2017 Top 30 Habs Prospects: #20-#16

Welcome to the fourth installment of this year’s Top 30 Habs Prospects by Mitch Brown.

This segment features the most aptly-named prospect in the organization and a pair of slick playmakers with irregular development curves. This article looks also examines two defencemen, one who is graduating to the AHL after an illustrious junior career, while the other is just beginning his development in the organization.

Notes:

  1. All the information is “in my opinion.”
  2. The ranking likely has limited-to-no value. Think of the ranking as a way to catalogue players, notes, and data in a non-alphabetical way. The information within the profiles is far, far more valuable.
  3. I mentioned I’m not a scout right? If not, I’m not a scout.
  4. I appreciate all questions, comments, and criticism. You can reach me on Twitter (@MitchLBrown) or email (mitchbrown31@gmail.com). You can also tell me I suck. I don’t care.
  5. AHL/CHL/USHL Stats: Prospect-Stats.com | NCAA Stats: CollegeHockeyInc.com | SuperElit Stats: Stats.SweHockey.se | NHL Stats: Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com

Series Navigation:
Top 30 Prospects: Ranking Methodology – Integrating Statistics into Analysis
Top 30 Prospects: #30 – #26 – Success Rates of Swedish Jr. and USHS Defenders
Top 30 Prospects: #25 – #21 – Success Rates of CHL Overage Forwards
Top 30 Prospects: #20 – #16 – Balancing Players with Opposing Skill Sets and Development
Top 30 Prospects: #15 – #11 – Weighing perceived NHL-readiness with NHL Upside
Top 30 Prospects: #10 Will Bitten – Why His Season Was Better Than You Think
Top 30 Prospects: #9 Victor Mete – How Undersized Defenders Can Excel Defensively
Top 30 Prospects: #8 Josh Brook – Improving Shooting Location Through Movement
Top 30 Prospects: #7 Michael McCarron – Do Big Players Really Take Longer to Develop?
Top 30 Prospects: #6 Charlie Lindgren – The Reverse-VH and When Skill Takes Over
Top 30 Prospects: #5 Charles Hudon – A Case Study on the Impact of Aging for NHL Chances
Top 30 Prospects: #4 Joni Ikonen – Multidimensionality in Attack
Top 30 Prospects: #3 Nikita Scherbak – Comparing Scherbak In and Out of Form
Top 30 Prospects: #2 Noah Juulsen – How to Excel at Defending the Blue Line
Top 30 Prospects: #1 Ryan Poehling – Full Breakdown, Importance of Little Details, and More

#20) HAYDEN HAWKEY
Midseason: #15 | 2016: #23 | 2015: #HM | 2014: #30**
Acquired: 2014, 6th round, 177th overall (2013 eligible)
Position: G | Catches: L
Birthdate: 1995-03-01 | Nationality: USA
Team: Providence College Friars (HE-NCAA)
Height: 6’2” (188cm) | Weight: 187 (85kg)

Overview: Quick footwork and explosiveness are the aptly-named Hawkey’s two best traits … Refinement needed, but just starting to scratch the surface of the upside.

No NCAA goaltender played a larger percentage of his team’s minutes than Hayden Hawkey. Not only was Hawkey never pulled, he started all 39 games. | Photo: Ian Bethune, SB Nation

GPWLOTLSOSA/GPMinsSV%GAA
3922125325.3623520.9132.19

After two post-draft seasons of limited action, Hawkey finally had his breakout. The 2013-14 USHL Goaltender of the Year played every minute of Providence’s games, and was a huge reason for Providence’s big second half (along with major adjustments in defensive structure). Although Hawkey’s 0.913 SV% ranks just above the 60th percentile of NCAA starters, Hawkey posted a 0.922 SV% in the last 26 games.

A spotty first half in terms of wins turned into a nine-game win streak and 13 wins in the last 18 games.

What drove Hawkey’s second half success was his footwork. It’s ultra-smooth and explosive, perhaps the best of all five goaltenders on this list. The big change was Hawkey using his footwork to play at the top of the crease, rather than sitting back and making himself appear smaller. This footwork makes him explosive across the crease, even without the post to push off from. However, he has an odd idiosyncrasy to propel himself too far across on the blocker side.

Beyond this, there’s plenty to appreciate about Hawkey’s up-high game. His fast-twitch muscles in his glove hand are top-notch, and his ability to make desperation saves with an incredible diving glove hand is basically artwork.

