It's that time again. The annual SBN NHL mock draft is upon us and after hitting the proverbial nail on the head last season, with the mock draft selection of forward Lawson Crouse, this time we go defense with our pick of Boston University's Charlie McAvoy.
Sure, we've spent some time this offseason writing this and that about the Florida Panthers needing to select a wing, and by wing we mean right wing, at this spot, but with the trade of Erik Gudbranson and the acquisition of Vancouver's second-rounder (33rd overall) as part of the deal, the Cats now have options. A worthy forward (or two or three) will still be on the board when they make their next selection ten picks later.
Let's get to know the prospect we think the Panthers should tab with their first pick in the draft and why they should take him.
|2012-2013||New Jersey Rockets||MetJHL||42||15||39||54||47|
|Elite Hockey Group||OHL Cup||4||0||2||2||6|
|New Jersey Rockets||AtJHL||4||0||0||0||0|
|U.S. National U17 Team||USDP||54||7||12||19||58|
|U.S. National U18 Team||USDP||63||7||33||40||51|
To be sure (all debate aside), the trade of Gudbranson has changed things coming into this draft for the Panthers. Not only has it given the team a high second round pick, but more importantly, it has exposed a serious need in the Panthers organization for a right-handed defenseman. The NHL depth for the team on the right side now is Aaron Ekblad, Alex Petrovic, and Steven Kampfer. In the development pipeline is newly signed Swede Linus Hultstrom, MacKenzie Weegar (both of whom are likely to be in Springfield next season), Thomas Schemitsch (who has not been signed to an entry-level contract yet), and Joshua Brown (who spent most of last season in ECHL Manchester). By contrast, the left-handed defensemen include Dmitry Kulikov, Jakub Kindl, Brian Campbell (if re-signed), Dylan Olsen (if re-signed), Michael Matheson, Jonathan Racine (if re-signed), Michael Downing, and Ian McCoshen (if signed). Yes, the right side needs help.
There is a league-wide need for right-handed D-men, and, "no" its not just me saying that:
In the hockey world, at least recently, right-shooting defensemen have emerged as a rarity to the point where they’re very sought after by National Hockey League clubs.
There is also a rather poor selection of pending free agents at that position, and "no," its not just me saying that, as noted by the Vancouver Sun after the Gudbranson trade:
When the Boston Bruins inked blue liner Kevan Miller to a four-year extension worth $10 million earlier this week, fans had a meltdown – but closer inspection suggested that the team may have just been trying to lock up one of the few right-handed defensemen available on the market this summer. Some of the other names that will be floating around? Dan Boyle. Luke Schenn (assuming the Kings don’t lock him up soon). Zach Redmond. Jason Demers (again, assuming the Stars don’t lock him up). Tom Gilbert. Vancouver’s own Yannick Weber. Roman Polak. Marek Zidlicky.
Translation? It’s not a pretty selection.
Consider this offseason assessment of what the Nashville Predators are seeking and cross reference it with what you just read above:
Nashville is set with their top four on defence and Jackman works on the third pair, but the Predators could use one more legit NHL defenceman on the blueline. If Nashville dips into free agency, they would figure to be looking at relatively inexpensive right-shot options; say Yannick Weber, Eric Gryba, Ben Lovejoy or maybe Luke Schenn?
There will be much competition for the services of these underwhelming players and it will be expressed in big dollars, and big term. All that said, we are now adjusting our probable Panther draft strategy to include right-handed defensemen, and hopefully, one closer on the development timeline (as it takes D-men so long to get NHL ready). So here is one that fits the bill: Charlie McAvoy.
Lets start with the kind of review we like to see here, from Mike Morreale at NHL.com:
December 24, 2015 - "The 6-foot, 208-pound right-shot defender already plays a pro-style game. He might not be flashy but consistently has been steady as a freshman playing a top-four role at Boston University. McAvoy has one goal, six points, 18 blocked shots and 32 shots on goal in 15 games."
Good size. Already playing a pro-style game. Top-4 at BU, a big time program in the NCAA. College defensemen are usually farther along the development spectrum than juniors players, for the simple reason that they play against older, bigger, stronger competition. But Morreale isn't the only one who likes McAvoy's game.... a lot. Future Considerations:
November 2015 - "McAvoy is a slick puck moving defender who sees the ice with elite vision and makes passes with soft touch. He is a very strong skater with outstanding pivots and edge work; able to skate with the puck out of pressure and start the rush. He drives deep into the offensive zone and glides around with his head up looking for his best options. He is a deadly in transition and a real weapon on the power play. Has a heavy shot and has the potential to be a big NHL point producer."
Add to this a willingness to get nasty as well:
March 25, 2016 - "He’s a confident puck carrier who attacks openings with speed, but can also slow it down and patiently weigh his options. Always moving his feet, McAvoy is capable of slipping through gaps without the puck, or stickhandling around traffic while keeping the puck close to his body. He has a heavy shot that can be delivered with accuracy, and his passes are tape to tape, An undervalued part of his game is physicality, which gets him in hot water as he’s still learning the difference between a timely, legal bone-crushing hit and gross negligence of the rule book."
His coach at BU also focused on that physicality:
He’s got a physical edge to him, too. He’s a physical presence out there. The thing that I was very impressed with was how he handed the physical demands of college hockey, being as young as he was. He has great hockey strengths: Poise, coachability. There’s just so much to like about him."
It's all good. But perhaps too good. McAvoy is expected to go in the high teens in this draft, meaning he may not fall to the Panthers at 23rd, but hey, he's here in the mock draft, so we took him. He is ranked 23rd by ISS Hockey, 15th by Future Considerations, 6th by NHL Central Scouting (for North American skaters), and 11th by McKeens. And I have not yet mentioned the most intriguing part: he was the youngest player in NCAA hockey last year. The takeaway from that is simple: McAvoy is developing at a furious rate, and may be closer to NHL ready sooner than players the Cats already have in the developmental pipeline. That leads to an intriguing answer to this question:
Does he fit in Florida?
Undoubtedly, yes. Here is another comment from coach Quinn at BU:
"You hear a lot of comparisons to Doughty," Terriers coach David Quinn said. "That’s a lofty comparison. But here’s a guy who was the youngest kid in college hockey last season (not turning 18 until December) and he certainly wasn’t out of place in any situation."
Recall what I said earlier, NCAA hockey is known for a few things, most notably the ability to play against fully grown men. McAvoy noted this himself, stating:
On any given night, I was playing against guys who were from one to six years older.
But there is also what Michael Matheson described about playing at Boston College, and that was the fact that by playing fewer games than players in juniors, NCAA players get to spend more time in the gym developing their bodies for the game. McAvoy has been dedicated on that front as well:
When he arrived on Commonwealth Avenue, McAvoy weighed 216 pounds; right now he’s about 204. He had about 17 percent body fat, and he’s under 9 now. He’s really done a great job of taking care of himself and getting into better shape."
With a longer development time-line, defensemen do not normally hit their stride until their mid-20's (its no surprise that Michael Matheson was as ready as he appeared in his NHL playoff appearances and World Championships, this is a player who, by going the NCAA route, is older than Aaron Ekblad). But, again, because of the NCAA circumstances, by the end of next season, McAvoy will have a wealth of developmental experience:
as Grzelcyk moves into the pro ranks, McAvoy becomes a veteran leader for the Terriers,
With the positional scarcity of right-handed defensemen, and the likely free agent overpayments about to be dished out, it is imperative to develop defensemen from within. If McAvoy is still available at 23rd in the real draft, the Panthers must strongly consider making him their first round pick.
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McAvoy Highlights (courtesy of The Draft Analyst)