With round four slowly plodding along, the Montreal Canadiens took back-to-back high-school players with USHL roots in the forms of Jack Smith, and Blake Biondi. Unlike Smith however, Biondi came into his draft year with a fair bit of buzz and higher expectations. He left a struggling USHL club to return to his high school, and despite a slow start to his year he absolutely took off in Hermantown.
As a centre with potentially tantalizing offensive potential who is joining a powerhouse NCAA team, Biondi is a risk well worth taking if you’re the Montreal Canadiens.
Birthplace: Hermantown, Minnesota
Date of Birth: April 24, 2002
Weight: 192 lbs.
Team: University of Minnesota-Duluth (NCAA)
If there’s one thing that stands out about Biondi it’s that during his team in the US high-school system, all he did is produce crazy amounts of points in no time at all. In 25 games last season he tallied 76 points — three points per game — and even in a lesser league it’s an impressive feat.
Biondi, by all accounts was very much above the skill level of the league he was playing in, but at the same time dominated in the way that he should have. His ability to chase down pucks or opponents and anticipate plays before they happened made him a menace all over the ice. He did well to deny opponent exits from the defensive zone, and used his body to smother any opponents if they thought they had found a bit of space.
Biondi thrived in the down-low areas off the offensive zone, particularly around the opponent’s crease. He has no issue getting into those dirty areas, digging in for loose pucks or to become a net-front presence looking for deflections.
Not an elite skater by any measure, Biondi always has his feet moving, doing well to move laterally across the ice when he needs to. His edgework stands out as well. He uses it to great effect to turn on a sharp angle and bewilder teams as he forechecks. This plays into his ability to retrieve pucks and force turnovers with great regularity, as he flies in below the goal line, battles the opposing defenders, and forces them to make poor decisions with the puck.
To cap it all off, Biondi has a solid shooting technique that allows him to get off heavy shots, and to do so in quick fashion that goaltenders struggle to track. He doesn’t always utilize at a range either, opting to stay in the high-danger areas around the net and fire off repeated chances in that space.
One of the more prominent flaws in Biondi’s game is that his shot selection can sometimes leave a lot to be desired. He has a tendency to just fire pucks toward the net even if the lane isn’t open, leading to his chances being blocked by a stick or off a body. If he were to add a level of deceit to his his attacking style he might open more chances for his shooting talents.
The other major area of concern is that while Biondi has active feet, his actual skating stride and mechanics are seriously flawed. Mitch Brown of Elite Prospects noted four major flaws that limit his power and his top speed, which may prevent a future playing in the middle of the ice as a centre. This impacts his backchecking abilities somewhat, as he can’t generate the speed during long shifts after forechecking hard, and some of his effort goes to waste.
Elite Prospects: #90
Future Considerations: #118
Hockey Prospect: N/R
McKeen’s Hockey: #195
TSN/Bob McKenzie: #93
NHL Central Scouting: #64 (North American Skaters)
Across the board, there was quite a range of opinion for Biondi, from a late third-rounder to not being ranked at all. Considering both his potential and his flaws, he slides in pretty well at the 108th player chosen in the draft, when teams should be looking for high-ceiling players. It’s not hard to see why he might have slipped too, given that high-school play — even in hockey-mad Minnesota — is a crapshoot in terms of evaluating true talent given the varying levels of the teams and fellow players involved.
The good news is that Biondi is off to join the University of Minnesota-Duluth when their season begins, and Bulldogs head coach Scott Sandelin plays a style of hockey that puts an emphasis on defensive responsibility to bog down opposing teams. Biondi will be in good hands to iron out some of his flaws, and be able to test his high-end offensive talents against stronger competition.
It’s not hard to see why Montreal wanted to add him to their pool. The team wanted to draft people who battle hard, and a player who lives to forecheck opponents relentlessly and lives around opposing teams’ nets fits that perfectly. A bit of a reach maybe, but a reach that’s could prove to have been worth taking,