It’s rare to see Hawkey exposed five-hole, thanks to his quick movement and smart stick placement. He’s a battler in the crease, and will never be seen down and out, even with the puck sliding behind him. His lower-body strength is particularly impressive, similar to McNiven, in the sense that rarely will a player be able to outmuscle his pad for a goal.

The main concern is overcommitment. He’s baited across the crease too easily, and he can really suffer from it. His athleticism will allow him to stop an some of these, but there’s clearly room for Hawkey’s puck tracking and player reading.

Ranking Explanation: Experience and age were the two biggest reasons I ranked him at #20. Even though Hawkey is heading into his Draft+5 season (drafted in his Draft+1 season), he’s behind the curve going into his junior season. I’m not sure if that’s as important with goaltenders as it is skaters, but his first professional season is likely to be his Draft+8, in which he will be 25. At the same time, Hawkey had just 20 appearances between his Draft+2 and +3, meaning that he has seen limited action relative to his peers.

Comparing with Tier #4, I ranked Hawkey last as the tier is similarly talented with respects with respects to their competition, but Hawkey plays the most volatile position, that being goaltender.

Hawkey’s strong second-half coincided with a change in Providence’s structure and increased goal support, so I’m really curious to see how he performs next season.

 

#19) DANIEL AUDETTE
Midseason: #12 | 2016: #19 | 2015: #21 | 2014: #19
Acquired: 2014, 5th round, 147th overall
Position: C | Shoots: L
Birthdate: 1996-05-06 | Nationality: Canada
Team: St. John’s IceCaps (AHL)
Height: 5’8” (173cm) | Weight: 176 (80kg)

Overview: A slick playmaker with outside speed and a dash of grit … Can be a bit of perimeter player, and not a natural scorer.

After two up-and-down post-draft seasons, Audette finally got on the right track in his first professional season. | Photo: Jeff Parsons, St. John’s IceCaps

GPGAPP1SOGSH%G/GP1A/GPP/GPP1/GP5v5 P1/GPSOG/GPTM.INV%GF.Rel%
75102030251038.74%0.120.20.390.320.211..3714.08%-6.52%

I was impressed with Audette this season—I’d go as far to say the IceCaps sixth-highest scorer probably had his best season since being drafted in 2014. Often centering a line in the top-nine, Audette found himself surrounded by a plethora of skill. This was most evident in a 13-point stretch in 15 games, where he was likely the IceCaps most effective player. However, that was immediately followed by a 27-game goalless drought and a mere 32 SOG/GP.

A cunning offensive threat, Audette likes to hang in the background until he finds an opportunity to strike. A deft playmaker due to patience, technique, and ability to read teammates. He’s slippery and elusive, and a knack for drawing defenders towards himself off the rush. Crisp and accurate passes are his forte, and he seems to burn defenders with his tape-to-open space passes. There’s an element of precision in passes, as shown by these textbook tape-to-space plays:

Notice how Audette doesn’t use his hands to burn the defenders. Instead, he intentionally attacks open space (or defenders) to create a lane to which he fire a pass into. Is he a space creator is a big internal debate. Watching the above clips, yes, he sure seems like it. But he also doesn’t do this consistently, and often requires space to make plays.

After becoming an increasingly high-volume shooter (3.58 SOG/GP in last QMJHL season) and capable scorer, Audette struggled to find twine this season. He was most successful around the net with his slick hands, but is shy about going to the cage. He found a nice spot just outside the high slot in the Q, but it rarely works at the AHL.

The without the puck play always has been a concern with Audette. He grew more consistent this season, but other flaws became more apparent in the AHL level. He doesn’t recognize his assignments quick enough, which makes him a non-factor on too many backchecks. He loses battles more often than not, but does have aggressiveness in his game to keep battling. Furthermore, his narrow stickhandling base deprives him of the ability to gain separation–making him increasingly dependent on his speed.

30 points and sixth on team scoring are decent for an AHL rookie season. I expect him to be a top-six scorer in Laval next year.

Ranking Explanation: Audette is a bit tricky to evaluate.  There hasn’t been any significant progression in his game, although this season was a step in the right direction.

