Ask an Edmonton Oiler manager about ‘needs’ right now and it’ll take about 10 seconds to hear ‘size up front’ and ‘big forwards who can play with skill’ coming back; it is, at this point, a clear team need from the club point of view (I keep hoping they just bring in a ‘Bertuzzi’ type, an established NHL player with some assholery in the resume but who can play).
Since 2000, the Oilers have tried and tried and tried (off and on, mind you–there were times when drafting small guys was the wisdom of the day) to draft big men with some offensive ability. The 2003 entry draft saw them take J-F Jacques and Colin McDonald in hopes of finding this player, and they ended up whiffing on the generation’s best entry draft because of it.
What exactly are the Oilers looking for? Well, I think we can best describe this elusive character as someone who:
- has size and attitude
- can and will fight
- drives the opponent to distraction
- can think on his feet
- can make and take a pass
- displays a range of skills
That’s not a common set of skills for young hockey players. The recent Rieder-for-Kessy trade perfectly frames the issue: the Oilers dealt a guy who boasted #4-6 on his resume for a guy who has 1-3 skills. It’s a ‘chasing your tail’ trade and we’ve been down this road one million times, from Brad Isbister to Brad Winchester and on down the line.
Mitchell Moroz is the lightning rod prospect for this player type, as he was taken in the second round and represents perfectly the organizational desire to solve this problem. Moroz was #56 on Bob McKenzie’s list (late 2nd) and was chosen #32 (very early 2nd), and that has been the story line for this player since his draft day.
- Big, edgy power forward plays an in-your-face style and looks to initiate hard contact all over the ice. A feared enforcer who picked up 20 fighting majors, yet skates and handles the puck well enough to take regular shifts. Coaches eventually rotated him into the top six to give scoring lines a boost – gives smaller, skilled linemates more room to work with his physicality. Has surprising offensive tools with a heavy snap shot. Puckhandling confidence is soaring and he’s willing to try things with the puck now he wouldn’t have dreamed of six months ago. Skating enables him to play in open ice and even has decent lateral agility. Spins off checks to find space and gets to open ice. Emerging force uses great size/strength to dominate below the circles and is impossible to move around crease. Development curve is heading straight up and has upside.
There’s a lot of skill projection in that report, a lot of “emerging” “development” “upside” “confidence is soaring” references that suggest good arrows. We did not see that kind of progress in the year after the draft for Moroz, with one of the reasons having to do with deployment (discussed here) on the roster. Scott Reynolds did a very nice article on Moroz last off-season (it is here) and it offers some hope for Moroz and gives us a strong idea about 2012-13 expectations:
- Reynolds: “I think it’s safe to say that if he’s on a path to the NHL, we’re likely to see him score at something close to a point per game level in the upcoming season.”
Moroz did not emerge offensively, although he did improve (moving from .378 to .493) his point per game number. Let’s add in Moroz’ totals to Scott’s list from one year ago:
POINT PER GAME (THE REYNOLDS LIST)
So at this point we’re looking at a ‘cup of coffee’ type player for NHL purposes, and a guy who might get a few more NHL games because of draft pedigree. The outer marker at this point for Moroz would be a faster Zack Stortini who is also a better fighter (Stortini scored .597ppg year after draft) based on these numbers.
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE?
I have suggested (and Bruce McCurdy verified my beliefs the other morning) that Moroz has seen very little opportunity overall in the ‘sweet spot’ for junior hockey–the power play. So, how would this graph look for even strength? Well, here it is:
EVEN STRENGTH POINT PER GAME
|SHAWN MATTIAS||64, 24-22-46||0.38||0.72|
|MILAN LUCIC||70, 17-27-44||0.24||0.63|
|ERIC TANGRADI||56, 13-19-32||0.23||0.57|
|BRETT CLOUTHIER||65, 11-22-33||0.17||0.51|
|MITCHELL MOROZ||69, 10-17-27||0.14||0.39|
|COLTON GILLIES||58, 10-12-22||0.17||0.38|
|BLAKE COMEAU||65, 14-9-23||0.22||0.35|
|DANE BYERS||65, 5-6-11||0.08||0.17|
Scott modified the numbers in the original graph to reflect scoring for leagues, I haven’t done that here. Moroz climbs over a couple of players who have enjoyed some NHL time, and knowing as we do his role (shutdown line with Travis Ewanyk and Klarc Wilson, then Edgars Kulda) I think there’s every chance Moroz is a little underrated by many in the fanbase and the Oilogosphere.
Moroz was a reach, no argument. I do think his draft number has clouded the issue of his actual value as a prospect for the Oilogosphere. If we’re to be as good as we think we are, don’t we have to address bias in all forms?
I think we do. I think Scott Reynolds did exactly that over at C&B with Moroz, and encourage everyone to do the same.