The Philadelphia Flyers have been criticized more and more readily by their fan base for continually drafting responsible two way centers in the first round of the NHL Draft. Since 2003, five of the Flyers eight first round picks have been centers and only one of those eight has been a defenceman. The obvious turnaround on this sentiment is the quality of those picks. Thus far every one of those five has appeared in an NHL game and three of the five have appeared in the NHL All-Star game. Philadelphia has a track record for evaluating and developing talent at the center position.
Entering into the 2013 Draft many pundits are heralding this year as possibly the deepest draft since 2003, the year in which we brought aboard two young centers in Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, and many fans are calling for this to be the year we try and bring on a defenceman capable of one day becoming a franchise cornerstone. Of these fans there is a contingent with only one request, please for the love of God do not draft a first round center for the third year in a row.
One option I would like to see explored is an attempted repeat of our recent history. In 2010 Sean Couturier was slated to go number one overall, but due to a long bout of Mononucleosis and the breakout season of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins his draft stock fell leaving the former guaranteed #1 overall pick on the board for the Flyers at position # 8. This happens every year, both on the actual board, or by the scouts themselves. Rick Nash was taken #1 overall, but in his draft year fell out of that blue-chip #1 position as scouts began to question what they found to be flaws in his game, advancing Jay Bouwmeester over him. In 2012 we saw Alex Galchenyuk fall out of a head to head duel with fellow Sarnia Sting teammate Nail Yakupov due to injury. In this same year we saw Mikhail Grigorenko and Filip Forsberg fall from the top five into spots 11 and 12. In the 2013 entry draft we may have a fellow former highly touted top five pick see his draft stock plummet in Sean Monahan, centerman and captain of the Ottawa 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League.
Sean Monahan, currently ranked as the 5th best skater in this year’s draft, has fallen out of the spotlight that had him on the verge of the conversation for a top three pick at the beginning of the year. This can be contributed to both a downturn of success by his OHL club and on the international stage, as well as the explosion of talent from players such as Jonathan Drouin of the Halifax Moosehead, Darnell Nurse of the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds, Nikita Zadorov of the London Knights, and Jason Dickenson of the Gueleph Storm. Of these four players being carried by breakout years, three of them play directly against Monahan in the OHL, while only Jonathan Drouin plays in another league, the QMJHL.
As the season has progressed Monahan has already begun to decline across the board in draft stock. While Central Scouting in North America has kept him at 4th overall, he has fallen to #6 on TSN’s ranking #7 on Craig Button’s March Ranking and #8 on ISS’ current ranking. The reasons for this are numerous and don’t seem to go about getting better, but very fortunately, as stated in response to falling stock of elite players, most of this is about situation rather than overvaluation of talent.
Firstly let’s take a look at why Sean Monahan is a top 5 prospect to begin with. In any given draft this is on the verge of being an elite talent. Monahan began his OHL career for the Ottawa 67’s and amassed 47 points to finish 10th in OHL rookie scoring with 20 goals, good for 11th among rookies and 27 assists, good for 8th.
In this same ’10-’11 season Ottawa’s top line of Tyler Toffoli, Shane Prince, and Ryan Martindale dominated the scoring race, with 108, 88, and 83 points respectively, for 279 points. To put this in comparison, they scored 28 more points than the Windsor Spitfire line of Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, and Eric Wellwood had the year before.
With Martindale playing in his last season before heading up into the Edmonton Oilers organization, sophomore Monahan was slotted into the point dominant line, and the results were almost as impressive with an ’11-’12 season of Taffoli-Monahan-Prince generating 100, 78, and 90 points respectively, for a league leading 268 points.
Monahan then spring boarded off this breakout year to begin his career of international play. As one of the youngest members of the Team Ontario, Monahan filled an offensive role and helped win the series with two goals and four points over the course of the four games at the Under 17 World Hockey Challenge in 2011. Then again in 2012 he assisted on a shorthanded goal by then teammate Tyler Graovac in the Subway Super Series, Team OHL vs. Team Russia Game 1. Unfortunately from here his international play and its effect on his draft stock began to suffer.
Due to the NHL lockout and the breakout play of Jonathan Drouin, Monahan went from an almost sure bet to make the 2013 Canadian World Junior Team, to be on the outside looking in. With the addition of teammate Nathan MacKinnon, Drouin became the second and last draft eligible player on the Canadian team as current NHLers Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jonathan Huberdeau competed in the event due to the lockout.
Monahan’s luck at competition continued on a poor streak as he had no points for the first time in exhibition play, and an even plus/minus as Assistant Captain of Team Orr in the Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.
While international and exhibition play is a contributor to Monahan’s fall in draft stock it is by far a minimal effect, as the team he plays for, the Ottawa 67’s have taken his stock to the edge of a cliff with their current season, where they sit in last place in the OHL at 15-42-0-5 this season for 35 points. A season in which they have traded away most of their teams veteran talent.
