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Top 25 Under 25: #17 Daniel Audette

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Another good offensive showing in his final year of junior hockey bodes well for the start of Audette’s professional career.

(St. John's IceCaps/Colin Peddle) Daniel Audette St. John's IceCaps St. John’s IceCaps/Colin Peddle

A shoulder injury sustained in late October kept Daniel Audette out of action for over a month just as the season was getting underway. As a result he was limited to just 52 games for the QMJHL’s Sherbrooke Phoenix; the fewest he dressed for in any season during his four-year junior career.

The team got off to a slow start last season, and the loss of Audette did nothing to alleviate the club’s struggles. Also losing their dynamic Swiss duo of Kay Schweri (to injury) and Tim Wieser (who returned home to join the Swiss league’s Kloten Flyers) during the season, the team finished with the fourth-worst record in the entire league: 24-35-7-2, for a grand total of 57 points.

Despite the difficulty the team faced, Audette finished second in team scoring, while ranking first on the Phoenix, and among the top 30 skaters in the QJMHL, for even-strength points per game (0.71).

Audette 2016 t25u25 header

At first glance, it may seem like Audette saw a significant drop in production, going from a 73-point season to getting his name on the scoresheet just 59 times last year. A major reason for that drop was lower production on the power play. He had 14 goals and 22 assists on the man advantage in 2014-15, but just five goals and 15 assists in that situation last season.

His overall points-per-game rate dropped from 1.22 to 1.14, which is a bit discouraging for a prospect at the tail end of his junior career. He did match his even-strength production from the previous season, with 37 points, and once again led the team in game-winning goals.

He also tallied two short-handed goals, highlighting his shift from being a power-play specialist to having a more well-rounded game in his final year of CHL hockey.

Votes

Audette’s votes were reasonably similar, mostly in the 18-22 range. He received two high votes of 14, and only one vote outside the top 25. The community ranked him about where he landed, at 18th in the averaged EOTP ranking.

Top 25 Under 25 History

2014: #20 2015: #19

This is Audette’s third year of eligibility for the Top 25 Under 25 series. He debuted at 20th following his draft in 2014. He then made an incremental climb to 19th the following year, and makes a similar advance this time around to claim his highest ranking.

Strengths

As a long-shot NHLer, the reason why Audette (and Jake Evans, as well) ranks so highly is his play-making ability. He has the vision and the hands to set up talented linemates, and that’s a skill that should translate to the next level of competition, where his teammates should be even better at finishing off plays.

There’s no doubting Audette’s ability to create offence, scoring at well over a point-per-game pace in every season of his hockey career save his rookie QMJHL campaign. At the very least he can take advantage of the open ice to be a power-play specialist in the professional ranks, but his even-strength numbers suggest he won’t need to be held to such a limited role.

Though he’s mostly been a setup man to this point, he does possess deft hands around the net, and has a quick release when he decided to throw a puck toward the goalie rather than to a teammate. He did put 185 shots on target last season, for an average of 3.56 per game, and had a respectable 11.9% conversions rate. It’s an area he can still work on to take his already impressive offensive game even higher.

He has good speed to go with that skill, which makes him a dangerous player in transition rushes. If last season in an indication of a desire to play all situations, that speed could be a valuable asset during the penalty-kill to offer the threat of a counter-attack.

His pace also allows him to easily find a quiet spot on the ice to look for passes or open up passing lanes, and makes him hard to contain in the offensive zone.

Weaknesses

His speed has allowed him to flourish in an offensively skewed QMJHL, but the defence he will face in the pro ranks will be more nimble, with better positional discipline to neutralize that part of his game.

Unfortunately for the 5’9” Audette, he doesn’t have the size to be able to battle his way through tight checking from the opposition, and may struggle to hang onto the puck once out of the CHL. His success will hinge on his ability to create his offence from the rush rather than the cycle, which may be difficult with the current philosophy throughout the Montreal Canadiens organization.

Although he has been a centre his whole career to take advantage of his puck distribution, he has never been a good faceoff man, clocking a win rate of just 45.5% the previous season. Add that to his lack of size, and he’s all but destined to have to slide over to the wing to continue his hockey career. The transition shouldn’t affect his passing abilities, but will require him to spend more time battling for pucks along the boards; something already established as a challenge for him.

Sherbrooke Phoenix v Gatineau Olympiques Photo by Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images

You may be tempted to evaluate his defensive play based on his plus/minus, and given the current state of statistical evaluation in the CHL, there isn’t much else to go on. But it’s important to know that even at -10, there were eight members of the Phoenix (including four of the most-used defencemen) with a worse goal differential, and the team lead was a mere +5. What those stats show is just how poor of a team Sherbrooke was last season, and little individual analysis can be gleaned from them.

What can be said is that his poor faceoff winning percentage forced that poor defensive squad to be trapped in its own end a lot throughout the season. He finished with an even-strength goals-for percentage of less than 50% (via Prospect-Stats.com), and you would expect a skilled veteran like Audette to at least be able to break even in five-on-five goal differential.

Projection

His junior career now behind him, Audette will be taking part in the Rookie Tournament in September, and will make an appearance at Habs training camp. He will most likely be with the St. John’s IceCaps for their season opener in mid-October.

There he will join a group of skilled forwards who have the ability to convert his play-making into goal-scoring. Marc Bergevin took steps to add some veteran players to the AHL roster this summer, and those additions will be counted on to play solid defensive minutes to allow the developing prospects to work on their games, and focus on the offence.

With potential linemates including Nikita Scherbak, Martin Reway, Michael McCarron, newly signed forward Chris Terry, or perhaps even Charles Hudon, Sven Andrighetto, and/or Daniel Carr (depending on how the opening-night NHL roster shakes out), there’s a variety of quality players Audette can develop chemistry with.

As for an NHL career, it will all depend on how Audette can develop his puck-retrieval and -protection skills in the offensive zone and his positioning and assertiveness in his own end. His play-making would allow him to find success in the top tier, but there are a lot of steps to climb before he is ready to make that leap.