While most of the prospect profiles here at In Lou We Trust for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft are focused on those later picks, there is the matter of that fourth overall pick the New Jersey Devils have. While it seems from this interview David Conte did with Tom Gulitti that the team has their man in mind, there's a range of prospects who could be available at #4 on June 24. Therefore, it only makes sense to profile them as well. This will be the first and they'll be spread out throughout the next month.
You probably heard of today's subject, Saint John Sea Dogs left wing Jonathan Huberdeau. He's become a hot prospect over the last few months, and why not? He's accomplished so much with Saint John and basically was a point machine for the Sea Dogs. He's done so much and left as strong of a last impression possible for a prospect such that he may not even available by the time the Devils will make their pick at fourth overall. Let's learn more about him after the jump.
Who is Jonathan Huberdeau?
Jonathan Huberdeau is kind of a big deal, even if he only stands at 6'1" and 171 pounds. He led the Saint John Sea Dogs in scoring with 43 goals and 62 assists, finishing third overall in the QMJHL in the regular season. He was also the team's leading scorer in the playoffs and the second most prolific postseason point-earner in the Q with 16 goals and 14 assists. In the recently-ended CHL Memorial Cup, he put up 3 goals and 3 assists in 4 games. Huberdeau didn't just win the QMJHL championship and Memorial Cup, he was named the most valuable player in both tournaments. The dude had no mercy for opposition defenses and goaltenders all throughout 2010-11.
Most interesting is that he did all of the above as a 17-year old. Huberdeau's birthday is on June 3. He's not even 18 and he accomplished all of this. Talk about a breakout season. It also partially explains the lack of production in his 2009-10 season with Saint John - he was only 16! Though his 11 goal, 7 assist playoff performance then perhaps was a sign of things to come.
Basically, Huberdeau became the top player on the top team in Canadian junior hockey. That explains why Central Scouting Services slotted him at third in their final rankings of North American skaters. Though, one has to wonder whether his QMJHL playoff and Memorial Cup performances would have him move up even further.
One final point: while he's listed as a center, he didn't play center all that much for Saint John during his awesome 10-11 campaign. Tom pointed this out in this post comparing how he got his points to Sean Couturier earlier this month. It's not a knock on Huberdeau; just a point that Huberdeau shined from the wing and not as a pivot.
What Experts Have Said About Jonathan Huberdeau
Let's start with this quote in his short CSS profile at NHL.com. Here's what Chris Bordeleau of Central Scouting had to say about the young forward:
NHL Central Scouting's Chris Bordeleau
"He's the type of player who can change the outcome of a game suddenly and quickly. He's displayed unbelievably quick hands and an ability to set up and score goals. He definitely has NHL hands and playmaking ability . . . he's also gritty and does not back down when challenged."
That's plenty to like in a little blurb. You'll see examples of his hands weaving magic with the puck with some video. The source of that quote comes from this March article at NHL.com by Mike Morreale, which also includes this thought by Bordeleau:
"Once he puts on 10 or 15 pounds, he should be awesome," Bordeleau said. "He's also gritty and does not back down when challenged. As far as I'm concerned, he's as good as the top three guys (on Central Scouting's list) ahead of him (No. 1 Gabriel Landeskog, No. 2 Sean Couturier, No. 3 Nugent-Hopkins). It'll be interesting to see where he finishes up at the final meeting. Jonathan is in his first full year in the league and Couturier is in his third."
That last bit isn't true: Huberdeau played 61 regular season games and 21 playoff games with Saint John in 2009-10 according to his numbers at Eliteprospects. That's just a full season in my view. But the first point is valid: Huberdeau just needs some muscle.
Moving on to a different scouting services, International Scouting Services has published their top 30 list for every month at Hockey's Future along with a list of prospects rising and falling in their opinion. I'm not going to quote each one, but summarize the main point. Huberdeau wasn't on their top 30 list in October; got a mention as a "riser" in December; cracked the list at #19 in January; and has improved in each month all the way to #7 in their most recent list in May. And it wouldn't surprise if he moves up the list again in June, assuming they're doing one before the draft. Basically, Huberdeau rose up in this season alone to be the highly touted prospect that he currently is now. It's what a simply fantastic season in your draft-eligible year can do for one's draft stock.
Kyle Woodlief of the Red Line Report stated as such back in this March article in USA Today. They slotted him in at #5 (and remains there per his latest article a week and a half ago) as the top QMJHL prospect for this simple reason:
Jonathan Huberdeau (Saint John): Just continues to take his game to new levels we never thought he would approach so soon. He has now ascended the throne as the Quebec League's top prospect.
After seeing the likes of current Calder candidate, Jeff Skinner, taken off the board and step right into the NHL with relative ease, seeing the likes of Huberdeau taken within the Top 10 wouldn’t shock many. The creative center has shown flashes of high end offensive potential as both a playmaker and a finisher; a deadly combination.
Though time for him to fill out his lanky frame, Huberdeau has enviable height for a top end cente
Huddle thinks his only downsides are his lack of strength and that his defense needs more work; but he feels he could be a first line center in the NHL someday. That's certainly a high projection. Over at Oilers Nation, Robin Brownlee has this short profile on Huberdeau earlier this month with a short opinion from Edmonton's chief scout Stu MacGregor.
Projection: "A very solid second-line player. It depends where he plays. He plays wing now, but he played centre when he first came into the league. What will he be in the NHL? He could be a centre."
