It's difficult for a forward to be taken seriously as a prospect in his draft year when he averages an uninspiring 0.60 points per game. It's even more difficult when said forward stands only five foot eight inches tall and weighs less than 165 pounds.
So it's not a surprise that Danick Martel was ignored at the 2013 NHL Draft, and again in 2014. But a standout age-20 season for the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada finally got Martel noticed, at least by the Philadelphia Flyers.
In his first two seasons with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Danick Martel did little to establish himself as a legitimate prospect. That's not to say Martel was useless - 41 points is not awful for a first year player, and his 60 point sophomore season was good for second on his team. But smaller players need to produce eye popping statistics in juniors to get noticed, and in his age 18 and 19 seasons, Martel failed to do so.
Danick Martel's most recent season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League certainly jumps off the page, though. Forming a dynamic duo with fellow overager Nikita Jevpalovs (now property of the San Jose Sharks), Martel finished second in the entire QMJHL in scoring. So it's not too surprising that he was snapped up a team like the Flyers - 48 goals, 54 assists for 102 points in 64 games is going to get a player on the radar of NHL teams, regardless of age.
But therein lies the main concern with Martel. Is he a late-bloomer, a player who just took a few extra seasons to develop into a dynamic, impact forward? Or is Martel simply the product of an age advantage over his peers, a 20-year old beating up on less experienced, physically immature teenagers?
There have been numerous Canadian junior hockey league players to have big age-20 seasons and then fail to progress at the next level, but there are also a few who turned into contributors or true stars. A quick glance at the numbers isn't going to tell you which ones will succeed or fail - you have to look deeper, at the skillset of the player.
Let's do a quick exercise. Here is a breakdown of the age-20 junior seasons of four anonymous forwards and Danick Martel, all of whom are undersized. Two of these players never sniffed the NHL, one received a few brief stints but has not been able to carve out a full time role, and one is Tyler Johnson.
|Player||Goals||Assists||Points||Points Per Game|
Not much difference between the five players, right? If you're feeling positive, you could say that Martel's statistics are fairly similar to breakout star Johnson (Player #4). If you're taking the pessimist's angle, you could compare Martel's age-20 season to those of Ben Duffy (Player #5) or Gabriel Lévesque (Player #1), who have a combined 15 AHL games between them and have yet to sniff the NHL.
And then there's always Player #2, he of the stellar AHL statistics and 22 NHL games played. A forward whose offensive instincts could not overcome his lack of size and supposed defensive deficiencies, at least in the eyes of his coach and the Flyers' organization.
So what makes Danick Martel different from Jason Akeson? For starters, he's a much better skater. Akeson's offensive game was primarily based around slick hands and instincts. He was not going to burn an NHL defenseman with a rapid burst of speed. Martel, on the other hand, is a plus skater with excellent acceleration, and those traits stood out throughout development camp last month.
Adam Herman of Blueshirt Banter echoed that evaluation in his scouting report on Martel immediately following the signing.
Obviously he's a longshot, as is any undrafted FA signing, but I really like this pickup for the Flyers. He's the kind of player that stands out immediately after just a couple viewings. I'd say he's a B+ skater, and he skates with purpose. He flies around the ice with the puck on his stick and combines that with good offensive sense.
Size is obviously the big concern with Martel. As plenty of players have shown, though, that can be overcome. He's going to need to add a bit of weight and he needs to become more of a 200-foot player. Those are things that can be worked on, though. You can't teach the speed and offensive sense that he possesses. If you're going to take a shot in the dark, then why not take one on a player with high upside? I think he has a shot at following in the path of a player like Tyler Ennis.
More than anything, I believe it was Akeson's lack of high-end skating speed caused him to be marginalized by the organization. Up in the press box over the past two seasons, I often heard variations of the following evaluation when it came to Akeson: "If you're that small, you better be really fast." If Martel produces in the AHL but fails to get a long look with the big club, the coaches and front office will have to come up with a different excuse.
They won't point to his stickhandling as a weakness in his game, either. At development camp, only 2015 first rounder Travis Konecny even attempted moves that approached the usual Martel level of difficulty. Most impressive was his ability to execute slick dekes and dangles while skating at full speed during drills.
In the end, all of the skills in the world won't matter if they do not translate into points at the next level. For Martel, that will almost certainly be the AHL with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The Flyers gave him a cup of coffee there near the end of the 2014-15 season, and Martel was able to post three points (one goal, two assists) in five games.
But this year is the big test. Martel should receive a fair amount of even strength and power play ice time with Lehigh Valley, and with the Flyers loading up on experienced AHL scorers, he will not lack for talented linemates. To establish himself as a viable NHL prospect, Martel will need to score right from the start. As an undrafted free agent, he runs the risk of being designated as quad-A filler, so the onus will be on Martel to impress the organization immediately.
If Martel approaches the point per game mark in his rookie AHL season, the Flyers may have a true late-bloomer on their hands. And if not? They could certainly do a lot worse for minor league depth. It's up to Martel to prove that he's far more than that.
How we voted for Danick Martel:
Who we voted for at No. 16:
|Radel Fazleev||Radel Fazleev||Petr Straka||Taylor Leier||Mark Friedman||Petr Straka||Radel Fazleev||Petr Straka||Danick Martel||Samuel Dove-McFalls||Oskar Lindblom||Oskar Lindblom|