Devils at the 2009 NHL Draft: A Stefan Elliott Overview

Before I continue, allow me this aside, there are a ton of mock drafts now appearing and DC Pro Sports Report has compiled an entire list of the various mock drafts around the Internet.   It's very handy and while the site only lists on the Capitals' pick and the top 5, the list of mock drafts all link to the mock drafts available so you can check out where players are.    I wish I known about this a little sooner, but for those of you who are really interested in what's out there or if you want second, third, fourth, etc. opinions, I highly recommend it.

Stefan Elliott - Defenseman - 6'1" - 184 lbs. - Hometown: North Vancouver, BC, Canada
2008-09 Team:  Saskatoon Blades -  71 GP - 16 G -  39 A - 55 PTS - 26 PIM (source)

Stefan Elliott is another potential draft pick for the New Jersey Devils who hails from Western Canada.   He has spent his time in Saskatoon in the WHL and was a part of Canada's U-18 team at the IIHF World Championships.  The defenseman is generally regarded as a two-way player and I've seen him getting selected in the lower third of the first round in the mocks by Adam Kimelman and Brad Holland at NHL.com right before New Jersey at 22nd overall. Central Scouting Services ranked him 17th overall among North American Skaters, so he should be available for New Jersey.   Stanley Cup of Chowder did a profile on Elliott earlier this month, so it's a good summary of what type of player he is.

The Western Hockey League's site has an article that pumps up Elliott pretty well.  He's quiet, but smart with his stick.  It's a good article to get familiar with why many think he's a first-rounder in the 2009 NHL Draft.  If you want to get even more familiar, The Pipeline Show did an interview with Elliott back in December 2008. It also reveals a potentially big flaw with Elliott's game.  Quotes and other thoughts by other people after the jump.

 

 

First, the WHL article has this quote that is pretty revealing:

"He's not an overly physical player but he puts players in bad situations where they're forced to do something they don't want to do with the puck," he [Saskatoon coach Lorne Molleken] said. "One of the biggest things in my mind that's very noticeable is the way he uses his stick and that's one of the things that as a defenceman in the National Hockey League level is real, real important."

Read the first part of that quote: "He's not an overly physical player."  Now, for some, that's going to be a problem because I think even the most skilled defenders in the NHL have to be able to be physical at one point or another.  I'm not saying they have to be bruising hockey players; just able to throw a check from time to time.   It's sort of inherent in the game and this is kind of like reading that a football player isn't all that good at tackling.  Amazingly, depending on who you read, this is stated as a-matter-of-factly.  For example, here's NHL.com's scouting report on Elliott.  E.J. McGuire doesn't raise the physical issue, but his coach does again and more clearly:

Scouting Report: NHL Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire

"Stefan is your all-around, good NHL prospect defenseman. For the Saskatoon Blades, he is an equal mix of solid defense and good offense. Sometimes he is leading the rush, he has that capability, but more often he's supporting the rush or starting it with his good first pass out of the zone."

Saskatoon head coach and GM Lorne Molleken

"Stefan Elliott’s strengths include his skating ability, his snap shot and wrist shot, and his one-on-one defensive play. Stefan is a very intelligent player who uses his stick and body positioning to his advantage while in the defensive zone. He is not a physical player but his stick and body positioning make up for his lack in physical play. He possesses above average puck handling skills and can make a good first pass. Stefan is very good at quarterbacking a power play and his ability to read the play makes him an offensive threat."

Yes, he's apparently solid one-on-one, he's smart, he's got some valuable offensive skills, and, oh, he isn't physical.  A more concerning take on Elliott is provided by Michael Remmerde, scout and contributing editor to the Red Line Report.   Remmerde feels that his best assets are on offense, quarterbacking a power play specifically, but he isn't confident that Elliott's defense is ready for prime time:

Strengths: Can do a lot of things with the puck. Great transition game and can take the puck end-to-end. Runs the power play smoothly and smartly.

Weaknesses: Soft and lacks the strength to clear the crease. Needs a lot of work on defensive zone play.

Pure offensive ability from the back end will be his ticket to the next level. Terrific offensive instincts and does everything you want a d-man to do with the puck. Makes a great first pass, can take it end to end with speed, and has all the PP ingredients.

