It was not without much deliberation for weeks on end that I finally decided to move Brooks Bandits’ defenceman Cale Makar into the top two of Recrutes draft rankings and drop Brandon Wheat Kings’ center Nolan Patrick to third overall.
If one had said six months ago that Patrick might not be a top-two pick, or even the first-overall pick for that matter, such a declaration would have been met with plenty of criticism and disbelief. Following an underwhelming injury-plagued season, however, in which he was already surpassed by Halifax Mooseheads’ center Nico Hischier in a lot of scouts’ minds…if one prospect is already thought to be as good or better, why not another?
Scouts who saw Makar at the WJAC aren’t shocked that he may be considered for the very top of the draft as he simply astounded them with his skating and puck skills.
“I really like him,” noted one western-based crossover scout who made the trek to Bonnyville, Alta. last December to see him star for Canada West. “As I’ve said a hundred times I don’t know if he can defend, but f*** is he good the other way. I didn’t know if Erik Karlsson was going to be able to defend either. You hope he can eventually, and odds are that he will. Makar doesn’t play that rover game, he just moves the puck. I like that…that’s what you want to see out of a guy that’s very offensive. Even at the level he plays where he could go up the ice every time, he still just moves the pucks.”
This is not the first time Makar’s name was brought up in the same breath as Karlsson’s, in large part because of his elite offensive skills. No other defenceman in the past eight drafts has reminded scouts as much of Karlsson as the 5-11 blueliner who is slated to go to U-Mass next season in what will most likely be a one-year stint.
“A team is going to take him for what he brings offensively…not for his defensive game,” added the scout. “The longer you wait, there’s no chance you’re going to get him. There’s few high-end defencemen this year…somebody is going to step up and take him high. You never know…he could be unbelievable.
“I haven’t been on him enough to say that if I was picking one I would do that…take Makar…I haven’t seen him enough, but I know when I saw him, I could see where someone would really jump up on him. You can try to hit a home run or a double. This guy could go anywhere…it will be really something to see.”
I suggested to two scouts today that Patrick’s upside is to develop into a Sean Monahan-type while Makar, on the other hand, could be Karlsson light, and both agree.
I see a lot of parallels between Monahan and Patrick. Monahan is a 6-2 center who was also a late birthday that had great stats the year before he was drafted with 78 points. No, he did not crack 100 points like Patrick did last season, but Monahan was not on a high-powered offensive juggernaut like Brandon either, with highly productive teammates like Ivan Provorov, Jayce Hawryluk and John Quenneville that scored a CHL-best 317 goals.
Much like Monahan, some concerns about Patrick’s effort away from the puck, skating speed and overall competitiveness all crept in as he was under more intense scrutiny in his draft year.
“We faced Patrick quite a few times this year,” said one eastern conference WHL head coach. “Nothing against the kid whatsoever, but what I saw this year and what our coaching staff saw last year are two different players. No question he’s a player, smart and everything else, but I’m not seeing what everybody talked about last year.
“I saw him play against Moose Jaw one night and he was downright lazy. When he has the puck he’s fine..but when he doesn’t…I’ve expected more. What I heard from last year was that this guy was going to be a handful this year…and he hasn’t been a handful with that hockey club.”
Monahan was able to overcome the competitiveness and skating concerns and has developed into a solid top-two NHL center, but there are no guarantees that Patrick can follow the same path, especially when issues about his character are also becoming more prevalent in the scouting community from several different sources.
“He’s not the greatest kid I don’t think,” said a scout of one team picking in the top ten. “I don’t know if he’s a great teammate either. That’s what I’ve heard. Maybe just a little bit about himself.”
Up until the world junior tournament there was little talk about Patrick dropping from his perch as the anointed number-one pick, but as Hischier kept producing in big moments, including in a head-to-head matchup against Patrick at the CHL Top Prospects Game, and as Patrick’s return from a hernia injury failed to wow scouts in the same fashion he impressed them last season, it soon became apparent that Patrick was no longer in a league of his own when it came to the draft.
“Our guys aren’t keen on him,” said the scout of another team slated to pick in the top ten. “I would be really surprised if we took Nolan Patrick. Unless it’s a no brainer. If we’re at 4 or 5…then you’ve gotta do it. “If (club management) hear a peep on a player we’re not taking him…and they’ve heard some things that concern them.”
All that said…Patrick remains a high-end prospect who will be given some leeway because of his injury and great junior production. Even at less than 100 percent, he scored at well over a point-per-game this season, and his puck protection skills, vision, shot and passing skills are at the top of this draft. The team that selects him will expect him to become a top-two center who may one day produce at close to a point-per-game at the NHL level if his skating can improve.
Makar’s upside, all things considered, is even higher, though. He skates much better and his feet have been constantly compared to Karlsson’s. He thinks and sees the game every bit as well as Patrick, and has puck skills that are in the same stratosphere as Drew Doughty’s. Makar’s offensive ceiling is sky-high; he has all of the tools to be a top-three defenceman in league scoring for many years. It’s not inconceivable that he will be a powerplay quarterback that scores as many points each season as Patrick…and that makes it extremely difficult to rank him below the highly-touted WHLer.