30Jakob Pelletier
Photo Credit: Rob Wallator/CHL Images

Flames 2019 First Round Targets: Jakob Pelletier

Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving has often joked that it would be great if every hockey player was big, talented and could skate like the wind. That’s obviously a pipe dream, but it speaks to the dilemma faced when considering whether to draft Quebec scoring machine Jakob Pelletier – who boasts everything except size – in the first round.

Scouting report

A product of Quebec City, Pelletier is a left shot winger who turned 18 in March. He’s listed as 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds, so he’s teeny tiny by hockey standards. But in his second full season in the QMJHL with the Moncton Wildcats, Pelletier showed he can flat-out score at the major junior level.

Back in August, Dobber Prospects’ Cam Robinson broke down Pelletier’s 2017-18 rookie season in the Q:

The former third overall pick in the 2017 QMJHL draft had a terrific rookie season. He produced 61 points in 60 games while displaying his tremendous vision and energetic style of play. Played on the wing as a rookie but should move back to the middle of the ice in 2018-19. Size is a concern, but he’s a gamer.

LNH.com’s Guillaume Lepage got some intel on why scouts like Pelletier:

“He’s probably the smartest player on the board from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League,” said Troy Dumville of NHL Central Scouting. “He’ll out-think you and beat you to spots and is a really quick skater. He’s got playmaking skills, scoring ability and has a high compete level game in and game out.”

Pelletier probably isn’t a complete 200-foot player yet. But by all accounts he’s dynamite in the neutral and offensive zones, boasting speed, tenacity, the ability to dish out nice passes and finish scoring plays off. Due to his size, he’s likely considered a high risk, high reward pick. He’s small and likely will be small when he goes pro, but NHL clubs will have to determine if he has attributes that make him more likely to become an Alex DeBrincat or Johnny Gaudreau than a Bryan Cameron.

The numbers

Pelletier was a point per game player as a 16-year-old rookie in 2017-18, with 23 goals and 61 points in 60 games for Moncton. He took a big step in his 17-year-old year, putting up 39 goals and 89 points. He was second on his team in scoring, behind 19-year-old winger Jeremy McKenna.

Relative to his age group, Pelletier was a strong offensive performer. He led his age group in points and was second in primary points and goals (behind Nathan Legare). At even strength, he was second in points and goals (behind Legare) and fifth in primary points (behind Legare, Samuel Poulin, Alex Beaucage and Raphael Lavoie). He’s arguably a bit more dependent on special teams time and spare for his offensive production than other leading QMJHL scorers, but he’s still a strong offensive driver for the Wildcats.

Availability and fit

The Flames’ first round pick, 26th overall, is roughly where the scouting consensus suggests Pelletier should be selected: ISS has him 27th, Dobber Prospects has him 27th, the Draft Analyst/Sporting News has him 24th, my rankings at The Hockey Writers have him 26th, Sportsnet has him 31st, The Athletic has him 40th and 25th, and The Hockey News has him 25th.

The big challenge for the Flames is one that has nagged them for years: their big players aren’t particularly skilled and their skilled players aren’t particularly big. If Pelletier was a little bit bigger, he’d be a slam-dunk pick at 26th overall. But he’s small, which raises some concerns about his durability – he was injured late in the QMJHL season – and his ability to translate clowning teenager defenders in the Q into doing the same thing against grown-ass men. He has things the Flames likely love – scoring ability, compete level and skating ability – but the size aspect has to make them a little bit skittish.

Based entirely on Pelletier’s track record thus far, there should be some confidence in his ability to adapt and adjust his game to new levels. But he’s one of the riskier plays the Flames could make at 26th overall. He’s a home run swing: he could pay off big-time or he could be a massive whiff.

2019 first round targets

Egor Afanasyev | John Beecher | Tobias Björnfot | Bobby Brink | Simon Holmström | Pavel Dorofeyev | Anttoni Honka | Ryan Johnson | Spencer Knight | Brett Leason | Connor McMichael | Ilya Nikolayev

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      • Off the wall

        Jack Hughes- 5’10, 170 lbs. The stats might be generous on his actual weight.
        I guess you’re right WW. Why on earth would we draft him?

        Seems to me Pelletier has made a reputation for being a gamer.

        “His size doesn’t change a thing,” said Darren Rumble, who coached Pelletier with Moncton until being fired Jan. 7. “He isn’t afraid to go to the net, which is where he scores. His goals are rarely the most beautiful, but he gets his nose dirty and isn’t afraid of anyone.”

        Can anyone think of a Moncton player who was similar? Does Brad Marchand ring a bell.. 5’9, 180 lbs now.

        Yeah, I’m good if we draft Pelletier

        • FLT

          100% agree OTW. Big great players > small great players, but dismissing smaller prospects on that reason alone is nonsense. Boston is one of the smallest teams in the league height and weight wise, and would probably be rock bottom without a certain 3rd pairing defenseman. Style of play is far more important.

  • freethe flames

    Again at 26 he might be a fit; he would be 3 years away just in time for when we trade away another small player; it is unlikely he will be as good as Johnny but he could be a nhler.

    In has been reported that the Flyers GM is willing to trade their first rounder. Drafting 11th would likely put us in a position to draft someone who better fits the profile of what we need. What would get it done? So would a flop of 26 for 11 and Frolik get it done? Or maybe the flop Frolik&Czarnik? Or go bigger and go Frolik and Bennett and the flop and we get Hartman back who is basically a rHS version of Bennett.

    • idbr

      I think we have to move up to get what we want. Fast, tenacious/strong/intimidating with skills/the ability to finish. There may be some guys available at 26 that have some of those attributes but none will be close to a sure thing. There are some guys in the early to mid first round that suit our needs. At 11 we should be able to snag one of them. At 26 I’m left thinking the goalie is the best bet (assuming he is even left).

    • cjc

      If Philly is going to trade down 15 spaces (i.e. half of a draft round) then Calgary will need to pony up more than the first and Frolik/Czarnik or Frolik/Bennett. Particularly as it makes Philly a lot older and doesn’t add a difference maker. They will also want a young player with upside, either Mangiapane, Dube or Kylington. All this also assumes Frolik would go to Philly, he has a modified NTC that includes a 10 team no trade list.

  • cjc

    FN is going to blow up when Treliving drafts a small skilled player. Fact is the big/fast/skilled players will be gone before 26, and it’s pretty unlikely that Calgary’ll be able to trade up further. But you take the best player available, and if that player happens to be a bit on the small side so be it.

    Look at it this way: Johnny Gaudreau will be a free agent in three years time. He took a sweetheart deal, and he’ll be looking to get PAID (if Jeff Skinner just got 9 million, what will Gaudreau ask?). If he walks, they’ll need a replacement. Now, I have a lot of time for Mangiapane, Dube and Phillips, but none of them are trending toward Gaudreau’s level. So Pelletier, or another small, highly skilled player could be just what they need to replace him. If they manage to keep Gaudreau, then they can trade a kid like Pelletier easily, especially if he keeps putting up “gaudy” numbers in junior or the AHL.

    Also – and someone can correct me on this – but he could also be a contract slide candidate. This was a very helpful aspect of Valimaki’s contract because it didn’t start running until last season. Basically you get another year of RFA eligibility.

    Everyone thinks whoever Treliving selects is going to jump straight to the NHL, but that isn’t the case. It’s going to be at least a year, more likely two before anyone they take at 26 is ready. If they aren’t going to take the best player available because of perceived fit (i.e. we already have enough small guys), then they should trade down and recoup something else in the process.

    • freethe flames

      I don’t know anyone on FN who thinks that #26 is going to NHL ready. Where have you read that. Put your mind to rest in all likelyhood the player drafted at 26 will be 2/3 years at least from playing in the NHL.

      • cjc

        Then why is everyone obsessed with drafting size, a perceived immediate need? If as you say that player will be 2-3 years away, then why prioritize it through a pick and potentially miss on someone better but smaller? The only way to get bigger now is to trade that pick for a roster player. Or, if you want to pick a larger but less complete player, trade down. Of course it all depends on how the scouts rank their choices, but the conversation here is exactly why every team in the league missed on Gaudreau, Kucherov and plenty of other small but skilled players. If people were being more objective and looking at numbers, those guys would go in the first round (where they belonged all along).

