Staying away from smaller, skilled forwards at the draft is a common trend throughout the NHL; a movement the Montreal Canadiens have elected to ignore year after year. While many fans are totally against the plethora of "small players" selected by the organization over the past decade, it’s important to comprehend that they have had a solid run at the draft since Trevor Timmins took over.
It’s apparent that the Habs believe in rolling the dice on players with speed and skill over size and strength. Prospect Daniel Audette is a prime example of how it could be what separates them from the opposition in the future.
Although it's rather uncomplicated to examine a 5'9", 185-pound, fifth-round draft pick and conclude he’s destined for a life in the minors, that could be far from accurate in this instance. Equipped with tons of natural ability, a determined work ethic and his bloodlines, Audette could very well be one of the steals of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
The 19-year-old son of former Canadiens forward Donald Audette possesses some eerily similar traits to a few other undersized forwards within the organization: highly-touted prospect Charles Hudon, as well as forwards David Desharnais and Brendan Gallagher. Both Hudon and Gallagher were each drafted in the fifth round as well. In fact, Audette and the latter were selected with the exact same pick at 147th overall. Oh, and they even share the same birthday. The similarities are glaring.
Audette, a former first-overall pick in the QMJHL draft, is coming off yet another stellar season with the Sherbrooke Phoenix; recording a career high 29 goals to go with 44 assists for 73 points in 60 games. He’s heading into his final year of junior full of confidence after impressing at his second development camp earlier this summer, which eventually earned him a three-year entry level contract a few weeks ago.
The votes for Audette were pretty similar for the most part. 66% of the voters pegged him between the 18th and 22nd ranked player under 25; the average landing him in the 19th position. Just three of the 18 votes had him outside of the top 25, while on the flip side, one vote had him all the way up at seventh in the organization.
Top 25 History
This is only the second year Audette has been eligible for the Top 25 Under 25, which he has cracked on back-to-back occasions. After ranking 20th last season, he has moved up one spot this time around. It’s evident that many who follow the team closely appreciate the potential he brings to the Canadiens organization.
Audette has led the Phoenix in scoring two years in a row. With 76 points in 2013-14, he was involved in 42.2 percent of the team's scoring. In fact, he outscored his next best teammate by an absurd 32 points. With a much stronger roster in 2014-15, Audette’s team leading 73 points accounted for 32 percent of their scoring. Over the past two seasons, he has been involved in 37.5 percent of his team's offensive output.
His impressive numbers are the product of his ability to play a very fast and elusive game. The speedy centre sees the ice extremely well. Equipped with fantastic skating ability that allows him to transition with ease, Audette is great at finding space and opportunity to sneak away; a critical requirement for smaller players to be successful.
With solid lower body strength, Audette is also pretty strong on the puck. He possesses the ability to find the puck and use his impressive stickhandling to get out of traffic. His above average vision often leads to a quick pass, allowing him to be an effective playmaker in transition, as well as on the powerplay. Audette is also complemented by an underrated shot, which should allow him to breakout for his first 30-goal QMJHL campaign as an overager this year.
It’s no secret that Audette’s lack of size and strength will always lead to doubts about his capability of playing at a professional level, especially as a centre. Quite simply, he just doesn't have the physical maturity to excel at the position yet. Another constant criticism is his struggle to get to the high traffic areas; his stature being an obvious contributing factor. His 44.7% success rate on face-offs last season was decent, but he will definitely need to improve in that area this season.
Although Audette has a lot of heart and works hard defensively, he struggles in his own end at even strength. A minus-16 rating while scoring 73 points just isn't good enough. The defensive responsibility that comes with being a centre appears to affect his overall game, and he may ultimately best be suited on the wing down the road.
Consistency is another element that has plagued Audette from time to time throughout his junior career. During last year’s 73 point season, Audette scored a ridiculous 28 points in just 16 games to start; adding nine of his 14 power play goals over that stretch. He scored just five power play goals in the remaining 44 games, which is not good enough for someone who is such an effective player with the man advantage. Despite putting up 45 points in 44 games the rest of the way, his production took a hit over a 27 game stretch during the middle of the season.
Audette could very well be yet another small centre comparable to Desharnais, but the Canadiens would be wise to present him with every opportunity to move to the wing and focus on what he’s good at: Using his speed and vision to pick his spots, which can only make him a much more effective player in terms of offensive contribution and well-rounded play.
Hudon and Gallagher should serve as inspiration to both the youngster and the organization as a whole. A similar career path as the aforementioned duo would be very beneficial to both sides. You can't teach heart, and that's something he has been blessed with. It will allow him to succeed, especially if the Habs approach the partnership the right way.
As an overager this season, Audette is primed for the best year of his junior career. He should also gain some very valuable experience in the playoffs; something he hasn't had much of thus far. Audette will be destined for the AHL's St. John's Ice Caps next year, and could very easily put up impressive numbers (similar to Hudon last season) as a rookie.
The thought of the NHL is still quite a few years away, but it isn't out of the question by any means. Although it will be a daunting task, Audette fits the mould of yet another potential fifth round steal that we could be speaking about for years to come.