As the NHL continues its transition toward a speed and skill game that has gradually transpired since the 2012 lockout, it has come at the expense of large-bodied players who could get by on their physicality, taking advantage of rules that worked to hinder smaller players who relied on their talent. Simply looking at the stats of players projected to go in the first round reveals this shift; there is less than a handful of players over 6’2” among the top 31, whereas just a few years ago you would have seen a few prospects ranked highly based on their size alone.
Serron Noel could have been one of the victims of this evolution of the sport of hockey. He had the size and decent skill, but his skating ability threatened to hold him back from a chance at the NHL. An off-season spent working on his skating technique has helped him take major strides in addressing the biggest weakness of his game.
Birthplace: Guelph, Ontario
Weight: 209 lbs.
Team: Oshawa Generals (OHL)
After working with skating coach Shelley Kettles, a former figure skater, Noel was much more agile in the 2017-18 season. He even had a few breakaway goals for the Oshawa Generals, able to blow past defenders with a combination of his speed and the excellent puck protection that comes from his massive wingspan. He could skate his way out of traffic to gain the space to use his puck skills, and it became apparent that the big prospect possessed a good deal of offensive creativity.
“I try to do the things he does with the stick and I was never able to have that kind of co-ordination,” his father, former CFL player Dean Noel, stated in a conversation with The Canadian Press at the beginning of the season. “I don’t even know where it came from.”
Sometimes that imagination allows him to see plays that simply aren’t there. His attempts at playmaking often go awry. A cross-ice pass will be easily picked off by an opponent in the lane, or he’ll throw the puck to an area where he believes a teammate should be, with no one actually there to receive it.
Noel’s primary game is driving right to the front of the net to pounce on rebounds, create an option for a tap-in goal, or to serve as a screen when the puck makes its way back to the point. Those good hand skills allow him to tip pucks while blocking the view of the netminder, making his net-front game very effective.
He hasn’t only relied on pucks coming toward him to get his offence. He has an accurate shot as well that can beat goaltenders off the rush or when given some room in the offensive zone. He would have more difficulty making use of that shot at the NHL level without the time and space to operate that he currently enjoys in the OHL. It also only netted him two goals from the low-danger areas of the ice — the lowest total from among the top 80 scorers by five-on-five goals per game in the OHL — so it’s not an NHL-calibre shot.
What will translate well is his tenacity on the forecheck, which puts both his size and his dexterity to good use. He prefers to simply dig pucks out in board battles rather than crashing his way in and taking the puck away, and that’s another area he could improve in as he develops into a professional hockey player. When it’s an opponent who initiates the contact in that situation, he usually comes to quickly regret it.
That same focus isn’t as present in the defensive zone. He doesn’t battle as hard on the boards in his own zone as he does at the opposite end with a chance to contribute to the offence. Should he ever decide to add that element to his game, he could become a force along the boards at both ends.
Other than setting up a screen in the offensive end, he doesn’t take advantage of many of the benefits of being much larger than most other players on the ice. He does use his size to be an effective penalty-killer for his team, getting in the way of point shots and helping his team win possession back to get the puck down the ice.
Rankings (not all rankings are final)
Future Considerations: #29
Hockey Prospect: #28
NHL Central Scouting: #10 (North American skaters)
For Montreal Canadiens fans, it’s hard to see a big player skating around in an Oshawa Generals sweater and not be reminded of Michael McCarron. McCarron played the second half of his draft-plus-two season with Oshawa after a trade from the London Knights, and was a major force for the team that went on to claim the 2015 Memorial Cup.
While McCarron hasn’t been able to have any significant impact in the NHL, Noel does have a few advantages over the Canadiens’ 2013 first-round selection. While Noel is two years younger that McCarron when he made those impressions, he’s already shown himself to be a more disciplined player, and not nearly as eager to drop the gloves despite having a body that lends itself to the craft. Noel has just three fights in two years of OHL play; McCarron had nine in his final OHL season alone.
The main thing holding McCarron back is his lack of footspeed, and that’s something that Noel has already improved quite dramatically, and will continue to work on during his junior career. The improvement is the main reason why Noel is now projected to go in the first round.
Like McCarron, Noel is still a project with no guarantee he’ll be able to crack an NHL roster. He has already shown much more in his draft season than McCarron did in the season after he was taken 25th overall, and hearing Serron Noel’s name called on June 22 shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Stats via Prospect-Stats