Beau Akey was a great pick by the Edmonton Oilers. Period. Full stop. Give the scouting staff credit. Give Tyler Wright credit. Give Ken Holland credit. This has to be said first and foremost. Most who read my work know that I am critical of the level of commitment the Oilers have to scouting given their relative wealth to other NHL teams. So in the interest of balance, it needs to be said that Beau Akey was a great pick.
The second thing I would say here is that those tweets out there about this being a “need” pick, I disagree. Sure the RHD depth is weak. However, Akey, in my view was the best player available. There are points to be made about Lukas Dragicevic, but his skating scares me as does his lack of commitment to the defensive side of the game.
The final thing I want to say before getting into a discussion about Akey is that had Brandt Clarke not returned to Barrie, I really wonder where Akey would have been picked. I am quite certain the Oilers would not have been able to take him. He would have been long gone. So thank you Los Angeles Kings. That’s the only time you’ll ever hear that.
What Did I See This Year?
As the tweet above notes, Akey had a nice offensive year. His first half was very strong and he was certainly on pace to finish in the top ten of defence scoring in the OHL. When Brandt Clarke came back, Akey lost his PP1 role and took less minutes than he had in the first half of the season. As it was Akey finished 11-36-47 in 66 games along with 129 shots. His totals had him 19th in OHL defensive scoring which was fairly impressive given he spent more than half a season in a secondary role to Brandt Clarke.
In terms of the overall summary of Akey, I see him upside down to a lot of smart draft analysts. There is a lot of focus on his defensive side of the game especially on rush chances and defending the blueline. While some highlight his offensive tools, those are the exception and not the rule. For me, I see a player who has the chance to be a strong offensive contributor that needs to work on his defensive play in the zone.
Why Beau Akey has me intrigued is that he has all the offensive skillsets and the deficiencies on defence are not ones that relate to skill or hockey sense, but to a combination of inexperience as well as a slighter stature. Both can be solved with time and effort.
Four-Way Skating Personified
What all of us who watched Akey this year are unanimous on is Akey’s skating. He is a highly mobile defender who can both defend and attack in all four directions. His directional transitions are fantastic for such a young player. What’s fascinating is that Akey really uses this skill defensively a lot, but far less so on offence. Look at this simple clip of a close-out by Akey here. Watch how he can transition from forward, to backward and then explode out to the side to challenge the puck carrier without any loss of balance or pace.
He uses this skill to defend his blueline incredibly well and it results in a great deal of transition turnovers or lost possession dump-ins.
However, what would happen if he used this skill in the offensive zone as frequently as he does in the neutral and defensive zones? It would look a lot like this clip.
Notice again how fluidly Akey moves from forward to backward to lateral skating without any loss of balance or power. He is so dynamic with his skating in all directions that he causes all manner of coverage losses by defenders.
In addition to the directional aspect of his skating, he also changes pace within a matter of strides. Watch this clip where he starts with the puck in the neutral zone. Notice the nice pace and the slight lateral movement looking for the gap between defenders. Then watch how quickly he explodes straight up the ice when he creates a lane with his lateral movement.
When I see commentary on Akey most want to highlight how his footwork leads to strong defensive work. I agree with that. However, I think that skill could be used offensively in a very dynamic way.
No Shinpad Assassin Here
Beau Akey has a tremendous shot. It’s not really an overpowering shot although his slapshot carries some heat to it as can be seen here.
What makes the Akey shot intriguing is that it almost never gets blocked. The simple reason for this is that he gets the puck off his stick very quickly. Here is a textbook example of what I mean. Akey receives the puck with a defender coming across looking for the block. Watch how Akey adjusts his stick position and then without any swing at all gets the puck off his stick before the defender can get across to make a play.
Here is another example where Akey has a defender tight on him at the blue line. Watch again as Akey takes no backswing and very accurately gets it to the net for a goal.
For Akey, this is not a feature as much as this is a calling card of his shot. Look at this sample of goals below. Again, the shot does not appear to overwhelm the goalie, but it is accurate and there are very few visual queues of where the puck is going.
