Technically, the NCAA portion of the “Midterms” series is not complete, as Max Zimmer’s article is still pending hopefully for early next week. As opposed to doing a quick Google research project and then hoping to interpret a few articles and statistics to present an accurate representation of a players season, the aim is to get ‘from the rink’ insight from scouts and media who watch/track these prospects on a game by game basis the same way I track the Hurricanes.
The articles that are posted offer great firsthand looks at the players seasons but at least as good as the articles themselves are the short, usually digital, conversations with other people who track players. The result is gradually piecing together a reasonably full picture of players’ 2017-18 seasons.
Based on the articles themselves, further input from interviewees (not everything is fit for print) and also a decent volume of side conversations with other sources who were not willing to commit the time to doing the interview but were kind enough to share some quick insight, below is another round on the NCAA level prospects.
Luke Martin (Midterms article)
Of the NCAA prospects, Martin stands out as probably having had the most impressive season thus far. The internet research project version of his 2017-18 season does not stand out as spectacular. That is largely because he is Brett Pesce-like in that the strength of his game is not flashy, stat-collecting scoring but rather steady and non-numerically impressive defensive play. But reviews of his 2017-18 are unanimously strong, and the context that goes with it makes it even more impressive. A couple sources who track Michigan hockey have painted a similar picture with a Wolverines’ defense that was porous at times early in the season and has only recently started to tighten up. But even in the midst of a less than stellar defense, Martin has risen about and stood out as steady and solid throughout the 2017-18 season. A couple noted that his team high plus 13 rating matches the eye test and accurately reflects his level of play during the 2017-18 season.
Martin is interesting in that he possesses what is becoming an increasingly rare skill set in today’s NHL. At 6 feet 4 inches tall and 216 pounds and with a physical edge as a 19-year old. In today’s NHL, where there is not room for players who cannot skate, throwback players like Martin valuable but increasingly rare. In addition, as a right shot Martin could be a stay-home complement to one of the Hurricanes skating left shot defensemen.
Jack LaFontaine (Midterms article)
Whereas team mate, Martin stands out as potentially the player making the greatest strides in 2017-18, Jack LaFontaine stands out as arguably the player with the greatest setback in 2017-18. The potential to develop for four years without requiring an NHL contract or ice time in system is a positive with drafting NCAA players. One down side is that significantly shorter seasons and therefore development time for NCAA players. Whereas Canadian junior players can often log 70 games, NCAA players are closer to half of that. So with fewer games anyway, LaFontaine losing the starting job after splitting starts early in the season just does not make for much ice time to develop. As a quick comparison, Canes prospect Jeremy Helvig who is a starter and is playing in the OHL has already logged 40 games in 2017-18. By contrast, LaFontaine has played in only 10. Especially for goalies, ice time is a critical component in a player’s development. So perhaps the bigger concern that LaFontaine’s level of play is simply the lack of opportunity right now. In his “Midterms” article, Anthony Ciatti noted the arrival of another highly-touted goalie for the 2018-19 season and the potential that this could actually push LaFontaine out.
Regardless of how it all sorts out, multiple reads paint La Fontaine’s 2017-18 season as a bit of a setback. Important to note is that he still possesses the same natural ability that made him a draft-worthy prospect and also that it is not uncommon for goalies to develop slowly. So while positive is always better than negative, writing off a 20-year goalie based on a bump in the road is premature.
Matt Filipe (Midterms article)
The Hurricanes’ prospect pool includes a group of forward prospects with somewhat similar physical skill sets. The group of David Cotton, Luke Stevens, Max Zimmer, Hudson Elynuik and Matt Filipe all fit the bill as players with projectable NHL size and most of them with good skating ability to fits a 200-foot game in the NHL. None of them would rate as dynamic offensively.
But of that group, Matt Filipe was the one who most stood out in prospect camp as potentially having a higher ceiling offensively. The sample size was admittedly small with only scrimmages and drills for assessment, but for me Filipe rose above the rest of the group with his finishing ability. He scored twice in the end of week scrimmage and also bettered the other forwards all week in terms of finishing ability. Coupled with his skating ability, he left Raleigh with me thinking that he was one to watch for a break out season offensively in 2017-18. So far that has not happened. He continues to receive high marks for his skating ability and two-way play but his 13 points in 25 games do not qualify as the break out offensively that I hoped for. As such, I guess his projection goes back to being a skating-capable two-way forward who would need to find a higher gear offensively at some point to ever be more than that at the NHL level.
David Cotton (Midterms article)
At this point in his development, David Cotton is an interesting value draft pick from the fifth round of the 2015 NHL Draft. As a college player who spent another year in the USHL after being drafted, the Hurricanes get the benefit of a long run of development time with his draft rights maintained without the need to sign him to a contract. And right now the trajectory looks decent.
Like the other Canes forward prospects drafted in the middle rounds, Cotton has the size (6 feet 3 inches tall) and skating ability that give him a chance. His 2017-18 season has him atop the Boston College scorers with 19 points in 26 games. His steady progress over three years since being drafted is worth watching.
Max Zimmer (Midterms article not yet posted)
Max Zimmer has yet to be profiled in the “Midterms” series, but I have already received some input and enough to make a quick assessment of his 2017-18 season thus far. After a modest nine points in 35 games as a rookie at Wisconsin in 2016-17, Zimmer is charting a similar course for the 2017-18 season with six points in 17 games. Things have yet to click offensively, but he still maintains the core physical set as a great skater who can play a 200-foot game. The watch point for Zimmer is whether he can find a higher gear offensively. He is another for whom the longer draft rights period is a positive, as it allows the Hurricanes to watch and wait without needing to make a decision on a professional contract while he is still playing NCAA hockey.
Luke Stevens (Midterms article)
Stevens is another forward with NHL size who was a later-round draft pick and maybe a longer development path away from the NHL. Check ins on Stevens suggest that he has settled in at the NCAA level and is making progress, but his offensively production is modest at nine points in 20 games. He is yet another whom the Hurricanes can watch develop for awhile without the need to commit to a contract.
Netting it out
Luke Martin is arguably the player who has made the greatest strides during the 2017-18 season. Jack LaFontaine and possibly Max Zimmer are the two players who have maybe faced modest setbacks. And Luke Stevens, Matt Filipe and David Cotton have all made step-wise progress in their sophomore seasons but still have work to do to ultimately earn a professional contract.
Whether it was intentional or not, I like the idea of using lower draft picks on NCAA players. The NCAA players can have four years to develop without needing to make a contract decision versus only two for Canadian Hockey League. That can be a big difference for later-round picks who require time to develop.