Thursday, June 21, 2012

2012 NHL Entry Draft: Sleeping Studs

Before getting into my full-on mock draft, I really wanted to take the time to allude to this draft's under-the-radar selections seeing as this year's version of the draft is loaded with more of them than the past few.

I will agree with the consensus that this draft is one of the weakest in recent history, having the defensive depth similar to the '08 version but lacking the offensive talent to supplement the top 30 picks. I mean what really exemplifies this is the fact that, after dominating the top of the draft over the past decade or so, this will be the lowest a Canadian forward has ever been drafted (as I'm sure you've heard, too, since TSN & co. love this kind of stuff).

That said, there a lot of guys ranked "low" that I would personally peg much higher and plan on keeping a close eye on as they get drafted (or not) and develop.

Martin Frk (RW, Halifax - QMJHL)
WARNING: I am a *HUGE* Frk fan, so this is going to be biased. How can a guy ranked as a potential first-round pick be considered a "Sleeping Stud"? Injuries: that's how.

Like many others in this draft Frk was faced with an injury-plagued season, being diagnosed with a concussion followed by an "upper-body injury" causing him to miss a bit of time at the end of the QMJHL season. When all was said and done, Frk was limited to 34 regular season games with the Mooseheads, in which he scored 29 points - a slightly better pace than his previous season. Frk followed that up with a less-than-stellar 11 points in 17 playoff games and Halifax was eliminated after 6 games against Rimouski in the QMJHL Conference Finals.

Aside from his QMJHL play, injuries affected Martin's ability to raise his stock at the international, as he decided to pass on playing for the Czech Republic at the 2012 World Junior Championships in order to focus on getting his game back up to his usual level in the Q.

Now while their draft years were both very different, I personally believe that Frk's progression will follow a path similar to another favourite of mine, Tomas Jurco. Jurco was seen as "not progressing much since the previous year" and playing on a loaded team didn't allow him the opportunity to shine on his own, and, as such, he fell to who else but the Detroit Red Wings in the early second round of the 2011 NHL draft. That's probably about where Frk will see himself drafted, but, much like I see in Jurco, there is a ton of upside - both offensively and defensively - to be had if Frk can get back on track and dominate the Q alongside top 2013 draft prospects Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin.

CSB Ranking: #20 NA skater
TSN Ranking: #32
ISS Ranking: #42

Phillip Di Giuseppe (LW, University of Michigan - NCAA)
Another potential first rounder on this list? Give me a break, right? Wrong. The main difference wouldn't be that Di Giuseppe isn't really "sleeping": more like "napping".
I won't go into much detail here since PDG will be part of my mock draft, but what makes him a sleeper to me is the seeming lack of hype around his game considering what he's done in his career to-date. Sure, he's not one of the top offensive prospects on everyone's radar but I see him as a player who plays hard and smart and as a player with more upside than given credit.

As a side note, I've noticed that these late-born, first-time eligible NCAA players seem to slide a bit more than they should (for what reason, I'm uncertain). As an example, two of my sleepers from last year, Matthew Nieto and Adam Clendening, both made solid progress playing in the NCAA and both have seen their stock rise, even if only slightly. I can see the same applying to PDG.

CSB Ranking: #22 NA skater
TSN Ranking: #30
ISS Ranking: #35

Jarrod Maidens (C, Owen Sound - OHL)
Like Frk, Maidens has been on my radar for a while now, as his OHL rookie season was very solid and his playoff run with the Attack was even more solid for a rookie skater (can you say "clutch"?). Things started off very well for Maidens in the '11-'12 OHL season, as he notched 12 goals and 11 assists for 23 points in 28 games; however, he was shut down for the rest of the year due to injury and has flown under the radar because of that.

As former teammate Joey Hishon has shown, injury history surely can impact a player's progression, but I don't see this hindering Maidens's ability to comeback in '12-'13 and prove to be more value than he projects to land.

CSB Ranking: #35 NA skater
TSN Ranking: #48

Dylan Blujus (D, Brampton - OHL)
There isn't much hype about Blujus (awesome name!) these days, but he's a big two-way defenceman who is solid in his own end and can put up decent points. I don't think he'll ever be fantasy-relevant, but I think he has a solid amount of NHL upside considering the fact he'll likely go no higher than late in the second round.

CSB Ranking: #71 NA skater

Charles Hudon (LW, Chicoutimi - QMJHL)
As an avid fantasy hockey gamer, I'm all about the guys that ooze offense. Hudon fits the bill as a stereotypical scoring sleeper out of the Q: skill to burn but people are scared off by the size and his numbers weren't big enough to generate a buzz. Probably taken in the middle rounds of the draft, Hudon has a lot of upside and is someone I see being able to take the next step and increase his stock in '12-'13.

CSB Ranking: #95 NA skater

Nick Ebert (D, Windsor - OHL)
The biggest roll of the dice in the draft, in my opinion, as he could go as high as the second round or may be passed over entirely. If rumours are true and this guy really has no work ethic and whatnot, Ebert could be a complete bust. Hell, if you look at the numbers he took a big step back this season. So why is Nick a sleeper?