Beau Akey only had 129 shots in 66 games last year. I mentioned in a tweet that the phrase “be assertive” should be heard a lot with this player. This is a prime example. I would be looking for Akey to direct more shots at net.
He creates all manner of opportunities for his teammates and an equal portion of havoc for the opposing goalie. A good goal for Akey would be to try and average three shots per game this year. That would allow him to challenge for a twenty-goal season.
The Puck Skills Don’t Lie
Another big aspect of Akey’s game is his puck skills. His ability to handle the puck in close quarters and then his patience to determine what to do with it are quite good. Watch this clip of something Akey did not do enough of last year – attack the opposing blueline with the puck. He penetrates the zone on a great give-and-go. Then gathers in a tough pass at speed and makes a headscratcher of a back pass for a goal. This is top-flight work.
Here is another example from inside the zone where Akey manages the puck in tight quarters really well to set up a two-on-one. Then watch him be very patient with the puck when he bobbles it before sending it over for the easy tap in goal.
Here is maybe my favourite clip in terms of Akey’s puck skills. It isn’t a dangle or anything spectacular. Watch how many times Akey looks across to see what options are developing when he doesn’t have the puck.
I love that hockey sense in a player. He’s not locked in on the puck, nor the concept of just him handling it. He’s looking to see if there is an option or options that are better than him retaining the puck. It leads to a great cross-ice feed for a goal.
There is no question in my mind that Beau Akey could be ripe to have a breakout season offensively this year. He may have already been on that path until the LA Kings put a giant hurdle in his way named Brandt Clarke.
This year Akey will have command of the defence group in all facets of the game and I believe it could lead to career-high point totals.
So We Stole A First Round Pick?
I don’t think so, but it is closer than you think. We already highlighted one reason he slid to 56, which was Brandt Clarke taking up minutes. Without Clarke perhaps Akey isn’t even a draft thought for the Oilers. The other area that caused him some grief is in-zone defending.
No issues with Aley on transitional defending at all, however, when other teams got set up Akey was challenged. Watch this goal the North Bay Battalion score. Akey gets back and is in a good position net front. He then somehow lets not only his man, but another player get between him and the goalie and lets the puck get through. He then does not have the strength to win the loose puck battle and he is promptly dash one.
That needs a clean-up on aisle six in a hurry. Fronting the player is an ok strategy if you intercept the puck. However, here, the play was to make sure the player never got to the net. Akey will need to build some strength here to make this more challenging for attacking players.
The other area in-zone is his awareness. This is mostly about experience in my books, but it is something to monitor. Akey has very good hockey sense, but in his zone, he sometimes gets puck-watching and loses his assignment.
Here is a clip of that exact issue. Watch Akey get locked on the shot from the point completely unaware that his check is moseying down to the net front for a rebound chance.
One final clip that I want to show here. It’s a clip I have shown a lot, but just from the perspective of the great play Matvey Petrov made. However, watch who the defender is on the play.
Number 86, Beau Akey.
It’s fine that Akey flubs the outlet. Those things do happen. However, watch the panic set in with Akey resulting in him leaving his feet and allowing North Bay to attack the net down low.
Nothing fatal in this clip. Just an example of a player that needs to use more poise in the defensive zone and be coached up on the proper reads to make and then plays to execute.
Where Is The Comp Man!
I watched Akey about 14 times this year and every time he reminded me of someone different. Akey has a solid defensive game with the noted exception above. He’s aggressive on transitional defence and loves ensuring his blueline is well-defended. That makes me think a lot about Neil Pionk when he was draft eligible. However, there is more offensive upside in Akey’s game for certain.
When I see him play complete games I see a lot of McKenzie Weegar in his game. A very conservative, quiet player who you may not notice a lot, but ends up the night with all the good fancy stats as well as positive scoresheet stats. Whatever Akey turns into as a professional player, this was a very solid pick for an Edmonton Oilers organization that didn’t have a lot of picks and needed this exact type of player.
For those of you who want to leave feedback, please I read all of it although my Mom encourages me not to. You can send your notes below this article or to @bcurlock on the Twitter. Cheers.