A strong stretch in the first half of the season gave us plenty of reason for optimism, but after his play took a major hit in the second half I was left with similar observations that I had in QMJHL career. For example, he’s a quality skater and will get the odd separation burst, but it’s not high-end, and he relies quite heavily on his quickness. Additionally, he’s not a dynamic scorer–at least consistently–and doesn’t have any real game-breaking qualities. He’s very similar to number of top-notch AHL scorers who never cracked the NHL. He has the skill and speed to grab points in the AHL, but lacks the extra “pop” and dynamic gear that he will need to be a decent scorer in the NHL. And since there are major concerns about his play off the puck, it’s easy to wonder how he will stick in the NHL.

Relative to players in this tier, he seems the least likely to an NHL impact in my eyes. The application of his skill is a fair bit lower than the actual skill level itself, and that disconnect became increasingly apparent through his QMJHL career.

 

 

#18) SIMON BOURQUE
Midseason: #16 | 2016: #22 | 2015: #28
Acquired: 2015, 6th round, 177th overall
Position: LD | Shoots: L
Birthdate: 1997-01-12 | Nationality: Canada
Team: Rimouski Océanic/Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
Height: 6’ (183cm) | Weight: 183 (83kg)

Overview: Lacking in pure skills, but intelligent defender with good fundamental defensive techniques, and a lethal PP weapon.

Bourque was the model of consistency this season, posting 0.97 P/GP in Rimouski and 0.93 P/GP following a trade to Saint John. | Photo: Saint John Sea Dogs

GPGAPP1SOGSH%G/GP1A/GPP/GPP1/GP5v5 P1/GPSOG/GPHD+MD SOG/GPTM.INV%GF.Rel%
591541563614310.490.250.360.950.610.272.420.1822.40%12.52%

After a season buoyed almost entirely by PP production, Simon Bourque exploded as one of the best blue liners in the QMJHL. A trade to the eventual QMJHL President Cup-winning Saint John Sea Dogs saw Bourque maintain his offensive rhythm. He placed in the 90th percentile or above in virtually every production category for QMJHL defenders (albeit expected for his age and skill), while notably improving his defensive zone play.

While the points draw the attention, Bourque still projects as primarily a defensive player. Bourque excels at defending his blue line, thanks to a tight red-line gap, a strong, accurate sweeping stick, and decent backwards mobility. Once beat Bourque runs into problems as his pivots are stiff and he lacks in quickness.

The further to the upper-right, the better. Carry-In % indicates the amount of total entry attempts against that were with control (assumes that more tighter gap control would result in increased uncontrolled entries, reducing this percentage). % of Entries Prevented is the percentage of controlled entry attempts that were prevented with the defender targeted. The size of the bubble indicates how many of the prevented entries were directly broken up by the targeted defender.

Intelligent defensive zone positioning is another calling card of Bourque’s. He’s not punishing, but a strong upper body enables to protect the slot if needed, and he’s strong along the wall in battles. It’s worth noting that I find he reaches for a lot of pucks, which is likely a product of a lack of quickness and acceleration.

Bourque moves a lot of pucks out of his own, and does so fairly well. He’s not a carrier, but makes safe, crisp outlet passes.

A shoot-first point man with an improving cannon. Bourque has a knack for getting his shot off in difficult positions, and shows no hesitation shooting low, hard shots for rebounds and redirections. Not a lane creator or a gifted playmaker by any means, and he can move enough to hold his own on the PP.

The steady Bourque will turn pro next season. I expect him to be a top-six defender on the Laval Rocket, and wouldn’t be surprised if he has a decent season. Although his NHL project is muddy, it’s clear he’s an intelligent player with enough skill to become a quality AHLer at least.

Ranking Explanation: A key reason for having a 56-point, defence-first blue liner as low as he is stems from not what is he, but rather projecting him to the NHL. Offensively, I think his numbers misconstrue his actual ability. He’s not a lane creator, explosive, or particularly gifted in any manner except for an above-average shot. Furthermore, he hammered in seven PP goals on 23 shots for an insane, and likely unsustainable 30.4 SH%. His production was top-notch, but it’s expected as a fourth year junior, and it wasn’t comparable to the production of Thomas Chabot, Phillippe Myers, and Frédéric Allard—the QMJHL’s elite.

More a projection question than a performance issue: Notice where Bourque is scoring from. He scored off plenty of backdoor plays in his QMJHL career, not all that dissimilar from what Victor Mete does. However, when projecting this element it’s important to remember that Mete is a borderline elite skater in the NHL already while Bourque is likely below-average. Being able to pounce on those opportunities quickly is key. This is an important element of Bourque’s offensive game at the junior level that I wonder about the translatability to the NHL.

