There's been lots of talk about the omission of Brett Lernout in our yearly Top 25 Under 25 rankings. Lernout finished with an average ranking of 25.44, missing the cut by the slimmest of margins.
One of the main reasons behind the debate is likely Lernout's offensive production, which jumped from 22 points in 2013-14 to 42 points last season, including 14 goals.
Let's take another look the votes:
As you can see, eight panelists gave Lernout a spot within their top 25, whereas 10 votes were cast outside of the cutoff point.
Is this a fair reflection of Lernout's value to the Canadiens going forward? It's debatable.
The fact of the matter is that Lernout had a great year, but how did he match up to other WHL defenceman drafted in 2014? Here's the table that includes most of the quality defenders drafted that year. I also included Noah Juulsen as to give you a good idea of how the 17th overall prospect on our list performed last season.
|Player||Draft Round||GP||G||A1||A2||PPG||ES points||ES P/60||NHLe||TmPt%||eTOI||ES GF|
|Brett Lernout||3rd (73rd ov)||72||14||20||8||.58||21||.62||12||19.44||29.58||46%|
|Brycen Martin||3rd (74th ov)||69||7||17||14||.55||17||.66||11||19.19||23.4||47%|
|Rinat Valiev||3rd (68th ov)||52||9||20||17||.88||26||1.09||18||24.6||29.18||59%|
|Travis Sanheim||1st (17th ov)||67||15||27||23||.97||39||1.35||20||23.99||26.12||58%|
|Ben Thomas||4th (119th ov)||60||7||13||11||.52||19||.32||11||13.25||19.35||56%|
|Dysin Mayo||5th (133rd ov)||72||14||20||17||0.71||25||.93||15||23.24||23.24||57%|
|Noah Juulsen||1st ( 27th ov)||68||9||22||21||.76||26||1.04||16||23.01||22.4||66%|
(All numbers sourced from CHL Stats. A1= primary assist, A2=secondary assist, PPG= points-per-game, ES Points = even-strength points, ES P/60= even-strength points per 60, NHLe = NHL equivalency points, TmPT% = Team points percentage, eTOI = estimated time on ice, ES GF = even-strength goals for)
The first thing that comes to mind is Lernout's generous ice time, which was increased from 21 minutes a game in 2013-14 to almost 30 minutes per game last year. Essentially he was workhorse that was used in every situation, and his points reflect that fact.
Lernout didn't pad his stats by earning a lot of secondary assists, which is encouraging, although his even-strength points-per-game stat is somewhat underwhelming, as was his team points percentage. His even-strength goals-for percentage also took a drop this year, although that can probably be attributed to the Swift Current Broncos have a mediocre roster.
While he put up respectable numbers across the board, it's hard to qualify his season as elite. If anything it was an encouraging step towards asserting himself as a legitimate prospect.
Which brings us back to the original debate, should he have secured a spot over older prospects like Mac Bennett and Darren Dietz?
He has a decent amount of potential in his back pocket, which is the main argument towards including him in the top 25, but as you can see his numbers aren't remotely spectacular enough to earn him a spot within the top 20.
Next year will go a long way into projecting Lernout's value to the Canadiens moving forward, seeing as he'll be entering his first year as a professional. He'll be joined by a glut of aspiring defencemen, which includes Morgan Ellis, and Darren Dietz, both of which have more professional experience, and are likely to receive favourable ice time, whereas Lernout will have to fight to earn his spot on the roster.
Personally, I had no problem placing Lernout among Montreal's top 25, although I can definitely understand why some hesitated to give him a high ranking, especially with his inflated ice time last season, something that he probably won't benefit from next season with the IceCaps.
It comes down to projected potential versus established competence in a professional hockey league. Essentially, both sides have a valid argument in this particular case.