If you polled most of the experts who publish their scouting reports and player rankings prior to each season's NHL Entry Draft, you would have found Quebec Remparts forward Adam Erne in the mid-to-late first round on many boards.
Corey Pronman, of ESPN and Hockey Prospectus, had him in the mid-first round, and perhaps even higher if someone decided to reach for him, and The Scouting Report gave Erne a final draft ranking of 15th overall.
A run-in with some teammates and a suspension early in the season -- dreaded "off-ice issues" -- seemed to scare off more than one franchise, so Erne didn't go in the middle of the first round. He was still available, in fact, when his junior coach Patrick Roy's (now head coach of the Colorado Avalanche) second pick in the draft came around. And he fell again.
Erne, in surprising fashion, continued to free fall in the draft, all the way to 33rd overall in the 2nd round and straight into Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman's lap.
Here's how the panel ranked him:
|Kyle Alexander||John Fontana||Clark Brooks||Clare Austin||Patti McDonald||Mike Gallimore|
While the Lightning have something of an embarrassment of riches when it comes to young, skilled forward prospects, outside of Richard Panik there isn't much in the way of size, or forwards who project as future NHL power forwards. While Yzerman and his scouting staff have done a terrific job of leveraging a market inefficiency by finding a bevy of undersized, overlooked finesse forwards (think Tyler Johnson and Cory Conacher as the best examples of this), a lot of the forward prospects currently on the farm project as similar player types filling similar roles.
Erne provides some balance on the farm as a bigger body who plays more in the corners and around the net than some of the other talented forwards you'll find higher up on this list. From the staff at Bolt Prospects and their 2012-2013 Final Supplemental Rankings:
Erne already has a man's strength, loves to drive the net, and has decent touch in around the net when he gets there. Even more enticing is Erne's surprising burst and speed. Men that wide shouldn't be able to move that fast. The negatives are equally clear, though, as rumors of poor work habits and lack of professionalism off the ice may well have been what dropped Erne out of the first round.
Erne possesses a few uncommon tools, including some impressive shootout ability, as evidenced by his three shootout attempts and two shootout goals to clinch a win for Team USA over Team Finland at the National Junior Evaluation Camp in August. While no team drafts a player solely for their shootout prowess, it is another feather in Erne's cap in an facet of the game the Bolts have struggled mightily with over the past few seasons.
He's followed up a strong showing at the NJEC with another good performance at the first game of the rookie camp taking place this week in Coral Springs, featuring prospects from the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins, Nashville Predators, and Florida Panthers. Erne scored a goal and added two assists as the Lightning rookies battled back to tie the Bruins' prospects in a 5-5 game that remained tied after each team scored only one goal in a five round shootout. Erne did not convert his shootout attempt.
The #22 rating might seem a little low for a player generating so much buzz in the weeks since the draft, but there is good reason to pump the brakes when it comes to the hype surrounding Erne. Scott Reynolds, of the SB Nation Edmonton Oilers blog Copper and Blue, did a series of articles showing comparable players for some of the leading prospects in the 2013 draft, including Adam Erne, and found that Erne may not end up as the impact NHLer many expect him to be.
Players with Erne's adjusted scoring rates for his age in the CHL range from relative unknowns like Petr Taticek and Keith Osbourne to average bottom-six NHLers like Zack Kassian and James Sheppard all the way up to high-impact scoring forwards like Adam Deadmarsh, though it's much more likely Erne ends up like Kassian or Sheppard in the NHL than Deadmarsh.
That said, even Erne's worst-case scenario seems to be as a useful bottom-six winger capable of 20-30 points in a season, which means while he may not end up being Ryan Malone he doesn't seem likely to follow in the footsteps of Carter Ashton either.
Reynolds closed with this thought about Erne:
So what is there for hope? Well, the actual skill set that Erne has seems to lend itself well to a physical third line forward, so you can at least see him filling the role well. It's not the kind of projection I'd be excited about with a top-twenty pick, but if Erne falls into the last third of the first round, I think he's probably a decent bet.
So once again, for where Erne ended up being drafted, he seems like a tremendous value player with decent NHL potential and deserving of his #22 ranking.