With the conclusion of the 2013 NHL Draft, no doubt many of you are thinking "who are these guys?" and "when do they start playing for the Canadiens?" While the second question is a bit more difficult to answer, I will attempt to cover both questions in my annual review of the Montreal Canadiens work at the draft table.
The Montreal Canadiens had 9 draft picks in the 2013 NHL Draft, this review will examine the 36th and 55th overall picks.
36th overall: G Zach Fucale
Team: Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Future Considerations: 32
McKeen's Hockey: 28
Hockey Prospect: 14
Regular Season: 55GP, 45W-5L-2OTL-1SOL, GAA 2.35, Save % .909
Playoffs: 17GP, 16W-1L, GAA 2.02, Save % .918
What the Scouts Say:
Zach Fucale is a very uncontroversial goalie prospect going by the scouting reports. He is universally held as the top-ranked goaltender in the 2013 NHL Draft.
Fucale recieves good marks on his athleticism and footwork by scouts. HockeyProspect notes excellent speed in his movements, with the ability to move very quickly in post-to-post coverage to prevent a goal. They also note strong legs that allow him to manage rebound control and protect the lower half of the net. Future Considerations credits him with strong footwork that allows precise movement. They concur with HockeyProspect in noting his strong post-to-post coverage. McKeen's thinks he will need to strengthen his frame to be an effective pro goaltender.
Quote from HockeyProspect on Fucale's athleticism: "Fucale is a very quick goalie. We have seen him make saves on superb post-to-post movements displaying his flexibility."
Fucale's style and technique don't raise much controversy among scouts, either. McKeen's and HockeyProspect note him as a traditional butterfly goaltender. HockeyProspect describes a very controlled technique, very composed when moving laterally and focusing on covering the angles without excessive movement. Future Considerations and HockeyProspect both credit him as being very capable at tracking the puck, even when traffic builds up. Future Considerations describes him having both a good blocker and a good glove, but HockeyProspect differs on the glove, feeling he keeps it too low at times and needs to improve reflexes in both hands. McKeen's rates his rebound control as strong, although neither Future Considerations nor HockeyProspect have a stated opinion on this aspect of his game.
Quote on Fucale's Technique from McKeen's: "brings structure and efficiency on low plays, including post coverage, wraparounds, and jam plays."
While it is difficult to discuss a goaltender's mental game, after all no one can accurately understand what goes on in a goalie's head, the scouts did their best to examine Fucale's mental makeup. HockeyProspect speaks extremely well of his composure, describing him as typically unflappable and maintaining a constant level of focus, whether he is getting bombarded by pucks or is waiting minutes between saves. HockeyProspect does note his cool demeanor could use some aggression, as he can be a bit too passive and stay deep in his net rather than skating out and making a move on the puck. McKeen's echoes HockeyProspect on Fucale's calm demeanor and describes him as mature beyond his years. Future Considerations remarks he works hard to improve himself and likes his mental aptitude in net.
Quote about his mental game from McKeen's Hockey: "coachable and always looking for ways to tweak and refine his game .. able to comprehend advanced technical and mental methods for playing at an optimal level."
Fucale was exactly the name I was hoping to get called at this stage in the Draft. Fucale has a pretty good championship pedigree from this past season with a QMJHL and Memorial Cup Championship on his resume, but he also played on what was likely the best team in the whole CHL. He had to be good enough to help the Halifax Mooseheads win of course, but junior championship success has not folded well into NHL success. From 1998 to 2008, the only active NHL goalies who can be credited with a championship in the QMJHL, OHL or WHL are Roberto Luongo (2 titles), Michal Neuvirth (1) and Jonathan Bernier (QMJHL title, Memorial Cup Championship). Montreal's No. 1 goaltender in Hamilton, Dustin Tokarski, also has a WHL championship and a Memorial Cup win, but he has yet to prove he is NHL material. It should be noted Michal Neuvirth's championship pedigree is further enhanced by twin AHL Championships and an AHL Playoff MVP award. Of the five goaltenders who backstopped Canada's incredible run of five gold medals from 2005 to 2009, only Carey Price is considered a true quality starter among them. Overall, there is not a lot of evidence of championship experience from the junior level transitioning to the NHL.
This is not to say Fucale can't be an exception to recent history given he won the QMJHL title in his draft year, which is not very common among goaltenders in the junior level. Typically junior teams stack an experienced goaltender to bring them the title, but Fucale got the job done, going 16-1 in the post-season and raising his regular season save percentage from .909 to .918 during the playoff run. He lived up to what his team needed him to do and arguably more.
