Sean Couturier has proven to be a poor front runner. The "reverse Secretariat" started at the front of the pack (with Adam Larsson) and appeared to be holding his own through the World Junior roster cuts. Since then, he’s been passed like a house on the side of the road.
It cannot be easy for these teenagers at the top of the draft. Millions of dollars can be made or lost in a draft year: cover the bet like Taylor Hall and you win the toughest prize in amateur hockey (first overall in the NHL draft). Struggle and you can drop quicker than Angelo Esposito.
Sean Couturier is extremely unlikely to be the first overall selection at the 2011 entry draft. That in and of itself isn’t big news, Couturier was co-#1 on Bob McKenzie’s pre-season list (it is here) so being selected 2nd or 3rd wouldn’t send Angelo Esposito ripples throughout the scouting community (Esposito was ranked at or near the top of the draft by central scouting, and then ended up going 20th overall in his draft year). Even a 4th overall selection in the entry draft for Couturier wouldn’t be such a big deal.
However, as time passes there is some anecdotal evidence that suggests Couturier is sliding as the draft season wears on. This looks more like Cam Fowler’s fall from his predicted spot on the draft floor, which was a matter of teams liking another prospect just a little bit more. In Couturier’s case, the trickle may become a flood and some scouting services currently rank him at the edge of the top 10. Here’s the latest list from Redline Report:
- RW Gabriel Landeskog, Kitchener (OHL)
- C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Red Deer (WHL)
- D Adam Larsson, Skelleftea (SEL)
- D Dougie Hamilton, Niagra (OHL)
- L Jonathan Huberdeau, Saint John (QMJHL)
- D Ryan Murphy, Kitchener (OHL)
- C Ryan Strome, Niagra (OHL)
- C Sean Couturier, Drummondville (QMJHL)
- C Alex Khokhlachev, Windsor (OHL)
- L Brandon Saad, Saginaw (OHL)
In our conversation on Nation Radio this past Saturday, ON’s Jonathan Willis said "Redline is a scouting organization that likes to make a big splash, they like to generate controversy with their lists. I can’t help but think that a little bit of that is playing into placing Couturier at #8."
EJ McGuire, the director of Central Scouting, would seem to agree. I asked him for any names he felt could break into the season long top 4 (Larsson, Couturier, Landeskog and RNH) and he felt there was no one, not even Hamilton and Strome whose arrows have been going straight up since the new year. When asked directly about Couturier being available outside the top 5, McGuire said "he is long legged and smooth and very deliberate, yet sees the ice well. If you want a firewagon hockey you might pass over this player."
One team that appears to be considering passing over Couturier is the Edmonton Oilers. At a special event for season ticket holders on the weekend, Steve Tambellini mentioned the names in consideration for first overall. Adam Larsson, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan Strome and Dougie Hamilton were all mentioned, but the big Drummondville center was omitted from ST’s list. I think we can all understand that the Oilers aren’t about to reveal their lists, but it is also reasonable to assume that they are in fact looking at those 5 men at number one.
Which leads me to believe it’s Adam Larsson or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Couturier was at or near the top of the draft for the first few months of this season. What happened? Too many viewings? Did he fade?
Couturier had an outstanding offensive season. He went 36-60-96 in 58 games played. Where is the case against him? Here it is:
- His splits were 25gp, 16-36-52 before January 1st (a 2.08ppg total) and 33gp, 20-24-44 in 2011’s regular season games (1.33).
- Kirk Luedeke’s take on the fall is here. He says: He’s got a nice 6-4, 195-pound frame and has the hands and instincts to be a scorer at the next level. What is hurting him most are his heavy feet, but you can expect that he will spend a lot of time with power skating instructors between now and whenever he’s knocking on the NHL door to remedy that shortcoming.
And perhaps most damaging his year-to-year progress is lagging compared to Nugent-Hopkins and Strome:
- Age 15 in Q: 58gp, 9-22-31 (,534ppg)
- Age 16 in Q: 68gp, 41-55-96 (1.412ppg)
- Age 17 in Q: 58gp, 36-60-96 (1.655ppg)
Couturier didn’t stall season over season, but the improvement (as noted above by the splits) stopped after the World Juniors. He may be what he is, which is still an exceptional prospect. But more and more he is looking like Doug Wickenheiser in a world of Denis Savard’s, with no GM willing to select the big man #1 this time.
- Age 16 in O: 61gp, 8-19-27 (.443ppg)
- Age 17 in O: 65gp, 33-73-106 (1.631ppg)
Although his point-per-game total is similar to Couturier, it’s a case of how he got there. Strome’s development has been nothing less than astonishing, to the point where Woodlief is now calling him the best stickhandler in the draft. Although Strome has not been considered as a serious option by most Oiler fans (including me) from this point forward Strome should be in the conversation. He could go #1, and the Oilers have listed him as a player under consideration. Strome is 6.01, 183 and right-handed which may also help when projecting him onto the Oilers in the future.
- Age 15 in W: 5gp, 2-4-6 (1.2ppg)
- Age 16 in W: 67gp, 24-41-65 (.9701ppg)
- Age 17 in W: 69gp, 31-75-106 (1.536ppg)
A strong finish puts RNH in the conversation. He has clearly improved season-over-season and his season caught fire at about the same time as Couturier began to fade. He has exceptional skill and appears to be the "Doan" selection for Oilers nation at this draft.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
The Edmonton Oilers are extremely likely to have the first overall selection at the entry draft. Sean Couturier doesn’t appear to be under consideration, although a strong playoff could change all that in a hurry. Adam Larsson and RNH are still standing, as is Gabriel Landeskog. And in an "oh by the way" kicker to the Couturier news we have two new kids to consider in Strome and Dougie Hamilton.
In this way the Oilers list appears to be marching in lock step with Redline report.