Best Case Scenario: "He could be a first-line player."
Concerns: "He's only 170 pounds. He needs to get stronger to be able to take his game forward and be able to play in the areas that he likes to play in, which is in and around the net."
MacGregor doesn't go into specifics why he projects him to be a second-line player and not a first-line player. Perhaps it's because of the current concerns? Perhaps it's because of his position and situation (e.g. second-line on some teams, first-line on others)? Still, it's a take from a scout.
Speaking of takes from a scout, check out this quote from this must-read post by (who else but) Kirk Luedeke, where he made the case for the Bruins drafting Huberdeau at #6 back in February.
"The biggest surprise for me this year with Huberdeau is the goal scoring. I knew he was an excellent passer from seeing him last year, but I didn't see how aggressive he was going to be at taking the puck to the net and finishing off the play. He put a lot of work into his shot, and he's playing with a lot of confidence. The puck is going in a lot for him, and I don't see that it's a fluke. He's got some real upside."- Quebec-based NHL scout for Western Conference Team
This is definitely some insight: that the scout was surprised that he was more than a playmaker. That he went beyond a traditional role would also partially explain his draft stock soaring this season. I remind you, this was back in February, well before the playoffs and Memorial Cup. Assuming you read it all, you should know in more detail what Huberdeau's strengths and weaknesses are; and that Luedeke even felt there's not much of a chance of him "busting" as a prospect.
Luedeke has a lot of love for Huberdeau. In the more recent of his 34 posts (I'm not linking all of them, but do perse them to see how opinion of Huberdeau has blossomed), he's taken to calling him "J-Money" and comparing his recent playoff and Memorial Cup performances to do for his draft stock like Taylor Hall's late season performances did for him. Just before Sunday's championship game in the Memorial Cup, Luedeke felt he could be a top-three pick, praising his defensive contributions in addition to his offensive wizardry. That has since been upgraded to "top-two" in his latest post that mentioned the prospect. While I think the nickname is weak, it's clear that Huberdeau has done all he could to have his name on the tip of everyone's tongues in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
A Little Video
There's plenty of video of Jonathan Huberdeau out there. Here's a highlight video put together that showcases it all of Sea Dog #11: his excellent stickhandling; his playmaking and vision; and his lovely shot. Plus, the user YanthaCanada put the whole thing to a song that you can dance to:
There's also a few videos where Huberdeau is interviewed. Here's a short one from Sportsnet where Huberdeau answers a few questions in his own way.
An Opinion of Sorts
You know, I have to give Tom plenty of credit. In his mock draft of the first 10 picks back on April 20, he had Jonathan Huberdeau going third overall. Given his QMJHL playoffs performance, his Memorial Cup performance, earning MVP in both tournaments, and being among the most productive forwards in the QMJHL and leading the team in scoring en route to a Sea Dog domination in 2010-11, this is an entirely real possibility. You've heard of how important first impressions are; but Huberdeau has proven that last impressions can be vital for a prospect entering a draft. Oh, did I mention he's not even 18 yet? He could be scratching the surface as a player.
It's interesting to me that the most commonly listed weaknesses are his strength and his defense, both of which are correctable in my opinion. He still has some growing to do and I'm sure he's going to hit the gym quite a bit this summer; so I'm not worried about his size. Playing without the puck and defensive positioning will come with more experience, which he'll definitely get. Given that he was on the Saint John PK units, I can't imagine he was a liability in his own end. That all being said, I have to ask this question: Why isn't this guy the consensus top pick if he has all of these wonderful offensive skills and his weaknesses aren't dealbreakers?
I can't fully answer that. Maybe someone at HC Vityaz Chekov can explain since they drafted him fifth overall in the KHL draft according to this post at Station Nation (and no, I don't think he'll jump to the KHL). It could be that other prospects have higher ceilings in potential or more impressive skillsets now than Huberdeau. It could be that Huberdeau had such a sensational season that it's unclear whether he can repeat it. It could be a function of the powerhouse team he was on. It could be related to his position - whether he'll be a wing from now on or go back to center. It could be all of this or none of this. Regardless, Huberdeau has done all that a prospect can possibly do in a season to excel and he's getting his due respect as a potential top pick. He's got the hands, the wheels, the vision, the shot, and the intelligence to be a very good forward in the NHL.
Would I want the New Jersey Devils to draft him at fourth overall? Depends on who's available, of course. I don't think the Devils would be making any kind of a mistake by going with Huberdeau. There's a lot to like and he could certainly be an asset to the team in the future. It actually wouldn't surprise me if New Jersey actually does pick him at #4. They must have saw a lot of him while checking up on 2009 second round draft pick Eric Gelinas, and if they liked what they seen, then why not take him at #4? The only reasons I can come up with are A) they like another prospect more than Huberdeau or B) Huberdeau is taken before New Jersey has a chance to select them.
Now that you've read all of this information on Huberdeau, I want to know what you think of him as a prospect. Do you want the Devils to pick him at fourth overall? (Aside: Earlier this month, the readers collectively thought of him as the fifth best guy on the board. Take this as you will.) What do you like best about Huberdeau? Alternatively, what don't you like about Huberdeau? Moreover, did you see Huberdeau play or know of any other good scouting reports on Huberdeau? If so, then please share them in the comments so we can all learn even more about Huberdeau. Please leave your answers and other thoughts on Jonathan Huberdeau in the comments. Thanks for reading.