Fucale does have the compliments from the scouts of a sound mental game and solid maturity, which are pretty much demanded for any goalie who might think of playing under the bright lights of the Bell Centre. He has two more years left at the junior level to further hone his game and will likely have an opportunity to represent Canada at the World Junior Championships in 2014 or 2015. He also has the advantage of being able to develop further in the AHL without the pressure of having to be the saviour at 20, as was foisted upon Carey Price. However the thought remains, will he transition? Many of the favoured goalies in the NHL these days were unheralded picks, not top-ranked goaltenders in their draft year, and they have not had an overly strong record of success in the last decade.
I think given the uncertainties surrounding goalies, a later pick could have been used for a goaltender such as Eric Comrie or Spencer Martin. Will they be better goaltenders? Impossible to say. This could be a very good pick but I would think this is a long-term project, and it will be a long time before we have a good idea of what Fucale is truly capable of. That is probably what bothers me most about the pick, even goalies taken very highly can take a long time to develop and the results can still be disappointing. We should see a solid test of Fucale next season though as the Halifax Mooseheads will see a heavy talent depletion as MacKinnon and Drouin move on to the NHL, and will put pressure on Fucale to possibly be the difference for Halifax. It will be an interesting challenge after a year of arguably relaxed play for Fucale.
Personal Projection: Begins pushing for a roster spot in 2017.
55th overall: RW Artturi Lehkonen
Team: KalPa (SM-Liiga)
Future Considerations: 42
McKeen's Hockey: 39
Hockey Prospect: 43
Regular Season: 45GP, 14G, 16A, 12 PIM
Playoffs: 4GP, 2G, 1A, 2PIM
What the Scouts Say:
The scouting groups can come to some easy conclusions about Artturi Lehkonen and his impressive skill set.
When it comes to assessing Lehkonen's skating, there are some divided opinions. HockeyProspect and McKeen's both rate him with a strong top speed, and McKeen's singles out his acceleration as a solid asset to reach that speed. Future Considerations differs with this point, rating that he skates well, but not at a speed that would allow him to outpace most of his opposition; but does credit him with good acceleration. All groups are in agreement that he is very agile on his skates and can use it to good effect to create space for himself. McKeen's notes he can do more to improve his balance and overall speed, which fits in with concerns Future Considerations has about his overall skating ability.
Quote from McKeen's Hockey on his skating: "light and dexterous on his feet .. reaches top speed swiftly via a smooth, comfortable stride .. quick moving laterally - makes tight turns and wicked cuts."
With regard to Lehkonen's offensive talents, the scouts have found a lot to like. McKeen's notes he controls the puck very well moving at speed and HockeyProspect notes his puck control as well, discussing how he can stop while maintaining full control of the puck in order to throw off his opponents. Future Considerations credits him as a very good puck handler, but does not consider his skill level there to be elite. There is strong praise for his scoring instincts; Future Considerations observes him to have a very quick shot with solid accuracy, and McKeen's concurs on the strength of his shot. McKeen's credits him with very good hockey sense and Future Considerations compliments it as well. Hockey Prospect is a bit of dissenter here and finds he has difficulty finding open areas in the offensive zone and feels he needs to do a better job of reading the play to break into open areas. Future Considerations and McKeen's credit him with some ability as a playmaker as well.
Quote from Future Considerations on Lehkonen's offensive skills: "His shot is also one of his best assets as it is both accurate and quick off his stick. He knows where to go to get a prime scoring chance in the offensive zone and gets there with perfect timing."
When discussing Lehkonen's physical nature and two-way game, scouting groups will credit him for effort but remark that he has marked limitations. Despite his size and lack of muscle mass, Future Considerations mentions he is not afraid to get mixed up in the physical aspect of the game, displaying a good compete level and that he commits to forechecking. McKeen's considers him a tough competitor as well, willing to battle along the boards against players much larger than he, and willing to throw open-ice hits. HockeyProspect is very cool to the effectiveness of his willing to engage physically, noting he often loses his battles and can be checked to the ice quite easily. Both HockeyProspect and McKeen's note it is critically important that he add strength to his rather slim frame if he wishes to push towards playing in the NHL; McKeen's specifically notes fatigue at the end of longer shifts. McKeen's compliments him with playing smart at both ends of the ice and gettin involved in defensive play as it is required of him, and Future Considerations agrees he is showing an aptitude for playing in all three zones. HockeyProspect feels he will need to learn to use his body in defensive play in the future and does not commit his body physically if he does not feel it will lead to a potential scoring opportunity.
Quote from Future Considerations on Lekhonen's physical play: "Despite his lack of ideal size he does show a willingness to compete and engage in battles for loose pucks. Great work ethic and strong competitiveness in all zones."