One Up - One Down: A Saad Story
At FF, we always pride ourselves on our prospect and draft coverage. We wanted to push that envelope further this year, so we’re introducing our new segment called One Up – One Down. In this bit, Mike Farkas and I will each evaluate the stock of 2010-2011 draft eligible players, picking one risking stock and one falling stock.
Keep these young stars in mind as you head through the season and towards the end of the year and remember, no one covers you for the NHL draft like Faceoff-Factor.
Brandon Saad – F – 6’2 – 200lbs. – Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
Any time you have a potential draftee from the Pittsburgh area, there’s bound to be a ton of hype involved in the matter. However, at this point it’s clear that any hype surrounding Gibsonia’s Brandon Saad is deserved. In his first few CHL games, Saad established himself as a legitimate threat and put up performances that would deem him worthy of his #7 overall ISS ranking from October.
Saad plays the game with a great bit of intensity. He’s not afraid to mix it up down low and he’s an extremely powerful skater who seems like a natural on the fly. Saad has exhibited a knack for getting the puck to the net and creating opportunities in front. He’s got slick hands, a good stride, and seems to understand his role extremely well. His release is quick and he’s proven he can get the puck off from anywhere on the ice. He hits the net with regularity and has no qualms about grinding out a play in the boards to create opportunities. He plays with a bit of a nasty streak to his game and his skating is already a step ahead of many of his peers.
Saad’s explosive offensive tendencies have put him on the OHL map early this year, as he’s outplayed many of his draft-eligible counterparts. While Saad’s 9 goals and 9 assists in 15 games has drawn a ton of praise, his play away from the puck is equally as impressive at this point. Saad is proving to be adept at both back checking and playing staunch defense in his own end, it’s earned him some time on the penalty kill for Saginaw. A previous participant with the USNDT and some time with the Mahoning Valley Phantoms of the NAHL, it appears that Saad’s prior hockey experiences are paying off in a big way.
At this point, if Saad can continue his strong play, he’ll easily move into the ISS top 5 for November.
Joel Armia – F – 6’3 – 187lbs. – Assat Pori (SM-Liiga)
Right now, one of the biggest movers of the 2011 draft is Finnish prospect Joel Armia. The 6-foot-3, 187-pound winger debuted in the SM-Liiga A (Finnish Elite League) this season and has amassed six goals and 10 points in his first baker’s dozen tilts. Playing against men in one of the world’s finest leagues is difficult enough; tack on the fact that he’s playing at such a high level and it’s just icing on the cake. Armia is second on his club in goals (Tuomas Santavuori has one more goal in three more games). He’s tied for 12th in Finland for goals and that’s versus more than a few former NHL’ers (including but not limited to Ville Peltonen, Lauri Tukonen, Eric Perrin, etc.).
The Pori native spent much of last season in Assat’s U20 Junior A program registering 15 goals in 27 games (third on the club, with two ahead of him playing more games). He didn’t look at all out of place playing against 18 year old’s at the U18 World Juniors. He dominated against 17 year old’s as he was named to the U17 World Hockey Championships all-star team scoring five goals and eight points in five tournament games.
Armia has a big but still very thin frame. He looks exceedingly lanky on the ice, which isn’t at all uncommon for a tall 17 year old. He has superb hands and a wicked shot. He has a good ability to one-time the puck and make space for himself. His skating is average, if not slightly awkward. He’s a very upright skater with a high center of gravity which isn’t conducive to success in North America. Again, though, it’s worth reiterating that this is a young kid playing his first men’s league games of his life.
Right now (mind you, it’s early), Armia is a lock for the first round I have to believe and is probably quickly rising into the top-10 or 12 picks.
Victor Rask – C – 6’2 – 194lbs. – Allsvenskan
It might be a little too early to decide whose draft stock is slipping as many prospects have not yet established theirs as of this point, but Victor Rask seems to be stuck in neutral so far this season. After a dominant performance last year at the J20 SuperElit level (pretty equivalent to Canadian juniors for Swedes) in which he led the league in points by a sizable margin (41 to 32), Rask has been still trying to get his legs under him in Sweden’s second-tier pro league – Allsvenskan. While the raw numbers don’t reflect Rask’s performance with great accuracy (2 goals and 1 assist in 12 games), more was expected from him offensively. He has a lot on his side including a strong work ethic and better-than-average attention to detail defensively, he has been lacking offensively and on important faceoffs.
Rask is a hard worker with wonderful vision and creativity. He possesses the puck well all over the ice and has a good frame. While he’s more of a playmaker, he isn’t averse to finishing some plays off himself. The Swedish center isn’t a great skater by any means but it’s not a strong enough weakness to keep him down (see: Nicklas Backstrom and Ryan Getzlaf).
Rask might see some time back at the SuperElit level just to get him more ice time and open space to work with but will likely have to tough it out against pros at the Allsvenskan level for much of the year. Rask still looks to figure prominently in the first round, but perhaps not as high as fifth overall as October’s ISS Top-30 seems to indicate.
Seth Ambroz – F – 6’3 – 198lbs. – Omaha (USHL)
The big question heading into this season regarding Seth Ambroz was where he would play. The options came down to the the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL, the University of Minnesota, or sticking with the Omaha Lancers of the USHL.
When the smoke cleared, Ambroz was returning to the USHL and many people expected him to have one of the most dominant years in recent memory. Instead, Ambroz has come out of the gate for this young season on a bit of a disappointing note.
Ambroz plays the game in a physical nature. He uses his size and stregth to muscle opponents and win battles for the puck. His skating isn’t the most fluid in terms of agility or cutting ability, but he can get north to south with relative ease. He’s a monster in the boards and in front of the net. Ambroz won’t finesse or dangle you, but he will bowl you over en route to the front of the crease.
To start this season, Ambroz hasn’t played with the same sense of intensity that he ended last year with. This was the risk he ran sticking with Omaha. People will look to his situation in the USHL and expect him to put up huge numbers because of the supposed lesser competition. His 2 goals and 1 assist in 7 games hasn’t earned him the highest of praise, especially when you take his timidness to start the year into account.
As Mike said above, there’s a lot of season left, Ambroz will need to get back to the 49 point watermark that he set last year to get some heads turned in the USHL.