Recently, with my dive into draft eligible prospect analysis, I’ve been more so paying attention to the defensemen in the draft. On my most recent article, I noted that all of the first round and high second round graded defensemen seem to have one thing in common: they skate very well.
For the next player I will discuss today, that rule once again has no exception. Jeremie Poirier, of the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs, is another smooth skating defenseman with near NHL-ready size (6’0”, 192 lbs). However, stylistically, he is a near complete opposite to his compatriot Justin Barron.
Poirier is undoubtedly an offensive defenseman, and his numbers back up the game he has cultivated. He shoots the puck a lot and is often one of the most noticeable players on the ice due to his stylish puck handling and willingness to try just about anything. To make a comparison, he shoots the puck about as often as rookie Shayne Gostisbehere did, but pinches in the zone and maneuvers with the puck far more like P.K. Subban did at his peak.
However, we know scouts love a two-way defenseman, and Poirier is not that. Therefore, his rankings on draft boards vary astronomically. While NHL Central Scouting has him ranked at 18th among North American skaters, he’s been put as low as 98th by others. We’re looking at a risky pick, and another high variance scenario that could make the Flyers look really smart if it works in their favor.
Let’s take a look:
What do the stats say?
The numbers pop out at you when you look into Poirier’s profile. Playing 64 games in the QMJHL this past season (2019-20), Poirier scored 20 goals and 53 points overall. This left him in second place for points and first for goals in the QMJHL by a defenseman, and he completely obliterated his age 16 output (21 points in 61 games in 2018-19).
Poirier had been ranked very highly (as high as the second best defenseman in the draft) by scouts prior to this season, and though he has dropped considerably since then, he certainly did not disappoint from an offensive perspective. I think regardless he is the most talented blue-liner from a skill perspective out of the entire draft class, and I personally think he should be ranked a lot higher due to what he could bring to an NHL roster in the future.
There are doubts to whether he can sustain his production as he moves to higher levels of hockey, but I think given his hockey IQ and maturation, he certainly can.
The Eye Test
When I said that Poirier stands out on the ice, he really stands out. As most skilled players do, Poirier often has the puck on his stick, and that can lead to some amazing moments where you think you’re watching the heir to Erik Karlsson in the making. He often picks the puck up near the blue line or in the neutral zone, and just goes to work making all sorts of plays.
Great goal tonight by Jérémie Poirier showcasing some slick hands and a good release ! Such an exciting defensemen to watch, and with fellow teammate and #2020NHLDraft eligibles William Villeneuve and Charlie DesRoches, the future for St-John's blue line is looking good ! pic.twitter.com/y6W2YV32TI— Andy Lehoux (@Andylehoux1) December 16, 2018
He combines a willingness to make these sorts of plays with an excellent shot. Poirier’s wrist and slap shot are both accurate and powerful, and while it isn’t as if you’ve put a sniper at the blue line, his shooting can certainly hang with the forwards in his league. He’s able to get shots off effectively from range and from in close after he creates space for himself.
Poirier is also a high level passer, and has great offensive vision. Whether its starting the rush, or setting up a teammate after beating a defender, to running the power play, Poirier is very effective at finding a seam.
On top of that, Poirier is an excellent skater. All together, this is what makes him such a weapon when he gets his feet moving from the blue line. Due to his skating ability, Poirier is a machine at generating zone entries, and can help establish possession.
Take the following theoretical sequence: Poirier has the puck in the neutral zone and enters the offensive zone pitching off to a teammate. Upon getting the puck back, Poirier then walks the line and surveys the ice, stick handling past rushing forwards. He then skates towards the slot, drawing in defenders and beating them with a deke, and this then gives him the option to find a teammate since he’s created space for them to move in to, or take a shot on himself, which he can often score from. He’s just all-together dangerous, and that’s pretty much what he does in the following clip:
Jeremie Poirier— Yannick St-Pierre (@DraftDynasty1) February 28, 2020
-Nasty hands. pic.twitter.com/HtKnzKYS0l
You may be wondering, “why is a player like this not going in the top five?”. Well, that would be due to his defensive play, which is certainly a weakness but nothing I would call detrimental to his value. NHL scouts love two-way defensemen since they minimize risk and can provide value. With Poirier, you’re going to get a massive boost in value, but that comes with risk. I personally am fine with the trade off, but many an NHL GM are not.
Poirier’s style of play can lead to turnovers, which can get him in hot water in big situations. You can easily see the skill level, but also I can see an elite defensive forward picking his pocket in a scenario where he’s roaring through the neutral zone.
Poirier also isn’t the best at closing gaps in his own zone and through the neutral zone, and like I mentioned, he can get himself in trouble due to his willingness to make risky plays. My worry is that if the Flyers pick Poirier, I don’t want to discourage him from making those plays, since that is where he can be at his most valuable. However, I do think he needs to improve his defensive covering. Pairing Poirier with a more defensive defenseman like Matt Niskanen would allow Poirier to express his offensive flair without more worry, but again, some improvement does need to happen.
In the end, many NHL GMs will be scared off by the riskiness factor, but I think if he breaks right, Poirier could be one of the steals of the draft. You’d be looking at a lethal weapon both at even strength and on the power play. Please do consider this pick, Mr. Fletcher.