With the 27th pick in the first round of the SBNation.com 2019 NHL Mock Draft, Raw Charge, on behalf of the Tampa Bay Lightning, selects forward Jakob Pelletier of the QMJHL Moncton Wildcats. Pelletier is a left-handed left wing. He comes in at 5’9” and 161 pounds.
Due to being the highest-seeded division winner and going out during the first round of the playoffs, the Lightning ended up with the 27th overall pick in the first round. If the team had won the Stanley Cup this season, the New York Rangers would have received the Lightning’s first round pick. Since they didn’t, our staff here at RawCharge got to participate in the SBNation Mock Draft, unlike last year after the first round pick was traded to the Rangers. Let’s just say, it’s exciting to be able to participate once again.
In 65 games this season for Moncton, Pelletier scored 39 goals, 50 assists, and 89 points with 24 PIMs. In seven playoff games, he contributed two goals and three points. In 125 career QMJHL games, he has notched 62 goals and 150 points. Pelletier also recorded two assists in seven games for Team Canada at the U18 World Junior Championships.
Staff deliberations about the pick
As our pick was approaching in the mock draft, the debate among our staff intensified. We had a number of names that really interested us. Because of the nature of mock drafts, and the reality that the order that players went in the mock draft will undoubtedly be different from the real draft, we wanted to touch on some of those players.
There’s very much a possibility that multiple of those players will still be available when the Lightning make their selection (if they keep it, more on that later). For example, for the 2017 mock draft, we would have considered Timothy Liljegren at 14th overall, but he went 7th in the mock draft. In the real draft, he didn’t go until 17th overall.
One name that we were really locked in on early in the debate was Matthew Robertson. Robertson is a 6’4”, 201-pound defenseman out of the Edmonton Oil Kings in the WHL. We felt that the defensive prospect pipeline could use another player that could be ready to contribute in three to four seasons. He has size and a strong defensive game going for him, though his offensive output is a little sub-par. He went 22nd to the Los Angeles Kings in the mock draft.
We were also really high on Ryan Suzuki and Philip Tomasino. They are somewhat similar centers out of the OHL. They’re both 6’0” and around the 175 to 180-pound mark. They have high hockey IQ, are good skaters, and are strong forward prospects with great point production. Suzuki is more of a playmaker which for me personally made him a little more appealing. But we would have been really happy to add either one of them to the organization. Unfortunately for us, they went with the next two mock draft picks, dashing our hopes.
The next two picks in the mock draft were players we had eliminated because of various doubts. Patrik Puistola is a Finnish forward that dominated Mestis, the Finnish second league. However, he only managed a single point in 16 games at the top level Liiga. This gave us some second thoughts about him. He was just a bit underwhelming for our tastes.
Another Finn, defenseman Ville Heinola, likewise gave us some room for doubt as well. He played well in Liiga with 14 points in 34 games. He had a good U18 and U20 tournament for Finland. However, he’s a sub-6’0” defenseman and the Lightning have only ever drafted two such defensemen in the Murray era; Nikita Nesterov and Tony Deangelo. Nesterov, Anton Stralman, Radko Gudas, and Marc-Andre Bergeron are the only sub-6’0” defensemen to play regularly for the Lightning since 2010. He just didn’t seem like a fit for what the Lightning look for on the blue line despite his obvious offensive upside.
So that left us with a handful of names on our board. At the top was Pelletier, Samuel Poulin, and Spencer Knight. Poulin offered a big-bodied left winger. The Lightning have never really cared a lot about size, but they still have shown some signs of wanting to get bigger on occasion with their picks. This is always in combination with having the other strengths the scouts look for. Look at first round pick Brett Howden from a few years ago as a great example.
Spencer Knight was a name that entered the conversation late as some hype surrounded him in the day or two leading up to our staff making the pick. Knight is a goaltender with the U.S. National Team Development Program that’s slated to go to Boston College. His stats don’t look spectacular, but he had a really strong U18 tournament. He was also good enough to be the third goalie for Team USA at the U20 World Junior Championships. With the uncertainty around Connor Ingram’s future, and the long-shot status of the rest of the Lightning’s goaltending prospects, it was a tempting choice just for the story line aspect of the pick. Realistically, he’ll be gone well before 27 on draft night but we decided to go a different direction despite the potential value here.
