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Friday, May 13, 2011

The Gregory Hofmann dilemma

One player that B2011DW has championed ever since watching him live in Buffalo for Team Switzerland at the World Jr. Championships is forward Gregory Hofmann.

Our buddy Jérôme Bérubé has a nice compilation of Hofmann doing his thing over at the NHL Draft Video blog
Watch the video here

Hofmann is one of those smallish, rail-thin guys who is lacking in strength, but skates extremely well with quick burst, top speed and separation ability to go with some slippery, shake and bake moves in close quarters. He has excellent offensive instincts, soft hands and plays with real energy and passion.

We've said before that although the Bruins have never in their history drafted a player out of Switzerland, we would politic for him if we were a member of the scouting staff because he definitely seems to have that "it" factor when it comes to skill and upside. He's smart and versatile, able to play center or wing, and we found him to be a more complete and well-rounded guy than his highly-touted countryman Sven Bartschi at that tournament.

Now, for the bad news.

Draft guru Gare Joyce wrote a piece on Hofmann recently on the ESPN Draft Blog that could account for why he's lower on NHL radars based on talks we've had about him. Joyce's piece is from a pay site, so we can't reprint here, but to make a long story short: Hofmann may stay in the Swiss pro league rather than come over to North America to play in the CHL next season. NHL teams aren't crazy about the ease of schedule and good life that players enjoy over there, and in some cases, we know of teams that absolutely will not draft players from Switzerland who don't at least come over to North America to play. He also quoted a scout who alluded that the Swiss League is more of a gentleman’s circuit and that Nino Niederreiter and Bartschi, two of the most successful Swiss imports both playing in Portland of the WHL, were essentially let go because the league didn’t particularly care for the rugged/high intensity style (especially that of Niederreiter). Fascinating perspective on a circuit that few have any hard knowledge of.

B2011DW spoke to Hofmann at the WJC (translated through a teammate) and he gave the impression that he was fine with staying in Switzerland as well (interestingly enough- Joyce says the same thing using the term "wishy washy" qualifying that the response came through a German translator- Hofmann spoke Italian to his teammate who relayed it back in English to me). While his answer was diplomatic in terms of talking about how his focus was on the 2010-11 campaign and didn't want to look beyond it, we didn't get the impression that he was chomping at the bit to come over if any team was to draft him in the CHL Import Draft this June.

Hofmann seems like a nice kid- we emphasize the word kid because although he's a November 1992 birthdate, he looks more like 14 or 15- and we love his skill level. However, given the major work he needs in terms of his physical development, the fact that he doesn't speak English and may be one of those guys who is more comfortable staying at home to play and the kind of development he's likely to get with Ambri-Piotta of the Swiss pro league, we don't expect to see Hofmann come off the board very early unless an NHL club is absolutely in love with his potential and is willing to wait/work with him.

Full marks to Joyce for his analysis on this one. Hofmann is going to be talked about in internet chat rooms and will be a "sexy" pick for people in deep mock drafts because on paper, he has the skill to be a top-60 pick. Reality and the fact that NHL are far less willing to throw away picks in a seven-round draft, often times where teams have fewer than their allotted seven selections means that Hofmann will likely fall down, possibly out of the third round and maybe even fourth.

In a perfect world, every NHL team has a place for this exciting and talented player, but as Joyce said, Ambri won't want to lose him, and if he's fine with hanging around in Switzerland, what on earth is going to incentivize him to go ride buses for hours on a team like Prince George or Chicoutimi for example?

When looking at players in the draft, in certain instances, it isn't always black and white. There is a lot of gray area that drives teams and their decision-making process. Hofmann is case in point for caution taking precedence.

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