          • cjc

            Fair point. But the same criticism about size has been levelled at Bobby Brink, who posted BETTER numbers than Gaudreau in the USHL, a considerably better league. And players from the OHL and WHL. My comment isn’t meant to be about Pelletier, moreso that some posters are willing to pass over a lot of players with great numbers at 26th overall simply because they are small. I am not saying that size isn’t important, but when Treliving’s turn rolls around, what should he do? If the best player available is a smaller guy, and they feel they need a bigger guy, then they should either pick the smaller guy and figure it out later, or trade down so they can balance the risk of choosing a less skilled but larger player. As fans we have to realize that we know jack all about these players, so there could always be inside info we are not privy to. But NHL GMs have proven time and again that they are biased against smaller players, and they keep being proved wrong.

      • Jumping Jack Flash

        I am still a little gun shy after Klimchuk and Poitier flames out at about the same spot. I am assuming this was selected by the same head of scouting.

        • cjc

          Not quite the same scouting staff, but those picks are instructive. Neither were particularly big (Poirier had a rep for being edgy), both around 6′. The best predictors of NHL success that we have at the junior level are counting numbers (G-A-Pts) and age. They do a better job of predicting NHL success than size (a model that uses just production and age performs as well as a model that includes production, age and size – not to get too into the statistical weeds, but the explanatory power you gain from including size is offset by the fact you are including more variables and potentially overfitting your model). It’s far from perfect, but until we start getting good possession and PDO data for junior level players, it’s the best we have. The scouts’ eye test is very important, too, but can also introduce a lot of bias so it is important to balance it with actual numbers.

      • Jumping Jack Flash

        I must admit, I did not know much about him but he is intriguing. There are some NHLers at 26 like Poulin and Beecher just not sure how their offense will translate.

        If we have to go with small and skill who is the heir apparent to Johnny? Is it Pelletier Hoagland, or Brink? If we take a chance on a big man in hope that he can improve his skating, could be Leason, Kaliyev, or Afanasyev. There is a chance that Tomasino or Suzuki drops to 26.
        Personally, I would rather we don’t take a player that projects to be a bottom 6 in our first round.

        So if we want decent size, decent skill, good compete, good speed and some grit our choices are slim but a Poulin might check all the boxes. He is also described as hard working and not taking a shift off.

        • cjc

          IF Poulin is available, he should be considered. But:

          “Personally, I would rather we don’t take a player that projects to be a bottom 6 in our first round.”

          This is precisely why the team should look at trading the pick. Effective bottom six players can be found lower in the draft (That’s why there are 7 rounds) or they can be purchased cheap on the open market. For a team that is looking to compete for the next 4-5 years, a player that might not be ready for another 2-3 years is less valuable. Look at St. Louis – they made no bones about trading Tage Thompson (a big 26th overall pick who has yet to make a big impression) and another first (and second) to land Ryan O’Reilly. That was the trade of the 2018 offseason! (Brad’s trade for Hanifin and Lindholm gets an honorable mention).

          The drop off in terms of talent available from 26th overall to the mid or late second round isn’t actually all that big (if you look at historical data). First rounder has a nice ring to it, but there isn’t really a huge difference between players taken 26th overall and 52nd overall – I did the math, and players selected 26th in the last 15 years have played an average of 178 games. Players drafted 52nd? 118 games. At 11th overall, it’s 253 games. The drop-off from 11 to 26 is similar to the dropoff between 26 and 52. Yet first round picks have this aura about them, and GMs will pay a premium. The team should take advantage of that inefficiency while it’s there.

          Okay, ramble over.

  • Garry T

    There are about twelve of these smaller guys in the draft, all countries and leagues included. Get bigger, fast, more skill and tenacity first. For that 11 th. Pick, Frolik plus Czarnik, or Foo works for me.

    • cjc

      LOL Foo just signed in the KHL. Frolik on his own is worth maybe a late second rounder to most teams. Czarnik on his own, a 4th or 5th. So it’s like saying that a late second, a fourth, and the 26th overall would be enough to trade up to 11. Not gonna happen.

  • deantheraven

    Words like “high compete level” and tenacity always get me interested.
    5’9″, 165… not so much. To me he projects as a future trade piece. Personally I wouldn’t draft anyone smaller than Dube this year.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    I agree that small skilled players is desirable but needs to be augmented by some fire and some big heavy D. Marchand is not big but he rarely has players take liberties with him.

    The draft is showing that their are small skilled players or big projects but not much in between at 26. Knight makes sense for us but my guess is he will go to a team that has multiple first round picks like Colorado.