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.
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.
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.