Andreas Enqvist is possibly the most experienced pro player on this list so far. With 202 games in the Elitserien, 91 in the AHL and 3 in the NHL. Engqvist has climbed quite a ways on our list this year, in spit of putting up underwhelming offense in his first pro year in North America and looking slightly out of his depth in his 3 NHL games. So why the climb? Is the depth in the Montreal Canadiens organization that bad? Not at all, I'm fairly sure it has a lot more to do with exposure than anything else. When last year's panel voted, Engqvist was a complete unknown. He was coming off a career year in the Elitserien with Djurgarden, but had zero experience in the North American game.
At this point you may be tempted to look at his counting stats and think that he didn't exactly acquit himself very well so why is he rising? Well the role he was asked to play in Hamilton wasn't that of a run and gun shooter, but a shutdown center. As Engqvist says in this translated interview on Hockey Insde/Out, he wanted to put up more points and score more goals, but his main focus was on the defensive side of the game.
This is a bit of a brilliant move by Randy Cunnyworth in my opinion. Engqvist is unlikely to ever become a top 6 forward in the NHL, but at 23 he still has time to carve out a spot as a shutdown center, and he has the skill set to be a very good one. By having him play that role within the Habs system and matching him against the best players in the AHL, there's a better chance of him seamlessly transitioning into the role in the NHL.
Chris Boucher scouted Engqvist along with 5 other Bulldogs for an article published March 6th of this year. Boucher was glowing in his review of Engqvist's defensive work:
"Andreas Engqvist simply dominated defensively. He won an incredible 75% of his defensive-zone puck-battles, and would have challenged Carle for the top mark if not for his 6 losses in the faceoff circle."
And gave him a positive grade, winning 66% of his battles.
STRENGTHS: I had the opportunity last year to attend some of the Canadiens training camp activities in Brossard, and I was interested in Engqvist because, let's face it, he has an awesome name. One thing I noticed about him right away was that he had an NHL level shot, but not a great release. The kind of sign that he could score at the NHL level but not in big numbers.
An average to good skater with surprising escapability for his size, Enqvist fits all the prototypical needs to be an excellent shutdown center and penalty killing specialist. At 6'4 and near 200lbs he has the size to be a problem for most teams to handle as well.
Perhaps the main reason for optimism with Engqvist is his performance in the clutch. For the last two years now he has dramatically stepped up his game for the playoffs. With Djurgarden he nearly scored at a point per game pace. While he couldn't match that output in the AHL last season, he significantly improved on his regular season scoring pace while being a ridiculous +11 in 20 games.
WEAKNESSES: While Engqvist possesses the ideal size for any center in the NHL, he doesn't play the physical game that many pundits would expect from a checking forward. He doesn't shy away from physicality by any means, but rarely initiates it when it isn't necessary.
While the Habs are in desperate need this upcoming season for a right handed defensive center, Engqvist hasn't exactly impressed so far in the faceoff circle. Chris Boucher noted it as a weak point in his game in his scouting report, and in his brief NHL tryout last season he won just 7 of 19 faceoffs (36.8%). Unfortunately the AHL doesn't track faceoff statistics so we have no way of knowing how he did overall last year in this department. Hopefully he has spent a significant time in the offseason on this however.
Engqvist has decent hands and decent skating, but neither are what you would consider enough for top 6 forwards in the NHL. He has a niche that he can play into, and being a center on one of the top 2 lines isn't within his grasp.
FUTURE: Enqvist is in an extremely advantageous position this year. He and Ryan White are the only two right handed natural centers that are anywhere close to NHL ready in the Canadiens system. White is all but assuredly a lock for a spot in the NHL this season but unless things have changed, Jacques Martin prefers to play him on the wing rather than center. With the departure of Jeff Halpern the Canadiens are in desperate need of a faceoff guy that can play on the penalty kill and 4th line. There is also a need for that center to be right handed, as Plekanec, Gomez, Eller and Desharnais are all lefties. If Andreas has worked hard this summer, He just may carve himself out a place on the Habs this coming training camp. But he needs to show a lot more than he did during his brief stint last year. There will never be a better time for Engqvist to show us what he's got.
|#16: Brock Trotter||#15: Andreas Engqvist||#14:Brendan Gallagher|