Saturday, March 14, 2009

Rocket Casavant launching on to draft radar

Scouting amateur hockey players is generally a straight-forward process. Break a player down beginning with his skating, and work your way into a battle, vision, and two-way skill analysis to properly project their pro potential. Fans will often look at major-junior stat sheets and wonder why players like Maxime Boisclair, who potted 70 goals for Chicoutimi in 2005-06, or Matthew Pistilli, a 20-year old who has scored 80 goals over his past two Q seasons, aren't considered big league prospects. While these guys produced with solid supporting casts, they lack the skating and footspeed to be effective NHL players. In PEI this season, a recently turned 18-year old forward presents an early quandary in the 2009 draft evaluation process. Benjamin Casavant is a bullish, 6'1, 210-pound left wing who has used hands and heart to pace the sub-.500 Rocket with 39 goals and 80 points this season. The St. Hyacinthe, QC native has developed into a leader in his first season on the island. Hard working and intelligent, Casavant goes to the tough spots to get his work done, and is difficult to move when he gets there. Like the aforementioned though, he doesn't have that acceleration and overall swift skating stride to make him an elite prospect, and thus was rated #185 by CSB on their mid-term rankings. So what separates Casavant from his slow-footed major-junior predecessors, making him relevant in the world of Sabres prospects? Let's begin answering that question by posing a few others. Could the Sabres system use forwards with size and ability to finish the dirty work down low? How many 6'1, 210-pound 17/18-year olds have finished 7th in the QMJHL in goals on a below average club? Can skating, like other key skills, be taught and developed through additional seasons of major-junior and beyond? This isn't to suggest that he's a top priority at the draft table. There are no guarantees that his feet will ever come around (an absolute must in a trnasition based NHL), but his overall make-up of offense, smarts, and dedication puts him on the radar. You can teach skating, but you can't teach size and natural scoring ability, making Casavant a potential late-round gamble - especially if they amass some extra picks along the way. Another reason Casavant is draft relevant in Sabreland is simple geography. PEI is somewhat of a lesser-scouted hockey outpost, but it's fair to assume they'd know about Casavant even if he wasn't a top-12 point producer in the QMJHL. Buffalo's Q scout, Al MacAdam, is positioned in the Maritimes and knows Charlottetown well. He was born there, played his college hockey there, and despite not speaking with him before the draft, kept tabs on current Rocket dman Jordon Southorn leading to his 2008 selection. Similarly, Director of Scouting Kevin Devine is an off-season resident of Charlottetown, and was on board with the Sabres 2005 pick of former Rocket Marc-Andre Gragnani before assuming his current position a year later. When in Rome. Regardless of opinions of CSB's rankings, Casavant should rise a few spots when the final list is published in April. If you use CSB as a benchmark, it's worth noting that the Sabres are more apt to go late-round fishing in the Q when a player falls, not rises. Jacob Lagacé slid to the fifth round (134th overall) last season after being ranked the #55 North American skater. Benjamin Breault was the 57th ranked skater in 2006, but lasted to the Sabres pick in the seventh round (207th overall). Louis-Philippe Martin was once the 30th rated player in the 2003 mid-term rankings. He finished the season 50th before the Sabres scooped him up at #266 (9th round).