The fourth round of the NHL Entry Draft is where teams are often looking for a diamond in the rough. That’s precisely what the Montreal Canadiens hope they have found in Sean Farrell, selected at 123rd overall despite being ranked as high as 42 by Elite Prospects heading into the draft.
In fact, the lowest ranking of the outlets that had ranked him prior to the draft was from Bob McKenzie’s ranking for TSN, based on a survey of NHL scouts, which had him at 85. The fact that he fell so far may be cause for some concern, but the Canadiens appear to have gotten a consensus second- or third-round talent without having to trade up.
Coming off a stellar USHL season that saw him well over a point per game, he’ll get another crack at that league this year. He was slated to attend Harvard University, but the Ivy League just yesterday announced the suspension of their sports season due to COVID-19, so he’ll look to improve on his already impressive USHL numbers while he waits to begin his NCAA career.
Voting was quite spread out on Farrell, anywhere from 38 to 15. As will usually be the case with later-round picks, we don’t have much of a consensus, but the bulk of the voting suggests some real optimism about his future within the organization.
I had Farrell higher than some players who were drafted ahead of him in 2020. I think he will end up being the steal of the draft for Montreal, as there is potential top-six upside to his game. There’s no pressure on a fourth-round pick to be a top-six player either, so he gets to enjoy being under the radar while he develops. I’m excited to see how that plays out for him at Harvard.
History of #21
|2019||Joni Ikonen / Jayden Struble|
Farrell is an elite playmaker. As evidenced by his rate of nearly one assist per game in the USHL last year, he likes to pass the puck, and he’s extremely good at it. Brendan Brisson — a first-round selection of the Vegas Golden Knights — owes a lot of the goal production that made him a first-rounder to Farrell’s abilities in creating scoring chances.
He is an incredibly smart player, using his skating and puck-handling to move defenders out of position just enough to find one of his teammates, which he doesn’t need a lot of space to do. His vision and passing skills allow him to take the smallest window and put it tape-to-tape, so he makes even higher-risk plays look easy.
What really jumps out for me is his edgework, agility, and puck-protection. When he doesn’t have space to work with, he creates it very quickly and easily with his movement, and is innately aware of where the puck is in relation to the defenders. He’s fishing for them to try for a steal so that he can exploit that. More often than not, he succeeds.
He also made strides in his defensive game last season, and can kill penalties as well. I wouldn’t expect him to become the next perennial Selke candidate, but he’s effective enough defensively to allow himself to do what he does best: create offensive opportunities.
I am personally reticent to mention size as a weakness, but it is usually something you’ll see scouts mention about Farrell, and it is probably part of why he fell to the Canadiens in the fourth round. He will want to add some muscle to his frame as he moves through the ranks, and luckily the NCAA route gives him plenty of time to work on that before going pro.
As mentioned by our own Scott Matla in Farrell’s pre-draft profile, the main knock against him is a lack of generating goals on his own. While his shot isn’t elite, it is quite effective, and the problem may be that he just doesn’t use it enough. His 15 goals last year came on just 98 shots for a 15.3% shooting rate, so he will need to put more rubber toward the net to maximize his offensive output at the next level. Of course, his main game is setting up his teammates, but it would be nice to see him keep a few more looks for himself along the way.
Lastly, as you can see in the video above, he will at times circle the offensive zone with the puck looking for options. His skating and puck-handling allow him to get away with that in the USHL, but it will be harder to do in the NCAA, and much, much harder if and when he turns pro. He will need to make quicker decisions as the defenders he’s up against become bigger and faster, and he can’t create as much time for himself with his legs.
As is normally the case with fourth-rounders, he will be boom or bust. The sheer potential leads me to believe there is a much better chance of boom here, but we’ll have to wait as the NCAA route will mean a few years before we get a look at what he can do in the professional ranks.
There is legitimate top-six potential to his game. If his playmaking abilities alone translate to the next level, it’s easy to see him in a middle-six role in the NHL. If he can add a little more scoring of his own, he could very well be in that top-six conversation in the future. You have to love that he fell to the Habs because the ceiling on this kid appears to be quite high.
But the floor must also be considered. It’s possible that his game doesn’t translate to the next levels, and he never becomes an NHL regular. To analogize in a Habs-specific way, I think he’s either going to be Brendan Gallagher, or Charles Hudon, but I don’t think he’ll wait around in the AHL as long as the latter did. Either he becomes a regular NHLer, or he looks to do other things, for which he’s not likely to be short on options with a Harvard education under his belt.
Of course, his size coupled with the lateness of his selection in the draft will ostensibly invite comparison to Gallagher. That’s a tough comparison to live up to, but he has the potential to give the Canadiens some similar late-round value. Another potential Trevor Timmins coup in the later rounds.
Though the comparisons to Gallagher might be unavoidable, Farrell is a completely different player. Where Gallagher forced his way into the NHL much akin to the way he drives the net, Farrell will look to finesse his way there like he threads the needle with his passes.
There are no guarantees with fourth-round picks, but I have to say I like this one’s chances a lot.
Andrew Zadarnowski, Anton Rasegård and Patrik Bexell discusses the 22nd and 21st spots on the podcast: