When you pick late in a draft, you're essentially throwing darts at an unclear wall. If a team is very lucky, then they may have a NHL-caliber player that dropped so far in the draft for one reason or another. However, most of the time, those players don't get to the elite level that is the National Hockey League if or when they go pro. The player is available late in a draft for a reason or reasons. Yet, that doesn't mean we can't hold out hope that the pick becomes somebody if the player seems to bring something to the proverbial table. The Devils' selection of Artur Gavrus with their last pick of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft would certainly qualify.
#21 - Artur Gavrus - LW/RW - Height: 5'11" - Weight: 176 lbs. - Age: 18 - 2012-13 Team: HC Neman Grodno (Belarus Extraleague)
I was a big fan of this pick back in June. My post on the selection, which includes accounts of his game by those who have seen him on multiple occasions and some video, details why Devils fans should care about Gavrus. He's an offensive winger who's good with the puck, he tends to forecheck, and is a great skater. The fact he came over from Belarus to Owen Sound in 2011-12 and racked up 37 points in 45 games right away as per Elite Prospects shows he's got some offensive game. Given that the Devils don't have a lot of offensive forwards in the system, Gavrus can answer that need. It's unknown how high his ceiling is, but he's got one - and the Devils can be patient with his development.
It isn't all glitter and gold for Gavrus in 2011-12, though, which I also noted in that same post. His defensive game needed a lot of work, as does his consistency. The big issue then was (and to extent still is) his health. Gavrus suffered from two concussions last season and he needed wrist surgery at some point during the season. That's a lot of pain for one season, much less for a young prospective player. It's definitely a concern given that Gavrus isn't a big, strong player. Based on what Sean Lafortune wrote about Gavrus after he was drafted at The Prospect Blog, he apparently tends to fly into dangerous areas without regard. That awareness is also another aspect of his game he should to work on given his recent injury history. The injuries were a common thread among the writers when ranking him. Whatever his ceiling may be, he's not going to reach it if he continues to get seriously hurt. It's enough to limit expectations in addition to his apparent lack of strength, his lack of a defensive game, and his off-the-puck play. As such, we mostly ranked him in the top 25 but he's in the mid-to-lower end and he ended up at 21st.
My own hope would be that Gavrus would return to Owen Sound, manage to stay healthy for the bulk of the season, and improve his game while racking up a load of points. That would not only make the Attack faithful happy, but it would also be a great sign that he's developing as a player and also as a Devils prospects. He would command a lot more attention. Unfortunately, that hope looks like wishful thinking now. Gavrus isn't actually with the Owen Sound Attack right now. In fact, he's in Belarus.
User C.J. Richey posted up this FanShot of Gavrus on the ice for HC Neman Grodno. That is his club team in his native country before he went to Owen Sound last year and he's with the senior team. Neman plays in the Belarus Extraleague, the nation's top professional league. Back in mid-September, the Attack released a statement stating that Gavrus' return to Canada was delayed beyond their control, but he would eventually return. I don't know about mid-season player transfers between the OHL and European leagues, but I suspect Gavrus may not play for the Attack this season. He's already joined up with Neman in the middle of their season and suited up for two games (and at right wing) as of this post.
Why he is staying there isn't clear, but at least he's playing hockey. I do have to question whether it'll help him. While he is playing against men, he's going away from the more physical North American game. I also wonder about the quality of competition; after all, Gavrus left Belarus at age 17 to play in Owen Sound - I don't think he would do that if the professional league was strong. The decision to play for Neman may be beneficial for his health by way of a larger rink and less physical game. It may not be for his overall development.
That all said, we didn't take that into account in our rankings. They were compiled back on September 24, back when it was thought that Gavrus would still return to Owen Sound. As indicated by our ratings, we think Gavrus has some tantalizing potential. He's got offensive skills and the fact he's already such a good skater is a big plus. That's what he brings to the proverbial table. Gavrus has plenty to work on and he could improve those aspects of his game with HC Neman. However, the biggest concern - how he handles physical play - will remain to be answered if/when he returns to the smaller rinks of North America. There it will be decided if he's got a future in NJ or otherwise. Until then, we must keep tabs on him through the HC Neman website.
Now that you've read our take on Artur Gavrus' ranking in our Top 25 Under 25, I want to know what you think. Do you agree with where he was ranked in the Top 25? If not, do you think he should be higher or lower? What do you like the most about Gavrus? What worries you the most about him besides his injuries? While it happened after we ranked the players, should his move back to HC Neman Grodno be seen as a positive or a negative for his development? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Gavrus in the comments. Thank you for reading.