Bourque has taken the necessary steps with his tools and production to indicate upward development, which the defenders below him have not. There are legitimate concerns, but he has proven that he gets points for two seasons, despite concerns of sustainability. This upward development is what Audette has lacked thus far, leading me to place Bourque ahead of him.

 

#17) LUKAS VEJDEMO
Midseason: #16 | 2016: #11 | 2015: #11
Acquired: 2015, 3rd round, 87th overall (2014 eligible)
Position: C/LW/RW | Shoots: L
Birthdate: 1995-01-25 | Nationality: Sweden
Team: Djurgårdens IF (SHL)
Height: 6’2” (188cm) | Weight: 194 (88kg)

Overview: A coordinated puckhandler with a smooth stride, and decent defensive game … Strong in transition but lacks offensive punch.

Being drafted as a second-time eligible, Vejdemo is mere months away from entering the average peak for NHL forwards between ages 22 and 26. | Photo: Andreas L. Eriksson, Bildbyrån

GPGAPP1SOGSH%G/GP1A/GPP/GPP1/GP5v5 P1/GPSOG/GPTOI/GPTM.INV%GF.Rel%
484486498.10%0.080.040.170.130.131.0213:087.84%1.01%

In this year of progression for most prospects, Vejdemo was a standout for his stagnation. Vejdemo firmly planted himelf as a top-nine forward on the cusp of being a second-liner in his SHL rookie season, but instead saw his production tumble without any statistical reasoning. His playmaking particularly suffered, as his A/GP dropped from roughly league average to the 25th percentile. His SH% was around league average, while his TOI increased marginally. GF Rel% dropped from 5.8% to 1.01%. Instead, it was a year where the questions I asked myself last season about his upside turned out to be fairly in line with the season he had.

While Vejdemo’s shooting (SOG/GP and SH%) remained roughly the same, his G/GP, and most frightening, A/GP dropped significantly.

With Vejdemo, the big questions are: Is he a dynamic player, and can he score goals at the NHL-level? Firstly, it’s becoming apparent that he’s not best suited as a play driver, at least for his current level. He lacks creativity and high-end skill in the offensive zone. Secondly, he shoots below average, both in terms of power and volume. He’s too passive cutting in the slot, and easily kept to the outside. Without the puck, he doesn’t fair much better, although this was a strength in his game last season.

That being said, there’s a decent arsenal of tools here. Vejdemo is among the best puckhandlers in the prospect pool, with above-average top-end speed, quick and rangy hands, and ability to find lanes for controlled exits/entries. An above-average medium-range playmaker, Vejdemo utilizes his teammates fairly well, and has that odd flash of ability to create his own lanes. He’s fast on the forecheck, creating plenty of turnovers, but a lack of strength lets him down in maintaining possession.

Vejdemo is a quality play disrupter on the backcheck due to his speed, active stick, and slick timing. He’s diligent in his defensive positioning, but perhaps his methodical approach is slightly too passive.

At this point, Vejdemo’s looking like a prospect in stagnation. However, as frustrating as this season was, he’s clearly a skillful player with quality defensive play. He can make plays in stride, but there’s an inability to turn those plays into scoring chances.

Ranking Explanation: While I place heavy emphasis on development, I’m not ready to plummet Vejdemo down the list to a place more comparable to his performance this season. I considered him on the cusp of being a top prospect in the past two rankings because of his skill and smoothness.

There’s important context to consider. He spent the majority of 2015-2016 playing wing with Markus Ljungh and Robin Alvarez, two young veteran forwards who had career years with Vejdemo. This season, Vejdemo’s linemates changed more often, with his most common linemates being Jonathan and Marcus Davidsson, two players younger than Vejdemo. And to top it off, Vejdemo played centre, which is not an easy adjustment to make. So, while the decrease in production does paint a negative picture, the context does explain it. Does it negate this season altogether? Absolutely not. But does it mean that I’m slightly softer on his ranker than I would be without it? Yes.

Audette and Vejdemo are similarly skilled, but Vejdemo is taller and better defensively. Therefore, I’m inclined to believe that Vejdemo has a better shot of making the NHL, despite his status as a prospect in Sweden compared to Audette in the AHL.

 

#16) SCOTT WALFORD
Acquired: 2017, 3rd round, 68th overall
Position: LD | Shoots: L
Birthdate: 1999-01-12 | Nationality: Canada
Team: Victoria Royals (WHL)
Height: 6’2” (188cm) | Weight: 190 (86kg)

Overview: Heavy in battles, soft on feet … Legitimate offensive skills and defensive tools but rate of execution falls far behind.

