It was a long hard wait for Habs fans after getting used to having multiple 2nd-round picks over the last two years, but Montreal's turn came as they moved the 87th and 117th overall picks for the 73rd overall pick to draft Brett Lernout.
This was a curious move as both Future Considerations and Hockey Prospect ranked him at least into the 4th round while McKeen's did not even bother ranking him in their Top 120 prospects. It is course possible that the team's scouting staff saw something special but at present, this is an off the board choice that does not read of great upside.
Lernout comes profiled as a big-body defencemen who favours a physical style of play. At 6'4" and 205 pounds, he's certainly equipped to deal out checks and use his body to box out opposing players. He does not project well offensively at present, with 22 points in 72 games for Swift Current, that had him 4th on his team in defensive scoring and 13th overall in team scoring. While he is a defender, it is worth noting that defencemen who have weaker puck skills in the junior ranks often struggle to break into the NHL.
It is worth noting that Lernout is not a 'lumbering' player and features good skating and acceleration in his game. He also seems adept at positional play and reading the game, not a top-end level but he does not appear to be someone who will be stunned by facing speedy opponents.
From Future Considerations:
"Lernout is a big defenseman who plays a tough style. We really like how he defends his own zone, using his strength and frame to muscle guys to the outside. Doesn’t run around chasing checks, but he calmly approaches and then buries his opponents against the boards. Showed very good improvement this season in his confidence with the puck. Lernout was very solid in the neutral zone, using patience and crisp execution to get the puck up ice. Very simple and very precise. Can get off some very hard shots on net. Prefers taking hard wrist shots, but can also let a huge slapper go when given time. He may not have huge offensive upside, but his ability to get hard shots on net and his ability to make simple passes accurately is encouraging. His skating is pretty good for a big guy. Very smooth on his feet and gets around using hard work rather than technical skating skills. Does not display any elite hockey sense, but does show poise with the puck and good positioning on the ice. He is a serviceable skater and has the raw physical tools to become a shutdown defenseman.
NHL POTENTIAL: Bottom-Pairing Defensive Defenseman"
From Hockey Prospect:
"Lernout has quietly gone about his business this season without much, if any, attention. The late ’95-born Swift Current defenseman has shown very good improvement over the course of the season and has worked his way into becoming a mainstay on the Broncos defense corps. Lernout has tremendous size at 6’4 and a nasty mean streak to match. He is a mobile skater with both good acceleration and top speed. While his edge work needs some refining, he is an impressive skater for his stature. Lernout is an intimidating presence on the ice as he’s not afraid to get in the face of opponents and his 11 fights this season attest to both his willingness to fight and his fighting prowess. Lernout makes an average first pass. His passes are very firm, but accuracy seems to come and go at times. His ability to make defensive reads is improving as well. While Lernout is still quite raw, he has a lot of tools at his disposal and has shown tremendous improvements over the course of the season. As a result, Lernout may be worth a pick as a long-term project with good upside.
Quotable: "Brett showed good improvement through the course of the season. A toolsy player with great size, strength, and skating abilities. He’s still raw, but if given time to develop, he should become the type of physical defenseman that teams love to have and hate to play against." – Scott McDougall"
What went on here? I'm honestly unsure. With McKeen's not ranking him as a Top-120 player, Future Considerations holding him at 115th and Hockey Prospect at 123, it seems like the Canadiens could have waited until the 4th round to select him. I hate to say it but this feels a little bit like when they went off the board for Connor Crisp in 2013. Lernout is a big-body defencemen with a physical edge and had 11 fights over his season, this is not what I would call a solid risk-reward bet, but a project with a relatively unrewarding upside if he makes the show.
I have long advocated the need for puck-moving defencemen above all else. Looking at teams like Chicago or Los Angeles that stack puck-moving defenders, it's worth noting they dominate puck possession in large part due to the fact that any pairing on their back end has at least one player who is good with the puck. With that in mind, I find it is best to select project puck-moving talents as their skills are more valuable if they end up in the NHL.
It is of course possible the Canadiens scouting staff saw something that nobody else did, but we will need to see a significant rise in Lernout's proficiency with the puck to get a sense he'll become a useful asset for the Canadiens down the line. As always, we will provide ongoing coverage of Lernout and all players selected in this draft as the 2014-15 season begins.
For now, discuss. Do you like the pick? Hate it? Know his second cousin once removed?