In the land of the teenage goaltender, the swift playmaking winger is king -- at least until he goes head to head with an even swifter playmaking winger. Before Mitch Marner ended (RW) Jeremy Bracco's season, the story of the OHL playoffs had some repeated refrains. One of them was: "Ryan MacInnis from Bracco and Brandon Robinson." The other one was: "Bracco from Robinson and MacInnis."
The very last quarterfinal game pitted the Kitchener Rangers against the Windsor Spitfires, and saw Bracco’s line garner nine points. This was the most points the line earned in a single game during the playoffs -- in the next four games against Mitch Marner’s London Knights, the Rangers occasionally outshot but never outscored the eventual Cup-winning team. The Knights neutralized Bracco in the first games of the series, but he found new ways to fight, getting an assist in the third game, and a goal in the very last game of his season.
Bracco ended the playoffs with 3G/11A, leading the Rangers in playoff points, and earning the Charles Chalkin Memorial Award for Best Performer in the Playoffs.
I was unabashedly the highest on Bracco. Perhaps it was from a history of watching him feed Jack Eichel during IIHF tournaments, or perhaps it's sheer American homerism, but I firmly believe that any kid from Long Island who shows such clear devotion to his craft deserves a place in the top ten. Or maybe I was influenced by his size. After watching Tyler Johnson for several years, how could I not believe in another 5'9-ish, 175 lb-ish American?
Bracco made waves in the world of college hockey when he decided to join the team that held his OHL rights rather than split time between hockey and college coursework. In his own words to The Hockey News: "My grades were good," Bracco said. "But I wanted to really zero in on hockey. It’s nothing against the program; it was great to be there for the month and a half I spent there."
As an advocate of the NCAA, it took me a while to come to terms with his decision. After reading protestations from Lou Lamoriello that the Leafs had nothing to do with his choice, and staring at his play with Kitchener, it is obvious to me that Bracco made the right decision to chase his dream. You win this time, OHL, Bracco clearly thrived.
The rest of the voters placed him at a much more moderate (and likely correct) 22 through 12. He's untested in any professional league, after all. Er, not that the NCAA doesn't consider the OHL professional -- okay, never mind, I think I'll leave this Pandora's box closed.
When I asked Katya why she left him unranked, she muttered something about how the OHL is the "land of teenaged goaltenders" and stomped off. Fair point.
|Voter||Scott Wheeler||67 Sound||Birky||Arvind||Elseldo||Emily||Achariya||JP Nikota||Species||Burtch||Katya||Fulemin||Mike B||Chris H|
Is Bracco simply a player that soaks up the skill of those around him, or is he a legitimate playmaking winger who might pass first, but also seeks out opportunities on the ice?
On the chemistry of Bracco’s line, MacInnis said to the team website, "Playing with [Bracco and Robinson]; they both work hard. They’re great playmakers, and they can score goals too. We’re a good combination, the three of us." During the regular season, Bracco managed to squeak in at third on his team in points and second in assists, with only 49 games played. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his linemate MacInnis was first in points.
In an entirely different hockey program, Bracco showed this kind of chemistry too. Much was made of Bracco’s ability to create plays on the top line of the US Development Camp in 2014, on a line with another excellent American player, Jack Eichel. Before the draft in 2015, Wingingitinmotown posed the question: is Bracco’s apparent playmaking skill due to his own ability, or due to reflected glory from his linemate? KyleWIIM put this fear to rest:
Most would argue that Bracco's production has a lot to do with being on a line with top pick Jack Eichel, but after reviewing highlights and video, it's clear that it wasn't just the "Eichel effect." Bracco and Eichel made each other better players, no doubt about it. Jeremy Bracco is a very "pass first" type of player, but when given the chance can score some gorgeous highlight reel goals.
Bracco’s ability as part of the US U-18 NTDP team helped lead them to an IIHF Gold Medal in April of 2015, earning 3G/10A in seven games. In short, Bracco has proven himself to be a solid playmaker in both regular-season and high-pressure playoff situations, in various development leagues.
His skill manifests through an exceptional hockey sense -- despite the youthfulness of OHL and USNDT goaltenders, Bracco doesn’t embarrass goaltenders so much as he exploits defensive holes. He’s able to read situations to be in the right place to receive or make a pass, and is exactly where the opposing team doesn’t want him to be.
What are Bracco's drawbacks?
Back in January, M Piedlourde broke down ways in which Bracco compares to his OHL peers in skill. The comparable OHL players that MPied unearthed were an interesting set. In his words:
Along with former Leafs prospect Greg McKegg, this list includes current Leaf Peter Holland and...Jeremy Morin. In addition to their near-identical scoring pace (Bracco is ahead of Morin by 0.002 P/GP, which is a purely academic distinction), Morin and Bracco have a similar career path: both spent their draft year with the US National U18 Team, were drafted in the second round, then went to Kitchener for their draft+1 season. This is perhaps not the most encouraging comparison, as Morin is now 24 years old and hasn't been able to stick in the NHL, despite having NHL-ready size at 6'1" and 190 lbs.
It's probably useful to point out that 49 games do not really make a large sample size to predict anything. MPied also compared Bracco to active NHL players of his size (like Johnny Gaudreau and Tyler Johnson), and came to the conclusion that he's exactly where he should be in his development curve.
On the other hand, Editor in Leaf highlights a different set of criteria for comparison. At even strength, Editor in Leaf points out, Bracco actually out-performs Marner in goals per games played. Add to that his ability to playmake during power plays, and perhaps a comparison to Tyler Johnson isn't so far-fetched after all.
From the Fans
PPP's own Wizard of Naz watched Bracco in action with Kitchener this past season, and scouted his game for us.
Bracco looks smaller than most on the ice, but his size doesn’t hold him back. Ever since he stepped onto the ice at the Aud he made a clear difference to the team. His talent is undeniable, and he doesn’t let his size prevent him from going to tougher areas: he will take the beating if it allows him to make the play.
Bracco's best tool is his vision. He reads the play very well and is a very good passer, making him a very good set-up man. He benefits when playing alongside a good shooter who can capitalise on his passes.
He’s also a very nimble skater. I never really saw him blow someone away with pure speed, but he has above average speed and excellent edge work combined with good body work that lets him shelter the puck from defenders. It also helps him defensively as he has good anticipation and is able to break up the other teams plays before they can develop.
Bracco can be an effective penalty killer and good defensive winger. His shot is average in terms of how heavy it is, but he does have a fairly quick release, and it is accurate. He’s not Phil Kessel, but he should be able to get pucks through a crowd to beat the goalie.
Size, however, is still a concern, and he is going to need to get stronger before he can really hold his own as a pro. But put it all together and you still have a guy who looks like he could be a very good 2nd-line winger.
See? Totally 9th-place material! But I'll settle for 16th.