Seems fine skating forward and has good speed when rushing the puck, but every other aspect of his skating leaves me scratching my head. Pivots sometimes look awkward and lateral quickness looks lacking in the d-zone. Just not sure what to make of the skating - he seems to have quick, light feet but so many bad things happen to him in his own end that I wonder about it.

Needs a lot of work on d-zone play. Has trouble containing speedy forwards and I see him make a lot of gap mistakes. Gets sloppy with the puck when pressured. Seems to need a little space to get the puck out safely. Almost no physical presence and lacks strength. Will need to be paired with a big stay-at-home at the next level.

Ouch!   While some teams would love to have a defender who can join up on a rush or run the point on the power play, would they want him at the cost of some poor defense?   More importantly, can these weaknesses be improved upon?  Players can get stronger, but can Elliott also get tougher? The two aren't the same.  I mean, Kyle Palmieri and Landon Ferraro aren't necessarily strong (or big), but they can be tough while they play.   Given that even his coach comes right out and says he isn't physical, this is an important question. And that's not even including Remmerde's issues with his defensive work or skating!

Incidentally, Hockey's Future has a profile on Elliott which argues a bit differently with respect to his work in the defensive zone.

Elliott is an offensively gifted defenseman who has begun to flourish in a role that includes play on all special teams with the Blades. He is evolving into a leadership role as well, under the tutelage of head coach Lorne Molleken. A very good passer of the puck, Elliott creates scoring chances with his good vision and anticipation. He is mobile enough to force opponents wide as they approach the attacking zone. He should be able to increase his strength heading into next season, which will enable him to more effectively handle opposing forwards in front of the net.

The staff at Hockey's Future feels that, yes, Elliott can get stronger and that - along with more games in the WHL - should improve his work in front of the net.  Incidentally, they also feel he's pretty good at forcing opponents wide, which is a sign of good positioning.  Perhaps Remmerde and HF saw something different?  Ah, well.  At least both agree he's strong on passing the puck and in various offensive abilities.  The staff at HF has this for their projection:

A potential top-four NHL defenseman, look for Elliott to develop a Brian Rafalski-like skill set.

Brian Rafalski-like isn't so bad. (Other comparisons I've seen include: Heated Skates compares him to Tomas Kaberle, and Stanley Cup of Chowder says he's like a lesser Mike Green) And despite his size, Rafalski didn't have a necessarily big problem with the physical side of hockey.  With respect to the World U-18 tournament, Elliott wasn't very productive.  He only had 2 assists and 3 shots on net in 6 games, which makes me wonder what went wrong?  I know offensive defensemen aren't always productive, but it's not like he was playing with poor players - but with the best U-18 players Canada had to offer!   Maybe his passes were good, just that they didn't lead to goals? In any case, how did he do on theice? I could only find two thoughts on Elliott. First it's from Western College Hockey Blog's preview of Canada's team:

Stefan Elliott(22): He didn't make many mistakes, which is good for a defenseman, but he also didn't really show the ability to make plays that would justify going that high in the draft. It was just a pretty average performance.

Hmm. That was in exhibition, though. After the tournament, Kyle Woodlief of the Red Line Report had this to say in USA Today. Unfortunately, it was listed under "falling."

Stefan Elliott— Don't know why exactly, but we just can't get on board with this guy. Yes, he's got great puck movement skills, but seems soft both mentally and physically to us.

Definitely not good.  Especially after reading praise about how smart he was. But again, this could all result from one poor tournament.

Basically, I see Elliott as a Plan B pick.  If the Devils really want an offensive forward, I think they would consider Calvin de Haan, Tim Erixon, or David Rundblad (or maybe Dylan Olsen) first; but if they aren't there and some other players aren't there, then I could see Elliott as the pick.  From what I have read so far, whoever picks him will seemingly have to instruct him to hit the gym and literally get in the thick of things on ice.  If Elliott can do that then he could very well turn out to be a fine player one day.

Now it's time to have your say. Maybe you know of something (or seen yourself) that Elliott was better at the World U-18 tournament?  Perhaps you think the lack of physical play shouldn't be a big issue.  Have you seen him Saskatoon and comment on how he played?  Share all your comments about Stefan Elliott below.

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