While Walford hasn’t been in his WHL thus far, he was among the highest scoring defenders in his age group through his Bantam and Minor Midget seasons. | Photo: Jay Wallace, Independent Sports News

GPGAPP1G/GP1A/GPP/GPP1/GP5v5 P1/GPTM.INV%GF.Rel%
6062430160.10.170.50.270.1314.76%-16.81%

Walford is a toolsy defender who has yet to unlock the best of offensive and defensive tools. With some similarities to Brett Lernout, he’s a project with skating ability, size, and skill, but has yet to harness them. Walford was caved in at ES, with just 12 points (8 P1) and a team-worst -16.81 GF.Rel%. Yet, he was effective in the latter part of the season, with 19 points coming in his last 24 games, and 14 in the last 13 when he thrust into top pairing duties with Chaz Reddekopp injured.

 

Notice how right around Walford’s top pairing duties his points increase, while his 5v5 goal differential collapses.

Despite the underwhelming results, there’s a fair amount of upside here given the tools. Walford is a shockingly mobile and light-footed defender, particularly with his four-way mobility. Given this mobility, it’s rather troublesome that his gap control is generally too passive. When in form, he has the strength, smarts, and skating to thwart opportunities with a well-placed stick or a big hit. His first-step quickness enables him to puck races, and cut out the cycle.

With the puck, Walford is skilled but needs plenty of refinement. Transitional puck decisions are above-average, as he makes a crisp outlet pass with the occasional high-skill outlet mixed in, but isn’t a puck rusher. He’s shocking impressive at zone entries—not as a result of doing it himself—but as a result of his smart positioning and willingness to jump into the rush.

When it comes time to attack, Walford is ahead of Lernout at the same age. Rarely using a big slapshot, he prefers to sneak into open space and fire a quick wrister (best on the PP). Essentially, he excels at finding quiet ice to improve his shooting location. The release of the his shot needs work, but there’s legitimate power behind it. Quality vision makes him efficient on the PP, with quarterbacking ability in the WHL. He’s too stationary with the puck at 5v5, making him predictable and unable to create lanes.

Neither an offensive force or a defensive stalwart, Walford has lots of improve—but he does have the tools. My greatest concern is how flatfooted is he is with the puck across all three zones. Mobility and in stride decision-making are key for today’s defencemen. Since he adequately reads the play in stride without the puck and has no mobility issues otherwise, growing more comfortable with the puck will make a big difference.

All-in-all, Walford is an intriguing prospect with upside. I expect big things from Walford next season, and wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a major offensive breakout.

Ranking Explanation: There’s reason to be concerned with Walford’s 5v5 results. A team-worst GF% was even dragged even further down to -22.14% when adjusting for games missed. His worst stretch of the season in teams of goal differential was coincidentally during his 14 points in 13 games stretch where he played top pairing minutes due to the absence of Chaz Reddekopp. Furthermore, his production during this run was almost entirely the product of the powerplay, with 12 of his 14 points coming on the man-advantage and 11 of the 13 assists were secondary.

Yet, a close inspection of Walford finds that these tools he displayed on the PP are very translatable to 5v5. His footwork is quick and precise, he’s not hesitant to jump into open ice, and applies downward pressure on the PK structure to decrease the distance for his shot. He has the right mindset, now it’s about transferring to 5v5.

Like Brett Lernout in years past, I’m quite conflicted on Walford. At the same point in time, I’m higher on Walford than Lernout. Lernout was a late-birthdate with lower production than Walford, but was a better skater with more nastiness. Walford was involved in nearly double the amount of his team’s offence than Lernout (Walford’s TM INV%: 14.76%). However, Lernout took a massive step forward this season, which remains to be seen with Walford.

Within tier #4, Walford is the youngest prospect, but also the rawest. Although Bourque is further along in his development, Walford is a substantially better skater. Comparing both players in the DY, Bourque was a better defender, but Walford was marginally more involved in his team’s offence. My thought process is that if Walford develops at the same stable, steady pace as Bourque did through junior, he likely comes out as a significantly better prospect due to his footwork and mobility. While I see Bourque and Walford as having similar upside (hence their placing in the same tier), I see Walford as being more likely to make the NHL due to his significantly better skating.

 

The list so far…

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