These days it’s fashionable to hammer on David Musil as a prospect, and it’s easy to understand why. There were a lot of good players available in the second round of the 2011 Draft – among others, Tomas Jurco in Detroit, Boone Jenner in Columbus, Brandon Saad in Chicago.
But there needs to be a line drawn between the scouting process – identifying the best player at that draft position – and the player himself. David Musil’s a pretty good prospect, and his rookie season in Oklahoma City leaves lots of reason for optimism.
The 2011 Defencemen
20 defencemen were selected in the first two rounds of 2011, and the NHL games played totals pretty much tell the story here. Only three of them have had extensive minutes in the majors, and one of those – Adam Larsson in New Jersey – finished the year in the AHL.
The top-10 picks are establishing themselves, the next 10 are getting their feet wet, and everybody after that is still more-or-less finding their way.
Musil isn’t leading the charge, but that shouldn’t be a surprise. His post-draft progress (two years in junior, one year entirely in the AHL) is entirely reasonable for a pick in this range, and especially so for a defensive defenceman.
It comes down to foot speed with David. He knows that, everybody else knows that. I have to tell you, I like the way he battles in the corners; he’s definitely strong enough to play up there. What impressed me about him is that he makes better decisions with the puck than I thought he had in him. He’s able to try and make the right play; it’s a matter of execution because of skill level, that’s a different matter, but if he keeps a simple game… it’s his footspeed. With David it’s a matter of being able to handle a guy like Phil Kessel coming down the wing. We’ve seen guys in the NHL in the past that weren’t overly quick; for David that’s something where hopefully he matures and gets quicker as he gets older, but he’s a guy I could see playing some games next year.
The quote above comes courtesy of Todd Nelson, and it frames the issue nicely I think.
Speed comes up every time Musil’s name is mentioned, and it’s a valid concern. It doesn’t mean we need to write the player off.
Looking at Oilers from the recent past, it’s true that Alex Plante had speed issues. So did Matt Greene. So did Sheldon Souray. That’s a pretty big range of possible outcomes.
So we look at the other things Nelson said.
Nelson says that Musil has NHL strength right now. He brings size (6’3”, 200 pounds) and his dad ended up playing at around 215 pounds, which seems like a pretty reasonable place to expect the son to end up, so there’s probably more of that to come and that’s an awfully nice quality to have in front of the net.
He’s also smart. Nelson’s quote suggests a certain amount of initial surprise at Musil’s ability with the puck. Musil isn’t a dynamic playmaker, but he’s not Mark Fraser either; he doesn’t treat the puck like a grenade and he can make a pass. It’s also telling that Musil spent most of the year on the right side as a left-handed shot and can play either; that’s a useful talent to have and says something about the player’s intelligence.
Musil likely isn’t going to end up as a high-range defenceman; typically those players need to be highly mobile and bring more offence to the table than Musil does. But plenty of NHL teams have found room for big, strong, smart defenceman; as Oilers fans know some teams have even settled for just big and strong.
So it’s fine to look back at the draft and covet Boone Jenner, and it’s fine to point out that Musil hasn’t made it yet. But it’s important not to lose track of the fact that he brings some things NHL teams like, and more importantly that he adjusted nicely to the professional game with a successful OKC debut.
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