A couple other names that came up were forwards Nicholas Robertson and Brett Leason, as well as defenseman Alex Vlasic. Ultimately, we rated Pelletier and Poulin as better forwards than Robertson or Leason. With Vlasic, there were a lot of question marks around his ceiling and we felt he is more likely to slide into the second round.
That left us with our pick of Pelletier.
Why did we go with Pelletier?
The Lightning certainly have more than enough forwards in the pipeline. But the reality is that you want to keep them coming in waves that are NHL ready every couple years. While we like the forward prospects currently in the organization, there’s still a lot of time for their development to stall and never reach the NHL.
Pelletier is a small, speedy left winger with hockey IQ and hands to match and is listed at 5’9” and 161 pounds. With the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL, he scored 39 goals and 50 assists for 89 points in 65 games. As a rookie in 2017-18, Pelletier had the same kind of breakdown in points with 23 goals and 38 assists for 61 points in 60 games.
One thing that set him apart from some of the other forwards is that he had more assists than goals. Many of the prospects we looked at had close to the same number of goals and assists. We liked that he brought a little more playmaking ability to his game than the other options. He also only accumulated 24 penalty minutes which we took as a good sign of his discipline.
One downside in his evaluation was that he only managed two points over seven games at the U18 World Championships for Team Canada. He was a part of Canada’s best line though and contributed in more than just the scoring portion of the game. We always warn of small sample sizes in tournaments and over judging a player from one tournament has often led to the stock of a prospect rising, or falling, more than was warranted in the past. So, we only saw that as a very minor downside.
Though undersized, Pelletier’s offensive creativity and shiftiness with the puck makes him a great playmaker whose versatility allows him to be a successful player at all three forward positions. Not only does he drive play, but Pelletier has the innate ability to position himself correctly when he doesn’t have the puck. His two-way game and leadership ability have drawn scouts’ comparisons to Steve Yzerman. Although he could stand to be more selfish with the puck and will need to get stronger in order to have success in the NHL, there’s no denying his high hockey IQ, ability to make teammates better, and competitive fire.
He’s skilled but won’t dangle defenders or go end to end. Rather he’s a very smart and very competitive forward. Pelletier shows great vision as a playmaker and makes tough plays in small areas. If you ever can’t find Pelletier on the ice, look around the opponent’s slot or net and you’ll likely spot him. He lives in the tough areas of the ice and competes very well for pucks despite not being that big. He scores by going to the tough areas but has a sneaky good shot, too. You don’t have 39 goals by accident. He also kills penalties quite well. There are legit concerns about a player his size without great speed or hands projecting to the NHL, but he could make it based on his compete level, character and sense.
Moncton Wildcats former coach Darren Rumble on Pelletier: “He’s so smart and patient. He sees the ice well. He plays a 200-foot game. He gets so many offensive chances because he’s so good defensively. I trust him a lot. He’s a player you want to go to battle with; he brings it every night. There are zero holes in his game.
Why not trade down or trade up with so many similar options available?
That’s a great question. It is something that we considered. However, what fun is a mock draft if you don’t get a pick? Because the Lightning traded their first round pick in 2018 in the Ryan McDonagh-J.T. Miller trade, we didn’t get to participate in the mock draft last year. And that’s just no fun. Trading up would have been a possibility, but would have been more difficult since we lacked a second round pick to work with.
But in reality, we see this as being a prime position for the Lightning to trade down in the draft. Twice since the 2011 draft the Lightning have traded out of the 28th overall pick. The reality of this part of the first round is that there is not a lot to separate players from each other. If your board has just stepped down to the next tier of players, it makes a lot of sense to trade back. Unless you have a player you’re in love with and won’t be available in the next handful of picks after you trade down, moving back is often the most sensible option in this range. Getting those extra picks for trading down gives the scouting department more opportunities to hit on a pick that can be an impact player. See: Anthony Cirelli.
If this was a real life draft and we were in Julien BriseBois’ shoes, a trade down here would be a very tempting proposition and we would have looked hard at doing so. Especially without a second round pick of our own. A trade down of 5-8 spots into the front of the second round would net another second round pick to make up for the one traded to the New York Rangers.