Friday, May 29, 2015

2015 NHL Draft Preview: 6th Overall Pick (New Jersey's first selection) Write-Up

I’ve been meaning to do write-ups like these for a while now, and at this point post like this seem like a dime-a-dozen, but I wanted to give my input from what I’ve seen throughout the year. With the draft only 4 weeks away, I wanted to look at some players who I think would be viable options for the Devils’ draft selections.

This post is a conglomeration of all of my viewings (all online and none in person, unfortunately…maybe one day I’ll be able to do some scouting in person), as well as considering and referencing some of the various scouting reports I have read about Barzal including but not limited to, Dub From Above, Future Considerations 2015 Draft Guide, TheDraft Analyst, Last Word On Sports, The Hockey News 2015 Draft Guide, various HFBoards threads, and other sources. While I have not personally spoken to the aforementioned sources, I felt it absolutely necessary to reference their hard work in the field and how much I appreciate looking at a player from another perspective. Long story short, this is my viewing opinion of the players, all while adding and taking into consideration the viewing opinions of others, sometime more experienced and professional opinions. I’m an amateur, with no affiliation to any scouting organization or any team scouting department. If there are any questions, I would be happy to answer them.

These are my opinions and I know they will come back to bite me because when looking back at draft picks, hindsight is 20/20. There may be, and in some cases probably are, and if you disagree with my selections I’d love to discuss it with you!

With the first profile I’ll look at, we’re exploring options for whom to select with the 6th overall pick. There are many options available and still a handful of talented players projected to go in that range. I think it’s important to address the most blatant team need for the Devils with this pick: a top-line center. There are some other team needs, mainly depth at the RW and top-6 players in general. However I do feel like this pick is the most likely to be able to develop into that top-line center. We can use picks #36 and/or #41 to address some of the lack of RW depth in the organization.

Mathew Barzal
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 181 lbs
Position: C
Shoots: R
Team (League): Seattle (WHL)
ISS rank: 8
CSS rank: 11 (for NA skaters)
FC rank: 10
THN rank: 10
Statline for 2014-2015 Season: 44 GP, 12G 45A 57P 20PIM, +13, 1.295 Points/Game

If you’ve never heard of Barzal (pronounced Bar-zel), I know what you’re probably thinking: Why would we consider taking a guy who’s ranked around the #10 spot with our 6th overall pick? Hear me out on this one; Barzal is the best draft-eligible player out of the entire WHL this season. If you’re looking specifically at ranking numbers, then remember that each team has its own drafting crew with their own lists. Some of them can really very strange when compared to “the consensus”, which is comprised of public draft lists. One example of how different some of each team’s lists are (after the top 2 or so contenders for each year) was when the Vancouver Canucks accidentally showed a video of their draft list, or at least one of their scout’s list. This article on looks more into detail about it.

Okay, so looking more specifically at Barzal: (I will quickly discuss other draft options besides Barzal after his overview)

Where do I start with Mathew Barzal? Well, to say he’s highly-skilled is a bit of an understatement. Future Considerations considered Barzal as the 3rd best stickhandler and 3rd most creative playmaker out of the entire draft class. The only two people ahead of him are consensus top-5 picks (I won’t say who the rest are out of respect for the purchasing of the FC Draft Guide…I’ll give you one guess who’s #1 though).  There are several factors that stand out to me for Barzal, and I will discuss those a little later. But two things that really shine out from the rest of the players projected to be drafted in his range are his vision and IQ. I’m a firm believer that Barzal’s vision is the second-best in this draft class. With his vision comes some elite passing, and his ability to pick apart a defense with his pinpoint passing has been a real treat to watch. IQ-wise, he’s an incredible positional player in the offensive zone, and is still working on his game in the defensive zone.

By this I mean that he is no ways irresponsible defensively. Actually I was rather impressed from what I saw from a player his age in terms of responsibility and positioning. His great understanding of the game (high IQ) as well as his stellar hands helps him anticipate passes and start a transition. He is also pretty good at blocking shots as well. The concerns I have for his defensive game are his tendencies to stop moving his feet and overall consistency in his own end. In regards to his defense though, I feel that it can certainly be refined, and will be. Barzal has a great skillset to be dangerous in his own zone. His skating, quick hands, vision, and general sense of the ice will all play key roles as he learns to refine his defensive game. Don’t look for him to be a shutdown forward, but that’s not what his role will be if the Devils do pick him (or whoever else picks him). He has played on the Penalty Kill though for Seattle. This is moreso a testament to his quick ability to transition and make plays whether they be on the breakaway or an odd-man rush than his ability to shut down an opponents’ Power Play, but this is important for his development as well.

