When it comes to young players starting their careers, we often don’t know just what they’ll turn into. A highly touted first round pick could meet expectations, or he could bust; a fourth rounder one may not give second thought to could fulfil his prophecy, or he could turn into a team’s most valuable player.
There’s no way to know offhand, and it takes time to find out just what you have. Repeat those steps over and over for every single prospect a team chooses or signs, and it’s a never-ending cycle of questions to fill up a limited number of spots available.
Just claiming one of those spots is the first step, though. And so we find ourselves with Micheal Ferland: a fifth round pick from the 2010 NHL entry draft who once turned tail in his first professional season, worked through it (and injuries), and now, is an NHLer.
He has the youth, size, and physicality to make himself an asset any NHL team would want. But is that all there is to him, or is there more? We’re just 57 games into this NHL career, and there’s still a lot left to find out.
A scoring touch from the past
Looking at someone’s junior scoring stats can be a way to predict what kind of professional player they may become. It’s not perfect, by any means, but it’s one tool of many one can look at in determining someone’s limits.
To use one of the easiest examples possible: Brandon Bollig, as a 20-year-old in the USHL, scored 31 points in 58 games; Johnny Gaudreau, as a 17-year-old in the same league, scored 72 in 60. One is clearly a fourth liner, and the other is a first.
Lance Bouma, as a 19-year-old, scored 43 points in 57 games with the Vancouver Giants; Sean Monahan, as an 18-year-old, scored 78 points in 58 games with the Ottawa 67’s. The former looks to be a bottom six player with occasional upside, the latter, a top six player currently on the first line.
As an 18-year-old, Ferland scored 56 points in 56 games with the Brandon Wheat Kings; as a 19-year-old, he upped that to 96 points over 68 games. That has him projected somewhere in between the two: he looks to have better scoring power than Bouma, but of course, he’s not anywhere near Monahan’s level.
Still… does that mean he has potential to be more than a bottom six depth player? As a 21-year-old in the AHL, Bouma scored six points in 31 games, and three points in 27 NHL games. As a 21-year-old in the AHL, Ferland scored 18 points over 25 games before his season was cut short due to injury.
But as a 23-year-old in the NHL, Bouma scored 15 points in 78 games; as a 23-year-old in the NHL, Ferland is currently sitting at six points over 31 games. Those are both paces of .19 points per game.
Remember, this is the most basic, basic, basic analysis possible. There are so many more factors that go into determining just what kind of player a kid turns out to be, not limited to things such as ice time or quality of linemates. But at the very least: we know that there might be more to Ferland. He’s exhibited a scoring touch in lower leagues in the past, including on a professional level. It’s possible he can do the same in the NHL.
Who does he play with?
Ferland has played a mere 57 games in the NHL, often with differing linemates. He is only just now starting to play roughly 15 minutes a game with regularity, and that can change at any time. So when looking at his linemates over the course of this season thus far, we have to remember that it’s a really, really small sample size.
Still, might as well look at who he’s getting placed with. There are five players Ferland has played at least 50 5v5 minutes with this season: Matt Stajan, Joe Colborne, Mikael Backlund, David Jones, and Josh Jooris. All five are kind of tweeners, though Stajan and Jooris are currently cemented in fourth line positions, while Colborne, Backlund, and Jones have bounced all around the lineup.
As of late, Ferland has been playing with Backlund, and it’s been working. They’re approaching 100 minutes together, and they’ve consistently been positive possession guys together. It looks like Backlund is the one really driving the partnership, but Ferland is able to keep up with him better than with anybody else (though Jooris is a close second).
Backlund is also currently straddling the line between second and third line centre, which already puts Ferland above the level of that of a fourth liner. That’s what Stajan’s current role is, and Ferland looks to perform much better out of that role.
But then there’s Colborne, the latest fixture on the first line, and at least for the time being, it looks like Ferland might be the better player. Even though Colborne now has the advantage of playing with better players, he’s still much worse away from Ferland than Ferland is away from him.
The main problem here being that Ferland is a left winger, not a right winger. Though remember back in the pre-season, when Ferland was playing with Monahan and Gaudreau in limited samples? By all accounts, he passed the eye test, even if playing out of position – and he hasn’t had the chance to revisit such a situation (yet, hopefully).
All in all
We really don’t have much to go off of regarding Ferland’s potential yet. He’s played so little it’s really, really difficult to form any concrete analysis on where he should ultimately play in the lineup.
But we do know he has potential. He hasn’t found a scoring touch in the NHL, but he had it in both junior and the AHL. He performs rather well with, and even occasionally boosts, the performances of others thus far, but is still dependent on higher quality players. At absolute worst, he can keep up, and this is just the start of his career.
At minimum, he’s an NHLer. He has the size and he has the will to match it. But there’s reason to think there’s more beneath the surface – and as this season and his career progress, hopefully we’ll get the chance to see what’s really there.
If he turns out to be a bottom six player, that’s fine. But if he ends up being a top six player – well, then that’s a massive get. And so far the signs, few as they may be, are pointing towards him deserving a chance to prove he’s capable.