When evaluating what this means not only to Monahan and his draft stock, but to an organization, it is important here to note that Ottawa is one of the most successful franchises in the OHL. With the London and Kitchner organizations of the West, Ottawa is the most successful team in the Eastern Conference. This season will mark the first time the team does not finish first in the Eastern Conference since the '‘08-’09 season and the first time since ’94-’95 the organization will not be playing in the playoffs. An outcome that should further degrade Monahan’s stock as other draft eligible players contribute big numbers throughout those playoffs.
The mindset of a winning franchise when faced with the perspective of not making the playoffs was to enact the largest fire sale in the organizations history. After losing two of the top goal scorers in the OHL to injury in Tyler Graovac and Monahan, as well as a ten game suspension the team entered the trade deadline with a losing record and reacted by selling off anything they could with exception to Sean Monahan.
It is important to note, as well, that Monahan missed 10 games due to a suspension for a hit to the head. The same penalty imposed upon last year’s #1 pick Scott Laughton this season. The penalty aside, the reputation this can create may also shy some teams away from taking Monahan with a high draft pick. And that this may be seen as the catalyst leading to the team being dismantled as the skid of losses began during the suspension of their then Co-Captain.
The trades began as a trickle on November 12th, but by the trade deadline in January the 67’s had moved six players, including three of their top 4 scoring players, their Co-Captain and 1st round selection in 2012 of the Ottawa Senators, Cody Ceci, and their starting goalie. Their team had significantly changed in preparation for next season, moving veterans for rookies and young talent. A quick look at the starting lineup of the team opening night and after the trade deadline shows the drastic shift a player like Sean Monahan would have to account for in order to generate offense.
The shakeup in organizational depth has led the 67’s to being the last team in the OHL by a significant amount and relegated Monahan to 15th in points in the OHL with 71 points in 52 games, with 6 games left to play. With pedestrian numbers, a lack of international play this season, and no playoffs in which to shine it would be hard to make a case for Sean Monahan to make it back into the top 5 of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft and he may soon see himself fall out of the top ten as well.
There is, of course, some major upside to this slide and the reasons in which the Philadelphia Flyers should consider drafting him in an early position or later in the round if they find yet another center on the board during their pick. While Sean Monahan’s draft stock has been in decline and is likely to continue in that direction, he was heralded as a top prospect and a top five pick throughout last year and the start of 2013, he has a developed two-way game, is put in all situations, is Captain of his young squad, and is noted for his vision, hands, and hockey IQ as well. The fact that throughout his hardest armature year he has only slid a few spots attests to the amount of scouts willing to bet on his overall talent rather than what he has posted in points or wins this year.
Regardless of Flyer’s philosophy only the absolute elite enter the NHL directly after being drafted. In 2011, four players made the jump from draft pick to the NHL. Extra development does not stunt these players, as can be seen this season by Jonathan Huberdeau, 3rd overall pick by Florida in 2011, or Nazem Kadri 7th overall pick in 2009 by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Picking a position of strength such as center and letting it develop in the OHL could well pay great dividends to this Flyer’s team.
As stated, the Ottawa 67’s took the opportunity of a bad start to blow up a veteran team and tank the season. Going into his fourth season with a traditional powerhouse of a franchise, Sean Monahan will be leading one of the youngest teams in the OHL. Added to the young age of these players is the elite talent found within. Through the fire sale of this year’s team, Ottawa has put themselves in a chance for a dominant position over the next few years. Among the young men acquired before the draft deadline were winger Sergey Kuptsov, who is also Draft eligible beginning this year and ranked in the top 150, and Jacob Middleton 8th overall pick in the past years OHL priority draft. In addition to Middleton, Ottawa’s 1st round pick, Dante Salituro attended this year’s U 17 tournament adding to the young squad with growing international level competition.
Lastly Ottawa will not only likely be the number one overall pick in the OHL Priority Draft which could see them with Sean Day if, like Connor McDavid and John Tavares before him, the young Defenceman out of Detroit is given exceptional status to play as a 15 year old, but may also be in line for the number one overall pick in the CHL Import Draft this year as well. This could lead to adding another impact player to their roster along the lines of a Gabriel Landeskog or Dmitry Kulikov looking to increase their own NHL Draft Stock in North America.
Overall Sean Monahan’s draft stock is going to suffer from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Playing an important enough role in a team that was desperate to try a one year rebuild in order to stay with their winning culture. Being first year eligible for the World Junior Tournament in the one year where the NHL lockout floods the selection process with NHL caliber players. A strict head contact policy leading to missing 1/7th of the season with a hefty suspension. Having both of his line mates leave for the AHL in a situation that left new wingers being shuffled on and off his line for the entire season.
But his future in the OHL, and one day the NHL, is bright. He is a young man reminiscent of a Sean Couturier or a Claude Giroux who can play in all situations and at times carry his team upon his back. He may be a very good two-way player who plays as a centerman, but sometimes when the player is good enough organizational depth at a position is irrelevant.