Barzal’s skating is incredibly impressive. John Williams from Central Scouting describes Barzal as “…the best skater [he’s] seen in the WHL in terms of [Barzal’s] east-west game while creating time and space with his feet…” What this essentially means Barzal has a large number of ways to beat a defense. This method of “east-west skating” mentioned above, for those who aren’t too good with terminology like that (like myself), is in regards to how Barzal is able to skate around defensemen using his acceleration and top-end speed.

Offensively, Barzal is the full package. There are some cons to his game, which I will address later, but overall, he is an incredible playmaker; an absolute pure playmaking center. He has the ability to not only make plays while at his top speed but also to slow the game down to whatever pace he wants. A term I would use to describe him is a “slippery skater”. He is able to work his way around defensemen, and is able to win a solid number of board battles because of his stickhandling ability.

I remember before Jack Eichel showed up on the draft scene, this draft year was initially the battle between Connor McDavid and Mathew Barzal. For anybody wondering why Barzal played significantly less games this season, it occurred when he cracked his patella (kneecap) in an off-ice incident (I believe it was a fall in the locker-room) which sidelined him for quite some time. When he returned from injury, it was as if he was never injured at all and over the course of the latter part of the season after he returned, he scored 39 points in 24 games. I feel that while there may be a consensus top-5 for this draft year (McDavid, Eichel, Hanifin, Strome, Marner in some order), I believe if Barzal stayed healthy all year he would definitely be in the discussion of the top-5 for this draft.

Barzal is the type of player that makes the other guys on his line better. He is more of a playmaker than a scorer. That’s not to say he doesn’t have a good shot, in fact he really does have a good, fast, and deceptive snap shot. He showed me that during his play at the IIHF World U18’s championships. Barzal has been an offensive stud for Seattle. He’s been their top-line center for the past 2 seasons (his only 2 seasons in the WHL) and has been carrying the offense since. Outside of Shea Theodore and Ryan Gropp, there really isn’t much, if any, offensive firepower in Seattle. He was able to take control of Team Canada’s offense at the U18’s, running the Powerplay (much like he did in Seattle as well).

Barzal has a tendency to “over-pass” or to try too much in the offensive zone. He does not shoot as much as he should, but it is really good that he is an unselfish player. I feel that his frame will allow him to be able to add on 15-20 pounds of muscle, which will significantly help his all-around play, specifically board play when without the puck. One of the issues that I do have with Barzal is that he is a perimeter player, and does not drive to the slot unless there is a calculated risk. I would also like to see him play with a bit more physicality too. Barzal said he models his game after Claude Giroux, of the Philadelphia Flyers, which I can definitely see. I can also see elements of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in his game. I believe Barzal has the potential to be a top-line center in the NHL if he can work out in his offense against the larger defensemen in the NHL. He certainly has the offensive skill to do so. Cody Nickolet from Dub From Above says that Barzal might be assigned to play 2nd line center so he can be somewhat sheltered away from “the bigger lines at the next level, stopping [Nickolet] from classifying [Barzal] as that ‘true #1’ type of center…” (Dub From Above – if you haven’t gotten a chance to read his blog, I would HIGHLY suggest it).

Next year will be a big developmental year for Barzal, to see if he can continue on his path of progression post-injury.

I have the Devils selecting Barzal with the 6th overall pick because he fits the mold of a type of center that we need, a pure playmaking one. I’m not saying I wouldn’t want Pavel Zacha, Mikko Rantanen, Lawson Crouse, Kyle Connor, etc. I just believe Barzal is the perfect combination of speed, skill, IQ, playing style, defensive responsibility, and overall talent that we need. Barzal drives the offense and is an elite playmaker with an excellent shot. Barzal is the exact injection of speed and lethal offense that the Devils need. If the Devils do not take Mathew Barzal, or if he is off the board by the time we pick, then my preference would be Pavel Zacha, or whoever falls out of the top-5 (If that's Marner, the Devils staff should sprint up to the podium and run to the hills with Marner, but that's a different discussion). I really look forward to following Barzal's career wherever he ends up...even if he ends up on Philadelphia, I can't see them passing on him, since he's almost a Giroux clone.

Barzal will need another year in the WHL to hone out and refine his overall game, but I don't see him needing more than that until he is NHL-ready. As a Devils fan, I can't stop thinking about the possibility of matching him up on a line with Reid Boucher. The two may not work well together, but if Boucher can find the space in the slot, and if Barzal can feed him, then I really think it's worth a shot (no pun intended).

The next write-up will be for the Devils' draft selection: 36 overall

Thanks for reading! If you have any comments or suggestions, please feel free to tell me!

Follow me on Twitter @DTJ_AHockeyBlog for my next draft pick write-up!

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