At about 10:12 PM EST, the New Jersey Devils closed out the first round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Television coverage in the United States switched to the NHL Network as the first round ran over the three hours allotted on NBC Sports Network. After a commerical, Director of Scouting David Conte announced the selection. From the Brandon Wheat Kings, center John Quenneville.
My first, initial reaction: Well, he's a forward.
Of course, that means it's time to delve a little deeper. Believe it or not Quenneville was one of the first players we profiled this year. Karen wrote this profile back in May about the second cousin of Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville. He did have an improved year in production in his second season with Brandon. Here are his career stats per Elite Prospects:
Those are certainly respectable numbers. He was very notable in the postseason. He made a strong U-18 team on Canada. While the Devils did indeed take a forward, there was much outcry after the pick. For one, Ivan Barbashev - who was touted as going earlier - was available and left on the board. I can understand that. For another, a lot of the ILWT followers on Twitter wanted Brendan Lemieux and that didn't happen. Personally, I don't think Quenneville is really different from Lemieux. Mostly, I think it's because while most recognized the need for an offensive forward and, well, Quenneville isn't the most skilled one among the ones still available.
Anyway, let's learn a little more about him beyond Karen's profile. For a quick reaction, prospect guru Corey Pronman had this take on Twitter:
NJ select Quenneville (my rank: 42), sees the ice well, above-average skill and works hard in all ends. His skating needs to improve.— Corey Pronman (@coreypronman) June 28, 2014
That's not bad at all. You want skill? He has some. You want work ethic? He's got it. But at the same time, not entirely ideal. Not being a good skater undercuts everything else to a degree.
For a longer, pre-draft opinion, here's a bit from Ryan Pike's profile of Quenneville at The Hockey Writers:
Quenneville plays a generally responsible three-zone game, but needs a bit more discipline at times. He plays physical and is willing to scrap – he had 5 fights in 2013-14 – but sometimes needs to rein in the aggression before it gets out of hand. He was second on the Wheat Kings in penalty minutes.
When he can tie it all together, though, Quenneville can be a good player verging on great. He led the Wheat Kings in playoff scoring and was easily their best player through two playoff rounds, utilizing his size, speed, instincts and superior hockey sense. The big question for his development is whether that great stretch is "just nine games," or indicative of how he can play all the time.
How he does in his next season will be crucial as far as how he goes, it seems like. If he can be a standout player more often, then it bodes rather well for his future. If it's more of the same, then not so.
I'll leave this last word of analysis with Ben Kerr of Last Word on Sports, who profiled him in mid-May. This particular section stood out to me:
John Quenneville is developing into a solid two-way forward with the versatility to play both left wing and centre. He really improved this year in all three zones and has moved himself up draft boards all year long. Offensively, Quenneville is at his best controlling the puck down low on the cycle game and setting up teammates with good vision, and very high hockey IQ. He can drive the net when given the opportunity and has the soft hands to finish in close. Quenneville is strong on the puck and his long reach and good puck skills really help him to protect the puck down low. He’s not afraid to battle in the corners and in front of the net, and should only get better at this as he adds some bulk to what is currently a somewhat slender frame. Quenneville also has a strong and accurate shot, allowing him to score from further out.
Skating wise, there is some good and bad with Quenneville. He has decent top end speed, but could stand to improve his first step quickness and acceleration. His stride is long and powerful, he has the balance and the strength to fight through checks and win battles on the boards. Quenneville has decent agility and solid edgework as well.
There's plenty to like in Kerr's description of his offensive game, though that label of "two-way forward" sticks out at first. That he can control the puck well down low would fit him well now - though that may be moot if or when he makes it to the NHL. The skating issues are listed more in depth. Can someone work to improve their first stride? I don't know.
Essentially, after reading a bit more about him in conjunction with Karen's profile, it seems to me that the Quenneville pick does fit the team's need in the system. There's a dearth of forwards, particularly ones with offensive game. He's that. That's OK. That's partially why it's a concerning pick. He doesn't appear to have the upside of others available. He's labeled as "two-way," which implies his offensive skills aren't particularly notable. I personally would have went with Barbashev or the player we picked in our mock draft, Brayden Point. While it's not favorable to pick last in the first round, there was other talent available that could have garnered more excitement and/or fit that need better. So I understand some of the disappointment, but I don't think it's a bad pick either.
What's your take on John Quenneville getting drafted by the Devils? Do you or do you not like the selection? If you don't like it, who would you have wanted the Devils take and why? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this selection in the comments. Thank you for reading. The draft will continue tomorrow at 10 AM.