Huberdeau 87 pts and counting- Riendeau 65).

    I can tell you that teams aren't ruling guys out because they play in the Q. The onus is on the regional guys who cover Quebec to sell the players on their bosses and management, but taking that kind of view means the Bruins would not have picked Jordan Caron...or even Patrice Bergeron for that matter. The fact is Huberdeau played very well against the top competition across the CHL in the Top Prospects game, and if Saint John wins the Q, he'll get another chance to shine in the Memorial Cup.

    As for Murphy, I like him fine, but there's more to hockey than just skill. I'm concerned about his lack of size and how that's going to play out when the league's top power forwards are screaming down the wing right at him. This is for the Bruins to figure out, but skill is only part of the equation and it isn't the only thing they'll be concerned with when making the decision and figuring out where Murphy is on their board. He could be the guy...but if he isn't, that doesn't mean they blew the pick either.

    Anyway- thanks for the comment and you guys will get to see the case made for Murphy eventually. I'm just going to make you guys wait a bit longer for it. Heh.

  5. I'm a little late to the party but here it goes.

    I love these "case for" articles because it gives me a sense of players i see for less than a hand full of games in a season. People who see the Q on a regular basis tell me they are really high on this kid.

    Looking at it from a Bruins perspective, i'ts been a while since they had a playmaking pivot with that natural scoring touch, so i like that a lot. On one hand though, they have Ryan Spooner who is also on the small side, just traded away the big center in Joe Colborne and dont looke ready to part with a Krejci, Bergeron or Seguin.

    Add in the marc Savard factor and it brings up an interesting question for the Bruins.

    While i have to give into your knowledge that he could be a year or two away from the NHL, I would say that Murphy probably is as well so i'm not so sure that it would be a factor in deciding between the two? Not to mention that the Bruins may re sign Kaberle which makes Murphy reduntant?

    You bring up two other guys in Strome and Saad. As you know i've been really high on Saad although he's slowed a bit as of late. Strome is the real deal and climbing. But IMO at number 6 or 7 I'm probably looking at Strome or Saad, but i am always biased to OHL guys.

    I dont know how many natural centers they can have playing the wing, which makes me lean towards Saad. He may be closer to the NHL than Huberdeau or Murphy or Strome.

    I will say this my friend, I dont recall a recent draft that has been this tight where you have half a dozen or more guys that could go from that 4-8 spot and not go wrong with any of the picks. I'd be ecstatic with any of the 4 you mention here, but i think they go for a forward unless the plan is to resign Kaberle and have both him and Chara mentor Murphy.

  6. Back and Forth

    I live South of Boston. I only read about and youtube these players. They all look good on youtube to me cuz highlights are easy to find and I don't have time to search for the lowlights.

    I'm hoping the B's end up with either Landeskog or Huberdeau. Not based on what I've read about them, but rather on what I haven't.

    When Kirk and others write about these two, not to many keystrokes or ink is need be spent on downside. I can't remember anyone writing things such as, "disappears at times" "won't go to the dirty areas" "needs better commitment to the other two zones"

    These guys have enough upside that they are probably both going top ten. But they are my top two. They seem to project to be complete top sixers and special teamers. Leaders too. Coutrier, Nuge, Larsson, Strome all may have more ups. But I spend more time reading about potential, for lack of a better word "busting" on everyone except GL and JH. If either of these guys went one or two would you think it would a case of playing it safe? Or am I overrating because of their "newness". I realize people have more time to observe and critique RNH, SC, AL....

    Any thoughts Kirk? Those who get too see live action?


  7. Anyone of these kids in the draft have a bust potential, but to me, after watching Landeskog for 2 years now, he is unbustable.

    I strongly believe that he will be the first, if not the only one, to crack an NHL lineup next season. The kid could be in the NHL today.

    I could find a critique in any one of these players games, as all of them have something(s) that need to be worked on.

    I've sat here staring down my laptop screen trying to come up with Landeskog's and about the only thing i could come up with is he's an unselfish player. At times, and its on very rare occassions, i'd like to see him a little more selfish.

  8. Landeskog doesn't quite have the skill or upside of some of those other players you mentioned, but he's got such strong intangibles like leadership, toughness, big-play ability, that he's likely going to come off the board before one or two of them.

    As for Huberdeau, he's really coming on. If anything, he's underrated. I would put Ryan Strome right in there with him, maybe ahead. There is no arguing Strome's production this season or how important he's been to Niagara's success.

  9. Kirk, I know you're still going to write your Cafe For Ryan Murphy, but I want a teaser now... what's the outlook for this kid?

    I was skeptical about the size thing too, until I realized that Chelios and Rafalski are both about the same. Is he smart enough and competitive enough to be an average in-his-own-zone NHL defenseman. If he is, add that to his offensive prowess and that's a pick I'd love to see the Bruins make.

    Murphy just seems to have some magic about him.

  10. Erin- Murphy is as skilled a defenseman as you will find, and has a great attitude. The questions are more in line with whether he'll be able to handle the physical grind. His supporters are fully on board, but it's not a consensus by any stretch.

    As for the size, I'll buy Rafalski, but no way on Chelios- he's bigger than Murphy.

    We all have to be careful about taking a needs-based approach to this high pick, which is what I have been seeing from fans all season. The Bruins have never drafted for need when in possession of a high pick, and I don't see them doing it now. But, anything's possible. The closer the pick goes to 8, the more likely it could be Murphy.

    And that would be just fine. It's that many feel that taking him at 4-5 is where the risk is highest.

    But, we shall see.