Pic via Scott Haselius
We don’t know much about Mark Cundari.
Hell, I’d bet the first time most of us had ever heard of him was when he was traded for Jay Bouwmeester – but that lack of familiarity hasn’t affected him negatively in the Flames’ prospect pantheon.
As a member of that dominant Windsor Spitfires team from a few years back, Cundari scored at a pretty healthy rate for defensemen: 131 points over his 248 OHL games, or about .53 PPG (NHLE of about 13). He went undrafted, likely as a result of his size (5’8, 180 at the time) but signed with the St. Louis Blues about a month after the 2009 draft.
Over the last three years with the Peoria Rivermen and the Heat, Cundari upped his NHLE to about 16 – and while not a huge jump, an improvement nonetheless. He led the Rivermen in scoring last year from the blueline with 7 goals and 25 points in 57 games and was voted an AHL all-star. I assume it’s because of his size that he’s seen as a offensive defenseman, but I think he plays with a little more emphasis on his defensive game than is thought to be the case.
Cundari’s stature is interesting: as a defenseman, one would expect that to be able to effectively play the body and position oneself in front of the net at the NHL level he’d need to be a little taller than 5’9 – and while in most situations that may well be true, Cundari tips the scales at 200 pounds, leading me to think his strength is more than enough to get him by in the NHL. I don’t believe his injury risk is abnormally higher as a result of his height.
On the positive side, I do like the way Cundari skates: his strides aren’t choppy and his upper body seems to be relatively static when he has the puck. He also seems patient when he’s in position for a pass or a defensive play. According to Hockey’s Future, though, he could improve his overall game by improving and tweaking his decision making when he has the puck. He definitely has some tools, but being as he’s just turned 23 it’s possible the development time for those tools has already passed.
It’s hard to make any concrete pronouncements about Cundari’s NHL worthiness at this point for a multitude of reasons, but I’d be very surprised if he wasn’t on the Flames opening day roster next year. It is unknown at this point if Cundari’s ceiling is as a 6th or a 4th defenseman – that’s something that should be come clearer the more he plays and the more we watch.
While I wasn’t a fan of the return for Jay Bouwmeester, Cundari is likely going to be a legit NHLer and that’s better than nothing. Maybe with a bunch of PP time he can crack 20 points next year.