Ebert was considered to be a potential top-10 pick going into this season until his value started sinking like a rock. His offensive numbers dipped compared to last season, his defensive game is questionable at best, and all I seemed to hear about him were questions about his off-ice persona. Bottom-line, though, is the fact that you can't teach talent and Ebert has a ton of it to go with a huge amount of potential to push that forward. Will he do so? Let's see who picks him first before making that conclusion.

CSB Ranking: #96 NA skater

Andrey Makarov (G, Saskatoon - WHL)
The '10-'11 season saw the Lewiston MAINEacs draft Makarov, a decently-sized Russian goalie, in the CHL Import Draft. Let's just say Makarov's North American debut didn't go as planned, as he was out-dueled by Nicolas Champion for the starting goalie job. Their save percentage numbers were similar, but the team in front of the crease ultimately seemed to play better with Champion in net.

This past summer saw the Lewiston franchise fold and, as part of that, the team's players found new homes - some in different leagues. Makarov was one of those players to switch leagues, joining the WHL's Saskatoon Blades.

Andrey got off to a killer start in the '11-'12 season with the Blades, going 16-5-0-0 with a 2.51 GAA and .928 SV% through the first 21 games; however, he went through a rough patch starting in February and ended the season with a 3.01 GAA and .913 SV%.

Someone will definitely roll the dice on Makarov, likely around the 4th round, and whoever does so is hoping that Andrey can turn his hot start into a consistent display of his skill and eventually develop into a solid starting goalie.

CSB Ranking: #7 NA goalie

Anton Zlobin (RW, Shawinigan - OHL)
While I'm sure his stock has risen since being ranked due to his Memorial Cup performance, Zlobin is still ranked quite low and is one to watch considering his skill-set.

Zlobin your typical Russian goal-scoring winger. Passed over in last year's draft, Zlobin has seemingly done what was needed this year in trying to strengthen the weaknesses in his game, proving to be a competitor and a timely finisher.

Someone may take a flyer on Zlobin earlier than I expect, but my assumption is that he is drafted no sooner than the 4th round.

CSB Ranking: #137 NA skater

Michael Houser (G, London - OHL)
I'm not a big fan of drafting goalies unless they show signs of being able to steal a game or they show pure professionalism and work hard to prove themselves as a legitimate option in net. Michael Houser, in my opinion, defines the latter. This will be Houser's third draft, though looking at his birth-date you wouldn't necessarily think so, and I think he's become a better prospect each time.

In the '09-'10 OHL season, Houser backed up another Michael, BOS prospect Michael Hutchinson. Being one of the youngest players eligible for the 2010 draft, I thought surely one team would draft Houser with a late-round pick. Houser was set to be London's starter the following season and showed some solid raw skill, but no such luck.

The 2010 CHL Import Draft took place right after the NHL's draft, resulting in more disappointment in Houser's camp. The Knights used their Import Draft selection on Igor Bobkov, Anaheim's 3rd round pick in the 2009 NHL draft, and then named him the team's starter. Luckily for Houser it turned out that Bobkov dropped the ball after being handed the job, allowing Michael to take over the team's starting gig and finishing the year with a 3.32 GAA and .904 SV% in 54 games - better numbers than the previous season in more than double the games played for a worse team. Again, no luck for Houser as he remained undrafted property.

2011-2012 was a real coming-out party for Houser, though, proving to be a true workhorse goalie for the Knights. Houser led the league in regular season games played with 62 yet also finished top-5 in both GAA and SV%, numbers that would eventually land him the accolades of OHL Most Valuable Player and CHL Goaltender of the Year. Houser then went on to better his regular season numbers in the playoffs, leading the Knights to a J. Ross Robertson Cup for being the OHL champions. London came up short in the Memorial Cup, losing to Shawinigan in the final, but Houser was named to the tournament's all-star team.

Like I said, I'm not a fan of developing goalies in-house (pun intended) unless there are special circumstances but Houser has proven that he fits both of those qualities just fine: he's worked his ass off to take his game to new heights and lead his team to an excellent season. Houser wins, and if I'm a NHL GM I want a winner in my net: definitely worth a mid-to-late round selection.

CSB Ranking: #16 NA goalie

Nathan Walker (LW, Vitkovice - CZE)
After dominating the Czech U20 league with 14 goals and 20 points in 14 games, Walker was promoted to Vitkovice's men's team, putting up 9 points while playing limited minutes in 34 games before getting loaned to Olomouc in the men's second league.

Getting promoted to the Czech men's league as a 17/18 year old is a pretty solid feat; however, even with that being the case, projecting Europeans' draft positions is an almost-impossible task once you're looking at players outside of the top 5-10 ranked players, and even then their positions can surprise (for better or worse).

I've been keeping my eye on this guy for a while now and considering I know (through analytics, of course) that he's generated a lot of traffic for this site I have to say I'll always be rooting for Nathan.
CSB Ranking: #25 Euro skater


  1. I agree on Makarov, I think a few teams will be disappointed they didn't take at least a 7th round flyer on a guy that looked great in the World Juniors.

    Ebbet is another case of a stock just hitting rock bottom. Though that does happen when there is potential "personality" issues just like Kiril Kabanov.

    Now that the draft is over are their any other risers/fallers that surprised you?

    1. Kabanov is a great comparison except his personality issues didn't really come to the forefront until AFTER he was drafted.

      You raise a very good question: I sense a top 10 draft surprises coming up! :D