When the Canadiens took Daniel Audette in the fifth round, 147th overall, the most common comment about it was that he was picked in the same slot as similarly undersized Canadiens scorer Brendan Gallagher. The two also share a birthday, which makes the instant comparison all the more interesting to people who like to point out coincidences.
Audette plays for the Sherbrooke Phoenix, an expansion franchise in the QMJHL that has existed for just two years. They were given the first overall pick in the QMJHL draft, choosing to add Audette as their first player to wear the jersey, and essentially making him the face of the franchise. Audette assisted on the very first goal of Sherbrooke's franchise, a marker from Jeremie Beaudry.
While the Phoenix squeaked into the playoffs the first year of their existence, they were comically bad this year, registering a record of 16-43-4-5. To make matters worse, they were outscored 300 to 180. To put that in a little bit of context, the Buffalo Sabres in 13-14 were outscored by 91 goals, and the Phoenix were outscored by 120 goals. They were 32% worse relative to their league than the Buffalo Sabres were, and the Sabres were a punchline last season, historically bad.
This also means that Audette's 76 points had him involved on 42.2% of his team's goals, which is incredibly impressive. Audette was a truly one-man show in Sherbrooke. He outscored his next-best teammate by 32 points, finishing 15th in the QMJHL scoring race, and 13th in the entire CHL among draft eligible players.
Sherbrooke was all Audette, all the time
Using ExtraSkater.com's new CHL statistics, we can see that Audette was relied upon extremely heavily by his team, playing 40.7% of all even strength minutes, the sixth most of all draft eligible CHL forwards. He also 78.4% of Sherbrooke's powerplay ice time, where he recorded an astounding 37 points. He had the second highest percentage of his team's powerplay time among CHL draft eligibles, behind only Michael Dal Colle.
What's perhaps most interesting about Audette though, is that he played a significant amount on the penalty kill as well, 18% of his team's shorthanded ice time. Of the top 50 draft eligible scorers, only 11 players played more time shorthanded than Audette, and five were first round picks, only two players were taken after Audette.
In his run down of draft eligible players, Corey Pronman ranked Audette 38th overall, and had this to say about him:
"His skill level is great, as he can make plays better than all but a few in this draft class. His high-end vision allows him to make the passes of moderate difficulty look routine, and he can make the high difficulty ones with good frequency. Audette is a tremendous power-play asset, who can be the primary source of chances. Audette's size is his biggest weakness: He's 5-8, 176 pounds, and his physical limitations make his potential NHL even-strength production questionable."
The descriptions of Audette and his offensive production are eerily similar to another fifth round pick by the Canadiens, but not the one everyone keeps making comparisons to. In the 2012 NHL Draft, the Canadiens took Charles Hudon 122nd overall, another undersized QMJHL forward with a slick skill set and nice offensive numbers. Pronman had Hudon ranked 34th in that draft, and had this to say:
"He's a very creative and skilled player with the puck, showing high-end ability in that area, with the capabilities to create space for himself well and control the puck for lengthy periods of time. Hudon's best asset is his hockey sense as he's a tremendous passer who sees the ice so well and thinks the game in the other aspects at a high level too. He has a good panic threshold with the ability to control the play in tight quarters and still make all the right plays while being checked. Hudon is great on the power play and is very dangerous when he sets up on the side boards. His upside is very desirable, however he has some notable to significant holes. First of all, Hudon is a very small player. He's listed at 5'10" but that's likely overstated. He does attack the physical areas but he can be easily overwhelmed by bigger players. He's also an average skater if not leaning towards below-average and well below-average for a player of his size. If his skating can take a step forward, he has a chance to really be something with his upside, but if not, he may not even hit the NHL"
Apparently Corey wrote a bit longer when he wrote for Hockey Prospectus instead of ESPN, but you can see the similarities. Both were considered high end offensive players, both given questionable futures due to size concerns. It was no accident that Hudon was shifted to center at development camp, with Audette centering the top line on the opposing team, often head to head.
These are two players that not only show great promise, but will be competing directly against each other in the years to come, jockeying for position on the Habs' depth chart.
While many fans don't like the plethora of small players drafted by the Habs in recent years, the hesitance of other teams to take a flyer on this high end skill is part of the reason why the Canadiens have such an excellent draft record since Trevor Timmins came aboard. It's not just a gamble that's worth taking, it's the kind of move that separates a good team in the future from a great one.