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2021 Montreal Canadiens Top 25 Under 25: #23 Brett Stapley

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Can we expect a bounce back from Stapley in his senior year with the Pioneers?

2019 NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Championships - Semifinals Photo by Bill Wippert/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

The Montreal Canadiens have made a habit out of finding gems in the seventh round of the NHL Draft. Brett Stapley has been another steady riser in the team’s prospect pool since being selected as an over-ager in June 2018. Two promising seasons in Denver raised both awareness and hope of having found the second coming of Jake Evans.

Elite Prospects

The 2020-21 season was when some of the hype surrounding Stapley wore off. After finally getting on the ice, he recorded seven points in 13 games and looked to have taken a step back from his excellent sophomore year. This season, Brett’s senior year, will prove if that was just a temporary setback in an otherwise impressive developmental curve for the young centreman.

Voting

Last year, when I put Stapley as my number 17, I imagined I would be slightly higher on him than the rest of the crew. This year, I was fearing the opposite; that I would have judged the book too much by its cover and be the lowest of the bunch.

Both times, I’ve been wrong. This year, Stapley had a wide range of votes from the EOTP crew, ranging from 15 all the way down to 40.

Out of the more than 400 ballots that came in for his year’s list, only three had Stapley ranked higher than number 15. Meanwhile, considerably more voters had him ranked in the bottom five.

Marc-Antoine Levis:Brett Stapley isn’t giving me much confidence in his abilities, at his age and production in the NCAA, I don’t see him as much more than AHL depth.

Nathan Ni:He’s 22 and didn’t exactly rip up the NCAA last year. There may be pandemic-related circumstances to that, but I just mostly see him as an AHL journeyman right now.

Scott Matla:I see a lot of Jake Evans in Stapley. Based on David Saint-Louis’s scouting I think he’s someone who will be a steady bottom-six guy in the NHL before long. He’s got more speed and he’s got upside as a playmaker, despite the lower point totals.

Top 25 Under 25 History

2020: #20 2019: #31 2018: #43

After making his debut at the back end of 2018’s list, Stapley saw his stock rise to number 31 in 2019 before peaking at 20 last year. This is the first time his ranking hits a bit of a speedbump. Is the 22-year-old close to maxing out his potential on this list?

A solid bounce-back year with Denver should end up with him being signed to an entry-level deal. And once you actually get your foot through the door with a pro contract, there is every opportunity to be back on the rise for next year’s list. For living proof, look at Evans’ and Cayden Primeau’s journeys from longshots to talents of NHL calibre.

History of #23

Year #23
Year #23
2020 Otto Leskinen
2019 Rhett Pitlick
2018 Michael McCarron
2017 Lukas Vejdemo
2016 Zachary Fucale
2015 Gabriel Dumont
2014 Darren Dietz
2013 Dalton Thrower
2012 Greg Pateryn
2011 Alain Berger
2010 Andreas Engqvist

Strengths

Stapley’s biggest asset is his playmaking and intelligence. Funny how often those two are combined to describe centremen. He isn’t the quickest or the lightest on his feet, but he manages to squeeze through pucks to set his linemates up for goalscoring opportunities.

His deceptive style of play could create problems on higher levels than the NCAA. Stapley has a way of keeping the puck in his reach with terrific stick-handling to create additional opportunities for his teammates to find open ice.

Weaknesses

Stapley’s inability to score goals on the NCAA level has raised questions surrounding his overall ability to add more offensive elements than playmaking down the line.

Since he is neither the quickest player on the ice nor the most physical, there is a risk that Stapley ends up as a one-trick pony. A player who certainly can swerve together some delicacies to a pouncing linemate from time to time, but who also risks vanishing from games altogether due to the one-dimensional nature of his game.

What made it possible for Evans to take consistent leaps from the NCAA up to the NHL was his ability to adapt to any role assigned to him by his coaches. Using his pace to shut down the opposing top threats in a bottom-six centre role? No problem. Moving up the lineup to instead provide offence as a first-line winger? Bien sûr, mon ami.

I want to see Stapley adapt to his current surroundings and provide this year’s Pioneers team with some sort of spark. A solid 200-foot game and an improved scoring touch should do the trick.

Projection

Personally, I think 13 games of 0.5 PPG production gives too little information to be a real knock on a prospect’s developmental curve. If we, as an example, were to look at Cole Caufield’s play and statistics ahead of this most recent World Junior Championship, we would perhaps not have been as swept away as we currently are.

Limited sample size doesn’t provide us with a full-width spectrum. This is the case to which we should judge Stapley’s junior season as well. Since being drafted, he has gone through significant growth. Before having more intel, I am willing to consider his junior year as an anomaly rather than a trajectory.

It is possible that he just needed a year to adapt and fill the void created by Mathias Emilio Pettersen. When the Norwegian left Denver to play AHL hockey with Stockton, it created a crater-sized hole down the middle which was expected to at least in part be filled by their number seven. It is quite the change to go from promising sophomore talent to suddenly be one of the expected leaders on the team, and this prospect wouldn’t be the first to struggle with living up to higher expectations. It is also probable that Stapley, as many others, were disturbed by the chopped-up yesteryear, this fall could well serve as his redemption. This year, however, there are no excuses.

If you get the urge to check out some NCAA hockey this winter, I strongly urge you to find a game with the Denver Pioneers and have a lookout for their number seven. He may not instantly win you over with bombastic flair, but instead what you’ll see is a spider-in-the-web dynamo who operates best in the shadows. Behind enemy blue lines.