Who We Be, Winnipeg HC? --- Centres II

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 07: Ben Maxwell #49 of the Atlanta Thrashers skates with the puck as Bryan McCabe #28 defends during their game on April 7, 2011 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

In the previous go-round with our centres, I looked at the players up with the big club last year and how they did.  Just as importantly, I outlined a glossary of statistics that I was using in the analysis in addition to giving you a sense of where the league averages and ranges were on those stats.  This time, I want to look at centre prospects, loosely defined as players under 25 with a contract but not having played a full season for the then-Thrashers.  After that, I'll assess whether centre is a position that needs to be addressed either via draft or free agency.

To get a sense of what these players did in 2010-11, I'm using Gabe's NHL equivalencies, a nifty little study that can give you rough calculations of what a player's performance at one level would translate to at the NHL level.  Ideally, these leagues would track the things we need to make a solid analysis per the previous post, but that isn't the case.  We'll start with a guy who played 21 games in the bigs last year.

 

Age Height Weight '10-'11 League(s) GP NHLE G NHLE A NHLE Pts PIM/G Plays PP? PK?
2010 - Patrice Cormier 21 188cm (6'1") 93kg (205 lbs) NHL,AHL 32 5 6 11 0.581 Y Y

A couple of quick points: "Age" is the player's age as of January 1st, 2012, and the NHLE's I applied tell us how (in this case) Patrice Cormier's performance across 32 NHL and AHL games would look if stretched out to an 82-game NHL season.  I follow this approach throughout.

Cormier is a middling prospect that captained Canada in the World Juniors in 2010 and was also the culprit in a very ugly incident that led to his suspension for half of the 2009-10 QMJHL season.  It may have also influenced his trade in a package deal from the New Jersey Devils to the Thrashers for Ilya Kovalchuk.  This is a player that is still raw, and might need more seasoning at the AHL level.  That said, he did put up an intriguing 58.2% success rate at the faceoff dot across 67 faceoffs during his NHL trial, a figure that could get him a spot on the fourth line this year.  We'll need to see some more results at the AHL or NHL level to know what he's capable of, but as of right now I'll give him a Grade: C- in comparison to the prospect population.

 


Age Height Weight '10-'11 League(s) GP NHLE G NHLE A NHLE Pts PIM/G Plays PP? PK?
2010 - Ben Maxwell 23 185cm (6'1") 86kg (190 lbs) AHL 49 8 22 30 0.653 Y N

Maxwell is a former 2nd-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens who has put up some pretty impressive numbers at the AHL level but didn't do much in his 12-game cup o' tea with the Thrashers last year.  Though 23 is a bit older for a prospect, it's still pretty young, and he could force the Winnipeg hand, particularly if he does well in the faceoff dot.  I don't see him ever being a top-liner, but second-line duty wouldn't be out of the question given a couple years' NHL experience.  Grade: C+

 


Age Height Weight '10-'11 League(s) GP NHLE G NHLE A NHLE Pts PIM/G Plays PP? PK?
2010 - Angelo Esposito 22 185cm (6'1") 82kg (180 lbs) AHL 57 2 6 8 0.614 Y N

Esposito was a blue-chip prospect whose career has since been devastated by injuries to his knees.  We haven't seen him score outside of the QMJHL (never a good sign), so there are only so many years after injury before we can be pretty sure he just won't fulfil his previous potential.  I'd like to see a full AHL season out of the guy to be sure, but this is the kind of situation where the player needs to overcome great odds.  Grade: D

 

 

Age Height Weight '10-'11 League(s) GP NHLE G NHLE A NHLE Pts PIM/G Plays PP? PK?
2010 - Riley Holzapfel 23 183cm (6'0") 84kg (185lbs) AHL 68 6 8 14 0.294 Y N

Holzapfel is a scrappy centre that has given us three seasons in the AHL with, unfortunately, little sign of improvement.  If there's a plus, it's that his scrappiness hasn't translated into bloated PIM totals, but otherwise it's difficult to argue that he'll make Winnipeg anytime soon.  Grade: D-

 

 

Age Height Weight '10-'11 League(s) GP NHLE G NHLE A NHLE Pts PIM/G Plays PP? PK?
2010 - Eric O'Dell 21 185cm (6'1") 82kg (180 lbs) OHL 39 13 15 28 0.872 Y Y

O'Dell is a promising centre, with the caveat that he's just finished his fourth year in the OHL, which can make you look pretty good if you're a 20-year old in a 17- and 18-year old player's league.  It's good to see goal-scoring at the lower levels, and the grit doesn't hurt either.  He hasn't stuck at the AHL level yet, though, so this is another case where we'd need to see what he can do in the AHL before getting our hopes up.  Grade: C-

Taking into account the team and the system, Winnipeg needs to be able to kick Nik Antropov to a wing and get a centre that can win draws more consistently, a solution not available in-house.  Given their butt-loads of cap space, they could make a run for Brad Richards, but he'll be incredibly expensive and on the wrong side of 30.  Brooks Laich could be an intriguing option, as he offers positional flexibility (he can play the left side or centre) and wins his share of faceoffs (51.3% across 524 faceoffs last year, though he's really more of a 50% guy).  He's rugged and 27 years old, and doesn't kill his team with penalties like other rugged players.

Even considering the alternatives, and after looking at the system, centre is a definite need to be addressed in the draft.  You can get by without a number of things, but successful teams almost always have solid centres.  Thankfully, this year's draft is full of talented centres, particularly in the first round.

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